Archive for October, 2014


Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Reviews 42-48: The Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan

When school started in September, I told myself that now that I had a little bit of free time, I was going to catch up on two things that the Cannonball community had recommended:

1. Watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube.
2. Reading a few books by Courtney Milan. There were simply too many 5-star reviews for me to ignore. This was a bandwagon that I needed to get on!
3. Attempt to read at least one of the Outlander books.

Well, the kids have been in school for 7 weeks now, and I’ve completed action-items 1 (LOVED) and 2 (we’ll see if I can squeeze item 3 in before the madness of the holidays!).

Really, I’m not too sure I need to get into plot details here, as I feel like I’m one of the last humans to have read these books. And because I pretty much read them non-stop from beginning to end, its a bit difficult for me to break down my thoughts by book. So I figured I would try and just provide a giant overview of the series as a whole.

For the few who may be unaware, these books take place over a 50 year time period in Victorian England, starting in 1835 with The Governess Affair, and ending in 1882 with Talk Sweetly To Me.

Honestly, these books are about so much, that it’s nearly impossible to do them justice here. It is quite clear that Milan is a proper historian. Her descriptions of societal class and the era in general were fascinating. Plot lines include everything from interracial marriage, rape, sexual preference, abortion, education, and a woman’s right to vote. But mostly, these books are about the role of women in society during this time period in England, and how some women fought hard to change how their gender was perceived. None of our heroines simply sit home and sew samplers for their living rooms. These are women of action. They are scientists and mathematicians, suffragettes and scholars. They are sisters, daughters, nieces, and wives who would do anything for their families. They are brave and strong, and totally worth reading about.

There were so many little details I loved in these books. Robert, the Duke of Clermont, sitting on the floor and making toast. The Mrs. Larriger adventure series. Puppy cannons. The romance between Emily Fairfield and Anjan Bhattacharya (sigh. why couldn’t these two get their own novella?).

And the larger issues were great, too. What is a woman’s place in society? How is she expected to act and who is she expected to be? What is she allowed to talk about and with whom? Where can she be seen and what is she supposed to wear? How can she possibly know what’s best for herself? She needs a man to make her decisions for her, right?

And there were a few things I didn’t quite love. Like many others, Oliver Marshall wasn’t my favorite. I was constantly annoyed by his pronouncements — to her face! — that while he might love Jane, she was totally unsuitable because of his political aspirations. Blah. And honestly, I really wasn’t crazy about the term “Brothers Sinister,” as these men were so very far from being sinister. I had to laugh when Edward Clark made fun of the little band of brothers for having such a ridiculous name.

My favorite of the books was the sweet novella, A Kiss for Midwinter. I’m a sucker for any story about Christmas. I loved the fact that Jonas knew all of Lydia’s secrets, and that her strength made him love her even more. I loved the honest relationship she had with her father, and the way he doted on her. I loved Jonas’ awkward sense of humor, even though Lydia didn’t seem to. I loved that this was only a short novella, but that Milan provided us with fully-formed characters and a beautiful story.

My least favorite? Probably The Heiress Effect. As previously noted, Oliver wasn’t my cup of tea. And Jane’s outlandish fashions quickly tired me out. I just never bought into their love affair. It never seemed likely to me. It certainly wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t as great as the rest of the series.

While I”m not quite ready to dive head-first into the romance genre, I’m glad to have read these books and will likely read more by Courtney Milan.


Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 41: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

UnknownThis one is a bit tough to review. I really liked it, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I’ve had nothing like the events in the story happen to me, and yet, I felt that the plot hit close to home. Does that make any sense?

Lorelei Bird is a free spirit, to say the least. She and her husband live in a beautiful cottage somewhere in the Cotswolds with their two daughters and twin boys. Every minute of life in Lorelei’s world is to be savored — you might never see a rainbow that beautiful or eat a leg of lamb so delicious again!

But Lorelei has a problem. She’s so afraid of forgetting all of these “special” moments that she never, ever throws anything away. And over the years, she becomes the greatest hoarder in the entire UK.

But the story isn’t really about hoarding. It’s about how one moment can change everything for a family, and set the paths that each individual will take for their entire lives. Tragedy strikes the family, and each person deals with it in their own way, ultimately driving the family apart for many years.

