All the Single Ladies (CBR8 #77)

Cannonball Read is the best for getting good books in front of your eyeballs.

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I read expandingbookshelf’s review of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation this summer and added the book to my to read list on Goodreads. Then I read Lollygagger’s review early this fall and I put in my library hold. I hope some of you will do the same.

I am a single lady in my 30s. I have never been married. I am one of many data points that make up a new demographic in American society. For the first time since data has been kept on the subject (and possibly EVER), single women outnumber their married counterparts. A cursory view of my friend group supports this. In fact, my friend group supports most of the points that author Rebecca Traister makes throughout All the Single Ladies. We are educated, often career minded, and for a variety of reasons not with partners, except the quarter of us who are. We come from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of us want kids, some of us do not, some of us want partners, some of us do not.

From Goodreads: Today, only twenty percent of Americans are wed by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960. The Population Reference Bureau calls it a “dramatic reversal.” All the Single Ladies is a remarkable portrait of contemporary American life and how we got here, through the lens of the single American woman. Covering class, race, sexual orientation, and filled with vivid anecdotes from fascinating contemporary and historical figures.

Rebecca Traister does a really interesting job of speaking to a variety of viewpoints in this book through ten chapters that explore different facets of being an unmarried woman in the U.S. My favorite sections were probably where Traister explores the role of single women throughout modern history – but that’s because I’m a history nerd. But the stories of women who didn’t marry, or married late so that they could be activists, leaders, and artists really interested me.

Moving into the contemporary era, Traister also interviewed 100 women of various education, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to provide anecdotal evidence to go along with the studies she references as she examine the reasons for the increasing number of single women, as well as how the trend affects not just women – economically, socially, psychologically – but also men and society as a whole. It’s fascinating, well-researched, and broad. And that may be where the second half of the book suffers, just a bit.

But, there is one very important reason that I rounded this book back up to a 4 and not down to a three: Traister gets intersectional feminism and discusses the ways that different stimuli in different groups are creating the same overall effect. Is it perfect? No. Traister covers a variety of different viewpoints, but not always thoroughly. Specifically, those that would consider themselves Conservatives.

This book is a good introductory tome, but it is a bit overstuffed and a slow read. I took a break while reading The Count of Monte Cristo, but this was still at times a well-written slog.

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The Count of Monte Cristo (CBR8 #76)

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I have already said many words about The Count of Monte Cristo, since it entered our lives as the final of the four #CannonBookClub choices for 2016. It was a great idea I had, pick 6 books, three male authors and three female, all predating 1920 which had film adaptations, so we could honor our Pajiban roots, and I could easily check a Read Harder Task off the list (I needed to compare and contrast a book with its movie, you see).

Thank you, my fellow book clubbers, because I don’t think I would ever have willingly picked this one up. As it was, knowing my work schedule and family obligations (my sister got married!) I went abridged since I knew I wasn’t going to have as much time as this book probably really needed and deserved. I also had the back pocket win of my friend and yours, crystalclear having voted for this one and deciding to do her INTENSE and awe inspiring review as a backup.  

Here’s a secret for you: I really love the story that Dumas is trying to tell with Edmond Dantes. While the revenge plots are fun, interesting, and intricate they really aren’t why I continued reading past the Paris purgatory. While I was watching the 1975 Richard Chamberlin version, Abbe Faria says in a voice over “vengeance belongs to the Lord”, and that he hopes Edmond will turn away from his Arya-like list before it destroys him. This to me was the true heart of this work: what is the cost of forsaking that which matters in the world? The great emotional removal of the Count, his single focus on vengeance, is the destruction of Edmond. Villefort, in his decision to put his own position before the life of another dooms himself. Everyone is made to pay for their turning away from the moral right. Was the Count ethical in his actions, yes. Was he moral? I still don’t know.

