Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

09
Oct
18

One of these days, I’m definitely going to have to learn how to spell Marisha Pessl without looking. CBR10 Review 39.

UnknownIts become very clear that Marisha Pessl is now a MUST author for me. I loved her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. And while I didn’t have the same immediate feelings for Night Film, that book crept up on me and ended up scaring me more than I thought possible.

With Neverworld Wake, Pessl presents her first YA offering, and it offers a combination of the private school privileged world seen in Calamity Physics and a nightmarish view of human nature, similar to that in Night Film.

Be a lives with her parents in a picturesque seaside town in Rhode Island. She is home from her first year at Emerson College in Boston, and is still recovering from the death of her boyfriend Jim during her senior year at a prestigious prep school, where she was one of just a handful of scholarship students. Since Jim’s mysterious death, Bea has cut herself off from all of her old friends, and just goes about her day to day life at home, scooping ice cream and making french fries in her parents’ cafe.

Bea gets a random text from her former best friend, Whitney, a gorgeous, wealthy, popular girl, asking her to come up to her house for the weekend to celebrate her birthday with all of their friends. At the last minute, Bea decides to go, she needs closure on Jim’s death and figures the best way to get that is to spend some time with all of their friends and talk to them about what happened.

And wow. Bea gets way, way more than she bargained for when she knocks on Whitney’s door.

I’m not going to get into the plot. Its crazy. I didn’t read the book blurb before I started, and I’m glad. I think its best not knowing anything.

Just know this: Pessl is an amazingly talented writer who really understands what it is like to be an outsider. Bea’s life at boarding school, surrounded by the uber wealthy, is nothing like her life at home. The kids she meets have never wanted for anything material in life, and Bea always second guesses herself. Filled with self doubt and obsessed with her first love, Bea is an incredibly relatable character. Until she isn’t. But really, she still is. Makes zero sense, I know.

Pessl also writes a lot about the power of memory, and how it can be a blessing and a curse:

It struck me how no one ever really sees anyone. Memory turns out to be a lazy employee, intent on doing the least amount of work. When a person is alive and around you all the time, it doesn’t bother to record all the details, and when a person is dead, it Xeroxes a tattered recollection a million times, so the details are lost: the freckles, the crooked smile, the creases around the eyes.

I will say this: while the actual ending wasn’t a surprise, the route to get there certainly was. It reminded me of The Life of Pi, where the reader has to make up their own minds about what happened on the lifeboat. Which version of the story was reality? And does it  really matter?

I read this book in two sittings and wished it had been 100 pages longer. I can’t wait to see what Pessl comes up with next.

CBR10bingo: Dream Vacation. I’m from New England and would love a summer at a Rhode Island beach town that isn’t Newport. A lazy beach vacation with ice cream and fried food and lazy walks through town sounds pretty good to me right now.

 

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09
Oct
18

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.” CBR10 Review 38.

UnknownI like that Ibi Zoboi didn’t call this a “retelling” of Pride and Prejudice. She’s going with the term “remix.” That seems to fit a little better, because while the main plot is pretty similar, there are lots of little things that don’t quite fit into a strict retelling. What Zoboi did instead was take a story that most of us already know, flip parts of it around, and make it her own. And it really worked for me.

Zuri Benitez was born and raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She’s proud of her Haitian/Dominican heritage. She’s fiercely protective of her family — her four sisters and her parents, who are not only still together, but still in love — and of her neighborhood. Her goal is to graduate high school, go to Howard University, write poetry, and come back to Bushwick to help make her community stronger.

And one day, everything she knows changes. The formerly condemned house across the street has been renovated and is now a gorgeous “mini mansion.” And the family that moves in, the Darcys, have two gorgeous and wealthy sons who clearly don’t know anything about the ‘hood they have just moved into.

Zuri’s big sister, Janae, who is home from Syracuse for the summer, falls fast and hard for the older Darcy brother, Ainsley. And Zuri takes an almost immediate dislike to the aloof younger brother, Darius. Sure, he’s nice to look at, but his attitude isn’t doing him any favors. Zuri prefers a boy from Bushwick, like Warren, a neighborhood boy who happens to go to the same tony private school as Darius.

Throw in a plot about a santeria priestess living in the basement of Zuri’s apartment building, a bus trip down to DC to check out Howard and the local poetry scene, and Bushwick being taken over by Farm-to-table restaurants for white hipsters, and we’ve got ourselves a remix.

At first, I wasn’t 100% sure about this story. I didn’t like Zuri for a reason I couldn’t put my finger on. And then I realized, I didn’t like the fact that she was so selfishly hoping that Janae and Ainsley wouldn’t work out, simply because Zuri doesn’t like anything to change. She was kind of rude about her feelings regarding her sister’s happiness, and I didn’t love it. But she eventually owned up to that, and that’s when it all turned around for me.

Yes, Zuri’s mother is loud and hopes her daughters will find themselves rich men. Yes, Warren turns out to be gross and awful with young girls like Darius’ younger sister and one of Zuri’s sisters. And yes, Zuri is shocked to see her friend Charlise (heading to Duke on a basketball scholarship) end up with Colin, who ends up owning the apartment building she and her family live in. There’s a lot that the reader recognizes and expects from the original.

But there’s so much that Zoboi brings to this old story, giving it a lot of new life.

My one minor quibble with this story: I wanted more from the Lady Catherine De Bourgh character. She was a true piece of work and having her only appear in one scene was not nearly enough for me. I don’t live too far from Chevy Chase, and was actually there yesterday working in a school, and the picture painted of that area and some of its residents was absolutely on point.

This book was fun and entertaining, but also educational and enlightening. I did a lot of googling about different parts of Brooklyn, about Haitian and Dominican customs and food, and about Howard University. I was embarrassed by how much I didn’t know.

