The Governess Affair (CBR6 #32)

 

 

After I finished reading Me Before You I was an emotional wreck. My roommate has taken to calling it the book that broke me, as in “Oh, did you write your review of the book that broke you?” Finally, yes. But in the meantime between reading the book and writing the review I needed something else to read, something to clear my poor brain space and think some happy thoughts.

So, I grabbed my Nook and started reading Courtney Milan’s The Governess Affair, the prequel novella to her Brothers Sinister series that has been getting all the raves around the Cannonball Read. I had promised myself I would get through my pile of library to read books before I started these, but I needed something light and enjoyable and my library pile didn’t really look up to the task (Code Name Verity is up next).  The Governess Affair is certainly enjoyable. I loved the two main characters and got a little sad that in the next book I would be reading about the next generation, and not these two.

Meet Serena Barton, the titular governess who finds herself put out from her job after a run-in with the Duke of Clermont. She decides to take her revenge by quietly sitting in front of his residence until her demands are met… the problem being that it falls to the Duke’s man of business, one Mr. Hugo Marshall, to see that she is on her way so that the Duke can win back his bride, her fotune, and Mr. Marshall’s wages to boot.

It’s a pretty common historical romance set up, but the difference between this Milan work and some other ones I’ve read in the past is the depth to which the characters are developed. I feel like I say it time and again as I review books that the best books I read feature the most well drawn characters. With only 100 digital pages Milan manages to craft three dimensional characters who exist in a world you are easily able to understand. And she manages to have them be beautifully self-aware, but not clichéd.

My only real complaint about this book is that *semi spoiler but not really* there is a off page rape which occurs. I was hoping for a light read, as I mentioned, and that kept this from being light for all the obvious reasons. But, the turnaround is one of the most sexy while also sweet scenes later in the book  as Hugo shows just how safe he is, and the antithesis of the Duke he works for. Otherwise I would have liked a longer book to spend more time with these characters.

Go fall in love with Serena and Hugo while they fall in love with each other. It’s worth your time.

Me Before You (CBR6 #31)

I put Me Before You on my to-read list after reading ModernLove’s review back in February. The emotional response she had to the book elevated it from a maybe read to a definitely read (the book was already on my radar given Jen K’s, Malin’s, and HelloKatieO’s reviews from CBR5).

Here is what I wrote on Goodreads immediately following completing the novel: “This fucking book. Christ, I can’t even find the words right now. It’s poignant, and heart-rending, and should come with tissues.” I usually write spoiler free reviews, but I just don’t know how to talk about this book without spoiling the shit out of it. I’ve been trying for nearly a week to figure it out, so instead I’m going to stop beating myself up about it and just write about what I read and how it made me feel and what it made me think. For those of you avoiding spoilers here’s where I suggest you leave. Know that Jojo Moyes crafted two beautifully well rounded protagonists who affect the courses of each other’s lives in big ways, and perhaps more importantly in small ways. Read it.

Ok, here we go into the spoiling (and inspecting some things about me):

Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark the unexpected caregiver of Will Traynor, suicidal quadriplegic and the ways their relationship change them. When Lou takes the job, she doesn’t know that Will is suicidal, and that he has already attempted suicide once, and was very nearly successful. Through the course of the book Lou learns about taking care of Will and then when she decides she cannot sit on the sidelines and let Will wait out the six months he has given his family, she launches on her mission to make Will see what there is to live for in his new life.

I found that Ms. Moyes handled the difficult issues of severe disability and the moral grey areas around assisted suicide with aplomb. She doesn’t judge one way or the other in her authorial voice and by having Lou go online to a variety of message boards and forums for those with disabilities and their caregivers Ms. Moyes is able to present both sides without landing on one or the other as the “right” answer. There are characters in the book that make it clear that it is possible to live with severe disabilities and find that they have things left to live for. It is also clear in other characters that there are those who find themselves unable to readjust their expectations in life. Will is of the second category.

I was able to relate to Will’s experience quite easily and that, to me, says a great deal about the quality of Ms. Moyes writing. By chronicling the typical day to day pains and struggles, mostly from Nathan Will’s nurse telling Lou what life is like for Will, I was able to sink into Will’s mental state. We all have something about us that makes us different, or other, and being able to tap into what that feels like, and then ramp it up I could immediately understand Will’s reticence to do the things Lou suggests as part of her master plan. And on the grander scale, I believe in a person’s right to choose assisted suicide given intractable suffering which cannot be alleviated. This is certainly the case Will finds himself in. This book made me think about what holding that belief really means. For much of the book I was wishing, like Lou, that Will would change his mind. That he would see what Lou valued as being worth living for (by the end of the book a life with her) and decide to alter his plans.

