Archive for April, 2017

27
Apr
17

I think this was a massively missed opportunity to really open up some great discussions. CBR9 review 27.

UnknownOk.
So.
I know this book has been talked about a lot lately, and that the Netflix show is getting a lot of attention — both positive and negative. The middle school sent a note home to all parents warning us about the intensity of the show, and that if our kids wanted to watch it that we should watch with them and then have a dialogue about what we saw. Fine. I know bunnybean’s friends have been watching, so I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about (even though she has zero interest, as she’s happily making her way through Buffy, with Angel on deck).

And here’s the thing.

I get what the author is trying to do here, but I think that this book is more or less a failure.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story:

Hannah, a pretty girl at a new high school, is dead. She killed herself a few weeks ago. And one day, Clay, the super nice guy that had a massive crush on Hannah, finds a shoebox full of audio tapes on his front porch. The tapes are from an unknown mailer, but the voice on the tapes is Hannah. She wants 13 people to hear the reasons why their actions (or inactions) caused her to commit suicide.

And already I was kind of mad.

I didn’t like the way that the author blamed these 13 other characters (well, really 12) for Hannah’s decision to end her life. And that these reasons were somehow valid for the choice of suicide.

As the parent of a middle schooler, I don’t accept this. I don’t accept that there are any valid reasons for suicide.

Yes, I get that there are unspeakable traumas that happen to some kids. Abuse, bullying, rape — all unacceptable horrors that nobody should have to endure. But they are not an excuse for suicide, in my opinion.

And yes, I was angry at many of the characters for their actions. The peeping Tom, the poetry thief, the drunk driver, and (especially) the rapist. They were all awful, and their actions and words should not be glossed over.

But what was the End game here for Hannah? Revenge? To simply make these other kids as miserable as she was for the rest of their lives? Because I think she accomplished that. But what about legal recourse? What’s going to happen to the rapist or the girl who was raped? What about the English teacher that knew that something had happened but didn’t press for details?

I wish we had gotten to know more about Hannah’s parents and family life, including why she left her old school. If there had been a shocking incident at her old school, wouldn’t they have had her talking to a professional at some point? I’m not saying that she would have been in full-time therapy, but if things were bad enough to move, wouldn’t that be a reason to keep an eye on your kid?

Look, I’m not a mental health professional, or a guidance counselor, or a therapist. I’m just a mom that read a book and didn’t like what it had to say. I do not in any way deny that these problems exist and that sadly, kids often see suicide as a “way out”. I just wish that this book had taken another route and instead of practically glamorizing Hannah’s decision, it had provided another point of view.

I might still try and watch the show, especially if bunny bean decides she might want to. And because Steven Weber and Keiko Agena are in it. But I’m not rushing to binge it anytime soon.

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22
Apr
17

I laughed, I cried, I considered buying a Saab. CBR9 Review 26.

UnknownSometimes a story is able to take you someplace else. But even better, sometimes you become so immersed in a particular fictional world, you don’t ever want to leave.

That’s what happened to me when I listened to A Man Called Ove, the most recent pick from my new book club (and a huge step up from our first pick!!).

Not only did I feel like I was right in Ove’s Swedish neighborhood, experiencing everything that happened in the book, but it made me want to know these people, to have them be a part of my actual life. I wanted to pack up a Saab with all of my possessions and drive (of course, not in the residential area) over to their housing estate just to hang out or maybe go to a birthday party.

And when the book was over? I cried. I sobbed. Not because of the events of the story, but simply because it was over.

This book was heartbreakingly sad, extraordinarily funny, and so real. I wish it had gone on for hours longer than it did.

I really don’t want to give much away about this book. I’ll just tell you that it’s a beautiful and hilarious look at aging, friendships, loneliness, loss, love, and family. And rules. So many rules in this book!

Ove is a cantankerous old man (he’s 59, which is hardly a senior citizen, but as the book explains, “Ove has been a grumpy old man since the first day of second grade”) who is very set in his ways and not interested in making new friends and changing any of his routines at this point in his life. He gets up at the same time every day. He buys the same car every 3 years. He eats the same thing for dinner every night. But then his new neighbors move in, and now his life is out of his control.

