Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

13
May
18

This was a lovely and well-written story that I REALLY didn’t like. CBR10 Review 21.

UnknownThis book was everywhere last year. Everyone I knew was reading it for book clubs and raving about it. One of my book clubs finally chose it for our April pick, and I’m just finishing up (its long!).

The verdict in my book club:

Most did not finish.
One finished and hated it.
One finished and put it in her top 5 books of all time.
And what about me?

I was just annoyed.

This is a nice story for the most part. Amor Towles clearly did his research about Russia in the early 20th century. And the writing is lovely. But really, all I wanted was to find the author and grab him by the lapels and shake him a bit. I found the whole thing totally pretentious and heavy handed and it was most definitely not for me.

At the beginning of the story, a young man named Count Alexander Rostov, is found guilty of writing an anti-bolshevik poem and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. He is moved from his elegant suite up to the servant’s quarters on the highest floor. He can barely fit half of his lovely furniture taken from his grandmother’s extravagant country estate, and can’t fathom how he could possibly live that way.

But, of course, he does figure out how to live that way, as the bulk of the story takes place within the walls of the Metropol Hotel over the course of 30 years. Count Rostov adapts to life in the hotel and thrives there, making life-long friends who become his family. While life outside the hotel changes dramatically we move from the Russian Revolution to World War II and Stalin to Khrushchev and the Soviet Union, Count Rostov does the same thing more or less every single day.

He wakes up and does 15 squats (which over the years become 10 squats, and later 5). He drinks coffee and has a biscuit and fruit. He goes down to the lobby and reads the paper. He goes to the restaurant and has lunch. He gets a haircut. He dresses for dinner. He goes to the bar. He talks to anyone and everyone he comes in contact with, as he is extraordinarily charming and knows how to control pretty much every social situation. He beds beautiful women and is amazingly suave all the time.

He ends up befriending a young girl named Nina who also lives in the hotel. They have lots of adventures exploring and spying on people. Nina grows up, but still checks in on the Count from time to time. Nina ends up giving the Count two gifts that change his life forever — one is a key that opens every room in the hotel, and the other…well, the other is a massive spoiler so I’ll keep it to myself. But it changes the way the Count lives every single aspect of his life and redirects his future.

The way that Towles describes the various stages of life in Russia is fascinating…the description of the architect who has nothing to do because everything being built in Moscow is prefab and identical…the scene in the wine cellar when Rostov sees that every single label has been removed from over 100,000 bottles of wonderful wine, because no wine should be better than another…those little insights were dramatically effective.

But for the most part, I found the flourishing descriptions of every little thing to be repetitive and annoying. By the time the book ended, I really didn’t care anymore, and just wanted it to be over. The Count is charming, but after so many instances of being told how charming he is, I started to find him stifling and obnoxious.

Apparently, this is going to be a movie or a miniseries (?) starring Kenneth Branagh. He’s perfect for the older version of the count. I’ll watch for him.

 

 

 

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01
May
18

“I want to be the hero in my story.” CBR10 Review 20.

UnknownLast year, when I started my new job, one of the first books I was given to read was Kwame Alexander’s Booked. I read and devoured it in a day. And then tracked down The Crossover, and loved that one, as well. Rebound is a prequel to The Crossover — it tells the story of Chuck Bell, the father of Jordan and Josh Bell, the twin basketball stars who tell their story in prose in The Crossover. Chuck’s claim to fame was that he played in the NBA for a hot minute, and is a bit of a neighborhood hero.

SPOILERS FOR THE CROSSOVER

Heartbreakingly, Chuck dies in The Crossover. He has a congenital heart problem and ignores all of the signs of heart disease. His father dropped dead when he was a kid, and Chuck lives in fear that the same might happen to him. And it does.

