Once Upon a Rose (CBR9 #55)

Image result for once upon a rose florand

One sometimes needs a palate cleanser. If that one is me, that is almost always a Romance novel. I am one of the millions of people who read, enjoy, and think about the genre, its tropes, and look forward to the reliability of a happy ending. (With the exception of a few descriptors I am amazingly average Romance reader.)

The world around us is falling apart quicker than we can patch the cracks. Sometimes we need to refuel with a guarantee.

I finished this book almost a week ago and have sat on the review. Why? Well, as I was finishing it up the New York Times, the paper of record, decided that the best idea it had was to let an octogenarian – who has a real strange way of showing “appreciation” for the genre – do a roundup of the Season’s Romance offerings. Emmalita has already covered much of that debacle (as did Book Riot’s Amanda Diehl in a piece you should read), and bless her for it, because I was tempted to nope right out of the article when I realized the first book he mentioned, Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, was published in 2000. Yes you read that right, a book published 17 years ago lead off the seasonal roundup (look, I really liked that book even with THE ISSUE, but you have got to be kidding me with this).

But I did keep reading, and becoming more and more infuriated by the second class citizen nature of Gottlieb’s article, which showed his great misunderstanding of the state of the genre, and diminished the phenomenal work done by so many. I thought I would have a few things to say to Mr. Gottlieb in my review of the perfectly adequate but not earth shattering Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand, and then move on. BUT THEN I SAW THAT THE NEW YORK TIMES DOUBLED DOWN ON GOTTLIEB’S ARTICLE WITH THEIR RESPONSE FROM THE BOOKS DESK. This time Radhika Jones gets to be dismissive to the Romance reader, pointing out quite clearly for us that a critic has a different role than a fan. Well, color me shocked that the expectation of and reaction to complaints about the choices made by Gottlieb, who Jones calls “a voracious reader of contemporary romance”, as he time after time diminished the agency of women and suppressed the writing of modern authors by instead flaunting half arsed praise on authors a half century dead.  A truly voracious reader of contemporary romance would be familiar with the feminist writing happening, of the brilliance of Courtney Milan, and dare not step to tell me that E.L. James is “no better or worse a writer than most of her compeers”. Are you kidding me? Salman Rushdie and I apparently agree, and I want Mr. Gottlieb to bow at the altar of Lisa Kleypas and say that with a straight fucking face. Hell, one of my most enjoyable reading experiences of the year was a duology written specifically to prove that the idea James was after could actually be well written.

What does all of this have to do with Florand’s book other than the happenstance of being read by me at the same time? Everything. Florand is one of a pack of contemporary Romance writers who is playing with tropes, deconstructing classic story structure, and not being afraid to be light and frothy. She is also doing this while writing well crafted and fully fleshed out characters in evocative settings with more emotional landscape than sexytimes (by the way Mr. Gottlieb, I may prefer to read my smut, but that’s not the reason why I’m reading this genre).

I’ve rated this book 3.5 stars because it does commit one of my least favorite Romancelandia crimes: instalove (seriously, it’s about 30 hours and it read as too fast. All I’m asking for is a few days here, c’mon), but I will be returning to the land of Florand very soon: if only for the pun of giving the rose growing family the last name of Rosier.

 

 

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A Room of One’s Own (CBR9 #54)

Image result for a room of one's own virginia woolf juliet stevenson

I think I keep doing Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges because they do force me to look through my epic list of books to read and get out of my own comfort zone and read with more variety. I have many startling gaps in my reading history, and Virginia Woolf’s entire oeuvre is one.

I have seen or read exactly one of Woolf’s works before reading A Room of One’s Own (Orlando at the Yale School of Drama about 8 years ago while a friend was there). Other than her ties to the Bloomsbury Group and the Dreadnought Hoax and that one play I knew very little. Along came the Read Harder challenge, which included a task to read a book published between 1900 and 1950 and I finally had my excuse to push the audiobook I already owned up the proverbial list.

A Room of One’s Own is a short work: its measurements range from 114 pages, to 40,000 words, to about 4 hours of audio recording by Juliet Stevenson. Nevertheless, it should not be judged by its slight measures, Woolf packs an appraisal on the patriarchal systems that have systematically held women down and back throughout history. I had an “oh shit” moment about half way through as I realized that Woolf has in essence kept the receipts on 300 years of patriarchy and was slamming it all on the table in front of packed auditoriums.

