19
Jul
16

This is the only version where I don’t want to murder Lydia. CBR8 Review 34.

Unknown-7I’m not sure just how many different re-tellings I’ve read of Pride and Prejudice. At least six  — Bridget Jones’ Diary, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Death Comes to Pemberly, a manga version of P & P, Longbourn, and Eligible — but really, I might have read a few more. I probably have.

But this one stands out a bit for me, because I really felt like I knew the characters from watching the youtube videos. For those who are unaware, there was a delightful web series a few years ago, in which the entire story of Pride and Prejudice was modernized and presented as two-minute video blog entries told from Lizzie’s perspective. I loved it so much, I was hiding from my kids when I was trying to finish watching it. It is absolutely binge-worthy and just a huge amount of fun.

This book is a tie-in to that web series, telling pretty much the same story, but with added detail. For instance, in the videos, we never get all of the details about Darcy’s letter telling us how much Wickham sucks. But in the book, we get the whole sordid story. And it really was presented like a diary, with little bits of paper (like Darcy’s letter) taped in, and showing us that the entire story — from meeting Darcy, to hating Darcy, to loving Darcy, took an entire year.

In this version, Lizzie is a grad student studying communications, with her best friend Charlotte Lu. For her term project, Lizzie decides to create a video blog and talk about her life and her family, including her sisters Jane and Lydia (Kitty is an actual kitty cat, and Mary is the dour, goth cousin). As she meets new people, like handsome neighbor Bing Lee and his friend Darcy, we hear all about them, but mostly just from Lizzie’s perspective.

Eventually, sleazy swimming coach George Wickham comes to town, and sets his eyes on Lizzie. When Lizzie realizes that George and Darcy hate each other, she makes assumptions and accusations on her vlog, and then feels horrible when she realizes that she was wrong.

And poor Lydia.

Not this nut-job.

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Or this boy-crazy kook.

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This Lydia is just trying to figure herself out. Yes, she makes mistakes, but she’s smart and strong. I really loved this Lydia. And I felt horribly for her when she gets herself in over her head with Wickham.

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This version of P&P is the only one since Bridget Jones that I’ll probably ever revisit, so that’s gotta count for something. If you haven’t seen the web series, go watch it. You’ll love it. I swear. Darcy’s a hipster in a bow tie. How could you not love that?

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23
Jun
16

Its just like Jane Austen, but with reality TV, Cross Fit, anorexia, and tons of premarital sex. CBR8 review 33.

Unknown-5Eligible is not a 5-star piece of literature. But I enjoyed the hell out of it. I could not put this sucker down.

I’m sort of sad that I’m now caught up with all of the books thus far written for The Austen Project (see my previous reviews of Emma: A Modern Retelling, Northanger Abbey, and Sense & Sensibility) and this one is by far my favorite.

Liz Bennet is in her late 30’s, living as a magazine editor in New York City, having an affair with the ghastly (and married!) Jasper Wick. She and her sister Jane (almost 40, a yoga instructor, undergoing IVF treatment to get pregnant with no boyfriend on the scene) fly home to Cincinnati when their father has emergency heart surgery, and move back in to their childhood home with their three ridiculous younger sisters and their intolerant of everything mother.

At a 4th of July barbecue at their friend Charlotte Lucas’ house, they meet Dr. Chip Bingley, a former contestant on Eligible — just like The Bachelor– who was infamous for being a cryer, his horrid sister Caroline (who also happens to be his agent), and Chip’s friend Fitzwilliam Darcy (a talented neurosurgeon new to Cincinnati and not loving it). Of course Chip and Jane immediately hit it off, Caroline is a shrill bitch, and Darcy is a standoffish jerk.

But here’s the thing…in this version of Pride & Prejudice, Darcy just isn’t that bad. Liz is WAY worse then he is. She’s often rude, sometimes crass, and always gossipy. Her younger sisters Kitty and Lydia are absolutely AWFUL. Jane seems sort of dim. Her mother is a racist with a shopping addiction. And her father is sort of a jerk for never doing anything about any of the nonsense he sees going on around him. Mary shows a bit of personality (I know. Right?), and Lydia is almost redeemed in the end, but I really just didn’t like Liz all that much. Yes, Liz looks after her family and tries to help them sort out their various issues, but she sort of went about it with a martyr complex. Meh.

