Author Archive for Kara Horgan

02
Aug
17

I’m not sure why AS King isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, worshipped by all who are lucky enough to read her books. CBR9 Review 48.

UnknownThis is the fifth AS King book I’ve had the pleasure of reading during my tenure as a Cannonballer…I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz way back in CBR3, Ask the Passengers in CBR6, and earlier this year I read the mind-bending Still Life with Tornado and the amazing Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. And after reading this one, I found myself wondering why teens (and parents! parents should be reading these!) all over the world aren’t universally singing the praises of AS King.*

I know. These books aren’t exactly easy reading. Not only is the subject matter often upsetting (as is life), but the story is usually not told in a linear, sensible manner. King’s protagonists have often been abused or endured and survived some other trauma. Maybe they suffer from mental illness. Sometimes they wonder about their sexuality and about how their parents will handle that. And King always makes it clear: however you feel, whoever you love, whatever you do, its ok.

Her methods are strange and surreal, I’ll give her that. Glory O’Brien drank a bat smoothie that gave her the power to see the future. Vera Dietz hangs out with thousands of ghosts of her dead best friend. Sarah (from Still Life with Tornado) makes friends with different versions of herself at different ages. Astrid (from Ask the Passengers) gets her best advice from people flying over her house in jets. And it all somehow makes sense.

This time, King gives us a group of “broken” friends who are seniors in high school. One is building an invisible helicopter. One won’t ever take off her lab coat. One has magical hair that grows every time she lies. And one has swallowed herself and is now inside out. Maybe the rest of the school sees them as freaks, but together they support each other and help each other deal with what’s happened in their lives to bring them to these situations.

The book is mostly about trauma and PTSD. How do different people handle stressful and horrible situations? Some drink. Some withdraw and watch old TV sitcoms. Some become obsessed with death.  Some put themselves in dangerous sexual situations. Some are lucky enough to have the support of their friends and family to help them get better, while some have to figure it out on their own. But King shows us that help is out there, and that anyone can be saved.

SPOILERS

Stanzi’s parents really pissed me off here. Yes, I understand that losing a child is the worst thing that can possibly happen. But you have another child that you are letting slip away and she needs your help. Meanwhile, I assumed China’s BDSM mother would end up being useless. And her strength and love really blew me away.

*And, as I’ve touted before, Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell books should be government issued as well. These three authors understand life as a teen better than anyone I’ve ever come across. Have a teen? Know a teen? Are you a teen? Have you ever been a teen? If so, I recommend these authors.

21
Jul
17

These books taught me more than any middle school health class. CBR9 Reviews 46 & 47.

Unknown-2I remember the summer that I discovered the “older” section of my local library’s children’s department. It had books by authors like Paula Danziger, Lois Duncan, and the goddess Judy Blume. I tore through them all between 4th and 6th grade (and then moved on to Stephen King). And while I knew that I loved these books, I also knew that I didn’t quite understand everything going on in them. Until health class. And then I understood more than I bargained for.

Honestly, Judy Blume was so far ahead of her time, writing about subjects that nobody else would come near. Not only did she write about what it was like to hit puberty, she did it in great detail, making every kid who read her books — boys and girls — understand that they were not alone. She took regular kid problems, that lots of kids probably were afraid to talk to their parents about, and made them seem normal and manageable.

When I originally read these books, I didn’t realize how alike they were. Margaret and Tony go through really similar life changes in their books, but the stories are simply told through the eyes of a girl in one story, and a boy in the other.

Both kids move to new towns before the start of the school year. Both worry about making new friends. Both start going through puberty, and worry about the changes happening to them, absolutely positive that these changes aren’t normal but afraid to ask about them.

Most of you know about Margaret. She’s one of Judy Blume’s most famous creations. Going into the 6th grade in a new town, Margaret makes friends with her new neighbor, Nancy, and a few of Nancy’s friends. They form a club and talk about boys, bras, and periods. Like with all girls that age, there’s some interesting interactions…a little lying to each other, some friendly (and some not so friendly) competition, and lots of gossip and rumors.

Meanwhile, Margaret is struggling with her faith. Her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian, and Margaret decides that its time for her to figure out just what she is. She spends time praying and arguing with her grandmother about what’s best for her, but she just isn’t sure she’s ready to commit to either religion.

I was glad to see that the book had been updated since I last read it, and that poor Margaret didn’t have to figure out the hooks and belts on her pad when she finally got her period.

Here is the cover of the book when I first read it:

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And here’s the cover of Bunnybean’s version:

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I followed up AYTGIMM with Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, which I actually ended up liking a little bit better this time. I think when I originally read it, I didn’t understand a lot of what Tony was going through. Like, a lot. I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.