“You still don’t get it, Clark, do you?” I could hear the smile in his voice. “It’s not your choice.”

I subsequently had my ass handed to me by a work of fiction, as Will continually reminds Lou that perhaps the most difficult thing for him now that he is in the chair is that everyone decides for him, instead of letting him decide for himself. And I as the reader was also trying to decide for him. I thought I knew best. This led me to think about all of the times that I had actively wished against something for those in my life because it didn’t match what I wanted, or had planned. The boyfriend I didn’t want to move away to grad school, the friend who I didn’t want searching for a new job because I needed her with me, not considering what is really best for her.

This all made me feel like a shitty individual, I’m not going to lie to you. But that’s why I rated this book five stars. The very good modern fiction makes you examine things about your life and your self. Oh, and its brillantly, sarcastically funny. I just can’t seem to find a quote that encapsulates the hilarious way in which Lou and Will speak to each other.

Moving on from thinking about the ethical gray areas of assisted suicide, Ms. Moyes’ use of descriptive language is some of the best I’ve read in a long time. To illustrate here’s Lou describing her first encounter with a live classical music performance, which she is only attending so Will attends as well It is perhaps the best description of what music can do, and it’s hidden in this book and caught me completely by surprise.

“They began to tune up, and suddenly the auditorium was filled with a single sound – the most alive, three-dimensional thing I had ever heard. It made the hairs on my skin stand up, my breath catch in my throat….I felt the music like a physical thing; it didn’t just sit in my ears, it flowed through me, around me, made my senses vibrate. It made my skin prickle and my palms dampen…It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.”

There is a love story here, and it’s to the book’s benefit that the most important narrative throughline isn’t the romantic feelings that develop between Louisa and Will as the novel progresses. The real meat of the story is the blossoming that Lou does once she overcomes her initial fears about working with Will as we find him at the beginning of the story and she begins to find some common ground with him and eventually their relationship develops. The way Will gently pushes and guides Lou into being a more active and engaged person is the ultimate love story, not the life together Lou offers Will while they are on Mauritius. It’s another thing that I can relate to easily, knowing that in theory I am living a small life and it’s within my power to start living a larger one, I only have to choose.

“Push yourself. Don’t Settle. Just live well. Just LIVE.”

There is also the story of the love that Will and Lou have for each other. And that is what makes the final act of this book so agonizing. At the end of the six months Lou confesses her love to Will, but it isn’t enough to change his mind. Part of me wants to quote the entire portion of the book which takes place in Switzerland, because it is so heartbreakingly beautiful, but everyone deserves to read it for themselves, so instead a look at what their love means to each other.

“I know this isn’t a conventional love story. I know there are all sorts of reasons I shouldn’t even be saying what I am. But I love you. I do. I knew it when I left Patrick. And I think you might even love me a little bit.”

“Shhh. Just listen. You, of all people. Listen to what Im saying. This…tonight…is the most wonderful thing you could have done for me. What you have told me, what you have done in bringing me here…knowing that, somehow, from that complete arse, I was at the start of this, you managed to salvage something to love is astonishing to me. But…I need it to end here. No more chair. No more pneumonia. No more burning limbs. No more pain and tiredness and waking up every morning already wishing it was over. When we get back, I am still going to go to Switzerland. And if you do love me, Clark, as you say you do, the thing that would make me happier than anything is if you would come with me. So I’m asking you – if you feel the things you say you feel – then do it. Be with me. Give me the end I’m hoping for.”

While I was reading the book I kept coming back to the title, and wondering who the Me was and who the You was. By the end, I came to the decision that the Me was Lou and the You was Will, and not just because she survives him, but because of the enormous change he made in her life. As she describes it:

“All I can say is that you make me… you make me into someone I couldn’t even imagine. You make me happy, even when you’re awful. I would rather be with you – even the you that you seem to think is diminished – than with anyone else in the world.”

And because of how he describes it:

“I am conscious that knowing me has caused you pain, and grief, and I hope that one day when you are less angry with me and less upset you will see not just that I could only have done the thing that I did, but also that this will help you live a really good life, a better life, than if you hadn’t met me.”