This book is dense, and lush, and there is something for everyone. You can take a twirl through the discussion post, or visit other people’s reviews. I hope if you decided to tackle this one you review it, even if you don’t finish. I wasn’t kidding when I said there was plenty to unpack.

I have to say, that I have now read the book (abridged), and watched three movie versions of this story. I am convinced that the story in the book is the best, and that the closest version, which was truest to the overarching narrative, was the 1975 version. You know, in case you were wondering.🙂

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

Kingsman: The Secret Service (CBR8 #75)

I, like so many other dedicated Cannonball Book Clubbers, am working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo. I have gone abridged, and it is still a long book. In that time, I have also been interspersing my reading with quicker, lighter, fare. Enter, Kingsman.

This is lighter fare if you are a particular kind of reader, or find certain kinds of jokes funny. The first few pages of issue one, where (SPOILER) Mark Hamill gets killed, by accident? Perfection as far as I’m concerned.

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I am vaguely familiar with the work of author Mark Millar. He is perhaps best known for Kick-Ass and Wanted? I’m just not sure, I know that he’s a name in the industry and I’ll hope that you’ll forgive me since comics are a new area for me. I was turned onto this series by the movie that was based on it, which I enjoyed (right up until the very end). The movie and the comics share a lot of the same DNA, with a few changes in the movie which I think were for the better.

The comic builds around the idea of the world’s greatest secret agent – named Jack London – has a punk nephew who he decides should follow in his footsteps in the service. Small problem, he’s on a case trying to discover the link between a series of kidnapped stars. Under Uncle Jack’s supervision, Gary’s spy skills only increase, but solving the celebrity kidnappings isn’t without a price.

While the pacing was a bit hit or miss, the visuals by Dave Gibbons were fantastic. There are parts of the movie version I’ll always enjoy more (Mark Strong and Michael Caine’s parts being two distinct characters instead of one in the comic, more time spent in training, and with *gasp* girls also in the training), but all in all a good read.

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

A Spy in the House (CBR8 #74)

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It isn’t a book’s fault when you’ve read a version of it better suited to your own personal tastes. I feel poorly for nor liking A Spy in the House more, since as a straight on 1850s historical fiction mystery should be right up my alley. I am a fan of Alex Grecian’s Murder Squad series which starts with The Yard, which is the same basic set up, but 40 years later. But I was left underwhelmed.

I think it may be because Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series is more recently in my memory and it was quite a bit more enjoyable for me. Here’s a synopsis from Goodreads so you can decide for yourself if this book sounds like fun to you:

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

While I was finishing this book and contemplating both my star rating (2.5) and my review in general the twittersphere blew up about a YA book The Continent, and one of our favorite authors, Courtney Milan, got involved in the discussion, which meant that I got caught up quick. What it basically boils down to is that persons of color in The Continent were mishandled (racist and demeaning descriptors of POC, per the reports), and people spoke out via the methods available to them. The author and her supporters are falling back on a free expression.

But what stood out to me was Milan’s point and emphasis about reading more POC authors, which is actually how I got to this book in the first place, and realizing that I as a white reader need to be aware of my reactions to what I’m reading.  I can’t just sit back and say “I didn’t connect with this for some reason” and not look into the idea of is it simply that this book is handling a viewpoint different than my own, and different to the conventional story arc? I stepped back from this review and thought about it long and hard. Was the trouble I had because the narrative was typical and from a POC author? I’ve come to the conclusion of no, that my real struggle with this book is that it is Y. S. Lee’s first book, the pacing is slow, and it’s a bit more YA than I prefer. But if you are looking for more insight into the conversations surrounding representation in books, particularly YA, Becky Albertelli and Justina Ireland had a great threads on Twitter as well.

 

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (CBR8 #73)

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I have, in my life, attempted to read The Hobbit on three separate occasions. The fourth try was the charm because I gave in to the power of the BBC Radio Drama. As many of you know Ale is working on her thesis about the origins of fantasy, and she is my roommate. What you may not know, is that I retrieve all our library needs, since I’m there every week. My latest pick up for her was the audio version of The Hobbit, and I decided she should listen to the BBC Radio version, so that I could try it too. I figured if it was another failure on my part, no harm, she needed it anyway.

