Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

22
Feb
19

75% OK. CBR11 Review 11.

Unknown-1Last week, The Fug Girls had a book contest up on their site, and the book looked familiar to me. I almost always love the books that they recommend, so I wracked my brain trying to think of how I recognized this one…and then realized it was in my box of new releases for teen readers from work.

I’m of two minds on this one.

I get that I am not the demographic for this. There is a world of difference between YA fiction and middle school fiction. I think this leans closer toward advanced readers in middle school. Yeah, I’m not that.

The story is about a girl named Ivy who loves photography, and has always been a bit of a loner. She has one best friend, Harold, who is a genius and is involved in every single club at school — not only because it looks good on his transcripts, but because he genuinely wants to make the world a better place. He constantly asks Ivy to join some of the clubs he thinks she might like, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t think anyone wants to know what she thinks, about anything.

Ivy becomes obsessed with a new, anonymous social media app that supposedly encourages people to show their art. Of course, it ends up being a dumping ground for gossip and hate speech, because the internet.

Ivy slowly starts to figure out who some of the people posting on the app are around her, and decides to do nice things for them. The girl who can’t afford new paintbrushes? Easy. Ivy slips some into her backpack. The boy going through chemo? Ivy paints him a canvas. (This plot was a little weird. I really didn’t get why this was great. Hmm.).

But is Ivy helping these people, or taking advantage of their anonymity? Her good deeds slowly start to make the recipients angry. And when she completely misjudges who one of the users of the app is, her whole world tumbles down around her.

So, what I liked is that this story gently shows that social media is not always a friendly place. That much of what is put out to the world of the internet is not real life, and that when people have secrets, thats usually for a reason. We see the danger of teens becoming obsessed with a world that isn’t reality, and I think books like this are necessary these days. Sadly.

However.

The last 25% of this book was truly absurd. Ivy turned from a shy, artistic, loner to an ABSOLUTE IDIOT. The less said about her actions, the better. They were laughable. This pretty much ruined the book for me, sorry Fug Girls.

Randomly, the blurb on the front of this book is from Courtney Summers, who’s book Sadie I recently reviewed. I would have loved to see what Courtney Summers could have come up with here instead of the nonsense I got.

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14
Feb
19

“I wish his darkness lived outside of him, because you have to know it’s there to see it. Like all real monsters, he hides in plain sight.” CBR11 Review 10.

UnknownA few weeks ago, I had a chance to go and see Cannonball favorite Karen McManus talking about her new book, Two Can Keep a Secret, along with another YA author I hadn’t previously heard of, Megan Miranda. I asked them a few questions during the panel, including wondering what they — as writers of suspenseful YA fiction — liked to read, and were currently reading.

They both, without hesitation, told me to read Sadie by Courtney Summers, right away.

So, I did.

I knew nothing going into this book, and I’m glad. I may not have otherwise picked it up.

This is a dark and angry book, filled with sadness and monsters. It was, at times, difficult to read. But it was wholly original, and at times, fascinating.

This story is told in alternating formats. The first part is as if we were reading the transcripts of a popular NPR-esque podcast, similar to Serial. The podcast covers the tragic story of a dead 13 year old girl in Colorado, and her loving sister, Sadie, who is now missing. The producers of the podcast try to figure out just where Sadie could be, and if she is anywhere at all. They retrace her steps, talking to everyone she came across since she left home, looking for answers.

The second part is told by Sadie. The details like why she left, where she plans to go, and what she plans to do slowly come out as we get to know her better.

Spoiler alert: none of the details are good.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. She grew up in a trailer, with an addict mother who has since abandoned her and her (murdered) little sister. The mother had a horrible string of boyfriends in the picture, and Sadie did everything she could to always protect and take care of her sister, as their mother was clearly unable to.

Sadie also stutters. She has trouble getting her point across, even in simple sentences. Most strangers think there’s something wrong with her. But Sadie is smart and cunning, and doing everything she can to perform this one last task she has set out to accomplish.

The story is excellent, the writing is realistic and raw.

SPOILERS

And what about the ending? Honestly, I don’t even know. The vague end of the podcast makes me hope for the best, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the worst. In a world as dark as the one Sadie has had to live in, nothing would really shock me anymore. Sometimes I like a vague ending, but I wish I had an answer this time. I want to know that Sadie is ok, and am worried that I might be very disappointed if I found out that she isn’t.