The dysfunction of this family wasn’t something that I could really relate to (thankfully! some of the plot developments are CRAZY!). But the hoarding…well. My father was never the most organized guy in town, but when my mother died, he started to hold on to things that didn’t make any sense to the rest of us. He was unwilling to throw away news clippings or clothing that was outdated, or really ANYTHING. He was trying to preserve her memory in time, and I get that, but it made things really hard for those of us who were trying to help him. He never got to the point of being a hoarder, but this book had me thinking back on that time, and gave me a bit more empathy for Lorelei than I may otherwise have had.

Lorelei was an interesting character. Some of her decisions and actions really infuriated me. But she had her moments, when her shining personality and sunny disposition won me over. The story of the Bird family was tough, with a lot of ugly occurrences and plot lines. But the story was beautifully told and described. Yes, Lorelei’s house was filled with junk and papers, but every once in a while, she’d notice something special poking out of the mess — a drawing of a Dalek that one of the boys made when he was four was one thing that stuck out in my mind, as I have a five year old (named Lorelei, no less) that draws LOTS of Daleks. And that was the simple beauty of this story…it found a way to notice the loveliness of everyday life, even when it was surrounded by a huge mess.

I hadn’t heard of Lisa Jewell before this, but I’ll make a note to be on the lookout for some of her earlier work.




Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 40: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Unknown-1Sometimes, a book comes out with a lot of hype attached to it. The writer is supposedly the next “big thing” and there’s a huge buzz for months after the book’s release. Jonathan Franzen. The Dragon Tattoo books. The Hunger Games. Gone Girl. And these books (yeah, I hated The Corrections) don’t always live up to the hype for me. I’ve read tons and tons of rave reviews about Station Eleven over the past few weeks, and I was so worried that it would fall into the disappointing category.

But this book, you guys. This book.

Station Eleven is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It’s about a flu that wipes out over 99% of the world’s population within weeks. It’s about the nature of celebrity, and how it changes people. It’s about the undying appeal of Shakespeare. It’s about graphic novels and Star Trek. It’s about humanity, the good and the bad. And it’s about the survivalist instinct, and the frightening moment when you, as an individual, have to decide what your own personal survival is worth.

And I adored it.

The book flips around in time, and is told from various perspectives. In present-day Toronto, a movie star collapses on stage during a performance of King Lear — dead of a heart attack. And later that night, a mysterious flu begins to tear through the city.

We learn more about the man who died on stage — Arthur Leander was a big star with several ex-wives and a son who lives half a world away.

We meet Jeevan, a man training to be an EMT, who runs up on stage and tries to resuscitate the fallen actor. Jeevan gets a tip from the hospital about the flu, and locks himself up in a tower apartment with his brother, slowly watching the end of civilization.

And we meet Kirsten, a young girl playing one of King Lear’s daughters on stage that fateful night. And 15 years later, a member of a traveling Shakespeare troupe, walking from town to town in the new world, being in music and drama to the other survivors.

There are very few scenes of suffering from the flu (unlike The Stand, where we got lots of gory details), but we still understand the tremendous feeling of loss for the survivors. Many details about the very first months and years after the flu are lest purposefully vague, as if too painful to remember.

The writing is simply beautiful. I felt for each and every character and what they had and lost in life. And yet, while the book sounds like it should be depressing, it was actually quite the opposite. I closed this book with a feeling of hope for the characters inside it. Highly recommend.


Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 39: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Unknown-2I’ll be honest, ghost stories are not my thing. Every once in a while, I’ll give one a try, and for the most part (major exception for Lost Boy, Lost Girl by Peter Straub, one of my favorites), they leave me wanting. Anna Dressed in Blood was the October pick for my book club, and is not a book I would normally choose to read.

And I didn’t love it.

I really don’t have much to say, so let me just hit a couple of quick points.

Here’s what I liked about it:

Like Buffy (the Vampire Slayer, of course), Cas, our protagonist, has little choice over the fact that he has been chosen to “kill” troubled ghosts. It’s in his blood, and he’s following in his father’s footsteps. Cas and his mom travel from town to town, taking care of spirits who are causing trouble and murdering the living. I liked the fact that Cas had pretty much accepted his destiny without a lot of whining and complaining, and that he stepped up to difficult situations, even when he knew he could potentially be killed in the line of work, like his father was.

Also like Buffy, Cas had a strong support group. His mother was a witch and his godfather was also familiar with the spiritual world. And when Cas and his mom moved to Thunder Bay, he met some new friends who were brave and bold. Like the Scoobies.

Here’s what I didn’t like about it:

Going in, I had no idea that this was the first book in a series. UGH. The ending really bummed me out, because it left so much unanswered, and I didn’t like it enough to read the new, follow-up volume.