Go read this book.

 

Girl Walks Into a Bar (CBR6 #30)

Rachel Dratch is not someone who I would normally go running out to buy or read their memoir. I know her from her time on SNL, which coincided with the time in my life that I initially started watching the show live. But, she wasn’t someone I followed, and I didn’t watch 30 Rock, so I was largely unaware of the media firestorm surrounding her replacement by Jane Krakowski.

But after having read Tina Fey and Darrel Hammond’s biographies for previous Cannonball Reads and seeing reviews of her book, I thought that it would be an interesting book to read, and help fulfill my goal of reading autobiographies in the summer (mission accomplished for 2014).

It was an interesting, and insightful read. Often the ‘big’ stars who have come out of the Hollywood machine with big *important* careers are the ones who get book deals to write memoirs. Dratch has not had that kind of career following her time on SNL, which ended in 2006. Not to say she isn’t working, she is, but as she points out early and frequently in Girl Walks Into a Bar… she is offered bit parts which skew heavily towards older, obese lesbians.

So, it’s from this place of being outside the big machine (which puts her in stark contrast to the ever working Judy Greer) that Dratch tells us about her life, mostly post SNL. She spends perhaps the first quarter of her book talking about her big showbiz years, and how she got there in the first place, but the majority of Girl Walks Into a Bar… is about what happens when the life you thought you were going to have doesn’t materialize and you are left with the life you have.

I found Dratch’s authorial voice to be warm and engaging. There were several times I laughed out loud while reading. Not an epic work or defining its genre, it is a lovely read, particularly if you have a fondness for Dratch and would like to know more about her life.

The Prince of Thorns (CBR6 #29)

I blame the internet. Earlier this year I was telling my roommate about a run of books I was in that were great, but sad. She’s dubbed my year as “The Depression Readings”. I mean, to a certain extent this is fair. I have read Burial Rites, The Black Country, Tell the Wolves I’m Home and The Age of Miracles in a 6 week period. That’s a lot of heavy reading, emotionally.

So, at some point she decided that it was her mission to bring some light-hearted reading into my summer and began emailing me with lists from various websites about Summer Books. While on the search she came across an article on Buzzfeed which talked about Prince of Thorns (either this one or this one, I think) and decided to read The Broken Empire series herself. Well, she did, and has now forced them on me. I’m not complaining, but I like to mention to her that these books seem more in line with the “Depression Readings” I was doing before and less to do with her goal of light, happy reads. Oh well.

Prince of Thorns focuses on Jorg, who is quite simply, a bit of a dick. He’s young, he’s tough, he’s got a score (or three) to settle, and he’s leading a bunch of ‘brothers’ around the Broken Empire causing all kinds of mischief. And that’s before he decides to return home after a four year absence. You see, Jorg left home at age 10 (!) following witnessing his mother and brother’s deaths while he was trapped in a bush of terrible thorns which dug into his flesh. He is scarred both outwardly and inwardly, and decides the life of a road assassin is his best choice to avenge these deaths.

Jorg is a bastard of a character, but his saving grace, and what keeps this book in your hand and not back on the bookshelf, is that he’ completely understandable. He’s killed a seemingly innocent bystander? No worries, he’ll explain it in due course and have you on his side, or at least resigned that this was the only possible solution given the world and fight Jorg is in for his life. He’s decided he’ll be king by his 15th birthday, and it’s going to involve a lot of fighting and death.

I say read this book, but don’t get too attached to any of the characters and don’t expect there to be any redeeming qualities in Jorg. You’ll love him while you hate him.

Kitchen Confidential (CBR6 #28)

There’s a certain amusement that comes from knowing more than the teller of a story. I don’t often suggest reading memoirs or the like so far after their publication dates (see my experience with Denis Leary’s Why We Suck earlier this year). But, there was a delicious sort of fun to be had reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and knowing what his life would turn out like in the decade which followed the book’s publication in 2000. He certainly, had no idea.

You’re likely familiar with Anthony Bourdain, whether from his old show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, or his current show, Parts Unknown, on CNN. Or from his books which had been reviewed rather frequently for CBR. I’ve always enjoyed watching Bourdain on his television shows, and guesting on Top Chef. My sister and her fiancé are both trained chefs working in food service and I thought that reading about Bourdain’s experiences would give me a better insight into what they do for a living. It did, to a degree.

