Archive for May, 2018


“The past is relevant only as data.” CBR10 Review 22.

UnknownOne of the great things about joining a reading community like The Cannonball Read is that I’ve really broadened my reading horizons. I’ve tried genres that I would never had read before, with a lot of positive results.

Altered Carbon is a book that I never would have read before joining up with this group. Sure, I would have watched the Netflix show, but I wouldn’t have really cared about the source material, saying something like “that’s not really in my wheelhouse.”

We were watching the show (and really, not having much of a clue as to what was going on), and I saw a bunch of other reviews for this, so I decided to read it. And guess what? I wasn’t really in my wheelhouse.

At an unknown point in the future, when humans are living on other planets besides earth, it becomes possible to live for as long as you can afford. Once your physical body dies, your memory and your general being (your soul) can be transplanted into a new body (a sleeve) at any time. Everything is kept on a chip located at the top of your spinal cord. If that chip is destroyed, then so are you.

Unless you are super duper wealthy, and run constant satellite backups and keep clones of yourself for just-in-case reasons.

Or if you are Catholic. They don’t believe in re-sleeving. When you’re gone, you’re gone, and that’s it.

Takeshi Kovacs wakes up in a new body on a new planet and finds that he’s been hired as a private investigator by one of the wealthiest man on earth to solve a murder…his own. Laurens Bancroft refuses to accept the results of the police investigation into his recent death, and so re-sleeves former UN envoy (and current hired gun) Kovacs to solve the mystery for him. The police think Bancroft committed suicide, but Bancroft can’t understand why he would do that.

And so Kovacs dives into Bancroft’s and finds that underneath the shiny layer of sunshine and money is a world of dirty sex, drugs, and general disgust. He also realizes that there is more to his new body than anybody told him. His sleeve has a lot of enemies around Bay City (a future version of San Francisco) and Kovacs has to watch his step.

Some parts of this I really liked. I appreciated the future world as described by Morgan, with the AI Hendrix hotel (although I preferred the Netflix version of the Poe hotel), and the ability to have secret meetings that all take place on another plane of existence, and the refusal of the Catholics to take part in this new normal of humanity. I also like the book versions Kovacs and Ortega WAY more than I did on the Netflix show. (Yes, Joel Kinnaman is nice to look at, but the chemistry between Joel and Martha Higareada was zero. She was not great.) I really felt for them and the weirdness of their relationship.

But for the most part, this book was a miss for me. It was messy and confusing. At times, the violence was unbearable (the torture scenes were absolutely sickening). I wanted to know more about the Catholics and why their faith was still so strong when it seemed like the rest of the world didn’t care about religion. I know there are a few more books about Kovacs and his adventures in re-sleeved bodies, but I don’t care enough about him as a character or about Morgan’s future to follow up.







This was a lovely and well-written story that I REALLY didn’t like. CBR10 Review 21.

UnknownThis book was everywhere last year. Everyone I knew was reading it for book clubs and raving about it. One of my book clubs finally chose it for our April pick, and I’m just finishing up (its long!).

The verdict in my book club:

Most did not finish.
One finished and hated it.
One finished and put it in her top 5 books of all time.
And what about me?

I was just annoyed.

This is a nice story for the most part. Amor Towles clearly did his research about Russia in the early 20th century. And the writing is lovely. But really, all I wanted was to find the author and grab him by the lapels and shake him a bit. I found the whole thing totally pretentious and heavy handed and it was most definitely not for me.

At the beginning of the story, a young man named Count Alexander Rostov, is found guilty of writing an anti-bolshevik poem and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. He is moved from his elegant suite up to the servant’s quarters on the highest floor. He can barely fit half of his lovely furniture taken from his grandmother’s extravagant country estate, and can’t fathom how he could possibly live that way.

But, of course, he does figure out how to live that way, as the bulk of the story takes place within the walls of the Metropol Hotel over the course of 30 years. Count Rostov adapts to life in the hotel and thrives there, making life-long friends who become his family. While life outside the hotel changes dramatically we move from the Russian Revolution to World War II and Stalin to Khrushchev and the Soviet Union, Count Rostov does the same thing more or less every single day.