Rebound takes place in 1988, just months after 12 year old Chuck’s (now known as Charlie) father has passed away. To put it simply, Charlie cannot deal. He breaks out into a cold sweat whenever he hears sirens, reminding him of the ambulance that took his father to the hospital. He can’t communicate with his mother, who is hurting just as badly as he is. She’s busting her butt working to keep the income coming in, and he can’t understand why she won’t buy him Air Jordans instead of ZIPS.*** His two best friends, Skinny and CJ, want to help him, but don’t know how. Charlie doesn’t know how to ask for help, and when he starts getting in trouble, his mother sends I’m away to his grandparents for the summer.

When Charlie gets to DC for the summer, he finds that his grandparents expect much of him. He has to do work around the house. He has to go for long walks with his grandfather. He has to say “sir” and “ma’am”. And he has to watch his cousin Roxie play basketball every day. Charlie hates basketball. He’d much rather stay home and read comics or go to the arcade and play Pac Man.

Of course, living with his grandparents and hanging out with Roxie is incredibly therapeutic for Charlie (now warming to the nickname Chuck). He starts playing ball with Roxie all day, every day. He discovers that he’s almost pretty good.

Losing a parent is the worst thing a kid can go through, and Kwame Alexander handles it with grace and respect. AND, he does it all in gorgeous, age-appropriate prose.

Sometimes, I wish

I were a superhero
so I could fight back
against all the
doom
and the gloom
that’s trying
to destroy
me.

I wish I could torch
all the trouble
in our world
like Johnny Storm.

I wish I could
thrash
the heartache
like Ben Grimm.

I wish I could
make the sorrow
that’s in my life
invisible
like Sue Storm.

And I wish
I could stretch
my arms
like Reed Richards
all the way
to heaven
and hug my father
one more time.

Just. One. More. Time

Kwame Alexander is an amazingly original voice in Children’s Literature today. The prose doesn’t seem like poetry — it tells a story that most kids can relate to in some way. I never expected to like these books so much. I never expected for all of them to make me cry.

***Personal memory time. When I was a kid, my dad was in advertising and public relations, and my brother and I were in a bunch of commercials. Including this ridiculous one for Zips sneakers. Poor Chuck, trying to be a baller in these.

25
Apr
18

How can you give us the gift of a crazy character named Rando Thoughtful and then just as suddenly take that gift away? We need to talk, Uncle Stevie. CBR10 Review 19.

imagesDear Uncle Stevie,

Having just finished the entire Dark Tower saga for the third time, I have a few things I’d like to discuss with you. I know you say you’re done writing these books, but I’d like for you to reconsider. Here are some suggestions for further entries into the Dark Tower series:

**A novella about Rando Thoughtful, and his journey from managing a mall in upstate New York to guarding the castle of the Crimson King. And how he went from being called Austin Cornwell to becoming RANDO THOUGHTFUL. This is an all-time great crazy Stephen King name. I’m going to need more information.

**A short volume (similar to The Wind through the Keyhole) detailing everything that happened between Deepneau, Cullen, and Carver, and exactly how The Tet Corporation works. I’d love to know more about what’s going on at that strange ranch out in New Mexico where all of the telepaths are working on gathering information pertinent to Roland’s quest for the Tower.

**A huge, enormous series of books dedicated to Irene Tassenbaum and the asses she continues to kick as she lives her life in New York and Maine. I absolutely adored her and was so sad to see her sent off back to Maine with her stinking copy of Insomnia (seriously, WHY INSOMNIA? WHY NOT THE STAND? OR IT? OR THE TALISMAN? I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS.)

Honestly, I get why Patrick Danville was included in the story, and that perhaps all of the gratuitous mentions of Insomnia got some constant readers to go back and re-read this mess, but of all of the Tower-related books, why did it have to be this one? Couldn’t Dandelo have held Stu Redman or Jack Sawyer or Mike Hanlon?

I would 100% read about Irene getting into her little Mercedes and driving around the Northeast, doing gunslinger things, while also shopping for deli meats and planting roses.

