Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #183: One Day by David Nicholls

Fitting that one day before day one of the new year, it’s a book called One Day that I’m reviewing. Not so fitting is how long it took me to read it; I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t one day. No, I was off and on with this one, taking repeated breathers with other books. You could say I’m starting to become a bit ADD in my reading habits. I’ll have a half dozen books already checked out, and due soon, yet then they’ll get another book in for me which’ll be given priority, and then yet another will follow suit, and before you know it I still have a half dozen books left and not nearly enough time to read them, making me have to renew them all. After that, this whole process may or may not happen all over again. Sometimes, I never do finish the other book(s); Different Seasons still remains only partially completed on my shelf, one of the few remaining books I own yet haven’t completed.

Luckily, the delays I subjected One Day to weren’t so bad; there’ve been books I waited so long before getting back to that I had to start all over again, but I had no such difficulties with One Day, owing in part to having seen the stellar (in my opinion and seemingly no one else’s) film adaptation, one of only four (or is it five? I’d have to go back and check to be sure) movies to ever make me cry. The book had nowhere near that affect on me, which might have a lot to do with the timing; I watched the movie not long after a rough breakup, whereas the book didn’t have that working in its favor, adding more weight to the emotional punches it certainly doesn’t pull. As with many others this year, I’ll have to rewatch the movie to see whether it’s a matter of shifting tastes or something else altogether.

That being said, I’d like to say my preferring the movie by a wide margin is a result of it feeling like a scrapbook come to life, and the book seeming to dwell more on the moments, not so much an issue with the good, but bothersome during the bad; neither is particularly long, but the book feels noticeably longer. This is all rather vague, I know, but it’s all I have for you, since I’m going to have to cheat yet again and say I’ll just need to revisit this once I give the movie another go.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #182: Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson

It’s not often you read a book with its own video game spin-off. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is a peculiar little book; reading a title like that, and chapter titles referencing so-called “time travelers,” I wouldn’t blame you for expecting the author to go heavier on the science fiction than he does. Two aliens do decide to pop into Callahan’s, but the others don’t see this as anything out of the ordinary. They could be agents for the MIB, and Spider Robinson could be an inspired choice as screenwriter for MIB 4, if they decide to continue the series; the studios would never go for it, since I’d imagine it being a lot like The Man From Earth, AKA the anti-blockbuster.

Hollywood doesn’t do meditative and existential with a side-dish heaped full of puns; Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the furthest towards that end of the spectrum it’s liable to get, and that failed (commercially, that is; personally, I adore it), so they’re not exactly bound to give it another go anytime soon. Perhaps a show; then again, they tried that with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, also by Douglas Adams, and couldn’t quite nail down the feel of it. I guess I’d settle for a Robinson-scripted episode of Dr. Who; read the chapter wherein the novel’s second alien appears and try to tell me he wouldn’t do a masterfully at contending with the various quandaries (moral, existential, what have you) The Doctor must somehow find suitable answers for.

No, read the entirety of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and try to tell me you don’t pine for a place like this, with its weekly Punday Night on Tuesdays (why he didn’t go the extra mile and have it be on Sundays [Sunday/Punday], I’m not sure), its camaraderie and support structure, its colorful visitors and happenings, et cetera. (Sounds an awful lot like Pajiba, come to think of it.) Both aliens view Callahan’s as sort of a bastion of hope for humanity, a place pleasantly at odds with the rest of the world they both have it in their power to destroy, in one way or another. One of the characters likens it to a local commune run by cultists, a comparison I feel isn’t too far off; it’s akin to that, but sans the religious aspect. Each is populated by people looking merely to belong; the lost and alone come together to find themselves and one another.

Whatever you are, there’s a place for you at Callahan’s; many of its patrons, and the ones who return annually for the New Year’s festivities, don’t even drink, because it’s no more about alcohol than a cult is about religion. I’m certain there are a fanatical few insane enough to buy into such crackpot theories, but I really do believe that, deep down, it all comes back to that search for belonging. If that means drinking the Kool Aid (or, in this case, alcohol), then so be it; it doesn’t make the people they talk about living on the commune delusional cultists, and it doesn’t make the people in Callahan’s drunks. At least that’s how they would see it; some of them balk at being compared to the members of that commune, but I’m sure that if one of said members were to walk through those doors, they’d accept him or her without question and without hesitation because they’re able to see past the exterior, as it can be deceiving.

