We love the Cannonball Holiday Swap!

The kids made us all wait until Christmas Eve to open our Cannonball goodies under the tree. What a treat!

Thanks Malin and The Mama. What a wonderful way to start off the holiday!

Again, our thanks to Jen K for organizing. Hope this becomes an annual tradition!!












Look What We Got!

When Malin sent a package to Joemyjoe and Bunnybean right at the start of the wonderful Cannonball Holiday Swap, they decided to leave the presents under the tree and open them on Christmas Eve.

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And today, when I opened up a delightful package from The Mama, I was told I MUST DO THE SAME.

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We will report in after opening, but they look wonderful and we are all happy as can be. Thanks!!


Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 52: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Unknown-1Longtime readers may remember that Neil Gaiman and I have a bit of an up-and-down relationship. Sometimes (Stardust, Neverwhere), he and I are on the same page. Sometimes (Coraline, The Graveyard Book), I have trouble deciding what I think about him. And sometimes (hello, American Gods), I just can’t even. I think a lot of my issues with Neil Gaiman boil down to the fact that I am a geek, and therefore, I am supposed to love Neil Gaiman. And while I think he is a wonderfully talented and imaginative writer, he just might not be the writer for me.

And this is pretty much how I felt while reading TOATEOTL (how’s that for an acronym?). I liked it just fine. I thought parts of it were quite lovely, actually. But did I love it? No. Would I put it at the top of a list of my books of the year? No. But should you read it? Sure. Yes. Indeed.

By now, almost everyone knows the story. An unnamed narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral. While visiting his former neighborhood, he starts to remember things he hasn’t thought of in 40 years…and the story takes off from there.

Mostly told from the perspective of a bookish, lonely, 7 year old boy, we are soon thrown into a story of memories. And the thing about memories is…are they always completely reliable? Does our now-grown narrator actually believe the things he’s started to remember once he pulls up to the Hempstock farmhouse? Or does he just not want to believe these things, because, really, how could they possibly be true?

I liked the fact that the bulk of the story was told by a 7 year old. I liked his innocence and the complete trust he had in his new friend Lettie. I loved his ability to be bowled over by a delicious piece of honeycomb, when really, he had other things he should have been worrying about. And I loved the pure way that he looked at the world and its people, in a very black/white, good/evil manner.

And to be honest, I liked a lot more about the story. And I found it pretty scary. The stuff with his dad and the bathtub? Terribly frightening. The woman made of pink and grey cloth? Eek!

So what am I so “bleh” about? Honestly, I’m not even sure. But I just don’t “enjoy” the Neil Gaiman experience as much as I would like. This wasn’t a very long book, but I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me over a week to read it. I just didn’t really care. The pages (some of which, yes, were beautifully written), just didn’t call out to me. Sorry.

But I’ll keep trying. One of these days the right Neil Gaiman book might just come along, and I’ll be ready for it when it does.

You can read more of my reviews — Neil Gaiman included — on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 51: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

UnknownI never read The Silver Linings Playbook, but I did see the movie and liked it. But now, having read Matthew Quick’s more recent book, I’m wondering…do all of his books have to do with young people and mental illness? I’m just curious.

Leonard Peacock is a high school senior with a somewhat strange family life. His father was a huge one-hit wonder back in the 80s, but has since disappeared to somewhere in South America in order to evade the IRS. He is also an alcoholic and drug addict, and all around irresponsible adult. Leonard’s mom is a former model, and now a fashion designer who lives in New York City. She tries to visit Leonard on the weekends sometimes, but often forgets. Leonard lives alone in his suburban Philadelphia home, trying his best to figure out life.

He’s not doing a very good job.

As the book starts off, on the morning of Leonard’s 18th birthday, Leonard is packing his backpack for school. Not with books, but with a gun he can use to kill his former best friends, and then himself.

As the story goes on, we learn all about Leonard and his former friend Asher. We also meet Leonard’s other “friends” — including the one teacher Leonard trusts and respects, and the elderly neighbor that Leonard spends a lot of time watching old Bogart movies with.

No doubt at all that Matthew Quick is a great writer. But something about this book just rubbed me the wrong way. I think my major problem was reading it as a parent and being constantly furious at Leonard’s parents — his mother, in particular — and not being able to get past their absence. However, there were many parts where Quick’s brilliance got the best of me. Leonard writes himself letters from the future, in order to try and convince himself that his life will indeed be better someday. I loved these parts, and almost wish the entire book had been written as such.

