Author Archive for Kara Horgan

17
May
17

“Hello,” it said. CBR9 Review 32.

UnknownI’ve been sitting on my review of this one for a little while, not quite sure about what I want to say or how I want to say it. I do know that I’m so grateful for other reviewers like Fiat.Luxury, badkittyuno, and narfna for bringing it to my attention. I love when a book I knew nothing about, had never seen or heard about, suddenly jumps onto my radar when someone whose book opinions I trust talks about it.

The Unseen World has a lot going on, but never feels overwhelming or too busy. It tells a lot of story at a very leisurely pace, jumping from the 1920s, to the 50s, to the 80s, to the early 2000s, and then into the future. And yet, I was never confused about where or when the story was taking place.

David Sibelius is a quirky computer scientist who runs a world-renowned lab in the Boston area (at a school quite like MIT) that researches the capability of artificial intelligence to learn language skills. He works with other brilliant researchers, including his young daughter, Ada.

Ada has never been to school, doesn’t socialize with other kids, and spends every moment of her life with David, either at his lab or at their eccentric home in Savin Hill, a secluded beach neighborhood of Boston. At 12 years old, Ada sometimes wonders about life outside of the lab: What would it be like to be pretty? What would happen if handsome William Liston (son of David’s best friend and second-in-command at the lab, Liston) were to notice her?

But mostly, Ada just spends time learning from David and having “conversations” with his computer program, code named ELIXIR. Until one day, David disappears and Ada’s life changes in an instant. It turns out that maybe David isn’t exactly who he has claimed to be…but why? What secrets does he have, and how will they affect Ada’s future?

This was a very well-told story. Even when nothing much was happening — evenings when Ada watches TV with Matty Liston, making a lobster dinner for David’s colleagues, drama in the high school cafeteria, angst at her job — it was compulsively readable. The reader knows that David’s mystery will eventually be solved, but until then, every single detail is a potential clue to the truth.

I loved that the bulk of the book was set in the 1980s in the Boston area, as that lined up pretty closely to my personal life. I know Savin Hill, I know Quincy, and I definitely know what school Ada ends up going to (I used to wonder about the weird playground on the roof!). And the 80s was really the last era were kids had the freedom that Ada describes, to wander around your neighborhood at night, to go places alone without strange adults prying into why or where you are going, the great age before cell phones.

I know I’ve been exceptionally vague about the story and plot, but really, you don’t want to know more going into it. I kept trying to guess the ending, and it really took me quite a while to even come close. I’ll be sure to pick up other books by Liz Moore as soon as I can.

15
May
17

Part X-Files and part World War Z? Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. CBR9 Review 31.

UnknownMy local bookstore is really great about making recommendations for books I may otherwise have never known about. (You may remember, this was how I discovered Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle.) There’s nothing better than popping by the store and checking out what’s new and which employees have left rave reviews for titles and authors I might enjoy.

When I dropped by last Friday, I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular. But when I started to browse the SciFic/Fantasy section, I saw a book with a note attached that said “LIKE A CROSS BETWEEN THE X-FILES AND WORLD WAR Z (NOT THE MOVIE)”.  I was intrigued, for sure. And then I saw the blurb on the cover was a quote from none other than Pierce Brown, so I just knew I had to buy it.

I tore threw this thing in record time and I worshipped every last page. Yes, the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are mixed. But this book was totally in my wheelhouse and did not disappoint me for a second.

It starts off with a mysterious incident: a young girl named Rose goes for a bike ride in the woods near her home in Deadwood, SD. The next thing she knows, she is lying in the palm of a gigantic (over 20 feet from wrist to finger) metal hand, in a very deep hole, looking up at her father and a team of fire fighters.

Rose grows up to become a scientist, and is charged with attempting to figure out the mystery of her metal hand. Who built it? How old is it? What is it made out of? What’s its purpose? And are there more pieces like it out there?

Slowly, but surely, Rose and her team of military specialists, scientists, and other academics find other pieces that fit together to create a giant woman. Rose guesses that this woman was built at least 3,000 years ago…meaning that it was not created by any known civilization on earth. But what is the robot woman for? Is it a statue? Is it a weapon?

