24
May
16

Bringing a little FNL back into my life is always a good thing. CBR8 Review 28.

UnknownA few years back, when I still had a toddler that took naps, I used to have enough time to watch one episode of Netflix TV (sometimes two, if it was a good sleep day) every morning. I’d fold laundry or do arm weights or something, so I felt like I was getting something of use done. And then I discovered Friday Night Lights. Once I found myself in the world of Mr. & Mrs. Coach, Matt Saracen and Landry, and Tim Riggins, that was it. I didn’t even pretend to do anything else. I binged the shit out of that show.

I loved how it immersed me into a culture (Texas football!) that I knew nothing about, and made me feel like I understood it and made it important to me. I loved watching the marriage dynamics between the Taylors and appreciated the honest ups and downs of marriage that they portrayed. And I loved the Texas lingo that I picked up, in particular, starting a sentence with “I’ll tell you what…”

And all of those qualities are what made me like Dumplin’ so much. Dumplin’ is the Friday Night Lights of Texas pageant stories. And the characters even said “I’ll tell you what…”

Willowdean is a high school girl in a rural Texas town, a town that’s pretty much only known for its annual beauty pageant, which Willowdean’s mother won before she was born. Her mother is still obsessed with the pageant, and runs it every year, still wearing the dress that she wore when she was crowned.

But Willowdean isn’t a pageant girl. Willowdean is fat. We never get any specifics about her size, she never never tells us any numbers, but we do know that she is fat. What’s refreshing about Willowdean is that she accepts her size and doesn’t let it define her. She is more than comfortable in her own skin. Her mother? Not so much. She is always pushing new diets or trying to get Willowdean to watch weight loss shows on TV. Her mom’s sister, Aunt Lucy, recently died. And Lucy weighed over 300 pounds. Willowdean’s mom is obsessed with not letting herself — or Willowdean — turn in to Lucy.

Willowdean is so much more than a big girl, though. She is friendly, and funny, and has a beautiful smile. She’s a loyal friend and looks out for others. And she loves Dolly Parton more than I can possibly comprehend.

When Willowdean meets the handsome Bo at her after school job, her whole world turns upside-down. It seems that Bo likes Willowdean, and not just as a friend. But when she finds out a few of Bo’s secrets, she wonders if Bo is using her or if they were really meant to be.

And so Willowdean makes a few decisions that could change her life forever. She makes new friends (how awesome is Hannah?), meets new people (drag Dolly Parton impersonators!), and decides to enter the pageant herself. But along the way, she also messes up her relationship with her best friend, strains her relationship with her mom, and hurts another boy who really likes her.

Y’all, I really liked this book. It was warm and comforting, even when discussing topics that aren’t easy. I was really rooting for Willowdean and her rag-tag bunch of friends, and was proud of them for standing up to society to say, hey, we’re beautiful, too. And I loved that it made me think about Friday Night Lights, and made me realize that I’m desperately in need of a re-watch.

In the meantime, please enjoy this supercut of Coach Taylor saying things.

18
May
16

Take one part Jane Austen and one part Shopaholic, then tweet it and post it to Facebook. CBR8 Review 27.

Unknown-6I’m still waiting my turn to read Eligible…the library line is long and never-ending. But in the meantime, I picked up Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, another entry in The Austen Project. And this one was my favorite so far.

But does that mean that this one was the best that I’ve read? Not really. I think Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma is objectively better. But I enjoyed this one a whole lot more. It had scandal and swearing and sex and social media. The modernization really worked for me.

In this version, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret are forced to leave Norland with their hippy widow mother, Belle, after the death of their asthmatic father. It turns out that Belle and dear old dad had never actually been married, and so the home that they’ve all known for years is handed off to their half-brother, John and his horrific wife, Fanny. Fanny is a queen bitch, who uses sex to get John to do her bidding and get her whatever she wants, and Norland is only made tolerable by the existence of Fanny’s kind brother, Ed, who has a thing for Elinor. Fanny kicks the girls out of Norland, and the Dashwoods find themselves moving across the country to live on the estate of a distant cousin, Sir John Middleton.

And so the adventure of the Dashwood ladies begins. They meet Sir John’s best friend, the kind Bill Brandon, a retired army officer from the war in Bosnia who now runs a rehabilitation center for veterans addicted to drugs and alcohol; Mrs. Jennings, his gossipy mother-in-law; assorted children, wives, and estate workers; and the Steele sisters, Lucy and Nancy, who both suck beyond belief.

