Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #89: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

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The book equivalent of a Chinese takeaway meal. Looks super tasty, but it’s quickly devoured, somehow not as satisfying as you’d hoped and then quickly forgotten. The full review is on my blog here.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #78: Dear Girls Above Me by Charlie McDowell

dear girlsThis was a fun read, but I had some issues with it.

Charlie McDowell* started the popular Dear Girls Above Me Twitter feed on a whim, and he got a book deal out of it. Twitter-to-Book deals always seem sketchy to me, but this one had gotten pretty good reviews, so I picked it up from the library. Like I said, it was fun, but as this is a supposed novelization of the feed, it doesn’t even have the virtue of really being about McDowell’s life, and in parts it seems like he really had to stretch it to make his ‘character’ have a believable arc, so the book wouldn’t entirely read like it was a commercial ploy to exploit these two girls even further.

*He’s the son of Mary Steenburgen and Malcolm McDowell, and to his credit, this isn’t something he highlights in the book, except for the horrifying story of the time he caught one of his friends, er, jerking his sausage, to a blurry sex scene his mother had done in a film before he was even born.

Make no mistake, the things the girls say are ridiculous and hilarious, but shoehorning ‘Charlie’ in there as well just felt forced. The book ends with ‘Charlie’ supposedly having learned something from his interaction with the girls, but I’m sort of at a loss to figure out what that something is. If you just want something funny, you’ll probably love this, though. And the ending was pretty great — I laughed out loud in the coffee shop where I was reading. I won’t spoil it too much, but I will tell you that it involved mice, a broken sewage pipe, and the girls not following directions.

If you’re looking for a quick read you could do worse than this, but don’t go in expecting anything deep.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #81: Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

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Clearly a popular choice for us Cannonballers, this is the 7th review of Sedaris’s latest collection so far this year. My review can be found here and comes with a bonus comedy dedication from the man himself. Check it out.

Mrs Smith Reads Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, #CBR5, Review #18

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MAKE ME SOME BASKETTI!

I really should have written this review as soon as I finished the book, which was about two weeks ago. I laughed, out loud, several times; mostly in bed, at night, just as my husband was falling asleep. I did read one passage to him, and he laughed too. He remarked that Jenny Lawson sounds exactly like the type of writer who could make me laugh out loud, in bed, at night, and wake up my husband. She is.

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened is a pretty funny and mostly true story of Jenny Lawson’s completely normal and uneventful childhood. Almost none of her childhood was normal and her agent and editor must have thought it was pretty eventful too, since—well, they published her book. Lots of people have read it, and almost everybody loves it. It is quite funny, which I already stated above.

Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) is pretty inspirational to me. I know most days when I’m feeling really miserable about how out of control my life is, I remember that lots of some people with challenging and unfortunate life experiences go on to write inspiring and very well received books about how they navigated adversity with pluck and a sense of humor. And then I feel better.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #76: Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

sedarisIt’s been a couple of years since I read my last Sedaris, so I was about due. I picked up his latest book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls from the library as an audiobook. It was a good decision. (As a point of interest, one of the essays does have owls in it, but nowhere, at least that I could find, does it contain the word ‘diabetes.’ The title is somewhat of a mystery to me.) I’ve also never read a Sedaris by audiobook, and it was delightful. He’s a scamp, Sedaris is, and he doesn’t fail to entertain.

Highlights include: European dental care, Sedaris’s hilarious (and weirdly understandable) obsession with picking up litter along the English countryside where he owns a home, multiple stories with Pater Sedaris walking around in nothing but his underwear, some wonderful anecdotes about his always amusing family, the story of his first colonoscopy, and the titular essay, in which Sedaris struggles to find a stuffed owl to give to his long-suffering partner, Hugh.

This wasn’t my favorite Sedaris, however, for a couple of reasons. There were a couple of essays that made me feel weird. I can’t remember the first one, but there was this story with baby turtles that made me sick to my stomach (it was well-written, I just couldn’t handle what happened). The other reason is that there were several shorter essays at the back of the book that Sedaris wrote specifically to be read aloud by others. He did this when he learned that children have been reading his stories aloud in competitions and wanted to be helpful. I think this is a funny idea, but the problem with it is that I didn’t actually care for any of the stories. I much prefer his non-fiction, I think.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #48: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

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I’m going to do that thing I do when I don’t much like a book everyone else is raving about. It’s rare that a book lives up to the hype (Skippy Dies is one of the few that did), and Where’d You Go Bernadette just falls short.

Bernadette lives in Seattle with her husband Elgie and daughter Bee. She’s pretty peculiar, and spends all of her reclusive life railing against her fellow humans (Sartre’s ‘hell is other people’ quote springs to mind), obsessing over perceived slights and rejecting the general absurdity of life. When Bee aces all her classes at middle school, she demands a cruise to Antarctica as her long-promised reward. This means that Bernadette is faced with having to deal with real people in close quarters, and she starts to unravel.

The novel uses a multitude of ‘source material’, with various different characters taking up the thread of the story. There are emails between friends, colleagues and employees; a transcript of a TED talk that Elgie gave; notes from doctors and articles about Bernadette’s brief career as an architect. So we learn of Bernadette’s state of mind and the past that brought her to where she is today through her emails to an Indian assistant she found on the internet. Exchanges between Elgie’s assistant and her best friend Audrey (a mother at Bee’s school) reveal an outsider’s views of Bernadette’s eccentric behaviour, and the feud between these latter two women provides some of the best moments of the novel.