He wakes up and does 15 squats (which over the years become 10 squats, and later 5). He drinks coffee and has a biscuit and fruit. He goes down to the lobby and reads the paper. He goes to the restaurant and has lunch. He gets a haircut. He dresses for dinner. He goes to the bar. He talks to anyone and everyone he comes in contact with, as he is extraordinarily charming and knows how to control pretty much every social situation. He beds beautiful women and is amazingly suave all the time.

He ends up befriending a young girl named Nina who also lives in the hotel. They have lots of adventures exploring and spying on people. Nina grows up, but still checks in on the Count from time to time. Nina ends up giving the Count two gifts that change his life forever — one is a key that opens every room in the hotel, and the other…well, the other is a massive spoiler so I’ll keep it to myself. But it changes the way the Count lives every single aspect of his life and redirects his future.

The way that Towles describes the various stages of life in Russia is fascinating…the description of the architect who has nothing to do because everything being built in Moscow is prefab and identical…the scene in the wine cellar when Rostov sees that every single label has been removed from over 100,000 bottles of wonderful wine, because no wine should be better than another…those little insights were dramatically effective.

But for the most part, I found the flourishing descriptions of every little thing to be repetitive and annoying. By the time the book ended, I really didn’t care anymore, and just wanted it to be over. The Count is charming, but after so many instances of being told how charming he is, I started to find him stifling and obnoxious.

Apparently, this is going to be a movie or a miniseries (?) starring Kenneth Branagh. He’s perfect for the older version of the count. I’ll watch for him.





“I want to be the hero in my story.” CBR10 Review 20.

UnknownLast year, when I started my new job, one of the first books I was given to read was Kwame Alexander’s Booked. I read and devoured it in a day. And then tracked down The Crossover, and loved that one, as well. Rebound is a prequel to The Crossover — it tells the story of Chuck Bell, the father of Jordan and Josh Bell, the twin basketball stars who tell their story in prose in The Crossover. Chuck’s claim to fame was that he played in the NBA for a hot minute, and is a bit of a neighborhood hero.


Heartbreakingly, Chuck dies in The Crossover. He has a congenital heart problem and ignores all of the signs of heart disease. His father dropped dead when he was a kid, and Chuck lives in fear that the same might happen to him. And it does.

Rebound takes place in 1988, just months after 12 year old Chuck’s (now known as Charlie) father has passed away. To put it simply, Charlie cannot deal. He breaks out into a cold sweat whenever he hears sirens, reminding him of the ambulance that took his father to the hospital. He can’t communicate with his mother, who is hurting just as badly as he is. She’s busting her butt working to keep the income coming in, and he can’t understand why she won’t buy him Air Jordans instead of ZIPS.*** His two best friends, Skinny and CJ, want to help him, but don’t know how. Charlie doesn’t know how to ask for help, and when he starts getting in trouble, his mother sends I’m away to his grandparents for the summer.

When Charlie gets to DC for the summer, he finds that his grandparents expect much of him. He has to do work around the house. He has to go for long walks with his grandfather. He has to say “sir” and “ma’am”. And he has to watch his cousin Roxie play basketball every day. Charlie hates basketball. He’d much rather stay home and read comics or go to the arcade and play Pac Man.

Of course, living with his grandparents and hanging out with Roxie is incredibly therapeutic for Charlie (now warming to the nickname Chuck). He starts playing ball with Roxie all day, every day. He discovers that he’s almost pretty good.

Losing a parent is the worst thing a kid can go through, and Kwame Alexander handles it with grace and respect. AND, he does it all in gorgeous, age-appropriate prose.

Sometimes, I wish

I were a superhero
so I could fight back
against all the
and the gloom
that’s trying
to destroy

I wish I could torch
all the trouble
in our world
like Johnny Storm.

I wish I could
the heartache
like Ben Grimm.

I wish I could
make the sorrow
that’s in my life
like Sue Storm.

And I wish
I could stretch
my arms
like Reed Richards
all the way
to heaven
and hug my father
one more time.

Just. One. More. Time

Kwame Alexander is an amazingly original voice in Children’s Literature today. The prose doesn’t seem like poetry — it tells a story that most kids can relate to in some way. I never expected to like these books so much. I never expected for all of them to make me cry.

***Personal memory time. When I was a kid, my dad was in advertising and public relations, and my brother and I were in a bunch of commercials. Including this ridiculous one for Zips sneakers. Poor Chuck, trying to be a baller in these.


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