I’m curious about Quick’s other works, and will probably give him another try…just not anytime soon.

Two and a half stars.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 50: W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Unknown-3Like meatloaf, mac & cheese, or hot chocolate, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books are a comfort food that always satisfies.

Grafton has been working her way through the alphabet with her series of private detective novels, and I’m happy to say, I’m still enjoying them as much now as I did back when I picked up A is for Alibi a few years ago.

What I really love about the little universe that Grafton has created is that its stuck in a bit of a time warp. While Grafton has been writing about Kinsey for over 30 years, only about 5 years have passed in the fictional town of Santa Teresa, CA. Its still the mid-1980s. No cellphones. No internet. Private detectives have to actually, PHYSICALLY do work to solve their cases. They use microfiche at the library and make calls on payphones. They leave messages on answering machine tapes and pound the pavement to find potential witnesses to talk to.

And I love that Kinsey is such a pain in the ass. She’s such a curmudgeon, and I love her for it. She hates to get dressed up (her single black dress has made an appearance in every single novel), she doesn’t like to cook (unless its peanut butter and pickle sandwiches), she has very few friends that aren’t in their 80s (like the lovely Henry and his family), she has issues with men (three boyfriends over the years, and all three shockingly are around this time), and she has MAJOR problems with family. She’s prickly and very set in her ways, but I’m glad she never changes.

This time around, Kinsey has to solve a mystery regarding a homeless man found dead with her name and number in his pocket. Who is he and why was he trying to contact her? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. I really just enjoy visiting Kinsey’s world every few years and seeing what’s going on with her.

Looking forward to finding out what X stands for…

3 1/2 stars.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 49: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

doctor_sleep_coverWhen I was at summer camp between 7th and 8th grade, a friend told me that she was reading The Shining, a book I had never heard of, by some guy from Maine named Stephen King (please note, I am super old, so this was when King was sort-of-famous, but not yet a global literary force to be reckoned with). I loved Maine and I loved to read, so I immediately got on board and read this book in about 2 days and very, very long nights. And I was hooked. That same summer, I read The Stand, Salem’s Lot, Pet Semetary, and Carrie. And I was hooked. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written ever since.

Last year, I had the chance to go see King speak nearby. He talked about the changing publishing industry and he talked a lot about himself and how his writing had changed over the years, and how he was trying to get back to basics. And then he gave a reading from his upcoming sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep.  Wouldn’t it be cool, he said, if we had a chance to peek in on Danny Torrence’s life right now, and see what became of him? Find out what kind of man he was?

And the answer is yes. It was pretty cool.

Whatever was “wrong” with King’s writing in the early 2000s has clearly been fixed. Remember Duma Key, Lisey’s Story, Dreamcatcher, Cell, and the horrible, awful Song of Susannah? The stories were pretty good, but the endings. My god, the endings. Terrible. Under the Dome? WORST OFFENDER OF THEM ALL. He simply could not end a story.

And then, he went and published some more short stories (always his forte), a short Dark Tower novella, Joyland, and 11/22/63. And he really nailed the ending with those last two, and all was right in the world again.

And luckily, I think Doctor Sleep continues on that path. The story was good — yes, thanks, Stephen, it was interesting to see what kind of man Danny had become — and the ending worked. Of course, I did have a few “meh” moments. TEENY TINY SPOILERS TO FOLLOW. For one, I thought it was too long (a familiar complaint with King, I’m sure). And secondly, I admit, I think King was a bit soft when it came down to the “big battle” section of the story. Old Stephen, like Joss Whedon, would have killed off a few of the supporting good guys (our favorites, of course), and thought nothing of it. But this time, everyone I pegged as a potential sacrifice for the greater good made it out alive. I definitely thought Doctor Dave and old Billy would be casualties of the fight with the True Knot, and was seriously surprised to find them more or less alive and well at the end.

I know not everyone here in Cannonball land agrees with me — looks like reviews of this have been fairly divided. But I really enjoyed it, and devoured it over the course of a weekend. Which, when you have three little kids, birthday parties, homework, sports, etc to manage, is actually quite a feat.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

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.

