Archive Page 2

08
Jun
17

He walked like no man on earth, I swear he had no name. CBR9 Review 40.

UnknownAs you know by now, I’m a sucker for Uncle Stevie. Anything he writes, I’ll read. Novel, short story, op-ed, tweets, collaborations…I’m there. That’s why I’m a Constant Reader.

This isn’t the first collaboration with another author that I’ve read by King. He wrote a few short stories with his son, Joe Hill that were pretty good (In the Tall Grass was legitimately terrifying). His book with Stewart O’Nan, Faithful, is probably my favorite non-fiction book of all time.

So, even though I had never heard of co-author Richard Chizmar, it didn’t really matter. I was going to read this sooner or later.

Set in the always-horrible town of Castle Rock, Maine, Gwendy’s Button Box is classic King. Gwendy Peterson is about to start 6th grade at the start of the story. Overweight and the butt of jokes among her classmates, Gwendy is taking matters into her own hands. She runs every day up a huge flight of stairs, called the Suicide Stairs, and little by little she can see the weight slowly dropping.

One day, when she reaches the top of the stairs, she is greeted by a strange man in a black suit and hat, who calls himself Richard Farris (hmmm…). Farris tells her he has something for her, and produces a beautiful mahogany box with 8 colored buttons on top, and two small levers on the side. Farris vaguely explains what the buttons do, and shows her how to use the levers…one produces a tiny (and delicious) chocolate animal that will supposedly curb Gwendy’s appetite, and one produces a mint-condition rare coin, each worth hundreds of dollars.

Gwendy is immediately drawn to the box, feeling that she and the box were destined for each other. Every day, she eats a chocolate. Gwendy’s whole life changes slowly…she’s skinny, beautiful, and popular. She has all As in school and is the fastest girl on the track team. Gwendy knows that the changes in her life are somehow related to the box, but as the years go by, she tries not to obsess about it too much.

But of course, this is Stephen King. Not everything about the box is great. Some truly awful things happen to Gwendy, and she knows the box is responsible for these events, too.

This is a super-quick read, and I enjoyed it. The co-writing was seamless — I’m not actually sure how they managed to collaborate, and it was hard to tell who wrote what. At times, I was genuinely scared for Gwendy and her family, because as any Constant Reader knows, when you introduce a character with the initials RF, he isn’t exactly going to be a good influence on the story.

 

 

07
Jun
17

“He read while he walked. He read while he ate. The other librarians suspected he somehow read while he slept, or perhaps didn’t sleep at all.” CBR9 Review 39.

UnknownI love Laini Taylor. I adored Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I really liked Days of Blood and Starlight. (I admit, I was not 100% enthusiastic about Dreams of Gods and Monsters. But as a whole, the trilogy was top-notch.) So I was ready to love this.

And I did. Until the very last page.**

Super quick overview here:
Like the Smoke & Bone trilogy, Strange the Dreamer takes place in a fantasy world at an unknown time in history. Our hero, Lazlo Strange, is an orphan, who by chance, has his dream job working in the largest library in the land. There he spends every waking moment learning about the magical lost kingdom of Weep — a mythical land that disappeared years ago.

When out of nowhere, a band of soldiers from Weep arrives in his city, looking for the smartest scholars and scientists to come and help them save their magical kingdom, Lazlo can’t imagine not being allowed to join them. Fortunately, he impresses their leader with his knowledge of their history and language, and finds himself along for the journey as the leader’s personal secretary.

Meanwhile, we learn about a strange group of isolated teenagers who live somewhere near Weep, and all have magical powers of some sort. One can control the weather. One can control the growth of any plant she comes in contact with. And one can enter and manipulate the dreams of the citizens of Weep. And none of them ever know she’s there.

Until Lazlo Strange.

Really, I could go on and on for 100 more paragraphs, telling you all of my favorite parts. But as alwaysanswerb said earlier this year in her most excellent review, “Just read it.”

Seriously, if you’ve ever read and liked anything at all by Laini Taylor, you need to read this.

And if you’ve never read anything by Laini Taylor, what the hell?

Its beautifully written. The fantasy world is amazingly real. It is at times shocking and heartbreaking and funny and sad and it made me feel all the feels. A story of love and hope and magic and intolerance and hate. It had everything.

**Ugh. After over 500 pages, I was pretty angry when I got to the end of this one.

I should have known that this book would be the beginning of a series of books. Its really my own fault for not researching this fact. Because when I got to the last page, and saw this:

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I was so invested in the story that I was really annoyed. It was like a slap in the face.

01
Jun
17

Don’t ask me silly questions, I won’t play silly games. I’m just a simple choo-choo train, and I’ll always be the same. CBR9 Review 38.