Suffice it to say, I was 100% more invested than I had previously been.

Structurally, Woolf made incredible use of the nature of speech making. Throughout the first sections she is consistently coming back to words and phrases, meant to allow the reader (or in my case, listener) to track her train of thought and build meaning. So many authors attempt to use the stream of consciousness mechanics, which Woolf demonstrates so facilely here but they miss this component – a reader will “hear” your words as if your characters were speaking. If your stream of consciousness does not conform to the rules of speech making the reader will have difficulty with it, as I so often do.

To the content of her speeches and later book, Woolf argues that women can never accomplish anything of their own, or of ‘value’ without the stability and space that “five hundred a year and a room of one’s own” provide. She then traces how very rare, and very recent such a thing was. Travelling mentally between the lack of reason for women to attempt to accumulate wealth before they were allowed to own it outright, the lesser education of girls compared to boys, the denial of access to halls of learning (of herself being turned away at the university library door) and you suddenly see both the world surrounding Woolf in 1928 and the world surrounding ourselves now.

How many of us would gnaw off our own left arm to be able to have space and security to follow our desires, to be able to create? That is the heart of this work.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it as we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

This One Summer (CBR9 #53)

Image result for this one summer jillian tamaki

Each year, I try to read a frequently challenged or banned book during Banned Books Week (September 24-30). I have very particular feelings about the concept of banning or suppressing works of fiction because they do not fit into a particular worldview (I’m staunchly against it). Do I think every book should have an audience and be read? Probably not. However, I do believe in our ability to choose for ourselves what we should read, and that banning or challenging books which only serve to widen our understanding of the world and people around us is shameful.

For the life of me, I’m not sure why this was the most challenged book last year. Yes, it has some sexual content (a character becomes pregnant and 16, and another character is not handling it well), and there is some foul language (usually in reference to said pregnancy) but otherwise this incredibly detailed and beautiful book is exactly in line with the wide variety of YA that lines bookstore and library shelves.

To the book itself: This graphic novel, a Printz and Caldecott winner, is at its heart a short story about two early teen girls whose families both visit Awago Beach, Ontario each summer. The girls are roughly 18 months apart, but share the kind of friendship born of many hours spent together in a vacuum.  Rose is an only child whose parents seem rather ordinary. Windy is an adopted only child who goes to the beach with her mother and grandmother who are definitely on the “hippie” end of the spectrum. It is a “coming of age” story where these preteens/early teens are figuring out how to be more mature and what it means to leave the trappings of childhood behind.

I found the dynamic of these two different only children and the varieties of their familial interactions to be the most interesting part of the narrative. I also am in love with the art in this book. Jillian Tamaki is a flat out genius and her duo chromatic work (purples and blacks) leaves you with the uneasy feeling of a healing bruise, while also perfectly capturing the aesthetic of a large lake.

I really enjoyed this quick read, and hope you will as well.

The Beautiful Mystery (CBR9 #52 – CANNONBALL!)

Image result for the beautiful mystery louise penny

It turns out that this year’s Cannonball book is an Inspector Gamache book, and that seems oddly fitting.

I have chosen to spread out the Inspector Armand Gamache books instead of mainlining them. I read them in the seasons they are set, and it always proves to be something to look forward to. Following the disappointment of In Praise of Hatred I needed a comfort read, and Gamache is that for me. Luckily enough, autumn in northern Quebec is now, so we were all set.

Louise Penny stretches as an author in each book, and is often trying something new. In the eighth book in the series Penny gives us our first true locked room mystery. A monk is murdered in a cloistered monastery, and one of the brothers is guilty. It is up to Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir to travel to the remote Quebec wilderness to be some of the first outsiders ever admitted to St. Gilbert entre les loups to solve the case. The mystery of the murder is relatively straightforward, the biggest obstacle being to decipher what the murder weapon was and who had opportunity. Up until the final denouement, I was vacillating between two possibilities.

