Posts Tagged ‘CBR9

21
Jun
17

This was, without a doubt, the right book at the right time. I loved it. Also, Cary Elwes. CBR9 Review 42.

UnknownComing off of a few books with heavier themes, I decided to look for something fun and easy to read at the pool. Scanning through my kindle purchase (seriously, there are SO MANY), I came across this one, and remembered that my fellow cannonballers thought somewhat highly of it.

Now, look. I’m no historian.

But I’m pretty sure this version of the events between the death of King Henry and the coronation of Bloody Mary aren’t historically accurate.

I know a little about King Edward and Jane Grey. After watching season one of The Crown, I started reading some British royal history (written for children — I really just wanted an overview!), just so I could keep up a bit. And years ago, I saw the movie about Jane Grey starring super young and hot Helena Bonham Carter as Jane and Cary Elwes as G. That was the extent of my knowledge on Edward and Jane and the Dudleys. But nowhere have I ever read that Jane was sometimes a ferret and that G was really a horse.

This alternate version of history takes place in an England divided over magic. There are the verities (led by Edward’s half-sister, Mary), who denounce all things magical. And then there are the E∂ians…those who descend from a long line of ancient shape shifters. (Did you know that King Henry had a tendency to turn into a lion when he was annoyed?)

Young and sickly, King Edward hasn’t done much to manage this brewing war between the verities and the E∂ians. And then he receives the terrible news that he has consumption (I think) and has mere months to live.

Manipulated by his chief advisor, Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, Edward names his cousin Jane as his successor, ignoring the fact that his half-sister Mary is the rightful heir to the throne. Dudley also convinces Edward to enter Jane into marriage with his son, Gifford (you can call him G), thereby potentially creating a puppet monarchy for Lord Dudley.

Jane isn’t particularly excited about this match. She’s heard the rumors about G’s womanizing and drinking. She’d much rather stay at home with a good book.

Oh, a G turns into a horse every day at dawn, which is awkward.

The rest of the story is about Jane’s sudden ascension to the thrown, her immediate removal by Mary, and how the E∂ians work together to take back what is rightfully theirs.

So no, the book isn’t historically accurate. But I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was silly and funny and the narrator reminded me of the delightful one on Jane the Virgin. Filled with ridiculous comments and asides, as well as a bunch of Month Python references, I really got a good laugh out of this.

For example, when describing Edward’s lack of skills with the fairer sex:

He pretended to stretch his arms, in order to shift even closer to her. (This isn’t in the history books, of course, but we’d like to point out that this was the first time a young man had ever tried that particular arm-stretch move on a young woman. Edward was the inventor of the arm stretch, a tactic that teenage boys have been using for centuries.

I had never heard of any of the (three!) authors who wrote this, but I would check out other books by them. And I saw that they have a new book in the works, this one about Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte, and I’m 100% ready for that.

If you’re looking for something light and frothy and in no way historically accurate, this was a fun and quick read.

Bonus:

Teenaged Cary Elwes as G.

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15
Jun
17

When you dedicate a book to Han Solo, odds are I’m going to like it. CBR9 Review 41.

UnknownThe CBR hive has been quite divided over Sleeping Giants, the first book in Sylvain Neuvel’s proposed trilogy (The Themis Files) about gigantic alien robots discovered on earth after being buried for thousands of years. I really enjoyed the interview/journal aspect of the storytelling and found the plot to be intriguing and fast-paced. I liked the confusion that the scientists were facing, and that there were people in Washington who had information, but weren’t all that willing to share it…unless Kung Pao chicken was involved.

And I was down for book two when it came up in my library queue. And whoa.

Although Waking Gods was told in the same format — interviews, journal entries, broadcast tape transcripts from radio and tv — this book had a very different feel. This story mostly scared the crap out of me.

One morning, a second robot, nearly identical to Themis from Sleeping Giants, shows up in a London park. The world doesn’t quite know what to make of it. And leaders are confused and cannot agree on how best to approach the new robot. Dr. Rose Franklin (suddenly NOT DEAD, but not really Rose Franklin) thinks the world should just leave the new robot alone…but armies and governments disagree.

And suddenly half of London is gone. Hundred of thousands are dead. But why?

Meanwhile, a dozen more robots show up in large cities all over the world. The military tries everything — attacking with Themis, nuclear bombs, airstrikes — but nothing works.

And then the gas comes, killing 99% of any life form that breathes it.

Rose and her team — basically Kara and Vincent — work non-stop to determine what the robots want and why 1% of humans are immune to the gas.

I couldn’t put this book down.

Until the last quarter or so, when I didn’t quite buy what Sylvain Neuvel was selling. But still, I enjoyed it. I was shocked that he so cavalierly dared to kill off millions of innocent people for no reason, including some of our main characters that we had grown attached to. I look forward to book 3. I can’t imagine what might happen next.

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.

 

 




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