"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review #26: Grey, by E. L. James

I've decided to half cannonball on this, the worst of all the books I've read this year. Mainly because that's how it's come up in my giant back log of reviews, but also because it somehow feels fitting after the way this year has gone.
I read the originals a year or so after they came out. They read like what they are: poorly written fan fiction based on a not particularly good original story. They're problematic for all the reasons that have been discussed in zillions of online forums and think pieces. They're also problematic for all the grammatical errors, the amount of suspension of disbelief that the reader needs to employ,  the truly atrocious writing, and the fact that the reader is expected to believe that a college student in the year 2011 does not own a computer or a cell phone.

Grey is problematic for all the same reasons, but it's also problematic because it's extra rapey and stalkery, which I know are not actual words, but whatever. Language evolves. Although I'm not sure that E. L. James knows that, because she only knows about a dozen words. (Hmm, sound like someone we all know?)

Summary: Christian Grey is a tortured kazillionaire of indeterminate age, but I'm guessing mid- to late-twenties. Like all millennials, he owns, among other things, a penthouse apartment in the sky, a helicopter, and a fleet of vehicles.(Note to Chris: you aren't Ranger, so stop it.) Also like all millennials, he has made all his money in some mysterious company called GreyEnterprisesHoldingsCompanyLLCIncorporated. (Note to Chris: you also aren't Roarke , so stop it.) Chris meets Ana, the dull-looking, brown haired, twenty one year old college student virgin who doesn't own any technology but does own a vintage VW bug, and wants to boff her. Actually, scratch that. He wants to tie her up, humiliate her, torture her, and then boff her. And then, and this is the most important part, he wants to discard her. Christian has Mommy Issues. So after much hand wringing and temper tantrum throwing and stalking and food policing and birth control controlling, they do those things. And then Ana freaks and goes to Savannah to see her mom, and Christian follows her, and then aoidjnwmfslkkjfpo;lawr.d

Sorry. I fell asleep. I don't care any more. You don't care any more either. You know the story. The story sucks. The story is boring.

Anyway, I know that the originals are rapey and stalkery and not at all representative of a healthy BDSM relationship, but I either forgot how bad it was, or, and I think this is more likely, Grey is actually WORSE than the originals.  And then it just...ENDS. Like, practically in the middle of a word. Which made me CRAZY because the part of me that hates to leave things unfinished really wants to read the second installment, Grey-er, or whatever it's called. But part of me is scared to do that, because  


Review #25: Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

Somewhere on my Stephanie Plum journey, I missed number 22. And I have to be honest, I don't quite remember what happened. Wacky shenanigans, Bob pooping everywhere, Lula, Grandma, Mrs. Plum ironing, Morelli being a cop, Ranger hotly being hot... it's all the same, just with a different bad guy.

There's something about a fraternity (is there a college in Trenton?), a murder of a guy nobody liked, and I kind of remember some sort of radioactive bug or some other kind of weird bioterrorism in the basement of either the college or the fraternity. Which begs the question: is Stephanie really the gal we want protecting us from this? This seems like a bad idea. Thank goodness for Morelli and Ranger. 

I also remember Lula going for a gun and instead pulling out a vibrator, which is just about the most Lula thing ever written. I'm sure that Stephanie got the bad guy through no fault of her own, I'm sure she danced the no underpants dance with Morelli once or twice, and I'm sure Ranger thoroughly kissed her and called her Babe a few times.

I'm also sure that Ranger didn't sleep with Stephanie in this episode, because I'd remember that. For. Sure. Which, is it time for me to admit that maybe I'm just reading these cause I want Ranger to be naked?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Reviews #20 - 24: The Ivy Years series, by Sabrina Bowen

About two months ago, which tells you how far behind I am on my reviews, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida. Each day we watched the cone move further and further west, until it looked like it was going to come right up the west coast and in to Tampa Bay. And each day, I packed more things into bags and suitcases, until finally, on Friday afternoon, they declared a mandatory evacuation of my entire town. I went home to collect my kid and the last of my important things, filmed the interior of my house, and got the heck out of dodge. We went to JB's, he of all the good books, but I knew that being cooped up with four surly teenagers for the next few days was not going to lend itself to reading great literature, and so I asked the fine ladies of CBR if anyone had any suggestions of light romance, and scootsa100 graciously offered to lend me her set of Sabrina Bowen's The Ivy Years series. And thank god she did, because I needed to be able to escape to Harkness College and hockey rinks instead of worrying about whether there was a tree through my roof. And it allowed me to ignore the fights over who was hogging the X-box and ignore the fact that they ate 90% of our hurricane food in the first day. Kids are like locusts. 


In the first book, The Year We Fell Down, Bowen introduces us to Harkness College, a small New England college with a strong hockey team. Corey was supposed to start as a freshman player on the girls' team, but an accident in her senior year of high school left her permanently in a wheelchair and unable to play. She meets Adam, the star of the boys' team, who is also in a wheelchair, although his is temporary; he broke his leg before school started. A friendship blossoms, and for Corey, it's more than that, although she knows she can't act on it because Adam is with a beautiful - but nasty - co-ed. Bonding over video games (hockey, natch), and how to negotiate a campus that isn't always wheelchair friendly, Corey and Adam grow closer and closer until one night, they act on their feelings. Of course, they can't get out of their own way, and so misunderstandings ensue. Will they find their way back together?

The Year We Hid Away introduces us to Scarlet, a freshman who is hiding a terrible story back at home. Her father is under investigation for some sort of child abuse a la Joe Paterno and she's tired of the news trucks on her front lawn every day, so she leaves town and changes her name, dropping her spot on the hockey team in the process. Bridger drops his spot on the team, too, but for very different reasons: he's discovered that his mother has fallen in with the wrong crowd and worries that his little sister may be in danger. So he secrets her away to his dorm room, hoping against hope that the dean doesn't discover her. With both Scarlet and Bridger hiding such big secrets, it's inevitable that the truth will come out, and if they can't learn to trust each other, Scarlet will lose her place in school and Bridger could lose his sister.

