Archive for July, 2017

21
Jul
17

These books taught me more than any middle school health class. CBR9 Reviews 46 & 47.

Unknown-2I remember the summer that I discovered the “older” section of my local library’s children’s department. It had books by authors like Paula Danziger, Lois Duncan, and the goddess Judy Blume. I tore through them all between 4th and 6th grade (and then moved on to Stephen King). And while I knew that I loved these books, I also knew that I didn’t quite understand everything going on in them. Until health class. And then I understood more than I bargained for.

Honestly, Judy Blume was so far ahead of her time, writing about subjects that nobody else would come near. Not only did she write about what it was like to hit puberty, she did it in great detail, making every kid who read her books — boys and girls — understand that they were not alone. She took regular kid problems, that lots of kids probably were afraid to talk to their parents about, and made them seem normal and manageable.

When I originally read these books, I didn’t realize how alike they were. Margaret and Tony go through really similar life changes in their books, but the stories are simply told through the eyes of a girl in one story, and a boy in the other.

Both kids move to new towns before the start of the school year. Both worry about making new friends. Both start going through puberty, and worry about the changes happening to them, absolutely positive that these changes aren’t normal but afraid to ask about them.

Most of you know about Margaret. She’s one of Judy Blume’s most famous creations. Going into the 6th grade in a new town, Margaret makes friends with her new neighbor, Nancy, and a few of Nancy’s friends. They form a club and talk about boys, bras, and periods. Like with all girls that age, there’s some interesting interactions…a little lying to each other, some friendly (and some not so friendly) competition, and lots of gossip and rumors.

Meanwhile, Margaret is struggling with her faith. Her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian, and Margaret decides that its time for her to figure out just what she is. She spends time praying and arguing with her grandmother about what’s best for her, but she just isn’t sure she’s ready to commit to either religion.

I was glad to see that the book had been updated since I last read it, and that poor Margaret didn’t have to figure out the hooks and belts on her pad when she finally got her period.

Here is the cover of the book when I first read it:

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And here’s the cover of Bunnybean’s version:

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I followed up AYTGIMM with Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, which I actually ended up liking a little bit better this time. I think when I originally read it, I didn’t understand a lot of what Tony was going through. Like, a lot. I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.

Tony and his family are working class Italian Americans in Jersey City. When Tony’s dad invents an electrical cartridge (???) they suddenly find themselves exceptionally wealthy and move to a mansion on Long Island. Tony tries to fit in, makes a few new friends, but is never completely comfortable with all that comes with his family’s new wealth.

Tony also spends his time being a peeping tom and watching his neighbor’s sister get undressed every night. This bugged the hell out of me.

Meanwhile, Tony suffers from stomach pains whenever something stresses him out. His neighbor (who is even richer than he is) loves to shoplift, and Tony can’t handle it. His mother is obsessed with appearances, and Tony doesn’t like it. His brother has given up his dreams to become a teacher, and Tony thinks he’s a sell out. All of this lands him in the hospital and to sessions with a psychologist, where Tony airs out a lot of his grievances.

Tony wonders about puberty, just like Margaret. And where Margaret struggled with religion, Tony struggles with wealth. But the books are really quite alike, and they hold up pretty well.

Nobody has cell phones or texts, kids listen to records and ride bikes everywhere. And these kids admirably figure things out for themselves, and try to maneuver through their pre-teen years making as few major mistakes as possible. These are good kids, and made other kids realize that they if Margaret and Tony were normal, then they were normal, too.

Thanks, Judy.

 

17
Jul
17

“Stay away from windows. And if you see people with tentacles, stay away. Don’t let them touch you.” CBR9 Review 45.

UnknownWould you believe me if I told you that I just read the strangest, most disgusting, horrifically violent, semi-apocalyptic book of all time, and that it cracked me up and I loved it? Most of you cannonballers would, since you are the nutjobs that recommended this one!

The Library at Mount Char isn’t easy to explain. But I’ll try.

One summer day in the 1970s, disaster strikes at a neighborhood barbecue, orphaning 12 kids and leaving them to be raised by “Father,” an older man from down the street who was always a little bit peculiar. He takes them home to his “library” and it begins their formal education and upbringing.

This is no ordinary library. Each of the 12 librarians is given a subject to master, with access to thousands or even millions of books. The librarians are not permitted to share their catalogue knowledge, and really don’t understand much about what the others are working on.

But wait, you might say. That doesn’t seem all that weird.

Throw in kids being cooked alive in barbecue grill shaped like a bull, a psychotic killing machine dressed in a blood-drenched tutu, a duo of kick-ass lions who want revenge on those who have done them wrong, tentacled creatures roaming the highways, and a man being castrated by his sister before being sent to suffer for all eternity while tethered with a rope to his big toe, and it starts to get weird.

So many others have reviewed this book in 2017, I honestly don’t have much more to add.

It was crazy and original and foul and funny. I was grossed out and shocked and I enjoyed almost every second (I did cringe at the castration). I loved Naga and Steve and Erwin (“Erwin gave no fucks.”). I loved the chapter titles (the best being “About Half a Fuckton of Lying-Ass Lies”). I loved the outfits…tutus and army jackets…bike shorts with leg warmers and Christmas sweaters…bathrobes and cowboy hats. It was so weird and yet exactly the way it was supposed to be.

It was like nothing I’ve ever read before and I hope Scott Hawkins continues to surprise and shock us for years to come.