Take, for instance, the first of those two aliens; the way Robinson writes him, you can’t help but see him the way they do, as one of theirs. Had the topic of his being an alien never been broached, I never would’ve guessed it, and this isn’t because Robinson was lazy, not making him “alien enough,” but rather I read it as him saying to the reader that there doesn’t exist a wedge that cannot be budged if the people on both sides work together to remove it, that we are all a lot more alike than you’d think once we stop telling ourselves how different we are, for whatever reason. This is a lesson many today are still learning, andCallahan’s Crosstime Saloon does as good a job as any book at teaching it. Plus, you know, there are puns, and what humorless sod doesn’t love some of those?

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #176: Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

Not unlike with Tuesdays at the Castle, there was a kernel of something special here. In that case, it was the castle itself; in this case, it’s the magical recipes Rosemary Bliss’s parents make for the townspeople. Similar to Rose, I was in awe when I read about her mother folding lightning into one of her baked goods, all in order to save a young boy who’d been struck by lightning. All the different magical recipes were so cute and clever I was sad there had to be a story to accompany them.

tumblr_static_blissEspecially one that breaks so little new ground when you remove said recipes from the equation. Rose, our main character, is pretty typical in her all-consuming desire to feel special and pretty. And her counterpart, the story’s antagonist Lily, also falls neatly into a type of her own, hers being the too-good-to-be-true outsider that, by story’s end, will be revealed to be an impostor of some sort.

Anyone, except maybe the middle-grade audience Littlewood wrote Bliss for, can see how things will play out when Rose’s parents, who’d never let Rose make any magic recipes, leave and give her the key to the place their special cookbook is hidden. It only became an even more foregone conclusion when Lily showed up at their doorstep and buttered Rose and her siblings up.

Clearly, this book wasn’t written for the likes of me. Still, I’d like to think its intended audience is discerning enough to realize how predictable it all is.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #175: Nobody Nowhere: The Remarkable Autobiography of an Autistic Girl by Donna Williams

Nobody-Nowhere1This book re-unleashed my inner cynic, the part of me that can only see the worst in humankind. I’d like to think we’ve evolved, so to speak, since Williams’ formative years, but I don’t know that we’ve had. We’ve gotten better at (formally) labeling the ones kids and similarly ignorant adults will undoubtedly call “retarded,” “crazy,” etc. and I think that’s about it. Perhaps I’m biased by my own upbringing, but it’s not often that someone’s parents truly puts in the effort to get to know their child. So often there’s a disconnect between child and parent, and not just because of the age or generation gap; they’re simply out of touch with one another and the parents, whose job it should be to bridge the gap, will rarely do anything to change that.

Nowadays, Williams’ teachers might’ve recognized the characteristics of autism, but that would’ve just given her parents something to pin all her problems on, and even more of a reason to ship her away somewhere else with people actually qualified to do something to help her. I think of them like the parents in Matilda, times a thousand. They never understood Donna and it’s because they never made an effort. She didn’t fit into their family picture, so they either pushed her out of it or tried to beat her into line. There are more kids these sorts of situations than I, or anyone, would care to admit.

On the flipside, though, that she managed not just to survive it all, but to thrive, and actually because of that same mistreatment, is an inspiration. I don’t know that I could’ve made it through what she did, and yet Donna Williams, who it seems actually has more difficulty coping than you or I, generally speaking, was able to. Making herself and her feelings understood was another seemingly insurmountable challenge of hers, yet in writing this book she succeeded at that as well, doing a better job of it than many, including myself.

If you want, then, to have the best and worst qualities of the human race reaffirmed, read Nobody Nowhere. It’ll make you simultaneously a cynic and a romantic.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #174: The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 4: 1957-1958 by Charles M. Schulz

The-Complete-Peanuts-1957-1958-9781560976707These were a down couple of years for Schulz’s Peanuts strip. Schulz was no stranger to revisiting things; most of Peanuts most iconic aspects (Linus’ security blanket, Charlie Brown and the football, etc.) grew to be well-known through repetition. I accept that, and normally I’m okay with it, as long as he doesn’t appear to be copying and pasting as he does in some of the strips in this volume. Once every couple pages, for example, it seems, Snoopy gets into a tussle with Linus for said security blanket. There are only so many possible variations on that Schulz could use, and he runs through all of them at warp speed. Similarly, Schulz really harps on that joke involving Lucy being a “champion fussbudget.” I didn’t mind it early on, when it first appeared, but again, like with the previous example, there’s little room for variation, and eventually you’ve just heard and seen it all. Continue reading

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #173: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

1354114469570.cachedThis demands a rewatch of the Roman Polanski classic; reading Ira Levin’s book, I couldn’t pick out many differences, besides Polanski’s decision not to show the baby referenced in the title, yet here I am calling one a classic and about to call the other basically an all-around disappointment.