It was a god damned delight listening to Ove meet and interact with all of the new people in his life. Ove, who hates clowns, won’t pay for parking, and only drinks drip coffee, attracted a rag-tag bunch of individuals to himself (whether he wanted to or not), and soon created a makeshift family without even meaning to.

For anyone looking for a good book to listen to, I can’t recommend this enough. The narrator did a wonderful job and it was always easy to differentiate between all of the different characters. This is one that I plan to buy a hard copy of for myself, just so that I can visit with these people again someday.

I know there’s a movie, and it’s on Amazon prime right now, so I’m sure I’ll watch it soon. But I’m not sure I’m ready yet, as I really just want these characters to live in my mind as I imagine them for a little while.

19
Apr
17

I miss you, Secretariat. CBR9 Review 25.

51B4hACt8TL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Two or three years ago, while we were on vacation in The Berkshires, we spent a day at the Norman Rockwell museum. It was great. We learned a ton about Rockwell and his life and walked around the gorgeous property where he painted. As an added bonus, there was a special exhibit on display, featuring all (or at least a lot) of Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod paintings. This was particularly eye-opening, as I really didn’t know much about Hopper other than that he painted Nighthawks.

So, when I saw badkittyuno’s review of this collection of stories based on some of Hopper’s works, I made a mental note to check it out if I saw it at the library.

This collection includes 17 short stories, all based on a specific painting by Hopper. I don’t know if the writers got to choose their painting or not (although Uncle Stevie did mention that he had a particular preference if possible), but it was interesting to see how these writers combined a specific image on a canvas with an idea for a story.

First off, this is a gorgeous book. I loved seeing the beautiful color insert before each story, showing the painting that inspired the author. I don’t know if this is available on the e-book version or not, but it was really lovely and in many cases, really helped to set the scene. I hadn’t heard of all of the writers included here, and many of the ones I had heard of, I hadn’t read. (Hello, Joyce Carol Oates. Nice to finally get acquainted.)

In particular, I’d recommend the creepy Stephen King story, The Music Room, and the bizarre and otherworldly Rooms by the Sea by Nicholas Christopher.

I also found Gail Levin’s entry fascinating. It was a fictional account of a non-fictional event in her career as a Hopper “expert,” describing the actions that a neighbor of Hopper’s took to ensure that the bulk of a hidden treasure trove of early drawings and letters would never be found and could be sold to his personal advantage. Granted, Hopper came off like a total d-bag in this story, but the real villain of the story is Reverend Arthayer R. Sanborn, a so-called man of God who took what he wanted from the elderly Hopper family and made quite a bit of money.

But my favorite story, hands-down, was Taking Care of Business by Craig Ferguson.

Yes. I love Craig Ferguson. I loved his show. I have read and loved his books, both fiction and non-fiction. And I loved this story.

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200

I mean, what’s not to like?

Using Hopper’s painting titled South Truro Church, 1930, Ferguson tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two men in their twilight years.

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I felt that Ferguson, more than any of the other authors, really brought the landscape, and Hopper’s vision of it, to life. His story starts with this:

The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister of this parish for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs. There was no sensation of getting high anymore, or indeed panic or paranoia or any of the other unpleasantness. No sensation at all really but he enjoyed the ritual.

He listened to the music from outside the church. It was too nice a day to go inside. Cold and still with a high milky cataract of cloud diffusing the sunlight enough to flatter the landscape, softening the edges and blanching out the imperfections like an old actor’s headshot.

The sea was guilty and quiet, like it had just eaten.

He juggles topics like faith, aging, loneliness, and death with grace and humor. And it made me hope that Craig writes more for us sometime soon.

 

 

 

17
Apr
17

I wanted to love this. But I just couldn’t bring myself past feeling lukewarm. CBR9 Review 24.

UnknownThis book was practically a sure thing for me. It has an adorable little porcupine on the cover. I can’t resist! I mean, LOOK AT HOW CUTE THAT IS. It also has a blurb from my Cannonball boyfriend, Andrew Smith. Just reading the words ANDREW SMITH is like catnip to me. Seriously, I was destined to love this book.

But I just didn’t. And I don’t really get why.

