Landline (CBR6 #52) (Cannonball!)

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the U.S. I’m reminded of the things I’m thankful for, and in the last several years Cannonball Read is one of the things I am extremely thankful for. It’s helped reignite my love of reading, its introduced me to a group of people who also love to be bookish readers and talk about what they’re reading and why it’s affecting them the way it is. And its helped pull me outside of myself in my real life as whole new conversations are starting with coworkers and friends about what we’re reading, and what they think I should read next, and just how scathing or bonkers a particular review of mine has gone.

But perhaps most importantly it’s exposed me to authors and books I may have otherwise missed. The prime example of that are Rainbow Rowell and her four books (so far!). I have loved them each individually and I love them as a group. I have bought copies for family, will begin pushing them on friends immediately, and generally sing their praises. Not every book or author is for everyone, but Rainbow Rowell and her books are for me.

Landline, my 52nd book this year, is definitely a book for me even though I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I certainly don’t have a magic phone that lets me talk to the love of my life 15 years ago. But, these characters jumped off the page, dug down into my soul and meditated there for a while letting me I think about the big idea. The plot (minus the magic phone, seriously don’t worry about the phone, accept the timey wimey-ness and move on) is relatively standard in adult fiction. What happens to your life when you take for granted those you love and who love you and you make not good decisions? What is the consequence? How do you make it right? Can you make it right? Should you make it right?

Georgie McCool, our protagonist, ruminates on just those points for the majority of the 300 pages of this book. She seemingly has made one poor decision too many, she sees herself as the nexus of her husband’s unhappy life. So when the opportunity to speak to Neal in the days leading up to his proposal 15 years ago happens, she must decide whether she’s trying to make it happen, or trying to spare him the pain that binding his life to hers will cause.

I was able to relate to the self-doubt Georgie feels, and also the perceived lack of career trajectory that she sees in Neal. Georgie has a problem I think a lot of super career driven people have – they don’t see that for many people their job isn’t what gives their life meaning. In my reading of this book it comes across that family and kids are what give Neal’s life meaning, and therefore it doesn’t matter to him that he left a relatively dead end science job to stay home and be a dad, a position he tells Georgie is absolutely necessary when they are first married, when she thinks they’re optional because she was raised without hers. But it’s this perceived slight, that Neal gave something up so that Georgie could do the thing that drives her (being a comedy script writer for television) causes Georgie nearly as much strife as the possibility of Neal walking away from their marriage.

This isn’t necessarily a happy read, even at the end, but the language and word choice keep you on your toes and enjoying the read. Rainbow’s characters sound like real people. Rainbow’s writing isn’t the big sweeping bold word choice that generally accompanies the classics of American literature, but its so precise, and rings so true that it just sits with you. She plays with form and function, and in Landline parenthetical phrases are used to clarify Georgie’s inner dialogue and if you’re a reader of my reviews, you know I love a parenthetical phrase. (I really, really do). Rainbow’s used other things in each of her books, and they each add a layer of meaning, a layer of depth, to the proceedings. They are the icing on a superbly baked cake.

You may ask yourself if I am so obviously in love with the book, its author, and its sibling books why am I not rating it 5 stars. The answer is simply that while I know Georgie at the end of this book, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got Neal nailed down, I don’t really know the other characters. This one doesn’t have the beautifully fleshed out supporting cast of characters that other Rowell books have. That slides this one firmly into 4.5 stars for me. But, I’ll let you know that if you saw my meltdown at half-cannonball time about wanting more, more, more at the end of Fangirl that I loved the Easter egg in Landline and it gave me enough closure to go ahead and rerate that a 5 star book, since I was being silly abut withholding it in the first place.

Read this book, and everyone in the pool, I made my cannonball goal!

Now off to book 53…

Mockingjay (CBR6 #51)

Mockingjay is Katniss’ book, and it’s appropriate that it’s titled for her. In the Hunger Games Series the first book introduces the world that lead to the Hunger Games, and the games themselves and is in that way perfectly titled. The second book, the weakest in my estimation, is also perfectly titled in that the world around Katniss is beginning to catch fire; the seeds of rebellion are being planted. The third book erupts with secrets and civil war, and chronicles what such a thing costs one girl. In the end, it costs her nearly everything.

