Archive for September, 2016


And the moral of the story is, never doubt Andrew Smith. CBR8 Review 49.

unknownLongtime Cannonballers know of my obsession with all things Andrew Smith. From the moment that I first read Grasshopper Jungle I was obsessed with reading as much of this work as I could, as quickly as possible. When I finished his books, I started reading the books that he tweets about and books by friends of his. I discovered AS King and We Are the Ants. So when I saw that the highly lauded Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda actually had a blurb from Smith on the cover, really, I need no further praise than that.

And Andrew Smith was right, of course. He called it “a remarkable gift of a novel.”

Here’s what I love about writers like Smith, Rainbow Rowell, and now Becky Albertalli: they write about teens, but they treat them like fully developed human beings. Their characters say things you could imagine actual people saying. They do funny things, awkward things, stupid things. They make mistakes, and sometimes learn from them. These are real people in real situations (well, except for that giant praying mantis invasion): problems with friends, questions about love and sex, wondering about sexuality and gender, balancing home life and school. You know. Stuff that literally every human goes through at some point in their lives.

Albertalli gives us the wonderful Simon, a closeted gay high school student in Georgia. Nobody knows his secret, except for two people. The first is his secret, online penpal, Blue. The second is Martin, a kid from the school play that Simon is in who stumbles across some of the emails between Simon and Blue and uses them to blackmail Simon into setting him up with Simon’s adorable friend Abby. (whoa. total run-on sentence. but its just one of those teenage situations that practically begs for run-on details).

As Simon and Blue continue to email and open up to each other about their lives and their feelings, Simon tries to figure out just who Blue might be. All he knows is that they go to the same school, but nothing else.

Meanwhile, Simon deals with coming out to his friends and family, his sister going away to college and changing the family dynamic, and the jealousy between two of his friends who both fall for the same guy.

I loved Simon’s family and their unquestioning support of Simon. I appreciated that his dad, who had made tons of gay jokes in the past, felt bad about it but had really never meant any harm. Just showing how his casual, throwaway remarks really bothered Simon was an important insight into their relationship.

When we finally find out who Blue is, I wasn’t disappointed. I wish Simon and Blue all the luck in the world and hope that someday we get a whole Becky Albertalli universe (like Sarah Dessen’s world or Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl/Landline bits) of books and get to catch a glimpse of future, happy Simon.

My apologies to Becky Albertalli, who is clearly an amazing new talent. I didn’t mean to make your review all about Andrew Smith. Its a compliment, I swear. I just can’t help myself.



I loved the first third of this so much that the rest doesn’t even really matter. CBR8 Review 48.

unknown-4I’ve read an awful lot of zombie stories over the past 10 years. I’m really not sure why, as zombies aren’t really my thing. I don’t watch The Walking Dead and I’m not an aficionado of George Romero movies. I think its just ended up that a lot of authors that I like have tried a zombie story, so I’ve gone along with it. Some have been great, like World War Z or This Year’s Class Picture. Some have been less wonderful…like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Cell. Some have an uplifting ending — a cure might be found, the zombies are eradicated, civilization is better than ever, etc. And some have the world end, that’s it, humanity finished. I don’t really have a preference, I just like them to be original.

The first third of The Girl with All the Gifts is wonderfully original, and I loved it. Melanie is a young girl who goes to a special school run by doctors and soldiers. She’s a brilliant student and a loving little girl, and yet the adults around her call her “an abortion” and keep her strapped into a wheelchair at all times. Melanie has a lovely young teacher named Miss Justineau, and Melanie loves her very much.

While Melanie learns about Greek mythology, history, math, science, and geography, she also learns about what life is like outside of their classroom. They live someplace in England, not far from Beacon, the only populated city left in the nation. The world has been decimated by “hungries” — zombies created by a fungus that turns people into brainless eating machines, and only a small number of humans still survive.

I loved learning about Melanie’s day-to-day life at school, and about all of the different teachers and the other adults around her.

And then, about 1/3 of the way in to the book, everything changes. And it isn’t that I didn’t like the rest of the book, I just didn’t love it as much as the beginning.


