Archive for April, 2016


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.
“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!” 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?


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.



And in the darkened underpass, I thought Oh God, my chance has come at last. But then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn’t ask. CBR8 Review 20.

UnknownI really wanted to like this little book. I thought it would be a fun story about what it was like to grow up in 1980s England, when The Smiths were first on the music scene. About musical fandom in the days before the internet and smartphones, when you had to find a reliable music shop that sold Melody Maker or NME imports just so that you could find out the tiniest bit of information about whatever group was the coolest back then.

But this isn’t that book. This book touches on music fandom and obsession and has the rise of The Smiths and Morrissey as a subplot. But really, this is a book about mental illness. And that isn’t what I signed up for.

Young Alice lives in the British countryside with her father, Keith the pot-smoking hippy, and her mother, Gina the schizophrenic. Her mother is known around town as being crazy, and poor Alice doesn’t really stand a chance on the social scene. Alice feels quite alone — unable to bond with her mother and unwilling to be honest with her father — until one night, she sees The Smiths on Top of the Pops. And she knows she’s found her soul mate in Morrissey.


Nobody understands her despair or her loneliness like Morrissey, and Alice becomes obsessed. For many years. And so does her mother. Morrissey and his music lift Gina out of her drug-induced catatonic state and she abandons her family to head to Manchester, on a quest for Moz, truly believing that he’s sending her a message hidden in the lyrics of There is a Light that Never Goes Out.

Really, this could have been cute and fun. But it just wasn’t. With themes like date rape, miscarriages, mental illness, infidelity, and homophobia, I really just felt a sense of dread.

And the ending. I just couldn’t.


Alice and Keith find that Gina has been living with some old truck driver who helped her look for Morrissey. They want to get married. So Keith divorces Gina to get with the town doctor that he’s been carrying on with. And Alice and her maybe-gay best friend decide to settle down together (maybe she’s pregnant? Its all very vague.). So they have a triple wedding. As you do.

I’d advise you to skip this book. If you’re looking for a book that is a real tribute to The Smiths, pick up Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting. The scene in that book about There is a Light that Never Goes Out is simply heartbreaking.

A Personal Note: Although this book took place a few years before my time, I did love the feel of it, and the memories of what it was like to hear new music that blew my mind. Yes, I loved The Smiths. And The Cure. And Bauhaus. And Duran Duran. Whatever was new and different. And I was — for a brief time — a little bit of a punk, a little bit of a goth back in the day.

If anyone here is from Boston, there was a store about a block away from Park Street Station called Stairway to Heaven, which was actually a basement. You could go there and buy your Doc Martens and your wayfarers, your Madonna bracelets and your jazz shoes. That’s what this book made me remember. Visiting Stairway to Heaven to see all of the lipstick kisses on the Simon LeBon posters and trying on black lipsticks.


In which Michael Stipe and Luke Skywalker team up to save the world. CBR8 review 19.

Unknown-2I can’t remember when I first read World War Z. I think it was during CBR7, but maybe it was CBR6. It was a book I enjoyed, but I just never got around to reviewing it. I keep a list of all of the books that haven’t been reviewed since I started Cannonballing, but I don’t date them, and maybe I should.

But I remember reading it quickly, and being surprised by what I found. I liked it a lot and was shocked at how different it was from that Brad Pitt thing. I liked the dry wit and pessimistic attitude that Max Brooks brought to the traditional zombie story, tracing the epidemic from patient zero in rural China to the end of the zombie war, some 10 years later. Told in interview format, with information from people of all walks of life and from all corners of the globe, we saw a complete picture of just how quickly our world could break down if some sort of global crisis were to come calling.

This time, I listened to the audiobook. And wow, was it a different experience.

It was funnier. Some of the narrators were just so good at the parts they played. Martin Scorcese as the crooked pharmaceutical executive was just brilliant. His fast-talking, I-dont-give-a-shit attitude was perfect for the man who was now living in exile after tricking the american people into a false sense of safety from the zombie infection.

