Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #19: Joyland by Stephen King

20130612-154122.jpgJoyland by Stephen King is a departure from his usual fare. It’s published as Hard Case Crime novel and is a sort of murder mystery with a side of ghost story thrown in. I loved it. I lost myself in this book and the clearly, cleverly painted world of the carnies with their colorful language and rickety rides. The story is about Devin, who during college gets a summer job at Joyland amusement park, where there’s an old legend about a girl who was murdered on one of the rides. He’s told she still haunts the place and has reason to believe that’s the case, minus ever getting any visual confirmation. He sets out to determine who it was that killed her all those years ago and along the road, meets lifelong friends and changes the life of one special kid.

For a murder mystery, it was a damn touching one. For a Stephen King book, this isn’t surprising. Any true SK fan knows how much heart exists in his books, how much soul. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this format. I’m not much of a mystery buff, but he nailed it. The ghost story was compelling and the personal stories were real and hopeful and heartbreaking all at once. I truly didn’t want to put this book down. It was an easy read, not one of SK’s heftier tales, and went by in a flash.

Given how successful this mystery outing was, I’d hope that he would tackle more Hard Case Crime novels in the future. It’s a good genre for him and he even nailed the ending. So many people talk about SK and his endings, but this one wrapped right up with all the tees crossed and the I’s dotted. Doesn’t mean it ended happily, mind you, but it ended soundly. Some of my favorite work from him are the ones that deviate from his norm – The Eyes of the Dragon (fantasy) and Joyland’s meandering mystery one summer in the life of Devin Jones.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #18: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

20130605-162825.jpgSomeday, Someday, Maybe is the debut novel by actress Lauren Graham. Gilmore Girls has always been one of my most beloved shows, so when I heard she was publishing a novel, I jumped at the chance to read it. It only just came out, but I devoured it in a few short days. I was immediately drawn into the world of Franny Banks, an aspiring actress in New York City who is struggling with the realities of auditions and waitressing and all the ups and downs that happen before you “make it” in show business.

Franny is a compelling character in both her realism and the fact that her dialogue and inner thoughts are reminiscent of Lorelai Gilmore. I’m not sure if that was on purpose or if there was more of Lauren in Lorelai than perhaps I realized. I don’t know too much about her outside of that show and this book (other than that she’s on Parenthood now, which I have never seen, and that she dates Peter Krause), but Lorelai’s spirit came shining through in Franny. She’s tough, but fragile and quick-witted but self-deprecating. She’s so very REAL. I kept thinking this is what it would be like if I tried to make it in NYC, except I’d be even less graceful. But it’s that relatability that drew me in and kept me turning the page. I felt protective of Franny and needed to see her succeed.

I cheered her on at her auditions and silently scolded her when she fell for the James Franco-esque actor from her acting class. Speaking of which, there was so much going on in the book that made me wonder what was real and what was based on specific incidents in Lauren’s past. Like did she really fall on her butt during a performance? Was James Franklin based on a real actor (the book takes place before Franco’s time or I’d swear it was him)? The time setting (1995) also made me think it could be a personal story for Lauren, but you never can be sure. I know writers don’t like you to insinuate that their fictions are realities, but it’s not like Joe Hill writing about a Treehouse of the Mind. It’s based on a young woman trying to get an acting break, which one has to assume Lauren once was, and in probably that same era.

The friends and supporting characters come and go with a few notable standouts. She’s got a solid rock of a best friend, but Jane doesn’t get a lot of screen time other than being supportive of Franny. Which is important, but she’d definitely be the sassy best friend in the movie.

The book sort of reads like a movie, but I like that. It was simplistic and elegant at the same time. I also applaud the decision to publish the filofax pages between chapters. Sometimes those little snippets into her scheduling diary offered genuine insight into her world without her having to spell everything out. It was a really neat touch and I looked forward to scanning all of the chicken scratch writing for little clues.