And then we meet Wills. A handsome bachelor who drives around the countryside in his Aston Martin, he sweeps Marianne off of her feet in a frenzy of sex and whispered promises. But of course, Wills isn’t all he seems.

I’ll be honest. A lot of this book didn’t work 100%. The girls spend too much time tweeting and YouTubing and stalking people that they don’t like on Facebook. Elinor is way too much of a pushover. I get that she’s supposed to be closed off and keeps her feelings to herself, but this version of Elinor is just boring. And the Steele sisters were just the worst. THE WORST, I TELL YOU. And I never bought into the whole “Ed is going to keep his promise from years ago and marry Lucy because he’s such an upstanding guy.” Come on.

But still, I had fun with it. I liked that Tommy Palmer (Charlotte Jennings’ husband) wasn’t as much of a jerk here as in the original. Yes, he’s sarcastic, but also, his heart’s in the right place (and also, I always heart Mr. Palmer, because Hugh Laurie).

Unknown-5

And I had a good laugh about what a ridiculous couple Robert Ferrars and Lucy Steele ended up being. They sucked.

But most of all, I liked that Trollope was willing to call Willoughby out on his actions and his crap treatment of Marianne. She literally calls him “a vile, complete shit of a man,” and from then on, I was sold. Because really, he is.

I get it, I see the reviews on Amazon and the complaints that the Jane Austen fans have about the sex and swearing. But I think it works for the most part. I don’t think Jane would be thrilled about this adaptation, but I don’t think she’s rolling over in her grave, either. It isn’t as successful an adaptation as Clueless or Bridget Jones, but it passes the time enjoyably enough.

17
May
16

It’s another beautiful day at the Red Pony Bar and Continual Soiree. CBR8 Review 25 & 26.

Unknown-2.jpegSo I guess I’m a fan of these Longmire books.

I’ve now read the first four, and while I’d like to get them all in a big pile and shut myself off from all responsibility and just read, I’m not doing that. I’m taking one at a time, with a few books in between, so I can enjoy them and not be completely pissed off when I run out.

Four books into the series, and we’re still learning small details about all of our main characters, but not just that. I’ve learned about Wyoming, Vietnam, the differences between various Native American tribes indigenous to the Wyoming area, cop families, and physical therapy. There is a lot happening here.

I first finished Kindness Goes Unpunished, which was interesting because it was not set in Wyoming. Walt and Henry go on a road trip to Philadelphia. Henry is showing his vast collection of historical photographs in a museum, and Walt is going to see his daughter, Cady, and her super-terrific-awesome lawyer boyfriend. He also tells Vic that he’ll pop by and say hey to her family of police officers.

But Walt never gets to meet cool new boyfriend. Instead, on his first night in town, Cady is brutally assaulted and Walt finds himself at her hospital bedside. And so, Walt, Henry, Vic and her family, and a few assorted locals band together to figure out who attacked Cady, and why.

Oh, and this book has some sexy times, too. Walt has a little bit of a smolder session with Vic’s mom (please, bring her to the Netflix show, and please, let Patty LuPone play her), but he also has quite a moment with Vic. You go, Walt!

The next book was Another Man’s Moccasins, about the murder of a young Vietnamese girl in the middle of a field in Wyoming. She has no identification with her, but she does have a old photo in her purse of a young Vietnamese woman and a young US Marine back in the 1960s…and of course, that Marine is Walt.

Who is this girl and why did she have a picture of Walt with her? What about the Native American giant who was hiding in a tunnel with her purse when her body was found? And what’s going on in that abandoned mining town down the road?

Johnson effectively fills in the blanks by using flashbacks to Walt and Henry’s time in Vietnam. We learn Walt’s dedication to justice and the truth come from, and we see Henry as a daring (often ridiculously so) young soldier fighting for his country.

And the stuff that takes place in present day Wyoming is pretty good, too. Cady is on the mend, getting her strength back and dating Vic’s brother, Michael. Lucien is still crazy and a racist. Ruby doesn’t stand for nonsense (or singing) and is clearly the brains of the entire operation. Sancho is settling in to his new job very well, and we learn a little bit more about him and few of the other officers in Absaroka County.