It was also much sadder. Bruce Boxleitner was a bit heartbreaking as a civilian pilot who watched the midwest completely break down while he flew overhead. Listening to the different voices tell the story of what their lives were like before and after the outbreak was really tough sometimes. The chapter about the new mayor of the fortified town in Montana, in particular — I knew exactly what was going to happen to her and her family, and yet I was scared to death while listening to her tell the story. Alfred Molina telling the story about watching the invasion from the International Space Station, while he was on his deathbed, dying from radiation poisoning, was also beautifully done.

The chapter about the famous movie director riding around California on his bike, trying to splice together footage of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, also had some poignant bits. In particular, his description of the young college student singing Roxy Music’s Avalon — a perfect song to set the mood of the interview.


I also learned a lot more about what Brooks truly thinks about government, religion, celebrity, and America in general. Too many secrets, too much bureaucracy, too much of the “looking out for number one” attitude, too much excess.

The chapter about the reality show filming on Long Island particularly stuck with me. Not only did Henry Rollins do an absolutely amazing job telling this story, but the insight into Hollywood, and what it means to be famous, was really disturbing. Those celebrities who were stupid enough to think that their fame was more important than the deaths of thousands of civilians deserved everything that they got.

His views on the treatment of the military were also eye-opening. The chapters narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris as a high-ranking military official showed just what a clusterfuck the entire operation was. And Alan Alda almost steals the show as the head of a newly created government bureau, who’s job it is to re-educate the american people, train them to live in this new world, and to create the tools and weapons needed not only to survive, but to thrive once again.

But not everyone was as successful. I think some of these great actors that were gathered up to be a part of this — lots of them probably friends of Max Brooks or his dad…I mean, Carl Fricking Reiner is in this — just weren’t that convincing. As readers, they did a great job. But this is supposed to be a bunch of interviews, so it should sound like a conversation, right?

One part in particular that failed for me was the description of how the navy was fighting the zombies underwater. In the book, I remember being mesmerized by the descriptions of walking over broken flat-screen TVs and looking behind appliances for zombies. And that fighting them in the water was like “fighting in a glass of milk” because of all of the sand and silt and salt. But the narrator killed this chapter and I couldn’t get through it fast enough.

And yes, the worst offender was Brooks himself. His delivery just didn’t work. But I’ll get over it. Because he gave me the gift of Mark Hamill.

Mark Hamill pretty much won my heart with his portrayal of soldier Todd Wainio. In the book, I remember thinking that Wainio’s three appearances were a bit much. Yes, his description of the failed Battle of Yonkers was fascinating, but the character was a bit too much to take.

And then Mark Hamill brought Todd Wainio to life, and I wish there was a whole book about him. His descriptions of what happened in Yonkers, the rebuilding of the army with volunteers from all over the country (nuns! realtors! Michael Stipe!) as well as his trek across the country afterwards, were simply riveting. Hamill understood how to bring his character to life in a conversational format, so it sounded like I was just sitting there, listening to a somewhat-unhinged guy tell me all about the past 10 years of his life. And it was amazing.

Sorry, James Marsters. There’s a new audiobook king in my world.




Oh, Rainbow. You and I really are kindred spirits. CBR8 review 18.

UnknownI’m pretty sure that Rainbow Rowell and I are more or less the same age, give or take a year or two. We clearly see eye-to-eye when it comes to several things: depressing 80s new wave music from the UK, what it was like to go to high school in the time before the internet, and Star Wars.

One of my first first clear memories is of my dad taking me into downtown Boston on a weekend (just me! no little brother! something special was going to happen!) to meet his best friend and his niece, who was just about my age. We met up at a fancy movie theater (it is now a Whole Foods, of course), and then they told us that for the next two hours, we were going on an adventure.

That adventure, of course, was Star Wars. And no, I won’t call it A New Hope. I’ll just call it Star Wars. And I loved it. Maybe not as much as my dad and his friend, but I loved it a lot. And a few weeks later, my dad (who was in advertising, and happened to have one of the very first VCRs) brought home a shaky, pirated, very illegal, hand-held video recording of Star Wars that he got from some guy who knew a guy.