Kitchen Confidential was his first foray into biography, and has been followed by A Cook’s Tour and Medium Raw as well as nearly a dozen other books. Bourdain is, bless him, exactly whom you’ve known him to be from the moment the book begins in his Chef’s Note. The person you’ve likely seen on your television screen is also who you hear reading his words. He is sarcastic and sardonic, bracing and biting and always humorous. He is also truthful about his life, his experiences, and how they aren’t necessarily the experiences of everyone in his field. In Kitchen Confidential Bourdain talks about his youth, his discovery of real food, the delicious possibilities of eating outside your comfort zone. He tells us about his discovery of life in the kitchen, his journey through school and his working through the kitchens of New York. He’s also bracingly truthful about his experiences with drug and alcohol, and what his greed and addiction cost him along the way.

I mentioned before that there as a joy in knowing where Bourdain’s life was heading. At the end of this book Bourdain talks about the joys of being the chef at Les Halles in New York, and how he hoped to stay there. Throughout the book Bourdain makes digs at name chefs, including Eric Ripert and Emeril Lagasse. He’s only a few short years from running in the same circles as these men and leaving behind the punishing world of line cooking for years as a television personality and author. But the love of food remains the through line in the life of Anthony Bourdain. I’m going to happily keep reading and watching to enjoy Bourdain’s view of the world.

 

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (CBR6 #27)

tan line

I finished this book almost a week ago but have been so busy that sitting down to write the review has been pushed off each day’s to do list. But, I am finally carving out some time to talk to you about a tiny blonde detective and her continuing adventures in Neptune, California.

I only joined the Veronica Mars bandwagon two years ago. I was just outside its viewing demographics when it originally aired. But, because I am not always dumb, I listened to my fellow Pajiba commenters and decided to use the power of my DVR for good, and recorded all the episodes when they used to play on SOAPnet. Yes. That’s a thing that happened in my life.

So, once I got on the Veronica Mars bandwagon I was hooked. When I found out that there were books, and that continued books depended on profits of first book, I took myself down to my local book peddler and bought myself a copy and put it away with my copy of Fangirl for vacation reading.

And it was a good beach read. Light enough to be easily enjoyable, complicated enough to keep you interested in the plot lines, and maybe most importantly, it moved forward Veronica’s story post movie. We see old friends, some if only here and there. Demons from Veronica’s past must be dealt with, and bonds are forged.

I’m intentionally not going to say a lot about the plot, because it’s a mystery, but know its well plotted and interesting. Even if the ending is a perhaps a little easy to call. But, if you’re a Veronica fan this is something you should totally read, and if you haven’t yet submerged yourself in the wonderful world of Veronica Mars, now is the time to get yourself to Amazon and get caught up. 

Fangirl (CBR6 #26!)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Rainbow Rowell is one of my two favorite new authors of the past few years. She and Lyndsay Faye have been rocking my literary world, and I am so glad for it. I saved Fangirl to be my 26th book this year, and timed it to coincide with my vacation. I had planes and beach ahead of me, so the timing was perfect.

And there is so much to love about the story of Cath. So much that is good, and interesting, and superbly executed. Really, I’ve come to expect that I will simply fall in love with Rainbow’s characters because they are so real, and I do. Every. Single. Time.  I love Rainbow Rowell, and it’s easy to see why.

But, (and there is a but) several days after finishing the book I’m still hung up on the ending that wasn’t. I follow Rainbow on Twitter, where she is just as lovely as you could hope, and there are a lot of people who tweet at her about those three words at the end of Eleanor & Park. I have never understood those people. Until I got to the last 5 pages of Fangirl. And then I just wanted more. I wanted more Cath and Levi, more Simon Snow and the Eighth Dance, and more Carry On, Simon.  I wanted more of all of it. I wanted more than just the signposts pointing me in the direction of the resolution; I wanted to see it there, on the page, right in front of my nose.

I am apparently very needy.

I think I’m needy because in oh so many ways, I am Cath. I was the girl who wouldn’t go down to the cafeteria because “all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.” I’m the person who doesn’t understand how people are naturally ‘on’ all the time and don’t need time alone to recharge. Writing can feel like running downhill towards the thing that makes sense, while real life seems to be out on the edges. I need my own Wren or Reagan to pull me back in from the outside edges. Heck, I want to be as quippy as Reagan.

So, what am I trying to say? That I loved this book. That I wanted to live in it some more. That I get fanfiction now more than I did before. But I just can’t seem to round this one up to a 5 star book.