I really enjoyed this book. I’m so glad I read it. I wish it hadn’t ended so quickly as I could’ve kept going, because Franny’s journey was far from over. She was just getting started in so many ways. But maybe it is just the beginning after all and we’ll meet Franny again someday. Someday, maybe.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #17: The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah

The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah was a lovely story about a woman whose desire for a child consumes her, but she ends up on an unexpected journey where she finds that it wasn’t a baby that was her answer after all. It’s very much a Kristin Hannah book – I enjoyed the characters and the story and the world of West End, painted so beautifully in the book. I could picture it and I found myself longing for just such a place in my own life.

I didn’t entirely relate with Angie’s situation – her overwhelming need for a child essentially destroys her marriage and consumes her entire life. She resigns herself to the fact that she won’t ever be a mother and finally starts to build a new life after she returns home to West End, a picturesque coastal town north of Seattle. She is able to throw her passion into helping her family rebuild their restaurant while also rebuilding herself.

Lauren, a smart, determined girl whose own mother is abusively neglectful and notorious in town for her drinking and partying, ends up in Angie’s life and it’s almost like fate brought them together. They needed each other.

But it’s never as simple as a woman who wants a child and a child who wants a mother coming together. That would be too easy. They endure a lot, go through their own heartbreaks and come out the other side solid and strong in their love for each other. It’s quite a journey and one I was happy to travel on with them.

Kristin Hannah books aren’t important works of art. They’re small in the scheme of things, but enjoyable. They fit nicely in that place between romance novels (romance novels might be on the bottom rung but I still enjoy them) and Important Books, a place that is such a good escape once in a while. I cried along with the characters in all the right places and my heart was full at the end. This book isn’t necessarily important and it didn’t change my life (I’m looking at you, John Green), but I just plain liked it. I hadn’t read one of her books in several years and this reminded me why I had more of hers in the queue.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #16: N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

20130514-133742.jpgN0S4A2 is the third novel by author Joe Hill, and it is the best novel by Joe Hill. I thought his first novel was my favorite til I read his second. Then that one was my favorite. Now this one is my favorite. But they’ve all been awesome and he was already cemented as one of my favorite authors before this book even came out.

It’s his most ambitious work to-date as far as size and scope of the story. It’s over 600 pages, but since I couldn’t put it down, it took me only a few days to read. It’s an action-packed ride from start to finish and so much is packed in to the 600 pages, but it never feels overwhelming or too busy. It feels just right.

I thought it was a straight up vampire novel based on the title, but the further in I got the more I realized what a short sell that is for what’s actually happening. It’s so much more than that. The main big bad is a vampire of sorts, but the story isn’t really even about him. It’s about Vic – a lost but determined woman who gets put into impossible situations and finds herself fighting for her life and for her son’s life. She’s a very strong female lead character and one I didn’t actually like all that much for a good portion of the book. But I think that’s because she was so real. Hill wrote her as a real, flawed, imperfect person and she is fully realized in this novel. The depth of this character is astounding.

The supporting cast are also well-written and defined, even if they get so much less screen time than Vic. Lou, Vic’s former lover and father of her child, is my favorite hands down. He’s a large man with an even larger heart, and he’s a geek. So I was tickled pink to stumble across his Browncoats references and various other fun insider bits. I love that we live in a world with such great pop culture easter eggs. I also love that Hill is also a Whedon fan (even if he admits to never having watched Buffy). It was sort of this perfect little bridge of my worlds – my TV/movie geekdom and my bookworminess were so excited at Lou’s world. But that stuff aside, Lou was just somebody I wanted to hang out with, on top of which he was also the big sweetheart of the story and I really just wanted to give him a hug and tell him it’d be ok.

I don’t want to get into plot so much because I went in fairly blind (with my misassumption about the vampire thing) and I loved that I had no idea where it was going or what would happen when I turned the page. It’s more fun that way. It’s a unique story unlike anything I’ve read before, but so was Horns and so was Heart-Shaped Box. Hill has a penchant for thinking outside the box when it comes to his stories and he has the talent to put his ideas on paper with a grace that is absolutely stunning to behold. I was sad when I finished it because I was done living in his head for the time being, until he comes out with his next greatest novel ever.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #15: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

20130514-133021.jpgThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green – where do I even begin? I was on chapter 3 of this book when I picked it up to read last night and I didn’t stop until it was finished. There was no power in the verse that could’ve gotten me to stop reading this book. But it’s not that it was a pageturner or that I couldn’t wait to find out what happens next. It wasn’t like that. I simply left this plane and went to another one where Hazel and Augustus were living their story. It wasn’t a choice I made. I was just somewhere else for a while and I couldn’t come home yet. Because that’s how this book makes you feel – you’re both lost and found at the same time in a different universe where two of the smartest and most interesting people you’ve ever encountered in fiction or real life are both so young and so tragically doomed. How is that fair?

