Author Archive for Kara Horgan

15
May
15

“Inanimate objects were often so much nicer than people.” Indeed, Ms. Pym, indeed. CBR7 Review 29.

UnknownWhen I was growing up, my mom was a bit (really, that’s an understatement) of an Anglophile. She traveled to the UK annually, she watched Masterpiece Theater every Sunday night, she was always first in line at our local art house cinema for the new Merchant Ivory movie or a Miss Marple retrospective, she knew who Hugh Laurie was WAY before House, and she always surrounded herself with a pile of “quaint” British books. Authors like Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, EF Benson, Marion Chesney, James Herriott, PD James, PG Wodehouse, Dorothy Sayers, and Barbara Pym were regulars in our house.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve read very few of the names on that list, but am trying to remedy that. Inspired by fellow Cannonballer Bonnie’s recent Barbara Pym binge, I recently picked up my first Pym, Crampton Hodnet.

Barbara Pym’s story is quite an interesting one. She wrote her books in the 1950s and 60s, but she didn’t find much success, as her writing was seen as being a bit stuffy and old-fashioned. She came to fame in the late 1970s, and also after her death in 1980, when her books were rediscovered by an entirely new generation of readers.

In Crampton Hodnet, Pym paints a picture of village life in pre-WWII Oxford, with various characters leading the flow of the story on a rotating basis. We meet Miss Morrow, a 36 year old “spinster” acting as the companion to the overwhelming Miss Doggett (apparently, these two characters appear in at least one other of her novels); Mr. Latimer, the handsome and single curate; the dithering Cleveland family; the pretty student Barbara Bird; and various others.

Their lives are filled with tea parties, shopping excursions, garden luncheons, and gossip. Who has been seen dining with whom? Who was that hiding in the bushes with someone who isn’t his wife? Who will be the lucky lady to catch Mr. latimer’s eye? What color dress is appropriate for a spinster to wear to a garden party?

Like Jane Austen, Pym presents society’s expectations with a large comic presence. She doesn’t take the perceived proprieties of the day too seriously. She makes light of the fact that society sees a 36 year old woman — one who is clever, attractive, and intelligent — to be a hopeless spinster with no options left to her. She ridicules a man considering an affair with a younger woman — he realizes that he wouldn’t be able to survive on his own, as he doesn’t cook, do laundry, or know anything about keeping a home and starting over.

This book was simply a delight. I enjoyed every last page of it and can’t wait to get my hands on another Pym. It made me think of my mom, and made me realize she was on to something with that constant pile of books, and I’m considering a full-on CBR8 dedicated to that pile.

13
May
15

All the nightmares came today, and it looks as though they’re here to stay. CBR7 Review 28.

Unknown-1I grabbed this one on a whim at the library last week, solely because if its title and fun font. A Hollywood take-down using a David Bowie song as a title? I am so there. I expected gossip and fun Hollywood snark.

And now, having finished it, and still not quite sure about why the Bowie song was referenced, I’m actually kind of depressed about the book. Yes, there was plenty of gossip and snarky but also, there was a terribly dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship that really just made me sad.

Jess is a 29 year-old barista in Santa Monica. She’s divorced, pretty much broke, rides a bike instead of a car, and estranged from her mother (her only living family). She has a gorgeous, actress roommate; a head-banging, roller derby-ish best friend; and just landed a job as assistant to an Oscar winner. This leads to an assistant job for a B+ list actress, and then things get out of control.

We get lots of delicious gossip about how God-awful it must be to work with celebrities, and yet, how attracted people are to the possibility of just being near someone famous. We see Jess take so much crap from people who think they are better than her, just because they are on tv or wrote the soundtrack to a movie. And Jess — who knows she should be treated better than she is — accepts it, because she’s simply star-struck.

I get it. I have a friend who is really quite famous. And now that he’s “on top”, he doesn’t talk to his old friends that much, but when he does, we all jump to respond to him. I don’t like that I do it, but I can’t help it. He sure isn’t treating us as poorly as Jess’ boss does, but still, sometimes I wonder if we should just shut the door on the friendship, as it might be healthier for all of us.

My major complaint with this book — because, even though it wasn’t all fun and games, there really was some drama here — was the incredibly abrupt ending. Vague and sudden really seemed like an odd choice, it made me think it that sudden “black screen” in the Sopranos finale. Just a bit off.

I’ll just leave you with Mr. Bowie. He makes everything better.

13
May
15

I would have liked a little more Knightley, and a little less Sam. CBR7 Review 27.

UnknownThere was a lot to like about Dear Mr. Knightley. This is the story, told only through letters to her benefactor, of journalism student Samantha. Sam lives in a group home, and to escape her tragic past, she spends all of her time with her head in a book. Over the course of a year, her life changes dramatically for the better, and we get to read her version of it as it unfolds.