The story is told in snippets of interviews, log entries, and recorded conversations with an un-named, unknown man, quite reminiscent of the CSM from the X-Files. He knows things, he isn’t going to tell you how he knows them, and he wants you to get the job done, no questions asked.

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But unlike CSM, this unknown narrator eventually starts to care a bit about the people involved in this mystery. Yes, he does some absolutely abhorrent things (um, the leg surgery part was really a bit much), but in the end, his decisions have mostly been for the greater good.

And this book has Star Wars jokes! In order to escape a potentially deadly situation, some of the characters plan an escape based solely upon a scheme Han Solo attempted once.

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Needless to say, I could not put this thing down. I devoured this book and was delighted to find that it is the first in a trilogy. The second book is on hold for my at my local library, and I’m getting antsy waiting for it to be my turn.

 

10
May
17

A lovely, heartwarming story about first loves. And an amazing opening sentence about peeing mermaids. CBR9 Review 30.

UnknownI’m joining in with the praise for Becky Albertalli’s follow-up to the great Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And I’m adding Becky Albertalli to the YA Mount Rushmore, along with Rainbow, Andrew, and AS. She writes teens that seem like actual human beings, who talk like regular kids, and who make realistic mistakes. These kids are full of self-doubt and have families that embarrass them, but are also hopeful and fiercely loyal to those aforementioned embarrassing families. These kids could be living next door to me. These kids (without the CONSTANT social media aspect of their lives) could have been me and my friends in high school.

Molly (cousin of Abby from Simon vs. the HSA) and her sister Cassie are twins, yet nothing alike. Cassie is outgoing, is tall and pretty, dates girls, and is outgoing and (Molly thinks) fearless. Molly is more reserved. She’s a bit anxious. She’s described by her grandmother as being “zaftig”. And while she’s crushed hard on many boys (26, to be exact), she’s still waiting for that special first kiss.

When Cassie falls hard for adorable and cool Mina, Molly finds herself the third wheel a lot of the time. Mina has a few cute guy friends, including handsome, hipster Will. Is Will going to be crush number 27, replacing Lin-Manuel Miranda?

Meanwhile, Molly gets a job at a local boutique in her neighborhood and becomes friendly with Reid, the Game of Thrones/Tolkien loving nerd who’s parents own the shop. Molly can be herself with Reid, and they find themselves talking and laughing for hours whenever they’re together. But Reid isn’t boyfriend material, right?

Reid likes renaissance fairs and his sneakers are too white.

But he loves (and hoards! just like me!) mini eggs, so right away I knew I was going to like him.

It takes them a while to figure themselves out, but waiting for Reid and Molly to figure out their feelings was a pleasant ride. I got nervous a few times that Molly’s anxiety and self-doubt would get the best of her, but her lovely support system — including her two moms, her sister, her cousin, and her best friend — helped her to finally recognize that YES! She deserved happiness and love just as much as anyone else.

Also, the opening sentence? Amazing.

“I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.”

As someone who spends a lot of time at the 9:30 Club, this killed me. Those weird mermaid barbies on the bathroom stall doors are always so puzzling to me.

I look forward to seeing what Albertalli writes next.

08
May
17

This is why I still visit the YA section of my library. CBR9 Reviews 28 & 29.

UnknownThere are very few writers — of any genre — that absolutely grasp how to write dialogue that an actual  human being would say. And I think its especially difficult when it comes to YA characters. Rainbow Rowell can do it. Andrew Smith can do it. And my god, AS King can do it, too.

Years and years ago (for CBR3!!!), I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a book I still think about every once in a while. It was so different from anything else I had read in the world of YA, it really and truly stood out for me as groundbreaking. Then in CBR6, I read another one of King’s books, Ask the Passengers, and it was another beautiful home run from King. Her books were a bit bizarre — but so realistic. The kids had some unique issues but handled them in mature and impressive ways. These are books that I made a mental note to have on hand when Bunnybean went to high school.