And yet, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. EVEN THOUGH I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT. Weird, huh?

I enjoyed Cousin Willie, the Silicon Valley millionaire who comes to town to attempt to woo his step-cousin, but settles for Charlotte instead. I loved that Darcy was always spotted at Skyline Chili. I liked how Sittenfeld brought Cincinatti alive, showing that it isn’t just a boring Mid West city. And I really enjoyed the relationships that both Lydia and Kitty ended up in.

What I didn’t really care for was Liz’s obsession with the obnoxious Jasper, nor her initial treatment of Darcy. I get that Liz is a grown woman, but the way that she used sex and used her partners really annoyed me. I thought Darcy deserved better, and I was glad when she realized the same.

I also could have done without all of the spiders.

While this isn’t quite as fun as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

 

 

21
Jun
16

Damn you, Uncle Stevie. I’m not ready for these books to end. CBR8 Review 32.

Unknown-4The adventures of Retired Detective Bill Hodges and his friends have come to an end, and I’m sad.

I didn’t expect a whole lot when Uncle Stevie announced that he was working on a trilogy of mystery novels a few years ago. But I adored Mr. Mercedes, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. And I really liked 99% of Finders Keepers…it was only that 1% about stupid Brady Hartsfield moving things around with his mind that bugged me. So, I was kind of irked when I found out that End of Watch was about Brady. I just wanted Bill, Holly, and Jerome to keep kicking ass all over town, taking down bad guys, and not worrying about stupid Brady Hartsfield over in the traumatic brain injury ward of the local hospital. I thought I was all set with him.

But folks, this Constant Reader has been proven wrong.

End of Watch is almost COMPLETELY about Brady Hartsfield, and the obsessive evil that lives inside of him. And I couldn’t stop reading it. I NEEDED to know what was going to happen on the next page.

A brief, hopefully spoiler-free synopsis:

Brady Hartsfield isn’t as brain dead as you might think. He’s on some experimental drugs that just might have turned him into a telekinetic powerhouse. And he’s hell-bent on taking revenge on Bill Hodges for ruining his plans to blow up that concert a few years back. He wants to take Bill and Jerome down for the way they hurt him — and if he can get a slew of teenagers to commit suicide while he’s taking down Hodges, that would be just great, thanks.

Using some old video games that have the power to hypnotize their users, Brady sets a plan in motion that could not only ruin the lives of Bill, Jerome, and Holly, but of every single young girl that was supposed to die at the concert.

And of course, the local police aren’t buying that a “gorked out vegetable” like Brady is responsible for anything other than sitting in his chair and drooling. But Bill and Holly know better. And they start putting all of the pieces together from the various crime scenes that they are invited to by Bill’s old partner, and are willing to believe the unbelievable in order to stop Brady.

It wasn’t my favorite of the trilogy, because there was a little too much Carrie-esque, telekinetic, supernatural, magical brain stuff going on for a detective novel. But it still worked.

And it hit me in the feels, folks. We’ve gotten to know these characters so well over the past three books, that saying goodbye to them was not something I wanted to do. I want to know what’s going to happen to Barbara and her handsome new boyfriend. I need to know what Jerome is going to do when he’s finished volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. And Holly? What in the world is going to happen to someone like Holly if she isn’t out in the world solving crimes all day long? And I’m going to miss Bill Hodges. I’m going to miss the way he solves crimes with old-school methods, how he completely doesn’t understand technology, and how his unlikely friendships with Jerome and Holly made him a better man in the last chapters of his life.

These are things I stay up thinking about at night, Uncle Stevie. Thanks for creating these characters and telling their stories. I can’t wait to find out what you’re working on for us next.

 

16
Jun
16

Guess who’s back? It’s Travelin’ Jack. CBR8 Review 31.