And we watched that thing until the tape was pretty much see-through.

I had Star Wars birthday parties and cakes. We wore Tshirts with iron-on Star Wars decals from Spencers. We traded Star Wars cards. We had all of the original figures and cool Kenner toys. I was all about Star Wars and the original trilogy.

I’ve seen those movies in pretty much every single iteration that George Lucas has come up with. When they re-released them in the theaters in the late 90s, my dad and I went to all three. We went to special screenings at fancy theaters where orchestras played John Williams’ score. We couldn’t get enough.

Until the prequels came around. Those I’ve had enough of, thanks. I saw each of them once, and that’s it. My kids have seen them over and over again, but I just can’t. There’s just something so inherently wrong about them that I just can’t bring myself to care about the mythology from that time period in the canon. Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels are fine (just last week I made my 6 year old a stuffed Rotta the Hutt doll!). Just no prequels.

And that’s why I bonded with Elena, the main character of Kindred Spirits.

No, I never waited in line to see Star Wars. No, I’ve never worn any sort of Star Wars cosplay. But still. I felt a kinship with Elena. OK, so her favorite is Princess Leia, and mine is Han Solo, but I can get past that.

I loved this little story about a girl with Star Wars in her heart. My only complaint is that it just wasn’t longer. I could have had a whole book about Elena and Gabe and Troy. And Elena’s mother. And the grumpy movie theater dude. I wanted more. What happens when they go back to the movies later that night? What happens in school on Monday? What about Elena’s dad in Florida?

But 60-something pages is all we got, and I’ll try and get past that, too.

Special thanks to the wonderful faintingviolet for sending me a copy of this. You are the best!



David Tennant makes everything better. CBR8 Reviews 16 & 17.

Unknown-2Here’s something strange: last week I picked up two books at the library without really knowing what they were about. I just knew I heard “about” them and figured they would be a good way to pass a cold, rainy April weekend. What’s weird is that were pretty much the same story…just that one was way, way better than the other.

Spoiler/trigger warning
Both of these books deal with the rape of a high school student and the repercussions that follow.

First lets get the bad out of the way. I really didn’t like the Luckiest Girl Alive. But there were some glimpses of good in it.

TifAni FaNelli is a freshman in high school in 2004 who transfers to an uber wealthy prep school after being kicked out of an all girls Catholic school for being a bad influence. Desperate to make new friends and fit in, TifAni quickly morphs herself into a girl that the cafeteria table of cool kids might like. But her transformation quickly backfires, and she is sexually assaulted at a party a few weeks later.

Of course, nobody believes her. The boy she could potentially bring charges against is super wealthy and popular, and she’s a nobody from the wrong side of the tracks. She was probably asking for it, right?

Meanwhile, in present day Manhattan, Ani FaNelli is a rising editor at a popular women’s magazine and is getting married to the perfect Luke Harrison. Ani has again reinvented herself, dropping the “Tif” and hoping that people don’t recognize her name or her face, always trying to put her past behind her.

I hated both TifAni and Ani. I hated everyone around her — the other students, her parents, the school administrators, the police, her bridesmaids, Luke’s family, everyone. Except the shark. I liked the shark.

I appreciated that Ani attempted to put her past behind her, and attempt to rise and succeed as someone new, but I disliked the person she created so much that it was difficult to care.

The book was absorbing as hell, however. I read it in two sittings and was impressed by how difficult it was to put down. And I read about the recent revelation that the author had been assaulted as a girl, and I feel terrible about that. I just wish I had liked this book.

Now on to something better.

UnknownExit, Pursued by a Bear was a much stronger version of the same story. Described as a cross between Veronica Mars and Shakespeare, Exit tells the story of rape victim Hermione.

Hermione and her best friend, Polly, are seniors. They are the co-captains of their extraordinarily successful school cheerleading squad (yeah, all of the cheerleading stuff went way over my head. I have no idea.), and are ready to leave their small town behind for college life in a few months.

