Archive for October, 2018

31
Oct
18

A book about baseball that suddenly became a book about so much more. CBR10 review 41.

UnknownI’ve read a whole bunch of Kwame Alexander’s poetry stories — he writes for tweens and teens in verse, but it never feels boring or difficult. The plot moves quickly and easily and his topics are usually difficult ones. Divorce, death of a parent, unrequited crushes, adoption, the end of a friendship, etc. And it seems like his best books — for me, that would include The Crossover, Booked, and Rebound — revolve around sports. Basketball. Soccer. And now, baseball.

Noah is in high school and is in love with one of his two best friends, Sam. He’s been in love with her since the third grade, but she has a boyfriend. Cruz is huge and handsome and is a star on the varsity baseball team. Noah can’t compete with that, right?

Noah’s other best friend is Walt, but you can call him Swing, because someday he’s going to be the biggest baseball star the world has ever seen. He’s just not quite there yet.

Noah and Walt spend their days obsessing about girls, music (particularly jazz), baseball, and the mystery of who is leaving American flags all over town. When Noah’s parents go out of town, Walt moves in, and comes up with a plan to have Noah finally tell Sam how he feels about her.

And even though the words are in verse and prose, the conversations ring true for me. These boys talk like teenage boys about the random nonsense that teenage boys talk about. When talking about the mysterious flags all over town:

My soon-to-be stepfather things Amazon’s behind it. Some kind of big advertising thing they’re doing.

To sell flags?
Maybe they’re making a play for the US Army?

That’s ridiculous.
Why? I mean, they own everything. The end of the world as we know it, and it starts with Whole Foods and drones.

Not your typical poetry, right?

Later, the boys have a run-in with some local police officers, after Walt throws a big party at Noah’s house. And the topic switches over to police and Black Lives Matter and I found it extremely well done:

Men in Blue

Police officers
don’t say freeze
like they do
in the movies.
They just make you
freeze in a fear
cloaked
in deep, dark dread.
And they don’t
look menacing
all the time.
Some look like
they might actually
be a little gentle,
a little on the kind side.
But then
there’s a gun
pinned to their hip,
that makes your heart pound
so loud,
your ears burst.
And you’re not sure
what to do,
or what to say,
or how to move.
What if it’s
the wrong move?
Some look so stern,
like they don’t
have emotions
or a heart
that beats red.
But you wonder
if they might
smile when they’re home
with their own families,
playing with their own kids.
Like the guy in front of me.
He has no expression,
but under his straight lips
and steely stare,
someone must make him smile,
someone must make him love.
He loves somebody.
He’s gotta love somebody.
And I hope he remembers
somebody loves us too.

Eventually, this books becomes about a lot more than baseball. Its about race and police. And about PTSD and the veterans. And in true Alexander (and co-author Mary Rand Hess) fashion, the end of this book destroyed me. I did not expect a book about boys who wished they were better at baseball to hit me so hard.

This book is categorized as YA, and I would say its not for anyone younger than 9th grade. Its honest brutality is hard to take, even when it is beautifully presented.

 

30
Oct
18

Emma Thompson is a goddess and should always be treated as such. Oh, and BINGO. CBR10 Review 40.

51PSLvsZvNL._SX342_I’ve read Emma a few times before, and have read several re-imaginings and retellings as well. I’ve seen at least four adaptations (Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley…Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightely…the web series made by the folks who did The Lizzie Bennett Diaries…and of course, the GOOP version), and always thought I preferred the movie to the book.

I mean, come on. Jeremy Northam gave so much beautiful side-eye to Goop in that movie.

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And then, low and behold, Audible gifted me with the Emma Thompson (plus full cast) version of the audiobook. And it was so good.

I loved this audiobook. It took a while to get used to the background noise — horses, cutlery sounds at dinner, background conversations — but it was so lifelike. I couldn’t stop listening to it.

Emma Thompson acts as the narrator, and leads a lovely cast (whoever plays Mr. and Mrs. Elton here are both absolutely delightful in their awfulness) through the entire text. And Emma T throws some serious shade at the words and actions of Emma Woodhouse throughout.

