Doomsday Book (CBR8 #34)

This review will be the definition of spoiler free, come see us over at the Cannonball Read June 1 to talk details.

I am, as they say, perplexed by this book. It was like a roller coaster ride. At the beginning, I felt like this:

There was a great wide world of story ahead and it was all for me. Historians! In the near future! Using the scientific method and time travel!

But then, I spent a lot of time waiting for thins to start happening.

And that was not the most pleasant experience, really. I went the audio route for this one, since I knew I would be under a bit of a time crunch and I could listen at 1.25-1.5 speed depending and that would help. It did, but listening to all the pieces be set up on the board while knowing that there was still 20+ hours of audio left me wondering what all the fuss was about, because you good people had already started rolling in the 4 and 5 star reviews.

And then things got going, and I understood.

There are so many layers, so much context, so much world building built it that you have to wait, and then you start to have fun, but there’s also that moment when the doom is coming (which by the way the blurb for the book spoiled for me, not that it isn’t telegraphed a mile away) that I actively stopped reading because I didn’t want to read what I knew was about to happen. It was too much, both for the characters and for me.

This book lives and dies by its characters, and they are good. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to think.

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

Manners & Mutiny (CBR8 #33)

First, a note of thanks to crystalclear for not wanting to bash my head in for how long this book sat on my desk, unread. It is her copy and I am a bad friend for not returning it to her in a timely fashion. Beware of friends who overcommit on their reading capacity, we’re a terrible liability to your own reading.

That being said, this is the final book of the Finishing School series, a prequel of sorts to The Parasol Protectorate series (the Soulless books). It is Carriger doing what Carriger does, with her brand of humor. Are there werewolves? Yes. Vampires? Yes. Fancy dress and tea? You bet! Intrigue? OF COURSE. Political machinations in an alt-history Victorian England? You betcha. Awesome leading ladies doing awesome leading lady things? Indubitably.

I don’t want to give much away (and I’m assuming if you’re reading this review its because you’ve either read this series or that cover caught your eye) but this book quite nicely wraps up the events of book the third, Waistcoats & Weaponry, which itself is a natural progression from book 1 and 2 (Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies respectively). I really enjoyed my time with these characters and their stories, and the epilogue made the definitive connections between the two different series (although many connections were already in place). I did miss some of my favorite characters being needfully off-page, so I’ve downgraded this one to three stars, but I couldn’t be more certain in suggesting this series to you, if all those things in my previous paragraph sound good to you.

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

When He Was Wicked (CBR8 #31)

The sixth book in the Bridgertons series brings us to the elusive Francesca. She’s rarely, if ever, mentioned in the other Bridgerton novels, except in passing generally explaining why she isn’t around (too young, too married, too widowed, too far away in Scotland). I’ll admit that I was concerned going into a book with a character we had so little invested in, but the last time I had that worry we got the great Benedict and Sophie in my second favorite Bridgerton book, An Offer from a Gentleman.

I was however, underwhelmed this time.

When the book opens in 1820, Francesca and John, Earl of Kilmartin are happily married (their marriage had previously taken place off-page between An Offer from a Gentleman and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton), when tragedy strikes and John goes to sleep and never wakes up. Quinn also takes the time to introduce John’s cousin Michael. He was visiting the pair when John dies, and he happens to be in love with Francesca. However full of issues this set-up might sound, Quinn navigates it well, instilling Michael with a sense of honor and respect so he keeps his feelings hidden from everyone, including Francesca. When it all becomes too much he removes himself to India to settle into the title he just inherited, and try to create the space he needs in order to keep his relationship with Francesca in its appropriate box.

Fast-forward four years later, and the main portion of this story comes together. Francesca decides to come out of mourning and is considering re-marrying because she has a deep desire for children. Off to London she must go. Michael finds himself ready to return to England and stop running from the sadness of “taking over” his cousins life, thinking he is prepared to re-enter the life of Francesca, but a couple months in London without her would be best. So sorry, they both arrive at the same time (oh romance novels, you do love a plot convenience) and he is still 100% in love with her.

