Archive for June, 2019

27
Jun
19

“It is my destiny to know people who abuse punctuation.” Same, Joe. Same. CBR11 Review 29.

downloadA few weeks ago, I reviewed the utterly bizarre You, by Caroline Kepnes. I wasn’t quite sure about the story, but I adored the narration of the audiobook (BEST GREG 4EVA), and immediately wanted MORE.

So, here I am, doubly confused after having listened to Hidden Bodies, the sequel to You.

Joe is terrible, and I kind of love him a little bit.

For the first part of the book, Joe and his new girlfriend, Amy (who he started dating in You, after murdering Beck and blaming it on Dr. Nicky, AS YOU DO), spend time in New York and at the beach in Rhode Island. They con a bunch of rich New Yorkers and have a generally great time. But Amy finds Joe going through her phone, and the next thing you know, she’s gone. Along with a whole bunch of rare books from the store where they both work. Folks, Joe can’t believe it. He is not having this.

But never fear! Joe is a massive stalker, and retraces her steps via her search history to find that Amy has moved to Los Angeles to join the UCB and sell copies of Portnoy’s Complaint.

He uproots his tiny life and heads out west after her. He packs up his apartment, quits his job, books a flight, grabs his duffle bag, and is all ready to kill Amy.

Thanks to social media, he figures out where to look for her. He rents an apartment in her new neighborhood, finds a new job, and a drug dealer – all before he even lands at LAX. Joe gets things done.

Joe meets some new people, falls in love with his new grocery store, kills a super popular late night comedian, and struggles as a New Yorker in Hollywood.

“There is nothing remarkable about this ‘guac’, about any ‘guac’, and California needs to calm the fuck down.”

“Angelenos need beauty sleep. They need energy to make storyboards for web series and hike and talk about movies they’ll never make and walk their dogs that hate them.”

“In a way I think it would be terrible to live in LA devoid of aspirations. How would you do it? How would you put up with the traffic and the monotony of the sun, the way people use the word hella and lie so freely?”

Then, Joe meets a girl that he thinks could be “the one”.

And here the book changes course. We kind of forget about Amy for a while, which admittedly, is fine with me. And the story becomes about the love story between “regular guy” Joe and gajillionaire heiress (TO THE AMAZING GROCERY STORE NO LESS), Love. Joe pretty much joins Love’s family, and is quickly swept up into their lifestyle and Hollywood drama. Joe and Love’s twin brother, Forty (YES, her parents were into tennis when they were born), decide to write screenplays together, and even though Forty is a massive A-hole, Joe is pretty sure this decision is a good one.

Sigh.

While Joe and Love are trying to figure out their relationship and their future, Joe is still up to his old murdering ways. I felt sorry for one of his victims, but totally supported the demise of another. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Santino Fontana is clearly sending me straight to hell.

In the last quarter of this book, it goes completely off the rails. Not only is Joe crazy, but Love doesn’t act like a human woman, and Forty is more or less just a caricature of the douche from an 80s movie who grew up. I’m not quite sure I understand the motives and actions of anyone.

Joe Goldberg is still human garbage. He is pure evil.

And yet.

Why was I always rooting for him to get out of whatever jam he was finding himself in?

Why was I hoping he would get away with the AWFUL things he was doing?
Really, what is wrong with me?

I blame the voice.

Santino Fontana is just so damn good here. While I would hate to encounter a “Joe Goldberg” in real life, I certainly wouldn’t mind talking to this one for a little while. I hope BESTGREG has a massive insurance policy out on his vocal chords. They are a national treasure.

 

07
Jun
19

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” CBR11 Review 28.

downloadAfter the longest wait I can remember on the library hold list, I finally brought Normal People home last weekend. Intrigued by the amazing review from my trusted cannonball family, but still unsure of what to expect from Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel, I dove in headfirst and barely came up for air until I was finished.

We have a friend’s 12 year old son staying with us this week while his parents prep for a move across the country this summer, and he saw the book out on the patio while we were hanging out this past weekend. He asked me, “So, Normal People…what’s that about? Is it just about regular people? Why would you want to read a book about that?”

