Yes Please (CBR7 #13)

I feel like I should write a long and in-depth review of how and why Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. But, I don’t know that I know how to do that. I’ve seen mostly positive reviews of the book and I agree that its my second favorite autobiography by a comedian, coming in right behind Craig Ferguson’s American on Purpose. But I don’t know that I’m able to put my finger on why.

One of the detractions I’ve seen, and something that actually pleased me and prepared me for reading this book, is that it’s not a comedy book. It is an autobiographical book by a comedian. There is an enormous difference between the two, and I have a feeling that it’s why Tina Fey’s Bossypants didn’t really land for me, and this did. Fey was being funny instead of just talking to the reader sometimes.

This books greatest strength though, is that it’s also every conversation you wished you could have with Amy Poehler. I am a Poehler fan, but it took me years to get there. I was aware of UCB, but it wasn’t my thing when it was on Comedy Central in the late 90s. I remember Amy being on SNL, and I remember loving her on Weekend Update, but I didn’t watch SNL much in those years. I love Parks and Rec now, but I refused to watch it in the early years because I had The Office baggage, and then worked in a county parks department. It felt too close to home.

But then Smart Girls happened and I knew that I had a deep admiration for this woman who both knew we needed this in the world and had the ability and drive to get it there. The Amy who exists in latter seasons of Parks and Rec as Leslie, and who is the driving force behind Smart Girls is who you meet in Yes Please. And she’s a freakin’ delight. She reminds me of the people in my life who I love. She feels like the older sister I always wished I had. Her Hollywood stories are fun, but her life stories and insights are worth the price of admission.*

Read this book. You’ll laugh, you’ll think, and you’ll be glad the world has an Amy Poehler in it.

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

The Girl on the Train (CBR7 #12)

I don’t know that I’m the intended audience for this book. I enjoy a bit of a mystery, but generally I can leave unreliable narrators and not look back because they tend to drive me to distraction. I picked this one up based on the review by popcultureboy at the end of last year. Then I started to get nervous when I realized that there were a lot of comparisons to Agatha Christie whom I have never read (I know) and Gone Girl which I could not get through. But, once the book became available from my library I decided to get over my preconceptions and give it a go.

The Girl on the Train ostensibly has three narrators, but I view this as Rachel’s story. She is the hub at the center of the wheel of crazy that is the events of this book. She is also the titular girl on the train. Rachel does what many of us do; she creates a story for herself about people or places she sees regularly. And she romanticizes it. So when things go very wrong for the people in her personal fiction the only thing Rachel can think to do is get involved. But unfortunately for her, it also begins to unravel the lies she’s crafted which keep her day to day life in order.

Rachel as an unreliable narrator works because she is unreliable to herself, and not just to the reader. She actually fesses up about the outright lies and gives the reader the truth as she knows it almost immediately. But with any decently well-paced mystery, things need to spool out over time. They do in The Girl on the Train but there were a lot of things which were outlined in the middle third which waited until the final third of the book to come together. This made the narrative feel overlong.

I got a little twitchy with the first person present narration of the book. Initially it works fine, because we’re with Rachel as she reminisces about things on her train rides in and out of London. So having the dichotomy of the Morning and Evening divisions within the sections delineated by narrator and day worked fine. But, as the story moved away from having her on the train each day, or as we were following the actions of weekends when she isn’t on the train, it felt forced in some way.

I called the ending of this book, and I think the identity of one of the other two narrators is what clued me in. Why were we spending time with her unless this other character needed to be looked at more closely? And it fell into a bit of a trope which was decently well done, just not surprising.

Three stars.

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

Classic Love Poems (CBR7 #11)

I hope you had a nice Galentines/Valentines/President’s Day/”oh dear godtopus the Fifty Shades the Movie has been unleashed on us” weekend. Mine involved my siblings all in the same state for the first time in 2 years and snowstorms. All things considered, not bad.

But we’re here to talk about what I read over the weekend.  I have DNF’ed The Line of Beauty and if any of you can explain to me how this book ended up on my to read list in the first place I’d love to know. I only read 75 pages, but NOTHING happened and there was NO character development so that book had to be put down and my misery needed to end. There will be no further review of that book.

But let’s get to the review of the book that I’m really here to talk about. It’s another audiobook, and we have Pajiba Love to thank for introducing it to me. In Pajiba Love there was truly delightful link to Richard Armitage discussing the process of recording an audiobook. Everyone needs to go check out the comments on that post  provides links to Matthew Macfadyen reading poetry and then that led me to Hiddleston reading poetry… it was quite the day, really.  What type of audiobook was this? A book of love poems. Read aloud to you by Richard Armitage, with his voice. HIS VOICE. So, after some internet sleuthing I discovered that on Audible I could have the audiobook FOR FREE (and it still is, I believe until March 9th (the same day as the Station Eleven Book Club Post!), so you can get it for yourselves) and listen to Mr. Armitage read me fifteen classic poems. I was all in.