**A series of graphic novels about Oy. Make this happen.

**A short story about what happens to Dinky, Ted, Dani, and the banker guy when they get to the Callas. I can’t imagine that the kind folks of Calla Bryn Sturgis would send a young girl like Dani away, but it would be fascinating to see how the new folks assimilate into their rural lifestyle.

**A written apology from you for driving me crazy by constantly writing about Susannah dreaming about “Hot chocolate, the good kind, mit schlag”. I hated this description. Just stop it.

I think those should be ample ideas for you in order to get started. As long as you keep writing about this world, I’ll keep reading about it. And I hope that someday, you get the tv series about Roland and his ka-tet that they deserve. I love Idris, but that was a complete hot mess.

Your Constant Reader,
Scootsa1000

 

23
Mar
18

“To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon could be a strange and disturbing sight.” CBR10 Review 18.

UnknownThis was by no means a pleasant reading experience. But its one that I’ll remember for quite a long time.

Aaron Falk is a federal police officer in Australia, specializing in financial crimes. He comes home to the country for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke, who apparently brutally murdered his wife and young son, and then took his shotgun to himself. Luke’s father, who knows a secret about Aaron, convinces him to stick around town for a while to investigate. Luke’s parents simply cannot accept that he would commit such a heinous crime.

Aaron hesitantly agrees. He’s not exactly welcome in this small Outback town, due to the mysterious death of his friend/almost girlfriend 20 years earlier. When her body was found, the only clue for the police was a piece paper in her pocket with Aaron’s name and the date of her disappearance on it. The town quickly turns on Aaron and his father — no matter that he’s innocent — and he hasn’t been back since.

This book is brilliantly written. The language is shockingly beautiful. The descriptions of the vast Australian countryside are amazingly evocative. Huntsman spiders, cockatoos, and cicadas are all supporting characters, as is the utter silence of the empty land surrounding the small town of Kiewarra. Not a word seems wasted.

The two mysteries — while uncomfortable to read about — kept me guessing until the end.  I honestly had no idea what would happen until it did. And I both loved and hated that. I had grown attached to most of the characters (except for Ellie’s dad and cousin, who were blatantly terrible) and didn’t want any of them to be capable of such a brutal action.

I loved how Harper included events from the past by adding chunks of text in italics, it made it easy to differentiate between the mystery of Ellie and that of Luke and his family.

Jane Harper clearly loves Australia. The descriptions of the farmlands, the drought, the tight rural community, and the absolute and immediate danger of fire were so lifelike, I could picture everything on the page clearly in my mind. Her writing reminded me a lot of Ian Rankin’s Rebus mysteries (where Edinburgh is more or less a character on its own) and James Ellroy’s LA books, which really couldn’t take place anywhere else but Los Angeles.

I had no idea that this was the first book in a series about Aaron Falk. The second book recently came out, so I’ll have to make sure to pick it up and add it to the very top of my TBR pile.

PS: I just saw that Reese Witherspoon (the new Oprah!) has optioned the film rights to The Dry for her production company. I hope they decide to keep it in rural Australia, as I think the story would lose a lot of its identity if it were moved to drought-ridden California.

 

11
Mar
18

I wish I had a sköldpadda of my very own. CBR10 Review 17.

Unknown-4For a long time I’ve stood by my assertion that Song of Susannah was my least favorite Dark Tower book, hands down. The last time I reviewed it (back in 2012), I even went out on a limb and said this:

Song of Susannah, however, was my least favorite Dark Tower book when I first read it. And I can safely say that it will always be my least favorite.

Well, I guess I can’t trust myself.

Now that I’m almost another full loop through the saga, I’m not sure if my opinion is still the same. Is SoS still my least favorite? Or is there enough good stuff in there (the stuff that isn’t about Susannah and the wretched Mia) to change my mind? Is Wizard & Glass my least favorite? It hurts me to think that because I loved it so much the first time I read it…but like it less and less with each subsequent reading.