The Understatement of the Year brings us a transfer student named John Rikker, who is joining the hockey team after being outed - and subsequently ostracized - at his previous college. Rikker's been out in one way or the other since an incident five years earlier, when he was attacked while out with his boyfriend, Michael Graham, who just so happens to be on the hockey team as well. Graham, who is definitely IN the closet, feels awful for leaving Rikker after that, and has done his best to forget the whole thing, and Rikker tries to play it cool, but when Graham is knocked out cold during a game, his feelings bubble to the surface and he can't hide it any longer. Bonus points here for a really fun grandma.

The fourth book, The Shameless Hour, is about the hockey team's manager Bella. Bella loves hockey and loves boys, sometimes in that order and sometimes not. She meets Rafe through his hockey playing roommate, and one night after too many drinks, and Rafe's discovery that his girlfriend had been unfaithful, she sleeps with him, unknowingly relieving him of his virginity. Bella understands post-one night stand behavior, but Rafe is feeling guilty; his Catholic upbringing has him turned upside down about casual sex. Then Bella is drugged and accosted, and Rafe wants to help put her back together, but Bella is through with all men.

The final installment, The Fifteenth Minute, has freshman Lianne meeting DJ, the, well, DJ for the hockey games through her across the hall neighbor Bella. Lianne isn't sure how to make friends or flirt with boys; she's been acting in a Harry Potter-style movie franchise since she was little. And DJ is under weird sort of house arrest - he's not allowed in the dorms - because a girl has accused him of sexual assault, and even though he knows he's done nothing wrong, he doesn't want to tell Lianne, or any of his other friends, either. But secrets never stay secret for long, and soon Lianne has discovered what's been haunting DJ all year, and she goes all out to prove his innocence.

These can all be read as stand alone, but work best as a series. Bowen sets the scene well and the characters all kind of drift in and out of each other's stories, but unlike other authors who write series (I'm looking at you Nora Roberts), she doesn't telegraph the future hook ups. And they weren't formulaic either; sometimes a series can feel very much like a fill in the blank or mad lib (ahem, SEP).

New Adult is a genre that sometimes gets a bad rap, and I have railed against it in the past. But this series was what New Adult should be. Books three and four are the most sex-positive books I think I've ever read, and they both explore sexuality in very real, honest ways. Rikker and Graham's story is the first M/M romance I've read, and I thought it was quite well done. And I liked the way that Bowen handled Bella's story for the most part, although I was troubled by a few things in it, mainly having to do with the incident at the fraternity and the "revenge" scenes. There was just something about that whole thing that felt...I'm not sure what. Dangerous? Silly? Hard to believe? I wish that Bowen had explored a little bit why Bella wasn't willing to go to the authorities, which I think is a very real and natural reaction. But it felt almost like the attack was downplayed by what happened later at the football game, and I wonder what message it sends to girls and women who have experienced the same sort of thing. If we aren't willing or able to pull a stunt like Bella did, does it mean we're weak or somehow less than she is? And by pulling that prank, does it diminish the severity of the attack? And while the fraternity was humiliated, and rightly so, I'm not so sure that Bella didn't just escalate things and put herself - and her friends - in more danger. I don't know; maybe I'm overthinking it. I did enjoy her frank discussions of sex and her very unapologetic view of it, and I loved her budding friendship with Lianne. 

All in all, a very nice diversion from a very long and stressful weekend. Thanks, scootsa1000!

Review #19: Dating You / Hating You, by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is pretty popular around these parts, and Dating You / Hating You seems to top most lists. The only book I've read from the collection is the one that started it all, Beautiful Bastard, and let's just say I wasn't a fan. So I broke up with CL and the Beautiful series, and didn't give it another thought, until Dating You / Hating You was free on the library website, and since all of you guys seemed to like it, I thought I'd give it another shot.

And it wasn't too awful.

Carter and Evie are both talent agents at rival companies, and after they have an extremely awkward meeting at a mutual friend's Halloween party, they decide to give dating a chance, even though they are rivals in the same cut-throat profession. But before they can have date number two (and before they can have full on sexy times together), they discover that their agencies have merged, and now they're both fighting for the same job.

Evie is very good at her job. Carter is also very good. He's five years younger and has less connections, but since he's got out outdoor plumbing while Evie has indoor, he's naturally a shoo-in for the position because Evie's boss is a big fat corrupt jackass. He pits Evie and Carter against one another, and shenanigans of the mad-cap, screwball, 1940s comedy varieties ensue. In the meantime, their feelings for one another are growing stronger and harder to resist.

Amid the pranks and sabotage, Evie begins to realize, with the help of her friends, that Bossman is embezzling funds, and she - without Carter - sets a trap for him. Of course there's a happy ever after ending and all that jazz, but what I liked the best about this book was that Evie took down her corrupt boss without Carter coming in to save the day. In fact, there's a snippet of dialogue between Evie and her friends where they specifically ask whether she's looped Carter in on the plan, and she says no, that she's going to do it on her own. And in 2017, that sounds just about right to me. 

Review #18: Pretty Face, by Lucy Parker

From the author of Act Like It comes another Cannonball favorite, Pretty Face. And while, if I remember right, Pretty Face wasn't as strongly loved as Act Like It, I definitely enjoyed it more. Act Like It was just okay in my book; this one gets an additional two stars.

