Archive for July, 2018

23
Jul
18

This book made me want to strangle a fictional character. But it also made me want to get in better shape and listen to lots of INXS, so fair trade, I guess? CBR10 Review 30.

UnknownSomehow, this book ended up on my kindle. I don’t know if someone sent me an ARC of it, or if it was a free download somewhere that I forgot about. I really don’t remember where it came from. All I know is that last week, on vacation, I needed a quick and easy read for the beach, so I downloaded it.

I mean, I’ve been the class mom many times. I know how annoying it can be. Teachers can be set in their ways, and other parents can either be nightmares or potential new best friends. I’ve even been in the same shoes as the mom in this book — selected as the room mom because I’m older and have experience. But that’s where all similarities end.

My children were fathered by my husband, not by any deceased rock stars. My class emails were filled with dates and times, not jokes about ethnicities or potential alcoholics. And the classes that my kids were in didn’t have any fake children in them. (NB, I’m still not sure I get this plot point.)

Jen is 46 and has a son going in to Kindergarten. Her best friend is the president of the PTA, and begs Jen to be class mom for the class (QUESTION: why is Nina still PTA president if her daughter is old enough to babysit? What grade is she in? What is happening in this small town?). The teacher is new and could use a class mom with experience. Fine.

Jen is kooky. She was a groupie for INXS back in her 20s and thinks that maybe Michael Hutchence was the father of her oldest daughter. (Note to the attorneys for Michael Hutchence’s estate: please sue Laurie Gelman.) She lived a wild life and then showed up on her parents front steps with two daughters and zero husbands, fell in love with the local sporting goods guy, had a son, and became suburban super mom.

But don’t forget, Jen is kooky. Her emails to the other class parents are filled with jokes and witty comments. Which would be fine, if her jokes were funny and her comments were witty. I found them simply annoying.

Jen makes new friends and new enemies as the year goes on. She also decides to get into shape so she can take part in a Mud Run sponsored by her husband’s store. And she develops a crush on the hot-guy-from-high-school-who-also-has-a-kid-in-the-same-class. Ugh.

Meanwhile, other moms are trying to get Jen removed as class mom. And there’s a mysterious student that nobody can identify. And there’s a clique of mean moms, just because.

I really didn’t like this book. It wasn’t funny at all. The jokes are unfunny and often racist or sexist. Jen was really quite unlikable, and I didn’t get why anyone wanted to hang out with her ever.

But it made me want to listen to INXS on Spotify, which was great at the beach.

As an aside, Laurie Gelman is married to Michael Gelman, from Live!, the Kelly Ripa show. I don’t know what to do with this information, but wanted to put it out there.

 

13
Jul
18

In which a favorite from my childhood stands up to an adult re-read. CBR10 Review 29.

Unknown-2When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do on a summer day was to go with my mom to the New England Mobile Book Fair. The Book Fair was an amazing, enormous wholesaler Book warehouse in my town (Newton, MA), where you could look up books in an enormous database (or when I was really young, a HUGE book) that told you who the publisher was. The warehouse was set up by publisher, and all of the books cost less than the list price. It was a magical place.

bookfair

I would go and spend hours in the kids sections, reading Judy Blume, and The Great Brain books, and just picking up random books that looked cool. One of those books was The House With A Clock In Its Walls. It was my first “scary” book. I read it over and over again.

I was reminded of it a few years ago when Joe Hill was talking about the books that influenced him as a writer. He mentioned this one and I looked everywhere for my old paperback copy, with the bent cover and the Edward Gorey illustrations. I made a mental note to find myself a new copy.

Unknown-4

And then I hear that Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are starring in a movie version of this beloved story, and the trailer actually looked intriguing. So I found a new copy and read this old favorite again.

Lewis is an orphan, his parents were recently killed in a car accident. He is sent to live with his peculiar bachelor uncle Jonathan. Jonathan lives in a huge old mansion that used to belong to a mysterious couple, Isaac and Selenna Izard. Lewis and Jonathan spend a lot of time with their neighbor, the equally peculiar Mrs. Zimmerman, and Lewis notices that his new home and family aren’t quite what he expected.

It turns out that Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are both powerful magicians. When Lewis is looking to make a new friend, he uses his uncles magic to impress this boy, but the plan backfired when the boy denies that magic is real. So Lewis raises the stakes, and attempts to raise someone from the dead in order to impress his friend.

And here’s where 9 year old me started to freak out.

As an adult, the book holds up pretty well. It has a lovely gothic feel to it, and is pretty intense for a kid’s book. Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are still delightful characters to read on the page, and I look forward to seeing what Black and Blanchett (although in my mind, I picture a young Cloris Leachman) bring to the roles.

As a kid, I had no idea that there was an entire series of books about Lewis and his magical adventures. I’ll keep an eye out for the future entries in the series. It was a fun blast from the past.

13
Jul
18

I’m pissed I didn’t like this more. CBR10 Review 28.

UnknownI’ve been sitting on this review for quite a while, not 100% sure what I wanted to say about this book. I was only about half finished with it during our book club discussion, but reading all of the comments, I knew I just didn’t feel as strongly about this book as most of you did. And I was pissed.

I really wanted to love this. I was so fired up to read it. But maybe there was just too much hype, that when I found it to be “just fine,” I felt like I missed something. Why didn’t I love it as much as everyone else?

WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?

Of course the traumatic experiences that Dana had bothered me and stuck with me, and of course I wanted to strangle Rufus for his complete ass-ness. And of course I went into a panic when Kevin was stuck in the past alone.

But I never really connected with Dana. And after some thought, I guess that’s ok. None of my life experiences are comparable to Dana’s. I can read about the awful things that happened to Dana and everyone else at the plantation, but I can never completely understand what that was like.

I can try to imagine being beaten to unconsciousness. I can try to imagine being separated from my children for capricious reasons. I can try to imagine not being allowed to learn how to read or write. But I can never, ever really understand that reality.

There was a lot that I liked about this book, however. I just didn’t love it as much as I expected to. I liked Butler’s concise writing style, where every word was carefully chosen and nothing is extraneous. I liked the fact that she pretty much threw all of the rules of time travel out the window — she let Dana change the past as it benefited her survival. I spent a lot of time obsessing about Dana’s ballpoint pen and wondering how it might change the future, but finally I realized I was wasting my time. Dana needed her bag of stuff because she NEEDED it, not because it was some Chekhov’s Gun plot point.

Most of all, I liked that she started the story with the end of the story. That gave me a weird sense of comfort, knowing that even if Dana goes through the trauma of losing her arm, that she ends up at home with Kevin, even if she and Kevin aren’t the people that they used to be.

I wonder how I would have felt about this if I had read it without hearing anything about it, without reading all of the 5 star reviews. I really wish I was one of the reviewers who adored this book and had lots of amazing and insightful things to say about it. I guess I’ll just have to deal with the fact that I liked it and thought it was fine.




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