There’s really only one thing I didn’t like about this book:

The blurb on the cover is from AJ Finn, the recently disgraced author of The Woman in the Window. Did you all read about that? MY GOD.

 

13
Feb
19

Harry Dresden and the Dark Hallow: Yes, there are wizards, but this ain’t Hogwarts. CBR11 Review 9.

Unknown-1I’m still slowly making my way through these Harry Dresden books, all read to me by the fantastic James Marsters. And, as many cannonballers before me have stated, I’m enjoying each book slightly more than the one that came before it. I’m now fully invested into Harry’s world, and I can’t wait to start the next one.

In this one, Harry and Butters (the polka enthusiast-medical examiner), are on the run from a group of necromancers who have descended upon Chicago, all looking for something called “The Word of Kemmler.”

Harry has been blackmailed by Mavra, the vampire queen from previous books, to find this “word,” or else Mavra will hurt Murphy. But who else is looking for it? A new bunch of big bads, that’s for sure.

It turns out that Kemmler was the most powerful necromancer that the wizarding world has ever seen. And his disciples want to use his teachings, along with this mysterious “word” to turn themselves into gods, to wreak havoc upon the earth and all of its inhabitants.

With Murphy out of town, Harry and Butters (with help from Thomas) fight against zombies and necromancers, while Harry also finds himself suddenly a part of the white council, when he is recruited as a warden in the continuing war against the vampires.

Lots going on, including a romp through town on the back of Sue, Chicago’s famous T-Rex skeleton and a side plot with a thwarted romance for Harry, when the girl he falls for turns out to be the fallen angel (demon? I don’t even know!) Lasciel. I felt bad for Harry and the lonely life he lives.

I just downloaded the next audiobook, Proven Guilty, and hope to get to it soon. I’m having a good time with these.

13
Feb
19

“Having a trash chute was one of my favorite things about my building. It made me feel important, like I was participating in the world. My trash mixed with the trash of others. The things I touched touched things other people had touched. I was contributing, I was connecting.” CBR11 Review 8.

UnknownMy Year of Rest and Relaxation was on a bunch of “Best of” lists at the end of 2018, and there was something about the cover that drew me to it. And now that I’ve finished it, while I’m glad I read it to see what the fuss was all about, I honestly have no idea if I liked it or hated it. I think both. But mostly hated it.

We have an unnamed narrator living in Manhattan in 1999-2000. She’s in her 20s, has inherited money (both parents have died), a nice apartment, and a model’s beauty. And she is sleeping for a year.

She’s found herself a crazy quack of a psychiatrist, one willing to prescribe pretty much any and every narcotic known to man. As long as our narrator tells her she has insomnia (which, clearly she doesn’t), the doctor keeps suggesting stronger and stronger medication, which our narrator hoards and mixes to see what keeps her from reality the longest.

She has one friend that keeps her somewhat tethered to the world around her, Reva. Reva comes and goes, with her personal anecdotes helping our narrator keep track of the outside world. Reva invites her to birthday parties, New Year’s Eve celebrations, etc. Our narrator claims that she can’t stand Reva and wants to sever their relationship, but in her weird way, she needs Reva and the tiny slice of human interaction she provides.

Our narrator finds that some of the medication she takes has her going out at night, doing things and meeting people she doesn’t remember. At one point she wakes up on a train, in a white fur coat, on her way to Long Island for Reva’s mother’s funeral, which she had adamantly planned to NOT attend. Makes me think that her sleeping self is probably her true self — the self that says and does the things she really wants to do and is the person she really wants to be, if only she could get clear of the depression she clearly suffers from but doesn’t acknowledge.

I don’t know much about depression or mental illness, but this whole book rubbed me the wrong way. This girl needed help and nobody — even Reva — ever attempts to give her any.

And so, the story goes on and on until (SPOILER ALERT, BUT NOT REALLY SINCE THIS IS ALL CLEARLY LEADING UP TO THIS) September 11, when our narrator “wakes up.”

