Archive for August, 2015


A lovely little treat for any book lover. CBR7 Review 50.

Unknown-2This afternoon it was hot as blazes out and the kids wanted to go to the park. So first, we stopped at the library, and I picked up this slim, little volume. I read the entire thing while they ran around, and am now thinking about heading back to the library so I can get my hands on Hanff’s “sequel,” The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

Helene Hanff tells a simple story through letters that she exchanged with a Frank Doel, a book dealer in London. She writes to him asking for specific books in good condition, he writes back and lets her know the price. As they get to know each other a bit, their letters become more and more familiar. She jokes with him, he slowly begins to reciprocate.

In time, Helene becomes somewhat entangled — from thousands of miles away — into the lives of most of the employees of the book shop and their families and friends. She exchanges letters with not only Frank, but his wife, his colleagues, his neighbor, and eventually, his daughters.

She sends hams, eggs, chocolates, and nylons to the shop — all things that were still being rationed after World War II. The shop sends her gifts, as well.

Sadly, Helene never makes the trip over to visit the shop. She and Frank (and everyone else) talk about it for years, but it just never happens. Something else always comes up.

You might wonder just how a tiny little book of letters can be so engrossing. Just trust me. By the end, you’ll feel as if you’ve known these people for all of their lives, and a little bit of your heart will break.

As a side note, the edition that I read had a forward written by Anne Bancroft, who starred as Helene in the movie (which I’ve never seen, but now have to add to the list). She talks about how a stranger gave her the book, how she loved it and it changed her life, and how — in a completely romantic gesture — her husband bought her the film rights as an anniversary gift. Lovely.


I can’t really review this with the detail it deserves. But trust me, it was really good. CBR7 Review 49.

Unknown-2A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I went on vacation and read a bunch of wonderful books. And I am still struggling to catch up with those reviews. Sadly, the two book reviews that will suffer the most from my lack of reviewing effort are two of the best — Red Shirts by John Scalzi, and this one.

A few Cannonballers have already read this (honestly, I’m shocked that this hasn’t been more of a “thing”): you can read excellent reviews from narfna and ElCicco that are way more lucid and detailed than anything I might come up with. But we all agree that this first entry (into what I can only imagine will be a TRILOGY) into Sabaa Tahir’s world really works.

It has everything: a strong, young (and of course BEAUTIFUL) heroine, willing to do whatever it takes to keep what’s left of her family together; a brutal society that values strength and brutality over knowledge and learning; a handsome and skeptical hero, who isn’t quite sure what it is he’s fighting for; and subtle instances of magic, but no so much that it overwhelms the story and crosses directly into Fantasy.

Because I am old and my memory is for crap, I’ll give you this blurb from Amazon:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I really enjoyed it. I’ll admit, it starts off slowly. But once Laia is focused on her mission and how she can help her brother, I was all in. Yes, the book was brutally violent, and at times I questioned it’s YA label. It reminded me a lot of Red Rising — both authors have clearly done their research on the Roman Empire — which was not YA (remember the great debate we had about that?). But it was strong, and I’ll definitely continue with the series.

Sorry, Sabaa Tahir. You deserved better than my Amazon-heavy recap. I promise to do better next time.


“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.” CBR7 Review 48.

UnknownI’m amazed that this book has been out for so long and is still being discovered by so many enthusiastic readers. I’m sure that the upcoming — and pretty amazing looking — movie has something to do with it, but really, I think mostly its because this is just a damn good story.

By now we all know the basics, so I’m going to keep this short.

Mark Watney, astronaut on NASA’s latest mission to Mars, is injured in a wind storm and left for dead by his crew. But Mark isn’t dead, and finds himself struggling to find a way to survive until the next scheduled mission lands on Mars…in four years.

How will he eat? What will he drink? Will he have enough oxygen? Is there a way to let NASA know that he’s alive? And just how will he get himself from his base camp to the future landing site, thousands of kilometers away? So many questions, and all of them are answered with an entertaining mix of science and humor, a credit to Andy Weir’s breezy, yet never flighty, writing style. Even when I got to a section of the book that contained pages and pages of “Mars science”, I never skimmed or skipped. You never know when you might miss a good joke about Aquaman or duct tape.

