Author Archive for Kara Horgan

21
Sep
18

In the immortal words of Doug Judy, “So why don’t you just chill and eat some sexy-ass lobster?”** CBR10 Review 35.

Unknown-1Craig Robinson, truly a “man for all seasons,” continues to prove that he’s a national treasure with his debut children’s book, Jake the Fake.

Did you love Craig on The Office?

 

giphy

Or in his recurring role as Doug Judy, the Pontiac Bandit, on Brooklyn 99?

tumblr_ng8z7kiESQ1qbyb95o1_250

How about his annoying, and yet charming, commercials for Dodge?

Did you ever hear him sing Radiohead’s Creep (with an all-Office backup band. Creed!)?

And he was even great on Ghosted, which was really quite terrible.

source

Long story short, Craig is great.

He used to be a school music teacher, and he uses that experience here in his debut graphic novel/middle grade story (similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, but with more text). Craig (and his two co-writers/illustrators, Adam Mansbach and Keith Knight) introduce us to Jake, who is about to start middle school, and is scared to death.

Jake won’t be going to school with any of his friends, he’s going across town to the prestigious school for the arts that his amazingly talented sister goes to. Somehow, Jake got in after he played a song on the piano and sang for his audition…but it’s the only song Jake knows how to play and sing. He’s in a panic that the school is going to realize that he has no musical talent and that he’s a fake, and he’ll be kicked out.

Jake soon realizes that this new school isn’t what he expected, and that everyone has a talent, but they just might not realize it yet.

I’ll be honest, this book made me laugh out loud. The illustrations were ridiculous (if I were a 10 year old, I would probably think this was the most hilarious book of all time) and the jokes were smart.

This book has clearly been written as the first in a series of stories about Jake, and I look forward to reading what this crew puts out. The humor used here is a great way to let kids know that that the things they worry about are things that all kids worry about, no matter who they are.

Tagging for #cbr10bingo as #underrepresented. Jake and his family are African American, although it is never mentioned. Jake is a strong, funny, smart character, and his family is wonderful. His background shouldn’t — and doesn’t — matter, but I loved seeing him as a potential role model for all of the kids who pick up the Wimpy Kid or Big Nate books and think they are fun, but don’t quite connect with them.

giphy

**and yes, maybe my review title isn’t 100% in line with a blurb about a book for kids, but dammit, I just love Doug Judy.

Advertisements
11
Sep
18

If they make a movie of this one, I hope it also has Tim Daly in it. CBR10 Review 34.

51LksqJCXXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Way back in the olden days (the 1990s, gasp!) there was a little book called The Object of My Affection about a kind of fat and lonely girl who falls in love with her gay best friend while she’s pregnant and they decide to raise the baby together, and then life gets in the way, etc. Everybody read it, I think it was mandatory book club fodder at the time, even though I’m not sure anyone really loved it, or really even liked it.

They even made a movie about it, with Jennifer Aniston as the fat and lonely girl (so we all know how true to the book that went), Paul Rudd as the gay friend, Tim Daly (sigh) as his bastard boyfriend, and even Nigel Fricking Hawthorne was in it, pretty much stealing the entire movie in his few minutes on screen.

The author of that book was Stephen McCauley, and admittedly, I kind of forgot about him until my current book club decided to read his newest book (#soshiny), My Ex-Life. Two chapters in, and I began to wonder, does Stephen McCauley ever write about anything that isn’t a confusing platonic/romantic relationship between a gay man and his best female friend?

I’m guessing he doesn’t. And I’m not going to read any more of his stuff to find out.

I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it. I found it exceptionally average. I read lots of reviews (NYTimes, NPR, EW), calling it a “comic novel,” which was interesting to me, because I didn’t really think it was funny. I found it to be a sort of sad look at life when middle age has past you by, and you realize that your life isn’t quite what you expected or even wanted.

David is a somewhat successful college placement advisor (for truly the worst humans in the world and their equally despicable offspring), living out in San Francisco. His much younger boyfriend has recently dumped him for another man, and David is depressed and has put on a lot of weight. On top of all of that, he finds out that his adorable apartment is for sale, so he has nowhere affordable to live. Things aren’t going great for David.

Meanwhile, Julie is getting over a divorce way out on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Her husband has left her for a younger woman, her daughter doesn’t really talk to her anymore, and she’s renting out rooms in her house on Airbnb in order to attempt to buy the house from her husband. Things aren’t going well for Julie, either.

OH. And it just so happens that Julie and David used to be married, a long time ago, before David realized he was gay. They haven’t talked in decades. But out of nowhere, Julie decides to call him and ask for his help getting her daughter Mandy into college.