Tony and his family are working class Italian Americans in Jersey City. When Tony’s dad invents an electrical cartridge (???) they suddenly find themselves exceptionally wealthy and move to a mansion on Long Island. Tony tries to fit in, makes a few new friends, but is never completely comfortable with all that comes with his family’s new wealth.

Tony also spends his time being a peeping tom and watching his neighbor’s sister get undressed every night. This bugged the hell out of me.

Meanwhile, Tony suffers from stomach pains whenever something stresses him out. His neighbor (who is even richer than he is) loves to shoplift, and Tony can’t handle it. His mother is obsessed with appearances, and Tony doesn’t like it. His brother has given up his dreams to become a teacher, and Tony thinks he’s a sell out. All of this lands him in the hospital and to sessions with a psychologist, where Tony airs out a lot of his grievances.

Tony wonders about puberty, just like Margaret. And where Margaret struggled with religion, Tony struggles with wealth. But the books are really quite alike, and they hold up pretty well.

Nobody has cell phones or texts, kids listen to records and ride bikes everywhere. And these kids admirably figure things out for themselves, and try to maneuver through their pre-teen years making as few major mistakes as possible. These are good kids, and made other kids realize that they if Margaret and Tony were normal, then they were normal, too.

Thanks, Judy.

 

17
Jul
17

“Stay away from windows. And if you see people with tentacles, stay away. Don’t let them touch you.” CBR9 Review 45.

UnknownWould you believe me if I told you that I just read the strangest, most disgusting, horrifically violent, semi-apocalyptic book of all time, and that it cracked me up and I loved it? Most of you cannonballers would, since you are the nutjobs that recommended this one!

The Library at Mount Char isn’t easy to explain. But I’ll try.

One summer day in the 1970s, disaster strikes at a neighborhood barbecue, orphaning 12 kids and leaving them to be raised by “Father,” an older man from down the street who was always a little bit peculiar. He takes them home to his “library” and it begins their formal education and upbringing.

This is no ordinary library. Each of the 12 librarians is given a subject to master, with access to thousands or even millions of books. The librarians are not permitted to share their catalogue knowledge, and really don’t understand much about what the others are working on.

But wait, you might say. That doesn’t seem all that weird.

Throw in kids being cooked alive in barbecue grill shaped like a bull, a psychotic killing machine dressed in a blood-drenched tutu, a duo of kick-ass lions who want revenge on those who have done them wrong, tentacled creatures roaming the highways, and a man being castrated by his sister before being sent to suffer for all eternity while tethered with a rope to his big toe, and it starts to get weird.

So many others have reviewed this book in 2017, I honestly don’t have much more to add.

It was crazy and original and foul and funny. I was grossed out and shocked and I enjoyed almost every second (I did cringe at the castration). I loved Naga and Steve and Erwin (“Erwin gave no fucks.”). I loved the chapter titles (the best being “About Half a Fuckton of Lying-Ass Lies”). I loved the outfits…tutus and army jackets…bike shorts with leg warmers and Christmas sweaters…bathrobes and cowboy hats. It was so weird and yet exactly the way it was supposed to be.

It was like nothing I’ve ever read before and I hope Scott Hawkins continues to surprise and shock us for years to come.

17
Jul
17

Honestly, by the end of the trilogy, I was nauseated. CBR9 Review 44.

UnknownI really liked Crazy Rich Asians. I’ll still see the movie. I have high hopes. It was a mostly fun look at the immense level of wealth in Singapore, and how these uber-wealthy families live their lives out in the world.

And I had some trouble with the second book, China Rich Girlfriend. All the details that had been amusingly shocking in the first book were now just shocking and a bit disgusting. The sheer waste of money on things like clothes and jewelry and handbags was just overwhelming and perplexing to me. And the attempted murder? No thanks.

But I was willing to give Kevin Kwan the benefit of the doubt for the new book, the last in this crazy trilogy. It did have some moments when I actually felt some sort of empathy for a few of the characters, but for the most part, it just made me feel like I had eaten something bad.

Seriously. This book made me sick.

I couldn’t stand reading about the excess and greed and all-around snobbery. There were a few characters I still hoped would have a happy ending, but there were an even larger number of characters that I felt ill will toward. Eddie Cheng? I wanted to punch him in the face every time he opened his mouth. Nicky’s mother and her bible club? The worst people in the world.