I won’t be doing a full on synopsis as part of this review, by now this series has permeated nearly all of popular media and I went into this book with the ending spoiled for me. And the middle. But there was still a lot of nuance and depth left to explore.  While I remain unconvinced that Collins is a great writer, she does excel at picking her metaphors and sticking with them. This allows for the reader to unpack as much or as little of the subtext as they want and as a YA novel that is a benefit to the younger readers who devour this work. Collin’s metaphors this time add to the previous ones: we have Snow’s roses and fire from before, but now we also have the hanging tree song.

I know for others this can lead to dull reading, the repetitive nature of what Collins does with these literary tricks. The books have also been accused of having the most boring love triangle resolution ever. I refer those people to my CBR5 review of Catching Fire where I argue that this isn’t a love triangle at all.

Another boon for this book is that Collins doesn’t back down from the darkness of the tale she is telling. That’s why I could not finish it on my first go late last year. I intended to pick it up right after Catching Fire and just march to the end, but Katniss’s mental state is such that I could not live with her in that pain.  When I picked the book back up this week I skipped the first three chapters which I had already read and jumped into the story from there, for fear that the bleakness of Katniss putting together what had transpired at the end of the 75th Hunger Games and what District 13 and specifically President Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee need and want from her would just be too much. And I really wanted to have read the book before watching the movie(s). The ending is grim. The war has consequences. Characters we have grown to love die. They make stupid mistakes because they are tired. And because of the effort to not tie it all up in a bow (regardless of the epilogue) I’ve rounded my rating up from 3.5 stars to 4.

This review is part of my Cannonball Read.

The Halloween Tree (CBR6 #50)

I’d only ever read one Ray Bradbury book before picking up The Halloween Tree this year. It was Fahrenheit 451 and I read it in middle school as assigned reading, which is quite a bit of time ago. It was perhaps my first taste of dark, satire filled literature that showed me there was more to the world than what I had previously thought possible. That the things I held to be givens, to be true, weren’t guaranteed to stay that way. It blew my twelve year old mind. As much as I enjoyed The Halloween Tree I wish I had read it back then, as a bookend to that book, a sort of lightening of the overall mood, even though it’s a meditation of death and what we’ll do for a friend.

It may be strange to think of this book as light reading, but that is how I would describe The Halloween Tree to an adult reader. Clocking in at just under 150 pages this YA title follows the paranormal adventures of eight boys who are lead through the various histories and beginnings of the holidays and events which led to Halloween and the costumes they are wearing. And they’re on a mission to save their friend Pipkin, who they are chasing through said histories.You have a neat little history lesson intertwined with a chase and it comes together fluidly.

I don’t know whether it’s because of its author or the time it was published, but The Halloween Tree has darkness to it, a sense of consequence that wouldn’t be found in a similar book published today. And the line drawings by Joseph Mugnaini are stylistically beautiful and creepy.  And to me, that was lovely.

This review is part of my Cannonball Read 6 books.

For Darkness Shows the Stars (CBR6 #49)

Whenever a writer takes on a retelling of a classic, I get nervous. I probably shouldn’t, since so much of the media we enjoy these days’ takes it roots in just this type of storytelling. Regardless, when I originally heard the description of For Darkness Shows the Stars as a post-apocalyptic retelling of Austen’s Persuasion I was not immediately sold.

Nevertheless, this book made a believer out of me. So much so that I’ve already downloaded the accompanying short story to my Nook and I’ll be reading it soon.

I don’t know how I got confused considering what lovely reviews were written about this book as part of the Cannonball Read by Malin, Bonnie and Scootsa1000 but I thought this book was set in space (in my feeble defense the cover art is gorgeous and totally looks like it could be a space opera cover) so I had some reticence in getting started. Fear not, it isn’t in space (or conversely, I’m sorry, it’s not in space) it’s set in out distant future when things have gone to shit. Once I got into this plot, I was in.

There were some things that kept me on the fence through the first 50 pages or so of this post-apocalyptic dystopia. A lot of the details about just what kind of apocalypse we’re dealing with were difficult for me to parse in the beginning, and the terminology the reader needs to learn in the beginning seemed daunting. However once I got comfortable with the idea that advanced genetic manipulation had led to a large portion of humanity being born in a ‘reduced’ state – with limited speech and understanding, and thought to be unable to care for them selves and were now gathered on estates run by families of those unaffected by the reduction I was intrigued.

