Saturday, December 31, 2011

CR Review #52: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Every year after Thanksgiving, we pull out all of the Christmas DVDs we've accumulated over the years for the kids to watch. And we find that we have a good number of variations on A Christmas Carol -- Mickey Mouse, The Muppets, Looney Tunes (no, not recommended), and my personal favorite, Mister Magoo. This year, my 7 year-old (soon to be seen reviewing books for the CBR-IV!) had lots and lots of questions about Ebeneezer Scrooge while watching Mister Magoo work his way through Dickens' story. And I found that I didn't have lots of answers for her, as my Scrooge knowledge was completely based off of movies and cartoons, as I had never read the story. So I ran to my kindle and downloaded in post-haste, and am so glad I did.

By now, most of us know the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and his love of money and hatred for all things Christmas related, so it wasn't the story that was such a delight for me. What made me enjoy the story more than I expected was the writing and the language, plain and simple. The words and language used by Dickens were never less than enjoyable, and in some cases, worth reading over and over.

And now, I can answer my kids' questions...
Was Scrooge an orphan? No.
Why was he alone at school? Why didn't his parents pick him up? According to his sister, their father was just plain mean.
How many children did the Cratchits have? Well, I'm still not completely clear on this least 5...maybe more.
What was the deal with those people who stole Scrooge's bed curtains? They might as well have been graverobbers, they were so disgusting.
Did they really eat razzleberry dressing and woofle jelly cake? No, only in Mister Magoo's story.

Anyway, that's review #52 for me -- a full cannonball. So glad I did this and am looking forward to next year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

CR Review #51: Crossed by Ally Condie

Earlier this year, I read Matched, the first in a trilogy of books about a future society where marriage is arranged by "society" and in the instance of Cassia, who is matched with her life-long BFF Xander, a rare mistake is made in her match. Cassia is mistakenly matched with another boy she knows, Ky Markham, but the mistake is corrected and she is matched with Xander. Cassia should be happy, but of course instead, she falls in love with Ky. And at the end of the story (SPOILER), when Ky is taken away from Cassia by society and she decides to risk everything -- her family, her match with Xander, and her status as a citizen -- to find him.

I didn't love Matched, but didn't think it was a terrible story. I assumed I would feel the same way about Crossed, but boy, was I wrong. I could barely get to the end of Crossed, and really, could have cared less what happened to any of the characters (except for young Eli) by the end.

In Crossed, the narration alternates between Ky and Cassia. Every tedious chapter details how they are trying to survive, how much they love each other, and how hard they'll try to be together again. Ky's chapters also talk about how XANDER HAS A SECRET and how he doesn't trust the society rebels who call themselves THE RISING and are led by the mysterious PILOT. Cassia's chapters talk about how much she wants to be a part of THE RISING and can't wait to join them with Ky (who, according to Cassia's new friend, just might be the Pilot).

Its no surprise that Ky and Cassia and their rag-tag group of travelers meet up about halfway through the book, and then they talk and talk and talk and talk about THE RISING and whether or not they should try and join up with them. And Ky and Indie (Cassia's new friend) talk about XANDER'S SECRET.

By the time the end came along and they made their final decision regarding joining THE RISING, I had lost complete and total interest. Honestly, this book could have been condensed into about 10 pages of information about society and the rebels, and used as an introduction to the next book, and we would be no worse off.

I can't say I'll be picking up the next installment.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

CR Reviews #47 - 50: Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings and Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading Sloppy Firsts , the first of five books about Jessica Darling. I really enjoyed her humor and sarcasm, and her true-to-life friends and other acquaintances. I liked the doubt that Jessica had about herself, and the realistic high school scenarios painted by McCafferty. I immediately emailed my library and put the other four books on hold.

I just finished reading the remaining books (all in a row), and while none of them were as good as the first, and some were better than others, I'm glad that I stuck with it to find out what happens to Jessica (and, to a lesser extent, to Marcus and the rest of the characters).

Quick overviews, and of course, lots and lots of spoilers:

Second Helpings takes place in Jessica's senior year of high school. She's still pining for Marcus Flutie, but he doesn't seem to be reciprocating, so Jessica dates his best friend, Len. Handsome and smart, Len should be everything Jessica is looking for in a boyfriend, but he just isn't as interesting as Marcus, and he simply can't compare. After a while, Len tires of being "second best" and dumps Jessica (on Valentines Day, no less), leaving Jessica to wallow in her Marcus misery. However, all is righted when on prom night Marcus proves his love for Jessica, leaving us to hope that they live happily ever after. Other tidbits: Best friend Hope is still living in TN, neighbor Bridget is now dating Jessica's french buddy Percy, Jessica is led to apply to Columbia by her former crush Paul, and both Jessica and Marcus spend time with her grandmother Gladdie.

Charmed Thirds begins halfway through Jessica's freshman year at Columbia. Struggling to keep a long-distance relationship with Marcus going while she is in NYC and he is in CA (attending a buddhist college of some sort), Jessica begins to doubt whether she and Marcus should be together. They eventually break up (or do they? she doesn't really know) and she begins to date classmate Kieran (when she should definitely know better). Jessica graduates a semester early, and when she is about to embark on a road trip with best friend Hope, Marcus pops back into her life, ready to start over.

In Fourth Comings, Jessica and Hope are living in Brooklyn while Marcus is about to start his freshman year at Princeton. Jessica doesn't want to be the girlfriend of a college freshman and decides to break up with him, but Marcus thinks that instead of breaking up they should get married. He gives her a week to think about it, and in that week she writes and writes about their lives and relationships, trying to make the right decision for their future. My least favorite of the books, as the insecurities and doubts that Jessica has that once made her seem so charming now make her seem selfish and a bit annoying.