While the book may be charming and funny in places, the story telling is a bit cack-handed. There is a pointless sub-plot about the Russian mafia that we could have done without, and the entire portion of the book following Bernadette’s physical disappearance loses its way. Faced with the challenge of bringing all the threads of the story together, Semple struggles.

So, while the book doesn’t live up to the hype, it’s worth a read. Just don’t expect too much.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #35: Texts From Bennett by Mac Lethal

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Cannonball Read V: Book #35/52
Published: 2013
Pages: 320
Genre: Humor/Nonfiction

**I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley. It is expected to be released on September 3, 2013.**

I don’t read a lot of humor books, but I’m a fan of Mac Lethal’s Tumblr blog, Texts From Bennett. The blog is a series of texts between Mac and his younger cousin, Bennett. Bennett is a wanna-be gangster (he thinks he’s in the Crips gang) from Kansas City. Mac is actually a legit hip-hop artist (which I had no idea about until I read the book), but doesn’t play into the rapper stereotype, much to Bennett’s chagrin.

I always wondered how Mac and Bennett’s relationship was formed. They seem so different, including a fairly big age gap between the two (Bennet is a teenager and Mac is 30 in the book). That’s where this book excelled. I went into it expecting a bunch of short stories and jokes at Bennett’s expense and actually found a great story about two very different people becoming great friends.

Read the rest in my blog.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #48: “The Bedwetter” by Sarah Silverman

The BedwetterApparently memoirs of successful female comedians is a new favorite genre of mine. Good comedians are, by necessity, smart, funny, and insightful, so I tend to find their books worth reading. And even though I think getting up on a stage and telling jokes to a crowd of strangers would be the ninth circle of hell, I usually find something relatable in their stories. Besides Sarah Silverman’s video, “I’m fucking Matt Damon” and seeing her on late night once in awhile, I didn’t know too much about her or her work coming into The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee (2010).

Silverman’s book is quick and entertaining. Every story and anecdote about her life is short and she jumps quickly from topic to topic before any boredom can set in. Silverman starts with her family and some unique childhood traumas growing up, she goes on to discuss starting stand-up, losing her virginity, her job at SNL, her work at The Sarah Silverman Program, and being Jewish. Although Silverman discusses some very personal details of her life, she avoids discussing her relationships in any detail–only mentioning some ex-boyfriends in passing. But Silverman is trying to entertain, not bare her soul to the world, and in this she succeeds.

Read the rest here.

reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #28 Malavita by Tonino Benacquita

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The Blakes, aka the Manzonis have just moved into a small town in Normandy in the middle of the night. Fred and Maggie are married with two teenagers: Belle and Warren. When they first arrived in France they also acquired Malavita, a well-behaved dog, who spends most of her time sleeping, but plays a crucial role when it counts.

The Blakes first arrived in France six years earlier in Paris. The family has fond memories of the capital, but were forced to move to the Cotes d’Azur a couple of years later, and now suddenly they’ve moved again to Normandy.  The primary problem is Fred. As a former mob boss he has a hard time blending into his surroundings and sooner or later draws unwanted attention to himself. This is a frustration for Tom Quintiliani, the Bureau man who is also exiled to Normandy to ensure the family’s safety.

Keeping Fred safe is a challenge not only because Fred is a bored ex-mafia boss,  but another jailed mafia boss, Don Mimino has put an eight figure bounty on Fred’s head. Benacquista has fun with these characters and the inevitable show down of the pursuers and the pursued. Fred decides to write his memoirs, telling neighbors he is  writing a history of the Normandy invasion. Given the fact that Fred is not a reader, much less a writer, this leads to some hilarity including his impromptu lecture at the village’s movie night.

It’s not easy for this American family that prefers red sauce and pasta to potatoes in butter.  Warren, homesick for New Jersey, dreams of restoring his family to power, and uses the wisdom of Al Capone to take control of the boys at school.  As I read along I wished Benacquista would have put more oomph into Belle and Maggie. Both show some initial fire, but he doesn’t give them the same spark as Fred and Warren. The book relies a great deal on popular culture’s depiction of the mob, more Goodfellas than The Godfather.  I couldn’t help comparing the Blakes/Manzonis to the Sopranos, but given the huge influence of The Sopranos, I imagine it is unavoidable. Malavita is an easy read. I read it at the courthouse while waiting to be called for a jury. I never did get called, but I did finish the book.

Reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #27 Where’d you go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Looking for a summer book? I highly recommend  Where’d you go Bernadette? for airports, planes, beaches or your back yard.  This book is like going to a party with good friends: not all stories are to be believed, there’s delicious food and drink and lots of laughter.  If you’re looking for “serious” literature  avoid Where’d you go Bernadette? Perhaps I liked this book because the book I read previously was such a slog.  After reading something that most often seemed so joyless, this book made me happy.  And who doesn’t want to be happy?

Like some of the other Cannonball reviewers Seattle is my hometown, so the snarky references to locals, weather and Microsoft culture made me laugh. (I do have a relative that works for MS who shuns Apple and Google. Who says you can’t buy loyalty?)  Semple’s Seattle is s a bit like Portlandia, we all have overwrought, overprivileged narcissists in our cities, so you don’t have to be a Seattlite to get the humor.

Plot synopses abound here at CBR, so I won’t bother.  Two thumbs up!