Could Polanski’s direction, the cast’s performances, etc. and that one crucial choice I mentioned above be all that’s behind this stark contrast in perceived quality, or have my tastes changed to such a degree that I’d be as unimpressed with the film now as I was the book?

I hardly feel I can review the book until I’ve rewatched the film, that way I don’t come off looking like a two-faced idiot, since I fear the very things I’d downplay about the book are the same things I’d play up about the film. It’s been a while since I watched Rosemary’s Baby that first and only time, so who knows how accurate my recollection is?

I’ll just say this: like Peter Jackson did with The Fellowship of the Ring, Roman Polanski took what I feel to be rather silly source material and forced me to take it seriously. Rosemary’s Baby is a novel that could only have been controversial all those decades ago when it was first published. And that’s as much as I can say without first revisiting the film.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #172: God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette

CA-penn-jilletteBilled as a re-interpretation of The Ten Commandments, God, No! is in reality a collection of stories with the loosest of associations to said commandments. Even the title (and subtitle) are misleading. It’s not all about his (and your possible) atheism. God, No! is Jillette using his creation of “The Penn Commandments” as an excuse to rattle off stories about his own life, some of which are more related to his atheism than others.

There’s one about his repeated attempts to have sex, and more importantly finish said sex, underwater in scuba gear. Another discusses the positives and negatives of Sigfried & Roy. And in nearly all of them, Jillette is more juvenile than I expected; I should’ve known, given I don’t think there’s an episode ofPenn & Teller’s: Bullshit! (he loves his exclamation points, apparently) without naked tits, but I took that as just a sign of his having a healthy obsession with that particular body part, not unlike most men.

With that in mind, it’s almost like an atheism-tinged Tough Shit. Kevin Smith and Penn Jillette are both fat, loud, and a teeny bit immature. Both of their memoirs have a unifying “theme” that’s just there in a weak effort to tie together a smattering of dissimilar stories. And both are precisely what you’d expect from the person writing them; if you find them funny, rather than grating, in real life, you’ll enjoy their books. It’s exactly as simple as that.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #171: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

11612-marblesEllen Forney puts her entire self, unfiltered, into Marbles. Please excuse the cliche sentiment, but reading it brings you as close to understanding her hurricane of thoughts as you can get without actually being her. So, graded as insight into the mind of a woman saddled with bipolar disorder,Marbles receives the highest mark I can give.

Yet when graded based upon other factors, namely my personal enjoyment, it rates a bit lower. As I believe I’ve discussed in past reviews, real mental illness is the furthest thing from glamorous. Forney herself tries to hold onto that misconception to sugar coat things, but she quickly realizes that membership card she imagines getting is more a crushing weight on her head and chest than a muse.

The blurbs, which I should know to ignore by now, play up, among other things, Forney’s ability to find humor in her dire situation, but in hindsight they read as an attempt by the writers of said blurbs to trick people into reading a much more raw and serious look into living with bipolar disorder. Forney does try her best to find the silver-lining in certain moments (see the above picture), but you can tell it’s a defense mechanism more than anything. In other words, Marblesisn’t nearly as playful as its blurbs, or its cover (pictured below), would have you believe.

marbles As a result, it can be pretty hard to read at times. At least moreso than I expected. And since I rate books almost entirely based upon personal enjoyment, I have to dock Marbles a couple points for that. It may seem petty, but I need to remain consistent. If you want an honest depiction of what it’s like to be bipolar, you can’t do much better than Marbles; on the other hand, though, if you want an enjoyable read, you probably can do better.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #170: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

tumblr_lusgh4XSgk1qhl1c8o1_1280Pratchett’s an author I more or less gave up on. Like with Gaiman, it wasn’t worth suffering the status quo of disappointment in case of that rare anomaly or two. Funny that both got my hopes up with the same book, AKA Good Omens, which the two of them co-wrote. With how perfectly Pratchett and Gaiman complete (and better) one another, I dare say I would advocate for Gaiman divorcing Amanda Palmer and marrying Pratchett. Neither has even approached a book of Good Omens caliber in their respective solo careers, and with their increasing age, and Pratchett’s mental deterioration, it’s doubtful either ever will. Gaiman, though, has come closest; The Graveyard Book is, admittedly, fantastic, yet it still can’t break into the same lofty stratosphere Good Omens resides in for me. The best Pratchett has to offer outside of Good Omens, on the other hand, is… I don’t know, the mildly-amusing, middle-of-the-road Hogfather? Can you see, then, why I was quicker to abandon him than his cohort, Gaiman?

