Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #101: Broken Harbor by Tana French

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Well, I didn’t hit the double cannonball like I’d hoped, but I got close. My last book of the year was Tana French’s Broken Harbor, and like all of her (loosely-connected) thrillers, it rocked.

Broken Harbor features stars Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, who was featured in Faithful Place as well, though to a lesser degree. Scorcher is investigating the stabbing of a family in an unfinished subdivision in Ireland — the two children and their father were killed, the mother was left for dead. And some fairly creepy evidence was left behind.

What I like about French’s novels is that there as much about the detective(s) investigating as they are about the crime committed. Scorcher is a very interesting character, with a troubled family history including a rather loony sister. He’s training a new detective on this case, and his relationship with this man who is not really a partner affects the investigation in several ways.

The crime element is pretty good, too. Lots of twists and turns. And French is a very good writer, especially when it comes to dialogue. The Irish accents are practically audible.

I highly recommend French, especially The Likeness, which is still one of the twistiest things I’ve ever read.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #100: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

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This book is everything I love about Allie Brosh: she has the ability to make you laugh hysterically by telling you stories about her childhood, but she also connects well with what it means to be an adult.

In the first chapter of this book, she writes a letter to herself as a child, and includes this piece of advice: “To reiterate, no matter how much pepper you eat, it won’t undo the ludicrous amount of salt you ate before it.” Because as a child, she would eat salt. And pepper. And some more salt.

But she also shares some insight into how her brain works (or doesn’t), and I think a lot of that is easy to identify with. She puts the crazy that many of us  feel into pictures and words, and I for one kept thinking, oh yeah…I do that too. For instance, this: “Most people can motivate themselves to do things simply by knowing that those things need to be done. But not me. For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. If I win, I have to do something I don’t want to do. And if I lose, I’m one step closer to ruining my entire life. And I never know whether I’m going to win or lose until the last second.” That describes every interaction I’ve ever needed to make due to my finances, and my total lack of ability to motivate myself to make it.

The book itself is gorgeous–all of Brosh’s illustrations look wonderful and the pages are glossy and colorful. She did include some fan favs from the website, but it’s only about 1/3 of the content and she intersperses it nicely with new stuff. She’s a very talented writer and I certainly hope she follows up to this with another collection.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #98 & 99: Serenity: Those Left Behind and Serenity: Better Days (Serenity, #1-2) by Joss Whedon

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I’m not normally a graphic novel kind of girl, but a co-worker bought me the first two entries of Joss Whedon’s Serenity series, and I just loved them. They’re meant to bridge the gap between the end of the series and the Serenity movie, and they do a good job.

I don’t think that someone who’s never seen the show or the movie would enjoy these very much since there’s little to no set up for the characters and plotlines. They really read like episodes of the show. But I don’t think people who’ve never seen an episode of Firefly are my audience here. In Those Left Behind, Mal accepts a job from Badger, and of course it’s a set up. In Better Days, the crew finds a big pile of money, and of course everything goes wrong.

The illustrations are amazing. The best part though, is the dialogue. It’s spot-on. It would be very easy to imagine that Whedon simply had an illustrator take an episode of the show and turn it into a graphic novel. The characters ring perfectly true, and the jokes are as funny as those on the show. It’s a perfect taste of the series.

I’m not sure if it’s the case for every edition, but my copy of Those Left Behind also included gorgeous character illustrations every few pages. The end of the book has a brief set up of the Serenity universe (how the political system worked, the history behind the war, how everyone met) written by Whedon. It’s all stuff that could be gleaned from the show, but it’s fun to read Whedon’s little recap of it.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #97: Kind of Cruel (Spilling CID #7) by Sophie Hannah

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Oh, Sophie Hannah. You are so good at writing books that make me stay up way too late because I HAVE to know how they finish.

Here’s the set up for this one: Amber Hewerdine goes to see a hypnotherapist for her insomnia. Amber’s life is pretty stressful: her best friend recently died in an arson attack, and left Amber in charge of her two daughters. Plus Amber’s sister-in-law takes every opportunity to hurt her, while acting like a perfect angel to the rest of the family. And then there was that incident at Christmas a few years ago, when half the family disappeared for 24 hours without ever explaining why…

Amber is a much better narrator than in some of the other books; she’s confident and daring, even though she suspects that she’s going crazy. Of course, she’s got her secrets, too, from not only her family but the reading audience as well.

Like any book by Hannah (in my experience), the ending doesn’t *quite* live up to the rest of the book. But it’s still a fun read, trying to guess everyone’s secrets and how all the plotlines come together. Charlie & Simon haters will be happy that the book focuses mostly on Amber, and the two detectives are given an even smaller role than normal. I, for one, love those two lunatics and was pleased to see that some of their personal issues are not quite resolved, but worked through at least a little bit. Oh, and the Snowman is back! Yay!

 

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #96: Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

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“We have a racially based justice system that overpunishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.”

Ok, so I haven’t watched Orange is the New Black on Netflix yet. I know, I know — I will, ok? But I have read Piper Kerman’s memoir now, and found it very interesting and heartfelt (unlike the other white person goes to prison book I read this year  – Sanctuary of Outcasts, which kind of blew).

As many of y’all probably know, Kerman was sent to a woman’s prison to serve for 15 months as the result of a some drug trafficking that she participated in as a young woman. It’s been 10 years since she actually committed the crime, so she’s a wildly different person now, but of course that doesn’t matter to the prison system. She is sent to a minimum security prison called Danbury to serve her time with other female, non-violent offenders.