I found Quinn’s writing about the characters’ internal struggles both helped to build their relationship on a deeper emotional level, and let me feel like I knew the characters. They both feel that they mustn’t have romantical feelings for one another, but I think Quinn just did a better job with Michael than with Francesca. Some of my favorite moments in the book are when Michael basically has the internal reaction of the nopetopus in regards to his still being in love with Francesca.

no scared nsfw nope gross

He feels if he gives in to this last boundary he will be completely ruining the love and respect he felt for his cousin. It will be like he wished for his death. Quinn plays this to the full, and plays with all the various subtexts it offers. She just seems to leave Francesca in the NO place for far too long.

KingfisherWorld upset damn cricket oh no

I found myself frustrated with Francesca’s behavior. It’s not that I couldn’t understand it, just that it dragged on. It is one of the weaknesses in Quinn’s writing, that she will let a story stall out at an emotional point and spend more time there than strictly necessary. This book also left me wanting as far as Quinn’s usual sarcastic humor goes. It’s there, it’s just… not as great as it usually is. And finally, When He Was Wicked lacked the other Bridgertons: and the family dynamics of that bunch are what really make the books sing (Eloise’s book To Sir Phillip, With Love shows that in spades. Once the family is in on the shenanigans everything gets turned up to 11).

spinal tap it goes up to 11 gif

And Colin felt off. Colin is my favorite. There is no denying it, he is, but his characterization felt off. Believe me, I LOVED that he was the one to put in Michael’s head that he actually, could, in fact, marry Francesca and the world would not end. I just wish those interactions had been more and more in line with Colin in the other books. And here’s my last bit of annoyance before I conclude this review and tell you to go ahead and read all eight of these books, Quinn seems to have retconned her previous books (specifically Romancing Mr. Bridgerton) to put Francesca and Michael in town during the events of books four and five. I DON’T REMEMBER HER BEING THERE. I don’t know if its because I read the book six months ago, or because Francesca wasn’t memorable, but the fact that these three books are intended to overlay just didn’t work for me in that all I kept thinking was “Her? She was there?”

Anyway, read these books and you too can write 750 words about your feels as regards romantical fluff.

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

How to Be a Woman (CBR8 #30)

I have a feeling my review of Moran’s How to Be a Woman is going to be more a discussion about these types of Feminism 101 books and the backlash they can sometimes bring. Here’s my disclaimer… we all have to start somewhere. And memoirs are inherently going to be the story of a person. This book is that, one woman’s account of how she came to deal with becoming and being a woman in the world she inhabits, today. She writes it honestly, humorously, and with a great deal of heart. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t expecting a masterwork of the next wave of feminism. I was expecting someone to tell me her story, and she did.

“At some point – scarred and exhausted – you either accept that you must become a woman – that you are a woman – or you die. This is the brutal, root truth of adolescence – that it is often a long, painful campaign of attrition.” (10)

So I’m pleased with the book. But, there’s always more to the story. Out there on the interwebs (which I define as anyplace outside of the safety net of CBR and CBR adjacent places) there has been a lot of backlash about this book. And a lot of one star ratings. I can see most of the complaints, but I can’t make myself downgrade my rating of this book.

I feel like this is also a place to mention that the title of this book is not How to Be a Feminist. While Moran’s feminism is front and center to her writing here, the book is not intended to be prescriptive. For every time Moran lays out a “we should do THIS” statement, she’s backtracking and coming at it from another angle just a few pages down the line. Also, it’s an important note that this is a populist feminism she is writing about that concerns itself with the everyday shit women have to endure. She’s not saying that bigger issues like pay inequity and abortion are unimportant, but rather that women need to decide how they feel about the things they encounter in their own lives and run it through a lens of “are the boys being made to put up with this shit?”.