I also really enjoyed all of the stuff that happened down on Earth. The NASA sections of the book were equally as fascinating as the survival story. I wanted to know more about every single character in the book, both on Earth and in space, which is really a testament to Weir. I love him and promise to read every single thing he decides to publish in the future. He’s getting added to the Stephen King/Andrew Smith/Rainbow Rowell/James Ellroy/Ian Rankin/Christopher Brookmyre list of automatic reads, no matter what (after I get my hands on Armada, I’ll let you know if Ernest Cline gets to put his name on this list). Congratulations, Andy.


“I thought he was a centipede. Where did he get tentacles?” “The tentacle store. Stop interrupting.” CBR7 review 47.

UnknownOnce again, I’m one of the last ones to jump on the Courtney Milan bandwagon. Last year, Milan was an author I had never heard of, writing books in a genre that I knew nothing about. And then I followed the advice of my fellow Cannonballers and read her Brothers Sinister series — and I really liked them. Milan was a good writer who really appreciated history and strong women.

This year, the buzz was all about Milan’s entry into the contemporary, New Adult genre, and her first book in a proposed trilogy, Trade Me.

Trade Me is about Blake, a billionaire tech programmer who is soon slated to inherit his dad’s enormous company (bigger and better than Apple!). Blake is brilliant when it comes to technology, but not so savvy when it comes to managing his own life. He isn’t looking forward to taking over the greatest company in the world, and of course, he just might have a frightening secret.

Tina goes to school with Blake, but lives in an entirely different world. She and her roommate rent out a tiny, converted garage (no heat and even worse electricity!) miles from campus. Its all they can afford. Tina works part-time jobs and sends every spare cent home to her family. Tina shops at Goodwill, uses an ancient laptop computer, and eats a lot of rice — there are a lot of meals in a big bag of rice!

After Blake and Tina have a confrontation about poverty in one of their seminars, Tina tells him that he has no idea how hard her life is. He doesn’t understand what it means to be on an income, or how to stretch a dollar. Blake has known nothing but privilege his entire life, and jokingly, Tina bets him that he couldn’t last a month living her life.

And of course, because reasons, Blake takes her up on the bet. Tina moves into his luxurious San Francisco mansion. Blake moves into the garage. Tina drives the Tesla, while Blake gets a job stacking boxes in a store room.

And yes, sparks fly. But Tina is afraid of being hurt and Blake is afraid of letting Tina get to know the real him, so theirs is a bumpy road.

I liked Tina a Blake a lot and was rooting for them to work all of their shit out. Because they really had a lot of it. They both brought a lot of family baggage to the table, and it was nice to see them help each other navigate through some of the more difficult situations. I especially liked how Blake and Tina related to each others’ dads.

My only complaint was that I really never bought into the whole “trading lives” thing. When Blake was spelling out the terms of their agreement to Tina over their pho lunch, I really couldn’t get over the ridiculousness of what I was reading. And really, it just made me hungry for pho.

But ridiculous life swap aside, I enjoyed it. I like Milan’s breezy writing style, and her conversations and characters are realistic and easy to like (no, this book didn’t have puppy cannons, but it did have a tentacle store. So there’s that.). While I still prefer Milan’s historical novels, I look forward to reading the second book in the series, supposedly featuring Tina’s roommate Maria.

And finally, I did promise emmalita that I’d try and do some Wentworthing in my future reviews. So, you know, here you go.





Constant Reader liked this one a lot. Mostly. Until the end. CBR7 Review 46.

UnknownAs you are well aware by now, Uncle Stevie and I have a long, ongoing, somewhat unhealthy relationship. He writes, I read. No matter the length or the quality (hello, cocaine years), I was — and still am — there for him. I’ve read pretty much everything, and lots of times I’ve read stuff more than once. His short story collections? Automatic re-reads. Anything to do with The Dark Tower? I’m all over it. I’ll read it until I get every single cross-reference.