I’ll be honest. I do hate the stuff with Mia. Their long long long talks in the deserted town of Fedic make me crazy. Every time the POV switches back to those two, I would audibly groan. At least, until the sköldpadda makes an appearance. Because the sköldpadda makes everything better. Who wouldn’t want a little magic turtle?

I didn’t like the parts when Susannah has to travel to her “dogan” to control Mia and the baby. And while I appreciate that Odetta Holmes was a great woman who stood up for what she believed in, I didn’t need to read pages and pages of folk song lyrics right when things were getting interesting. Yes, Man of Constant Sorrow is a lovely song…but after a while, this was all I could think of:

But I don’t really want to talk too much about Mia. Or at all, really. There are a lot of other things I’d rather spend time on.

I’d rather talk about John Cullum. He’s one of my favorite minor characters in The Dark Tower. I love his Yankee sensibility and his immediate acceptance of the situation he suddenly finds himself in when Roland and Eddie literally appear in front of him in the general store. I had an uncle who was a pilot in WWII, and he was from New England. That’s who I imagine here. A guy who gets stuff done and gets it done well, and still makes time to ask about the Red Sox no matter how busy he might be.

Or how about Trudy Damascus? I’d like to know what eventually happens to her after her mental unraveling from witnessing Susannah/Mia appear out of thin air and then steal her shoes. I want to know if she’s still working at her accounting firm, and if she likes to sit in the park and listen to the voices at 2 Hammarskjold Plaza. I hope she’s ok, whatever she’s doing.

Same with Mathiessen Van Wyck. I hope he and his wife have worked out their differences. And I hope his stomach problems work themselves out, too. He deserves to be happy after telling us that the little turtle was called a sköldpadda.

But mostly, I’d like to talk about the badass trio of Jake, Oy, and Pere Callahan, tracking Susannah around New York City. These three weren’t even supposed to end up in Manhattan — they were supposed to go to Maine to talk to the wretched Calvin Tower — but they assimilate to 1999 pretty quickly. They find the hotel where Susannah/Mia are staying, they figure out the plan to get to the Dixie Pig, and they permanently hide Black Thirteen, all within a few hours.

I really love how Pere finds his lost faith at the end of this book. Without it, they never would have been driven insane by Black Thirteen in Susannah’s hotel room. But Pere Callahan gathers all of the faith he has left, and prays to God to save them from Black Thirteen.

“God, if you still hear me, this is Callahan. Please still this thing. Please send it back to sleep.”

And so, God does.

I was glad that Pere had that faith with him as they got in the cab and drove uptown to the Dixie Pig. We all know he was going to need it. But more on that in a few weeks, when I’ve finally finished the series and have more to say about Callahan’s last stand.

 

10
Mar
18

This was a book? I read it. I liked it? CBR10 Review 16.

UnknownThere’s been a lot of talk about Lincoln in the Bardo over the past 18 months or so. It won a lot of awards, for sure. I finally got it from the library and I read it.

And I have no idea, honestly, if I liked it or not. I did?

There’s a lot going on here. Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son, Willie, has died and been laid to rest in a cemetery in Georgetown. Lincoln is mad with grief and spends the better part of the night after the funeral sitting in the cemetery, mourning his son.

Meanwhile, Willie’s spirit is stuck in a sort of purgatory, right in the very tomb where his body is at rest. The cemetery is filled with these spirits, many of whom tell their tales and attempt to help Willie get back to his father and his life. None of these spirits accept the simple fact that they are dead, and that’s pretty much the only reason they are stuck in this place. Occasionally, a spirit that they know will disappear suddenly, and we know that’s because that spirit has finally faced the truth.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until I finished the book that I actually wondered what the definition of “Bardo” was. I ignorantly thought it was the name of the tomb or the cemetery. But I was very wrong. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of Bardo is as follows:

  1. (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.