Grumpy director Luc Savage is reviving a classic West End theatre, and needs a new star. Enter Lily Lamprey, clearly the best actress for the job, even if she doesn't have the resume. Lily is a soap star, low man on the theatre totem pole, and is "too sexy" for the Elizabethean drama they are staging, but she's a good actress, and Luc takes a chance on her. Of course, sparks fly, and even though they try to fight it and definitely try to hide it, word gets out and the rumors start to fly as well, painting Lily as just another actress sleeping her way to the top, and jeopardizing Luc's career as well.

One thing I really enjoyed about this installment was the way Parker addressed the very real threat to both careers. So often, we devour Hollywood gossip as just good juicy stories, but we forget that the salacious things we read about actually affect real people. Lily's reputation is on the line - sleeping with the director, whether it's true love or not, is often frowned upon, and can truly damage one's career - and I liked that Parker included some pretty serious handwringing about that. And Luc rightly doesn't want to be known as a director who takes advantage of his new starlet, and so they both resist as long as they can, but, as is so often the case, their passion for each other overcomes their sensibilities. Another interesting angle is that Luc is some years older than Lily, and that's not glossed over in the book; Parker deals with it head on, with both characters addressing the situation with varying degrees of seriousness. 

I think what I liked best about Pretty Face is that it felt real. There was no instant love connection (although maybe a bit of instant lust), the characters felt real and measured, Parker allowed us to see their flaws, and even the ending felt real. Kind of a "we love each other and we're going to try to make this work but we know it's not always easy". That's the kind of happily ever after I can get behind.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reviews #14 - 17: The Bride Quartet, by Nora Roberts

I've read the Bride Quartet before, but sometimes, you just need a little Nora Roberts escapism. And I had forgotten about this series until that we were talking about that stupid New York Times Review of Books piece, and so I hopped on to the library website, and suddenly, I was back at Vows with Parker, Laurel, Emma, and Mac, dreaming of fairy tale weddings where every bride has a completely unlimited budget and nobody has diabetes from eating too much wedding cake. I swear, if I worked there, I'd be drunk on champagne and weigh a thousand pounds from eating wedding cake for breakfast every day. That might have something to do with my life now, though.

In the first installment, Vision in White, we meet Mackensie, the Vows photographer who lives in the pool house turned photo studio. She's got fiery red hair and a personality to match, with a nightmare of a mother who has just left yet another husband. Her dad is largely absent, but she's got all the family she needs with her three best friends. Enter shy, quiet, klutzy Carter, the high school English teacher, who is standing as groom for a meeting when his sister's fiancé got called in to work. Mac wants to keep it casual, but there's nothing casual about the way she feels about Carter.

Book two, Bed of Roses, brings us to Emma, the official florist of Vows. I want Emma's job, except for that when plants and flowers see me coming, they try to run away as fast as their little roots can take them. I don't exactly have a green thumb. I want to - flowers make me so happy - but I don't make flowers happy. Anyway, Emma is happy and bubbly, and just wants to fall in love. Actually, Emma wants to fall in love with anyone other than Jack, an old family friend whom she is certain views her as a sister. One night, Emma's temper gets the best of her, and she and Jack wind up kissing, and not in a brother/sister way. Emma doesn't want to ruin her friendship with Jack, but she can't stop thinking about the kiss, and neither can Jack, although the thought of commitment makes him itchy all over. 

The third book, Savor the Moment, focuses on Laurel, the talented pastry chef known for her beautiful cake creations. Again, I want Laurel's job but bakers have to get up very early and I like to sleep. Plus, I'm klutzy and I'd drop the cake, which would not be good. Laurel's got the hots for Parker's older brother Del, and has since they were kids. But Del is out of her league, and even though she's a part of a successful business, she doesn't quite feel like she can measure up. Del, for his part, thinks it's weird to have Sexy Times thoughts about a girl he's known from childhood, but that doesn't stop them from skinny dipping in the pond on the Vows estate one night. (As an aside, all I could think of during that scene was EW. In Florida, you a) don't go skinny dipping anywhere other than a pool, b) you definitely don't go skinny dipping in a pond, and c) you definitely don't go underwater in a pond. All we have are snakes and alligators and a horrible bacteria that will make you throw up. Not sexy at all.)

Finally, after all the girls have been paired up, it's Parker's turn in the fourth installment, Happy Ever After. Parker is the buttoned up, serious manager of Vows. She's the one the brides call at 2am when they have a zit, she's the one who recognizes when the best man is getting too handsy with the maid of honor, and she's the one who can successfully negotiate the seating chart for even the most complicated of weddings. Her clothes are impeccable, her hair would never think of straying out of its perfect chignon, and her heels are sky high. Which makes it all the more surprising when Malcolm, the town mechanic, knocks her just a little bit off kilter. Mal is a little rough around the edges and Parker isn't quite sure what to make of him, or his motorcycle. But she's not one to back down from a challenge, so when Mal lets it slip that Parker's brother bet that she wouldn't go out with him, she's on the back of that bike in a flash to show him he should never bet against her.  Except it turns out that she kind of likes that feeling of freedom. and she kind of likes Mal, too.

As a reader, you've got to totally suspend disbelief. Nobody has the budget to have the kinds of weddings described in these books, at least not anyone I know. And Parker's brother Del was a bit of an overprotective jackass, particularly - and weirdly - during Emma's book. The family drama is tied up tidily. But that's the beauty of Nora Roberts; everyone's beautiful, nobody worries about a budget, all the men are friends, all the women get along... it's a utopia akin to that series where the girls run the inn. (Or something. I can't remember. Doesn't someone own a pizza shop?)

These books are like wedding cake: they look pretty, they're sweet enough to rot your teeth out of your head, and you kind of feel bad about doing the Macarena after the open bar, but you had a great time anyway.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review #13: It Ends With Us, by Colleen Hoover

Warning - there will be spoilers in this review. Like, I'm going to tell you how it ends, because I don't know how else to talk about it. Also, content warning for domestic violence and child abuse.