And now, Uncle Stevie finds himself two books into a planned trilogy about a retired police detective named Bill Hodges. I read — and really enjoyed — the first book last year, Mr. Mercedes. It was a mostly straightforward detective novel — bad guy does terrible thing, retired cop starts poking around for clues, good guys defeat bad guys. I liked it. I liked the little “ka-tet” of characters King threw together, with Hodges, his teenage neighbor Jerome, and aspergers-y Holly. I wanted them to catch Brady Hartsfield. I wanted him to pay for killing that poor sleeping baby in the prologue. King kept the plot moving and left us guessing until pretty much the very end. All good, as far as I was concerned. I was looking forward to book two.

And really, I wasn’t too disappointed. Although book two is a really different beast than Mr. Mercedes.

Morrie Bellamy is obsessed with a Steinbeck-esque writer named John Rothstein. Rothstein lives in a secluded farmhouse and hasn’t published anything for years. Bellamy and some friends break into Rothstein’s house, steal his cash and his huge stash of Moleskine notebooks (OF COURSE, these are filled with unpublished, glorious writing, but Morrie doesn’t dare take a peek), and murder Rothstein. Bellamy buries the money and the notebooks behind his house in an un-named Mid Western town. He attempts to broker a deal to sell these notebooks on the black-market (his friend, Drew, specializes in rare books), and then ends up in jail on an unrelated charge. He gets life. This is in 1978.

Morrie never stops thinking about those notebooks and what might be inside them.

Meanwhile, in present day, a kid named Pete Saubers now lives in Morrie’s old house. His life is tough. His dad was really badly hurt by Brady Hartsfield, and lost his job and his ability to walk. His parents fight constantly and Pete and his little sister Tina worry about divorce.

One day, Pete finds a buried treasure in the abandoned field behind his house. A trunk filled with envelopes of cash and bags and bags of Moleskine notebooks. Pete figures he can solve his parents’ financial troubles, and begins sending them anonymous cash donations on a monthly basis.

And the notebooks? Well, Pete becomes pretty much as obsessed with Rothstein as Morrie Bellamy ever was. Pete becomes the first person in the world to read Rothstein’s two unpublished novels, both better than anything Pete had ever read before. But what should Pete do with these notebooks? Surely, there has to be a cash value for something as rare as this?

An interesting story, right? And halfway through, we still haven’t even heard a peep from Bill Hodges and his Scoobies.

But Bill does get involved when Pete finds himself in over his head. And that’s when the book does a 180 and turns from an interesting mystery into a pulse-pounding thriller. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Until…well…until Uncle Stevie pulled an Uncle Stevie, and gave us an ending straight out of Writing on Cocaine 101.


No, I didn’t need for this book to suddenly have a supernatural twist. No, I didn’t need any of this crap with Brady Hartsfield to happen. And no, I don’t really look forward to what King might have planned for book three. I would prefer these to be pure detective stories, without any sort of King crap that might be better served in a story about The Shop (remember that creepy place in Firestarter?).

But come on. Its not like I won’t read the third book, even if I thought the end of this one was crazy. King knows I’m his bitch.

In Finders Keepers, when Morrie reads his first Rothstein, he has a revelation.

For readers, one of life’s most electrifying discoveries is that they are readers — not just capable of doing it (which Morris already knew), but in love with it. Hopelessly. Head over heels. The first book that does this is never forgotten, and each page seems to bring a fresh revelation, one that burns and exalts: Yes! That’s how it is! Yes! I saw that, too! And, of course, That’s what I think! That’s what I FEEL!

That’s how I felt when I read The Shining all those years ago at summer camp. He’s had me since Jack Torrance met Lloyd the bartender, and I haven’t looked back.


Another page turner from Liane Moriarty. CBR7 Review 45.

51jtIQdHoXL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_After I finished tearing through Big Little Lies a few months ago, my friend Amy told me that she had just done the same, and now couldn’t stop reading all of Liane Moriarty’s back catalog. Armed with her suggestions re: which ones were good and which ones not-so-great, I bought a bunch of them on Kindle and took off on my vacation. The first one I uploaded was The Last Anniversary, which is one of her first novels.