It should also be noted that this book is now five years old. We have had a lot of movement forward in the past five years, but sometimes it feels like we’re still just uncovering the bits that still need to be sorted. Intersectionality? Oh yes, we can and should be doing better. Transgender rights? Well, what’s going on in certain states around the U.S. is definitely a sign of alarm, and we’ll have to continue reckoning with that civil rights issue as we have with the ones which came before. Just getting everyone to agree on the terminology we’re using? Still a battle, every day. (As a friendly reminder, if you believe in equal pay for equal work and an equal choice in what work you take on – you’re a feminist.)

In summary, if you like memoirs and those books which might be classified as Feminism 101, then this book might absolutely be for you. Otherwise, I’m sure you’ll find something which suits you better.

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


How Star Wars Conquered the Universe (CBR8 #29)

Listen, this is a very good book. It just wasn’t the droid I was looking for. Well, more accurately it was the droid I was looking for, but he brought along his annoying protocol droid buddy who bothered me with information about himself (wow, I think I just made a reference that equates a book about George Lucas to C-3PO… I am such a nerd).

After reading the great reviews of this book by emmalita and narfna, I quickly added it to my library waitlist. After my viewing of The Force Awakens, a book that explored the cultural aspects of a fandom which spread from a galaxy far, far away sounded truly interesting.  This book absolutely delivers on that promise, but I also got an incredibly comprehensive accounting of the life of George Lucas and his creative process. You know what I discovered while reading this book? I don’t give a damn about George Lucas. It’s not something he did (Special Editions not withstanding), but more that I don’t find the man very interesting. His creative mind has brought me some of my favorite things, and some of my most despised (THX 1183 anyone? I just don’t get it). It’s more that I find him dull and his apparent inability to create without suffering, or refusal to create for others, to be a less than satisfactory read.

What I ended up doing was skimming the Lucas-focused chapters, because I actually knew a lot about his personal history and famous friendships which impacted his career (Coppola and Spielberg, notably). But, there were always nuggets of interest in each chapter that I didn’t yet know.

However, this book won me back to singing its praises in its second half. What I discovered, and what author Chris Taylor lays out on the page, is that the time period I was really interested in didn’t truly start until the mid to late 1990s. Ah-ha! Problem solved. Here’s the explosion of fan interest which I grew up with. I wasn’t alive for the first two Star Wars movies, and I never read anything in the Expanded Universe (I know! Novelizations have not been something which was ever really on my radar), but the 501st? Now we’re talking.

But I am only rating this book three stars, compared to higher ratings you’ll see nearly everywhere else. Why? Because while Taylor obviously spent a great deal of time crafting *the* work on the subject, it was just too dense for me and moved too slowly (I probably would have been served waiting to listen to this on audio instead of lunging into it in hardback). You will most likely enjoy this book much more than me, but I suggest thinking through the following criteria: 1. Do you LOVE Star Wars? 2. How much George Lucas is too much George Lucas? And finally, 3. How in the mood are you for a very detailed 400-page book of non-fiction? If you answer those three questions with: 1. SO MUCH, 2. I can stand a lot of Mr. Lucas, and 3. That sounds like the best thing ever, you’ll enjoy this book. I suggest reading it soon, as the secretive nature of the lead up to Episode VII led to a lot of forecasting and “who knows?” from Taylor, and now we do know – so his book is going to start to become dated as the Anthology movies start rolling out this winter.

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

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (CBR8 #28)

One of the benefits of dragooning your friends into doing the Cannonball Read with you is that they are another great source of book recommendations. I’m not sure when exactly Ale suggested The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time to me, but I have a feeling it was sometime around when she read Marcelo in the Real World last year. Both books feature protagonists with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Ale suggests Marcelo to people who enjoyed Curious Incident.