Tagging for #cbr10bingo as #cannonballersays! — I had just started reading this when I heard how amazing it was from emmalita. Her excitement definitely pushed me to finish it much faster than I would have on my own!

08
Oct
18

But what of Barry the swim instructor? Does he get a happy ending? CBR10 Review 37.

UnknownA few years ago (I don’t know…maybe 2007?), back when I was addicted to watching Craig Ferguson’s Late Night show, he had an interesting episode in which he sat and talked to his friend Stephen Fry. No monologue, no questions on cards, no skits, no dancing horse. Just a conversation between old friends.

It was fascinating. They talked about all sorts of stuff, but what I remember most was their discussion about writing fiction. Fry had several books, their good friend Hugh Laurie had just written a mystery, and Ferguson’s Between the Bridge and the River had just been released.

And so I began a quest. I read Fry’s The Stars’ Tennis Balls (an amazing retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo), Laurie’s The Gunseller, and Ferguson’s book all in a matter of weeks. I loved Fry’s easy storytelling ability. I appreciated Laurie’s sense of humor. And I didn’t quite get Ferguson’s book, but I saw that he had potential, and gave him the benefit of the doubt because I loved him so much.

Fast forward to this year, and our #cbr10bingo center square.

This time, I didn’t love (or really even like) Between the Bridge and the River. I found a lot of what Ferguson had to say somewhat off putting, and I mostly found the characters annoying and horrible.

According to Wikipedia:

The novel has been characterized as a satire of religion and the entertainment industry. Ferguson has hinted in various interviews that there is a fair amount of autobiography in the story.

Ferguson has attributed the inspiration for the novel’s title to a conversation with a Jesuit priest about whether all those who commit suicide go to hell. According to Ferguson, the priest said that while suicide was a mortal sin, if someone were to jump from a bridge and genuinely repented of their action before they hit the river they would be forgiven. Ferguson interpreted this as there always being one last chance of redemption, which is the core of the adventures in the novel.

Ferguson’s great grandfather, Adam McLachlan, appears as a supporting character.

I think Ferguson is a very intelligent guy, and I wish that this book had worked the way that he wanted it to. I did enjoy the skewering of Hollywood and his obvious distaste for everyone involved in show business. But mostly, my hatred and disgust for many of the characters — PARTICULARLY SAUL — overwhelmed the little bits of fun that I found in the story. Saul was disgusting and awful in every way.

The one question I have about the story that went unanswered is this: Does George’s ex-wife end up with Barry the swim instructor? I hope so.

I listened to Craig narrate this book himself, as I thought it would make me like it more than I remembered. It didn’t. I would have been much better off with a reread of American on Purpose.

05
Oct
18

“When the mind’s filter disappeared, the big picture disappeared with it. There was no forest, only trees. At its worst, there were no trees, either. Just bark.” CBR10 Review 36.

Unknown-1The reviews on Uncle Stevie’s latest tome have been mostly similar: a great, suspenseful first half, telling a story about a police investigation into the brutal murder of a child by a seemingly innocent man…and a less successful second half, filled with supernatural elements and a character from earlier novels. Most reviews have pointed out that the story presented in the first half were quite enough for a full novel: local good citizen arrested for horrific crime, town turns against him and his family, regardless of what his alibi may be.

I’m talking about spoilers now, so be careful if you plan to read this.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

A few hundred pages from King about the nature of small towns and how a crime like that which was committed against the Peterson family, might have been a great mystery. OR…a story about a supernatural face-swapping “vampire” that travels around the country and commits murders in order to feed off of the emotions of the victims…that might have been a great standalone book.

Do these two plots fit together and create a successful whole? I think so. I get why others don’t think it worked. But I enjoyed it. Uncle Stevie does what he likes.

I think a lot of it boils down to how you feel about the Bill Hodges book trilogy, and the character of Holly in particular. I liked her, so it made me like this book more than some, I suppose. Honestly, once I saw that King was somehow going to connect this story to the Hodges books, I was just grateful that fracking Brady Hartsfield wasn’t involved in any way here. He was the worst part of those books.

There were sections of this book that were flat-out amazing. Nobody can write about a small town better than Uncle Stevie. The mob scene outside the courthouse was a masterful thing. The feelings of grief and sorrow that can overwhelm a family after a tragedy were beautifully described. And the struggle for these every day regular people had in trying to accept that something supernatural could be wreaking havoc on their lives? I completely bought into their doubt and the difficulty most of them had in opening their minds to other possibilities.

Yes, sometimes King can predictable. But that doesn’t always negate my enjoyment of reading his stuff. When a group of five heroes marches off to face the monster, we all know that at least two aren’t coming back. When he introduces a real asshole character, we know that this character will somehow end up choosing the wrong side of the battle (often not even making that choice consciously), and that they will most probably die horrifically. And we know that ka is a wheel, and all roads lead to the Tower.

(I found at least three connections to the Dark Tower in here…At one point the word “ka” was actually used…the star of the Mexican horror films was named Rosita Munoz, and in Calla Bryn Sturgis, Roland had an affair with Rosalita Munoz…and lastly, I’m pretty sure that El Coco was a monster similar to DANDELO (a distant cousin of Pennywise?), but he fed on sorrow instead of laughter.)

Despite the incredibly dark subject matter, I enjoyed reading this one. It kept me interested and questioning until the very end (and that Stranger Things-inspired shaving scene at the very end almost got me!).

#cbr10bingo #listicles — Pop Sugar’s 13 Most Chilling Horror Books of 2018

 

 

 

 

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?

 

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

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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.

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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.

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**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.

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.

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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.

 




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