This time through, listening to Emma T describe the plot of the story, I was legitimately angry at some of the plots and the ignorance of Emma W to what was going on around her. I wanted to yell at her every time she stuck her nose into Harriet Smith’s business and I wanted to shake her for her behavior with Frank Churchill.

Sure, I knew exactly what was going on and what would happen next, but was still so invested the story that I found myself talking to my car more than once. That’s how great Emma Thompson was. She really brought the story to life.

Of course, I couldn’t help but picture certain characters a specific way. In my mind, Knightley will always be Jeremy Northam.

Harriet Smith will always be doing this:

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And Mr. Elton looks like Jeremy Sisto, not Alan Cumming. Why? I have no idea. Maybe too many Law & Order reruns.

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I loved this audiobook and quickly ran out to download Thompson’s other Austen narration, Northanger Abbey. It was a complete and total delight.

CBR10 Bingo: The Book was Better? Thus completing my very first BINGO!

09
Oct
18

One of these days, I’m definitely going to have to learn how to spell Marisha Pessl without looking. CBR10 Review 39.

UnknownIts become very clear that Marisha Pessl is now a MUST author for me. I loved her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. And while I didn’t have the same immediate feelings for Night Film, that book crept up on me and ended up scaring me more than I thought possible.

With Neverworld Wake, Pessl presents her first YA offering, and it offers a combination of the private school privileged world seen in Calamity Physics and a nightmarish view of human nature, similar to that in Night Film.

Be a lives with her parents in a picturesque seaside town in Rhode Island. She is home from her first year at Emerson College in Boston, and is still recovering from the death of her boyfriend Jim during her senior year at a prestigious prep school, where she was one of just a handful of scholarship students. Since Jim’s mysterious death, Bea has cut herself off from all of her old friends, and just goes about her day to day life at home, scooping ice cream and making french fries in her parents’ cafe.

Bea gets a random text from her former best friend, Whitney, a gorgeous, wealthy, popular girl, asking her to come up to her house for the weekend to celebrate her birthday with all of their friends. At the last minute, Bea decides to go, she needs closure on Jim’s death and figures the best way to get that is to spend some time with all of their friends and talk to them about what happened.

And wow. Bea gets way, way more than she bargained for when she knocks on Whitney’s door.

I’m not going to get into the plot. Its crazy. I didn’t read the book blurb before I started, and I’m glad. I think its best not knowing anything.

Just know this: Pessl is an amazingly talented writer who really understands what it is like to be an outsider. Bea’s life at boarding school, surrounded by the uber wealthy, is nothing like her life at home. The kids she meets have never wanted for anything material in life, and Bea always second guesses herself. Filled with self doubt and obsessed with her first love, Bea is an incredibly relatable character. Until she isn’t. But really, she still is. Makes zero sense, I know.

Pessl also writes a lot about the power of memory, and how it can be a blessing and a curse:

It struck me how no one ever really sees anyone. Memory turns out to be a lazy employee, intent on doing the least amount of work. When a person is alive and around you all the time, it doesn’t bother to record all the details, and when a person is dead, it Xeroxes a tattered recollection a million times, so the details are lost: the freckles, the crooked smile, the creases around the eyes.

I will say this: while the actual ending wasn’t a surprise, the route to get there certainly was. It reminded me of The Life of Pi, where the reader has to make up their own minds about what happened on the lifeboat. Which version of the story was reality? And does it  really matter?

I read this book in two sittings and wished it had been 100 pages longer. I can’t wait to see what Pessl comes up with next.

CBR10bingo: Dream Vacation. I’m from New England and would love a summer at a Rhode Island beach town that isn’t Newport. A lazy beach vacation with ice cream and fried food and lazy walks through town sounds pretty good to me right now.

 

09
Oct
18

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.” CBR10 Review 38.

UnknownI like that Ibi Zoboi didn’t call this a “retelling” of Pride and Prejudice. She’s going with the term “remix.” That seems to fit a little better, because while the main plot is pretty similar, there are lots of little things that don’t quite fit into a strict retelling. What Zoboi did instead was take a story that most of us already know, flip parts of it around, and make it her own. And it really worked for me.