So it seems that Melanie is basically a hungry, but she can think and learn, so the evil Doctor Caldwell is hell bent on opening up her brain to find a cure for civilization. But before she can do that, the base where Melanie is kept is attacked by a horde of hungrier and junkers (humans who live in the wild and kill other humans). To save Miss Justineau, Melanie attacks some junkers and realizes what she is.

Melanie, Miss Justineau, Doctor Caldwell, the amazing Sergeant Parks, and another soldier, young Kieran Gallagher, escape and head toward London and Beacon. Melanie, who would never do anything to hurt Miss Justineau, finds her physical self at war with her mental self and keeps herself in a muzzle and on a leash. Doctor Caldwell is obsessed with getting a chance to experiment on Melanie, and potentially being the savior of the human race. Miss Justineau spends her time hating Doctor Caldwell and protecting Melanie. Gallagher tries hard not to show how frightened he is, and tries (and fails) to act brave at all times. Parks protects them all, and slowly comes to appreciate, and maybe even like, Melanie.

As soon as our little band of travelers came across the dead hungries with the huge fungal trunks growing out of their bodies, I knew where this was headed. Of course those pods were going to open up at some point and knock off the rest of the survivors. I just didn’t expect it to be because a 10 year old girl decided that now was a fine time for it, as long as Miss Justineau could come along for the ride.

Some say that the ending was uplifting, but I didn’t see it that way. Not like I wanted Caldwell to cut Melanie open and find a cure…but the end of the human race as we know it wasn’t exactly a happy ending. I don’t know. It just wasn’t the ending for me.

I don’t mean to sound like I didn’t like this book. I did. I just wish that I had enjoyed the part after the escape from the base as much as the preceding part. And yes, I plan on seeing the movie next week. Here’s hoping its as exciting as the trailer makes it out to be.



Inside this gigantic book that I sort of liked was a fascinating novella that I loved. CBR8 review 47.

unknown-6This year marks my sixth Cannonball, and yet, somehow, this is the only book in The Passage trilogy that I’ve reviewed. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but I imagine it can be blamed on babies and whatnot.

I loved the first book, The Passage. I thought it was exciting and original, and I was name dropping Justin Cronin left and right. He was going to be the next Stephen King, and this trilogy was going to be his version of The Stand.

You haven’t read The Passage? OK. Well. Its the story of what happens to society after a vampiric virus being tested on convicts (the government was trying to create some sort of SUPER SOLDIER) goes haywire, vampires exist, society crumbles, etc. Except that there is one girl, Amy, who is immune to the virus and becomes known as THE GIRL WHO LIVED. The story jumps ahead almost 100 years to focus on a colony in California that was created by the government to help humankind to continue to exist. The kids who live there eventually meet up with Amy, go on a huge road trip, kill lots of vampires, and start to figure out just why their world is the way that it is.

It was really great.

And then, a few years later, Cronin released The Twelve. It had some great parts, but didn’t live up to the standards (MY STANDARDS) of the first. Our heroes from the first book continue to wage war against the head vampires (aka THE TWELVE), with Amy on their side. Some of the stories were amazing — I really loved reading about Lila and her absolute refusal to see that society has come to an end. The world is pretty much over and she’s in Home Depot picking out paint for a baby’s nursery.

The Twelve was good, but to be honest, I kind of forgot about it and was seriously shocked when I saw City of Mirrors at the library. It totally just slipped my mind that a third book was coming.

And I pretty much feel the same way about the third book as I did the second. It had some really interesting parts, but it didn’t hold up to the amazing power of the first book.

There were two things I really loved.

First, Cronin chose to advance the story about 20 years. So that all of our heroes and main characters were now about 50 years old, which is not a common occurrence in an action-type story. They were no longer young and in terrific shape, they weren’t as fast as they once were, and they had become comfortable in their lives. They were parents and grandparents now, not just soldiers and medics and technicians. I loved this narrative decision by Cronin.