John Green has written what is one of the most beautiful and witty books I’ve ever read. The dialogue alone is outstanding and extremely quotable. But the heart at the center of this book is what makes it impossible. So much heart. At its core, it’s a love story – a love story between Hazel and Augustus, a love story about the relationship Hazel has with her mother, a love story about the friendship between Isaac and Augustus… There are so many real relationships in this story.

Hazel’s cancer could easily overwhelm the book but she makes sure that doesn’t happen. She doesn’t want cancer to define her and she ensures that the colors of her universe are so much brighter than that. One of my favorite parts (one of many) was when she and Augustus drink champagne and the waiter tells the story of the monks who first created it and how they said they were tasting stars. It felt so right that these two would end up in a restaurant with a waiter who would tell that story, then continue calling the champagne “stars” for the rest of the evening. It’s the sort of magic that follows Hazel when she’s with Augustus.

Her love of the book that provides the basis for a lot of the plot is gorgeous as well. I think there is such a small faction of people in this world who can feel that level of something for a work of fiction and then to have someone like Gus come along and not only enjoy it, but fully understand what it means to her and how important it actually is. That resonated with me on a personal level that was staggering as I often find that the things I am most passionate about, I am also incredibly lonely in. I envied Hazel her Gus because he so perfectly understood this basic, fundamental part of who she is.

This was my first John Green novel. His writing style was like poetry to me. I’m extremely curious to read more of his work to see if the poetry was his or if it belonged to Hazel and Gus, if that voice was his own style, or the characters themselves. It’s hard to say sometimes.

I spent about the last 1/3 of this book in tears, reading through a haze of pain and sadness that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I felt this book at my core and as much as I love stories, it’s so rare for one to touch me quite this deeply. To give this book five stars is almost to diminish its impact on my soul. I want to read it again and again and just keep both Hazel and Gus in my life as frequently as possible. I need people like them – smart, soulful, beautiful.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal.”

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #14: Red Rain by RL Stine

Red_RainRed Rain by RL Stine is one of the author’s few adult novels. I do so wish he’d write more. I grew up on the Fear Street series and always loved those books. I devoured them religiously. (Goosebumps, his series for younger ages, came along after my time really. They were just slightly too young for me.) But I loved all the Fear Street books. When I was in college, I read his first ever adult novel, Superstitious. I devoured that one, too. His writing style translated well to the world of grown-up horror. And now I’ve devoured Red Rain with equal vigor.

Stine’s writing style is just so easy to read without being too simplistic or elementary. His stories and plots demand that you keep turning pages because you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next. I read this book in a few short days because I couldn’t put it down.

The plot centers around Lea who is a travel blogger visiting a fictional North Carolina island during a terrible and devastating hurricane. The island has many secrets and a bit of an intriguing set up. Many questions are raised but few are answered. Lea ends up rescuing twelve-year-old twin boys who are alone and homeless after the storm. Even more questions arise from this turn of events as from the beginning it’s obvious that there is something very wrong here – with the island, with the boys, with Lea. I never had a clear idea or theory about what it was. The suspense builds and builds until a big reveal later in the book, and the pages keep turning. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll stop with that vague description.

