Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #168: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Tuesdays-at-the-Castle-by-Jessica-Day-GeorgeA castle with a life, and mind, of its own? Sign me up, I said. Having completed it, I can now say that basically all Tuesdays at the Castle had (of note) was that one good idea. George, it seems, couldn’t quite come up with a story to match the creativity of the idea at its core.

It’s been weeks since I read it, and the ever-changing castle and the oddly human motivations behind those changes are all that have continued to stick with me all this time later. It, I feel, was the only character of particular interest.

Besides it, there’s Princess Celie, dumbly soldiering on with a map of a castle that’s adding and removing rooms daily, King and Queen Glower, absent (and presumed dead) for most of the book, and Celie’s two brothers, one presumed dead along with his parents and the other forced to assume the throne before his parents have even been confirmed dead.

Nobody else made much of an impression on me. I remember there was a foreigner who tries to use the King and Queen’s absence as an in to the throne; however, the deck is always too stacked against him, the castle coming to the Glowers aid at every pivotal moment, that I never saw him as a threat in the least.

All that kept me reading, then, was the unpredictability of the castle itself. Yes, it helped serve the powers of good, working to help them keep those powers, as I mentioned above, except it didn’t often do so in the most straightforward fashion. There was a language barrier between the castle and its residents, if you will, and it was up to Celie and her brother to figure out the castle’s true intents.

Since, initially, when it could probably have spit this foreigner right back out, quite literally, it appears to hold its ground and show no signs of disapproval. It takes a while before Celie is able to see that the tower is in their favor after all, and that there is hope for her parents (and brother) still.

Not that I was surprised to hear her parents maybe weren’t suddenly murdered; that seemed a smidge too dark for George’s intended age group. I just enjoyed puzzling out the castle’s seemingly roundabout ways along with Celie. Enough, in fact, to continue on to the sequel, Wednesdays in the Tower, hoping George could build a worthwhile story around that castle of hers on her second try. In all honesty, I should’ve just kept to Tuesdays at the Castle.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #167: I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

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Take two after an accidental key press wiped out my review seconds after I’d finished it. As I was saying the first time, Justin Halpern isn’t halfway near as fun as he seems to think he is. He’ll forever be riding the coattails of his father, whose popularity this book helped me understand.

Though when he stops the funny guy act and gets real, talking about the love of his life Amanda, it’s like he’s a different writer altogether. This is a guy I can relate to and enjoy spending the duration of a book with. He’s like me, but a slightly newer and better model.

If he can find a girl like Amanda, who’s to say I can’t as well? I’ve been down on the chances of me ever finding someone as of late, so I Suck at Girls gave me the hope I so desperately needed. I just wish there was more of that and less of Halpern’s unsuccessful stabs at comedy. Leave that to your father, Halpern.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #166: The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 3: 1955-1956 by Charles M. Schulz

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To anyone who’s paying attention, I did skip a volume. I placed an interlibrary loan request for volume two as well, but it couldn’t be fulfilled. Not too surprising, considering the luck I have in similar situations.

  • Until my sister bought me The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I wasn’t able to read every story in the series due to the library’s only collection being incomplete.
  • The Pitt Book Center had The Gunslinger, and every other book in the series… besides its sequel, The Drawing of the Three.
  • The local libraries, oddly enough, have books one and three in Christopher Moore’s vampire trilogy (Bloodsucking Fiends and Bite Me), but not book two.
  • When I placed a hold request for all six parts of The Green Mile, I got them all at the same time… minus one.
  • The local libraries have the first two volumes of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but no more after them.
  • No branch of the Carnegie Library had a copy of the first Dark Tower graphic novel, The Gunslinger Born, but the Butler library, whose selection of graphic novels is slim and hidden upstairs with the non-fiction, does.

This may or may not have something to do with why I so rarely read series. I should’ve known, with as many volumes as The Complete Peanuts is up to, that this was inevitable. Doesn’t make it any less disappointing, especially given buying a copy is currently out of the question, given what each volume runs you ($20+). I’m sure I’ll find a way to read it eventually, but I can hardly stand reading things out of sequence, and only did it this time because that’s how badly I wanted my Peanuts fix. Continue reading

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #165: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

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Violence against one’s children, I feel, is never the answer, but Harriet the Spy had me rethinking that stance. I don’t have it in me to wail on an adult, let alone a child; however, if I were to father a child like Harriet, I would consider putting her up for adoption because a) I couldn’t be trusted not to take the belt to her and b) I have clearly failed as a parent and so she’d be better served being raised by someone else more qualified. She makes that red-headed demon from the Problem Child movies seem like a parent’s dream (think Roald Dahl’s Matilda) by comparison.