Last week, I saw the new AS King book on the shelf at the library, so I grabbed it, along with one from a few years ago. Why did it take me so long to get back to an author I had enjoyed so much? I HAVE NO IDEA. My bad, clearly.

First, the newer book, Still Life with Tornado. From Amazon:

At 16, Sarah is facing what she calls an “existential crisis,” questioning whether her life has meaning or value, an event fueled by an unfair art show, a cruel teacher, a toxic and abusive family, a missing brother, and the loss of her ability to draw. Sarah wanders through the streets of Philadelphia and meets her future self at age 23 and 40 as well as her 10-year-old self. With the help of these past and future selves, she uncovers hidden memories of the vacation leading up to her brother leaving and the lies and violence that have driven her family dynamics for years. This beautifully written, often surreal narrative will make readers wonder if Sarah is schizophrenic, if she has post-traumatic stress disorder, or if she just needs to take a break from the realities of her life. Two weeks before Sarah’s crisis, her friend Carmen drew a tornado and told Sarah that it was not a sketch of a tornado but of everything the tornado contained. This drawing becomes an analogy for all that Sarah is hiding in the emotional tornado of her life, the secrets she has hidden from herself and the world. King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. Sarah’s strength, fragility, and ability to survive resonate throughout. VERDICT This is a complex book that will not appeal to all readers, but for others it will be an unforgettable experience.

I needed to steal the blurb from the book’s page, because I really couldn’t do the plot any justice in describing it. Yes, this is a serious story about bullying, about sexual abuse, about depression, about domestic violence, and about the difficulty about navigating through the teen years. It is also a strange and bizarre look at what makes a person themselves — Sarah comes across versions of herself at different ages as she makes her way across Philadelphia while skipping school. She meets her 10 year old self, her 23 year old self, and her 40 year old self, out and about, giving advice and offering an ear to listen to Sarah. Is Sarah having a breakdown, or is there something more to these other versions of herself that she meets?

Its only when all of the versions of Sarah get together, to become the complete version of Sarah, that she realizes what she needs to do in order to move on with her life and to keep her family together.

So weird. And so upsetting. Sarah’s family was difficult to read about. Her parents had a toxic relationship and her brother’s disappearance was certainly troubling. And Sarah’s ability (subconsciously) to block her past from her memory was fascinating to read about, even though we knew it was going to negatively effect her present.

When I finished that one, I immediately picked up Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. And this one was one of the best YA books I’ve come across. Ever.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last–a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities–but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

Glory is graduating from high school, and has constantly lived in the shadow of her mother, who committed suicide when Glory was in preschool. Glory has no plans for college or for her future, as she assumes that she’ll follow in her mothers footsteps and end up dead. She spends most of her time hanging out with her “friend” Ellie, who lives in a strange, cultish commune across the street. Not really a friend, but the only companion Glory has really ever had, they talk about their experience (or, in Glory’s case, non experience) with boys and what their futures may hold.

One night, Glory and Ellie decide (DON’T ASK WHY) to drink a desiccated, mummified bat that they found. They sprinkle the bat’s remains into their warm, cheap beers, and toast to their futures.

When they wake up the next day, they realize that everything is different. They can see the past and the future of everyone they make eye contact with. They can see the horrors that lie ahead for civilization, and Glory realizes that something has to be done to warn others about it. And so she keeps a journal.

She describes the horrible laws that will be passed, eventually taking away all rights for women. How a second civil war will tear our country apart, and how women will be kidnapped from states bordering opposing sides to be held prisoners as breeders and sexual slaves. And how rebel insurgents will refuse to accept this new society, and fight to bring our nation back together.

Glory sees the role that she is to play in this bleak future, and gladly accepts her fate if it means that she can make a potential difference. In the meantime, she struggles to accept her past, learning as much as she can about her mother and how her suicide affected everyone around her.

Another book that wasn’t easy to read, as the scenes in the future are bleak as hell. But King pulls it off. The strange powers that come from the bat aren’t really explained, but theres really no need for them to be. Just accept them and keep reading.