Which poems you might be interested to know? I’m here to help:
• “How do I love thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
• “Sonnet 116″ by William Shakespeare
• “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe
• “To Be One with Each Other” by George Eliot
• “Maud” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
• “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell
• “Bright Star” by John Keats
• “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
• 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
• “Meeting at Night” by Robert Browning
• “The Dream” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
• “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe
• “i carry your heart” by e. e. cummings
• “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron
• “Give All to Love” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

I often have a tough time sinking into poetry and do best when I hear it aloud. So for that reason alone this is a good choice. I don’t know that I had ever really understood “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” before this. All I have left to say to you is – off you go, go luxuriate in some well read poetry; including my favorite love poem of all time “i carry your heart”.

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

Witches Abroad (CBR7 #10)

Being that Witches Abroad is a Discworld novel written by Sir Terry Pratchett there are literary tropes to be abused and social mores to be jumped up and down on. For our enjoyment this time Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick are off to stop a bad fairy godmother from unleashing a terrible torrent of stories all over the poor city of Genua. That sentence of plot description, admittedly, makes very little sense, but I promise you Pratchett has a certain way of weaving it all together so that you can’t imagine the story, ahem narrative, going any other way.

To be honest, I picked up Witches Abroad simply because I was in desperate need of 1) a palate cleanser following What She Left Behind and 2) something upbeat – my reading of late, All the Light We Cannot See, Station Eleven, and The Line of Beauty  coming up, have all been a bit heavy on the sad emotions. Thankfully Pratchett delivered right to my expectations – a book of humor that is not brainless that I could happily cackle away to on the couch for a few evenings and harass my roommate with quotes and discussions about which of us is who (I am very definitely Nanny Ogg to her Granny Weatherwax).

And while the humor is lovely, this is a book with substance. My main takeaway, and there are surely many layered into these 350 pages, is that no one is immune from a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to change the story, because stories will make themselves happen if you don’t act accordingly. There’s also a whole bit about mirrors, and multiplying your power while stealing your soul, but that wasn’t as interesting to me, personally.

I’m definitely having a love affair with Pratchett and Discworld and am so happy that there are so many books for me to continue to enjoy. Next month I’ll be tackling Lords and Ladies.

What She Left Behind (CBR7 #9)

What She Left Behind ended up on my to read list thanks to my friend Mel. As I mentioned back in my review of Landline my participation in the CBR has inspired friends and coworkers to give me book suggestions out of the blue. I should have known when Mel’s parting words were “you should review this – oh and you are going to hate men at the end” that this may not be the most pleasant reading experience. It wasn’t.  I don’t hate men at the end of this book so much as I hate clichés. ALL THE CLICHES, FOLKS.

We’re dealing with two timelines – one starting in 1929 with Clara Cartwright and another in 1995 with Izzy Stone. Each one’s story is an unrelenting tale of woe. Clara has been locked up in an insane asylum because she refuses to marry the man her wealthy father picks out for her. Oh, and she’s pregnant and the baby daddy is her poor Italian immigrant whom she met at the Cotton Club. Izzy is a child of the foster care system who is on her fourth foster family since her grandmother passed away. And why was she living with her grandmother you may ask? Because her mother killed her father with a shotgun blast to the head. As the basic details of the plot came together my response was:

Each of the protagonists is subjected to the worst their particular scenarios have to offer. Clara is institutionalized needlessly for being in the position of being a female whose father has the final say. She is subjected to ice water baths, insulin comas, solitary confinement for months at a time, and is chained to her bed. She also has her baby taken from her and SPOILER her boyfriend is killed while trying to rescue her from the facility. She is in the institution for 60 years. END SPOILER. Izzy witnessed her father’s dead body in his bed, has gone through the clichéd foster care wringer, and is bullied at school in ways that reminded me of Christopher Pike novels, has been abused, and is in constant fear of being turned out by her current foster parents once she turns 18. Oh, and I haven’t even listed all of the suffering.