Audible did me a favor with a sale, and the Book Riot Read Harder challenge includes a task this year of reading a book about a main character with a mental illness so this book skyrocketed up the to-read list. I couldn’t be happier about choosing to listen to this book: not only does Jeff Woodman nail the tenor of a teenage boy, which is crucial in dealing with this book, but he is also able to convey the lack of emotional expression typical of those on the autism spectrum while still keeping the listener engaged (although I’m sure a lot of that also has to do with the way Mark Haddon structured his book). Christopher’s frustrations, social anxieties, and logic made perfect sense to me as I proceeded through the work, and that is simply praiseworthy. I don’t really have another way to describe it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is the story of Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone who has Asperger’s Syndrome (Asperger’s no longer exists as a separate diagnosis, although it did when the book was published in 2003, so I’m leaving it in my synopsis although now it is considered part of the autism spectrum disorder grouping. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource, and they have really interesting information about the autism spectrum disorder). Christopher doesn’t like to be touched or meet new people, he cannot make small talk. He is a math whiz who loves solving puzzles that have definite answers and uses them to help calm his mind. One night, he observes that the neighbor’s dog has been killed, since it is not moving and has a large garden fork stuck in its body. Christopher knows this is wrong. Christopher decides to investigate in order to find out who killed the dog, but what he discovers will shake the very foundation of his perfectly ordered life.

This is a crisp novel, I listened to it in just over 6 hours, but every little detail – down to the chapter numbers only being prime numbers, informs the mood and the narrative. The conceit of the work, that Christopher is writing his book as an assignment at school to practice his language skills, allows for the reader to sink into Christopher’s mind and see the story from his perspective. But where the meaning gets made is in all the moments that we see ourselves in the other people in Christopher’s narrative – whether it be the ones who help him cope with life in our weird world, or those that make his life more difficult.

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

The Cruelest Month (CBR8 #27)

Last year I double cannonballed with the second Inspector Gamache book, A Fatal Grace. It grew naturally from its predecessor, Still Life, and expanded the universe of the Sûreté du Québec and the various residents of Three Pines and its surrounding area in the Eastern Townships. Having decided that I enjoy consuming these books in the time of year in which they are set, I knew that I would be listening to The Cruelest Month this April. I can  report I’m as happy with this series as ever.

In an effort not to spoil the book (which is difficult in the case of Louise Penny’s books as everything is carefully interconnected) I’ll proceed with a quick summary, and then talk about a couple of topics related to the book and call this review done.

The Cruelest Month takes place surrounding the Easter holiday. A group of friends and neighbors (including some favorites from previous books) holds a séance at the old Hadley house, hoping to rid it of the evil spirits that have haunted it, and the village, for decades. One of them ends up dead, apparently of fright. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team from the Sûreté du Québec investigate the old house and the villagers of Three Pines to track the identity of the murderer and the manner of the death. Simultaneous to that, Armand Gamache’s leadership of the investigation of this case forces him to face his personal ghosts of the terrible case which derailed his career and cost him friendships.

Louise Penny’s writing, as delivered by the inestimable Ralph Cosham, is simply sublime. Penny weaves in meditations on life, love, friendship, and hope – all while her characters most base inner motivations are on display. As we are offered view into everyone’s darkest side we are left to wonder at whodunit. I find myself more and more interested in Penny’s writing on the life of the people while the mystery takes a back seat. But that doesn’t mean the Penny writes a poor mystery, the very opposite is true.

The Inspector Gamache books are prime examples of the whodunit detective genre. These books, particularly of the British variety, include murders by unconventional means, bucolic villages, large casts of suspects, red herrings, and a dramatic disclosure of the murderer in the last few pages of the book: checks all around for The Cruelest Month. It also allows the reader time to think through the logic, or lack thereof, of various possibilities and deduce their own conclusions – and in the case of this book we have both the murder in Three Pines, and the growing tension for Gamache surrounding the Arnot case. With all these moving parts coming together Louise Penny delivers a book well worth your time. It is imperative, however, that you start with book one.

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