Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 38: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

Unknown-2Everyone seems to love this book. I’ve read nothing but stellar reviews, praising the humor and the writing. And yes, there was a ton of humor and the writing was wonderful. But I didn’t love it. Sorry. I really wanted to.

The story is wonderfully original. In the very first pages, a bald, 17 year old named Alex Woods is detained at customs in Dover in a car with a large bag of marijuana and the ashes of someone called Mr Peterson. A great start, right?

Then we get some backstory: Alex Woods gets hit in the head with an meteorite as a young boy. He’s a bit of a strange boy, and this certainly doesn’t make him any less strange. He develops (and learns to manage) epilepsy, and befriends the doctors and scientists who  he comes in contact with. His mother is a bit of a kook — she owns the local tarot shop and is a bit of a hippy. He doesn’t know who his father is, and has very few other friends. Until he meets elderly Mr Peterson, the surly American in their small English town. Alex and Mr Peterson become friends, bonding over classical music, pacifism, and Kurt Vonnegut. And so the first half of the book passes, fairly pleasantly.

In the second half of the book, the story detours quite a bit. It becomes more about the depths of friendship and standing up for what you think is right, no matter what. How friends can actually be family, if you let them. And I actually found this part of the book a bit more interesting, but I still didn’t love it for some reason.

The characters were beautifully drawn. The depiction of small-town British life was a delight. Details of how Alex was a bit of an odd-ball, yet didn’t seem to mind all that much, were great. Extence is clearly a huge talent. But still, I didn’t really enjoy the book. It became something that I would put down and then look at and say “ugh, I really need to finish that”. Not a great sign.

A bit of a spoiler here:

Maybe my issues with the book are personal. My father had Parkinsons and suffered for many years — and Parkinsons is not unlike the disease that afflicts Mr Peterson. By the end, my father could no longer communicate at all, and for a man who made his living talking, this was unbearable for everyone around him to see. I can’t even imagine how horrendous it was for him. Maybe the book was just too close for comfort for me.

End of little spoiler.

While I didn’t love the story, I do think Extence is quite a gifted writer, and I will keep an eye out for his future works.

I wanted to give it 5 stars, but I’ll only give it 3.

 You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 37: Ava Gardner – The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner

Unknown-1I grew up on a steady diet of MGM movie musicals. My dad watched them all the time, and by the time I was 7 or 8, I knew all the words to every song in Singin in the Rain. One of my fondest memories of my dad before he died was about 10 years ago, when the two of us went to a fancy screening of An American in Paris and got to meet Leslie Caron. My dad — who always had something to say — was absolutely tongue tied. And that night he told me that the only other person he could think of that he would react that way to meeting would be Ava Gardner.

I didn’t know much about Ava Gardner, honestly. I had seen her in The Killers (because, hello, Burt Lancaster) and in Show Boat, but other than that, nothing. And of course, I knew about her crazy personal life. The marriages, the lovers, and the beauty made me want to know more about her.

And then, a few weeks ago, I read this review from xoxoxoe of a new book about Ava and her life. And I picked the book up at the library and read it in about two hours. And while it isn’t a great book (I hate the writing style), it does have some great Hollywood stories in it.

The book is written in a conversational style (mostly transcripts of conversations between Gardner and Evans, both on and off the record), with the occasional passage written for the memoir that was never published. Apparently, after months of working on the book together, Ava found out that Evans had been sued years prior by Frank Sinatra, and refused to work with him further. When Evans died in 2012, his publishers found his notes and tapes and got permission from Gardner’s estate to publish them as a “book”. But the stories as they are, don’t really stand up on their own. For me, there was too much filler about Evans’ trepidation about Gardner, and not enough about life as the world’s most beautiful woman.

However, if you are at all interested in old Hollywood, then you could certainly do worse than reading this. Gardner’s life in the public eye from the age of 18 until a series of strokes in her 60s was filled with men and booze and cursing and more men. She drops details about all three of her marriages (Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and of course, Frank Sinatra), as well as her long-time lover Howard Hughes (before he went insane, she is quick to clarify). She admits she wasn’t much of an actress at first, but that she knew how to work her looks and use them to her advantage on screen.