Lily leaves behind a difficult childhood and moves to Boston to start her own business. In the opening pages, she meets a man on her rooftop who is clearly angry and upset about something, and even though they have a "moment", they never exchange information. Fast forward a few days, and she runs in to him again when her new employee summons him to check on Lily's injured foot. It turns out her sullen and angry neighbor is Dr. Ryle Kincaid - a surgeon, actually - and he'd lost a patient the night of their rooftop meeting. They are thrown together again and again - her new employee is married to Ryle's brother - and eventually, they begin a romance. And everything is going along swimmingly until Lily's childhood friend Atlas Corrigan reappears, and Lily begins to see a side of Ryle she isn't sure she likes. But then Lily finds herself pregnant, and is torn between forgiving Ryle or stopping a cycle she's all too familiar with.

So that's the book blurb.

The true gist of the story is that Ryle doesn't think he can ever settle down with someone. He's tortured, haunted by the lives he couldn't save. But Lily is everything good in this world, sweet and kind and soft and warm. And so they embark on a love affair, and then when Atlas pops back up - in the form of a well-known chef at the hottest restaurant in town - we get a glimpse of poor Ryle's tortured soul when he gets mad at Lily for...I'm not sure what? Not telling him about a teenage love affair? Not being a virgin even though she's well in to her twenties? It's never made clear, but Ryle's a pretty possessive dude. So Atlas, being a survivor of childhood abuse (Lily, of course, saved him when he was younger), recognizes that Ryle's got a short fuse, and slips Lily his number in case she ever needs him. Lily, not wanting to put the number in to her phone (red flag, there, Lil), slips the paper between her phone and the case, and forgets about it. Fast forward to a night when Lily and Ryle are goofing off in the kitchen, and Ryle accidentally burns his hand. Lily, not realizing the extent of the injuries (remember, he's a neurosurgeon and so therefore his hands are his instruments), is caught up in the moment, still laughing, when Ryle hauls off and backhands her. It's my recollection that she is too stunned, and he's too apologetic, for much to come of it, but then, at some point later, Ryle discovers Atlas' phone number tucked in the phone case, sees red, accuses Lily of infidelity, and things devolve from there. Atlas rescues Lily, who discovers she's pregnant, and of course it's Ryle's baby. And Ryle swears it'll never happen again, but Lily doesn't want to take that chance, and wants to end the cycle, and so she agrees to co-parent but says they can never be together again.

I can list my issues with this novel - there are too many coincidences, too much convenience, too many things neatly wrapped up in bows - but that's not what really bothers me about it. After all, we've all read the tale of the girl who moves to the city and opens a successful business in something like wallpaper hanging; it's the same suspension of disbelief we have to employ with regard to how Monica and Rachel could have possibly afforded their giant purple apartment.  And for awhile, I thought what bothered me about this book was how stereotypically the characters were written. Atlas is the strong, silent, protective type, Lily is the wide-eyed dreamer who desperately wants to fall in love, her employee is a bubbly, well-heeled, well-married, bored socialite looking for a job, and Ryle is the brooding and misunderstood brainiac neurosurgeon. I'm so sick of caricatures of these male characters. It was all just a bit too cookie-cutter. Real life is messier than that, more nuanced than that.

But I've been thinking about it, because that's what I do, I overthink things, and what bothers me the most is the way the decision to end things was handled. From the beginning, there was something about Ryle that didn't sit right with me, something that raised the hair on the back of my neck. And I couldn't quite figure it out until the novel's end, until the scene where Lily decided to end the cycle of abuse, and the catalyst for her doing so was when Ryle struck her. It wasn't when he raised his voice to her, and it wasn't when he accused her - baselessly - of infidelity. Nor was it when he went off and pouted and refused to take her phone calls. Nor was it any of the other moments where he behaved inappropriately. And it certainly wasn't when he was needlessly aggressive the night they met on the rooftop.

We spend so much time talking to our friends, our sisters, and our daughters about abusive relationships, and you know what we focus on? If he hits you, you need to leave. Because that's clear cut. It's a line in the sand. You know that a boy hitting you is wrong, and you need to leave. We start teaching that long before our daughters are of dating age. But we don't spend much time talking about the other sides of abuse. I mean, we might read Facebook quizzes and Buzzfeed lists about how "you might be in an abusive relationship if", but it certainly doesn't pertain to us. He was just tired, you see, from a long day at work, and you were on his case about something stupid. Of course he's going to lose his temper. And besides, don't all couples fight? And anyway, that list doesn't mean us, because it says that he'd be taking away my money, or not letting me see my friends, and I still have all that. So this is no big deal. Except in some cases, it IS a big deal, and we don't spend enough time talking about the more subtle signs of a troubled relationship. And when a book like this takes on abuse but action is only taken when physical abuse happens, it just reinforces that narrative. 

I almost didn't review this book. Not because it's a tough subject matter, but because it wasn't all that well written, and I don't want to discourage conversations about abuse and stopping the cycle of violence, and I feared that if I said "this book wasn't good", then what will be read is, "this book wasn't good because it was about domestic abuse". That's not why it wasn't good; it just wasn't...good. It's so important to have good fiction that deals with this issue, but unfortunately, this just wasn't it. Yes, in the end, Lily did was she was "supposed to", she left Ryle, she chose not to continue the cycle, but somehow there was still something missing from the whole thing.

Plus, the whole thing was written in present tense, which drives me bananas.

Review #12: The Girls of August, by Anne Rivers Siddons

I thought I had read all of Anne Rivers Siddons but I stumbled across The Girls of August at a tag sale, and the cover didn't look familiar, so I picked it up for about $2. This is a different path than the one Siddons normally takes, and I'm not sure I liked it all that much.