I also didn’t care for the really specific references to pop culture that were constantly thrown into the story. I realize the author was going for a modern-day ghost story, but these references will really date the book a few years from now. They really annoyed me.

And I really hated the romance angle thrown into this story. I don’t think I’m spoiling much by telling you that Cas falls in love with his target ghost. Sure, I feel badly for her and what happened in her past to make her so evil. But. She is a murderous ghost. THERE IS NO NEED FOR ROMANCE HERE.

Lastly, don’t make fun of Buffy. Ever.



Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 38: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Unknown-1There was a lot of talk about We Were Liars a few months back (see popcultureboy’s review from earlier this year), and about the surprise ending. The buzz on the book was huge, and the tagline in the publicity for it said, “and if anybody asks you how it ends, just LIE.” This piqued my interest. And so I went into it cautiously, hoping that the “twist” didn’t detract from the storytelling. Thankfully, it didn’t.

We Were Liars is about a girl named Cady (short for Cadence), a member of an extremely wealthy, WASP-y, Boston family. Her grandparents own their own island off of the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and over the years built four large summer homes for themselves and their three daughters (a nod to King Lear?). The entire family would spend the whole summer on the island — grandparents, daughters, grandchildren, and husbands (but those didn’t stick around for too long).

Cady and her cousins spend their first 14 summers on the island, along with “outsider” Gat, the nephew of her aunt’s boyfriend. They call themselves “the liars”, and over time, Cady and Gat fall in love. But everything changes when they arrive for their 15th summer on the island. Gat has a girlfriend back in New York, yet can’t seem to stay away from Cady, and Cady’s beloved grandmother has died. The aunts are fighting non-stop over any potential inheritance, and Cady’s grandfather manipulates them all with his massive fortune.

And at the end of that summer — the 15th summer — “something” happens. Cady has an accident and suffers a traumatic brain injury. She doesn’t remember much about that summer, and nothing at all about the night of the accident. And she stays away from the island for an entire summer. When she returns, for her 17th summer, she tries to piece together everything that she can’t remember. She talks to her aunts, her cousins, her grandfather, and the rest of the liars. They aren’t very willing to talk about that summer. But she gets bits and pieces, and her blank spots slowly start to return to her memory.

Yes, the ending surprised me. I kept thinking I knew exactly what was going to happen, and found myself wrong over and over again. But the story is much more than a M Night Shyamalan trick. The choice to use a somewhat unreliable narrator — a VERY dramatic teenager with amnesia — really worked for me. But I know that it didn’t work at all for many others. My book club read this in August, and most folks didn’t like Cady’s dramatic, over-the-top way of storytelling. I don’t think the twist would have been as successful without Cady’s drama and annoying hyperboles.


Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 37: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

UnknownEarlier this year, I was one of many who fell under the spell of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. I cried my eyes out at tragic, yet somehow still uplifting, love story. And I loved Moyes’ familiar, comforting writing style. Conversational and realistic. I was a big fan.

One Plus One is Jojo’s new book. And while the book doesn’t have the same emotional punch as Me Before You, I still recommend it. I mean, come on. We can’t cry about everything.

Jess is a single mom in Southern England, struggling to get by. Her husband took off two years ago, moving in with his mother, and unable to pay child support. She works as a house cleaner and a bartender, but she never seems to have enough money at the end of the day. Her step-son is constantly being bullied, and his medical bills are starting to add up. And it turns out that her daughter is a mathematical genius, and has been offered a spot at a local, prestigious, private school. But of course the tuition is far more than Jess can swing on her own.

Ed is a computer genius, who has made a lot of money over the past few years. His new software is about to launch, potentially putting Ed in place to make a lot more money. Until a bad relationships turns on him, and he finds himself in deep legal trouble, accused of insider trading. Ed could lose everything, so to drop out of sight for a while, he leaves London for his beach house.

Where of course, he crosses paths with Jess.

Yes, of course, this is an “opposites attract” sort of story. But there’s more to it than that.

There were some really tough bits in here. Major instances of bullying, attempted rape, cancer, and a sick dog. But that doesn’t mean the book is a wholly depressing one. Moyes writes smart characters, and she writes realistic scenes from life, oftentimes filled with humor. And a smelly dog. And while I didn’t break down in tears this time, I found myself wiping my eyes once or twice in the last few chapters.

I still haven’t read her two other books, but clearly, I need to.


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