Tag Archives: cbr4

4/28 Borrowed Books

28 Apr

Collecting fun book stuff from around the web!


Review #24: Savages by Don Winslow

11 Apr

Savages is part prose, part poetry and a smorgasbord of drugs, blood, guns, sex, youth, race, money and power.  It’s a quick, bloody Game of Thrones style power struggle and, much like in Game of Thrones, there are no guarantees main characters won’t be slaughtered along the way.  Basically, the Walmart of cartels tries to take over Ben & Chon’s wildly successful mom & pop hydroponic pot growing business and when they’re rebuked, the cartel kidnaps Ben & Chon’s shared lover Ophelia.  Chaos and savagery ensue as Ben & Chon mount an elaborate multiphase plan to recover their lover.

The book holds your interest, if only because the players are trainwrecks you can’t tear your eyes from.  You never know who the smartest guy in the room is, and every player makes both brilliant moves and excruciating miscalculations during the course of the story.  Certain characters capture your attention more than others.Like Ben, the Berkley pihlanthropist/businessman/botanist who prides himself on his peaceful business and superior intelligence analysis who sinks into violence over the course of the novel. Or Ophelia, the bored little rich girl who half-heartedly wants to escape her shallow, bohemian existance for the sake of notoriety.  And La Reina, Queen of the cartel, seems more focused on proving her power than wielding it. Continue reading

Review #22: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

7 Apr

I read Jennifer Egan’s The Keep and loved every creepy, fantastical minute of it. While I’d place The Keep on the mystery or horror shelf,  Egan’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad shows that Egan’s distinctive style translates across genres. While this book covers many topics: families, sex, drugs, passion, work and everything in between – it’s primarily about music. Music pulses through this book, whether explicitly in chapters about the music industry or implicitly in the chapters about those tangentially affected by it.

The book is advertised as telling the story of Bennie and Sasha, but I found this was more like an anthology of short stories about a series of interrelated characters. While one chapter might be about Bennie, the next was about his college friend, the next about Bennie’s PR executive, the next about Sasha’s brother, and so on. Each character is fully developed in the short vignette; you know exactly where they are in their lives and how they got there. It was exciting to speed through the chapters, hoping to learn a prior character’s future when they popped up in another character’s story.

This book traces the music industry over a span of about 30 years, looking at all of its participants: listeners, music executives, rock stars, aging rock stars, undiscovered talent, talent wasted. It touches upon the changes in the industry over time, and how the rise of technology first crippled and then fundamentally altered the music industry. The book is engaging, and music lovers will probably appreciate the personalized stories detailing the ups and downs of the music industry.

#CBR4 Review 21: Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

6 Apr

This is document 5 in Lisa Lutz’s Spellman series, and it was wonderful. For those of you haven’t been introduced to the wonderfully dysfunctional family of private investigators, the Spellmans, I recommend starting with document 1, The Spellman Files. It’s not necessary, because the book contains an appendix reviewing all the major players, but it helps. Lutz introduces a few new characters in this book (an ex-con, Demetrius, their grandmother, Henry’s mom) and brings back some of our favorite old players (Bernie, Fred).

These books are just funny. Laugh out loud funny. There’s an appropriate level of romance, with Isabel’s on again/of again relationship with the (probable) love of her life, Henry the cop. There’s quirk, but not reaching New Girl levels of quirkiness. The family is goofy, the things they do to each other in a never ending series of revenge stunts are ludicrous, and there’s usually some kind of mystery tossed in for good measure.

This is another character driven mystery writer, and honestly, the intertwining mysteries take a pretty far backseat to the family. It’s like if the Royal Tennenbaums were middle classed private investigators living in the San Francisco area. The theme of this book seemed to be avoidance. Isabel, the narrator, threw herself wholesale into work and her family’s problems to avoid a major discussion with her boyfriend Henry. Isabel’s mother throws herself into ten new hobbies to avoid her own mother. Rae, the baby sister, is finally off at college, trying to avoid telling her parents she wants out of the family business. David, the older brother, throws himself into raising his child to avoid dealing with his family’s dysfunction. And yet, they cannot seem to get out of each other’s way, leading to a strange set of hilarious events.

Quick, easy, ridiculously fun read.