And then at a party at cheerleading camp, Hermione is given a drink with a roofie in it and blacks out. She wakes up in the hospital with no recollection of the past 12 hours, and no idea how to react to the fact that something terrible happened to her, and that she doesn’t remember it.
What makes this book better is that Hermione is such a normal girl. She has self-doubts. She has problems with her parents and her friends. She argues with her boyfriend and worries about school. I really felt what she was going through and her struggles to deal with a trauma that she felt so disassociated from.

Plus, this book had lots of witty banter and even some Star Wars jokes.

After Hermione’s nerves cause her to throw up in the bathroom, her dad runs upstairs to check on her and we get this scene, with her dad talking to her and Polly through the bathroom door:

“Will you be okay for dinner?” he asks.
“Oh yeah,” Polly says. “I’m fine now. We’re all fine. How are you?”

I’m a sucker for a good Han Solo reference.


I’ll keep my eye out for more from Johnston, I really liked her style.

And for anyone curious about the title of the book (taken from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale), here’s the yummy David Tennant attempting to explain it:



Reader, I loved this book. CBR8 Review 15.

Unknown-2To say I was hesitant about reading Jane Steele is a bit of an understatement. Yes, we had a few glowing, wonderful reviews from ElCicco and yesknopemaybe, and that should have been enough to convince me. But last year I read Jane, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, and I hated it. HATED IT. I was wary about getting myself into another Jane Eyre story. But this isn’t a retelling of the classic, its more of an homage. And it kicks ass.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that this is going to be one of the Cannonball books of the year. There’s just too much to love for it not to become a favorite.

Jane Steele is a young woman in Victorian (I guess? The time is quite vague) England who loves the novel Jane Eyre and finds many similarities between herself and Bronte’s young heroine. Except, mostly, the fact that Jane Steele is a 5-time murderess. And, as far as I am aware, Jane Eyre had committed zero murders.

Jane Steele spends her early life living with her beautiful (and somewhat crazy) French mother in a cottage on an estate that she is told she will someday inherit. Jane doesn’t understand the intricacies or the legalities of this promise, but she always keeps the fact that Highgate House is legally her property in the back of her mind. When young Jane is orphaned, it is proposed that she will leave the estate where her horrible aunt and even more horrible cousin Edwin currently live, and be sent to one of those awfully tragic girls schools.

And thus, young Jane’s future as a killer is set in motion.

Yes, Jane heads off to the school, and it is every bit as awful as you might imagine. And even worse, as the headmaster is pretty much the devil. But Jane finds some goodness there, in the form of Clarke, a younger girl, left at the school by her wealthy, bohemian parents.

Jane and Clarke have adventures both at the school, and later, in London. When they sever their relationship, Jane is devastated, and nearly hits rock bottom. Until she sees an ad in the newspaper looking for a governess as Highgate House.

And Reader, this is when the book goes from really good to great.

Lyndsay Faye has created an amazing heroine in Jane Steele. Yes, Jane has done some bad things. Really terrible things. And yet, you can’t not root for her. You want nothing but the best for her and everyone in her life.

The supporting cast was also a delight. Charles Thornfield could go right up there with Captain Wentworth as a dashing romantic hero, as far as I’m concerned. Sardar Singh, Inspector Quillfeather, and the rest of the Thornfield household were also colorful, dynamic characters that I wanted to know more about. I loved the little details that we learned about these people. For instance, how Inspector Quillfeather always spoke in questions, or why the Sikh traditions and customs were so important to Charles and Sardar.

And the writing was top-notch. Not only was I on the edge of my seat for the last hundred pages, there were times when I actually laughed out loud. Like this exchange between Jane and her opium-addicted roommate:

“Lived at a place named Highgate House!” Tilly teased. “Well, I never. Ye was a genuine lady, like, with silks and velvets and a stick up your arse.”

“No velvets. No silks.” I folded the paper.

“But the stick?”

“Of course. They equip us with bum sticks from the cradle.”

Reader, I loved this book and am sad I had to finish it.


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