OK. So. I wish I had known that going in. My bad.

Anyhoo, here’s the gist of the story. The historical parts about Lincoln, his presidency, and the illness and death of his son are told by citing actual writings (letters, interviews, biographies, etc). The bits in the “Bardo” are told with many narrators, all spirits, who are shocked at the actions of Lincoln, as no other human has ever spent more time than absolutely necessary in their little world.

It absolutely takes a while to figure out how to read this book. Its amazingly original, but a little tough to follow at times. (And I hear that the audio book is great, but really confusing if you don’t know the story. There are hundreds of narrators here.)

I appreciate what George Saunders did here, and some of it made me want to read more about Lincoln and the early parts of the Civil War and his presidency. I had no idea that he was disliked to such an extent, and some of the citations made me think of our current leader. For instance:

The people have, for nineteen months, poured out, at your call, sons, brothers, husbands & money.–What is the result?–Do you ever realize that the desolation, sorrow, grief that pervades this country is owing to you?–that the young men who have been maimed, crippled, murdered, & made invalids for lie, owe it to your weakness, irresolution, & want of moral courage?

and

You have seized the reins, made yourself dictator, established a monolithic new form of government which must dominate over the rights of the individual. Your reign presages a terrible time when all of our liberties shall be lost in favor of the rights of the monolith. The founders look on in dismay.

and lastly

If Abe Lincoln should be re-elected for another term of four years of such wretched administration, we hope that a bold hand will be found to plunge the dagger into the tyrant’s heart for the public welfare.

That’s a lot to deal with for good old Honest Abe, I’d say. And I guess he really turned things around for himself, as far as public opinion goes.

The history was certainly interesting. I had no idea that Lincoln’s children had met such tragic ends, and the background here really hit me as a parent. I felt sorry that he was scrutinized as a parent and more or less blamed for Willie’s death because of his easy-going parenting style, similar to pretty much any parent on social media today!

The bits in the Bardo were a bit tougher for me. They were certainly well written and some of the narrators back stories were heartbreaking. But I just didn’t like this part as much as the historical part. It simply didn’t speak to me most of the time.

But there were definitely some parts that did. Near the end, when some of the spirits realize exactly where they are and why they haven’t moved on to the afterlife, one of the main narrators realizes exactly what’s happening to him, and the writing was simply beautiful.

There was nothing left for me to do, but go.
Though the things of the world were strong with me still.
Such as, for example: a gaggle of children trudging through a side-blown December flurry; a friendly match-share beneath some collision-titled streetlight; a frozen clock, a bird visited within its high tower; cold water from a tin jug; towering off one’s clinging shirt post-June rain.
Pearls, rags, buttons, rug-tuft, beer-froth.
Someone’s kind wishes for you; someone remembering to write; someone noticing that you are not at all at ease.
A bloody ross death-red on a platter; a headgetop under-hand as you flee late to some chalk-and-woodfire-smelling schoolhouse.
Geese above, clover below, the sound of one’s own breath when winded.
The way a moistness in the eye will blur a field of stars; the sore place on the shoulder a resting toboggan makes; writing one’s beloved’s name upon a frosted window with a gloved finger.
Tying a shoe; tying a knot on a package; a mouth on yours; a hand on yours; the ending of the day; the beginning of the day; the feeling that there will always be a day ahead.
Goodbye, I must now say goodbye to all of it.
Loon-call in the dark; calf-cramp in the spring; neck-rub in the parlour; milk-sip at end of day.
Some brandy-legged dog proudly back-ploughs the grass to cover its modest shit; a cloud-mass down-valley breaks apart over the course of a brandy-deepened hour; louvered blinds yield dusty beneath your dragging finger, and it is nearly noon and you must decide; you have seen what you have seen, and it has wounded you, and it seems you have only one choice left.
Blood-stained porcelain bowl wobbles face down on wood floor; orange peel not at all stirred by disbelieving last breath there among that fine summer dust-layer, fatal knife set down in pass-panic on familiar wobbly banister, later dropped (thrown) by Mother (dear Mother) (heartsick) into the slow-flowing, chocolate-brown Potomac.
None of it was real; nothing was real.
Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear.
These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and in this way, brought them forth.
And now we must lose them.
I send this out to you, dear friends, before I go, in this instantaneous thought-burst, from a place where time slows and then stops and we may live forever in a single instant.
Goodbye goodbye good-