One would think I have learned my lesson with Gamache books: be careful what you ask for in the world of Three Pines. After A Rule Against Murder I was impatient to return to Three Pines, and The Brutal Telling put me through the ringer as the small town and all the characters I care about were raked over the coals. At the end of book seven, A Trick of the Light, I said that I was “exceptionally excited to spend more time with these two characters based on where we left them emotionally”. Well, I got my wish as Beauvoir and Gamache work this case solo, away from everyone else, making the book almost exclusively focused on their interactions and relationship. Woo boy, did it nearly break me.

Beauvoir has returned from rehab and has begun quietly dating the love of his life, Annie Gamache. Series readers (or at least ME) have been tracking this pairing since the beginning of the series, and the shootout at the Factory in Bury Your Dead serves to rattle each character’s status quo. We are allowed even further into Beauvoir’s mind in A Trick of the Light and the depth of his emotions regarding Annie. Now, we also know for sure how Annie feels, and we are treated to some domestic bliss at the beginning of the book as we see these two in the early months of a blooming relationship. We will not see it again in this book.

While investigating Beauvoir and Gamache are cut off from the rest of the world. But that does not mean their past doesn’t follow them there, in the form of memories (Beauvoir still struggles greatly with feelings of inadequacy and memories of the night he almost died) and the physical being of the superintendent. The Arnot case, and its fallout, are not as over as we may have hoped, and Gamache is under scrutiny once again. In a turn that rendered me nearly speechless, Beauvoir is turned against him. I of course looked ahead, book nine; How the Light Gets In takes place before Christmas. I will have a few months to wait to find out what the devastation is repaired for I must believe that it will be.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Bad Feminist (CBR9 #51)

Image result for bad feminist by roxane gay

I have read many reviews of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist over the past few years, and I still don’t know if I really understood what I was getting myself into. But that isn’t a bad thing.

At its core, this is a book about Gay coming into herself, and owning exactly who she is, without reservation. She walks the reader through her outlook, her struggles as a woman in the world to live up to being a feminist, or not wanting to be associated with people who create a negative perception for the rest of us. As she puts it, consider her already knocked off the pedestal. But that is only the first (and last) sections of her book. It is many things at once; it is simultaneously chaotic, complex, empathetic, and rational.

The rest of this book, is a series of essays (some previously published), which unpack the racist, misogynistic, and otherwise flawed world we live in which requires people of all genders to find their inner feminist, whether it be a “bad” one or a “good” one. Gay is walking herself and her reader through the various complexities of life in the early 2010s (the book is already a smidge dated, only being published in August of 2014) and asking us, won’t we all allow humanity and complexity to coexist?

Gay uses our common cultural language, pop culture, to illustrate her points. This is not new ground in the world of a thousand think pieces a day on media, but that doesn’t mean it is without value. I was knocked down by the essay which begins with her thoughts on the Hunger Games books and movies, and turns it into a testament to personal suffering and its place in our broken society. I found myself nodding along with her takedowns of Tyler Perry’s oeuvre and The Help – yes, I see those things too.

The main thrust of the book the book is that people are different, messy, and human with essays focused around gender, race, and privilege make it as clear as could be. Some might find it reductive, but I found it embracing to see the world from someone’s perspective that is like mine, but not mine. It was like reading a memoir that was also a course of finding yourself and your rhythm in your 30s.

As with any book you read, it isn’t perfect.  Like anyone else Roxane Gay has things which I do not agree with her about, or do not completely understand her point of view on (no one is turning me around on Gone Girl) but if you haven’t already dived into the world of Roxane Gay, I say come on in, the water is fine.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

In Praise of Hatred (CBR9 #50)

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One of the rewards of being the book club maven for the Cannonball Read is that I have to be on the lookout for books outside of my comfort zone. In my bio over there I describe myself as someone who reads everything, just some types of books more frequently than others. That applies to proper Literary Fiction as well. More often than not, I’m rolling around in the genres.

However, I try to give the people what they want and there were several requests for Non-Western Literature, which led me to a few weeks of research, several books for a vote, and our final choice of In Praise of Hatred. I do not vote for book club books unless there is a tie. But, this one stood out to me and I was hoping that it might be the choice. Now I wonder what magic blurb writers have that I was so thoroughly tricked.