Alright, I might be overstating my point a wee bit, but Harriet was the literary equivalent of that little girl who spent what must’ve been something like half of my nine hour shift the other day at Walmart letting loose uninterrupted ear-piercing screams that could be heard from one end of the store to the other. She is a hateful, spiteful hell spawn incapable of learning the error of her ways, largely due to having mostly absent parents who foist her off on a therapist the second things get out of hand. Continue reading

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #164: Tale of Sand by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl

henson_tale_of_sand_cover_5Prior to beginning reading, I attempted to flip to the last page to see how many pages there were and landed, instead, on a page near the end on which a naked woman unzips her skin to reveal a man underneath. After the initial feeling of shock subsided, I got to wanting to read it that much more. Jim Henson wrote this? Based on that quick teaser, I was expecting easily his most adult (which is to say, graphic) output yet; however, unfortunately, outside of that page, Tale of Sand has nothing more risque than The Dark Crystal.

That doesn’t mean it’s not an outlier for Henson, much like The Dark Crystalwas, when you consider what his body of work mainly consisted of (i.e., children’s programs). You have to laugh at Henson thinking someone was going to invest in this screenplay; there’s barely enough material there for a short film, and it would require an extensive budget to fully realize, meaning anyone who bought it would be almost certain to take a loss on it. Moreover, where’s the audience? I’m sure Henson fans would be intrigued, but who else would want to watch what plays out like a story set entirely within a dream and written through some form of word association.

Anytime it starts to return to some type of normalcy, he mixes it up with what was probably the most out-there and unexpected change of pace he could think up at that point in time. This is moderately amusing, but it left me asking myself at the end what the takeaway was supposed to be. I got hints of a deeper meaning, yet I can’t even hazard a guess at what it might be. Perhaps it’s just an exercise in frivolity, meant merely to amuse, not to be taken seriously and picked apart. I had hoped the discussion that was included of the screenplay would reveal which it was, though I had no such luck.

If you want to see Henson as you never saw him before, read Tale of Sand. But if you’re not a fan, or that doesn’t necessarily pique your interest, you wouldn’t be missing out on much if you were to just skip it.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #163: OCD Love Story by Cory Ann Haydu

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Please, be aware that OCD Love Story is not your typical YA fare. Haydu’s characters aren’t the lovably quirky folk that people with psychiatric disorders are often turned into by lesser writers; Bea and Beck are screwed up, and OCD Love Story is about them coming to terms with that fact, each of them assisting the other in no one’s idea of a romantic courtship. Reading it, I was reminded of Neil Hilborn’s performance, which was posted on Pajiba not too long ago.

OCD Love Story is like if Hilborn had fallen for the rough female equivalent of himself, if the two of them were even deeper down that rabbit hole called OCD, yet resistant to accepting the reality of the neuroses that threaten to cripple them mentally and barrel roughshod through their already precarious lives. Continue reading

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #162: Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

every-soul-a-starWelcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the premier of reality television’s next big hit. You’ve heard of Wife Swap and Trading Spouses. Tonight, we bring the next logical step in the evolutionary process: Switching Kids. Since, like the Full House theme song, we ask you the following: “What ever happened to predictability? The milkman, the paperboy, evening TV?” So here’s a light to carry you home… to where that light is blotted out by an eclipse. We give you our premier episode, Every Soul a Star.

Meet Ally, a girl with essentially no friends, minus celestial objects she’s named and engaged in conversation with because living miles from civilization has turned her into a nutter. She wants nothing more than to make a career out of an insignificant act that will be handled by computers by the time she’s fully grown. What she doesn’t know is she’s about to switch lives with so cliched a vain airhead that even we hardly believe she’s real. We’re talking, of course, about Bree, whose life goal, becoming a model, is no more noble a quest than Ally’s. Can she give up her stereotypical life as a popular girl and learn to appreciate the… smaller joys, like walking through a labyrinth that, unfortunately, is nothing like it’s bigger, better brother, the maze? Can Ally take up the mantle she’ll be leaving behind by… I don’t know, actually putting a modicum of effort into appearing presentable? Will living in so far-away a place with so little to do give Bree the time to learn a bankable skill outside of that very same thing?

But, wait a minute, we can’t forget about Jack, the sad-sack who doesn’t try at anything in life, whether it be school or staying in shape. In fact, the only reason he is here, in the middle of nowhere, along with Ally and Bree is it was his ticket out of summer school. Will being thrust into a position of leadership help shape him into a confident enough young man to get with the only one of the two girls who can hold a thoughtful conversation about things not involving typical teenage concerns? Or will he wuss out and make all that work he put in lifting weights with Ally’s one and only friend, who we just let stick around to give Bree someone to moon over and Jack his own opposite, since we can’t have either of them feeling left out?