Second, my absolute favorite part of the book was the small novella (I read it on a kindle, so its hard to say how long it was…maybe 150 pages?) stuck right in the middle. It told the story of Tim Fanning (AKA Patient Zero, and father figure of THE TWELVE) and his college roommate at Harvard, Jonas Lear. Tim falls in love with Jonas’ girlfriend, which changes his life forever. Decades after college, Jonas is the one who convinces Tim to come with him to the jungle and help to research the mysterious virus that’s been discovered.

I could have read this bizarre story of love and jealousy for another 100 pages.

The rest of the story just wasn’t as strong for me. I was glad to see Amy and Carter working together to defeat the virals, but that simply ended up as a ton of build-up with very little result. I also appreciated the action sequences, but have to complain that it took HUNDREDS of pages before anything happened here.


Here’s what I hated:


Everything that happened with Peter in the last hundred pages or so was just so so so so stupid. I hated him turning viral at the 11th hour, and yet still loving Amy in his weird, viral way. And why did he die as a viral? Could they die of old age? This didn’t get explained at any point and just pissed me off. This whole plot annoyed me so much that I almost didn’t care about finishing.


I think if I hadn’t adored The Passage, then I wouldn’t have been as “meh” about this book. It was pretty good, it just wasn’t great.




These audiobooks are great. But they’re also terrible. Hells bells, I don’t know what I think. CBR8 reviews 45 & 46.

unknown-5I’ve now read the first three installments in the Harry Dresden series. Or, to be more specific, I’ve now listened to James Marsters read me the first three installments in the Harry Dresden series. And I still don’t really know what I think.

Let me explain.

I have no idea what is going on in these books. Yes, I understand that Harry is a wizard who lives in Chicago. I get that he works indirectly with the police and with other, less reputable members of society. I totally get that he’s after the bad guys — in the case of these two books, a rogue super-werewolf and a vengeance-crazed ghost who hangs around with some nasty vampires. I know who his friends are and who his enemies are, and why he deserves both.

But I honestly can’t tell you exactly what happened in either of these books. And I’m going to put the blame here:


I find that when James is talking, my mind wanders. I find his voice overwhelmingly soothing, kind of like comfort food. And suddenly I realize that Harry has something going on and HELLS BELLS I have no idea who is involved or what is happening.

And yet.

I’m still going to listen to the rest of these books. I bought a ton of them with expiring Audible credits. I’m just going to try harder to concentrate and not let Spike mess with my mind.

I did enjoy quite a bit that happened in these books, though. I really liked Harry’s friend Michael, bearer of Amoracchius (which I had to look up, because AUDIOBOOK). I liked his dedication to his faith and his family, and I loved how much his wife hated Harry, yet still named their newborn after him.

I was disappointed that Murphy didn’t play much of a part in Grave Peril, and was curious as to how she was doing in the aftermath of Fool Moon — the police station pretty much destroyed after the Loup Garou was thrown into jail under her watch. Some of her colleagues were killed and we didn’t get to find out how she felt about it until the very end of Grave Peril. More Murphy, please.

And Bob. I do like Bob.

But there was plenty I wasn’t into.

First and foremost, I could give a crap about Susan and her potential vampirism. I didn’t care much for them as a couple, and was not into it when Harry saved her by telling her that he loved her. Nope.

Lastly, Harry’s godmother Lea and her hellhounds drove me berserk. Either take him to the Nevernever or leave him in Chicago, but enough with the back and forth.

Enough of my fellow Cannonballers have assured me that after the first four books, the series really takes off, and I’m glad. While I wasn’t madly in love with these two (or what I remember about these two), I still mostly liked them. I think.




Jumping on the bandwagon here. CBR8 review 44.

unknown-4Can I just write that I agree with everyone else, and that this is the new Act Like It?

Or do I need to say more?

How about, if you like (or think you might like) Contemporary Romance, that picking this one up is a no-brainer? This book is witty, filled with delicious and snarky conversation, admirably romantic, and just the right amount of steamy.