The small portion of society which had shunned the genetic manipulation, known as Luddites, have for generation been the only typical humans who have shunned nearly all of our modern technology in an attempt to make amends for the perceived overstepping of bounds that led to the reduction. That is, until the Reduced starting having children of normal capabilities and intellect, known as Posts. Diana Peterfruend’s story places the bones of Persuasion over this period of turmoil, not unlike Austen’s own early 1800s. Our protagonist is the younger daughter of one estate, who is doing her best to keep her people alive while her father and sister seem to be doing their best to run everything into the ground.

Is this a perfect novel? No. There are details that are thrown in and then not properly explored. I understand that Peterfreund’s attempts to clarify just how terrifying the Reduction would have been, but the ensuing wars, and their description, did not land for me. And when Kai, the male lead, makes his reappearance his secrets are telegraphed for at least a hundred pages before the big reveal. But the main thrust of the book, Kai as a Post going out to live a life of his choosing and attaining success, and Elliot’s struggle with her very identity as a Luddite throughout are fascinatingly good reads.

The world Peterfreund has built to play around in is full of unexpected possibilities and I’m looking forward to what else she is able to do in this sand box.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the Cannonball Read.

NaNoWriMo 2014

Well, I’m doing this insanity once more. I really need to have my head examined. I have never finished a novel I have set out to write over the course of the last several years. But, I have had more success with short stories. So, this year I am writing a collection of short stories entitled Solar Powered Dog and Other Assorted Tales and am basing them off Erikson’s psychosocial development stages. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter dealing with Care and Generativity.

Holly was a nervous sort. She liked to claim that nervousness was her great aunt’s domain, but it was something that they shared, something that united them. Matilda hadn’t raised Holly from the time she was a small child, she had instead stepped in when Holly was in her teens and Holly’s father had decided that she needed a woman’s touch. It was perhaps an antiquated feeling to have, but Matilda was pleased to have the time with her great-niece.

There’s had never been a typical relationship; Matilda was not necessarily the mothering sort. Her own husband had died young; a victim of a car accident, and Matilda had never found the need to remarry. She had her friends, her family as it was, and her work which kept her occupied. But as she approached retirement and her nephew George had an existential crisis about raising a teenage daughter on his own, she was pleased to step into this new role.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that perhaps she had underestimated the work and emotional toll it would take raising Holly. Matilda had been under the misapprehension that a girl of 14 would be nearly raised, and would instead need a chaperone of sorts to help her make decisions about impending adulthood. This did not turn out to be the case.

Ten years later Matilda and Holly’s relationship had reached the place that she assumed it would have started, with Matilda weighing in time and again about various choices. She often wondered if she had made the best possible choices in her time with Holly, but she was certain that she had done her best. It certainly wasn’t a simple task helping a witch come into her own.

But now she had concerns, real concerns about how Holly would be able to balance life outside the one that she and Matilda lived in with the real world out there beyond their doors. Matilda had not kept Holly from the world, in fact she had made the clear and conscious choice to keep Holly mainstreamed in her education and away from those who would have kept Holly, and Matilda, ensconced in a coven. That was not a real path to life, to Matilda’s view, but now that her darling niece was making the transition from child to adult, she worried. She also worried about Holly dating someone whom she had not met. Matilda had always managed to screen possible boyfriends before. However this one had managed to sneak through.

Matilda knew better than to worry. But this was her Holly, out in the world with a stranger. It would be impractical for Matilda not to worry. So for now she waited for Holly to return home to her.

Etiquette & Espionage (CBR6 #48)

I was granted an ARC of this book via NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

This book is currently available at your local bookseller.

I am a noted enjoyer of books that Gail Carriger writes. I read all of her Parasol Protectorate books for CBR IV way back in 2012. While I felt the series eventually ran out of steam and books four and five should’ve been one book with extraneous story removed, it was a respectable series and a nice entry point for me for some Steampunky reading.

Fast forward and Ms. Carriger is continuing to write in the world of Parasol Protectorate, an alternate Steampunk and fantasy reality were werewolves and vampires are a thing and technology is more advanced. The Finishing School series serves as a prequel of sorts to the Parasol Protectorate books and the upcoming The Custard Protocol books which are set in the same universe a generation after the Parasol Protectorate books.

Etiquette & Espionage  is the first in a series of four books surrounding Sophronia Temminick, and I don’t know if I’ll keep reading them, but I have a feeling I’ll pick them up whenever I feel like I need a bit of whimsy and an easily solvable mystery. Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother’s existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea–and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right–but it’s a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.