Lastly, in Perfect Fifths, Jessica and Marcus randomly run into each other after years apart. They spend 24 hours together and talk about what happened between them and how things went wrong. Almost written entirely in dialogue, I enjoyed this one for the most part, but did miss the interactions with the supporting characters. However, the introduction of supporting character Mr Barry Manilow almost made up for the lack of others in this one. Nicely tied up all the loose ends for most of the characters in the five books and once again made the characters likeable for me.

In short: while these four books don't live up to the standards of the first, the second and fifth almost make up for the weaknesses of the third and fourth. Definitely worth reading if you like your main characters filled with snark (although, sometimes too much snark) and you like Barry Manilow and 80s references.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CR Review #45 & 46: Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Sloppy Firsts

I'm slowly finishing up the reviews of the books I had piled up over the past few months. And while I don't think I'm going to make it to a full Cannonball of 52 books, I outdid the original half-Cannonball that I pledged, so I feel good about things.

I recently read two great stories (both considered YA, but really, they could relate to anyone), both with two strong female characters: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King and Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty.

Vera Dietz is a high school senior who also works a full-time job as a pizza delivery driver. She lives with her dad (her mom left them years before) and is still grieving the death of her best friend Charlie, who died earlier that year. Before Charlie's death, they had severed ties and he had gone to make new, questionable friends and do things that were out of character.

Only Vera knows the truth about what happened the night that Charlie died, but Vera is not ready emotionally to talk about it to anyone -- her father, the police, etc. And until then, she is constantly haunted by thousands of images of Charlie, which scares her but also gives her a bit of comfort.

I really liked Vera as a character -- she was smart and funny and full of delicious sarcasm -- and I could barely put the book down.

I also really enjoyed Sloppy Firsts, the story of Jessica Darling. Jessica starts the story as a high school junior, upset that her best friend Hope has recently moved away due to the horrible death of her brother. Jessica feels alone -- she doesn't really like her friends, she doesn't think her parents like her, she isn't interested in Scotty (the boy who likes her). It isn't until she meets Marcus, the school stoner and notorious ladies man, that she seems to feel anything at all.

I saw that there are 4 more Jessica Darling books and can't wait to tear through them. This was entertaining and breezy, but still filled with funny and realistic scenarios from high school (of course her high school crush turned out to be gay -- didn't everyone's?).

Definitely recommend both books.

Weekend Away

Home from an extended weekend in Boston -- the first time all five of us have flown at the same time. Not as bad as I had feared, our kids knew what to do and how to behave, which was a relief. The other kids on the plane, well, that's another story. One kid on there was the absolute worst behaved I have seen in a while, and his mother was clearly to blame. I try not to point fingers in cases like this, but there was no doubt that the mother was at times ignoring and at other time encouraging his behavior. Screamed for the whole flight at 7am on a Saturday morning. Not a great way to start the weekend.

And then B and I both came down with strep throat, which we didn't get diagnosed until we landed on Monday. I felt so bad for her, she tried so hard to have a good time with uncle Doug :(. Here's hoping the rest of the family escapes the wicked strep!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

CR Review #42 - 44: Blood Wounds, Before I Go To Sleep, Austenland

#42 Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

A few years ago, I came upon the Life As We Knew It trilogy of books by Pfeffer -- the story of what happens in various parts of the country when the Moon is suddenly thrown off course and comes much closer to earth. I thought the first book was great (seriously, how is this not a movie?), the second book was interesting, and the third book was actually pretty “meh”. Still, I went into Blood Wounds optimistically, hoping for the best. Too bad.

Blood Wounds tells the story of Willa, who lives with her mom, perfect step-father, and spoiled, over-achieving step-sisters. One day she finds out that her estranged father has murdered his wife and the three daughters that Willa knew nothing about, and that he was potentially on his way for Willa and her mom.

The story starts out well enough, but really, ends up being about how terrible it is to repress your feelings. Willa is a cutter BECAUSE SHE CAN’T TALK TO ANYONE ABOUT ANYTHING. Ugh.

Not recommended, especially if you liked the “Moon” trilogy.

#43 Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

I had heard a lot about this book before I got it from the library waiting list. I keep seeing it pop up on Top-10 lists for 2011 and was quite excited about it.

Before I Go To Sleep tells the story of Christine, a woman with absolutely no memory of anything that has happened to her in the past 20 years. She wakes up every day as a “blank slate” -- she doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t know who is lying in bed next to her, she doesn’t understand why the reflection in the mirror is of a woman who is in her late 40s.

And every day, Christine’s husband must explain to her that she was in a terrible accident that caused her to lose her memory.

At the urging of her therapist, Christine begins to keep a journal, to help her put her day-to-day life in order. And as she writes -- and reads over what she has previously written -- she finds herself starting to piece her life story together, realizing that many secrets are being kept from her and many lies being told to her.

The book and the mysteries within start off strong -- but I found that by the end I was really disinterested. I was really hoping the book would be as mysterious and exciting as Memento (the only other amnesia mystery I can think of), but it didn’t quite pull it off.

#44 Austenland by Shannon Hale
Jane Hayes is a 30-something New Yorker who finds that no man in her life can compare with Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy. Her wealthy great aunt thinks Jane needs to get over her obsession and sends her on a three week vacation to Pembrook Park -- a British estate where guests (along with hired actors) must dress and act as if they are in Jane Austen’s era.

If you can get past the absolute ridiculous plot set up, the book isn’t terrible. I knew exactly what would happen to Jane at the end of her three weeks, but it was a fluffy and enjoyable story that was written fairly well. Not literature at all, but a nice way to pass the time for less than $3 on Kindle.