And she talks and talks and talks about the drinking and the smoking and the sex — and she hints at a fair amount of violence, as well. Some of the stories made me laugh out loud (her comments about Frank marrying Mia Farrow, for example), and some of them were simply so crazy, I’m not sure I believe them (shooting out all of the glass in the entire town of Indio, CA one drunken evening?!?!?).

But I loved the insight into the era, and seeing how studios like MGM were run (both for better and for worse). I loved the tidbits about Lana Turner and Clark Gable and Robert Mitchum.

The book  wasn’t great, but it made me think of my dad, and I really can’t ask for more than that.

Two and a half stars.

You can read more of my review on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 36: Dust by Hugh Howey

UnknownHere’s the good news: I thought Dust was way better than Shift.


Not quite so amazing as Wool.

And yet, even though I wasn’t as blown away by Dust as I had hoped, I’m still quite in awe of Hugh Howey. Two years ago, he was just a guy who self-published a short story on Amazon. And these days, most people I know have at least heard of him, even if they haven’t read any of his books. He’s got a movie deal. He made a huge pile of money for Dust. So, good on you, Hugh. You deserve it.

I don’t want to get into details or spoilers, but I can easily say that Dust gives answers to almost all of the questions raised in the previous books. We find out a lot of “whys” and “hows” about life underground in Georgia. The action neatly jumps between Silos 17 & 18 (Juliette’s and Solo’s homes), as well as Silo 1, where Donald and Charlotte are still trying to piece the past several hundred years together.

And, I’ll admit, I was a bit bored for the first half of the book.


Something happens, and I couldn’t put it down after that. I stayed up until the wee hours of the night (which I never do anymore), because I needed to know. I needed to know about the plan that Thurman and his cohorts dreamed up for the residents of the silos. Why are the silos ranked? How is the population control lottery arranged? What happens when a silo slips beyond the control of the men on shift in Silo 1? And what does WOOL mean, anyway?

Character wise, I was glad to have a lot of Juliette back in this book — I missed her in Shift. And was also glad to see Solo’s character really have a chance to grow into a strong presence, into a real father figure for the kids left alone in Silo 17. And it was exciting to read as Donald raced against the clock (as his health is clearly not going to improve while he hacks away into his bloody rags) to find out the truth, whereas I didn’t find Donald’s stuff too exciting in Shift. Will he and Charlotte ever find out if the blue sky they thought they saw was real? Will Donald’s true identity ever be revealed? Will Charlotte have to live in secrecy forever? Yikes. Way more exciting than whining about Helen and Anna and wondering about nanos.

All in all, I’m really glad I read the entire trilogy, which is something I haven’t had the pleasure of saying too frequently (I’m looking at you, Chemical Garden).

Three and a half stars for Dust. Four stars for the trilogy as a whole.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.


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Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 35: Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Unknown-1I apologize in advance for my rambling and disjointed review. I have to go school supply shopping today and I’m a bit frazzled.

How strange that I just finished — without intending to do so — two novels with the main plot being about teenage pregnancy, adoption, and the adopted teen finding the birth mother. In both (the other beingFinding Colin Firth) books, the birth mother’s life is incomplete, for reasons she can’t quite put her finger on, until the missing daughter shows up on her doorstep, bringing her life full circle.


I had no idea what Giffin’s new book was about when I picked it up. I’m pretty sure I had read all of her previous books (but haven’t seen that dreadful looking movie with Kate Hudson), so I grabbed it at the library and read it in an afternoon.

Giffin is a good storyteller. You mostly like the characters that you are supposed to like, and you aren’t so crazy about others that she’s decided aren’t so great. In this case, we liked Kirby, the 18 year old adopted girl living in St. Louis. She’s got a great family that she loves, but somehow has always felt like a bit of an outsider. When she comes of age, she’s allowed access to the file on her birth mother, and decides to go and find her, to see if her birth family is a bit more like her — musical and creative, a bit of a loner, and not so academically focused as others in her family.