FullSizeRenderThis is a “children’s” book that I would never, ever recommend to any child.

Written as a companion piece to Uncle Stevie’s The Waste Lands, this is an illustrated version of the story that Jake Chambers buys at The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind from Calvin Tower. He had it when he was a boy. So did Susannah Dean. And so did Eddie Dean. And none of them liked it.

They all wondered if the illustrations of Charlie and Engineer Bob showed a happy train and driver pulling kids screaming with joy, or an insane duo, forcing children who were scared to death to ride along with them. LOOK AT THEM.

FullSizeRender

The story of Charlie and Engineer Bob is weird from the start. Engineer Bob knows that Charlie is no ordinary steam engine, but that Charlie is “really, really alive.” Charlie sings little songs to Engineer Bob, who doesn’t seem to think any of this is weird at all.

Don’t ask me silly questions, I won’t play silly games.
I’m just a simple choo-choo train, and I’ll always be the same.
I only want to race along, beneath the bright blue sky,
and be a happy choo-choo train, until the day I die.

Ok then.

Eventually, diesel engines come to the station to replace Charlie. Both he and Engineer Bob (who is demoted to become Wiper Bob) are put out to pasture. Charlie cries “dark, oily tears” and his headlight goes dark while he sits, depressed and alone. The last two lines of his song change to:

Now that I can’t race along, beneath the bright blue sky,
I guess that I’ll just sit right here, until I finally die.

Right.

Of course, eventually Charlie and Engineer Bob are needed to save the day. They have to get Susannah (the railway president’s daughter) to her piano recital, which is HUNDREDS OF MILES AWAY. The president of the railway is so impressed by Charlie and Bob.

This is some locomotive, Bob! I don’t know why we ever retired it! How do you keep the coal conveyer loaded at this speed?

Engineer Bob only smiled, because he knew Charlie was feeding himself.

This is the stuff of nightmares.

01
Jun
17

My first thought was, he lied in every word.* CBR9 Review 37.

imagesYeah, I’m obsessed with these books. I just can’t stop reading (or listening to) them. I’m stuck in my own self-imposed wheel of Ka, destined to follow the adventures of Eddie and Jake and Roland and Oy (and ok, Susannah) for the rest of my days. (Note: This is my second time reviewing this book for the Cannonball Read…my first attempt was way way back in CBR3.)

It’s funny how each time I read these Dark Tower books (and stories and graphic novels), I come away with something different. For instance, I used to love (LOVE!) Eddie Dean. He was up on the Mount Rushmore of my favorite fictional male characters, along with Han Solo and Captain Wentworth. But this time, he’s bugging me beyond belief. I used to think Oy was just a cute and cuddly companion. And now I wonder if any of this could have ever happened without Oy, and just how integral he was to the Ka-Tet.

I think part of this is due to the fact that I’m listening to the books this time around. And the narrator thus far (the late, great Frank Muller) chose a heavy New York accent for Eddie, one that makes him sound like a bit of an idiot, to be honest. And I get why he chose that, and I don’t disagree with it. It just makes Eddie’s shortcomings stand out to me, and make him slightly (or more than slightly) annoying. Muller also makes Susannah a bit more appealing as a character, doing the best that he can with Uncle Stevie’s weakest link in the Ka-Tet.

A brief overview of what actually happens in this book:

After killing an enormous robotic bear, Eddie, Susannah, and Roland find “the path of the beam” which will lead them to the Dark Tower as long as they follow it. The path that they follow is known as the beam of the bear/path of the turtle.

Roland finds that he is slowly losing his grip on reality. Ever since he spared Jake’s life at the end of The Drawing of the Three, he lives in a mental paradigm — part of his mind is positive that he once knew a boy named Jake Chambers, and that he let him die under the mountains while he followed Walter…and part of his mind says that there was no boy. If Jake never died in New York, then he never appeared at the way station.

In New York of 1977, Jake Chambers is also slowly going insane. He spends his days in a dream state, constantly looking behind doors, positive that opening one will surely bring him back to Roland and his world. Before leaving New York behind forever, Jake does several important things:

  • He writes his final english paper (although he doesn’t remember doing so) about a train named Blaine, who is a pain.
  • He meets two men in a bookstore named Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, and he picks up two books there: a children’s book called Charlie the Choo Choo, and a book of riddles with the answers torn out.
  • He finds himself in a vacant lot, where he sees the most beautiful rose to ever grace the earth. Next to the rose he finds a key that actually helps him open the door between the worlds.

Eventually, Jake finds his way over to Roland, Eddie, and Susannah (but not until after one of my LEAST FAVORITE plots in the series, that of the sex demon vs. Susannah Dean), and they are soon joined by Oy the billy-bumbler. Roland and Jake find that their minds have healed now that they are back together.

