Archive for May, 2017

31
May
17

I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away. CBR9 Review 36.

41cTGEmf+OLYou may be wondering, hey, what does a 30+ year old song about violence due to religious intolerance in Ireland have to do with this book about the police shootings of innocent young black men in modern day America? And I’ll tell you, I’m not quite sure. But I listened to this song a lot while I was reading this book and this opening line really stuck with me.

There’s been a lot of buzz about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, and all of it is deserved. This is a riveting, heartbreakingly sad, earnestly funny, beautifully written book. I didn’t particularly enjoy reading all of it, but that doesn’t matter. I’m glad I read it.

But I find myself (for the second time recently) wondering what I can say about it, as there is little-to-no way I could ever understand what the characters in this book are going through. Yes, I can feel empathy (and I do). Yes, I can get mad (and I did). But I can never truly understand.

This is the story of Starr, a 16 year old girl who lives in a poor urban neighborhood but goes to a fancy, WASP-y private school in the suburbs. One night, she goes to a neighborhood party with her friend Kenya. She feels out of place, not quite sure “which version” of Starr she’s supposed to be — the Starr she is at school, the Starr she is at home, or the Starr who’s known around the neighborhood as simply being Big Mav’s daughter from the shop. She bumps into her childhood best friend, Khalil, and when gunshots break up the party, they leave together.

On the way home, Khalil is pulled over, allegedly for a broken tail light, and then brutally shot to death when reaching into the car for his hairbrush and to ask Starr if she’s ok.

Spoiler alert: Starr is not ok.

Khalil’s death becomes a national news story. He was a drug dealer and a thug, say the powers that be, so he had it coming. But Starr and her family know and love a different Khalil. A fine young man who loved Harry Potter and would do ANYTHING for his friends and family.

Khalil’s death is the tipping point for a neighborhood that was already on the edge. Riots break out. Tanks are sent to control and keep the peace (ha). Gang territory is marked, and if you aren’t with one side, you aren’t protected.

And Starr knows that she needs to step up and tell the world about Khalil and what happened that night, but she’s afraid. She’s afraid for her family, who will be targeted by the King Lords for “snitching.” She’s afraid for the life she’s built herself at school, because there’s simply no way that her rich, white friends will ever understand what she’s going through. But she’s also afraid that if she doesn’t speak up, that she’ll never forgive herself.

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

I enjoyed getting to know Starr and her family. I loved her parents and the wonderful role models that they were for their children. Maverick (her dad) was honest and open with them about his time in a gang and the time he spent in prison. He worked hard and was respected in the neighborhood, and knew what was best for his family. Their fierce and absolutely unconditional love for their children was beautiful, and their closeness and support for each was something that any family, from any race, or any background, should aspire to.

But as much as I loved parts of it, it was often hard to read this book. Another senseless life lost, another cop who was forgiven — barely any questions asked — for his crime. Too many people ignoring what’s going on around them. This is the state of our union, and I don’t know what to say about it.

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This book is over 450 pages, and yet, felt like it simply wasn’t long enough. The blurb on the cover from John Green says, “Angie Thomas has written a stunning, brilliant, gut-wrenching novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.” He’s right.

 

 

30
May
17

“The trouble with denial is that when the truth comes, you aren’t ready.” CBR9 Review 35.

UnknownI’ve been somewhat slow with my reviews lately, mostly because the books that I’ve been reading have taken me a bit of time to process. In fact, I’m not quite sure I’m done figuring them out yet.

I first saw We are Okay at the library on the new YA shelf. The cover drew me in, it had those same dreamy pinks and blues as the Paper Girls cover, and it just looked so familiar to me.

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Going in to read it, I had no idea what it was about. The blurb on the jacket was pretty vague:

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

I knew it was probably going to be sad. But I had no idea that it would be devastating in both its sadness and its hope.

Marin (pronounced like the County) is finishing up her first semester at college in New York, and has made arrangements with the school to stay in her dorm room for the entire month of Christmas break. Her roommate begs her to come home with her, but Marin can’t face a happy family holiday. Marin has nowhere else to go, no family to take her in. And so she stays.

Mabel, her best friend from California is coming to visit and Marin knows that she’s going to have to explain herself to her. Apparently, Marin disappeared completely, running off to college after a family tragedy, leaving everything behind and telling nobody where she was. And Marin hasn’t spoken of it since, to anyone. Not her roommate, not any friends. And now she’s going to have to own up to her actions and the effect that they may have had on the others in her life.

The prose in this book was simply beautiful. Marin’s loss and profound sadness hit me like a lead balloon. The simple ways that she described everyday things like the beauty of the beach or a first kiss were lovely. But it was so sad. To have to endure so much at such a young age, and to be kept in the dark about her family for so long was simply heartbreaking.

