alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 56: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

 

This is the third and final installment of the Divergent trilogy, and since it will be difficult to speak another word, including giving any summary, without tremendous spoilers for the first two in the series, the rest of this review will go behind a cut.

Continue reading

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 55: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Goodreads summary: “1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.”

I am so grossly behind on reviews that it hurts. Ah, post-Cannonball lethargy! Anyway, this was a very good story: bittersweet with poignant glimpses into close family relationships strained by death, jealousy, prejudice, and alienation. June, the protagonist, feels lost in the world following the death of her uncle. She’s born very much from the Loner Girl mold, an introvert who sees herself as irredeemably weird but who nonetheless manages to get along with people around her (and even attract attention from boys) when she puts the effort in. The relationship between her and her older sister – two girls feeling a chasm between them, trying to bridge it but not trying too hard for fear of getting hurt — was heartbreaking and felt all too real. This and other fragmented relationships in the novel were just a few of several reasons why this book felt very painful to read at times.

I was alive but not really cognizant of the emergence of HIV/AIDS (the epidemic central to the foundation of the novel,) but I have long been curious about both the pathology of the virus and about the curious intersection of paranoia and bigotry that made AIDS such a controversial, willfully misunderstood disease. Reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home didn’t, therefore, stir up any painful memories for me, but it did offer a really powerful and unflinching look at how those living with AIDS, and even those who died of the disease, like Finn, were demonized rather than comforted and loved.

Anyway, I read this over a month ago, so I have forgotten a lot of the details I might otherwise mention in a review, but I can say for certain that I really liked the book and would definitely recommend it.

reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #36 I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

If you’re a certain age, birthdays are always days of mixed emotions. Personally, I find it annoying that people often say “consider the alternative.” Sure we’d all rather be alive than dead, assuming that we’re not in severe physical or mental pain. Nevertheless, those words are hardly comforting. Ephron sums it up pretty well:  “There are all sorts of books written for older women. They are, as far as I can tell, uniformly upbeat and full of bromides and homilies about how pleasant life ca be once one is free from all the nagging obligations of children, monthly periods and . . full-time jobs.  . . . Why do people write books that say it’s better to be older than to be younger? It’s not better.”

Fortunately, Ephron was funnier than most folks, so this short little gem covers a lot of middle-late age ground with good humor. It is also a short autobiography in which she covers a number of chapters in her life: interning at the White House, becoming a writer, marriages and parenting and renting in New York. In addition, she covers the challenges of wrinkling skin, bad hair, poor economic decisions, parental advice that was all wrong, the pleasure of a good book, and yes, the frustration of being a certain age when friends are more likely to be passing away than getting married. My favorite chapter was titled “My Life in 3,500 Words or Less.”

Aging takes courage, aging requires humor, it’s not for sissies and Ephron was no sissy. She was a great observer of life. Ephron also recognized the little things that can drive you nuts.  For example this: “Reading is bliss. But my ability to pick something up and read it — which has gone unchecked all my life up until now — is now entirely dependent on the whereabouts of my reading glasses.” Amen to that.

Scootsa1000′s #CBR5 Review 48: Wonder by RJ Palacio

Unknown-1Until two days ago, I had a list that looked like this:

Persuasion. How Green Was My Valley. The Fault in Our Stars. Cold Mountain. The first half of A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

And then I read Wonder. And I’m inserting it right in between How Green Was My Valley and The Fault in Our Stars.

This is a list of books that made me cry. And yes, I cried more while reading Wonder than I did while reading TFIOS.

Wonder is a gem of a story about a boy named August Pullman who is 10 years old and going in to the 5th grade. Auggie has never been to a real school before, but has been homeschooled his entire life by his mother. And now his parents think it might be time for him to go out and be with other kids and learn all that he can. Auggie isn’t too excited about this plan. In fact, when he hears his father use the phrase “like a lamb to the slaughter…”, he’s even less enthused.