Carson is uprooted from his life in NYC for a summer in Billings, Montana, against his will. His father (who abandoned him and his mom when he was three) is dying and Carson’s mom demands that they go home and nurse him in his last months. Carson isn’t excited about this at all.

Until he meets Aisha, the funniest and most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Its love at first site. Except that it isn’t.

Because not only is Aisha living in the woods behind the Billings Zoo, she’s been kicked out of her house by her Jesus-fearing father for being a lesbian. And so Carson brings her home to live in the basement with him. He knows his psychologist (and psycho-babble spewing) mother won’t be able to say no.

From there, the book becomes a road trip quest to find out the truth — about Carson’s father and grandfather, about whether or not there is a God, about how people decide who to love, and about choosing your own family when the one you were born with isn’t quite right for you.

From Montana to Utah to California, Carson and Aisha slowly get to know all about each other, both the good and the bad. She finds out about how he grew up without his alcoholic father, and how his father had also grown up without his own alcoholic father. Carson learns about how Aisha’s father chose religion over his own daughter, and how that rejection taints Aisha’s vision of everything around her.

Yeah, this is a quirky YA road trip book, but its filled with serious shit. A lot of talk about God, depression, alcoholism, abandonment, racism, homophobia, and AIDS. Carson uses humor as a means to deal with these serious topics…and that’s where the book lost me.

I get that a lot of people use humor to deal with tragedy. We’ve all done it at one time or another. And if Carson wants to use it to mask his real emotions, fine. I just didn’t find any of his humor all that humorous.

Everything in the book that was supposed to be hilarious fell extremely flat for me.

All of the funny, ridiculous improv? Bugged the crap out of me.

The puns and the jokes? Annoyed me to no end.

And the porcupine? Cute at first, but the longer his backstory and history went on, the less I cared.

I don’t know. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this one. The characters were interesting (especially everyone who Carson and Aisha met on their trip), and I liked the end result. But I just really didn’t like Carson all that much and wasn’t charmed by any of his charming qualities.

Don’t worry, Andrew Smith. I’m not mad at you. You’ll always be my Cannonball Boyfriend. This just wasn’t my favorite book.

16
Apr
17

She had me at Anne Bronte saying “dickbags.” CBR9 Review 23.

UnknownThis past week was our Spring Break, and we didn’t go anywhere. So, I spent some time attempting to finish all of the books sitting around the house that I had gotten halfway through. It turns out that there were more than I thought. I got through six, but that wasn’t all of them. As you might imagine, my thoughts are a bit discombobulated…trying to remember which book had annoying New York helicopter parents, and which had an alien race of teenage girls…but this one was easy to remember because it had no plot and was simply a collection of cartoons from Kate Beaton.

I knew a little bit of her work before picking this book up. My youngest is a big fan of her award-winning picture books like King Baby and The Princess and the Pony. It was interesting to learn more about her through her perspective of historical events. She says at the start of the book that she was a history major who always found herself cartooning when she was supposed to be taking notes in class. And thus, a career was born.

In this volume, Beaton pretty much makes fun of everything and everyone. Canadians, the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Bronte Sisters, Nancy Drew, hipsters, and fans of Jane Austen mash-ups. Nothing is sacred.

Beaton provides entertaining and somewhat educational footnotes for some of the historical events…I, for one, was unaware of much of the political history of Canada, so that was helpful for me. I also enjoyed her take on hipsters during the French Revolution, ruining everything for everyone, just like today!

A few of my favorites:

Her take on the ridiculousness of The Great Gatsby

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Her hatred of the brooding romantic hero created by two out of three Bronte sisters

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And especially Hamlet’s overdone moping. And its delightful footnote:

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This was a fun way to spend an hour. A quick note — this book is definitely rated R. If you have a kid who wants to see the fat pony from their favorite picture book (who does appear here), this is probably not a great choice. Just enjoy this instead:

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05
Apr
17

Did you know that wolves and vampires don’t like cottage cheese? Its neither cheesy nor tasty. CBR9 Review 22.

Unknown-1This was the fifth (and final?) book in the Others series, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. There were some nice developments — mostly about what it means to be a family, which I liked.