Zuri Benitez was born and raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She’s proud of her Haitian/Dominican heritage. She’s fiercely protective of her family — her four sisters and her parents, who are not only still together, but still in love — and of her neighborhood. Her goal is to graduate high school, go to Howard University, write poetry, and come back to Bushwick to help make her community stronger.

And one day, everything she knows changes. The formerly condemned house across the street has been renovated and is now a gorgeous “mini mansion.” And the family that moves in, the Darcys, have two gorgeous and wealthy sons who clearly don’t know anything about the ‘hood they have just moved into.

Zuri’s big sister, Janae, who is home from Syracuse for the summer, falls fast and hard for the older Darcy brother, Ainsley. And Zuri takes an almost immediate dislike to the aloof younger brother, Darius. Sure, he’s nice to look at, but his attitude isn’t doing him any favors. Zuri prefers a boy from Bushwick, like Warren, a neighborhood boy who happens to go to the same tony private school as Darius.

Throw in a plot about a santeria priestess living in the basement of Zuri’s apartment building, a bus trip down to DC to check out Howard and the local poetry scene, and Bushwick being taken over by Farm-to-table restaurants for white hipsters, and we’ve got ourselves a remix.

At first, I wasn’t 100% sure about this story. I didn’t like Zuri for a reason I couldn’t put my finger on. And then I realized, I didn’t like the fact that she was so selfishly hoping that Janae and Ainsley wouldn’t work out, simply because Zuri doesn’t like anything to change. She was kind of rude about her feelings regarding her sister’s happiness, and I didn’t love it. But she eventually owned up to that, and that’s when it all turned around for me.

Yes, Zuri’s mother is loud and hopes her daughters will find themselves rich men. Yes, Warren turns out to be gross and awful with young girls like Darius’ younger sister and one of Zuri’s sisters. And yes, Zuri is shocked to see her friend Charlise (heading to Duke on a basketball scholarship) end up with Colin, who ends up owning the apartment building she and her family live in. There’s a lot that the reader recognizes and expects from the original.

But there’s so much that Zoboi brings to this old story, giving it a lot of new life.

My one minor quibble with this story: I wanted more from the Lady Catherine De Bourgh character. She was a true piece of work and having her only appear in one scene was not nearly enough for me. I don’t live too far from Chevy Chase, and was actually there yesterday working in a school, and the picture painted of that area and some of its residents was absolutely on point.

This book was fun and entertaining, but also educational and enlightening. I did a lot of googling about different parts of Brooklyn, about Haitian and Dominican customs and food, and about Howard University. I was embarrassed by how much I didn’t know.

Tagging for #cbr10bingo as #cannonballersays! — I had just started reading this when I heard how amazing it was from emmalita. Her excitement definitely pushed me to finish it much faster than I would have on my own!

08
Oct
18

But what of Barry the swim instructor? Does he get a happy ending? CBR10 Review 37.

UnknownA few years ago (I don’t know…maybe 2007?), back when I was addicted to watching Craig Ferguson’s Late Night show, he had an interesting episode in which he sat and talked to his friend Stephen Fry. No monologue, no questions on cards, no skits, no dancing horse. Just a conversation between old friends.

It was fascinating. They talked about all sorts of stuff, but what I remember most was their discussion about writing fiction. Fry had several books, their good friend Hugh Laurie had just written a mystery, and Ferguson’s Between the Bridge and the River had just been released.

And so I began a quest. I read Fry’s The Stars’ Tennis Balls (an amazing retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo), Laurie’s The Gunseller, and Ferguson’s book all in a matter of weeks. I loved Fry’s easy storytelling ability. I appreciated Laurie’s sense of humor. And I didn’t quite get Ferguson’s book, but I saw that he had potential, and gave him the benefit of the doubt because I loved him so much.

Fast forward to this year, and our #cbr10bingo center square.

This time, I didn’t love (or really even like) Between the Bridge and the River. I found a lot of what Ferguson had to say somewhat off putting, and I mostly found the characters annoying and horrible.