#CBR Review 20: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

5 Apr

Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the coming of age, and coming out, story of a young teenage girl living in Minnesota in the early 1990s.  I read a Vulture article recently lamenting the recent lack of coming out memoirs. I realized that for all of the books I read, there’s a serious lack of homosexual main characters in them. I’d imagine it’s because we’re drawn to stories that reflect ourselves in someway – whether it’s sexuality, socio economic status, situation in life, race, education, etc. But there are common elements to everyone’s experience, and I’m really glad I branched out because this book was great.

The plot of the book is simple: Cameron struggles with her budding sexuality, connects with a more experienced lesbian who helps her branch out, and has her heart broken by her first love. After the heartbreak, Cameron is sent to a religious camp/school designed to “supress” homosexual impulses. Every page I read about the camp/school filled me with an indescribable fury. I found it incredibly painful to read about the 24/7 attempts to change something that Cameron simply couldn’t control. The moments Cameron weakened, and thought it might be easier to spend her life pretending, made me wish I could jump into the pages and just be there for her.  To tell her that eventually, it will get better, and she can live her life embracing her true feelings. Throughout the whole book, I just wanted to be her friend, because the people who truly cared about her were too far away to help her. And she was afraid to ask for help.

Cameron’s story really resonates because it’s so incredibly universal. It was like a flashback to high school. When Cameron struggles with how to handle the advances of her best guy friend, Jamie, it reminded me of that time in my life where it seemed impossible to distinguish between an interest in friendship and romance. When her crush leads her on, shattering her heart into a million pieces, it reminded me of the time a so-called “popular guy” secretly hooked up with my friend for months, only to publicly humiliate her if anyone asked him about her. Figuring out friendships and romance in high school is messy, regardless of your sexuality.

Cameron’s story is the story of so many high schoolers: you feel everything so intensely that you feel a little bit out of control, you love someone too much, your friends spend months trying to warn you not to do the destructive thing you’re going to do, and you do it anyway. And you suffer, and then it gets better. Worth a read if you want to remember what it’s like to be 16 and utterly lost again.

#CBR4 Review #19: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

4 Apr

Swamplandia! is the story of a family who, after the death of their mother, struggles to keep their family together and their long running alligator tourist attraction.  When the three siblings, Ava, Ossie, and Kiwi, all get separated, Russell’s magical prose tells the epic story of how they reunite and move on.

Karen Russell’s first novel offers three elements that make it worth reading.  First, the setting. A family run alligator farm in the swamps of Florida. The descriptions are brilliant; of the alligator wrestling, of their recently deceased mother’s nightly shows, of the birth of a red alligator, of the tourists that come streaming through their park. It’s almost magical, although the book is mostly grounded in the real world.

Second, Ava. Ava is the youngest child in the family, struggling to save the family’s alligator park because she desperately wants to keep her family together and their traditions alive. The way she identifies with the alligators, the way she wants to mimic her mother in every way, the way she believes in her sister’s elaborate ghost stories.

Third, Kiwi. Kiwi is the oldest, the brother of the family, who leaves for the mainland to struggle to support his family and pay off their mounting debts. Working for their competitor, he accidentally falls into his fifteen minutes of fame. But he also struggles with his expectations for his life versus the reality; his inability to prove his genius, his inexplicable ability to save others.

Overall, a worthwhile read!

#CBR4 Review #18: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

3 Apr

Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary is a dictionary, with one brief entry per page attributing some aspect of the relationship to relevant word plucked from the dictionary.  This is a love story, told in an A through Z series of moments and reflections. Calling it a love story is almost misleading; it’s more appropriate to call this a lover’s story.  Written from the boyfriend’s perspective, each dictionary entry is an ode to something about his girlfriend: her personality traits, his favorite memories, his least favorite memories. This is their love through his eyes, defined by the words he chooses.

This is a quick read worth reading. The last book I read, Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag, included an extensive discussion of whether our lives consist of moments. The husband in that book, also an artist, believed we’re defined by moments: the moment we fell in love, the moment we met our best friend, the moment we fall out of love. The wife doesn’t believe in moments, she believes in history; that our lives are defined by long periods of gradual change rather than sudden realization.

Regardless of your philosophical views, our memories seem to be dominated by moments.  When you consider your relationships with others, whether it’s your relationship with your ex, childhood friend, or estranged relative; you remember precise pieces of that relationship. A character trait exemplified by distinctive example; the happiest moment you ever spent with them; the time you really noticed what they looked like.

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