They make their way toward the once-great city of Lud, where there once was a train called Blaine, but nobody has seen or heard from Blaine in many years. Jake is taken prisoner by a disgusting old pirate named Gasher, and brought to someone called The Tick-Tock Man, who rules one faction of the warring city. Oy and Roland rescue him. Eddie and Susannah find Blaine, who is pretty much insane, and convince him to take them all out of the city on their quest for the tower.

Yeah, Blaine is a real pain.

Oh. And did I mention that Randall Flagg shows up?

I remember the first time I read this, I couldn’t believe how Uncle Stevie decided to end things…just leaving us Constant Readers hanging by a thread, not knowing what would happen to our friends. And then HAVING TO WAIT for the next book to be written. It was the worst. This time, I started the next book just seconds after finishing this one, which was nice.

* This is the opening link of Robert Browning’s epic poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. This could easily refer to Blaine. Or to Randall Flagg. Or even to Roland, if you think about it.

 

31
May
17

I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away. CBR9 Review 36.

41cTGEmf+OLYou may be wondering, hey, what does a 30+ year old song about violence due to religious intolerance in Ireland have to do with this book about the police shootings of innocent young black men in modern day America? And I’ll tell you, I’m not quite sure. But I listened to this song a lot while I was reading this book and this opening line really stuck with me.

There’s been a lot of buzz about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, and all of it is deserved. This is a riveting, heartbreakingly sad, earnestly funny, beautifully written book. I didn’t particularly enjoy reading all of it, but that doesn’t matter. I’m glad I read it.

But I find myself (for the second time recently) wondering what I can say about it, as there is little-to-no way I could ever understand what the characters in this book are going through. Yes, I can feel empathy (and I do). Yes, I can get mad (and I did). But I can never truly understand.

This is the story of Starr, a 16 year old girl who lives in a poor urban neighborhood but goes to a fancy, WASP-y private school in the suburbs. One night, she goes to a neighborhood party with her friend Kenya. She feels out of place, not quite sure “which version” of Starr she’s supposed to be — the Starr she is at school, the Starr she is at home, or the Starr who’s known around the neighborhood as simply being Big Mav’s daughter from the shop. She bumps into her childhood best friend, Khalil, and when gunshots break up the party, they leave together.

On the way home, Khalil is pulled over, allegedly for a broken tail light, and then brutally shot to death when reaching into the car for his hairbrush and to ask Starr if she’s ok.

Spoiler alert: Starr is not ok.

Khalil’s death becomes a national news story. He was a drug dealer and a thug, say the powers that be, so he had it coming. But Starr and her family know and love a different Khalil. A fine young man who loved Harry Potter and would do ANYTHING for his friends and family.

Khalil’s death is the tipping point for a neighborhood that was already on the edge. Riots break out. Tanks are sent to control and keep the peace (ha). Gang territory is marked, and if you aren’t with one side, you aren’t protected.

And Starr knows that she needs to step up and tell the world about Khalil and what happened that night, but she’s afraid. She’s afraid for her family, who will be targeted by the King Lords for “snitching.” She’s afraid for the life she’s built herself at school, because there’s simply no way that her rich, white friends will ever understand what she’s going through. But she’s also afraid that if she doesn’t speak up, that she’ll never forgive herself.

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

I enjoyed getting to know Starr and her family. I loved her parents and the wonderful role models that they were for their children. Maverick (her dad) was honest and open with them about his time in a gang and the time he spent in prison. He worked hard and was respected in the neighborhood, and knew what was best for his family. Their fierce and absolutely unconditional love for their children was beautiful, and their closeness and support for each was something that any family, from any race, or any background, should aspire to.

But as much as I loved parts of it, it was often hard to read this book. Another senseless life lost, another cop who was forgiven — barely any questions asked — for his crime. Too many people ignoring what’s going on around them. This is the state of our union, and I don’t know what to say about it.

********

This book is over 450 pages, and yet, felt like it simply wasn’t long enough. The blurb on the cover from John Green says, “Angie Thomas has written a stunning, brilliant, gut-wrenching novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.” He’s right.

 

 

30
May
17

“The trouble with denial is that when the truth comes, you aren’t ready.” CBR9 Review 35.

UnknownI’ve been somewhat slow with my reviews lately, mostly because the books that I’ve been reading have taken me a bit of time to process. In fact, I’m not quite sure I’m done figuring them out yet.

I first saw We are Okay at the library on the new YA shelf. The cover drew me in, it had those same dreamy pinks and blues as the Paper Girls cover, and it just looked so familiar to me.

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Going in to read it, I had no idea what it was about. The blurb on the jacket was pretty vague:

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

I knew it was probably going to be sad. But I had no idea that it would be devastating in both its sadness and its hope.