With authors of their (supposed) caliber, however, it’s nigh on impossible to ever give up on them cold turkey like that. There’ll always be that nagging thought that maybe you simply haven’t found the right book yet. Every author has his or her share of misfires; Stephen King wrote the likes of The Girl Who Loved Tom GordonThe Colorado Kid, and Doctor Sleep, so why can’t I allow a similarly prolific author such as Pratchett more time, more books to win me over to his side? This is the attitude that convinced me to read Small Gods, held by nearly all of his fans to be one of his best. As per usual, Pratchett, known largely (primarily, you could argue) for his humor, fails to make me laugh or even to smile. In the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that if I’m reading or watching something meant to humor me, and it fails entirely, it’s game over. Being funny doesn’t even necessarily have to be its main pursuit; if it makes repeated stabs at humor that leave me stone-faced, my patience for it will’ve been exhausted pretty quickly.

Even if I were feeling especially forgiving, I couldn’t credit him for much else. A god’s existence relying upon belief is something I’ve seen multiple times before, in American Gods, in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and probably in another book or two I just can’t happen to remember at the moment. Nor is skewering religion satirically something I’m not familiar with; Pratchett himself did it better, I feel, in Good Omens, and it wasn’t even as big a part of that work as it was of Small Gods. When you’re preaching to the choir, as Pratchett is here, seeing as I’m an agnostic who finds many aspects of religion, namely organized religion questionable and, yes, laughable, you’d think it’d take very little to get me to nod along. Quite the contrary. I’ve heard so much said about religion by this point in my life that my standards are higher. I’ve seen this all before, and it was funnier and more biting then than it is here. That leaves me with the characters, all of which I find unlikable, and the plot, which has never been Pratchett’s strong-suit, in my opinion.

So, all tolled, there’s not a thing I single positive I could key in on here. This isn’t necessarily because it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read, because it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a worse sin to be forgettable, which Small Gods, and almost all I’ve read of Pratchett’s body of work, is. It’s just another book of his that left me desperately in want of a laugh, or anything memorable for that matter. That all having been said, this doesn’t represent Pratchett’s last chance for me; I still have Unseen Academicals to read, and Lords and Ladies, if it ever gets down the line to me (it’s been “in transit” to the person above me in the hold queue for days). And my expectations are so astronomically low by this point that one of them could easily surprise me. If neither does, though, I think that’ll be it, that I’ll officially be done trying with Pratchett. I guess we’ll see.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #169: Wednesdays at the Tower by Jessica Day George

Wednesdays at the TowerIn Wednesdays at the Tower, the castle’s origins are explained. Personally, I preferred not knowing the story behind the castle. You know, since as I said in my last review, that air of mystery, of being partially lost in translation, was the one and only appeal Tuesdays at the Castle had for me.

As far as I’m concerned, George could’ve held off on telling readers what made the castle what it is at least until a third book. Then again, perhaps all she wanted was an excuse to throw a cute, crowd-pleasing baby griffin in there, to deny Celie the help of others, with few exceptions, in raising him, thus making what would probably have been a smooth upbringing otherwise and making it stress filled.

The castle wants Celie to keep this griffin to herself… and a few select others. Anyone else it shuts out, and I mean that literally; Celie even thinks of telling her parents and doors don’t just close, they disappear. What could be the explanation?

Hm, griffins are all around Castle Glower. Do you think it could have something to do with its past? No, don’t speak such poppycock. It can’t be that simple. Nope, wait, it is. Through this griffin appearing (seemingly) at random, all your questions are answered. I say “your questions,” since there are a couple I had that George’ll probably leave unanswered. Put simply, I’d like the backstory to the backstory, but I doubt it’s forthcoming.

Which is most likely for the best; I wouldn’t want to go against my better judgment once more and read another book in this series, and I know I would if there were a third. So, in a way, I’m glad George (presumably) ended it here in the second book. She got the letdown out of the way before anticipation had built my hopes for the resolution up very high at all. Thanks to that, these two books of hers will be some of this year’s forgettable footnotes, rather than stand-out disappointments like, say, You Suck and Bite Me by Christopher Moore, which took a promising introduction in Bloodsucking Fiends and pile-drived it, leaving it so thoroughly concussed that it, and Moore apparently, no longer knew what it was. So, yeah, I’m thankful that George at least managed to inadvertently avoid that.