Look, this book is very well written, and the author really brings this time period alive. The nostalgia factor for me was high. But I have no need to ever read anything again from this writer. I hated everyone in this book and really felt gross about everyone’s actions. The narrator. Her skeevy “boyfriend.” Reva. They all infuriated me.

28
Jan
19

I did not expect this. CBR11 Review 7.

unknownLast week, my boss gave me this book and asked me if I would prepare a presentation on it for some workshops we have coming up. It looked cute: pink and white stripes on the cover and a girl spilling her ice cream. Sounded fine to me!

And the book was indeed fine. Blended tells the story of Isabella, a sixth grader with divorced parents. She struggles to adapt to the back-and-forth custody arrangement that her parents have, and doesn’t feel like she can call either her mom’s or her dad’s house “home.”

In addition, Isabella is trying to figure out who she is. You see, her mom is white and her dad is black. Her mom works as a waitress and has a boyfriend who manages a bowling alley. Her dad is a high-powered businessman and lives in a giant house, and has a girlfriend who wears beautiful suits and shops in the most expensive stores.

Is she more like her mom? She loves bowling and driving around in John Mark’s pick-up truck. She likes to go to Dunkin Donuts as a special treat. Or, is she more like her dad? She loves new clothes and hanging out with her almost-step-brother. She has a great time going out to eat in expensive restaurants wearing nice dresses. Isabella is also a piano prodigy, and is getting ready for an important recital. At her mom’s house, she practices on a small Casio keyboard, and at her dad’s she uses a huge concert piano.

But which Isabella is the real Isabella?

I appreciated Sharon Draper’s insight into how a young girl might tread through these waters. What gives someone their identity? Is it where they live or the color of their skin? Or is it something more?

AND THEN.

With 20 pages left to go, this book takes a turn I did not expect, and suddenly becomes The Hate U Give, Junior.

I think its important that younger kids are made aware of some of the racial injustices in our country today, and this book most definitely presents some of them in a very uncomfortable way. Good on Sharon Draper to take that on in a middle grade book.

My only complaint is that I felt as if Isabella didn’t get any closure on some of the things that happened to her toward the end. But then I realized, that’s life. Not everything is wrapped neatly with a bow. Life is messy. And this story might provide some worthy discussion topics for younger (4th-7th grade?) readers who aren’t quite ready to dig into Angie Thomas or Jason Reynolds.

 

 

28
Jan
19

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it takes a huge amount of fake blood to keep a Halloween theme park running.” CBR11 Review 6.

unknownI could not have been more excited about the release of Two Can Keep a Secret. Karen McManus** — who has been such an amazing supporter of the Cannonball Read — currently has TWO books on the NYTimes bestsellers list, which is amazing. So many of us read — and loved — her debut novel, One of Us is Lying last year, and its been great to see that book is still attracting new readers and new fans.

TCKAS is a mystery about missing girls in a small town in Vermont. Twins Ellery and Ezra are sent there for their senior year to live with their grandmother, who they don’t even really know. Their mom, an aspiring Hollywood actress and successful Hollywood drug addict, is in rehab, and their trip to New England is court ordered.

They don’t know much about the life that their mom Sadie left behind in Vermont, other than that she left after her twin sister, Sarah, disappeared after their homecoming dance — where Sadie was homecoming queen — and has never been seen again.

But Sarah’s disappearance ins’t the only mystery that this small town has in its past. Five years ago, Lacey, the homecoming queen, was found murdered at the town’s famous Halloween theme park.

And this year, an anonymous someone has been threatening to kill the homecoming queen.

Ellery is a true crime addict and jumps head-first into trying to figure out who is behind the menacing threats. And what does her arrival in town have to do with any of it? Will something bad happen at the halloween theme park? Why won’t her mother or her grandmother ever talk about what happened to Sarah? Who killed Lacey? Now that Ellery has been nominated to the homecoming court, is her life in danger, too?

Here’s an interesting tidbit: recently, I’ve read a book (Broken Things) about an unsolved teen murder in Vermont, and I’ve read a book about an unsolved teen murder at a Halloween theme park (There’s Someone Inside Your House) and this book is so much better than both of those. I guess small town halloween theme park teen murders are this year’s vampire dystopian love triangles. Fine by me. I am here for it.