I enjoyed that both of these stories introduced their locales (Philadelphia and Vietnam) as an important character, relevant to the story. Craig Johnson describes some of the gorgeous local Philly art and architecture in loving detail. And I learned a lot about Vietnam (who knew that the original Hotel California was actually an old fort on a military base?). I love a book that urges me to learn more about what I’m reading, and these both did the trick. I was happily googling along, looking up landmarks and maps.

I also like that Johnson isn’t making things easy for Vic and Walt. Are they a couple? Are they not? Should they be? I have no idea. But I’ll keep reading to see where it goes. It looks like there are 12 of these mysteries, and I look forward to enjoying them all.

 

 

13
May
16

Even dogs in the wild will care for whatever means most to them. CBR Review 24.

Unknown-4Ian Rankin is on my Mt Rushmore of revered authors (along with Rainbow Rowell, James Ellroy, Jane Austen, Christopher Brookmyre, and Stephen King), and when he writes a new book, I celebrate.

Even Dogs in the Wild (the title taken from a song by The Associates) is the 20th to feature DI John Rebus, so I don’t quite recommend starting with this one, but if you are familiar with the main characters — Rebus, Siobhan Clarke, Big Ger Cafferty, Malcolm Fox, and young Daryl Christie — you should be fine. Slipping in to a new Rebus book is pretty much like reading a new Sue Grafton. You know what you’re going to get and you like it. Its formulaic, but never boring.

In this one, Rebus is officially retired from the police force, but finds himself dragged back to the force as a consultant. Someone has been firing shots at his old nemesis, Big Ger, and Rebus is the only cop that the jaded old gangster Cafferty is willing to talk to.

Meanwhile, Siobhan is investigating the death of a high-profile member of the Scottish government, and Malcolm is assigned to a team of cops from Glasgow who are trailing some gangsters who have made their way to Edinburgh. Toss is a mysterious lottery winner, a missing truck driver, a missing puppy, and some creepy notes written to potential shooting victims, and we have ourselves a real mystery.

What I love about Rebus is that he just doesn’t care about protocol. He understands right and wrong, and he goes about finding answers in his own way, largely existing in a gigantic ethical gray area. God help you if you get in his way. He’s totally old school, and puts all of the pieces together by talking to people and asking questions and listening. He does very little online research (he will bring you baked goods if you help him out with computer stuff), correctly believing that a face-to-face meeting can tell you much more than Google can.

Every time I read a Rebus book, I end up spending hours looking at pictures of Edinburgh online and planning my dream vacation there someday. A pint of IPA at the Oxford Bar sounds like just the thing on a rainy day like today.

 

 

12
May
16

I’m not sure how Jane would feel about all of the Twilight references. CBR8 review 23.

Unknown-2Until a few weeks ago (mentioned in ElCicco’s great review of Eligible), I hadn’t heard of The Austen Project. The gist of the project is to take Jane Austen’s novels, choose current authors, and have them modernize the story. And now I’m obsessed with making may way through all of the books rewritten thus far…I’ve already read Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, and am on the library list for both Eligible and Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility. But I was lucky enough to find a copy of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey kicking around, and promptly tore into it.

The original NA isn’t my favorite Austen. I find Catherine a bit too ridiculous for my taste, and I don’t get why the Tilney’s are so taken with her innocence and gullibility. But I love the gothic feel of the story and the humor about the danger of reading novels.

In this version, Cat is a 17 year old from Dorset. Her dad is the local vicar and she and her brother and sisters have all been homeschooled, leaving her a bit innocent in the ways of the modern social world. Of course she Facebooks and Tweets, but she doesn’t watch TV or get out all that much. But Cat loves to read and is obsessed with vampire books like Twilight. She thinks they are simply beyond romantic. OK.

Cat’s wealthy neighbors invite her along to the Edinburgh fringe festival for a month. Mr. Allen is a talent scout for London’s West End, and his wife Susie gets bored with all of the culture, and just wants a friend to go shopping and gossiping with. Susie promptly runs into an old school friend of hers, Mrs. Thorpe, who happens to have a few young daughters in tow, including Bella, who quickly becomes Cat’s bestie.

Of course it turns out that there is more to Bella than Cat first realizes. Bella has a thing for Cat’s brother James (now annoying called Jamie), who is friends with Bella’s HORRID brother Johnny. When Johnny and Jamie come up to Edinburgh to woo the girls, I wanted to rip Johnny’s pages right out of the book and make him choke on them. I can’t think of a character I’ve ever despised more in any book. UGH.