Her birth mother, Marian, was a bit of a question mark. She’s an incredibly famous tv producer in New York, writing and producing a very “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia” type show on her local network. She’s dating the CEO of the network and lives the fabulous life. BUT. Something is missing. Marian thinks its marriage. Until Kirby shows up on her doorstep.

As Marian’s past comes out, and we learn about the events up to — and after — her teen pregnancy, honestly, I wanted to punch her in the face. And I wanted to hug Kirby’s birth father, Conrad, and let him know that everything would be all right.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Giffin was setting up these characters for a sequel (I think she’s done that before, right?), so we can either A) see the story from Conrad’s perspective, or B) see what happens to Marian and everyone else after Marian steps up and acknowledges all of the horrible decisions she made over the past 18 years. But honestly, I don’t really want to read another book about Marian, unless she’s a secondary character. She and her mom really pissed me off (her mother! Argh!). But I loved her dad and Conrad and Kirby and Kirby’s boyfriend, and would be happy to read about them again anytime.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 35: Finding Colin Firth by Mia March

UnknownAfter the making my way through the dense world of Westeros, I needed a break. I have a huge stack of ARC copies of books from publishers and decided to pick the one that looked the “fluffiest” — Finding Colin Firth by Mia March. With a title like that, really, how deep could this book be?

And it was pretty much as expected. Fluffy, with a few serious moments — your basic beach read.

Mostly taking place in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, it tells the story of three women — Bea, Veronica, and Gemma. Bea is 22 and after the death of her parents, finds out that she was adopted. Veronica is her birth mother, back in her hometown, trying to face her past. And Gemma is a NYC reporter (really, are people still reporters?) trying to figure out her future now that she’s discovered that she’s pregnant. And Colin Firth is what brings them all together. Because all ladies love a little Mr. Darcy, I guess.

I love Pride & Prejudice and Bridget Jones as much as anyone, but this was a bit much Colin Firth for me. I haven’t seen The Girl with the Pearl Earring of A Single Man, and couldn’t see how it related to the story. But still, it was cute. A quick read, with mostly likable characters that you were hoping would work out all of their problems in the end. And really, you can’t ask for much more than that with a summer read.

If you love all things Colin Firth, then by all means, read this book.

If you like to read about pie, get this book right now. There is a lot of information about making and eating pie here.

And if you’re looking for a harmless, very quick beach read, you could definitely do worse.

I should note, I received a free, advance copy of this book from Net Galley.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Reviews 32-34: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Unknown-4This Summer, my two older kids decided to join the swim team at our local pool. Having no idea what kind of commitment that entailed, I agreed, and on the first day, packed a paperback copy of A Game of Thrones into my pool bag — for JUST IN CASE I had a few minutes to read.

Fast-forward almost 3,000 pages…I had no idea that swim team would take up so much time, and that so very much of it would simply be sitting. And waiting. And sitting. And waiting. By the end of the season last week, I had just about finished A Storm of Swords. But enough about the inefficiency of kids’ swimming…time to talk about the game of thrones.

Of course, we watch and love the HBO series. And I had been curious about the books for a while, wondering if reading them would help me understand some of the more complex storylines on the show. I could never keep track of who was so-and-so’s bannerman, and who was king 12 generations ago. But I wasn’t in a huge rush to read the books, because “FANTASY”. I’m not too keen on Tolkien and the like, so I doubted that Martin would have much to offer me.

Boy, am I embarrassed about that assumption.

I’m so glad that I finally dove into this mad, crazy, upsetting, violent, scary, sometimes beautiful, oftentimes hilarious, and all-around amazing world.

And yes, reading the books definitely helped me to understand some of the more detailed plots on the show. But the books are so much more than that. The themes of power, family, honor, and pride are written of again and again, and I find it interesting to follow along to see which characters have which traits, and which characters change over the course of their storyline — both for the better or the worse.

Sure, I have some complaints, but really, they are so minor.