But there was hope in the end. And I was glad. Without it, this simple story might have been too much for me to bear. It made me cry like a little baby, but they were tears of happiness for Marin.

This story was short and I read it in one sitting. I know its not exactly frothy and light “beach reading,” but its so well done, try and make time for it this summer if you can.

 

 

24
May
17

“Motherhood is hard. And you young moms put more pressure on yourselves than we ever did with your crafts and activities. Do you know what we called crafts back in the day? Chores.” CBR9 Review 34.

UnknownThis is not a great piece of literature. Our grandchildren won’t be studying it in their Classic Lit classes. It is often silly and ridiculous and predictable and mostly eye-rollingly way beyond reality.

And I enjoyed the hell out of it.

If you aren’t familiar with Bunmi Laditan, she’s a “mommy blogger” and I follow her on Facebook. She makes me laugh because her house is a mess, she has laundry everywhere, her kids complain about what they eat, and she never seems to find time to take a shower. She’ll post a picture of legos on the carpet and cheerios on the floor and hashtag it #blessed. Her life sounds pretty familiar to anyone with little kids, and its always nice to know that someone else is managing life the same way as you.

She’s been in the news (and by news, I mean the internet) a bit lately for her recent post about homework for her elementary school aged daughter, and how it has been causing her anxiety and unnecessary stress. Bunmi wrote a letter to the school administration basically explaining that her daughter won’t be doing homework anymore. And the responses were fascinating — basically half supporting her decision and half thinking she should have social services come and take her children away. (ETA: I just did a quick search about this situation and it looks like she is now homeschooling her kids. Yikes.) Such is the life of a mommy blogger.

Her new novel is pretty much more of the same…new mom Ashley is overwhelmed by being a stay-at-home mom to her almost one year old baby, Aubrey. Her husband, David, has started his own business and it consumes all of his time. Ashley gave up her career to take care of Aubrey, and while she doesn’t regret that decision, she misses social interaction with other adults.

Ashley complains about not being able to make friends, about not being able to lose the baby weight, and about having a messy house. She is semi-obsessed with a mommy blogger (I pictured Jennifer Garner) who seemingly has it all — the perfect family, a gorgeous and clean house, a huge business empire, great hair and clothes, and not an ounce of fat on her. When the blogger announces a “boot camp for moms” contest on her show, Ashley imagines that winning a spot in the group will solve all of her problems and make her life equally as perfect

Now, as anyone who has ever read a Bridget Jones or Becky Bloomwood book knows, you have to read through a lot of ridiculousness to get to the point. And the same goes here. We see Ashley make a lot (IM SERIOUS. SO MANY.) of crazy mistakes and use poor judgement. But Ashley’s heart is in the right place. She loves her husband and her daughter and wants to be her best self for them. And of course, she realizes that being a mom is hard work, and that maybe she isn’t so bad at it after all.

There was very little that surprised me here in terms of plot, but I didn’t really care. I was poking around on Amazon, and saw that this book is selling out as quickly as it is being stocked. I get it. Moms want to know that they aren’t alone, because it often feels like we are. Every decision we make is criticized by someone else and we constantly worry if we are doing the right thing — breastfeeding, sleep methods, vaccination schedules, disposable diapers, cleaning products, sugar, literally everything becomes a subject for debate. I’m glad that someone like Bunmi is out there, taking our worries and concerns and using humor to make us realize that as long as our families are happy and healthy, then what we see on Pinterest and Instagram doesn’t matter.

My PTA book club is reading this for our next meeting, and I have a feeling its going to be a hit. Ashley drinks a lot of wine while obsessing about her mothering, so we’ll feel like sisters in arms as we drink a lot of wine to talk about her.

23
May
17

All’s Fair in Love and Dragonfire. CBR9 Review 33.

UnknownThis book really shouldn’t work as well as it does.

I was expecting something more like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies — a humorous retelling of the tale of Elizabeth and Darcy but this time with dragons instead of zombies. And yes, this book has dragons, but it leaves P&P&Z in the dust. Where that book was trying so hard to be a clever mashup of genres, this one is just a great story that happens to be an homage to a favorite classic.**

Aliza Bentaine lives with her sisters and her parents in a small town that is being overrun by violent Gryphons and they need help. After the brutal death of Aliza’s youngest sister, the Lord of the Manor calls in the King’s Riders, who come swooping in on their wyverns and dragons to slay the beasts and bring order to the little village.