According to Wikipedia:

The novel has been characterized as a satire of religion and the entertainment industry. Ferguson has hinted in various interviews that there is a fair amount of autobiography in the story.

Ferguson has attributed the inspiration for the novel’s title to a conversation with a Jesuit priest about whether all those who commit suicide go to hell. According to Ferguson, the priest said that while suicide was a mortal sin, if someone were to jump from a bridge and genuinely repented of their action before they hit the river they would be forgiven. Ferguson interpreted this as there always being one last chance of redemption, which is the core of the adventures in the novel.

Ferguson’s great grandfather, Adam McLachlan, appears as a supporting character.

I think Ferguson is a very intelligent guy, and I wish that this book had worked the way that he wanted it to. I did enjoy the skewering of Hollywood and his obvious distaste for everyone involved in show business. But mostly, my hatred and disgust for many of the characters — PARTICULARLY SAUL — overwhelmed the little bits of fun that I found in the story. Saul was disgusting and awful in every way.

The one question I have about the story that went unanswered is this: Does George’s ex-wife end up with Barry the swim instructor? I hope so.

I listened to Craig narrate this book himself, as I thought it would make me like it more than I remembered. It didn’t. I would have been much better off with a reread of American on Purpose.

05
Oct
18

“When the mind’s filter disappeared, the big picture disappeared with it. There was no forest, only trees. At its worst, there were no trees, either. Just bark.” CBR10 Review 36.

Unknown-1The reviews on Uncle Stevie’s latest tome have been mostly similar: a great, suspenseful first half, telling a story about a police investigation into the brutal murder of a child by a seemingly innocent man…and a less successful second half, filled with supernatural elements and a character from earlier novels. Most reviews have pointed out that the story presented in the first half were quite enough for a full novel: local good citizen arrested for horrific crime, town turns against him and his family, regardless of what his alibi may be.

I’m talking about spoilers now, so be careful if you plan to read this.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

A few hundred pages from King about the nature of small towns and how a crime like that which was committed against the Peterson family, might have been a great mystery. OR…a story about a supernatural face-swapping “vampire” that travels around the country and commits murders in order to feed off of the emotions of the victims…that might have been a great standalone book.

Do these two plots fit together and create a successful whole? I think so. I get why others don’t think it worked. But I enjoyed it. Uncle Stevie does what he likes.

I think a lot of it boils down to how you feel about the Bill Hodges book trilogy, and the character of Holly in particular. I liked her, so it made me like this book more than some, I suppose. Honestly, once I saw that King was somehow going to connect this story to the Hodges books, I was just grateful that fracking Brady Hartsfield wasn’t involved in any way here. He was the worst part of those books.

There were sections of this book that were flat-out amazing. Nobody can write about a small town better than Uncle Stevie. The mob scene outside the courthouse was a masterful thing. The feelings of grief and sorrow that can overwhelm a family after a tragedy were beautifully described. And the struggle for these every day regular people had in trying to accept that something supernatural could be wreaking havoc on their lives? I completely bought into their doubt and the difficulty most of them had in opening their minds to other possibilities.

Yes, sometimes King can predictable. But that doesn’t always negate my enjoyment of reading his stuff. When a group of five heroes marches off to face the monster, we all know that at least two aren’t coming back. When he introduces a real asshole character, we know that this character will somehow end up choosing the wrong side of the battle (often not even making that choice consciously), and that they will most probably die horrifically. And we know that ka is a wheel, and all roads lead to the Tower.

(I found at least three connections to the Dark Tower in here…At one point the word “ka” was actually used…the star of the Mexican horror films was named Rosita Munoz, and in Calla Bryn Sturgis, Roland had an affair with Rosalita Munoz…and lastly, I’m pretty sure that El Coco was a monster similar to DANDELO (a distant cousin of Pennywise?), but he fed on sorrow instead of laughter.)

Despite the incredibly dark subject matter, I enjoyed reading this one. It kept me interested and questioning until the very end (and that Stranger Things-inspired shaving scene at the very end almost got me!).

#cbr10bingo #listicles — Pop Sugar’s 13 Most Chilling Horror Books of 2018

 

 

 

 




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