Adorable Sophie is nearing forty, and starting to panic because she’s single and has no prospects. She always thought she’d have plenty of time to meet someone and have a baby. What if she made a mistake in dumping her almost-fiance Thomas? He had seemed like the perfect boyfriend, but she never really felt a spark, and always imagined that someone better would come along. But now Thomas is married and has his own baby, and Sophie is starting to panic.

When Thomas calls her, out of the blue, to mention that his elderly aunt had died and had left her gorgeous island home to Sophie, she isn’t quite sure what to do. Thomas’ family all have beautiful homes on a private island outside of Sydney, and Sophie would love to live there. Such a gorgeous and tranquil location, and such a beautiful and comfortable home.

Sophie moves in, and then starts to learn all of the secrets of the island and Thomas’ family, including his grandmother Enigma, a local celebrity. When Enigma was a baby, she was found abandoned in her home on the island. Both parents vanished, the tea kettle steaming, and a cake cooking on the counter. Found by two of Thomas’ great-aunts and raised as their own sister, Enigma became an Australian sensation. And the family has been living off of that mystery ever since. Tourists continue to flock to the island, year after year, to see the museum the family has created.

And every year, they throw a huge party on the anniversary of Enigma’s discovery.

Because this is written by Liane Moriarty, you just know there’s going to be more to the story than that. And this one — although not as entertaining as Big Little Lies — certainly doesn’t disappoint. I look forward to catching up with the rest of Moriarty’s bibliography (except for maybe The Hypnotist’s Love Story…that doesn’t seem to be such a winner among the Cannonballers).


I’ll give it a thumbs up, even with the unforgivable lack of Knightley. CBR7 review 44.

mr-knightley-profileAlexander McCall Smith is a writer that I like very much, but I honestly can’t remember much about the books I’ve read by him. I know I read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Maybe I read a few more of those? Maybe something a bit more Scottish? I really don’t know. But I like his easy way of writing and the warm characters that he writes, so while he isn’t a “must” writer for me, I do enjoy his books from time to time.

When Bonnie posted her review of Emma earlier this year, I added it to my list, but wasn’t in a major rush to get at it. Which was fine, because my library only had the one copy, and MY GOD, some people are so slow about getting books back to the library. So, it took until I left for the glorious Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts for me to start the book. And really, that was the perfect time. I could just kick back and read a quaint little story about quaint people in a quaint village.

Emma has never been my favorite of Jane Austen’s books. Emma easily annoys me — between her meddling and her inability to see the world around her, she sometimes just pisses me off. And I never believe that she deserves to end up with Knightley at the end.

And in this version, with Emma driving around in her cute Mini Cooper, attempting to launch an interior design firm, I still got annoyed with her. As soon as Harriet mentioned Robert Martin, I was all set. But there were so many other details that I enjoyed, I almost forgot to dislike Emma.

I loved Mrs. Goddard and Mr. Weston. I laughed at Emma’s sister Isabella and her amazing ability to produce twins with John Knightley, photographer to the stars. I enjoyed reading about the village and everyone in it, from Mr. Elton’s X-Factor wife, to Robert Martin and his family’s inn, and all of Mrs. Goddard’s students who wanted to find that elusive train station.

I still didn’t love Emma. But I was glad to read about her early childhood, and how some events made her into the woman she is in the story. Her father still drove me crazy with all of his neuroses, but I sort of understood him this time.

And Knightley? As mentioned by Bonnie, it was a crime how little Knightley there was in this version of the story. DO NOT TRY AND LESSEN THE KNIGHTLEY. Unacceptable. Other than that? A delight.


Diving head-first into the New Adult genre. CBR7 reviews 40-43.

imagesI’ve been away for a month on a lovely vacation. Mountains, beach, Boston, family, and 10 great books. And now I’m back to reality. Laundry, unpacking, back to school shopping, and book reviews. I’m not sure I can take it.