You see, Auggie isn’t like other kids. He was born with multiple chromosomal abnormalities, all affecting his face. He never once describes the extent of his facial problems, but throughout the book there are plenty of hints. He lets us know that his face is enough to make other children scream on the playground, and to cause people of all ages to be rude and unpleasant. But he and his family handle his situation with love and wit and grace, and its beautiful.

When Auggie gets to his new school, he learns how hard it is, not only to be the new kid at school, but to be the new kid that NOBODY wants to be friends with. The kid that the other kids are afraid to be near, afraid to touch. But a few kids do step up and show Auggie kindness, and soon realize that Auggie is a wonderful friend and someone worth knowing.

The story is told in alternating narratives — Auggie, his sister Via, Auggie’s new friends Summer and Jack, Via’s boyfriend, and Via’s former best friend. Its very well written — and very interesting to see the same situation presented from these different perspectives.

This is considered to be a children’s book. In fact, Bunnybean is reading it right now. But I think this is one of the rare books that really can’t be categorized. Its for everyone, all ages. I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t gain from reading it. Its simply beautiful.

And yes, you’ll cry when you read it. But the tears aren’t as soul crushing as those from reading TFIOS. While I did shed some tears of sadness during the story, mostly my crying came from a place of happiness and pride that sometimes people (and specifically, children) are amazing.

 You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #16: Inherit the Dead, edited by Jonathan Santlofer

Twenty best-selling mystery authors have teamed up to write a new novel, Inherit the Dead. Similar to 2011′s No Rest for the Deadeach author writes a chapter to tell a modern noir tale that centers around private investigator Pericles “Perry” Christo. Author Linda Fairstein, who contributes the afterword, approached Jonathan Santlofer to edit a novel that would bring together some of the most well-known crime authors to not just create an original mystery, but a book that would benefit the victim assistance charity Safe Horizon.

Santofler not only edited the book, but starts things off with the first chapter, which introduces former cop Christo, who has been hired by the ultra-rich Upper East Side society matron Julia Drusilla to find her estranged daughter Angel. The more Christo finds out about the enigmatic yet lovely Angel the more confused he gets. The girl is set to inherit part of a large fortune in a few days on her twenty-first birthday — if she shows up to sign some paperwork. But nothing quite adds up in the case. Her cold-as-ice mother would benefit financially if her daughter stayed gone. Her father seems distracted and unworried about her disappearance, even when her car shows up, abandoned. Her sometime boyfriend has already moved on to many other ladies. Christo finds himself bouncing back and forth between wintry New York City neighborhoods and the rich enclave of the Hamptons, as well drawing parallels to his own complicated past as he searches for the truth, and tries to find Angel — alive.

Lee Child writes the forward to the novel. The other participating authors include: Stephen L. Carter,  Marcia Clark, Heather Graham, Charlaine Harris, Sarah Weinman, Bryan Gruley, Alafair Burke, John Connolly, James Grady, Ken Bruen, Lisa Unger, S.J. Rozan, Dana Stabenow, Val McDermid, Mary Higgins Clark, C.J. Box, Max Allan Collins, Mark Billingham, and Lawrence Block, who gets to tie up all the loose ends in the final chapter.

The authors, for the most part, all manage to propel the story forward, and Inherit the Dead is a fun, fast read. There’s more than a bit of repetition, as each writer seems especially attracted to Christo’s habit of self-criticism, most notably in regard to the fall from grace that led to his dismissal from the force, and his regret at not getting to spend enough time with his daughter after his divorce. His domestic issues are a good parallel to the family drama he is investigating, but they are also all too familiar territory in the hardboiled detective genre. While so many different voices may not offer the reader too in-depth a take on any of the characters, they do sketch out a cohesive mystery. Seasoned mystery fans may not be quite as baffled by a last-minute vital clue that has Christo stumped, but they will likely enjoy joining him on his journey to finally figuring things out.