And yes, the future that Glory sees is completely bleak and awful. But she does what she can to prepare herself — as well as society as a whole — by keeping her journals and making note of who is responsible and when.

AS King is a totally badass, original voice. I plan to go back and read all of the other books of hers that I’ve missed.

 

27
Apr
17

I think this was a massively missed opportunity to really open up some great discussions. CBR9 review 27.

UnknownOk.
So.
I know this book has been talked about a lot lately, and that the Netflix show is getting a lot of attention — both positive and negative. The middle school sent a note home to all parents warning us about the intensity of the show, and that if our kids wanted to watch it that we should watch with them and then have a dialogue about what we saw. Fine. I know bunnybean’s friends have been watching, so I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about (even though she has zero interest, as she’s happily making her way through Buffy, with Angel on deck).

And here’s the thing.

I get what the author is trying to do here, but I think that this book is more or less a failure.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story:

Hannah, a pretty girl at a new high school, is dead. She killed herself a few weeks ago. And one day, Clay, the super nice guy that had a massive crush on Hannah, finds a shoebox full of audio tapes on his front porch. The tapes are from an unknown mailer, but the voice on the tapes is Hannah. She wants 13 people to hear the reasons why their actions (or inactions) caused her to commit suicide.

And already I was kind of mad.

I didn’t like the way that the author blamed these 13 other characters (well, really 12) for Hannah’s decision to end her life. And that these reasons were somehow valid for the choice of suicide.

As the parent of a middle schooler, I don’t accept this. I don’t accept that there are any valid reasons for suicide.

Yes, I get that there are unspeakable traumas that happen to some kids. Abuse, bullying, rape — all unacceptable horrors that nobody should have to endure. But they are not an excuse for suicide, in my opinion.

And yes, I was angry at many of the characters for their actions. The peeping Tom, the poetry thief, the drunk driver, and (especially) the rapist. They were all awful, and their actions and words should not be glossed over.

But what was the End game here for Hannah? Revenge? To simply make these other kids as miserable as she was for the rest of their lives? Because I think she accomplished that. But what about legal recourse? What’s going to happen to the rapist or the girl who was raped? What about the English teacher that knew that something had happened but didn’t press for details?

I wish we had gotten to know more about Hannah’s parents and family life, including why she left her old school. If there had been a shocking incident at her old school, wouldn’t they have had her talking to a professional at some point? I’m not saying that she would have been in full-time therapy, but if things were bad enough to move, wouldn’t that be a reason to keep an eye on your kid?

Look, I’m not a mental health professional, or a guidance counselor, or a therapist. I’m just a mom that read a book and didn’t like what it had to say. I do not in any way deny that these problems exist and that sadly, kids often see suicide as a “way out”. I just wish that this book had taken another route and instead of practically glamorizing Hannah’s decision, it had provided another point of view.

I might still try and watch the show, especially if bunny bean decides she might want to. And because Steven Weber and Keiko Agena are in it. But I’m not rushing to binge it anytime soon.

22
Apr
17

I laughed, I cried, I considered buying a Saab. CBR9 Review 26.

UnknownSometimes a story is able to take you someplace else. But even better, sometimes you become so immersed in a particular fictional world, you don’t ever want to leave.

That’s what happened to me when I listened to A Man Called Ove, the most recent pick from my new book club (and a huge step up from our first pick!!).

Not only did I feel like I was right in Ove’s Swedish neighborhood, experiencing everything that happened in the book, but it made me want to know these people, to have them be a part of my actual life. I wanted to pack up a Saab with all of my possessions and drive (of course, not in the residential area) over to their housing estate just to hang out or maybe go to a birthday party.

And when the book was over? I cried. I sobbed. Not because of the events of the story, but simply because it was over.

This book was heartbreakingly sad, extraordinarily funny, and so real. I wish it had gone on for hours longer than it did.

I really don’t want to give much away about this book. I’ll just tell you that it’s a beautiful and hilarious look at aging, friendships, loneliness, loss, love, and family. And rules. So many rules in this book!