David needs a change of scenery, so he flies off to the east coast, moves into Julie’s house, and becomes a part of her life.

Its all fine and good. But was it “witty and sparkling” as NPR promised? Meh. It was pretty predictable and straightforward (except for one plot, which I’ll get to in a minute). I was glad to see the main characters slowly start to figure out what they wanted out of life, and how to get it. I was happy to see real middle-aged friendship portrayed. But it didn’t grab me and make me say HEY WOW I LOVE THIS BOOK.

And there was one plot thread — with Mandy, the daughter — that I downright despised. SPOILERS. Mandy is a bit lost. She doesn’t really know what she likes or wants out of college or out of life in general. She somehow gets involved with an older guy who has a video sex chat line run out of his basement. UGH. This whole plot didn’t work for me. At all.

As a former Massachusetts resident, I did appreciate the feel and descriptions of the seaside town and the tourists there. I also gave a little chuckle (JUST THE ONE) at this description of my former hometown:

Renata looked out the window of her Uber and shook her head. Boston. As she saw it, there were certain cities in the country that were pointless. Yes, they had their fleeting beauty, their esteemed institutions, but on the whole, looked at objectively, they were inessential and pointless. Boston was one of those places. The city made sense only if you thought of it as a sprawling college campus decorated with historic sites and with a few hospitals tossed in for the convenience of Saudi princes in need of cancer treatment.

Yup. Also, Dunkin Donuts. And Tom Freakin Brady. Go Sox!

06
Sep
18

Yes, she can be a little “extra.” But the food is delicious. CBR10 Review 33.

Unknown-4I think at this point, most of humanity is familiar with Chrissy Teigen. I follow her on Twitter and Instagram. I enjoy her comment round-ups on Comments by Celebrities. I love her obsession with Walter(Owen’s Grandp), who may or may not be real. Her kids are adorable and her mothering is relatable. Her husband seems cool and pretty normal for a massive celebrity. And like a lot of others, SOMETIMES I CANNOT GET THE RIDICULOUS HEADBAND OF THE DAY SONG OUT OF MY HEAD.

Sure, she can be annoying with her no-holds-barred tweeting. But I find her amusing.

I also love to see the pictures of what she is eating and cooking. She has a crazy palate — sometimes she is making a super-fancy fish dinner, and sometimes it looks like she’s trying to create the ultimate hangover food. I have no idea. But I’m into it.

And Cravings is pretty much exactly what I expected and exactly what I wanted. Her recipes range from challenging (where am I supposed to get some of these Thai ingredients???) to so basic I wondered if she was joking (hello, Ramen Dump Salad). Each recipe has a little blurb included, explaining why the recipe is included and how she tested it. Yes, her blurbs are very Chrissy. If you aren’t pro-Chrissy, this book isn’t going to change your opinion.

Look, I’m not a chef, or even much of a cook. Luckily, my husband is, so my children don’t suffer. I can handle basic cooking, but complex recipes stress me out. I’m happy to report that so far, I’ve made three of these recipes, and all were easy and tasted delicious.

I made the Dump and Done Ramen Salad. Actually, I’ve already made it at least 5 times. It couldn’t be easier and is a great side dish for literally any casual meal. I don’t know how I lived without this salad in my life.

I also tried the Sweet and Salty Coconut Rice. I loved it. I could have eaten the whole pot. And I almost did, since my kids didn’t like it and my husband was on South Beach at the time. I’ll try it again when he’s back to loving carbs.

The crowd pleaser that I tried was the Yellow Cake Baked Oatmeal. Fruit, a boxed cake mix, and oatmeal. It was idiot proof and SO. GOOD. Look at it. Bow down to it. Thank me later.

7fc20dad0396e334e3c39866fb93a1d4

I plan on trying more recipes from this book soon (when all of this Back to School nonsense finally dies down), and will definitely be picking up Chrissy’s second book when it comes out in a few weeks.

 

05
Sep
18

I didn’t love this, but its one million percent worth the purchase simply to hear HJB make up potential titles for the porn he accidentally appeared in. CBR10 Review 32.

Unknown-3You probably know H Jon Benjamin from his voice. He voices some of my favorite animated characters and some of my favorite cinematic cans of vegetables.

He’s Archer:

Unknown

He’s Ben, the disinterested and lazy son of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.

Unknown-2

He’s also Mitch, the philosophical can of mixed vegetables from the Wet Hot American Summer stuff.