I really enjoyed the way that 99% of the story is told through letters. Letter writing is a lost art, and I miss it. How great would it be to get long, detailed letters a few times a week, especially if you weren’t expected to write back?

I thought the story did a fair job representing what it might be like to grow up in foster care. I certainly can’t relate to any situation even close to what happened to Sam that made her the way that she is. Sam can’t form bonds with people, she can’t interact without incident, she has very few friends, and has a very poor self- image. But of course she does. Her formative years were horrible, and her parents treated her abysmally.

The story also made me want the best for Sam, and especially for her friend Kyle. Learning about the foster system — Both the positives and the negatives — was definitely enlightening. The bond between these two characters, based solely upon the fact that they had no one else in the world, became something quite lovely.

But sadly, the stuff that I didn’t like about this book seems to outweigh the stuff I liked.

Sam was not a very likable person. She was really quite annoying. Of course I have a ton of empathy for her, but I still just didn’t like her. And I didn’t get what everyone else saw in her that was so special.

Sam was supposed to be a super-talented writer, but her letters weren’t so well written. I wanted to pull out a red pen and mark them up. I was glad when her professors took her down a notch.

I hated how Sam would use quotations from classic literature to make her point in conversations. I thought it was cute at first, but quickly became somewhat obnoxious.

And the end? So creepy.

Of course I saw it coming from a mile away, but still. Really kind of icky.

All in all, not a bad read. I just wish I had liked Sam — and her writing — a bit more.

07
May
15

Make sure to have a box of tissues ready. CBR7 Review 26.

Unknown-1All the Bright Places has been showing up in a lot of places lately. I saw it at the library. I noticed reviews of it online from people I trust. I saw comparisons of it to other books I really liked — I’ll Give You the Sun and Eleanor & Park, to name a few. So I knew I had to add it to the list.

And I’m glad I did. It really was lovely.

And sad. Did I mention it was sad? Because it was really, really sad.

Violet and Finch go to the same ginormous high school. They don’t really know each other, but they know of each other. Finch knows who Violet is because Violet’s sister died in a car accident the year before. Violet knows who Finch is because EVERYONE knows who Finch is, but nobody really knows Finch, if you know what I mean. Finch is the kid who gets in trouble all the time, who dresses like a freak, who comes and goes as he pleases. And Violet gets good grades and wants to be a writer. So their paths don’t really cross.

Until they find themselves standing across from each other at the top of the school’s bell tower, both thinking about what it would be like to jump.

Finch and Violet slowly become friends, working on a class project together, which of course leads to them becoming something more than friends. And like most realistic teenage relationships, you know right away that this isn’t going to end well, and that one, or both of these beautiful characters is going to get hurt.

The writing of this book is simply lovely. Jennifer Niven’s gave each character a distinctive voice, so that when the narrative switched from Violet to Finch, it was always a smooth transition. And the adults were really well drawn too — they weren’t just stereotypical high school characters. Finch’s parents, Violet’s parents, and the guidance counselors at the school were all important and realistic, no matter how small a part they played, no matter whether or not their actions were brutally horrible or brutally supportive.

And yes, I cried. I knew I was going to, and I did. But I’m glad I did, as it was a cathartic cry, and I felt better about the book after the tears dried.

Highly recommend.

05
May
15

I do believe Keith Olbermann would call her “the worst person in the world.” CBR7 Review 25.

UnknownHave you read Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, and found yourself thinking, hey, I really hate that nasty Queen Levana…I wonder what makes her tick?

If yes, then have I got a story for you.

Fairest is a novella that ties itself in with the Lunar Chronicles, and it fits nicely in place after Cress and before the upcoming Winter.

And its all about why Levana is such a nasty, conniving, emotionless bitch.

Yes, I’m sorry that some terrible things happened to her as a child, and that her parents basically ignored her and her sister, and that her sister was an even worse person than she. But… COME. ON.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Levana and her sister Channary have just lost their royal parents, leaving Channary to become the Lunar Queen. However, all Channary cares about is fashion and bedding as many men as possible. Levana thinks she has quite a head for royalty, and steps in to fill her sister’s shoes at meetings and planning sessions.

Channary has a baby — Princess Selene — gets sick and dies, leaving Levana to act as Queen Regent until Selene comes of age.

Meanwhile, Levana uses her “glamor” to make her crush fall in love with her and marry her, even though in reality, he feels nothing for her but pity. She becomes step mother to his beautiful daughter, Winter.

And then, things happen. Horrible, nasty things, in the name of “love” and “doing the right thing” for her people, Levana’s makes some seriously terrible and heartless decisions.