17
Jul
17

Honestly, by the end of the trilogy, I was nauseated. CBR9 Review 44.

UnknownI really liked Crazy Rich Asians. I’ll still see the movie. I have high hopes. It was a mostly fun look at the immense level of wealth in Singapore, and how these uber-wealthy families live their lives out in the world.

And I had some trouble with the second book, China Rich Girlfriend. All the details that had been amusingly shocking in the first book were now just shocking and a bit disgusting. The sheer waste of money on things like clothes and jewelry and handbags was just overwhelming and perplexing to me. And the attempted murder? No thanks.

But I was willing to give Kevin Kwan the benefit of the doubt for the new book, the last in this crazy trilogy. It did have some moments when I actually felt some sort of empathy for a few of the characters, but for the most part, it just made me feel like I had eaten something bad.

Seriously. This book made me sick.

I couldn’t stand reading about the excess and greed and all-around snobbery. There were a few characters I still hoped would have a happy ending, but there were an even larger number of characters that I felt ill will toward. Eddie Cheng? I wanted to punch him in the face every time he opened his mouth. Nicky’s mother and her bible club? The worst people in the world.

There was an interesting story somewhere underneath all of the excess. I’d like to know more about Singapore during World War II and what happened with the Japanese. I’m curious to know about how the real estate market works in a country like Singapore that has such a small amount of land and such a large number of wealthy people. I want to know more about the islands of the Philippines, and exactly how one goes about purchasing one.

The one positive thing I can definitely say about these books is that I spend more time googling architecture and natural wonders than with any other books. I love reading about parts of the world that I’m unfamiliar with, and Kevin Kwan sure does an excellent job in making me want to travel throughout southeast Asia. He also makes me want to eat. I was googling all sorts of rice dishes and noodles and tropical fruits and teas. He’s the best at making you desperately want to try something you hadn’t heard of five minutes before.

I liked Kwan’s writing style. And I enjoyed about 45% of this crazy ride that he took me on. Yes, I understand that there are actually people in the world like this, and that this is a satirical look at them. I just don’t find them to be all that funny.

STUPID, ANNOYING SPOILER TO FOLLOW

My biggest gripe with this entire book was a throwaway line in the last chapter. After Nicky, Rachel, Colin, Minty, and Kitty (along with a few other friends and cousins) figure out how to save Tyersall Park, suddenly the unbearable and money obsessed Kitty has become a loving, hands-on mother. She turns away from her friends to go and breastfeed her three year old son, which is fine. My annoyance is due to the fact that I don’t think she ever breastfed him a single time for the first 2 1/2 years of his life. Simply deciding that you want to be a mom who nurses doesn’t make the milk magically appear.

That bugged me.

03
Jul
17

“I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to admit that sometimes they’re just assholes who screw up because they don’t expect to get caught.” CBR9 Review 43.

UnknownLast year, at my college reunion, I was lucky enough to spend some time catching up with Karen McManus. After we exchanged the usual pleasantries, she told me something unbelievably interesting: she had signed a deal with Delacourte/Random House, and had a YA book coming out in 2017. Amazing, right?

So, I waited patiently for the book to come out. And the buzz was crazy, so I started to wait sort of impatiently.

And finally, I stopped by my favorite local bookstore and bought it the week it came out. I got the last copy — the store told me that it had been flying off the shelves. And why not, when you tout it as THE BREAKFAST CLUB WITH MURDER!!!

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One of Us is Lying is the story of five High School Juniors who show up in detention together one day. There’s Bronwyn, the valedictorian, on the fast-track to the Ivy League; Nate, the drug dealer with a criminal past; Cooper, the star baseball pitcher; Addy, the beauty, and half of the school’s “golden couple”; and Simon, the outcast who runs the school’s secret gossip app and loves to publicize the things that most people hope to keep under wraps — including the secrets of the other four kids in the classroom. The five students have little in common, other than that they were all caught with phones in a “no-phone classroom”. All five claim that they were framed and that the phones weren’t theirs, but the teacher doesn’t care and sits them down to write an essay about how technology is ruining their generation.

And then one of them dies.

And that’s all in the first chapter.

Of course, the remaining students are immediately seen as suspects in the questionable death. We learn what everyone is trying to hide, and why. We see the different ways that the media, the school administration, the parents, the classmates, and the police manage new details and information as it comes out, and how it affects the four kids left standing.

I grew attached to the characters, and got so nervous about which one might end up being the guilty party (SPOILER: I was especially concerned about Bronwyn, who I liked a lot. My oldest kid is named Bronwyn — you may know her as Bunnybean — so I couldn’t help but imagine her as the character in the book. Stressful, indeed!), I had to keep putting it down and taking a break. But that isn’t a criticism! I kept changing my mind about who I thought was guilty and who might be telling the truth, but I didn’t guess WHODUNIT or how or why.

I also enjoyed seeing the remaining four kids deal with the mistakes that they had made and face the consequences, for better or for worse. High school kids (and I know, because I was one once) can be idiots. They make mistakes, and don’t always admit to them or see how their mistake might potentially impact everyone around them. It was refreshing to see each kid deal with their own issues and manage their next steps, some with the support of friends, some with family, and some on their own.

I’m happy to report that this debut lived up to its hype. With a murder mystery that kept me stressed out and guessing until almost the very end (seriously, this book STRESSED. ME. OUT.), I tore through it and was disappointed when it was over.

Karen recently tweeted that she has a new book due out next year. I can’t wait to pre-order it.

 

 

 

 

 




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