Marin (pronounced like the County) is finishing up her first semester at college in New York, and has made arrangements with the school to stay in her dorm room for the entire month of Christmas break. Her roommate begs her to come home with her, but Marin can’t face a happy family holiday. Marin has nowhere else to go, no family to take her in. And so she stays.

Mabel, her best friend from California is coming to visit and Marin knows that she’s going to have to explain herself to her. Apparently, Marin disappeared completely, running off to college after a family tragedy, leaving everything behind and telling nobody where she was. And Marin hasn’t spoken of it since, to anyone. Not her roommate, not any friends. And now she’s going to have to own up to her actions and the effect that they may have had on the others in her life.

The prose in this book was simply beautiful. Marin’s loss and profound sadness hit me like a lead balloon. The simple ways that she described everyday things like the beauty of the beach or a first kiss were lovely. But it was so sad. To have to endure so much at such a young age, and to be kept in the dark about her family for so long was simply heartbreaking.

But there was hope in the end. And I was glad. Without it, this simple story might have been too much for me to bear. It made me cry like a little baby, but they were tears of happiness for Marin.

This story was short and I read it in one sitting. I know its not exactly frothy and light “beach reading,” but its so well done, try and make time for it this summer if you can.

 

 

24
May
17

“Motherhood is hard. And you young moms put more pressure on yourselves than we ever did with your crafts and activities. Do you know what we called crafts back in the day? Chores.” CBR9 Review 34.

UnknownThis is not a great piece of literature. Our grandchildren won’t be studying it in their Classic Lit classes. It is often silly and ridiculous and predictable and mostly eye-rollingly way beyond reality.

And I enjoyed the hell out of it.

If you aren’t familiar with Bunmi Laditan, she’s a “mommy blogger” and I follow her on Facebook. She makes me laugh because her house is a mess, she has laundry everywhere, her kids complain about what they eat, and she never seems to find time to take a shower. She’ll post a picture of legos on the carpet and cheerios on the floor and hashtag it #blessed. Her life sounds pretty familiar to anyone with little kids, and its always nice to know that someone else is managing life the same way as you.

She’s been in the news (and by news, I mean the internet) a bit lately for her recent post about homework for her elementary school aged daughter, and how it has been causing her anxiety and unnecessary stress. Bunmi wrote a letter to the school administration basically explaining that her daughter won’t be doing homework anymore. And the responses were fascinating — basically half supporting her decision and half thinking she should have social services come and take her children away. (ETA: I just did a quick search about this situation and it looks like she is now homeschooling her kids. Yikes.) Such is the life of a mommy blogger.

Her new novel is pretty much more of the same…new mom Ashley is overwhelmed by being a stay-at-home mom to her almost one year old baby, Aubrey. Her husband, David, has started his own business and it consumes all of his time. Ashley gave up her career to take care of Aubrey, and while she doesn’t regret that decision, she misses social interaction with other adults.

Ashley complains about not being able to make friends, about not being able to lose the baby weight, and about having a messy house. She is semi-obsessed with a mommy blogger (I pictured Jennifer Garner) who seemingly has it all — the perfect family, a gorgeous and clean house, a huge business empire, great hair and clothes, and not an ounce of fat on her. When the blogger announces a “boot camp for moms” contest on her show, Ashley imagines that winning a spot in the group will solve all of her problems and make her life equally as perfect

Now, as anyone who has ever read a Bridget Jones or Becky Bloomwood book knows, you have to read through a lot of ridiculousness to get to the point. And the same goes here. We see Ashley make a lot (IM SERIOUS. SO MANY.) of crazy mistakes and use poor judgement. But Ashley’s heart is in the right place. She loves her husband and her daughter and wants to be her best self for them. And of course, she realizes that being a mom is hard work, and that maybe she isn’t so bad at it after all.

There was very little that surprised me here in terms of plot, but I didn’t really care. I was poking around on Amazon, and saw that this book is selling out as quickly as it is being stocked. I get it. Moms want to know that they aren’t alone, because it often feels like we are. Every decision we make is criticized by someone else and we constantly worry if we are doing the right thing — breastfeeding, sleep methods, vaccination schedules, disposable diapers, cleaning products, sugar, literally everything becomes a subject for debate. I’m glad that someone like Bunmi is out there, taking our worries and concerns and using humor to make us realize that as long as our families are happy and healthy, then what we see on Pinterest and Instagram doesn’t matter.

My PTA book club is reading this for our next meeting, and I have a feeling its going to be a hit. Ashley drinks a lot of wine while obsessing about her mothering, so we’ll feel like sisters in arms as we drink a lot of wine to talk about her.




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