Originally published on Blogcritics: Book Review: ‘Inherit the Dead’ by Various Authors, Edited by Jonathan Santlofer

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #15: George Cukor: A Double Life, by Patrick McGilligan

The University of Minnesota Press has recently re-released George Cukor: A Double Life, by Patrick McGilligan. Originally published in 1991, the book became known for its “outing” of the Hollywood director, the first biography to write about his “double life.”

Meticulously researched, George Cukor: A Double Life spends equal time investigating what went into the making of his films as it also tries to go behind the facade of Cukor’s Hollywood homosexual life. McGilligan manages to portray Cukor as a well-rounded man, but one wonders what the director, who tried so hard to keep his open secret under wraps would think about his “tricks” being discussed alongside his A-list friendships with such movie stars and celebrities as Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Somerset Maugham, and Vivien Leigh. Cukor would never have mixed the two groups in his life. In fact he went out of his way to keep his public and private lives very separate.

While it may have seemed revealing when first published, McGilligan tends to be a bit repetitive when discussing Cukor’s homosexuality, constantly emphasizing that the director liked a certain type of “rough trade.” He does draw a good picture of Cukor’s fabulous Hollywood home, which became a home-away-from home on Sundays to “the chief unit,” a group of Hollywood gay men who could relax and enjoy each other’s company. Cukor reportedly formed few close relationships, sexual or otherwise. He preferred to keep things light. Even life-long friend Katharine Hepburn, who he championed when her career was labelled box-office poison, directed in ten films, and who lived for many years in a guest house on his estate, was kept at a distance when it came to his personal, sexual, life.

The most controversial anecdote in the book, and perhaps the most impactful in Cukor’s Hollywood life is the detailing of how he lost his job as director on the epicGone With the Wind. There are most likely many reasons, including Cukor’s tendency to shoot many takes and spend lavishly on sets and costumes, but certainly the most significant, and most hurtful to Cukor was how his leading man, Clark Gable, felt about him.

“Everyone was dumbfounded. Because whatever else he was, Gable was an absolute professional. Somebody asked, ‘What’s the matter with you today?’ And suddenly, Gable exploded. ‘I can’t go on with this picture! I won’t be directed by a fairy! I have to work with a real man!’

With Clark Gable on the set of Gone With the Wind

With Clark Gable on the set of Gone With the Wind

The bigoted Gable was the King of Hollywood, but most likely he was mostly concerned that Cukor was spending most of his time showcasing Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland’s performances in the film, to his detriment. Cukor didn’t find any support from long-time friend and producer David O. Selznick.

“I think the biggest black mark against our management to date is the Cukor situation and we can no longer be sentimental about it. We are a business concern and not patrons of the arts.”

Gone With the Wind wasn’t the only film that Cukor was dismissed on as director, but it was the one that he and Hollywood never forgot.

As comprehensive as his behind-the-scenes detailing of Cukor’s many films (and film ideas that never came to fruition), McGilligan is not much of a film critic. He completely dismisses Cukor’s classic The Women in just a few negative paragraphs, while dwelling on the merits of lesser efforts like The Chapman Report and The Blue Bird. He does help bring Cukor’s early days to life and his youth in New York City. Cukor was able to turn a love of going to the theater into a career, first by directing summer stock shows in the 1920s in Rochester, N.Y. and later on Broadway, to joining the talkies revolution and heading out to Hollywood in 1929, first as a dialogue coach, and later as a director.

Once Cukor left New York he never really looked back. He loved living in Hollywood and was an enthusiastic product of the studio system. He worked with all of the great producers, including David O. Selznick and Irving Thalberg. Cukor was dubbed “the women’s director,” which some came to take as a euphemism for homosexuality. But Cukor truly was interested in actors, and helped direct many Academy Award-winning performances, including Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, Ronald Colman in A Double Life, Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.