There was an interesting story somewhere underneath all of the excess. I’d like to know more about Singapore during World War II and what happened with the Japanese. I’m curious to know about how the real estate market works in a country like Singapore that has such a small amount of land and such a large number of wealthy people. I want to know more about the islands of the Philippines, and exactly how one goes about purchasing one.

The one positive thing I can definitely say about these books is that I spend more time googling architecture and natural wonders than with any other books. I love reading about parts of the world that I’m unfamiliar with, and Kevin Kwan sure does an excellent job in making me want to travel throughout southeast Asia. He also makes me want to eat. I was googling all sorts of rice dishes and noodles and tropical fruits and teas. He’s the best at making you desperately want to try something you hadn’t heard of five minutes before.

I liked Kwan’s writing style. And I enjoyed about 45% of this crazy ride that he took me on. Yes, I understand that there are actually people in the world like this, and that this is a satirical look at them. I just don’t find them to be all that funny.

STUPID, ANNOYING SPOILER TO FOLLOW

My biggest gripe with this entire book was a throwaway line in the last chapter. After Nicky, Rachel, Colin, Minty, and Kitty (along with a few other friends and cousins) figure out how to save Tyersall Park, suddenly the unbearable and money obsessed Kitty has become a loving, hands-on mother. She turns away from her friends to go and breastfeed her three year old son, which is fine. My annoyance is due to the fact that I don’t think she ever breastfed him a single time for the first 2 1/2 years of his life. Simply deciding that you want to be a mom who nurses doesn’t make the milk magically appear.

That bugged me.

03
Jul
17

“I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to admit that sometimes they’re just assholes who screw up because they don’t expect to get caught.” CBR9 Review 43.

UnknownLast year, at my college reunion, I was lucky enough to spend some time catching up with Karen McManus. After we exchanged the usual pleasantries, she told me something unbelievably interesting: she had signed a deal with Delacourte/Random House, and had a YA book coming out in 2017. Amazing, right?

So, I waited patiently for the book to come out. And the buzz was crazy, so I started to wait sort of impatiently.

And finally, I stopped by my favorite local bookstore and bought it the week it came out. I got the last copy — the store told me that it had been flying off the shelves. And why not, when you tout it as THE BREAKFAST CLUB WITH MURDER!!!

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One of Us is Lying is the story of five High School Juniors who show up in detention together one day. There’s Bronwyn, the valedictorian, on the fast-track to the Ivy League; Nate, the drug dealer with a criminal past; Cooper, the star baseball pitcher; Addy, the beauty, and half of the school’s “golden couple”; and Simon, the outcast who runs the school’s secret gossip app and loves to publicize the things that most people hope to keep under wraps — including the secrets of the other four kids in the classroom. The five students have little in common, other than that they were all caught with phones in a “no-phone classroom”. All five claim that they were framed and that the phones weren’t theirs, but the teacher doesn’t care and sits them down to write an essay about how technology is ruining their generation.

And then one of them dies.

And that’s all in the first chapter.

Of course, the remaining students are immediately seen as suspects in the questionable death. We learn what everyone is trying to hide, and why. We see the different ways that the media, the school administration, the parents, the classmates, and the police manage new details and information as it comes out, and how it affects the four kids left standing.

I grew attached to the characters, and got so nervous about which one might end up being the guilty party (SPOILER: I was especially concerned about Bronwyn, who I liked a lot. My oldest kid is named Bronwyn — you may know her as Bunnybean — so I couldn’t help but imagine her as the character in the book. Stressful, indeed!), I had to keep putting it down and taking a break. But that isn’t a criticism! I kept changing my mind about who I thought was guilty and who might be telling the truth, but I didn’t guess WHODUNIT or how or why.

I also enjoyed seeing the remaining four kids deal with the mistakes that they had made and face the consequences, for better or for worse. High school kids (and I know, because I was one once) can be idiots. They make mistakes, and don’t always admit to them or see how their mistake might potentially impact everyone around them. It was refreshing to see each kid deal with their own issues and manage their next steps, some with the support of friends, some with family, and some on their own.

I’m happy to report that this debut lived up to its hype. With a murder mystery that kept me stressed out and guessing until almost the very end (seriously, this book STRESSED. ME. OUT.), I tore through it and was disappointed when it was over.

Karen recently tweeted that she has a new book due out next year. I can’t wait to pre-order it.

 

 

 

 

 

21
Jun
17

This was, without a doubt, the right book at the right time. I loved it. Also, Cary Elwes. CBR9 Review 42.