Because I read a 5-book (well, actually, 4 novels and one novella) series, I’m going to start my reviews there. Even though they were the last books I read, and the freshest in my mind, and I should probably try and remember what happened in those books I read back at the beginning of July. But no. I’ll write about the Ivy Years collection, because that will take a big chunk of my review pile away.

So anyway.

While I was away, I read a bunch of great reviews for a “new adult” series called The Ivy Years Collection. All of the books take place at fictional Ivy League Harkness College, somewhere in Connecticut. And all of the books somehow have to do with the hockey team, and have many recurring characters.

In short:

The Year We Fell Down
Corey comes to Harkness for her freshman year in a wheelchair. She had a terrible hockey accident that left her unable to walk on her own. Stuck in special housing for students who are injured or disabled, she feels like she’ll never fit in. But Corey finds a new friend in her roommate, Dana. And even better, the guy across the hall is the handsome star of the men’s hockey team, Adam Hartley. Hartley broke his leg and is out for the season. Sparks fly, angst ensues, happiness reigns.

This was my favorite of the series. Corey and Hartley were vibrant, fun, lovable characters, and I just really liked them. A lot. I might have even cried a few times.

The Year We Hid Away
Hartley’s best friend, Bridger, is dealing with some tough stuff for a college student. His father is dead, his mother is a drug addict, and he’s trying to look out for his 8 year-old sister. Between working various jobs to keep himself able to afford school and looking after his sister, he doesn’t have much time for a social life. Until he meets Scarlet. Of course, Scarlet has some problems of her own. Horrible, disgusting, evil problems. They get to know each other and help each other through the worst year ever.

I liked Bridger. I thought Scarlet was fine. But I hated everyone in her life and really didn’t enjoy reading about her backstory. Yes, I get that life is hard and can often be ugly, but this was a bit much.

Blonde Date (an adorable novella)
Scarlet’s blond roommate Katie needs a date for the sorority Christmas party. And she’s through with piggish football players. So Scarlet sets her up with Bridger’s neighbor, nerdy Andy from the basketball team. A really nice guy.

Like Courtney Milan’s adorable A Kiss for Midwinter in the Brothers Sinister series, this was a fun breath of fresh air. I was really rooting for these two kids and hoping they would both help each other to see their very best selves and how much they had to offer each other. So cute.

The Understatement of the Year
Michael Graham can’t believe his eyes one day when he meets the new hockey player on his team. John Rikker, his best friend from high school, and his first boyfriend. Torn apart after a vicious hate crime, Graham can’t handle having Rikker back in his life again, because that will mean he just might have to come out of the closet.

This was my least favorite of the books. I really wanted to root for Graham, and wanted to care about what happened with him and Rikker. But I just didn’t. Graham was a very one-note character for me, and I was hoping for more. One good thing about this story, it gave us Bella, the main character in the next book.

The Shameless Hour
Bella likes the company of men, and isn’t ashamed about it. While others sometimes whisper behind her back and call her a slut, she just does what she wants and is happy with her friendships and relationships — mostly with the men’s hockey team. Until a horrible, embarrassing incident occurs and Bella hides away from everything and everyone — except for her new neighbor Lianne and her handsome downstairs neighbor (and former one-night-stand) Rafe.

I really liked this one, too. Bella’s struggles and the truths she faces regarding feminism raised many interesting things to think about. My only complaint about this one was that Rafe was really just a bit too good to be true. Too handsome, too patient, too kind, too perfect. But if he makes Bella happy, well, then that’s ok with me.

All in all, the stories and characters were perfect vacation reading (except for the heavy Scarlet bits). I like the universe created here, and enjoyed seeing characters from the other books pop in and out at various times. It was like Sarina Bowen knew I just wanted to check in on Corey from time to time, and make sure she and Hartley were ok.

I don’t have much criticism. Sometimes I worried about how lonely these characters were. They didn’t seem to have much going on socially other than spending time with the person they were suddenly paired off with. But the characters were aware that they were lonely, and often tried to do something about that, so I got over it and just rolled with the story.

Bowen has another book coming out later this year — this one about Lianne and a young hockey player — and I definitely plan to pick it up.


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

Join 37 other followers

Twitter Updates