Great question, Connor. It’s one I’ve been thinking about for the past few days, and am only just starting to figure out the answer to.

Yes, Normal People is just a story about regular people. But it’s something more, as well.

Connell and Marianne go to the same school and live in the same small town in western Ireland. Marianne lives in a mansion with her mother and brother and is a bit of a loner and an odd duck, although brilliant. She has no friends and everyone keeps their distance from her. Connell lives with his mom on the other side of town, in a neighborhood not quite as nice. His mom works for Marianne’s mother as their house cleaner. Connell is popular and handsome, a star athlete and scholar.

When Connell picks up his mom at work, he sometimes goes inside and finds himself talking to Marianne. Which somehow leads to sex, because teenagers. They have an agreement not to tell anyone, which is more of a need for Connell than for Marianne, because really, who would she tell? As time goes on, Connell realizes that he is only his true self when he is with Marianne – he tells her things he wouldn’t dream of talking about with his friends or his mother. And she realizes that she is completely under his spell, and will do whatever he wants or needs. But then, because high school is the worst, Connell doesn’t ask her to the end-of-the-year dance she severs their relationship.

But they end up at University together in the fall, where their situations seem to have switched. Away from home and in Dublin, Connell finds himself alone, struggling to meet people, while Marianne has completely reinvented herself (however purposefully or accidentally, we don’t really know), and is a glamorous, popular girl surrounded by new friends. They fall back into their old habits, sharing everything – their thoughts, their hopes and fears, as well as a bed — until some other stupid miscommunication forces them apart.

And so it goes. Back and forth for a few years. Clearly, they each need the other to fill some hole in their lives. Connell struggles with depression. Marianne struggles with her self-worth and the mental/physical abuse she has been living with for most of her life. Neither of them are very stable people, but together they are happier than when they are apart.

And that’s pretty much it.

But there’s really so much more.

The writing is sublime. I couldn’t put this book down.

Sally Rooney says more in just a few words than most writers could ever dream of. Her language is achingly realistic. We’ve all felt what Marianne or Connell feels at some point. We’ve all hit that wall where we aren’t sure if we are communicating properly to the person that matters the most, and sometimes the consequences of that miscommunication come as such a surprise.

I didn’t always like the story or the characters. Their behavior –both as individuals and as a couple – often bothered me, and their inability to either commit to being together or living a life apart drove me up the wall.

But that’s life, isn’t it?

The world is filled with all sorts of things to worry about. Grades, money, friends, gossip, love, careers, family. And what matters to you in your life might not be what matters to someone else…but that doesn’t make your concerns any less important.

And if you are lucky enough to find that one person who understands you more than anyone else, you need to figure out how to keep that person in your life no matter what.

“She closes her eyes. He probably won’t come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another.
You should go, she says. I’ll always be here. You know that.”

I don’t know what ends up happening with Marianne and Connell, but I wish them well. I hope they are happy, wherever they are.

05
Jun
19

Never doubt Rainbow. CBR11 Review 27.

downloadA few weeks ago, while sitting around and browsing Instagram instead of doing whatever I was supposed to be doing, I saw a post from Rainbow Rowell talking about a book coming out soon from an author that she loves, and mentioned Emergency Contact. I hadn’t heard of it before, and Rainbow claimed was  her favorite book of 2018! Rainbow went on and on, talking about how excited she was for the new book and how much she loved EC, and I just said WHAT HOW WHEN and ordered it immediately.

I’m so glad I did. It was just what I needed to fill the Rainbow-sized hole in my life (WAYWARD SON, I’M WAITING FOR YOU).

Penny (that’s short for Penelope) is about to start her freshman year in college in Austin, Texas. She wants to become a writer and can’t wait to move away from high school, her hometown, her boyfriend, and her mother. She has a new roommate, Jude, who immediately wants to wrap Penny up into her life and brings her out for coffee within minutes of her arrival.

They go to a quirky coffee shop near campus, because Jude’s former uncle-by-marriage, Sam, works there. Sam’s mom was married to Jude’s grandfather for a few years when they were kids, but he’s only a few years older than she is.