Meanwhile, Cat has met the lovely Henry Tilney, and his sister Ellie. But every time Cat tries to get close to Henry, Johnny gets in the way with his rude behavior or a disgusting comment. And what’s the deal with their father, the imposing General Tilney?

We all know just how its going to play out, and for a while its fun to see how McDermid plans to get her characters there. I loved the setting of Edinburgh (I really do need to go there sometime) and the Scottish countryside sounded simply lovely.

What didn’t work for me was Cat’s innocence and stupidity. I get that she’s supposed to have a vivid imagination and that her obsession with her book choices might somehow sway her thought process.

But.

To think that General Tilney was a vampire that was holding his supposedly dead wife captive as a blood vessel in a turret at Northanger Abbey?

NO. Just no. No.

Also, Cat is 17 and Henry is a lawyer. That age difference skewed me out quite a bit.

But it was still a fun read. Not as well done as Emma, but I enjoyed myself more than not. Looking forward to seeing how the rest of the project pans out.

09
May
16

Maybe I’m the unreliable narrator of my own life. CBR8 Review 22.

UnknownA few weeks ago, ModernLove posted a very enthusiastic review for The Great American Whatever, and I added it to my TBR. And shockingly, my library didn’t have it. So I whined a little bit and got them to order it, I just knew I needed to read it. And now here we are.

Quinn is about to turn 17. He’s a talented writer who dreams of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter, just like his next-door neighbor, who years ago introduced him to the world of classic film. He’s had a rough go of it lately. His father abandoned the family (the timeline on this is questionable. Recently? Years ago?), sending his mother into a fit of binge eating and depression. He hasn’t been to school for the past 6 months. He knows he is gay, but hasn’t officially come out to his mother or his best friend, Geoff. And his sister Annabeth — his best friend in the world and his collaborator on his film projects — died in a car accident at school the day before Christmas break.

And since the minute Quinn heard the news, he and his mother have shut themselves off from the world. He has unplugged his phone and quit social media. His mother hasn’t touched anything in the house because she doesn’t want to lose her memories of Annabeth as she was. Quinn has stopped writing, feeling that without Annabeth, he can never write again.And neither of them have left the house in 6 months. They are basically living in squalor and surviving due to the kindness of neighbors and from his mother’s meager disability checks.

Until one day, Quinn’s friend Geoff decides that enough is enough, and drags Quinn out of the house. And the next few days (and I know this sounds SO CLICHE) teach Quinn how to live again. Geoff takes Quinn to a party, to ease back into the social world. Quinn meets a cute college boy named Amir there, and the two of them hit it off.

And so Quinn navigates his way back into the world that was. And he learns that his sister’s life wasn’t exactly how he thought it was, and that by learning about who she really was and what she wanted in life that maybe he can figure out his own future.

Federle really created a moving character in Quinn. When Quinn hid himself in a bathroom to cry while on a date with Amir, I almost lost it. I wanted to reach into the book and give him a hug when he talked about how he hated his body, and got nervous in Amir’s bedroom and talked instead of fooling around. And (SPOILER) when Quinn decided not to have sex with Amir, I literally cheered.

And yet, while at times I was close to tears, this isn’t a sad book. This is an uplifting book. There were really funny bits of dialogue and some simply ridiculous scenes — yes, I’m talking about you, Dwight the fart.

Quinn and I are nothing alike — I’m not a teen, nor a boy. I’m not gay, and I’ve never been poor. My parents had a strong marriage, and I had very little tragedy in my life until after high school. And I’m definitely not from Pittsburgh. But still. I felt a bond with him that was strangely tight. Quinn could really represent anyone who feels unsure about themselves, and his actions and words were so on point with things I have actually done and said in my life, it was scary. Also, I really love classic films.

Odd that once again, I’ve read two books back to back (last book was the lovely We Are the Ants) that have a similar vibe. Smart, charming, quirky, gay high school boy has lots of problems at home and lots of issues on the relationship front. The strength of their friendships help both of these kids to climb back out of the rock-bottom pits that they’ve found themselves in. And both books are so smartly cool about the issues of sex and gender identity. And both were pretty funny while they weren’t being devastatingly sad.

Thanks to ModernLove for the recommendation.

26
Apr
16

Eat the bacon, Henry. CBR8 Review 21.

 

Unknown-2We are the Ants is a story about high school and first love. Its about depression and suicide. Its about survivor’s guilt and grief. Its about sexual identity and standing up for your true self.