Unknown-5Another check mark for me as I make my way back through all of the Dark Tower related content that dear Uncle Stevie has produced over the years. I’m happy to report that this one was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

After being slightly disappointed by my re-read of The Talisman earlier this year, I wasn’t exactly excited about starting its sequel, Black House. I have a vague memory of reading it when it was first published, and pretty much thinking it was a mess. All I remember was that the book featured good old Travelin’ Jack Sawyer, his new blind friend that he’s reading Bleak House to at night, and a bunch of tough, bearded biker guys who were somehow more than meets the eye. Other than that, I honestly drew a big blank when trying to remember the plot of this one.

Good old Travelin’ Jack is now a retired police detective from California who is living in rural Wisconsin. He loves his country home, because it reminds him of someplace, but he’s not sure where. Jack has taken great pains over the past 20 years to forget about his summer in The Territories, and has almost no recollection about his adventures at all.

In the sleepy little country town where Jack has now made his home, something terrible is happening. There’s a monster out there (dubbed the Fisherman) murdering (and eating. ew.) children, and the local police are at their collective wits end. Jack is lured back into investigative work by his friends on the force, and finds that there is far more to this case than anyone might have guessed.

I think its safe to say that I’m not really spoiling anything by telling you that there are forces from other worlds at work here, many of whom are connected to our pal Roland Deschain and his quest to find the Tower. The Crimson King is the real bad guy, having his lackeys (including the Fisherman) find children from all over the world (and worlds) to become “breakers” and assist in his ongoing obsession of destroying the tower. When the Fisherman snatches young Tyler Marshall — perhaps one of strongest breakers of all time, second only to Ted Brautigan — something inside of Jack Sawyer wakes up, and he knows that he’s the only one who’s going to be able to stop the Fisherman and get Tyler back. And that he’s going to have to go back to the Territories to get to the bottom of all of this.

There’s actually a lot to like here. The first 100 or so pages are great — a simple overview of a small town in Wisconsin on a lovely summer day. Some people are nice, and some people aren’t. Some homes are happy, and some are definitely not. The narrative weaves in and out of various locations, introducing characters and getting to know the town. Its quite well done.

I also love trying to figure out which author was responsible for different parts. I’m assuming that we can thank King for the well educated, beer brewing biker gang. I’m fascinated by their working relationship and would love to know how they go about writing these books. Word on the street is that they are talking about a third…

But.

Would I recommend this book to someone who isn’t familiar with the whole Tower quest? Nope. There’s too much going on that might just come off as nonsense. Too much about Ka and talking monorails and mad red kings. But what about as a solitary sequel to the Talisman? Yes, there are some of the same characters, and yes, there are scenes in the Territories, but really, this only works if you’ve read all 7 Tower books AND The Talisman.

 

 

 

 

13
Jun
16

Excuse me while I make some hard-boiled eggs, curl up into a ball, and cry. CBR8 Review 30.

Unknown-4Well.
This certainly wasn’t the most uplifting book, was it?

Buy that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good one. And it’s definitely one that’s going to stay with me for a very long time. It’s going to make me think about some of the parenting choices that ive made over the past 12 years, and make me wonder about some of the decisions my own parents made when I was growing up. And it’s going to make me teach my son to make his own damn hard-boiled eggs.

The story is about a dead girl named Lydia in early 1970s Ohio. She’s dead when the story begins, but her family doesn’t know yet. She drowned in the lake at the top of her nice, safe, suburban street, leaving behind her parents, her older brother, Nath, and her younger sister, Hannah.

But its Lydia who is everyone’s favorite. Her brother and sister simply exist in her shadow. Her parents thought that she was the sun that the rest of the family revolved around, when in actuality, Lydia felt like a failure and a liar.

She wasn’t the star science student that her mother wanted and needed her to be. She was never going to be able to be a doctor, no matter how badly her mom wished it. Her mom was supposed to be a doctor, but she left Harvard when she got pregnant and got married instead.

And Lydia wasn’t the popular, normal, “American” teenage girl that her father wanted, either. All he wanted was to have Lydia fit in — to have friends to gossip on the phone with and go the the mall with. Her dad grew up isolated from everyone in his own school — he was the only Chinese student ever at his private high school. But Lydia didn’t have friends and simply lied to her family about it. She was alone most of the time, and ready to burst from the pressure of it all.