But. But. But.

Things that didn’t bother me in the previous books — constant repetition of non-important details and sexism, mostly — really, really, really bugged the hell out of me this time.

This book had at least four separate discussions about cottage cheese. I nearly couldn’t take it.

But what was slightly interesting this time, is that Anne Bishop actually talked about the elephant in the room. She had the characters discuss why they are so obsessed with the mundane details of day-to-day life — because your day-to-day life doesn’t stop when there’s a crisis, and its hard to balance between the two. I get that. Really. I just don’t need to read anymore entries into who was buying a pizza and who made lasagna and who had meatloaf sandwiches for dinner.

As for the sexism, it was crazy worse in this book. MEN do this. WOMEN do this. MEN eat the food. WOMEN prepare the food. MEN eat meat. WOMEN eat cottage cheese. MEN are rational. WOMEN are exploding fluffballs.

There was also a totally offensive scene with LITTLE KIDS that was more or less a sexual assault and absolutely disgusted me.

It nearly ruined the entire series for me.

This book took nearly 200 pages to get even remotely interesting. And the interesting part — to me, anyways — probably wasn’t the part that Bishop intended. I’m pretty sure she wanted us to be all-in on the eventual crash and burn of Monty’s ne’er-do-well brother, That Cyrus.

She created this horrible (seriously, file him and his AWFUL family under stock villain characters) antagonist. He was crude and vulgar and disgusting in every single way. But he didn’t interest me really. Not until the last 50 pages.

What interested me were three things (and these really aren’t spoilers).

  1. Miss Twyla (Monty’s mother) chose the wolf pack as her family instead of choosing any of her own flesh and blood. She chose to be the grandmother to Sam and Skippy, and she loved them like she loved her own grandchildren.
  2. Skippy fascinated me this time. His fierce need to be included in pack activities almost (not quite) brought tears to my eyes.
  3. Captain Burke was really the focal point of the human characters in this book, as opposed to Monty. I really liked some of the things he had to say and some of the things he did to prove himself a worthy human.

We learned a lot about what kind of man Captain Burke was, and how he didn’t necessarily think that an “other” tearing apart a human was any worse than what humans do to each other on a daily basis. He had a nice (well, not nice, but important) monologue toward the end, really symbolizing the entire human/other relationship, saying:

When you’re a cop serving in a small human village within the wild country, sometimes you make hard choices that you wouldn’t — couldn’t — make in a human-controlled city. And you look the truth in the face when its fangs are bared and its fur is smeared with the blood of the prey you had gone out to talk to that morning. But you’d taken a walk beyond the village lights the night before, and you were mulling things over out loud about how to handle a difficult situation, about the nice woman who had a broken arm again, how her mate beat her but she was too frightened to say anything against him so there was nothing you could do, and that was a shame because she really was a nice woman who had shown a couple of terra indigene females how to mend clothes, which is what started the argument that ended with her arm being broken, along with a couple of fingers to keep her from doing any mending for a while. And when you go to talk to the man the next morning and discover he isn’t home, you follow the game trail behind his house and you come upon a savaged, partially eaten body and you look the truth in the face — not the truth that has fangs and fur but the hard truth about yourself, that you’re just as dangerous as the beings the rest of the people fear but you can’t afford to be as honest about it. You can’t tell those people that you’ll make deals with what they fear in order to keep them safe from the monsters who look just like them.

Here’s a few spoilers, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Elders who have been hiding out in the courtyard and have taken an interest in Meg, conduct a social experiment. They demand that Cyrus be allowed to live there and keep doing shady and illegal things without consequence. They want to see how it effects the rest of the humans. But when Cyrus abducts Meg, thinking her prophecy will be his meal ticket, all hell breaks loose. Of course, Meg is rescued, but not without damage. Cyrus was cruel and vulgar. He cut her many times and almost raped her. He was disgusting. The crows eat his eyes in the end.

Also, Meg and Simon decide to be mates. But they do not actually mate, for those of you who may have been waiting for that sort of thing. But they kiss, and its all good.

In the end, I’m glad I read this series. I liked most of it, but this last one was really a grind for me.

4 stars for the series. 3 for this one.

 




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