The sheer number of characters is overwhelming. I find myself flipping to the appendix constantly. Who belongs to which house? What’s their sigul? How are they related to other houses? Argh.

And when I’m not looking through the appendix or using wiki to look up the details of a character I’ve already forgotten about, I’m looking at maps. I have no idea where anything is. Ever. I feel like I should already know how close it is from Riverrun to Kings Landing, but really, I have no clue. The maps help. And speaking of maps, why don’t I ever get a map of where the Khaleesi is running around, freeing slaves? I could use a map of her travels, because without one I can’t really grasp the distances traveled by her weary bunch.

However, in general, its been a pretty positive experience. I think Martin is a much more talented writer than I ever would have guessed (seriously, last night when I finished the epilogue to A Storm of Swords, I had goose bumps. That’s some good writing there.). Sometimes I get mad at him (hello, Red Wedding), but other times, I am sort of in awe of his insanity (Purple Wedding? Whee!).

I really enjoyed the first two books, but I think I can safely say that the third was my favorite. The last third of the book was pretty much non-stop batshit crazy, in a good way. I know I’m about to head into the least favorite book of the series, so I hope I’m still as enthusiastic about the Song of Ice and Fire when I finally get around to reading Book 5.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 31: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Unknown-3I’ve read a lot of wonderfully written books about the horrible thing that is cancer. Having lost a parent to cancer, the  books that have hit me the hardest and reduced me to a pile of tears were the first half of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, The Fault in Our Stars, and now this lovely book by Rachel Joyce.

Harold Fry and his wife Maureen are pensioners living on the very southern tip of England, right on the ocean. Their marriage is stale — they barely speak to each other, and have slept in separate bedrooms for 20 years. Maureen busies herself by cleaning and laundering every single thing she can get her hands on. And Harold sits and sits and sits.

Until, one day, Harold receives a letter from a former colleague, Queenie Hennessy. He hasn’t heard from her in 20 years, and she writes to say good-bye. She is dying of cancer in a hospice way up in Scotland, over 600 miles away. Harold writes Queenie a brief note, gets up to mail it at the corner postbox, and then, well, he decides to keep walking.

Harold realizes that Queenie deserves more than a brief note dumped in the mail. Queenie deserves her goodbye in person. And so Harold, with only his windbreaker on his back, starts to walk to Queenie.

His journey is a beautifully written picture of life. He walks alone, and with others. He remembers the past — both the wonderful and the terrible. He wishes he had been a better father to his son, David, whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. And he realizes that he failed Queenie, who did him a huge favor 20 years ago, and he never got a chance to thank her. He has wonderful days when he believes that if he keeps walking, he’ll keep Queenie alive. And then he has days when he more or less loses his mind and feels he’d be better off dead.

While walking, Harold changes from a quiet, reserved, solitary man, to a more outgoing and trusting sort. He relies on the kindness of strangers to get him along on his journey. My favorite was the Slovakian doctor with the tendency to swear.

Meanwhile, Maureen spends her time thinking about the past as well. With the help of her neighbor, the widower Rex, she realizes that Harold isn’t the bad guy that she’s made him out to be for the past 20 years, and that she is equally to blame for their falling out. Most importantly, she realizes that she misses him and loves him.

The story and the writing reminded me a lot of another favorite, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. They both presented a slice of life in England for people of a certain age (Harold completes the majority of his walk wearing a tie — how very British!), and made me wish I was over in England on vacation, driving along Harold’s route to see the beauty as he saw it.

The ending drove me to tears, as mentioned. My memories of hospice were a bit overwhelming, and Rachel Joyce’s description of Queenie’s final home was almost too much for me to take. But I’m so glad I read it and want to thank all the Cannonballers out there who reviewed it first.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Bunnybean’s CBR5 Review 8: Awesome Blossom by Lauren Myracle

Unknown-2I read this book from our public library. It’s about the four flower friends (Milla, Yasaman, Katie-Rose, and Violet), their year at school, and great big secrets: Milla’s going to go on a date with Max, Yasaman accidently kind of read a secret loveletter between her two teachers, and Katie-Rose is going crazy because she keeps getting mysterious stuffed hegehogs in weird places!