The main reason that this book received a three star rating instead of two and a half is that Ms. Carriger knows how to write a funny protagonist who does not rely on making fun of others to be amusing. This is a perfectly serviceable Steampunk infused mystery, and clearly aimed at a YA audience. Unfortunately it lacks the nuance of Carriger’s previous work, which in and of itself is irritating and I fear a result of her deciding to write for the YA crowd. There were things to be enjoyed as well – the best parts of this book were seeing characters you know from the Parasol Protectorate books (Genevieve LeFoux! Lady Sighead Maccon!) And the weakest parts are the unwieldy names (Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott) and distorted timelines (some of the technology available in these prequels does not match what I remember from the Parasol Protectorate books, but that could just be my faulty memory).  The pacing was a bit off throughout; it took a long time, probably forty percent of the book, to really get to the heart of the plot. Correspondingly, the book wrapped up too quickly. We have the big moment where the various sides come together and its over in ten pages. Not my favorite Carriger, I would suggest Soulless or Blameless instead.

The Heiress Effect (CBR6 #47)

What happens when you aren’t built for the life you’re in? In The Heiress Effect Courtney Milan takes us along with her characters to find out.

I know that’s not the tagline that many would use to convey the point of this historical romance set in 1860s England. There is all the rich historic detail that infuses Milan’s other works in the Brothers Sinister series (and man do I love reading her Afterwords going over those details), we have Oliver Marshall’s quest for Parliament and voting reform and his eventual goal of being Prime Minister while overcoming that he is the bastard son of a duke but raised by Hugo and Serena Marshall (see The Governess Affair) and educated at Eton and Cambridge. We also have Miss Jane Fairfield, an heiress whose wealth makes her a target for the wrong kind of suitor, and suitors she must press off so she can protect her sister Emily, who suffers a mild form of epilepsy, from her guardian who is determined to find a treatment or cure for the malady, even if the treatment is worse than the condition itself. Emily also brings another complication when she begins a relationship with Anjan Bhattacharya, an Indian attending Cambridge to become a barrister.

All of the conflicts which come from these various characters are endemic of the time period of the book – the problems of aristocracy, of suffrage, of coverture, of needing a guardian and being unable to escape them, of casual and overt racism, of Empire. Milan is not afraid to dig in to these topics and talk about the things that were really happening in her chosen time period.

For our two main protagonists, each is dealing with something that makes them other. For Oliver it’s his status as a commoner while being known as the brother of the Duke of Clermont (see The Duchess War), for Jane it’s the combination of her hundred thousand pounds (which was left to her by the man who was likely her biological father) and her complete unpreparedness for Society. Oliver was raised to be forthright, to know the difference between what is ethical and what isn’t. In an attempt to correct the ills of the world around him Oliver has decided in a career in politics so that he will be able to do something about the injustices he sees. But, to what cost of his own personality? For Jane she needs to remain unmarried for a year and a half (480 days when we first meet her) to protect the only family she has – her sister. In order to achieve that goal she has made herself a social pariah, but the cost to her emotional health is extreme and has left her friendless and without allies.

Oliver and Jane (and Emily and Anjan) are trying to be what they are not to please others who don’t have their best interests at heart. Each of them has dimmed a part of themselves – the part that in turns attracts the other to them – in an attempt to be who they think they need to be they have become something other than who they are at their cores. In discovering this (Jane first, and then much later Oliver) we get to a story of equals.

I really loved this story.

I love when couples are flawed together, which Jane and Oliver are. I also appreciate greatly when my romance novel reads don’t rely on one character to save another. Both Emily and Jane’s stories resolve in ways that give them full agency, and while Oliver and Anjan are helpful, they aren’t the linchpins. As a full-figured lady myself, I also enjoyed that Jane is not stereotypically skinny (seriously go check out these awesome images of fuller sized ladies from this era), with a 37-inch waistline (which is Oliver’s type!).  She prefers disgustingly bright, garish clothing, because it pleases her, that it offends others is merely a benefit.  And I love when previous works in the series are given shout-outs, such as when Oliver tells Jane about his sister-in-law’s friend who is married to a doctor (see A Kiss for Midwinter), and titles that actually get referenced in the work and mean something  to the narrative.

If it wasn’t clear by now, read these books. They are delightful and I’m excited to read the next three.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read.