Archive for February, 2018


“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” CBR10 Review 15.

UnknownMy new book club has a bit of a fascination with books that Reese Witherspoon likes. And that’s fine. Reese’s picks are usually quick and entertaining reads, and lead to interesting discussions that pair well with wine. Without Reese Witherspoon, I’m not sure I would have had Eleanor Oliphant on my radar — I know its been positively reviewed here many times, but something about it just didn’t call out to me. Until Reese announced it would be a movie, which inspired my book club…and here we are.


To be honest, I wasn’t 100% on board with this choice, until Eleanor (named after the elder Dashwood sister) talked about rereading one of her favorite books, Jane Eyre. One night, when she can’t sleep, Eleanor picks up her battered paperback and opens it at random, to when Janey first meets Rochester:

…startling his horse in the woods and causing him to fail. Pilot is there too, the handsome, soulful-eyed hound. If the book has one failing, it’s that there is insufficient mention of Pilot. You can’t have too much dog in a book.

And right there, I said, ok, I’m in.

Eleanor hasn’t had an easy life. Raised in foster care since the age of 10 — when something unspeakable happened, and she was taken from her “mummy,” Eleanor has led mostly a solitary existence. She lives alone, and other than her weekdays at work, rarely has any interaction with other people. And she sticks to a very strict routine: she talks to Mummy on Wednesdays, she goes to work, and then on the weekends — pizza from Tesco with a bottle of wine, and then two bottles of vodka.

Her colleagues think she’s a strange one — and indeed, she is a bit aloof. But she’s also extremely honest and truthful. Sort of like a female Larry David, but completely unaware of her social missteps.

One day, she has a bit of trouble with her PC at work and is annoyed to realize that she’s going to have to call IT in order to get it working again. The new IT guy, Raymond, shows up, fixes her computer, and annoys her with his sloppy mannerisms and the smell of cigarettes all around him. That night, Raymond walks out with her, and they witness an older man who collapses on the sidewalk near them. They rush to help him, and the three of them unwittingly find themselves tethered together forever.

Through Raymond and Sammy (the elderly man), Eleanor’s whole life changes. She is invited places. She meets people. She takes more responsibility at work. Little things to most people, but huge to Eleanor.

Meanwhile, Eleanor has unhealthily decided that she’s in love with a pop singer that she recently saw at a club, and starts to improve her appearance so that she might be ready for him when he decides to be with her.

Her new friendships, her potential romance with the singer, and her toxic relationship with Mummy all come to a head about two-thirds of the way through the book…and I’ll be honest, it was at this point that this book about what it means to be alone vs what it means to be lonely totally punched me in the gut and left me gasping for breath.

Its a lovely and often very funny story about friendship and family, but its also a tragic story about depression and suicide. I’m sure Reese will make a great movie out of this one. I hope they keep it based in Scotland…I’d hate to see the local charm removed so that it could be set in New York or Chicago.





“A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.” CBR10 Reviews 13 & 14.

Unknown-4I think it would be fair to say that Uncle Stevie and I have an understanding. He writes, I’m a constant reader, and that’s that. And I’ve been known to reread some of the things that he’s written many times. Even when the stories are upsetting or dark or scary, there’s something comforting about them for me. Maybe because I started reading them at a really early age (seriously, way too early….what exactly was going on in the 1980s?), his writing is sort of a nostalgic part of my childhood. I can picture myself wandering around the adult horror section of the Newton Highlands Public Library, and then finding a cozy corner in front of a window where I could sit down and read. Because I didn’t want to read these stories in the dark, that was for sure.

Night Shift and Skeleton Crew are two of his earliest short story collections — and sometimes (especially in Night Shift) you can tell. The stories have a few more rough edges than what you might read in later books like Everything’s Eventual, or Just After Sunset. But some of them can still scare the crap out of me.

Night Shift, which includes stories from the 1960s and 70s, has a few of his all-time creepiest tales. Jerusalem’s Lot, The Boogeyman, and One for the Road are some of his best.

And so many — The Lawnmower Man, Quitters Inc, The Ledge, Children of the Corn, Sometimes They Come Back, Trucks, Battleground, The Mangler, Graveyard Shift — have inspired movies (whether they deserved to or not…I’m looking at you, Graveyard Shift). Its really amazing how influential some of these stories from so early in his career have become. Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road inspired him to write Salem’s Lot. Night Surf told the earliest version of The Stand. Its pretty amazing to be able to look back and see where some of his greatest ideas came from.

Night Shift is pretty damn good.

But Skeleton Crew is great.

Skeleton Crew includes some of my favorite short stories. The Mist. The Raft. Gramma. These stories ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED ME when I was in middle school. And they still scare me today. Gramma is a slow-paced, dread-filled bit of horror perfection, with an ending that never fails to surprise me.

My two all-time, absolutely favorite short stories are in here: Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut and The Jaunt.

Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut tells about a wealthy woman who summers in Maine, and loves finding ways to cut a few minutes off of whatever trip she’s about to take. She obsesses over maps and farm roads, and eventually she discovers new ways to get there from here, some of which may not be of this world. I loved reading about her little Mercedes convertible zipping along the country roads of Maine and the roads that just might be on other levels of the Tower.

The Jaunt is about a family about to travel to Mars to resettle on a new colony there. As they prepare to be put to sleep in order to teleport, the father of the family tells his children the history of the procedure known as The Jaunt — and one of his kids decides to test the rules of teleportation, with shocking results. Right now I’m listening to the last Dark Tower book, and its easy to see some of The Jaunt in there — the Doors, the Todash Darkness, teleportation at the Algul Siento — all of those plot lines have their seeds here.

I just pulled Everything’s Eventual and Nightmares & Dreamscapes off of the bookshelf, which I haven’t reread since they first came out. I look forward to seeing how his stories have evolved over the decades. And I hope I can find a sunny corner to read them in.






“I wanted to say goodbye to someone, and have someone say goodbye to me. The goodbyes we speak and the goodbyes we hear are the goodbyes that tell us we’re still alive.” CBR10 Review 12.

UnknownI think its safe to say that I’m addicted to my Audible account. Driving around all day and meeting with demanding clients is hard, so the best thing I can do is lose myself in a great story and a great narrator. And I think that’s why I keep coming back to these Dark Tower books…the narration is great, the story always delivers something new for me, and it really doesn’t matter if I hear every single detail or not, because I’m stuck on Ka’s wheel and I know I’ll be returning to this story before long.

Wolves of the Calla is still my favorite of these books. I think. I like that it takes place in a certain amount of time, with a specific objective, instead of some of the more sprawling volumes of this story, which require a bit more brain power. This one is easier: good guys come to a good town to help defeat the bad guys and save the children. The end.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. We also have an alternate personality pregnancy…An obsession with the number 19…A fascinating new/old character who warns us of the dangers of vampires and low men…and the idea that maybe this story only exists as a fictional story within a fictional story so that Stephen King can save the world. Like I said, easy.

The more that I read (or, honestly, listen to) this volume of the Dark Tower, the more I appreciate the addition of Pere Donald Callahan. His addition to Roland’s group of questing gunslingers comes at exactly the right time. His heartbreaking story of his cowardly flight from Jerusalem’s Lot, his years of drinking on the road, his work at the shelter, and his eventual death and re-appearance in Mid-World (along with a mysterious black ball) are fascinating and gorgeously presented. This is a man of faith who is questioning his path in life, and who finds exactly what he is looking for when Roland and friends appear in the Calla.

My favorite Callahan bit:

“Your man Jesus seems to me a bit of a son of a bitch when it comes to women,´Roland said. ´Was He ever married?´
The corners of Callahan’s mouth quirked. ´No´ he said, ´but His girlfriend was a whore.´
´Well,´ Roland said, ´that’s a start.´”

But this book isn’t perfect. I love it, but there are a few details that bug me to no end:

  • Suddenly everyone is obsessed with the number 19, which we only know because we are constantly told about it. I wish this had been presented a bit more organically. I fell like Uncle Stevie just decided it was important and then hit us over the head with it until we succumbed.
  • Roland is always making a “familiar” finger twirling motion, that HE ALWAYS MAKES AND HAS ALWAYS MADE AND MAKES ALL THE TIME. But he never made it before. And the constant references to the fact that he has always done this bug me.
  • The pregnancy stuff is really just gross. I don’t need to know about Susannah frolicking in a pond and eating live frogs. I know that’s really nit picking, but I couldn’t get past it.

But there’s so much more that I love in this book. I love the idea of saving the twins, no matter what. And I love the regular people that are willing to stand up to evil, even if it might cost them their lives, to save their town and its children. The action and excitement in this volume are exactly what the series needed after the talky Wizard and Glass.



If you like sociopaths and unreliable narrators, then have I got a book for you! CBR10 Review 11.

Unknown-4Amber wants nothing more than to live the way she thinks she deserves. She wants it all — wealth and jewels and real estate, with a rich handsome husband on her arm. In her mind, this dream life is owed to her, because her early life was one of poverty and despair. So just let her have this, ok?

And it doesn’t matter if the house she wants has people living in it. Or if the man she wants is married to someone else. She wants it so she deserves it so don’t worry about the details.

Amber moves from rural Nebraska to a wealthy Connecticut (think Greenwich, but MORE) town on the Long Island Sound, and she sets her plan in action. She’s found the biggest house and the richest, most handsome man. Her goal is to become the next Mrs. Jackson Parrish, and the first step in her horrific plan is to befriend and get rid of the current Mrs. Jackson Parrish.