Maddy, Barbara, Melinda, and Rachel meet when their husbands are in medical school, and together, they begin a traditional of going to a beach house for a week every August. No kids, no husbands, no phones, just the four of them, reconnecting and recovering from a crazy year. But when Melinda dies in a car accident - and there are shadowy references to her husband having caused the accident by driving drunk - the foursome becomes a threesome and falls apart. A few years later, Melinda's widower remarries, and his new wife, the unfortunately named Baby, invites the three remaining girls of August to her family's beach house on an island off the coast of South Carolina.

None of the women want to go; at least, they don't want to go with Baby, but seeing as it would be rude to partake in Baby's hospitality and uninvited her at the same time, they all pack up for a week on a mostly deserted island with their husbands' friend's new chippie. On arrival, it quickly becomes apparent that, while Baby may be young, she is not a gold digger; the family estate is quite grand. In keeping with the grand tradition of beach reads, the women each have a life-changing secret - one is pregnant, one is sick, one is having marital issues - and they all threaten to spill over during the climax of the novel when a terrible storm hits the island. Once the storm has passed, the women are "changed in ways they never expected".

Blah blah blah. What this book really is about is three middle-aged mean girls who arrived on this island of chip on their shoulders and who were downright cruel to Baby. Maybe I missed something big, or maybe Siddons wrote a chapter that got cut, but I didn't see what was so terrible about Baby other than the fact that she was younger and definitely out of her depth with these women. Yes, it's tough to be middle-aged and fighting cellulite while you lay on the beach next to a twenty-something tanned and toned goddess. Named BABY for Pete's sake. But Baby couldn't have been nicer, even in the face of the women's horrible treatment of her. And you know, we have enough of this infighting in real life - who is a better parent, who is a better boss, who is a better friend, who is a better employee, who is a better woman. I don't really want to read about it in my down time.

Review #11: Geeks Guide to Unrequited Love, by Sarvenaz Tash

Well, this book was adorable.

Unabashed comic book geek Graham has been in love with his across the alley neighbor Roxana since she moved in when she was eight and asked him which Hogwart's house he belonged to. They've grown up together, they write comics together, and spend almost every waking moment together. But Roxy has no idea how Graham truly feels about her, so Graham cooks up a plan to reveal his feelings at New York Comic Con, and not just at Comic Con, but at the hottest event, a rare appearance by the creator of Roxy's favorite comic creator.

But as anyone who has ever attended an event like this knows, tickets to see someone along the lines of Stan Lee are hard to come by. And so, of course, Graham can't get the tickets, and he worries that his plan will fall apart. What follows is a John Hughes-esque series of events, and this would make the cutest movie, starring, I don't know, John Cusack and maybe a geeky Molly Ringwald, except now all those actors are sadly too old. (Like me.) There's a loyal and nervous best friend (hi, Cameron from Ferris Bueller), a chance meeting with an interesting girl who clearly has eyes for Graham and who is just this side of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and a tall, dark, and handsome - and way too suave - new guy who catches Roxy's interest and threatens to derail the whole thing.

I'm not a comic book person - in fact, I've only ever seen one Batman movie and one Ironman movie, although I have seen Deadpool - and so I don't know who is DC and who is Marvel or even that the two worlds, apparently, can't mix together. (Boy, did I get an education about that. Not really. I kind of tuned out.) But I got the sense that Tash knows comics and knows that world, and the reviews I've read say that she nailed it. 

I do know what it's like to be sixteen and want to be in love, though, and I can tell you she also perfectly captures that age, and what it's like to be so in love with your best friend that you can't see straight. All the angst, all the uncertainty, all the feelings that seem so overwhelming at that age - she gets it just right. Graham's discovering what it's like to be in love, and all the exquisite pain and happiness that goes along with it.

It's about the cutest - and most honest - thing I've read all year.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review #10: Kill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky

When I was twelve and thirteen, I loved New Kids on the Block. Specifically, I loved Donnie Wahlberg. Like, with a passion that only thirteen year old girls harbor. I wasn't as bad as my friend Heather, who loved Jordan Knight so much that the had the sheets and pillowcases and sleeping bag and shoestrings, but I loved him exactly as much as my parents (and their budget) would allow. I saw them in concert three times (my father is a SAINT; he's the one who took my friends and me all three times), and specifically chose my outfit based on the colors that Teen Bop told me were Donnie's favorites. Because, you know, he'd notice me out of a crowd of 20,000 other girls. Of course, he did not notice me, and instead went on to marry Jenny McCarthy, a terrible transgression for which I'm not sure I can forgive him.

I tell you all this because while I wouldn't have kidnapped Donnie (or the others), some of my friends *cough*Heather*cough* may have. I also probably wouldn't have gone along with the kidnapping out of fear of getting grounded like I did when I got caught sleeping out for tickets, but man, I'd have been super jealous. But our protagonist in Kill The Boy Band - alternately known as Sloane Peterson or Diane Court - has no such parental fear, and goes along with it. Along with three friends, she rents a room at the very same Manhattan hotel where their favorite band, The Ruperts - clearly a One Direction knock off - is staying. Through a convoluted series of events, they wind up kidnapping "the most useless" Rupert, Rupert K, whose talent lies not in singing or boy band dancing but in juggling. 

So the girls have Rupert K tied up in their hotel room while the other Ruperts are waiting for him at the television station; they're set to do a live gig on national tv. Isabel has tweeted from Rupert K's phone that he's quitting, Apple has taken selfies with a tied-up (and now un-blindfolded) Rupert K, Erin is determined to out him, and our still unnamed heroine is realizing that things are beginning to go off the rails. She escapes down to the hotel bar and later the roof, where her plan to get the girls out of the room so she can set Rupert free is momentarily forgotten when she meets her own favorite Rupert and has a moment with him. When she returns to the room, Rupert K's girlfriend has shown up and they can't seem to shake her, and then things start to take a very dark turn.