Sam is struggling. He’s recently dumped, living on a mattress in a tiny room over the coffee shop, and close to broke. He’s too skinny, covered in tattoos, smokes too much, and needs a haircut. And Penny thinks he is beautiful.

When Sam’s ex tells him that she might be pregnant, he goes into a full-on panic. He collapses in the street, freaking out about money and fatherhood, and Penny finds him slumped over in the street and brings him home. And thus becomes his emergency contact.

Sam and Penny text and call each other almost constantly. They become phone friends, and text each other all of the secrets in their lives that they can’t share with anyone else. They each slowly realize that the other has become the most important person in their lives, and are unsure how to handle that. And I loved every stupid minute of it.

It’s a glorious depiction of what it feels like to leave home and go to college. I remember how Penny felt, and I expect to feel the complete opposite of that when my oldest goes to college in three years (yikes.)

“In the short while she’d been at college – a seemingly negligible sliver of time – her brain reset. The routine rhythms of her old life were booted from her operating system. Sure she missed having kimchi in the fridge or a Costco stash of triple-ply toilet paper stored above a washer and dryer you could operate for free, but whenever her mother texted or when Mark called, the interruption was staggering.  Mind-blowing. She may as well have been getting messages from the spirit world. It was inconceivable that both college and home operated on the same space-time.”

Its also an enlightening look at what it means to struggle financially when you are surrounded by people who don’t give money a second thought. Penny and her mom have struggled and worked hard to get Penny to college, but they aren’t destitute by any means. But Sam? Sam is poor. His relationship with his mother is completely ruined after she opened up tons of credit cards in his name (without his permission) and maxxed them out in order to feed her shopping addiction. When he took legal action to try and keep his credit in check, she disowned him. And they are surrounded by massive wealth everywhere they look in Austin.

“Twombly, the condo across the street from campus, was not officially affiliated with the college. It functioned as a dorm, and there was a cafeteria, though it more closely resembled luxury apartments that served as tax shelters for Russian oligarchs. Its inhabitants were affluent enough that college degrees were a quaint diversion, a short-lived pretense that they were just like everybody else. It was a rich-kid rumspringa, that rite of passage for Amish people, except instead of living with electricity, the wealthy scions slummed by majoring in journalism.”

And yet, as hipster as Austin is, we never forget that this is still Texas.

“From the highway, the neon signs in order read: CHINESE FOOD, DONUTS, JUICE, then GUNS. Juice was the only hipster outlier. Everything else was as common as corn bread.”

Both Sam and Penny want to create art. Sam makes documentaries (I loved his little side plot with the skater kids) and Penny writes science fiction (I didn’t love her side plot quite as much, her sci fi was too hard for my little brain). And both are clearly talented, but neither of them has the self-confidence to see what they have to offer. Until they believe the other person telling them how great they are, which is a huge step for each of them. Sam tells Penny that they suffer from “Imposter Syndrome,” which she googles and reads “Informally used to describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments despite external evidence of their competence.”

I think that little sentence pretty much sums up the genre of YA that I prefer.

Amazon gives comparisons to Eleanor and Park, and I can see why. Both tell stories of unlikely friendships between people that don’t quite fit in (or at least, don’t think that they do), that become something more. Both describe terrible home-life situations. And while I consider Eleanor & Park to be the gold standard for YA romance, this book is a worthy successor. In this case, I didn’t even care if Sam and Penny ended up together romantically, as long as their friendship stayed intact. Sometimes I just want to read about people coming together to support each other through the ups and downs of regular life. Mary HK Choi’s next book, Permanent Record, comes out in a few months, and I can’t wait to read it. I loved this book. I loved the pink cover that made me think of fancy pajamas. I loved the back and forth between the narrators. I loved the humor and the sadness. And I loved the real characters inside. Thanks for the tip, Rainbow.

 

05
Jun
19

It is a truth universally acknowledged that giraffes aren’t all that sexy. CBR11 Review 26.

downloadI was excited to read this, as it is a well documented fact that I am a total sucker for any and all Austen retellings. I recently enjoyed Unmarriageable, and was hoping to ride the wave of fun Austen stories here. I began to read, hoping for a fun, gender-swapped modern version of one of my favorite stories.