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.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 46: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Unknown-1I recently joined a new book club (having grown terribly disappointed with the choices made by my other, Twilight-loving club). So far, there are only two members in our group, but I’m loving it. We talk about books we’ve loved and books we’ve hated, and we’ve made huge lists of books that we’ve recommended to each other. Our October book was The Diviners, and to be honest, neither of us was all that fired up about reading it.

And we both ended up really enjoying it.

The Diviners is a ghost story that mostly takes place in pre-depression, New York City. Prohibition is in full swing, flappers are the new “it” girls, and on Broadway, Ziefield and his Follies are all the rage. Evie has just moved to the city to live with her uncle (her parents simply couldn’t handle her drinking and her lifestyle out in Ohio). Evie’s uncle is the curator and manager of New York’s premier museum of the supernatural (or as they call it in the book, the Creepy-Crawly Museum), and Evie JUST SO HAPPENS to have a touch of supernatural power. She can see details of a person’s life, simply by holding an object of theirs.

Of course, a crazed serial killer is terrorizing New York City, and Evie, Uncle Will, and his assistant Jericho (who has some crazy secrets of his own) band together to prove that this killer is no normal human, and that the entire human race is at risk. We also meet a few other New Yorkers who have supernatural powers — the lovely Theta, who is a stylish Ziefield Girl; a handsome young healer in Harlem named Memphis Campbell; a con artist named Sam who can literally disappear right in front of you; and Theta’s roommate Henry, who perhaps has some powers we haven’t quite figured out yet. As Evie and her team raced to stop the murders, the evil spirit “Naughty John” hurries along to bring forth hell on earth.

This book is considered to by YA, but I”m not sure why. The murders are as brutal as anything I’ve read before, and the religious fanaticism and aspects of racism were tough to swallow at times (not because of Bray, but simply because the information was unpleasant). I guess because Evie was only 17, the book gets the YA label slapped on.

The story was pretty fast-paced and hard to put down. Libba Bray is really a very good writer, and she clearly did her research. She grabs you and hooks you with her language and her description of the time and place. I felt as if I could clearly see, hear, and smell 1920′s New York City through her words.

My only complaint: going into it, I had no idea that this was the first in a trilogy. I kept waiting and waiting for the end of the story, and then BOOM. It just ended with perhaps more mysteries than it began with. But really, why am I surprised? I think it might be a federal law that all books for clever young adults must come in groups of three.

Three and a half stars.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 45: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Unknown-1In the past two years, I’ve read pretty much everything Sarah Dessen has ever written. And I can’t really say that I’ve done that because I’m a huge fan of her writing or her stories. I think what makes me keep going back to her books is the little universe she’s created for her books. Like Stephen King (seriously, I just compared Sarah Dessen to Stephen King), these books take place in a very specific world — usually at the beach in North Carolina — and the same characters and places show up over and over again, like little book “easter eggs”. I kind of enjoy seeing how it all ties together.

I also like knowing that her heroines are real girls with real problems. Not everyone is beautiful and rich. In this book, just because you are smart enough to get into the college of your dreams doesn’t mean you can go there. These girls have to figure things out and realize early on that sometimes life isn’t 100% fair (and I mean this in a good way).

But there’s also a lot that I don’t really like about Dessen’s world. Very few of her strong female characters have much of a relationship with their parents (mostly, the dad is at fault). In this book, the adoptive father was great, but the birth dad? Moron. I couldn’t buy what Dessen was selling with that character.

In a nutshell, this one is about a recent high school graduate named Emaline who lives in the beach town that Dessen loves so much with her mom, stepdad, and two step sisters. They all work at a real estate firm that rents out beach houses to those who are much more wealthy than they are. Emaline has a lovely boyfriend named Luke, who she has been with since the start of high school. And she has minimal contact with her birth father and his family in Connecticut.

And so, in this last summer at home, Emaline has to deal with college choices, her real dad, and boyfriend troubles. She meets a new guy — Theo, a filmmaker from New York who is in town making a documentary about a local artist — who seems to be everything Emaline has always wanted in a boyfriend. But is he?

Look, this book isn’t going to win the Pulitzer or any other prize, but you could do worse. Dessen has a breezy writing style that makes the book go by quickly. I enjoy the tertiary characters that she comes up with, and I have to say, the ending of this one surprised me a bit (in a good way). I’ll keep reading them if she keeps writing them.

 You can read more of my reviews on my blog.