Its also a story about being abducted by aliens and given a choice about whether or not the earth is worth saving.

Henry Denton lives in a small town in Florida with his overworked mom, his senile grandmother, and his pain in the ass older brother and his pregnant girlfriend. He’s still in mourning over the suicide of his boyfriend Jesse a year before, but is trying to move on by fooling around with another boy at school. He also has a tendency to be abducted by aliens.

On one of his visits to the alien ship, he’s given a choice: In about 150 days, the world is going to end. If he pushes the red button the aliens show him, he can prevent the apocalypse. But Henry just isn’t sure he wants to do that.

He’s had enough bullying. He’s had enough mourning. He’s had enough of watching his mother struggle to get past his father leaving years before. He’s had enough of seeing his grandmother lose more and more of her memories and herself. He’s not sure he thinks this troubled world is somewhere that his future niece/nephew should have to suffer through.

And so Henry doesn’t push the button when he’s given the option. But he thinks about it.

And then Henry meets Diego, and Diego gives Henry so much more to consider about the world.

I’m gonna go ahead and put this book up next to Exit, Pursued by a Bear and pretty much everything I’ve ready by Andrew Smith* (my Cannonball spirit animal) over the past few years as an example of a Young Adult book that gives us much more than its label would lead us to believe.

All of these books deal with serious life issues in a realistic way. Some good, lots of bad. these books have characters that are alive on the page, like real people you have come across in your lifetime — they talk and interact like actual human beings. These books scare me to death when I think about the fact that I’ll have a teenager in a few years, but I’m glad that I’ll have this small arsenal of books at my disposal when various problems arise.

The author did a wonderful job making these characters seem real. They talked like real people (although some of the Kardashian references might be stale in a few years). Not all of the characters were likable but they were all relatable — Marcus sucked but I felt bad for him all the same. Charlie had his moments but was somewhat horrible at the beginning.

And I loved how Diego’s sexuality wasn’t a huge thing for him to deal with. He loved Henry, and that was enough. He didn’t worry about how that labeled him. It reminded me of the very awesome wine scene in Schitt’s creek (WAIT. WHAT? You aren’t watching Schitt’s Creek? GO, AND GET THEE TO AMAZON PRIME!):

My favorite was Audrey, the former best friend of Jesse, and third angle in the triangle that was made up of Jesse and Henry before his suicide. Her pain and her loyalty were heartbreaking, and her use of sarcasm and humor was a delight. In particular, when she tried to explain to Henry that it was OK for him to have feelings for Diego:

“I don’t deserve him.”
Audrey shrugged. “Probably not. But he doesn’t deserve you, either. Maybe that’s why you’re perfect for each other…You like bacon, right?” Audrey asked.
“Duh.”
“So, when you’re offered bacon for breakfast, do you refuse because you’re worried about what’s going to happen when it’s gone?”
“No.”
“No!” Audrey smacked me in the chest. “You eat that bacon and you love it because it’s delicious. You don’t fret over whether you’ll ever have bacon again. You just eat the bacon….Eat the bacon, Henry.”
…”I’m assuming Diego is the bacon in that analogy.”
“I need another drink.”

*This book even has a lovely homage to one of my favorite Andrew Smith books, Grasshopper Jungle. In one of the possible scenarios that Henry imagines the world ending, he sees a world in which giant cockroaches are bred by a government scientist named Dr. Andrew Smith (!) and used to control super strains of bacteria. But not all goes as smoothly as envisioned:

On 29 January 2016 a pair of CroMS escape from a laboratory in Austin, Texas. They begin to breed. As a result of their increased size, CroMS possess a ravenous appetite and devour everything in their path…Austin is overrun in three days. Texas in two weeks. The United States in less than a year…When CroMS are the only living creatures remaining on the planet, they consume each other.

Cool, right?

ENDING SPOILER ALERT! SERIOUSLY!

Remember a few years ago, when everyone was talking about The Life of Pi, and the vague ending? Where we were left to decide for ourselves which version of the story we wanted to believe? We Are the Ants reminded me of that, a little bit.

While we never know for sure if Henry’s abductions were a psychological creation or not, its up to us to decide how Henry’s future will be, or if he even gets to have one.

I think he does, and that in his case, it definitely gets better.

 




Categories

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 22 other followers

Twitter Updates


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.