With Greta Gable on the set of Camille

With Greta Gable on the set of Camille

Cukor was definitely the recipient of homophobic attitudes, but seemed to not hold any grudges. He was especially appreciative of films by the “macho” director John Ford. In his own films he tended to showcase stereotypical homosexual characters. It’s hard to determine whether this approach was some inner self-loathing or an attempt to “fit in.” Cukor had every reason to try to keep his sex life secret. MGM helpeddismiss a morals charge (when Cukor and interior designer friend Bill Haines were involved in a bar fight) and Cukor was apparently very concerned to never breach any moral turpitude clause in his contract.

Hollywood seemed more than a little aware of Cukor’s sexuality. Producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz could be both dismissive and insightful on the topic,

“In a way, George Cukor was the first great female director of Hollywood. … A woman could come on his set and be absolutely safe. … With the other directors, there was always that moment, Is he going to make a pass at me?”

As good a director of actors as Cukor was, he never seemed to be too interested in the camera, preferring to stage a scene and perfect a particular piece of dialogue or bit of business for an actor. His cameramen were more responsible for a shot’s composition — something that seems anathema in our concept of how Hollywood directors/auteurs should work.

What really comes through in George Cukor: A Double Life is the sheer amount of wonderful and eclectic films that were directed by Cukor. He definitely had a flair for comedy, as evidenced by  Dinner at Eight (1933) and two films with Judy Holiday, Born Yesterday (1950 ) and It Should Happen to You (1954). Although not particularly interested in musicals (he would usually have the dance numbers staged by someone else, like choreographer Jack Cole), he directed quite a few: A Star Is Born (1954), Les Girls (1957), and My Fair Lady (1964). He even directed two films with Marilyn Monroe,Let’s Make Love (1960) and her last film, the unfinished Something’s Got to Give(1962).

With Marilyn Monroe on the set of Something's Got to Give

With Marilyn Monroe on the set of Something’s Got to Give

George Cukor: A Double Life more than anything makes one want to hold their own mini Cukor film festival. So many of his films are Hollywood classics, and film buffs could program a few movie marathons, depending on where they would like to focus. The films he made with Tracy and Hepburn? Try Keeper of the Flame (1942), Adam’s Rib (1949), and Pat and Mike (1952). The five that were written by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon? How about A Double Life (1947), Adam’s RibPat and MikeThe Marrying Kind (1952), and It Should Happen to You. Or maybe check out some of the films that helped give him the reputation as a “women’s director.” Camille, with Greta Garbo (1936); Susan and God, with Joan Crawford (1940); GaslightTravels with My Aunt(1972), with Maggie Smith; or Rich And Famous (1981), with Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset. No matter what the choice, it will be impossible not to think of George Cukor reading those scripts and working out the costumes for his actors after one of his lavish Sunday night parties.

Originally published as Book Review: ‘George Cukor: A Double Life’ by Patrick McGilligan

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #14: D’Aulaire’s Norse Gods & Giants

I grew up with D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Mythsa wonderful book full of fabulous interpretations of the wild lives of the gods, complete with illustrations by the talented husband and wife children’s book team, Ingri and Parin D’Aulaire. I spent hours reading and re-reading these stories, trying to draw Aphrodite, Dionysus and the other gods and goddesses that the D’Aulaires portrayed in their distinctive lithographs.

I remember seeing their book on the Norse Gods when I was a kid. I must have taken it out of the library, but I frankly don’t remember it at all. When I was with the kid at the library the other day and saw D’Aulaire’s Norse Gods & Giants (reprinted recently as D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths) again I grabbed it, figuring it would be like my favorite Greek myth book. Well, sorta. The illustrations are as wonderful as one would expect. But the stories — they are so very, very different from the Greek myths. The Norse pantheon, although it shares a superficial resemblance to the Greeks, with creation stories and Odin as the head of the gods, is full of very distinct and different personalities from Zeus and his brother and sister gods and goddesses.

