Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 42: Paper Towns by John Green

Unknown-1I was on a roll of books that were amazing and great and I loved them. And then.

I really thought I would love Paper Towns. I had only read one John Green book before (yes, of course, The Fault in Our Stars), and had very high expectations for the rest of his stuff. But this book really rubbed me the wrong way.

I know, Margo Roth Spiegelman is the “manic pixie dreamgirl” type that boys — like Quentin — can’t help but love from afar. But I saw nothing even remotely likable or enjoyable about Margo, and frankly, was annoyed that the entire book was about finding her when I never once felt that she wanted or should be found. Ugh.

What I did want was for someone — Margo’s parents, the detective, Quentin’s parents — to get Margo some professional help. Clearly the girl had some major problems. Quentin’s parents were psychologists and did nothing, said nothing. This drove me crazy.

I didn’t like Margo one bit and wish they had simply looked through her records, found Mermaid Avenue, listened to it, and said, Hey, This is Really Good. The End.

What I did like was the world of Quentin’s friends. I loved Radar and Ben, and even Lacey later on. I loved the real high school world described by Green — from band geeks to popular kids — and the realization at the end of senior year that nothing from the past 4 years matters anymore.

But I despised Margo and found her to be selfish and manipulative. And Quentin’s obsession with her made me dislike him, as well. Sorry.

And I couldn’t help but wonder what my own parents would have said or done if I had decided to skip out on my high school graduation to drive thousands of miles across the country to find my crazy neighbor. I’m pretty sure they would have said NO.

Enough with my complaining. I didn’t like the book because I couldn’t stand the characters. The End.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 41: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

UnknownAt this point, I really don’t know what I can say about Rainbow Rowell that I haven’t already said. Or preached, I guess, would be a better term. If you haven’t read Eleanor & Park, what are you waiting for? If you haven’t read Attachments, well, I’m not sure I want to know you anymore.

And now, here we have Fangirl. And again, come on. Go out and get these books. Read them right now. Use your Amazon Prime account or run to the library. You won’t be sorry.

Fangirl is about identical twin sisters Cather (Cath) and Wren. They are freshman at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and have very different feelings about it. Wren is excited — she wants to meet guys and party and drink and live it up. Cath is a bit more of a homebody (that’s really saying it lightly) and isn’t really very enthused about doing anything but sitting in her dorm room and writing. She doesn’t even find out where the cafeteria is until a few weeks into school when her roommate (the wonderful Reagan) drags her forcibly, realizing that Cath has been living on jars of peanut butter and boxes of protein bars.

Cath is a gifted writer, and almost all of her time and energy go into writing Simon Snow (think Harry Potter, but a magician, NOT a wizard) fanfiction. Cath is one of the most popular fanfic writers out there, and her speciality is writing slash fiction about Simon and his vampire roommate, Baz. Not exactly your typical college activity.

Cath meets a few friends — she has a major crush on her writing partner, Nick, and she becomes friendly (against her will) with Reagan. But more than anyone else, she bonds with Reagan’s boyfriend, the simply adorable Levi.

Reading about Levi made me want to go outside for a walk in the sun (or in the snow, or whatever) and drink Gingerbread Lattes from Starbucks. He made me want to read The Outsiders and go to museums. Levi is the kind of guy you want to know in real life, and his “joie de vivre” leaps off the page with his every word and movement.  Rainbow Rowell has a real gift for writing sympathetic male characters (Park, Lincoln) that are better than most men you’ll ever meet in your life.

Of course, not everything in Cath & Wren’s lives is centered on college. Their dad is home, alone, which isn’t a good thing. He’s a bit manic (the word bipolar is never actually used, but I’m guessing that’s the situation) and doesn’t always remember to eat, or sleep, or even go home from work without his girls to remind him. And their mom? Out of the picture for the most part. She left the girls on 9/11, never to return. But she decides to check back in with them all these years later, not as a mom, but more as a “friend”. This doesn’t really go over too well, if you can imagine.

I loved pretty much every minute of this book. Thank you, fellow Cannonballers, for spreading the word about Rainbow Rowell and getting her on my radar.

My only complaint about this book? That I finished it, and there aren’t any more books by Rainbow Rowell to read right now. Her next one doesn’t come out until 2014.

 You can read more of my reviews (of Rainbow’s books and others) on my blog.

Joemyjoe’s #CBR5 Review 3: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

imagesThis is a book about a boy named Billy who really wanted some hunting dogs (red bone coon hounds, to be specific). Billy lives in Oklahoma, in the Ozarks, about 100 years ago. He saved up all of his money for two whole years to get the $50 he needed to send away to Kentucky for two puppies. He asks his Grandpa to help order the puppies, and when they arrive in the nearest city, Billy walks by himself to get his dogs (its over 20 miles each way!).

Billy loves his dogs. He names them Old Dan and Little Ann, after a carving he sees in a tree (Dan + Ann). And he teaches them how to hunt raccoons.

They catch a lot of coons and give all the hides to his grandpa. His grandpa signs Billy’s dogs up for a hunting contest. Little Ann wins first prize (a silver cup) for best in show. And Billy’s dogs catch the most raccoons all week — they win $300 and a gold cup. Billy is so proud of them.

But the ending is really sad. I don’t really want to say too much about it, but my mom was crying.

The story is told by Billy as an old man, when he comes across a red bone coon hound being attacked by other dogs. He takes the dog home to feed it and take care of it for a few days, and he starts to remember his own dogs that he loved more than anything.

I really liked it. I’d give it 5 stars, but it was really sad.