Included in the group of brave warriors is the kind and gallant Cedric Brynsley, who immediately falls for Aliza’s beautiful older sister, Anjey, and the dour and rude Alaistair Daired, who doesn’t like to dance and butts heads with Aliza from the moment they meet.

We also get to meet the dragons and other mystical creatures that fight alongside the Riders, and what was interesting to me about them was that they spoke the same languages as the main characters and had their own opinions about battles and relationships and love. I didn’t expect some of the best advice in the story to come from a dragon.

I really enjoyed the fantasy elements at play here — this was a lot like Regency England, but very different, in that Aliza had friends who were hobgoblins and gnomes, and that the countryside was being devoured by a gigantic worm. I also liked that there was an existing fantasy world here, and that White doesn’t really bother to explain it. It just is.

I liked that some of the personality traits of characters from the original story were slightly tweaked here to make them better suited to the fantasy world they lived in. Daired’s aunt (the Lady Catherine character) was a tough warrior, who approved of Aliza’s bravery from the moment they met…and it was her dragon that tries to break apart the romance. I liked that Aliza’s sister Mari, who was still a quiet bookworm, actually played a part in defeating the giant worm. And I liked that Aliza’s other sister, Leyda, learns from her mistakes here, and hopefully becomes a better person because of them.

Yes, there is a Mr. Wickham here, and he’s even worse than you might imagine.

I really didn’t expect to get as wrapped up in this book as I did. But once the Riders came to town and they Bentaines went to the first ball, I couldn’t put it down. Even though I knew what would happen to all (or most) of the main characters, I was still nervous for them and rooting for them to GET TOGETHER ALREADY.

This is White’s first novel, and I hope there will be more. And I wouldn’t mind if a few of them were fantasy retellings of other classic novels.

**As Lane mentioned in an earlier review, my only gripe with this retelling is the fact that Elle Katharine White never mentions Jane Austen or Pride & Prejudice in her Acknowledgments. Come on. The blurb on the back mentions P&P, but the author simply chooses to ignore the inspiration for her debut novel? Harumph.

 

17
May
17

“Hello,” it said. CBR9 Review 32.

UnknownI’ve been sitting on my review of this one for a little while, not quite sure about what I want to say or how I want to say it. I do know that I’m so grateful for other reviewers like Fiat.Luxury, badkittyuno, and narfna for bringing it to my attention. I love when a book I knew nothing about, had never seen or heard about, suddenly jumps onto my radar when someone whose book opinions I trust talks about it.

The Unseen World has a lot going on, but never feels overwhelming or too busy. It tells a lot of story at a very leisurely pace, jumping from the 1920s, to the 50s, to the 80s, to the early 2000s, and then into the future. And yet, I was never confused about where or when the story was taking place.

David Sibelius is a quirky computer scientist who runs a world-renowned lab in the Boston area (at a school quite like MIT) that researches the capability of artificial intelligence to learn language skills. He works with other brilliant researchers, including his young daughter, Ada.

Ada has never been to school, doesn’t socialize with other kids, and spends every moment of her life with David, either at his lab or at their eccentric home in Savin Hill, a secluded beach neighborhood of Boston. At 12 years old, Ada sometimes wonders about life outside of the lab: What would it be like to be pretty? What would happen if handsome William Liston (son of David’s best friend and second-in-command at the lab, Liston) were to notice her?

But mostly, Ada just spends time learning from David and having “conversations” with his computer program, code named ELIXIR. Until one day, David disappears and Ada’s life changes in an instant. It turns out that maybe David isn’t exactly who he has claimed to be…but why? What secrets does he have, and how will they affect Ada’s future?

This was a very well-told story. Even when nothing much was happening — evenings when Ada watches TV with Matty Liston, making a lobster dinner for David’s colleagues, drama in the high school cafeteria, angst at her job — it was compulsively readable. The reader knows that David’s mystery will eventually be solved, but until then, every single detail is a potential clue to the truth.

I loved that the bulk of the book was set in the 1980s in the Boston area, as that lined up pretty closely to my personal life. I know Savin Hill, I know Quincy, and I definitely know what school Ada ends up going to (I used to wonder about the weird playground on the roof!). And the 80s was really the last era were kids had the freedom that Ada describes, to wander around your neighborhood at night, to go places alone without strange adults prying into why or where you are going, the great age before cell phones.

I know I’ve been exceptionally vague about the story and plot, but really, you don’t want to know more going into it. I kept trying to guess the ending, and it really took me quite a while to even come close. I’ll be sure to pick up other books by Liz Moore as soon as I can.

15
May
17

Part X-Files and part World War Z? Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. CBR9 Review 31.