AND THEN I REMEMBERED THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE.

(Oh my. I really despised that book. Remember that #cannonbookclub? Yikes.)

Ugh.

The good news is that this story is better. And I think the bulk of the credit for that can go to Jane Austen.

Amazon blurb:

Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:

  • Never trust an outsider
  • Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
  • And never, ever, defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…

A family trying to build home in a new land.

A man who has never felt at home anywhere.

And a choice to be made between the two.

We know from the blurb that there’s a wealthy, successful woman (DARCY), and a working-class, humble man (ELIZABETH) who fall in love against their better judgement. Of course there will be a Wickham to throw some sort of obstacle in their way. Here, instead of Elizabeth having a ton of brothers and sisters, a crazy mother, and chill father, Trisha (the Darcy) does. She has siblings and cousins and all of them (except for poor Esha) are expected to be the best at whatever they do. The father (they call him HRH), an actual Indian prince, is hard on them and drives them constantly to succeed. Like Mrs. Bennett, who’s single goal was to get her daughters married to wealthy men, HRH has only one purpose in life – to see his children make a difference. Which is admirable, but (more on this later in the “rant” section) he does a crap job of it. And Trisha’s mom, the former Bollywood superstar, doesn’t do too much other than love her kids and her husband and look pretty.

DJ Caine (the Elizabeth) is also interesting, but not fully formed enough for me. Yes, he’s a loving brother and a great chef. Sure, he has a tragic past and had a difficult upbringing. But he didn’t seemed finished to me. Handsome and great at cooking don’t fill in enough of the picture.

Dev is wonderful when describing the love that Trisha has for her grandmother and siblings/cousins. She does a great job describing the important place that food has in her family history, and how certain foods from her childhood make her feel better. The love that she has for both India and Northern California is lovely to read about. And the short glimpses into the life of Trisha’s mom before she met Trisha’s dad were absolutely fascinating, and too quickly yanked away from us. These little glimpses into an interesting story simply weren’t enough.

So. Here comes my rant.

The bad news is that this story has a lot of the same problems that I had with TBB. Characters do things because Dev said so, but none of it makes sense.

She spent so much time repeating things over and over that would have been better if they had been introduced organically. Trisha was always stuffing muffins in her face. Her contact lenses were always coming out because she was crying so hard. People were always winding locks of each others hair around their fingers to show affection. All of these details were supposed to be endearing but really were sloppy and annoying.

Most annoying was the constant (LITERALLY CONSTANT) need to talk about THE ANIMAL FARM of Trisha’s youth and how each of her siblings represented a different character from a picture book they read as children. Why couldn’t they have called this picture book ANY OTHER name but Animal Farm? It was weird and confusing and I kept wondering if it was some George Orwell Allegory or just sloppy editing. I’m guessing sloppy editing, but really I HAVE NO IDEA. Were all of the constituents of California supposed to love this story? Is Trisha’s family so absolutely famous that anyone would actually care?

Also, I felt like a lot of the time Sonali Dev was trying so hard to force details into the original P&P plot points that so much of the story was unnatural. The entire Wickham plot DID NOT WORK.

First: I don’t work in a hospital, but I cant imagine its an accepted practice to just lurk around in waiting rooms offering to make sketchy go-fund-me movies for terminal patients.

Second: She was barely a human character. She had a “look” but no other details other than that she was pretty and evil. She kept telling DJ that Trisha had been mean to her, so clearly her freakout when DJ decides to listen to the surgeon who can save his sister’s life is warranted.

Third: EVERYTHING that happened in Trisha’s family due to Wickham’s horribleness was SO STUPID. Why they blamed her for Wickham’s actions makes zero sense. And the fact that they don’t even THINK to discuss it for 15 YEARS? I can’t.

Sure, it was cute that the story was gender-swapped. It was fun to have Trisha be the clueless, super-proud, talented surgeon from the wealthy family. But she was truly ridiculous. I kept waiting for the scene where she was diagnosed with some sort of Asperger’s or something else on the spectrum, because I didn’t find her weird and rude behavior charming in any way.