So why did I keep reading this book? Because I needed to get the ending, I knew from INCREDIBLY early on where Wiseman was sending us – she hasn’t apparently met a foreshadowing method she didn’t want to apply to her writing – and I needed to get to it. I needed SPOILER Clara to meet her daughter and Izzy to get adopted even though she’s legally an adult at 18 END SPOILER. And to get there I swam through the same descriptive devices (seriously EVERYONE vomits when they are nervous in both timelines and EVERYTHING smells like urine, feces, and bleach during Clara’s timeline. Oh and everyone’s legs turn to rubber) to get there.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to you, but I think the book that Wiseman refers to as her main research book and which serves as a catalyst for how Izzy and Clara’s stories are intertwined – The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny – might be of interest to those of you who would like to know more about mental health care in the past 150 years in the States. I, unfortunately, already knew many of the details of the type of facility described in What She Left Behind and was also gifted with the experience of being annoyed at the compression of history to get ALL the horrors of mental health care into one story.

Read something else.

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

Station Eleven (CBR7 #8)

Station Eleven is simply fantastic. I’m rating it 4.5 stars and leaving myself the option of bumping it up to 5 stars later. I still don’t know because I’m too busy rolling around in all the feels.

I have the impression that I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian future books lately. Whenever I go to describe a book I’ve really enjoyed to someone I hear myself saying “well, it’s set in a dystopian future where BLANK has gone wrong…” To a certain extent, Station Eleven can be grouped with those books, but I don’t know that it would be a fair descriptor of all this book is. There is the thing that goes wrong – The Georgian Flu – and it happens tomorrow, or this coming winter, and then there’s nearly no one left. But the meat of the story is in talking about and ruminating on then what do you do? What do you do if you know you have a matter of hours left to live? How do the characters who survive carry on? Mandel explores all the options because some don’t, some join the Traveling Symphony (because survival isn’t enough), some relearn what life is like, and some go a little nuts.

You should go into Station Eleven knowing very little (I almost feel like I’ve already said too much and any synopsis you read will give you more information). There were a couple times when the story turned left when I thought it was going to turn right, and I went back to the cover flap to figure out if I had misread something that left me confused. Nope, I hadn’t, Emily St. John Mandel just knew how to weave the story so that she pump-faked me. And I loved it. In my last review I praised the way Anthony Doerr kept his alternating chapters balanced, that we were equally with each of our main characters in All the Light We Cannot See. Mandel doesn’t do that with Station Eleven, but it helps create a beautiful eerie quality to the book, and heightens the tension because you never know when you’re going to see a character again and if perhaps their storyline has reached the end.

Read this book.

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

All the Light We Cannot See (CBR7 #7)

I loved this one.

I wasn’t really sure about All the Light We Cannot See when I decided to put a hold on it at my library (which has quickly escalated into an addiction in case you were wondering, I have approximately 20 books on holds which will deliver them to my library over the next 6 months). I based my selection of the book on its winning Goodreads Book of the Year –Historical Fiction and the glowing review of a friend on that site. My only concern was that I have read a lot of books set in 1930s/1940s Europe and wasn’t sure that I really wanted to spend more time there just now. As it turned out that wasn’t actually a problem and I devoured this masterly crafted work and sped through it over the course of three days.

The structure of this book is its biggest strength. We are on two timelines throughout – in one we are in August 1944 in Saint-Malo, France during the firebombing. In the second we travel from 1934 to August 1944 chronicling the movements and links between the characters in Saint-Malo. This doesn’t seem like it should be a gripping structure, but boy is it. Each chapter alternates between different characters, and for approximately 90% of the book we are moving between Werner, orphan in Germany’s coal country, radio/electrical genius and soon to be sucked up into the Nazi war machine and Marie-Laure, daughter of the master of keys and locks and the National Natural History Museum in Paris, and on the run with her father who has been tasked with keeping a piece of the collection safe from the invading German forces. Oh, and she’s been blind since the age of 6. It’s basically the same as the set up for Eleanor and Park, minus the love story and the knowing each other part.

I can’t seem to capture in words how captivating this narrative device truly is in this outing. Everywhere All the Light We Cannot See is mentioned the fact that Anthony Doerr spent a decade working on it is mentioned. Initially I was annoyed, I don’t tend to put a lot of weight into how long or how short someone’s writing process is. Everyone’s process is their own, you know? But as I worked my way through the stories of Werner and Marie-Laure, and the details started to line up, and the tension and mood were so expertly crafted, and the topics so lovingly brought to life, I understood why people wanted me to know how long Doerr spent, because the craftsmanship of a decade shines through like a well-made piece of furniture.

If there was a small stumble it was near the end. I had assumed that the ending of the book and the various narrative threads would wind up at the end of the war, and probably around August 1944, which we kept bouncing to and back from. It doesn’t. The narrative makes several additional jumps forward in the final 30 pages and while it was perhaps nice to see where these characters ended up, it was also somehow more than I needed. I think if the last jump forward hadn’t happened, I would have been completely satisfied.

This is however, my first five star book of the year, and I don’t give those out lightly. If you like historical fiction, read this.

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