Unknown-1

(And yes, I know he’s also Bob Belcher, but I have yet to watch Bob’s Burgers. Please don’t hurt me.)

His voice is a god damned delight, and his dead panned delivery never fails to kill me.

So, now he has a memoir about the many failures in his life. And…I thought it was fine. It was like a 10 hour long episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where HJB’s choices made me so uncomfortable, I often had to turn the audiobook off. I didn’t want to know what ended up happening when he let burglars into his neighbors house or when he lost control of his bowels in a rental car. It was just too much and I couldn’t take it sometimes.

But, there were some AMAZING moments in here, including:

*A short tale about why Jews don’t do much farming.

*An excerpt from his post-graduate thesis on the Holocaust, including his take on the Eriq Lasalle movie Biker Boyz and the outlandish ending of St. Elsewhere.

*The story about how he ended up in an amateur porn video with an ex-con and the ex-con’s cousin, which he titled “A Room with a Jew”.

*His dad’s INSISTENCE that PF Chang’s is simply a local “gem in the rough” Chinese restaurant in his neighborhood and refusal to believe it is a mega-chain.

Sadly, the uncomfortable bits outweighed the funny for me. I cringed more than once and his poor decision making skills really made me like him less as a person.

But his voice is still pure gold, so I’m not sorry I listened to this book. I just wish I had enjoyed it more.

I’m including this review for #CBR10bingo. For those interested, HJB hails from Worcester, MA. I was born and raised in Newton, MA and went to college in Worcester. #Homesomethinghome

19
Aug
18

When Uncle Stevie tells us that a book is scary, we should most definitely listen. CBR10 Review 31.

UnknownI’ve been away on vacation (or a series of vacations) for a little over a month, and have a large stack of books to review. But this one had to be first. The quiet horror of it will last with me for a long time.

I first heard about The Hunger from Stephen King, who tweeted about it in March:

THE HUNGER, by Alma Katsu: Deeply, deeply disturbing, hard to put down, not recommended reading after dark.

Of course, that shot it up to the top of my TBR list. I bought it immediately. But didn’t sit down to read it until I left for the beach in July…and then had trouble putting it down.

The Hunger is a fictional (and yes, supernaturally horrifying) take on the story of the ill-fated Donner Party, and their journey from Illinois to California back in 1846. We all know how well that ended for some of the members of that party. But what if the Donner Party wasn’t famous (or infamous, I guess) for cannibalism…but for their interactions with a terrible, flesh eating, shape-shifting creature out in the mountains on the California border?

Katsu creates a story that is factually similar to that of the Donner Party. Most of the names and characters are the same…albeit with slightly different personal characteristics. For instance, yes, in real life, Tamsen Donner was the wife of George Donner, the original leader of the group that left their homes in Springfield, Illinois for the chance at a better life out west. But was she suspected by the rest of the travelers as being a witch? Was James Reed a closeted homosexual who was traveling west to escape his past? I doubt it. But it made for much more interesting reading.

The writing is slow and descriptive. The group slowly makes their way west, meeting hardship after hardship — bad weather, not enough supplies, drought — and its leaders (including George Donner) argue and make one bad decision after another.

To be honest, this book would have been exciting enough for me if it had just told the story of the disintegration of the group as it made its way west — how bickering and stubbornness caused the group to splinter and was the true cause of their demise.

But Katsu ratcheted things up a notch by introducing a monster in the background. Something that craves human flesh and cannot be sated. Ever. The Native Americans in the mountains fear this monster and leave human sacrifices to it in order to be left alone, but the travelers ignore any and all advice to turn back or to take a different route, driving them straight into the path of this curious and mysterious monster.

Yes, this book is scary. The monster is hideous and awful. But the people are almost as bad. They say and do terrible things to each other out of pure selfishness. Their behavior reminded me a lot of King’s novella, The Mist, and what happened to the seemingly normal friends and neighbors after being holed up in the supermarket for a few days, and how quickly they turned on each other.

I really enjoyed this book (even though it scared the crap out of me at some points), and had very few complaints about it. The end was a bit abrupt for my liking, but that’s really all I can find fault with. I’ll happily seek out Katsu’s previous books.

FYI, this is my first entry into #CBR10Bingo, and I’ll file it under #birthday. Alma Katsu was born on November 30, 1959. She has quite a fascinating bio…born in Alaska and raised in Massachusetts, Katsu studied under John Irving and Margaret Rey, and then somehow ended up working as a foreign policy analyst for 30 years. Wow. I’m glad she made her way back to writing fiction.

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.




Categories

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 30 other followers

Twitter Updates

Advertisements