To find out the answers to these questions and more, stay tuned for the next hour as things work themselves out so well it almost seems as if we planned them. And be sure to tune in tomorrow evening for Switching Kids’ sister show, Switched at Birth, a show decades in the making, where we show you what happens when you let two sets of unsuspecting parents raise one another’s kids and how the kids, and parents, react when it’s finally revealed that they’re not the parents. That’s Switched at Birth, with your host Maury Povich. Now, back to Switching Kids.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #161: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

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“That’s a good book, by the way,” a coworker told me as he passed by and saw me holding Doctor Sleep. In response, I gave him what I can only think to describe as a sort of grunt. By then, I’d read enough to learn otherwise. When my Google search for reviews turned up this, one which has the audacity to put Doctor Sleep and his death-sniffing pussy, Azzie, on a pedestal above The Shining, well I…

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Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #160: Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield

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My entire life, I’ve only received two mixtapes, and given the same amount. Neither is anywhere near as emotionally weighted as Sheffield’s. Yet, I know what it’s like when music is forever linked to a time, person, or place. I can’t hear Katy Perry’s “Firework” without being transported back to watching Pittsburgh’s Fourth of July fireworks with a girl by the name of Julie, the two of us cuddling and, when we could tear our eyes away from the show in the sky, kissing.

Were I Rob Sheffield, though, I would have perfect recall of everything about that night, as well as that girl. I envy him for his memory capabilities at the same time as I pity him. Because, were I him, I also would remember the day the first girl I ever truly loved dumped me. I was naked when it happened, as she’d had sex with me one last time mere moments before. I’ve had the good fortune of remembering mainly the happy moments I’ve spent with the girls I’ve dated; they’re sad in their own right, but it’s better than the alternative.

For Sheffield, though, even the good memories are poisoned with the knowledge of the horror that would come. His wife, of only 5 years, died, and every mixtape is a field of landmines. Even if he sidesteps them all, just the knowledge that they’re there, and will always be there, is enough to inflict its own sort of pain.

And Sheffield describes these memories of his so vividly, so extensively, it makes Love is a Mixtape as close to being in his head, to living through all that he has, that one can get without actually being him. The result is a memoir that gets pretty dire and hard to read, yet is so raw that you feel like turning away would just be adding insult to injury.

Sheffield may’ve come out okay on the other end, but he fought a war to get there, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll ever outgrow the horrific flashbacks it’s left him with. That he can live with that, however, is as life and love affirming as one can get.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #159: So B. It by Sarah Weeks

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Weeks, I like a story about society’s lovable outcasts as much as the next person. Forrest Gump, for instance, is one of my favorite movies. Conversely, however, I don’t like feeling as if my emotions are being manipulated, and that is the impression I got from your novel, So B. It. Heidi, our narrator, has a mother who’s mentally disabled. She knows only 23 words, goes by the name So B. It (making Heidi, Heidi It), and is not fit to raise Heidi on her own.

How does Heidi grow up to be a relatively normal and well-adjusted child, though, despite her genes making that a miracle in its own right? An agoraphobic woman by the name of Bernadette cares for them. How does she pay her bills, as well as theirs, when she’s incapable of leaving the apartment, even to help Heidi, who’s like a daughter to her? From what I remember, Weeks never bothers to answer that.

What’s important is Heidi grows up with a mentally disabled mother, and an agoraphobic woman who handles the motherly duties that mother cannot. In Chuck Lorre’s hands, this would make for the perfect sitcom, which I think I would prefer to this more serious take on it, given the unlikelihood of such a living situation working out.

Especially when Bernadette allows Heidi, who’s only 12 years old, take a cross-country trip on her own, which isn’t even legal at her age, which Bernadette is aware of when she decides to give in and let her go. She can barely scrounge up enough money for Heidi to afford the cab she plans on taking to her destination after she gets off the bus. Not to worry, though; Heidi can get by with a string of luck that I’m fairly certain is, more or less, mathematically impossible.  At first I thought she was some sort of Rain Man, given what her mother’s like, but her “luck” was not limited to counting and the like, so there went there went that hypothesis.

No, Heidi is just unbelievably lucky… until she isn’t any longer, and her “luck” is seemingly passed on to someone else. In short, were it not for her “luck,” which is what helped her acquire the money for the bus, and Bernadette not being against child endangerment, Heidi’s journey to figure out the meaning of her mother’s word “soof” would’ve ended before, well… before she could say “soof.” The journey itself, once you get past that, makes for a nice enough little story, but that is a lot to get past. I couldn’t. Then again, maybe you can, and if you think so, then go ahead and read it. I see no reason why you shouldn’t like it.