You can read more of Joemyjoe’s reviews on his mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 40: Joyland by Stephen King

UnknownI’ve been reading Stephen King books since I was going in to the 8th grade, many, many years ago. I’ve probably read more than 90% of everything he’s published since then (there are lots of those random short stories floating around, in magazines I’ve never heard of). I’ve loved a lot of his stuff (hello, Dark Tower books 1-5, how are you?). I’ve been less than enthused with some of his stuff (Under the Dome! Song of Susannah!). But I can’t think of a single book by King that I’ve ENJOYED as much as Joyland, ever. I had such a good time reading this book. It was fun. What more do you need to know?

Joyland is a coming of age tale (which nobody does like King) about a guy named Devin who is a student at UNH in the 1970s. He gets his heart broken and decides to get some fresh scenery, taking a summer job at an amusement park in North Carolina. Joyland is filled with colorful characters, lots of “carny” speak, and of course, a mysterious ghost story. Rumor has it that a few years before, a young woman was murdered in Joyland’s haunted house, and her ghost still haunts the ride for a select few who can see her. Devin hasn’t seen her, but he sure would like to.

Devin also has the pleasure of meeting young Mike Ross (a dying young boy, who, because this is Stephen King, has a bit of “the touch”), his beautiful mother Annie, and their delightful Jack Russell terrier, Milo. He befriends them and gives the boy one of his dying wishes — to spend a day at Joyland.

Of course, the two plots intersect and overlap each other. And while the ending isn’t what I’d call “happy”, I still enjoyed every last bit of it.

Yes, in true King fashion, the scene in which we find out “whodunnit” is a bit clunky, but I’m going to let it slide this time. It really didn’t deter from my enjoyment of the story.

This is King at his best — think Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption or Stand By Me — where he tells a nostalgic story with a sympathetic narrator. Yes, there is a ghost and a bad guy, but the story is more about a good guy growing up to become a good man. I highly recommend it, to King’s Constant Reader and the non-King reader alike.

You can read more of my reviews (with lots of Stephen King) on my blog.

JOYLAND map

Bunnybean’s #CBR5 Review 9: Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

Unknown-6I read the third book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series: The Titan’s Curse.

Percy and his friends Annabeth and Grover are sent on a mission to find two new half-bloods at a boarding school in New Hampshire. Something goes wrong, there is a battle, and they are rescued by Artemis and her hunters. But Annabeth is kidnapped and may be in terrible danger, and it’s up to Percy and his friends to save her.

The goddess Artemis is also captured by someone that Percy and his gang don’t know. The half-bloods need to save Artemis and Annabeth, and stop a new villain called The General and their old enemy Luke from getting their evil army stronger.

Back at the camp, the students receive a prophecy that states:

Five shall go west to the goddess in chains,
One shall be lost in the land without rain,
The bane of Olympus shows the trail,
Campers and Hunters combined prevail,
The Titan’s curse must one withstand,
And one shall be perished by a parent’s  hand.

The students who are sent on the quest are: Zoe and Bianca (two of Artemis’ best hunters), Grover, and Thalia. Even though Percy isn’t chosen, he tags along anyways. He really wants to save Annabeth.

It was hard to save Annabeth and Artemis, though.

Atlas was the person who captured them both. He made Artemis hold the universe for him, and he threatened that if she didn’t hold it, he would kill Annabeth. He wanted to get revenge on the gods. But Percy and his friends came along and saved them.

Sadly, only 3 people survived on this quest: Grover, Percy, and Thalia. Bianca sacrificed herself for the quest. And Zoe turned out to be Atlas’ daughter, who was killed in the battle against him.

But the quest had succeeded! And all is well until the next book, The Battle of the Labyrinth.

You can read more of Bunnybean’s reviews on her mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 39: Lexicon by Max Barry

Unknown-4About 8 years ago, when Bunnybean wasn’t even a year old, we moved from Boston to the Washington DC area. And I went from being a working mom to a stay-at-home mom. And at first, I wasn’t very good at it. I couldn’t get Bunnybean to sleep when she was supposed to, and spent a lot of time driving around so that she would nap in her car seat. And then, randomly, one day, I saw Christa Miller (we loved her from Scrubs!) on the Ellen show talking about the book she had written the introduction to that was about helping your baby develop healthy sleep habits. I ran out to Borders the very next day and bought the book. And soon, Bunnybean was sleeping like a champ.

But I digress…because of this book, I started to pay a bit more attention to Christa Miller. I realized she was really smart and funny and watched CougarTown just because of her. She was one of the first people I followed on twitter. And she gives great book recommendations, too. She recommended Where’d You Go, Bernadette? months before I had heard of it. and so, a few weeks ago, when she said that she stayed up all night reading Lexicon, I knew I’d be reading it next.

Thanks, Christa. Another great choice.

Lexicon starts out with a man named Wil being accosted by two strange guys in an airport bathroom. They ask him a bunch of non-sensical questions and then inject a syringe into his eyeball, with no explanation. Bang — all of this in the first page or two, and the book barely lets up from there.

Told in alternating narratives and timelines, Lexicon is about a secret government agency that monitors the power of words and the persuasion that certain words have over certain people.  The bulk of the plot is centered around an ancient and powerful word that is let loose in Broken Hill, Australia, provoking the citizens of the small town to commit unspeakable acts. Who brought the word there? And why?

Max Barry brings this crazy world alive with a lot of humor and action. I haven’t enjoyed an action book like this in quite a while — I hate to compare it to The Rook (because that book really does stand on its own), but Lexicon did remind me of it several times. But all in a good way. I really enjoyed it and will look forward to reading more Barry in the future.

 You can read more of my reviews (as well as Bunnybean’s!) on my blog.

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.