Levana’s “love story” did nothing but make me feel uneasy. Her scheming and plotting for power really just made me think she needed to be committed. And poor Winter. We just know that she’s not going to have an easy go of it in the next book.

Yes, I’ll continue to read the rest of the series. I liked the first three books, and am hoping that Winter gives us a somewhat happy ending for Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and their friends. And that we see the complete opposite for Levana, who I hope suffers a tortuous end.

24
Apr
15

Becky needs an intervention. CBR7 Review 24.

UnknownShopaholic to the Stars is the latest (the seventh?) book about Becky Bloomwood Brandon, a London girl obsessed with shopping. Over the past six books, she’s found herself in pretty much every single ridiculous plot situation imaginable, all while spending large amounts of cash in order to buy fashionable clothes. She’s kooky, but she has a delightful and grounded bunch of friends and family to keep her in check. You know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of these books, kind of like the UK equivalent to a Stephanie Plum story.

And just like my vow to break up with Stephanie Plum, I think Becky and I are through. This book’s outrageousness was simply too much for me to take.

Becky and her UNREALISTICALLY patient husband, Luke, move off to Los Angeles for a few months so that he can cater to his new movie star client (he’s a something or other in PR, and clearly makes huge amounts of money). Along with their preschool aged daughter, they pick up and head to Hollywood, where Becky decides she’s going to be a top-notch stylist to the stars.

Of course, things don’t go as planned.

Becky gets herself into one crazy plot after another, and frankly, I’m tired of it. Yes, in this one, it seems as if she actually learned that her crazy actions can actually affect others around her, but too little, too late, for me.

Becky spends loads and loads of money. She fibs her way into embarrassing situations. She befriends movie stars, only to find out how absolutely horrid they are. She spends time in a cult-like Hollywood self-help center, and becomes slightly brainwashed. But she’s so cute and charming, how can anyone stay mad at her?

Luke, wake up. She’s draining your bank accounts and making you look like an idiot. Time to move on.

Also, I despised the cover of this book. There was nothing redeeming about it.

Sophie Kinsella is a fun writer, and I’ve usually enjoyed her books. I’ll keep reading her novels, just not the Shopaholic ones. I think I need a break from the “non-stop fun”. I’m assuming there will be another in the series, as this one ends in the middle of a major plot point. I guess I’ll just look it up on wikipedia or goodreads, as I just can’t read another of these.

17
Apr
15

My Lauren Oliver experiment is officially over. CBR7 review 23.

Unknown-4I read this book almost a month ago, and am sadly realizing that I can barely remember anything about it. It had ghosts. It had a horrible, dysfunctional family. And it had a big, old house that brought them all together.

Did I like it? I honestly can’t remember how I felt about it at all.

Here’s what I do remember.

Longtime readers might recall that I have a weird obsession with Lauren Oliver. She wrote a gorgeous, brilliant debut (Before I Fall). It made me feel ALL of the feels. And then she followed it with a typical YA trilogy — it started strong, and got worse as each book progressed. By the end of the third book, I was pretty sure Before I Fall was a fluke, and I wanted to stab myself in the eye.

And then I read Panic. It wasn’t great, but it was much closer to the writing that had affected me way back when. Real dialogue and real teen problems. No dystopian rigmarole, no unrealistic love triangle, just people trying to deal with life. Much better.

So then I saw that Rooms was coming out, and that it was her first novel for adults. Why it was specifically tagged an adult book is a mystery, as a few of the main characters are teenagers, and the book has a definite YA feel to it. But I digress…

Rooms is about a house in rural New York, and the various people who have lived there over the years. The most recent occupant has just died, and his estranged family — ex wife, daughter, suicidal teenage son, and granddaughter– show up to take care of his estate and the arrangements for his funeral.

They have no idea that there are two ghosts — both of women who died in the house at different times and are stuck roaming the halls– are watching their every move.

Trenton, the suicidal teenager, recently had a near-death experience and realizes that he can sense and hear the ghosts, even though nobody else can.

Why are the ghosts stuck in the house? Why is this family so crazily screwed up? What’s up with the police search for the missing girl that’s happening at the same time?

I hated this family. They were all just the worst. But the ghosts? I didn’t mind them so much. Their back stories were far more interesting than those of the living characters. I enjoyed their chapters wayyyyyyy more.

So where does this book fall on the Lauren Oliver spectrum? Clearly, not even close to Before I Fall. And honestly, not even as good as Panic or Delirium. But far, far better than Pandemonium and Requiem.

She has a newer YA book out, Vanishing Girls. I don’t think I’m going to read this one. I’m announcing that my Lauren Oliver experiment is officially over.




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