Here’s my honest take: I found The Hobbit to be merely okay. Here’s perhaps another highly unpopular opinion: I think Peter Jackson’s greatly expanded movies fill in plot points quite admirably, most of the time (I still hate the dues ex goats in the final battle in the third movie and think all the invented characters along the way are unnecessary). I do love the complexity of Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth, but I will never know for sure if I could love it just from the written word, since I was constantly referring to what I already knew of the world from Jackson’s version (and the earlier animated one) because what I was listening to felt lacking.

As befits the original intended audience, Tolkien uses an informal narrator to open his world. The reader is provided glimpses into the various realms which populate the world, and the great battles yet to come. Since Tolkien is working in these glimpses, and the lyrical devices of songs and poems, I as a reader saw the gaps and here is where the genre of high fantasy seems to leave me behind. I as a reader am looking for more explicit information.  But I will say that this version has the benefit of bringing those poems and songs to life for the reader.

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

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (CBR8 #72)

I’ve been pretty open about the idea that comics are still a reading stumbling block for me. My friend Alison loves comics so whenever she comes across something she thinks might do the trick for me, she makes sure to get it into my hands. I sometimes decline her suggestions due to time limitations, but I always try to see what she’s offering. A couple weeks ago she handed me Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in comic form, and there was no way I wasn’t going to give this one a go – Jane Austen is my jam.

I struggled a bit with Northanger Abbey when I read it for the first time a few years ago, and its one of very few books I have read in my CBR years that I did not review. I struggled to sink into the book on that round, but I think its because I read the academic introduction which preceded it. This time I let myself just float along with the loving adaption of Jane Austen’s most humorous work.

Matching Austen’s satire of Gothic Literature, we follow Catherine Morland’s quest to be the leading lady of her own great romance. Catherine is determined to find the correlations between real life and  the Gothic novels she finds so enchanting. Austen upturns Catherine’s expectations at each turn, and Nancy Butler and illustrator Janet Lee capture the original while making it their own as well. While not my favorite reading experience, I can suggest this to anyone looking for a quick revisit of Austen.

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

Singapore Noir (CBR8 #71)

Read Harder wanted me to read a book by an author from Southeast Asia. A little google sleuthing turned up the book Singapore Noir edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a native of Singapore, who in her introduction to the collection lays out the Singapore the world is familiar with as well as the Singapore explored in this work. What better way to complete the task than to read a collection of stories by authors hailing from, or simply familiar with, the area in question? And some are in Singlish (well, partly) which is another boon for me since I like works in dialect.

First, if you like noir, then this book is right up your alley. It’s actually the fortieth or so collection put out by Akashic Books which has apparently, unbeknownst to me, been putting out a series of original noir anthologies since 2004. In case you are wondering the noir anthologies are all geographically organize
d, thus Singapore Noir.singapore

What did I learn about myself as a reader during this adventure? That I will consume noir quickly if given the opportunity, but that I should probably limit myself to one or two stories at a time since the genre has very specific rhythms which get very repetitive, very quickly since in all the works the protagonist is either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Add in the fact that that protagonist is usually self-destructive and is dealing with the legal, political or other system that is corrupt is, leading to lose-lose situation.

Highlights for me:

Last Time by Colin Goh, which follows a lawyer attempting to free the arm candy of a mobster. But is that really what’s happening?

Smile, Singapore by Colin Cheong, we spend the night in an interrogation room with a man who has committed a crime, but feels little remorse for the position he was put in.

Kena Sai by S.J. Rozan follows the life of an expatriate couple from beginning to end.

Honestly, this book is probably a 3.5 overall, since there were one or two I couldn’t get myself to care about enough to finish them, I have rounded down.

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