I read this for my PTA moms book club and I can’t decide if it was fun or scary. The main characters have no redeeming traits and act in increasingly insane ways as the book goes on. One ridiculous act after another, these idiots really outdo each other. Everything is awful.

And of course, I couldn’t put this down. The writing is compelling…mostly in a DID SHE REALLY JUST SAY THAT? way. Reading this was like taking all of the craziest parts of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train and all novels by Dominick Dunne and every single Tori Spelling movie and jamming them all together to create the ultimate Lifetime Movie Frankenstein’s Monster.

The ridiculous wealth and the abhorrent behaviors were really almost too much. But once I had an idea about what was going on, I had to read until the end. Mostly because there were children involved. I needed to see what happened to the kids.

Would I recommend this a piece of literature? No. But do you need a book to read while waiting in the doctor’s office or on a plane? Then sure! Highly recommend! Its crazy and unputdownable. (NB: I love that my spell check now accepts that as an actual word.)


If you’re going to judge a book by its cover, this should be the one. CBR10 Review 10.

UnknownAs an 8-time Cannonballer, I can’t believe this is the first Leigh Bardugo book I’ve ever picked up. I think I’ve meant to read some of her stuff before…but I guess life just got in my way.

I first heard about this book when the great Rainbow Rowell was raving about its utter gorgeousness on her Instagram. I had never heard the term “progressive illustrations” before, so my interest was quickly piqued. (FYI, a progressive illustration is exactly what it sounds like. In this book of short fairy tales, the margins of each page are illustrated with additional art as the story goes on…so that at the end of the story, a full and glorious picture wraps around the entire page.)

The art is absolutely stunning. I borrowed this from the library, but will be buying a copy of my own.

But what of the stories? Yeah, they’re pretty amazing, too.

Dark and unsettling, with an Eastern European flair (I read that they take place in the world of her Grishaverse books), Bardugo’s six fairy tales are more Grimm than Disney.

My favorite was The Witch of Duva, which had a little bit of a Hansel and Gretel feel to it. Nadya lives in a village where sometimes, the forest eats little girls. When famine comes to town, her beloved mother sacrifices herself so that Nadya and her brother have more to eat and can survive the long winter. Nadya’s father, a cheerful carpenter, then marries a local widow, and Nadya is positive she is an evil witch, potentially responsible for the deaths of all of the local girls.

When Nadya’s new stepmother begins to threaten her, Nadya heads for the forest and eventually finds herself the apprentice of a real witch, a kind woman who feeds her and teaches her and keeps her safe.

But this is a dark tale, so the ending didn’t go the way I expected it to, and the ending wasn’t happy. But man, it was good. Get it, read it, savor it. Its lovely.






Actress, knitter, author. Is there anything she can’t do? CBR10 Review 9.

imagesI’m a big fan of Krysten Ritter. I love her as Jessica Jones. She was a fun addition to Veronica Mars. She killed it as the B in Apartment 23. And she broke my heart on Breaking Bad. And now, she’s written her first novel **, a mysterious thriller that proves she’s an author to look out for in the future.

Bonfire tells the story of Abby, a tough environmental lawyer at a big Chicago firm, who is sent to the small (AND TERRIBLE) town where she grew up in Indiana to work on a case. It seems that the enormous chemical plant that pretty much employs the entire town just might be poisoning the water supply, and Abby puts on her best Erin Brokovich hat to find out what — if anything — is going on.

Meanwhile, her visit home brings back lots of memories that she’s been repressing for years, including the mysterious disappearance of her former best friend, Kaycee. Back in high school, Kaycee and her friends pretended to be severely sick…could her disappearance have anything to do with the case Abby is working on today?

There was a lot to like in this mystery. I kept changing my mind about who was good and who was bad, and whether or not Abby was a reliable narrator (a la Rachel in The Girl on the Train) because of her personal issues and her EXCESSIVE drinking.

Did I like Abby? I have no idea. Sometimes I thought she was a genius, and sometimes I thought she was insane, and most of the time I worried about what Ritter was going to do with her in the end to potentially redeem her from some of the mistakes she made along the way.

No worries there. Ritter totally surprised me with a few things toward the end that explained Abby’s irrational behavior. I still didn’t really like her, but at least she started to make some sense to me.

I didn’t love this book, but it was extraordinarily readable. I brought it with me when I chaperoned a ski trip with one of my kids, and stayed up well into the night trying to figure out the mystery. Ritter has a lot of potential, and I look forward to reading anything she might write in the future…I just hope that maybe her next book is a little bit lighter and fun. This one was definitely dark and intense.

**It seems that Ritter had a bit of help writing this book, primarily from my YA nemesis, Lauren Oliver. I don’t know exactly how involved Oliver was here, but her voice does not overpower Ritter’s, which is a good thing. There are some plot lines involving kids at the local high school that are probably more Oliver than Ritter, and that stuff was some of my least favorite in the book.





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