Simple observations of what its like to live a life. Unsure of what will happen to him next, as he prepares himself to move on from the Bardo, he remembered the little things that he could from his mortal existence, the things that made him human.

I’m glad I read this, but am not sure I would recommend it to everyone. If you know what you’re in for, its a worthwhile read. But it isn’t a straightforward piece of fiction. You really have to work for it.

 

 

 

 

28
Feb
18

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” CBR10 Review 15.

UnknownMy new book club has a bit of a fascination with books that Reese Witherspoon likes. And that’s fine. Reese’s picks are usually quick and entertaining reads, and lead to interesting discussions that pair well with wine. Without Reese Witherspoon, I’m not sure I would have had Eleanor Oliphant on my radar — I know its been positively reviewed here many times, but something about it just didn’t call out to me. Until Reese announced it would be a movie, which inspired my book club…and here we are.

EnchantingCheeryClam-size_restricted

To be honest, I wasn’t 100% on board with this choice, until Eleanor (named after the elder Dashwood sister) talked about rereading one of her favorite books, Jane Eyre. One night, when she can’t sleep, Eleanor picks up her battered paperback and opens it at random, to when Janey first meets Rochester:

…startling his horse in the woods and causing him to fail. Pilot is there too, the handsome, soulful-eyed hound. If the book has one failing, it’s that there is insufficient mention of Pilot. You can’t have too much dog in a book.

And right there, I said, ok, I’m in.

Eleanor hasn’t had an easy life. Raised in foster care since the age of 10 — when something unspeakable happened, and she was taken from her “mummy,” Eleanor has led mostly a solitary existence. She lives alone, and other than her weekdays at work, rarely has any interaction with other people. And she sticks to a very strict routine: she talks to Mummy on Wednesdays, she goes to work, and then on the weekends — pizza from Tesco with a bottle of wine, and then two bottles of vodka.

Her colleagues think she’s a strange one — and indeed, she is a bit aloof. But she’s also extremely honest and truthful. Sort of like a female Larry David, but completely unaware of her social missteps.

One day, she has a bit of trouble with her PC at work and is annoyed to realize that she’s going to have to call IT in order to get it working again. The new IT guy, Raymond, shows up, fixes her computer, and annoys her with his sloppy mannerisms and the smell of cigarettes all around him. That night, Raymond walks out with her, and they witness an older man who collapses on the sidewalk near them. They rush to help him, and the three of them unwittingly find themselves tethered together forever.

Through Raymond and Sammy (the elderly man), Eleanor’s whole life changes. She is invited places. She meets people. She takes more responsibility at work. Little things to most people, but huge to Eleanor.

Meanwhile, Eleanor has unhealthily decided that she’s in love with a pop singer that she recently saw at a club, and starts to improve her appearance so that she might be ready for him when he decides to be with her.

Her new friendships, her potential romance with the singer, and her toxic relationship with Mummy all come to a head about two-thirds of the way through the book…and I’ll be honest, it was at this point that this book about what it means to be alone vs what it means to be lonely totally punched me in the gut and left me gasping for breath.

Its a lovely and often very funny story about friendship and family, but its also a tragic story about depression and suicide. I’m sure Reese will make a great movie out of this one. I hope they keep it based in Scotland…I’d hate to see the local charm removed so that it could be set in New York or Chicago.

 

 

 




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