It’s 100% worth a read. Stine isn’t an author who offers a ton of depth and themes to his stories. He just comes up with great/interesting/scary/cool tales that never fail to leave me wanting more. I hope his foray into adult novels continues and it isn’t another 15 years before I get to experience this again.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #13: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

ivanI first heard about The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate from last year’s Cannonball Read. The minute I read the review, I added it to my Amazon wishlist. I couldn’t wait to read it. Then later it got awarded the Newbery Medal. People were noticing this book, and I still hadn’t read it. I finally picked it up with an Amazon gift card I got for Christmas. I was surprised at the bulk of the book until I looked inside and saw how the pages were laid out. Ivan may use a lot of pages to tell his story, but he doesn’t often use up whole pages with his thoughts. I started and finished the book in a few hours last night. I refused to put it down. Not til I made sure Ruby and Ivan and Bob were going to be okay. And I only cried twice, total. The second time for kind of a while, but it only counts as one time…

The book starts with Ivan in his “domain” at a circus-themed dirt mall off of I-95. He’d lived there as long as he could remember under the care of Mack, who, as a human, ranges from likeable to kill-worthy throughout the book, finally ending up the villain once and for all. Mack is all about the bottom line and looks past when his animals need him the most. Ivan’s best friend, an elephant named Stella, pays the highest price for this. Ruby, the baby elephant that will make Mack all of the money, is lost without Stella to look after her, and Ivan knows he has to keep his promise to help Ruby no matter what, his promise to his dying friend.

Ivan is an exceptional animal. He draws and thinks and communicates with his friends. His friends – Stella, Bob, Julia, Ruby – are the kind of cast of characters a person wants in their own life, the kind of people who are there when you need them, who love you just the way you are, and who help you to be your greatest self. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but the range of emotions I felt while reading this book is almost unmatched by anything else. It might be a book for young readers, but I would never pigeonhole a book to that category – not one like this. For a little while, I was inside the head of an amazing, loving and curious gorilla. And he was great. And so was his story and his gift to Ruby.

I found out after finishing the book that Ivan is based on a real gorilla who lives at the zoo in Atlanta. I was just there within the past year and I think I probably saw him and didn’t even realize it. The story in the book is not 100% true, but it’s based on a real gorilla who lives not all that far from where I live and who I’ve actually seen before. I’d like to go back to visit him again, then I can send him a conspiratorial wink, just to let him know I know what really happened.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #12: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

lets-pretend-this-never-happenedLet’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) is an utterly delightful, funny, sad, poignant, scary and altogether unmissable read. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction as I tend to prefer to lose myself in fictional tales, but I am an avid reader of Jenny’s blog and I knew I absolutely had to read this book. I’m not the first Cannonball Reader to review it and I’m sure I won’t be the last. I couldn’t put this book down.

I loved that it felt like I was having a conversation with her the whole time I was reading it. That she was confiding all these crazy things that had happened to her, so unabashed, but it was ok, cus it’s just me. She can tell me anything. And there were a few passages in the book that had me reeling because of just how much  I related to them. Her description of her anxiety issues just hit home with me on what it’s like for me on a daily basis to move through the world. I’d never heard it put so eloquently before. (And yes, she may be crass at times, but she is sure as hell an eloquent writer.) I read and finished this book feeling like she and I were friends, like we’d been on this crazy journey together, and she knows I worry about stuff, but it’s okay, because she does too.

It sounds silly. And rarely to I feel that level of connection to an author on reading their novel, but again, I read mostly fiction, so I don’t have extensive memoir experience. A few here and there, and almost always of people I admire in some way. It is so deeply personal in a way that I can’t relate to – I can barely write a diary without feeling exposed and judged, and then I have to always throw them away because it’s too much to actually go back and read. Because I never wrote about what a great day I had. Of course not. I only wrote about the gut-wrenching stuff and I’d really rather pretend that never happened. See? Jenny is so much braver than me.

But anyway, the book was amazing. I will read it again and again and eagerly await the sequel. I can’t decide which part was my favorite, but I think it might’ve been when she thought her cat was a rapist who was going to break down the bathroom door to get her when she’d ODed on laxative and was having a potentially fatal episode on the toilet. It might have been that one.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #11: Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett

ImageThings the Grandchildren Should Know is the memoir of the lead singer of The Eels, Mark Oliver Everett, or more colloquially known as E. I’ve been a fan of the band for a long time so I was excited to read about his life and journey. The Eels are really less a band and more just a name for E and his collaborators, as those change frequently.

The tone of the book was really conversational. I felt like E was hanging out and telling me stories about his life, like we go way back and he was confiding in me all of these things that had happened to him. It’s really surreal when a singer/songwriter you revere slowly becomes this real person as his personal life story unfolds via audiobook.