There are two main components to Kerman’s story, both of which I found compelling. First of all, she describes in detail what it was like to be in prison. The monotony of it, how the guards treat the prisoners and how your ability to get along can make or break you. It takes her some time, but she ends up bonding with some of the other prisoners, and some of the long-timers basically take her under their wing and show her the ropes. In time, she returns the favor to other newcomers.

The other main component of the book is Kerman describing just how fucked up our penal system is. It’s obvious the girl did her research. She also goes into the trial system, and insanely drawn out some of the cases can get. For instance, six years went by between when she was arrested for her crime and when she actually started her sentence. Six years waiting to find out what would happen to her. I’d go crazy.

Kerman is an articulate and funny writer. The stories she tells are great. But she also makes it clear that it was an incredibly trying experience, for herself and her family. Seeing what she learned from going through it all really impressed.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #95: I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron

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Nora Ephron’s follow up to I Feel Bad About My Neck is not quite as funny, but still a cute little memoir. I Feel Bad About My Neck seemed more personal, containing information about Ephron’s divorces and career. I Remember Nothing feels superficial in comparison, more of a list of observations about ageing — at least one mention of a “senior moment” than anything really revealing about her life.

Still, it is full of Nora Ephron’s writing, so it’s still enjoyable. She’s always sharp and witty. I loved this: “A while back, my friend Graydon Carter mentioned that he was opening a restaurant in New York. I cautioned him against this, because it’s my theory that owning a restaurant is the kind of universal fantasy everyone ought to grow out of, sooner rather than later, or else you will be stuck with the restaurant. There are many problems that come with owning a restaurant, not the least of which is that you have to eat there all the time. Giving up the fantasy that you want to own a restaurant is probably the last Piaget stage.”

In fact, if I’d read it first, I probably would have liked it more than I did. It just seems like maybe the first memoir was a success, so this one was quickly thrown together and published as well.

Side note: knowing that she is no longer with us did make some parts kind of sad. For instance, “You are suddenly in a lottery, the ultimate game of chance, and someday your luck will run out. Everybody dies. There’s nothing you can do about it. Whether or not you eat six almonds a day. Whether or not you believe in God.” Tear.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #94: The Other Woman’s House (Spilling CID #6) by Sophie Hannah

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Sophie Hannah’s books are republished in America under new titles, so The Other Woman’s House was originally published as Lasting Damage, which seems like a more appropriate title for this thriller.

I have read every one of Hannah’s Spilling CID novels, except for Kind of Cruel, which I’m starting now. Her books follow similar patterns, but never get dull. They’re typically narrated by middle aged women in shitty situations, often either unable to trust their spouse or hiding a secret themselves. There’s a common element of suffocating families and weak mothers. The narrators are always unreliable. In each novel, the crime is investigated by police officers Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse, two of the most frustrating individuals I’ve ever encountered in fiction. All of this sounds bad, but I love these damn books.

Hannah weaves convoluted stories which bend and twist and make the books impossible to put down. In The Other Woman’s House, the main character, Connie Bowskill, sees a dead body on a real estate website at 1am. By the time her husband enters the room, the body is gone. The reasons that she was on that website, looking at that house — all of that ties into the strange relationship she has with her husband. The identity of the woman does, too.

Hannah writes good thrillers with hard to guess endings. If you like that sort of thing, check this series out. Start at the beginning, though — Charlie and Simon are confusing enough even if you’ve known them all along.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #93: The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

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This had got to be one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of weird shit.

So, this guy named Pepper gets involuntarily committed into a psych ward. In this psych ward, along with a colorful cast of characters that are NOT your typical “loonies with a heart of gold” like you’d expect from such a story, there is also a man with the head of a bison that roams the halls and preys on the patients.

Seriously.

So the book is about the patients trying to take this bison-man out. It’s also about how fucked up mental healthcare is in this country, using this ward as an example. LaValle discusses how protocols are ignored, patients are overmedicated just to shut them up, and how even the nurses who care get broken down in the end. He also includes several real life cases of neglect or even intentional harm to patients in these kinds of facilities. There is also a several page long history about Vincent Van Gogh’s crazy ass.

These book is bizarre, but I kind of loved it. It was impossible to guess what was going to happen next. The pacing of it is really weird, too, in a way that reflects the mental state of Pepper and the other characters. Makes you feel a bit crazy as you read it. I’m looking forward to some of LaValle’s other books, one of which is apparently called Shadowboxing with Jesus.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #92: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, was wonderful. Of course, you already knew that, since it seems like every fifth review on Cannonball Read is for this book. It’s magical and scary and heartbreaking and everything good about Neil Gaiman.

I went into this book (actually, I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because Gaiman’s readings are always great) with almost no knowledge of its content. I knew it was a story about a man revisiting his childhood. Honestly, if you haven’t read it, I would recommend going into it blind like I did. Makes discovering the story so much better.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #91: The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

The Devil’s Arithmetic is pretty straight-forward. A girl named Hannah is complaining about the need to “remember” for Passover. At Seder, Hannah opens the door for Elijah, and finds herself transported into the body of a Jewish girl named Chaya in a shtetl the 1940s. Even with her foreknowledge of the events of the Holocaust, Hannah is powerless to stop soldiers and they collect her and her village and take them to a camp.

The majority of the book entails Hannah’s day to day activities in the camp, and her observance of the suffering of those around her. It’s hard to read, obviously, as all accounts of the Holocaust are. But it’s an important lesson, to Hannah and to the reader, about the importance of remembering such things so that history cannot repeat itself.

I guess this is a book a lot of people read in school, but I missed it somehow. Having read it as an adult, it’s still very effective and I can see how this would make a good novel for young adults to read during a course on the Holocaust. Watching the events from the perspective of a young girl would make them particularly disturbing to a young reader, I think.