UnknownMy local bookstore is really great about making recommendations for books I may otherwise have never known about. (You may remember, this was how I discovered Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle.) There’s nothing better than popping by the store and checking out what’s new and which employees have left rave reviews for titles and authors I might enjoy.

When I dropped by last Friday, I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular. But when I started to browse the SciFic/Fantasy section, I saw a book with a note attached that said “LIKE A CROSS BETWEEN THE X-FILES AND WORLD WAR Z (NOT THE MOVIE)”.  I was intrigued, for sure. And then I saw the blurb on the cover was a quote from none other than Pierce Brown, so I just knew I had to buy it.

I tore threw this thing in record time and I worshipped every last page. Yes, the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are mixed. But this book was totally in my wheelhouse and did not disappoint me for a second.

It starts off with a mysterious incident: a young girl named Rose goes for a bike ride in the woods near her home in Deadwood, SD. The next thing she knows, she is lying in the palm of a gigantic (over 20 feet from wrist to finger) metal hand, in a very deep hole, looking up at her father and a team of fire fighters.

Rose grows up to become a scientist, and is charged with attempting to figure out the mystery of her metal hand. Who built it? How old is it? What is it made out of? What’s its purpose? And are there more pieces like it out there?

Slowly, but surely, Rose and her team of military specialists, scientists, and other academics find other pieces that fit together to create a giant woman. Rose guesses that this woman was built at least 3,000 years ago…meaning that it was not created by any known civilization on earth. But what is the robot woman for? Is it a statue? Is it a weapon?

The story is told in snippets of interviews, log entries, and recorded conversations with an un-named, unknown man, quite reminiscent of the CSM from the X-Files. He knows things, he isn’t going to tell you how he knows them, and he wants you to get the job done, no questions asked.

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But unlike CSM, this unknown narrator eventually starts to care a bit about the people involved in this mystery. Yes, he does some absolutely abhorrent things (um, the leg surgery part was really a bit much), but in the end, his decisions have mostly been for the greater good.

And this book has Star Wars jokes! In order to escape a potentially deadly situation, some of the characters plan an escape based solely upon a scheme Han Solo attempted once.

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Needless to say, I could not put this thing down. I devoured this book and was delighted to find that it is the first in a trilogy. The second book is on hold for my at my local library, and I’m getting antsy waiting for it to be my turn.

 

10
May
17

A lovely, heartwarming story about first loves. And an amazing opening sentence about peeing mermaids. CBR9 Review 30.

UnknownI’m joining in with the praise for Becky Albertalli’s follow-up to the great Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And I’m adding Becky Albertalli to the YA Mount Rushmore, along with Rainbow, Andrew, and AS. She writes teens that seem like actual human beings, who talk like regular kids, and who make realistic mistakes. These kids are full of self-doubt and have families that embarrass them, but are also hopeful and fiercely loyal to those aforementioned embarrassing families. These kids could be living next door to me. These kids (without the CONSTANT social media aspect of their lives) could have been me and my friends in high school.

Molly (cousin of Abby from Simon vs. the HSA) and her sister Cassie are twins, yet nothing alike. Cassie is outgoing, is tall and pretty, dates girls, and is outgoing and (Molly thinks) fearless. Molly is more reserved. She’s a bit anxious. She’s described by her grandmother as being “zaftig”. And while she’s crushed hard on many boys (26, to be exact), she’s still waiting for that special first kiss.

When Cassie falls hard for adorable and cool Mina, Molly finds herself the third wheel a lot of the time. Mina has a few cute guy friends, including handsome, hipster Will. Is Will going to be crush number 27, replacing Lin-Manuel Miranda?

Meanwhile, Molly gets a job at a local boutique in her neighborhood and becomes friendly with Reid, the Game of Thrones/Tolkien loving nerd who’s parents own the shop. Molly can be herself with Reid, and they find themselves talking and laughing for hours whenever they’re together. But Reid isn’t boyfriend material, right?

Reid likes renaissance fairs and his sneakers are too white.

But he loves (and hoards! just like me!) mini eggs, so right away I knew I was going to like him.

It takes them a while to figure themselves out, but waiting for Reid and Molly to figure out their feelings was a pleasant ride. I got nervous a few times that Molly’s anxiety and self-doubt would get the best of her, but her lovely support system — including her two moms, her sister, her cousin, and her best friend — helped her to finally recognize that YES! She deserved happiness and love just as much as anyone else.

Also, the opening sentence? Amazing.

“I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.”

As someone who spends a lot of time at the 9:30 Club, this killed me. Those weird mermaid barbies on the bathroom stall doors are always so puzzling to me.

I look forward to seeing what Albertalli writes next.




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