The setting of the other theme park book didn’t really make sense to me. But here, for this troubled town, it does. At one point, Ellery notes:

All of Fright Farm’s success is based on how much people love to be scared in a controlled environment. There’s something deeply, fundamentally satisfying about confronting a monster and escaping unscathed…Real monsters aren’t anything like that. They don’t let go.

I could not put this book down. I had no idea what was going to happen, and was 100% wrong every time I tried to guess how it might end. I’m happy to report that not only does TCKAS keep the reader in suspense for the entire book, but it ends on a shocking, kick ass MIC DROP. I read the last sentence, closed the book, and said “Hell, yeah” out loud to myself.

**PS, Karen and I went to college together. I am so proud of what she has accomplished and cannot wait to read everything she puts down on paper. If you follow her on twitter you know that she is a great supporter of other YA writers and just an absolute pleasure in general. Looking forward to seeing her at a Barnes & Noble Q&A next week!!

22
Jan
19

Best read with a pint of IPA and a Rolling Stones record on the turntable. CBR11 Review 5.

unknownI’ll start this review by saying I am a massive fan of Ian Rankin, especially his John Rebus series of books. So basically, he could write up Rebus’ shopping list, and I’d probably give it a 5 Star review. Just so you know.

There have been at least 20 books about John Rebus and his adventures in the Edinburgh  police department. And this was the first one that wasn’t really about John Rebus that much. Yes, he was in it, and yes, he played a major role, but he wasn’t the primary character, and it had a bit of a different feel to it. Almost like Ian Rankin was feeling out what it would be like to have a John Rebus book without John Rebus in it.

The bulk of this story was about the re-opening of an unsolved case from 2006. New evidence has been uncovered, bringing in a new investigative team that includes Siobhan Clarke, and also involves the original team, which of course, involved Rebus. The missing persons case from 12 years prior is now officially a murder case.

All of the old suspects are brought in, but the original team is brought in too. Was there maybe someone on the team who was working for the other side? Were there mistakes made (on purpose) in order to keep the mystery unsolved?

This is a Rebus story, so rest assured, all of our old friends like Malcolm Fox and Big Ger Cafferty are going to have parts to play here. As does the lovely city of Edinburgh.

But I was more interested in the secondary story. It seems that Siobhan has been getting threatening phone calls regarding a case that was closed several months prior — a young man murdered his girlfriend and was sent to prison. But was it really that simple? Siobhan is convinced to take another look at the case, but she has her hands full with this new murder investigation…so she hands it off to her old mentor.

And here, I’m going to have to include some spoilers. If you are a Rebus fan, but haven’t read this one yet, tread carefully.

This turns out to be a rather upsetting story about the dangers of social media and what its doing to teenagers today, especially girls. The murder was the result of incessant internet (I think Instagram, but can’t be sure) bullying. And Rebus had a really hard time wrapping his head around it.

Rebus is no friend to technology. He likes to do things the old fashioned way. But he understands that he needs to make an effort in order to exist in the modern world. But he doesn’t have to like it.

It saddened him that so much these days happened online, with every keyboard warrior suddenly a ‘commentator’ or ‘pundit’ or ‘news-gatherer’. There was a lack of quality control. Anyone and everyone felt they had something to say and they weren’t about to hold back. The public probably reckoned they were better informed than ever. They were, but not always by the truth.

Adding in impressionable young minds just made things worse.

He was thinking about families and the lies they told each other. From the outside, it was hard to know what was happening behind their walls and curtained windows. Even once you’d crossed the threshold, there’d be secrets unshared. In an age of the internet and mobile phones, kids and their parents lived ever more separate lives, sharing confidences but also hiding bits of their true selves behind masks. It had been hard enough in the past to read people, but these days you had to push your way through so much that was fake and misleading.

This secondary plot was depressing, especially as I am the mother of a teenage girl who is ALWAYS on her phone. The bullying and the depression and the staged lives were really tough to read about, and yet, I wish there had been more to it. I wish this had been the primary case that Rebus and Siobhan had worked on.

As always, it was great to get back into the little world of Rebus and his friends. And next time, I’d like to know more about Big Ger’s pig farm that he keeps threatening people with. I can’t even imagine what goes on up there.




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