I mean, jeez. This book makes a night spent sitting on a couch and holding hands while watching ER and eating ice cream seem like a perfect date, and made me jealous that I wasn’t sitting on a couch and holding hands while watching ER and eating ice cream.

Lucy and Joshua work alongside each other (not really together) at their publishing company, and DO NOT get along. In fact, Lucy pretty much hates Josh more than anyone she’s ever met. And even though I knew from the opening pages where this book was going to go, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ride.

I loved watching Lucy slowly transition from hating Joshua, to wondering about Joshua, to really looking at Joshua and seeing him, to lusting after him, to loving him.

And I loved getting to know Joshua and realizing that all is not as it seems.

I mean, that scene in the elevator? Good god.

This one has been reviewed a lot lately, and for good reason. Its just really good. Its well written, its fun, and its filled with emotion.

Was everything great? No. Of course not. Sometimes I felt like there had been some weird editing, and that some minute plot point we didn’t really care about was suddenly a big deal. Also, it bothered me a lot that Lucy never went home to visit her family. I just didn’t see that she ever had a valid reason. And to be honest, I got kind of skeeved out by the INCESSANT reminders that Lucy is teeny tiny and Joshua is enormous and huge.

But those are minor quibbles.

I read this entire book on a cross-country flight, and was ALMOST sorry that the flight had to end and I had to turn the Kindle off. That’s how much I enjoyed it. Thanks, fellow Cannonballers, for bringing this one to my attention.



This wasn’t my favorite entry in the series, but I still can’t wait to find out where its going. CBR8 review 43.

unknown-5Marked in Flesh is the fourth in a series of books, so really, if you haven’t read any of these yet, I can’t imagine that this would be a good place to start. This book is honestly just filler — the major plot points have already been laid out, most of the main characters have been introduced, its just marking time until some of the larger conflicts occur in future installments.

Here’s the main thing about these books. I know that these Anne Bishop novels about “the Others” have been extraordinarily divisive amongst Cannonballers.

Some have complained about the tedious, monotonous details that are described regarding the every day activities of the characters — they go to the store, they make phone calls, they fill out forms, they wait for the mailman. I don’t mind the details, as I think they are there for a reason…I like seeing the Others attempting to adjust to the basics of human life, and I appreciate the way that Meg uses her routine as a way to ease into her new world, away from the other Cassandra Sangue.

Others have argued that these books are sexist and that Meg is a “Mary Sue.” And really, I don’t want to get into that argument. Personally, I don’t feel that way, but I can surely see how some may. I think that the Others may treat Meg as less dominant than they are, but I don’t see that as sexism, I see it as more like “survival of the fittest”. The Others are still closer to animal than human, and that would be their instinct. Again, this is just my opinion, and I certainly don’t disagree with any of the problems others have had with these books. I just haven’t been bothered by it.

The bottom line for me, is that these books entertain me. I want to know more about Simon and Vlad and their world. I’m curious to see how the humans and the Others are going to interact in the future. And after this book, I’m definitely on board to see what happens with “the Elders”. If this isn’t your thing, that’s ok with me.

I will say that this was my least favorite of the books so far. I had a hard time getting into the story this time, and it wasn’t until about half-way through that things actually started to happen. But once things got moving, I was all in.


I will say that I’m not too sure how I feel about a potential romance between Simon and Meg. Its clear to me that they love each other, and want to “be together” but I’m not sure to what extent. I’m both glad and nervous that Simon doesn’t see that adding a sexual component to their relationship as as big deal as Meg does.


I’ll keep reading these books and am curious to see what’s going to happen between the humans and the Others. But I hope that the next book has a little less “detail” and a little more action.





Behind all the scarves and rings cigarettes is a nice grandfather who just wants to tell a story to his grandkids. CBR8 Review 42.

unknown-4First off, before you even read this, go ahead and put on your favorite Rolling Stones song. For ambiance. Seriously, even if they aren’t one of your favorite bands, there’s got to be at least one or two songs you might like. I’m going to go with this one:


So, lately I’ve been volunteering a lot (seriously, A LOT) in the library at my kids’ elementary school. I’ve gotten to know the librarian pretty well and just love helping her improve the library and pick out and display new books. I’m such a book nerd that its really a perfect place for me. And yesterday, we put out TONS of new books (not necessarily newly published, but newly purchased) for the kids to take a look at, including this little beauty.