Kill the Boy Band is Heathers meets Jawbreaker meets Very Bad Things set to an 'NSYNC and BSB soundtrack. It's definitely for a very specific niche audience, although I think that any former boy band lover will appreciate the way Moldavksy captured the fervor of fan girls.

Also, I want to put a post script on this review and tell you all that I saw New Kids on the Block a couple of weekends ago, along with Paula Abdul and Boyz II Men and I'm not even a little bit ashamed about that. I didn't wear Donnie's favorite colors (black and gold!), but I for damn sure squealed and clutched at my sister's arm when I saw him posing for selfies with the bitches who got floor seats.

Also also, gratuitous concert photo, cause I'm a big dork.

Review #9: Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour, by Dita von Teese

I snapped this up for $1.99 on Kindle a few weeks ago. I don't know a whole lot about Dita von Teese other than she was once married to Marilyn Manson and she has a great sense of style. I figured, being a woman of a certain age, maybe I should start, you know, wearing something other than the Cover Girl and Maybelline I've been buying since 1989, and maybe Miss Dita would be kind enough to give me pointers on the benefit of the perfect red lipstick or how to get a cat eye without looking like a 70s reject.
But I've got to say, I was disappointed.

What I think I wanted was a how to guide, maybe with steps and pictures and a "here's how to put on eyeshadow you big dummy" chapter. Or tips for how to take your existing wardrobe and add just a few vintage pieces to it without looking costume-y. (Believe me, it's not as easy as going to the local Goodwill; there's a lot of searching for those things, and it's time consuming.) I'd even have settled for lots of pretty pictures that I could pore over and be jealous of. But this contained very little of that.  Maybe the hardback version has all that but the Kindle version decidedly did not. At least, not the first 75%, because that's when I stopped reading.

Instead what I got was an entire chapter devoted to how to take a bath (seriously). My bath might only happen once a year with Mr. Bubble and a seven year old shower curtain that has a few suspicious hair dye spots on it, but as long as I have hot water and a door I can shut, a bath is a bath, right? And while I agree on principle with the point that wearing a silky peignoir while lounging at home will make you feel better than, say, ratty yoga pants and a Loretta Lynn t-shirt, it's not a very practical wardrobe choice when it's 9:30pm and your kid's science project has exploded all over the living room. Again. And it's due tomorrow. And even though you've known it was due and she's known it was due and you had a plan to get it done in plenty of time, somehow, it's the night before and it's panic time. (Not that I have any personal experience with that. Ahem) And I know - we ALL know - that no cream or potion is ever going to replace what eight hours of uninterrupted sleep looks like, but I haven't slept through the night since before I got pregnant, and that was 14 years ago. And eight hours? Interrupted or not? That feels positively decadent.

And look, I admire Dita. She's a young girl who has managed to turn what she loves doing in to her career, and she makes a decent living at it, too. That's not easy to do, and she clearly works very hard at it. I've often heard that modeling is not exactly tough, but I disagree. When your body and your image are what you sell, you have to work your ass off. You don't get to skip the morning run if you're tired, you can't eat that extra (box of) Girl Scout cookie(s) just cause you want to, you can't hide under the covers all day because you have PMS. And Dita has certainly put in the effort. She's gorgeous, and talented, and comes across as a very intelligent young woman and I admire that. And her take away message is absolutely on point: love yourself, be true to yourself, be kind to yourself, and none of the rest of it matters. But the book just missed the mark for me.

Review #8: Three Wishes, by Liane Moriarty

Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle, beautiful thirty-three-year-old triplets, seem to attract attention everywhere they go. Together, laughter, drama, and mayhem seem to follow them. But apart, each is dealing with her own share of ups and downs. Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage, and Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, holds out hope for lasting love. In this wise, witty, and hilarious novel, we follow the Kettle sisters through their tumultuous thirty-third year as they deal with sibling rivalry and secrets, revelations and relationships, unfaithful husbands and unthinkable decisions, and the fabulous, frustrating life of forever being part of a trio.
Three Wishes is Cannonball favorite Liane Moriarty's debut novel. It follows the Kettle triplets - Lyn, Cat, and Gemma - over the course of one year. In true Moriarty fashion, she begins with the trio having their birthday dinner, laughing and drinking and clinking champagne, until one is stabbed in the belly with a fork. Then we spin backwards, and enter in to their lives. 

Lyn is the super OCD triplet: everything in her life is just so. She's a "woman who works", she has children, she has a loving but sometimes forgetful husband, and she's struggling to keep it all together, even though her outward appearance shows that nothing is wrong. Cat is the triplet who is desperate to have a baby, who has literally put all her eggs in one basket, and when she becomes pregnant, she finally has everything she ever wanted...until she loses that and her husband in one fell sweep. And Gemma is the wild child, the free spirit who runs every time a relationship turns serious, who is so adrift she doesn't even have a permanent address. Toss in a divorced mother and father who are having a clandestine affair, an unexpected pregnancy, some infidelity, some sister fighting, and you have the makings of a good beach read.

And that's just what this is: a beach read. It's a perfectly serviceable novel to have with you on vacation, at the beach or on the plane, easy to pick up and put down. There aren't any big overarching themes or giant secrets... this is just a nice, frothy novel, and a pretty decent debut. Moriarty has made a name for herself, and so readers who go back to this first effort may be a little disappointed, but it's enjoyable enough.

Review #7: Lookaway, Lookaway, by Wilton Barnhardt

This was a weird book. I mean, a lot of so-called Southern literature is weird - that's why I love it so - but even by those standards, this was a weird book. 