Ove is a cantankerous old man (he’s 59, which is hardly a senior citizen, but as the book explains, “Ove has been a grumpy old man since the first day of second grade”) who is very set in his ways and not interested in making new friends and changing any of his routines at this point in his life. He gets up at the same time every day. He buys the same car every 3 years. He eats the same thing for dinner every night. But then his new neighbors move in, and now his life is out of his control.

It was a god damned delight listening to Ove meet and interact with all of the new people in his life. Ove, who hates clowns, won’t pay for parking, and only drinks drip coffee, attracted a rag-tag bunch of individuals to himself (whether he wanted to or not), and soon created a makeshift family without even meaning to.

For anyone looking for a good book to listen to, I can’t recommend this enough. The narrator did a wonderful job and it was always easy to differentiate between all of the different characters. This is one that I plan to buy a hard copy of for myself, just so that I can visit with these people again someday.

I know there’s a movie, and it’s on Amazon prime right now, so I’m sure I’ll watch it soon. But I’m not sure I’m ready yet, as I really just want these characters to live in my mind as I imagine them for a little while.

19
Apr
17

I miss you, Secretariat. CBR9 Review 25.

51B4hACt8TL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Two or three years ago, while we were on vacation in The Berkshires, we spent a day at the Norman Rockwell museum. It was great. We learned a ton about Rockwell and his life and walked around the gorgeous property where he painted. As an added bonus, there was a special exhibit on display, featuring all (or at least a lot) of Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod paintings. This was particularly eye-opening, as I really didn’t know much about Hopper other than that he painted Nighthawks.

So, when I saw badkittyuno’s review of this collection of stories based on some of Hopper’s works, I made a mental note to check it out if I saw it at the library.

This collection includes 17 short stories, all based on a specific painting by Hopper. I don’t know if the writers got to choose their painting or not (although Uncle Stevie did mention that he had a particular preference if possible), but it was interesting to see how these writers combined a specific image on a canvas with an idea for a story.

First off, this is a gorgeous book. I loved seeing the beautiful color insert before each story, showing the painting that inspired the author. I don’t know if this is available on the e-book version or not, but it was really lovely and in many cases, really helped to set the scene. I hadn’t heard of all of the writers included here, and many of the ones I had heard of, I hadn’t read. (Hello, Joyce Carol Oates. Nice to finally get acquainted.)

In particular, I’d recommend the creepy Stephen King story, The Music Room, and the bizarre and otherworldly Rooms by the Sea by Nicholas Christopher.

I also found Gail Levin’s entry fascinating. It was a fictional account of a non-fictional event in her career as a Hopper “expert,” describing the actions that a neighbor of Hopper’s took to ensure that the bulk of a hidden treasure trove of early drawings and letters would never be found and could be sold to his personal advantage. Granted, Hopper came off like a total d-bag in this story, but the real villain of the story is Reverend Arthayer R. Sanborn, a so-called man of God who took what he wanted from the elderly Hopper family and made quite a bit of money.

But my favorite story, hands-down, was Taking Care of Business by Craig Ferguson.

Yes. I love Craig Ferguson. I loved his show. I have read and loved his books, both fiction and non-fiction. And I loved this story.

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200

I mean, what’s not to like?

Using Hopper’s painting titled South Truro Church, 1930, Ferguson tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two men in their twilight years.

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I felt that Ferguson, more than any of the other authors, really brought the landscape, and Hopper’s vision of it, to life. His story starts with this:

The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister of this parish for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs. There was no sensation of getting high anymore, or indeed panic or paranoia or any of the other unpleasantness. No sensation at all really but he enjoyed the ritual.

He listened to the music from outside the church. It was too nice a day to go inside. Cold and still with a high milky cataract of cloud diffusing the sunlight enough to flatter the landscape, softening the edges and blanching out the imperfections like an old actor’s headshot.

The sea was guilty and quiet, like it had just eaten.

He juggles topics like faith, aging, loneliness, and death with grace and humor. And it made me hope that Craig writes more for us sometime soon.

 

 

 




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