Untitled

Battling a frost giant

Untitled

Ygdrassil

Untitled

Loki plans his next trick

The D’Aulaires seem to be having a great time telling stories about the world of the Norse gods, including the world tree, Ygdrassil, Valhalla, and the gods’ ultimate destiny, Ragnarokk. Fans of comic books and recent superhero moves will recognize some of the main players — Odin the all father, hammer-wielding Thor, the god of thunder, and the shape shifting trickster, Loki, as well as the lovely Freya and the Valkyrie. The D’Aulaires’ books are geared towards children, but their retelling of these classic stories are dense and layered and could be equally enjoyed by adults. I’m glad I got a chance to find this book again.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

sonk’s #CBR5 Review #56: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

This book is a really good example of how important a novel’s title is. I barely knew anything about this book before I started reading it, other than the fact that it was supposed to be good, but the title totally sold me on it. Authors, take note! A creative and unique title will always grab my attention. As for the book itself, although it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its excellent title, it’s pretty great.

Thea Atwell is a Floridian girl growing up during the Depression. We meet her as she’s on her way to the eponymous camp/school, a place for young women of means to learn how to be well-rounded ladies. The reason for her departure from her family is, at first, unknown; all that is revealed is that she did something bad, so bad that her parents can’t look her in the eye and her twin brother, Sam, won’t speak to her. As Thea’s past is revealed through flashbacks to her old life, she discovers her new world, one of horseback riding, schoolgirl crushes, and the complexities of teenage girls.

Read the rest of my review here.

Scootsa1000′s #CBR5 Review 47: How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

UnknownI can’t tell you how much I really didn’t want to read this book. When the book club said it was the November YA selection, and I read the blurb on Amazon, I was less than enthused.

“New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet loner who hasn’t made a new friend since third grade. Something about him, though, gets to Bea, and soon they form an unexpected friendship. It’s not romance, exactly – but it’s definitely love. Still, Bea can’t quite dispel Jonah’s gloom and doom – and as she finds out his family history, she understands why. Can Bea help Jonah? Or is he destined to vanish?”

Really? Blah.

But then I opened it up, and by page 2, I was all in.

There’s way more to the story than two awkward outcasts finding each other. We have some family drama and trauma on both sides. We have a wacky group of tertiary characters (friends made by listening to a crazy late-night radio show), and the usual private high school crowd (popular, rich kids who have known each other for years).

Bea’s dad is a professor, and they move from college to college until they finally get to Johns Hopkins, and she’ll spend her senior year in Baltimore. Of course, being the new kid in school is hard, so Bea has started to shut herself off emotionally — and her mother feels she’s turning into a robot. Bea meets Jonah (Ghost Boy), another school outcast, and they become quick friends.

Bea is never quite sure if they are just best friends, or if there is something more to their relationship, but I was glad that a romance never developed between the two. Its nice to read a friendship between a boy and a girl that’s simply just a friendship.

I have to admit, I was frequently annoyed by Jonah’s dramatic behavior. However, I can’t even begin to imagine experiencing the emotional roller coaster ride he takes during the course of the story. And I could have done without Bea’s mom’s “quirks”. But other than that, it was a quick, enjoyable read.

Sorry that this is shorter than I might like. I’m way behind on reviews and really trying to finish up my 52 books before I get bogged down in holiday stuff!

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #35 Just one Look by Harlan Coben

This “thriller” got passed around amongst the readers on our trip. It truly is a page turner, three of us read it lickety split. Grace is an artist and mother of two working from home.  She’s still using film rather than a digital camera which sets up the plot.  She picks up a package of prints and out pops a photo that is about 20 years old. In the photo she sees her husband Jack and three other people, one woman has been x’d out. Oh oh. Jack disappears shortly thereafter, there’s a vicious North Korean assassin, a benevolent mob guy, and a questionable US Assistant Attorney.

While this was a page turner, the resolution of the various mysteries wasn’t the most satisfying. The last chapters provide the missing information that tie up all the loose threads. The problem is that the underlying “crime” seems rather trivial for all the havoc it causes 20 years later. Oh well. Read this in airports, on a train or a plane.