Jerene Jarivs Johnston is old money Charlotte. Jerene's brother is the stereotypical boozy washed up novelist, found most afternoons at the bar at the club sipping his bourbon neat, her sister Dillard is a near shut-in, and her husband Duke is a failed politician, his career having been derailed by Jerene herself when she uncovered Duke's propensity for bedding younger women. Her children are equally a mess: Bo is a minister who isn't sure he believes, Annie is the perpetually single eldest daughter, Joshua is the closeted gay son with a fetish for bad boy thugs, and Jerilyn, the last and only hope, who reluctantly married her high school sweetheart and then shot him one night after dinner.

That cast of characters is ripe for a juicy peach of a Southern Gothic story, but I found myself losing interest often. Boss gets mad when I say this because he says that I shouldn't have to like the characters to like the book, but I disagree. You have to like at least someone in the story, or else, what's the point? Who do you root for? This is my problem with Gillian Flynn, too. All of her characters are just such awful people that I can't be bothered to care about their journeys. And the same can be said of Lookaway, Lookaway. I honestly didn't care about any of them.

I think Jerene was supposed to be one of those old Southern society ladies, the ones who are born in to their privilege and understand that it's a thorny crown. They despair that the old ways are disappearing and that Kids These Days can't be bothered. I think we were supposed to feel sympathy for her. But I couldn't get over the fact that everyone appeared to be a caricature of their characters. From the white privileged gay southern son who is so closeted he can only be turned on by black gang member thugs to the old maid daughter who is too smart for any man to love her, from the drunken failed author always dressed in seersucker to the dottering husband who loves to play dress up in Confederate clothes, the characters felt amateur and oblivious. 

The Amazon synopsis tells me that this was a Krikus Review Best Book of 2013, but it reads as though it was written in the early 90s, and I don't remember what else came out in 2013, but if this was one of the best, I'm not sure I want to read what else was written that year.

Review #6: High Noon, by Nora Roberts

I do this thing where I keep a running list of my book titles in my drafts folder, so when I have downtime, or when the inspiration strikes, I can go back and write my reviews. I'm very undisciplined in my review-writing, as evidenced by the fact that it's May July and I'm reviewing stuff I read in January. Anyway, I was going down the list and saw the title High Noon and had to look it up on Amazon. Usually the cover sparks a memory. It did not. So I read the synopsis, which did spark a memory, but also reminded me that the entire time I was reading this, I was pretty sure I had read it before, but yet could never quite remember for sure.

Anyway, on to the synopsis. Lt. Phoebe MacNamara is the Savannah Police Department's hostage negotiator. When she is tasked with talking a suicidal bartender down from the ledge on St. Patrick's Day, the mysteriously wealthy bar owner is very intrigued. Duncan pursues her, much to Phoebe's surprise. After all, who would want a single mom with a precocious young daughter, an agoraphobic mother, and a crumbling Savannah estate? But want her he does, and they set out to have a good old fashioned romance, only to have it threatened by danger coming from within her own department. And just when they think they've solved all of those problems, a new one crops up, and this one threatens Duncan's own family and friends, and Phoebe has to save the day again.

It's classic Nora Roberts: a strong and stubborn female protagonist, an equally strong and stubborn (and not at all commitment-phobic) male counterpart, danger, a parental figure, people who depend on our heroine to save the day, and a semblance of family. Think about it. All her books - even when she writes as J.D. Robb - follow that same basic structure, and while that does tend to get old, there is something comforting in knowing that at the end of the day, the heroine's going to kick some ass, take some names, and get the guy. 

Review #5: Truly, Madly, Guilty, by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is a favorite around here, and I remember reading, but not reviewing (I think that was the year I dropped the ball), The Husband's Secret and really enjoying it. Boss read it just before me, so I had someone to chat with about it. And while I haven't gotten around to Big Little Lies yet, everyone seems to love it. So it made sense to pick up anything by Moriarty in hardback for $1 at a yard sale.
And it was...okay.

At the center of the book is an event that happened at a Sunday afternoon barbecue and each principal player's feelings of guilt and responsibility towards that event, as well as their feelings of guilt and responsibility towards the people in their lives. Sam and Clementine, a young married couple with two adorable little girls, are the quintessential harried parents. Sam was recently promoted, yet feels like he's wasting his time and talent in the corporate world. Clementine, a classical musician, suffers from audition anxiety and, truth be told, a little bit of mommy regret. Their lives are messy, their house messier, and they can never seem to find a complete pair of shoes. Erika, Clementine's best friend, and her husband are quite the opposite: they are child-free (although apparently not by choice), mess free, and both struggle with the shadows of their childhood. Erika's mom is clearly mentally ill, and her hoarding tendencies are just the tip of the iceberg. Tiffany and Vid, Erika's next door neighbors, are introduced to the story by hosting a spontaneous afternoon barbecue, and it is at their house where the "incident" takes place.

Moriarty has cornered the market on the flash forward / flash backward style where a mystery is introduced at the beginning and the reader doesn't find out what the mystery is, let alone the resolution, until three quarters of the way through. And while this worked for The Husband's Secret, I'm not so sure it worked here. Additionally - and I realize I'm going against the grain here - I wasn't all that enamored of any of the characters. Truth be told, of the main six, the only two I liked were Tiffany and Vid. And perhaps Erika's husband, but he was so dull that I can't remember his name. Lots of reviews that I have read talk about Erika and Clementine's friendship and how it's a great example of adult female relationships, but honestly, I'd rather not have friends than have a friendship like that.

Truly Madly Guilty didn't put me off Liane Moriarty - I have a review of Three Wishes coming up (eventually) - but I don't know as it was worth the hype, and if Big Little Lies is anything like this, I'm not sure I'm going to rush out to read it.

Review #4: Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie

Oh Jennifer. You're so fluffy and light and fun and innocuous. Sometimes, that's just what a girl needs.

Nina Askew has just moved in to her new apartment on the second floor of a three flat building. She's left her dolt of an ex-husband, and she's forty and fabulous. Well, fabulous on the outside, but as any woman of a certain age knows, sometimes it's hard to be fabulous on the inside. But Nina's giving it the old college try, and even goes so far as to set out to get herself a puppy, something her ex would never allow.