Over 150 words into this review, I feel safe saying that I struggled with this book. I did not even finish it. I simply gave up somewhere around page 250. With that said, if there were any last minute Hail Mary passes accomplished by Khalifa I missed them. So take all you read with a grain of salt.

Throughout the book we are in the mind of an unnamed narrator, and I have a tough time with those types of narrators in general. I think it is because they often appear in stories structured without dialogue (which based on the article I read from the Guardian, Khaled Khalifa is a screenwriter known for his talent with dialogue – I feel betrayed!) . The other compounding influence is that to the best of my limited knowledge this novel is in first person present tense or first person stream of consciousness.  It bothers me, the repetitive nature of being told rather than being allowed to see, as we are limited to what the narrator is repeating to herself/the reader.

My other major complaint is that by the time I got to the end of the first section I was pretty well convinced that Khalifa was overly focused on the physicality of femaleness with no particular narrative driver. I am a lady person. I promise you I am way less in tune with my physical being than Khalifa would have you believe, nor would I describe it in the sort of overly flowery language that he utilizes. My biggest reminder is that my breasts are often in my way. Basically, my body is more annoyance than discovery and I don’t remember it being otherwise in my late teens. Which is why, I’m going to come right out and say it – is sexist writing. The level of preoccupation with the female form, even from a character displaying same sex attraction, negates the positives of this work.

That said, there are things I liked, and while the narrative arc didn’t pull me in, the inner life of our narrator did. One of the consistent refrains we hear from her is that she is full of hatred; it acts almost as an incantation for her to stabilize herself, to center herself once more in her body. I found this fascinating. We would hope, or expect a person to focus on a positive attribute, but it is so very often not the case. We focus on a negative (for me its frustration, my frustration pushes me through) and wallow in it.

I am glad at the end of the day that we decided to attempt this book. I feel strongly about reading banned books, and books that are told from points of view outside our own. I just wish it had meant more to me.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

A Man Called Ove (CBR9 #49)

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I did a thing I don’t normally do, I watched the movie first.

I had gotten A Man Called Ove on Audible some time ago, but kept holding off on it. I tend to pick the audiobook I want to listen to based on its length – how much time do I have to give it right now? Sitting at just over 9 hours you’d think I would have found a few days to listen before now, but I had not. With August quickly getting away from me (campers are exhausting, y’all) I decided now was the time.

But only because I had watched the movie a few weeks ago, and it made me cry happy tears.

A Man Called Ove tells a rather simple story: the family you find can give meaning where you were sure there was none left to make.

Ove is a cantankerous man (as the book explains, “Ove has been a grumpy old man since the first day of second grade”) who is very set in his ways and not interested in making new friends and changing any of his routines. Alas, two tragedies have befallen him, his beloved wife Sonja, the only woman he has ever loved, has died following a several year battle with cancer and he has been made redundant at work just six months later. Ove sees this as a clear sign that it is time for him to exit this life, but then his new neighbors move in, and now his life is out of his control.

The book travels down several paths all at once. We travel back to Ove’s childhood and young adult years to see him develop into who he is, and learn about his life with Sonja and their struggles. We learn about Ove’s years living in his home, and his battles with his neighbors which have been built into his daily patrols. We also meet the people who would be in his life, and make him their business, and themselves his. We also trace Ove’s determination to end his life, and as the lovely Parvaneh puts it, just how shite he is at dying.

Honestly, if this quote stirs something in you, than this book is for you. If it doesn’t, that’s alright too. The book comes together a smidge too neatly, and is not as true to life as you might want. But it is warm, and satisfying while letting a curmudgeon be its heart.

“Now you listen to me,” says Ove calmly while he carefully closes the door. “You’ve given birth to two children and quite soon will be squeezing out a third. You’ve come here from a land far away and most likely you fled war and persecution and all sorts of other nonsense. You’ve learned a new language and got yourself an education and you’re holding together a family of obvious incompetents. And I’ll be damned if I’ve seen you afraid of a single bloody thing in this world before now….I’m not asking for brain surgery. I’m asking you to drive a car. It’s got an accelerator, a brake and a clutch. Some of the greatest twits in world history have sorted out how it works. And you will as well.” And then he utters seven words, which Parvaneh will always remember as the loveliest compliment he’ll ever give her. “Because you are not a complete twit.”