Keith Richards (with lovely art by his daughter) tells a beautiful story about how, why, and when he came to love music. His beloved grandfather, Gus, would take him for walks all over London when he was a boy. And sometimes, they would stop in a music shop and have a chat with some of Gus’ friends. Little Keith became so enamored with the men and their camaraderie and with the sounds of the piano, drums, and guitars, he knew he wanted (or needed) to make his own music.

But Gus told him he wasn’t ready.

Gus kept his own personal guitar on a small shelf over the piano in his house. And Gus told Keith that when he was big enough to get the guitar himself, then he was big enough to play it.

And so Keith waited. And grew to love music even more. He treasured his walks with his grandfather and his visits to the music shop.

And of course, one day, Keith discovers that he can reach the guitar all by himself.


This is a sweet and lovely story. The version that I read included a lovely cd of the song Gus instructed Keith to learn, telling him that once he knew how to play it, he should be all right. It also has Keith reading the story in his cigarette-raspy voice, which is strangely charming.


The troubled love story of Rhubarb and Orange Slice is one that I’m glad I read. CBR8 review 41.

unknown-4I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve read every single stinking Shopaholic book by Sophie Kinsella. I know that Becky’s ridiculous adventures aren’t great literature. But I find them somewhat comforting. I know Becky will make a horrible decision about something, wear fabulous clothes, do ridiculous things with her friends, make questionable parenting choices, and be rescued by her sensible husband who helps her to realize that her horrible decision was actually a great idea in the end.

When I heard that Kinsella had recently written a YA book about depression and the aftermath of bullying, I was immediately skeptical. But I knew I would read it sooner or later. And I’m quite glad I did.

Audrey is a high school student in the UK who is currently not attending school, for reasons we aren’t 100% clear on. There was a bullying incident that led to several other girls being expelled and Audrey being admitted to a psychiatric hospital to recover. Audrey now stays home, wears dark glasses to avoid eye contact, and doesn’t interact with anyone that isn’t her family or her therapist…until Audrey meets her brother’s friend Linus.

Audrey’s older brother, Frank, is a bit obsessed with computer games, to their mother’s constant consternation. His only goal in life is to compete in a video game tournament, win $6 million in prize money, and become a professional gamer. So he brings his friend Linus over to the house to start practicing.

Linus knows all about what happened to Audrey, and handles himself and the situation with great care. For a while, Audrey’s anxiety is so great, that she can’t even sit in the same room with him, so they pass notes to each other from different parts of the house. Its really quite cute.

Eventually, Linus gets Audrey out of the house, talking to people, and breaking down some of her barriers. But they disagree 100% on whether or not Audrey should ever have any communication with the girls that hurt her, and if she should ever accept their apology.

Linus and Audrey are adorable. Kinsella nails the transition from a crush to a first relationship so well. And I loved Frank, too. He was supportive when he needed to be, and treated Audrey like a regular person most of the time. I loved the way Frank stood up for her when confronted with one of her attackers, and was so happy when Frank discovered that maybe there was more to life than just video games.

Some parts — THE MOTHER — of the story were a bit over the top, however. Audrey’s mom and her obsession with advice given in The Daily Mail were a bit too much to take at times. I understand a mother’s need to care for and protect her children at all costs, but Audrey’s mom was a bit too much like Becky Bloomwood for me, and it just didn’t fit with the story.

But I mostly loved it. I thought it was a strong portrayal of depression and anxiety, and I really cared about what was going on with Audrey and her life.

It was certainly weird that Kinsella never explained what exactly had happened to Audrey. I kind of wanted to know, but I also didn’t want to know. It must have been something really terrible, and as a parent of a brand-new middle schooler, it probably would have given me nightmares.





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