Turns out, though, that dogs pick their owners, not the other way around, and Nina comes home with Fred. Fred is overweight, gassy, smelly, and has a tendency to fall off the fire escape. Which puts Nina in the direct path of her downstairs neighbor, a gorgeous doctor named Alex. Alex is smart. Alex is funny. Alex is kind. Alex likes Nina. But Alex is ten years younger than Nina.

Of course, there are some misunderstandings, and Alex has some of his own demons to fight. But this is a Jennifer Crusie novel, so you know there's going to be a happy ending.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review #3: A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash

The library bookstore is my secret addiction. I don't get to go often (at least, not in my county, what with the powers that be cutting library hours to a ridiculous degree), but when I do go, I load up. And I would say that of the books I pick up, I have about a 50% success rate. I donate the rest back, which results in a vicious circle where I've been known to re-buy previous rejects. (Yeah, I know.) Anyway, of that 50% success rate, about half of those are guilty pleasure romance novels that are easily read but easily forgotten, and the other half are knock it out of the park fantastic finds. A Land More Kind than Home is one of the latter.

Set in the shadows of the North Carolina mountains in the mid-1980s, the novel is told from three different first-person perspectives: a nine-year-old boy, the town's midwife, and the middle aged county sheriff. It shouldn't work, but it does, and it does so beautifully. Each narrator has a different thread of the same story, and Cash deftly weaves the tale together, sometimes veering off in to the past, but never in a rambling way (I'm looking at you, Richard Russo). Cash allows the climax of the story to begin in the sheriff's voice, and then at the last minute, smoothly hands it over to the young boy, simultaneously softening the blow of the novel's penultimate scene and devastating the reader even more than had the reader witnessed it from the sheriff's perspective.

I want to be careful what I say about the story, because I fear that even a summary will give too many things away, and this is a novel you need to just immerse yourself in and let the words, and the story, wash over you. This is a tale of a small southern town, its residents ripped apart by a young boy's needless death, a nefarious and shady preacher man, a sheriff haunted by twenty-year-old grief, and an old man left with nothing but a second chance. I would compare Cash to Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) or John Hart (The Last Child), and A Land More Kind Than Home is a powerful addition to Southern literature.

I've heard it said before that those who don't learn from the past are bound to repeat it, and I just don't know what I think about that. I figure I don't have too much use for it. The past will just weigh on you if you spend too much time remembering.

Review #2: The Haunting of Josie, by Kay Hooper

I hate it when I read the blurb about a book and I think it's going to be one thing, but then it turns out to be totally different, and totally dull.

According to the back cover, The Haunting of Josie is about a young woman spending a year in a secluded cabin, untangling the threads of a mystery that killed a man she loved. She's unprepared for her sexy and dashing neighbor Marc Westbrook, and doesn't really need the distraction of the tall, dark, and handsome man-next-door, but soon she'll have no choice but to trust him. 

So I go in to this thinking that Josie's got some terrible secret or bad guy that's haunting her, that she lost her first love, that Marc's going to be in danger, that terrible truths are going to come out and Marc and Josie are going to have to rescue each other and live happily ever after together the end.

That's not what happened. The novel opens with a cat. Correction: the novel opens with the cat's point of view. Yeah. Okay, whatever, I can go along with that. But then there's a ghost and a mysterious key that the cat keeps moving around, and an old murder mystery that I really didn't care about at all, and Josie's secret wasn't all that salacious or dangerous, and the damn cat keeps showing up. But the haunting is really the weirdest part. It's Marc's great-great-great uncle or some such nonsense, a writer who committed suicide but was really murdered (I think - I can't remember), but he looks just like Marc. And he likes to appear to Josie when she's half dressed. It's creepy and not in a chills up your spine cause it's cold and dark outside way, but creepy in the way that the guy at the end of the bar might want to stare at you while you shower way.

And then the stupid cat shows back up and we close out with the cat's point of view again.

The whole thing felt weird and disjointed, and frankly, pretty dated, which is surprising since I think it's only about ten years old. Definitely not Hooper's strongest effort.

Disclaimer: this was an audio book, but I don't think it would be any better in print.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review #1: Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich

Note: Spoilers abound.

Are there really spoilers in a Stephanie Plum book, though? I mean, we know that Lula is going to wear outrageous outfits, that Grandma is going to do something wacky, that Mrs. Plum is going to drink a little bit of Four Roses in her iced tea glass, and that Stephanie is going to have some near-death experiences.

In installment 23 (are we really up to that number?), we open with Stephanie and Morelli’s relationship status upgraded to engaged to be engaged. Apparently, Joe had some sort of medical thing in the last book which made him feel especially domestic for a short while. Stephanie’s on the hunt for Larry Virgil, who is out on bond for stealing an eighteen-wheeler full of bourbon, and she and Lula catch him stealing another eighteen-wheeler, only this time, it’s full of ice cream and a dead guy covered in chocolate sauce. So, you know, a typical day in Trenton.

In the meantime, Ranger needs Stephanie to go undercover at the ice cream plant, which is sort of related to the stolen truck full of ice cream and dead guy. The B stories this time include Grandma getting engaged to a biker bartender in one of the more delightful Grandma side-stories, and Lula and Randy Briggs (the short guy) filming themselves in their birthday suits wandering about Trenton for an audition tape for “Naked and Afraid”. Think about that visual for just a few seconds.

But what you really need to know, is that Stephanie sleeps with Ranger. At the Contemporary Resort at Disney World. Twice. While wearing Tinkerbell underwear.

The last few Stephanie books have felt pretty formulaic, and they have been, but they’re still fun, and I’m still reading them. Plus, you know, Ranger. It’s hard to give him up.