AND WHY IS IT SO SEXY TO LOOK LIKE A GIRAFFE?

05
Jun
19

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. CBR11 Review 25.

downloadWhat if, in a future not long from now, time travel was a real, government sponsored thing? With a competitive selection process for its various missions – some successful, some not – would you be willing to risk your actual life, as well as the life as you know it, in order to participate?

Strangely, in this future, in which almost all animals are extinct (something called the mysterious “die off”) and all food is created via 3D printing technology, officials are using this amazing time travel technology to go back to 1815 and find out what’s up with Jane Austen. Not investigate climate change or Hitler (although, more on that later), or something that would effect every aspect of life…just go back and try to access some of Jane’s letters and her missing manuscript of The Watsons, a novel that was previously believed to be unfinished.

Dr. Rachel Katzman (an American, egads!) and actor Liam Finnucaine are ultimately chosen for the project. She has intense medical knowledge, which could potentially be used to save Jane Austen from whatever ailment ultimately kills her at age 41, and he is an actor and a writer who specializes in the gentleman’s lifestyle in the early 1800s. They endure vigorous training: they learn about the dress, the food, horses, carriages, the customs, the language, etc. They study the Austen family in great detail – Jane, her sisters, her brothers, her mother, their friends and extended family. They read the surviving letters and tour the Austen museums. They are given an enormous amount of money (fake bank notes!), a few tools to help them return to the future, and suddenly find themselves in 1815.

Rachel and Liam pretend to be Mary and William Ravenswood, pair of siblings who have just left their lives in Jamaica to move back to their native UK. They have forged letters of introduction to Henry Austen and call upon him to gain entrance to London society. They worry that their fake money won’t be accepted, that their household staff will realize they are fakes, that Henry will ignore their requests to call. But everything goes as planned, and Mary and William soon find themselves swept up into the arms of the Austen family.

Of course, not everything is that simple. Rachel soon realizes that all of the little things she’s done that were not sanctioned by her handlers before she left for 1815 may be effecting the future. They loan Henry Austen 30,000 GBP to try and save his failing bank. Mary accepts an offer of marriage from the sex-starved Henry. Mary “buys” a boy who was working for her as a chimney sweep and keeps him as a servant in her home. Mary gives medical advice to both Henry and Jane Austen, which extends Jane’s life until her 80s. And she and Liam eventually fall in love, which was not one of their instructions.

The most interesting aspect of this book is how Rachel and Liam adapt to life in 1815 and both consider not returning back to their lives in the future. Yes, Rachel struggles a bit over the fact that “Mary” isn’t allowed to do many of the things that William can do, including give medical advice that she is highly trained to provide. She can’t walk around at night. She can’t call friends by their first names. For such an independent and modern woman, these restrictions are difficult. And Liam, as an actor, constantly struggles with the quality of his performance and is filled with self-doubt.

I like that Jane Austen is only a minor character here, but that she is written warmly. Of course we would all hate it if Jane was portrayed as a nasty Fanny Dashwood type. Jane is kind and witty and intelligent. But this book isn’t really about Jane Austen at all, its more about what it means to find one’s place in the world.

What I didn’t like (and check out narfna’s review to see my similar thoughts, but much more eloquently presented) was the notion of time travel and the impact it may have on future generations. I found everything that happened after Rachel and Liam returned to the future to be confusing and a bit frustrating. Sure, I understand the “butterfly effect” and that some of Rachel and Liam’s actions in the past might have changed the future, but…

SPOILERS

Would lengthening Jane Austen’s life and allowing her to write 18 novels really lead to a world without Hitler? And would kill Rachel’s mom? I don’t get how the foundation of this science works.

Also, why would anyone volunteer to go on one of these time travel assignments if they would not necessarily be able to retain the memories of their mission? This whole idea was confusing to me….was it something that didn’t exist in the future that Rachel came from but now was almost mandatory in the future that she returned to? Help!

Lastly, why was so much money being spent on science in order to go back to the past and talk to writers? Why not go back and prevent disease or other disasters? Why keep sending missions back to meet the Brontes??????

All in all, I really liked this story. I just struggled with the science of it.

 




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