Speaking of the audiobook, his bandmate/guitarist The Chet was the narrator of the audiobook. E also incorporated song lyrics into various sections of the book, and The Chet played guitar and sang them as they occurred, which was a bonus from the paper version of the book. It was an extra insight into the music and soul of E that I wouldn’t have gotten had I just read the book.

The book was interesting (and devastating) at times, learning about the life events that inspired so many of the songs that I love. Given what inspired more than a few of them, I was curious about my favorites that weren’t mentioned in the book – Manchild, You’ll Be the Scarecrow, etc. If such amazing and sad life events informed all the other songs that I also love, what informed these others? I can’t even imagine.

The book is sad, poignant, funny, full of heart and hope, powerful, depressing, uplifting and above all – inspirational. I don’t think E set out to write an inspirational tale and knowing him from this book would be shocked to be referred to as inspirational. But he was. All of it was. He’s an introvert who figured out how to come into his own, how to both accept himself and express himself in ways that a fellow introvert can only admire. He not only learns how to function in this world but he also thrives and overcomes so much loss. He stayed true to who he really is, without ever sacrificing his own ideals. I envy that. And I respect him so much more than I already did. I can only aspire to be that comfortable in my own skin.

I continue to love E’s music and I worship his lyrics. Now I know where his depth and talent actually come from and why he writes the way he does. I would love a sequel to this book, a next chapter in E’s life, as this was written five years ago. I still haven’t gotten to see E in concert but it is most definitely on my bucket list.

Fancypants42’s #CBRV Review #10: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

4981Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut was only the second Vonnegut book I’ve read. (I read Timequake several years ago.) For some reason I’d always known of this book but never had a clear picture of what it was about. My younger self, having read the sub or alternate title The Children’s Crusade, imagined a group of five kids known as the Slaughterhouse Five, who were up to antics in wartime. Reading the description on the back about a time traveler didn’t really clear things up any. So I essentially went into this book with zero idea of what to expect, and not even a solid idea of what it means to read Vonnegut, having only read him once. I was startled by what I discovered in this book – the story of Billy Pilgrim, time traveler (or crazy person), World War 2 veteran and family man. His was not an easy life, but it was his experience in the bombing of Dresden, while living in the fifth slaughterhouse, that really shaped him. He might tell you it was his abduction by the Tralfamadorians that shaped him, but from an outsider’s perspective, I think it was Dresden.
There was a lot of anti-war sentiment in this book but not in the sense of WAR IS BAD DON’T DO IT. It was more hey, be aware of the effect war has on its soldiers, especially the young ones. Be aware that when you bomb an enemy city, a lot of civilians get in the way. It was interesting the route Vonnegut took to get to these points – via alien abduction and mental instability, but of course both were completely part of his point.
“So it goes” was repeated in the book more times than I could count. Usually after the author was relating yet another sad/bad/upsetting/depressing/that’s life sort of event. It was almost like the author was reminding us that things happen, but life goes on and not to dwell on any one particular tragedy of the many that were conveyed in this book. Vonnegut follows up this sentiment with “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”, as the epitaph Billy wants on his tombstone. It’s an interesting sort of juxtaposition to “So it goes”, because it’s not a metaphorical shrug at life. It’s a phrase that embraces life. It wasn’t that bad, it was good and beautiful and not full of pain, which isn’t really true unless you’re quite the optimist. But it’s thought-provoking just the same. What if we could all look back at life that way from our graves and say that everything WAS beautiful, that pain wasn’t really pain, just life? Would we be that much better for it?
I liked the way the narrative bounced around in Billy’s timeline because I never really had any idea where the book was going to go next – to Billy’s zoo-home on Tralfamadore? To his satisfactory marriage to Valencia? Back to Dresden and the war? Obviously this was not a linear book and there was no way to know where/when/how it would end. How does the life of a self-proclaimed time traveler end? I couldn’t wait to find out, but I didn’t want to rush the journey either. Given that this wasn’t a long book, it didn’t take very long to get to the ending, but I honestly enjoyed every step of the way. This isn’t my favorite of all the books I’ve read, but it was the first one in a while that really had me thinking deep thoughts and wanting to go back and flip through the pages for notes and anecdotes to discuss with friends.