Toss in some “casual” 1970s racism, parents who are aimlessly drifting through their marriage, and a mysterious boy who lives at the end of the street, and you’ve got quite a depressing mystery. Who was the real Lydia? Did anyone even know? Why was she alone on the lake in the middle of the night? Lydia couldn’t even swim. She was smarter than that. Wasn’t she?

This book was beautifully written. Celeste Ng brought the 1970s back to life in vivid, polyester blend colors. I could feel how hard it was for each of these siblings to simply exist every day — Nath, who just wanted to be noticed for the brilliant young man that he was, and Hannah, who was so much more than just a late-in-life “mistake”. And for Lydia, who was so afraid to disappoint her parents in any way. Who never wanted to be responsible for anything that might diminish the love that they showed her.

Yeah, this one’s a tearjerker for sure, but so good. I’d put it on par with other 1970s novels like The Virgin Suicices, The Ice Storm, and Middlesex. But my god, now I really need to read something brainless and uplifting. This one was tough.

31
May
16

Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead! CBR8 Review 29.

Unknown-2You know that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the man with the death cart enters the plague-ridden village to pick up all of the day’s bodies? This scene?


That’s pretty much all I could think about while I read Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book.

I think by now, most of us know the plot, so I’ll be brief. In the future (around 2054), scientists at Oxford University are sending historians back through history. Some sort of time “net” has been created, and there are lots and lots of rules about time travel. Young history student Kivrin has been selected to travel to 1320 to see what life was like before the Plague came and killed half of Europe.

But of course, something goes wrong. Kivrin doesn’t end up where she thought she would, or when. And because she comes back from the future with a severe virus, she doesn’t remember how to get back to her drop point so that she can eventually return to her where and when.

Meanwhile, Kivrin’s favorite teacher, Mr. Dunworthy, is doing all that he can to find out where and when Kivrin was sent, and how he can safely get her home.

Oh, and did I mention that Oxford has been quarantined and that a pandemic is sweeping through the town, sickening and killing almost everyone that comes in contact with it?

Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it?

And sometimes, it actually is. The book jumps back and forth between Kivrin’s adventures in the 14th century and Mr. Dunworthy in modern-day Oxford, and it’s all very well done. But my god, some parts of it boring.

It took me ages to get to the exciting parts — for those of you reading on a kindle, that would be 67%. I felt like the first 2/3 of the book were sometimes tortuous. Someone is looking for someone and can’t find them. People make phone calls that aren’t returned. Colleagues fight over who is in charge. Annoying mothers say annoying things. People worry if there will be enough food and toilet paper to last for the duration of the quarantine. And Gobstoppers are sucked on and then put away. Over and over and over again.

I know. I get that there has to be a build up for a story to create dramatic tension and make things exciting. But for me, the first 67% was difficult.

But the last third of the book was pretty damn fascinating, and well worth the struggle of the first part.

When Kivrin realizes she isn’t in the “when” she thought she was and that the illness around her was the plague, and Mr. Dunworthy and Colin make the decision to attempt a time-travel rescue, the pace of the book becomes almost manic. The actions and decisions are fast and furious. And there is a lot of heartbreaking sadness as well.
SPOILERS (But really, we all read this, didn’t we?)

I honestly thought someone from the village would survive and somehow return to the future with Kivrin, or that Kivrin would stay with Agnes or Rosemund. I really didn’t expect her to be the sole survivor. I wonder how stable she’ll be when she returns to her present with Mr. Dunworthy and Colin, and has to deal with all that she’s experienced.

I was also surprised by the heroism of Roche, in a time when it was thought that the priests all hightailed it to safer places. His bravery, intelligence, and willingness to stay and care for his parishioners, when we are originally led to believe is a bumbling idiot, was really touching.

Most of all, when Agnes went from setting a place for “cart” at the table to dying a few pages later, I was shocked. And so sad. But I understand why Agnes, so young and innocent, had to die. The plague didn’t care. But still. So many tears.

So, yeah. In the end, I really enjoyed the book. It just took me a while to get into it. I’m not sure if I’ll be following up with any of Willis’ other time travel books, but this gets a strong 4 stars from me.

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.




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