UnknownComing off of a few books with heavier themes, I decided to look for something fun and easy to read at the pool. Scanning through my kindle purchase (seriously, there are SO MANY), I came across this one, and remembered that my fellow cannonballers thought somewhat highly of it.

Now, look. I’m no historian.

But I’m pretty sure this version of the events between the death of King Henry and the coronation of Bloody Mary aren’t historically accurate.

I know a little about King Edward and Jane Grey. After watching season one of The Crown, I started reading some British royal history (written for children — I really just wanted an overview!), just so I could keep up a bit. And years ago, I saw the movie about Jane Grey starring super young and hot Helena Bonham Carter as Jane and Cary Elwes as G. That was the extent of my knowledge on Edward and Jane and the Dudleys. But nowhere have I ever read that Jane was sometimes a ferret and that G was really a horse.

This alternate version of history takes place in an England divided over magic. There are the verities (led by Edward’s half-sister, Mary), who denounce all things magical. And then there are the E∂ians…those who descend from a long line of ancient shape shifters. (Did you know that King Henry had a tendency to turn into a lion when he was annoyed?)

Young and sickly, King Edward hasn’t done much to manage this brewing war between the verities and the E∂ians. And then he receives the terrible news that he has consumption (I think) and has mere months to live.

Manipulated by his chief advisor, Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, Edward names his cousin Jane as his successor, ignoring the fact that his half-sister Mary is the rightful heir to the throne. Dudley also convinces Edward to enter Jane into marriage with his son, Gifford (you can call him G), thereby potentially creating a puppet monarchy for Lord Dudley.

Jane isn’t particularly excited about this match. She’s heard the rumors about G’s womanizing and drinking. She’d much rather stay at home with a good book.

Oh, a G turns into a horse every day at dawn, which is awkward.

The rest of the story is about Jane’s sudden ascension to the thrown, her immediate removal by Mary, and how the E∂ians work together to take back what is rightfully theirs.

So no, the book isn’t historically accurate. But I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was silly and funny and the narrator reminded me of the delightful one on Jane the Virgin. Filled with ridiculous comments and asides, as well as a bunch of Month Python references, I really got a good laugh out of this.

For example, when describing Edward’s lack of skills with the fairer sex:

He pretended to stretch his arms, in order to shift even closer to her. (This isn’t in the history books, of course, but we’d like to point out that this was the first time a young man had ever tried that particular arm-stretch move on a young woman. Edward was the inventor of the arm stretch, a tactic that teenage boys have been using for centuries.

I had never heard of any of the (three!) authors who wrote this, but I would check out other books by them. And I saw that they have a new book in the works, this one about Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte, and I’m 100% ready for that.

If you’re looking for something light and frothy and in no way historically accurate, this was a fun and quick read.

Bonus:

Teenaged Cary Elwes as G.

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15
Jun
17

When you dedicate a book to Han Solo, odds are I’m going to like it. CBR9 Review 41.

UnknownThe CBR hive has been quite divided over Sleeping Giants, the first book in Sylvain Neuvel’s proposed trilogy (The Themis Files) about gigantic alien robots discovered on earth after being buried for thousands of years. I really enjoyed the interview/journal aspect of the storytelling and found the plot to be intriguing and fast-paced. I liked the confusion that the scientists were facing, and that there were people in Washington who had information, but weren’t all that willing to share it…unless Kung Pao chicken was involved.

And I was down for book two when it came up in my library queue. And whoa.

Although Waking Gods was told in the same format — interviews, journal entries, broadcast tape transcripts from radio and tv — this book had a very different feel. This story mostly scared the crap out of me.

One morning, a second robot, nearly identical to Themis from Sleeping Giants, shows up in a London park. The world doesn’t quite know what to make of it. And leaders are confused and cannot agree on how best to approach the new robot. Dr. Rose Franklin (suddenly NOT DEAD, but not really Rose Franklin) thinks the world should just leave the new robot alone…but armies and governments disagree.

And suddenly half of London is gone. Hundred of thousands are dead. But why?

Meanwhile, a dozen more robots show up in large cities all over the world. The military tries everything — attacking with Themis, nuclear bombs, airstrikes — but nothing works.

And then the gas comes, killing 99% of any life form that breathes it.

Rose and her team — basically Kara and Vincent — work non-stop to determine what the robots want and why 1% of humans are immune to the gas.

I couldn’t put this book down.

Until the last quarter or so, when I didn’t quite buy what Sylvain Neuvel was selling. But still, I enjoyed it. I was shocked that he so cavalierly dared to kill off millions of innocent people for no reason, including some of our main characters that we had grown attached to. I look forward to book 3. I can’t imagine what might happen next.




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