And why is the new girl (Hayley) hanging out with the “three evil chicks” from school? (Modessa, Quin, and Elena)?!  Violet dosen’t know what’s happening with all her friends!

Milla’s date at the Olive Garden turns out really weird. Katie-Rose and her family come to the Olive Garden too, and Preston (a boy from class) really likes Katie-Rose so he makes the waitress give Katie-Rose the first mysterious hedgehog with her meal.

But the whole thing turns out really fine. Milla and Max have a great time, Preston just really loved Katie-Rose, and Hayley promises not to hang out with the bullies anymore. Everyone’s happy at the end. This is part of a series of books about the Flower Friends. I would like to read all of these books, and I really enjoyed reading it.

You can read more of Bunnybean’s reviews (and her brother’s, too) on her mom’s blog.

Joemyjoe’s #CBR5 Review 2: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Unknown-1In this book, there is a boy named Greg Heffley, and he goes to middle school. He does not like it. He has a best friend named Rowley Jefferson. He has two brothers that he doesn’t get along with, named Manny and Rodrick.

There’s a kid in down the street named Fregley, and Greg is really creeped out by him.

The book tells all about Greg’s life at home and at school. At home he likes to play video games. At school, he has to be a tree in the class play of The Wizard of Oz. He ends up throwing apples at the girl who was Dorothy, and he gets grounded for two weeks.

At the school basketball court there is a  really moldy piece of cheese and if you touch it, the other kids say you get the cheese touch (kind of like cooties — you have to pass it along to someone else).  And Greg is afraid of getting it.

At the end, some teenagers come and make Rowley eat the cheese. Greg lied to them that he was allergic to dairy, and so they didn’t make him eat it, too. Greg ended up picking up the cheese and putting it in the garbage.

I really liked how this book was written — it told a story like a cross between a regular book and a comic book. There were lots of illustrations that helped to  move the story along.

There are lots of these books, and I’m trying to read them all this summer.

You can read more of Joemyjoe’s reviews (and his sister’s) on his mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Reviews 29 & 30: Wool and Shift by Hugh Howey

UnknownSo much has already been said about these books, I frankly don’t know what else to talk about.

I remember downloading Wool ages ago. I saw Joel McHale tweet something out about how it was his new favorite sci-fi book and author. And the Kindle download was super cheap (or free? that’s super cheap), so I went for it. And then I left it there in my little Kindle cloud for a while and kind of forgot about it.

When I finally read Part One, I was hooked. I immediately downloaded the rest of Wool and tore through it. I loved the imagery of this futuristic world that we didn’t know too much about. I thought the ideas of baby lotteries and cleanings and different color overalls was brilliant. The story of the Mayor and her Deputy’s love from afar? Amazing. Beautiful.

What I liked best was that FINALLY I was reading a self-published Kindle book that wasn’t rubbish. It wasn’t a cutesy detective Evanovich knock-off or a creepy Dean Koontz wannabe. It was totally original and well done, and that in itself is worth 5 stars.

And then I read Shift. And while the writing is still great, and the ideas are still original, I just didn’t love it as much as Wool. In fact, I had a pretty hard time getting through it. It took me months. I would pick it up, read a chapter or two, and then move on to something else that I enjoyed reading instead. The secrets that are revealed via Donald and Anna and Senator Thurman were just too much for me. I mean, I love a good dystopian story as much as the next person, but this vision of the future was tough for me to read. I simply didn’t enjoy it, and for me, that’s a big issue.

But still. I’m still a huge fan of Hugh Howey. I’ll still be participating in the Pajiba book club discussion next week. And I’ll most definitely read Dust when it comes out later this month. But I don’t have a good feeling about the ending for our Silo residents. While I feel good about what Juliette and Lukas could potentially accomplish in their little world, I’m more concerned about how quickly Donald is becoming completely unhinged in Silo 1 and what he might be capable of as his time runs out.

4 stars for Wool. 3 stars for Shift.

 You can read more of my reviews on my blog.