Trainwreck (CBR9 #10)

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I’m rating this one 5 stars not because it’s perfect (although I feel it is pretty close) but instead because it is perfect for right now. In Trainwreck, Sady Doyle unpacks the ways that society judges women who dare to live too big a life and how historically “too big a life” has been pretty darn small.

I was already in an angry feminist headspace last November when I read badkittyuno’s review and her description of the book as a journey through the cycle of trainwrecks in modern pop culture and the stories of the historic trainwrecks who came before sounded right up my alley. When I finished All the Single Ladies and We Should All Be Feminists at the end of last year I decided to add more feminist reading to my list, and Trainwreck moved to the head of the line.

Badkittyuno was exactly right; Doyle’s style of writing will make you angry at how we treat women, and how we always have. But, the tone of the book isn’t “look at all these terrible things that others have done to women” its “look at how our societies have been built to bring down women”. It is a distinction, which is important, and changes this book from what could have been an angry rant into a well-paced, well-spoken examining of culture. The women she chooses to highlight, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Billie Holiday to Britney Spears (the ultimate modern trainwreck), are perfectly encapsulated and Doyle makes sure to highlight that almost all of these women have written for themselves. Doyle takes the time to point this out in order to tell us that we should go back to the source, as she should not be the end all be all of these women’s narratives.

I still believe the patriarchy harms everyone, and feminism aims to heal through equality of options and choice. However, it’s also incredibly important to realize what internalized messages we have all taken onboard and work to undo them. Trainwreck is a place to start, because recognizing the pattern means we can begin to undo it.

Even if you aren’t in an angry feminist mind space right now, this is still a funny, sharp-witted book and I would completely suggest making time for it in your reading diet.

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

Furiously Happy (CBR9 #9)

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I am not 100% sure how to rate or review this book so prepare yourselves for a bit of a ramble. I also don’t know why I decided to read Jenny Lawson’s second book before her first, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. But, I had added Furiously Happy to my to read list, someone suggested the author narrated version since it has a bonus chapter, I have an audible subscription, and here we are.

I have depression, and usually I keep it on the ropes with skills I’ve accrued over the years at therapy and learning how my system works. One of the best ways to keep the monster at bay is to be honest about what is happening in your brain and finding community that can help you cope, and that’s how Cannonball Read has given me another way to battle back the monster: Jenny Lawson’s twitter feed. Most people who find themselves as one of Lawson’s weirdos read her blog, I am not good about remembering to go there but her twitter works for me in a big way.

Accordingly, while trying to decide what to read in February I remembered that I had picked up the audio version of Furiously Happy and decided to jump in even though I haven’t yet read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. What I did not know was that Lawson is apparently much more open about her crazy in this book than she was in her first and I can only say – thank goodness she is so honest. I’ve wondered for a few years if I have some undiagnosed anxiety issues running around my system because some of my personality traits go beyond simple introvert status. With Lawson, I felt seen, heard, and supported: and she was just telling me about her life in funny ways.

Lawson battles the beast by living her life as furiously happy as she can to fight the other side of the pendulum. It’s a lifesaving idea for many and I’m thankful for the side benefits.

As a head’s up her next book, You Are Here: an Owner’s Manual for a Dangerous Mind comes out March 7, 2017.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come have a look, there’s something for everyone.

The Princess Diarist (CBR9 #8)

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It is hard to know how to review this book. I had planned to read this before Ms. Fisher passed away, but following her death it seemed somehow imperative to read it as soon as I could muster my strength to do so. It was time to say goodbye to Carrie, and to the character that defined her career.

However, the very structure of this book limits its possible impact; it exists at all because Fisher discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the original Star Wars. The first third of the book is an introduction to the juggernaut that is Star Wars, the middle is excerpts from Fisher’s diary – specifically the portions about her relationship with Harrison Ford, and the final section is her reckoning with the 40 year effects of Star Wars on her life, and how she is forever linked to Princess Leia, a character who looks quite a bit like her.

The passion of youth is in here, but also the love of wordplay. Fisher was a talented writer, which is never up for debate, but somehow I was left wanting more from the book than she was willing to give us about Leia, and that seems to be by design. Fisher always kept more of herself to herself and most of what the book covers she discussed previously in the interviews leading up to The Force Awakens.

She shares some of her thoughts and memories about the auditions, filming and subsequent fame of the original Star Wars, and it was certainly enjoyable to spend some time with her reminiscing about the experience. However, I was left with the feeling that she was still very carefully curating what she shared of the experience, keeping some things (even after admitting to the Carrison affair) to herself. To which I say, good for her. But maybe not good for the book.

Fisher was also blunt about what she termed “lap dances” the autograph signing events, which she attended later in her career to help with some cash flow issues. On one hand, I grasped entirely her point and have always felt strangely about the expectation of fans that actors/musicians/artists should be put in that position and be expected to enjoy it (says the introvert), but I didn’t like at all how she formulated the chapters. Fisher was one of the all-time best script doctors, and these chapters read more like script treatments than book chapters, and that made it hard for me to focus on the beauty of her word choice and phrasings.

As ArchaeoKelly said “I am so very grateful to her for being my Princess Leia and my General Organa, and my grown-up Carrie Fisher, with all her issues.  She has been so brutally honest.  She is a warrior”. Thank you Carrie, for one more book before you left us.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We’ve got over 500 reviews in the first month of 2017, certainly there’s a book review for you over on the site?

Mine Till Midnight (CBR9 #7)

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I said in my review last year of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter that I was particularly interested in seeing the character of Cam Rohan given his own book since Kleypas had taken the time to develop his character in an interesting way. Mine Till Midnight is that book, and the pairing of Cam and Amelia Hathaway five years after the events of Devil in Winter delivers on the promise, but falters a little in the overall package. It is much closer to the kind of check-in story I was hoping to find in A Wallflowers Christmas.

Mine Till Midnight (ugh with that title – its grammatically incorrect. House Grammarian takes issue) is Cam and Amelia’s story, and it works well: he knows he needs change in his life, so wants to finally abandon his gadjo ways and go back to being a Rom. Instead, the change he needs turns out to be a life with Amelia and taking on the various aspects of the life of her family as she tries to pull them up to respectability but will accept survival without embarrassing themselves. She is take charge and family focused, often to her own detriment.

Amelia’s family is a mess. Her older brother Leo is in a serious depression following an illness and the death of his fiancée, sister Win also suffered the same bout of scarlet fever and is physically diminished, Poppy is in need of a proper debut but they cannot provide one for her, and youngest Beatrix has a slight kleptomania problem in addition to any number of other things. Add in de facto brother Merripen, a gypsy who was adopted by the Hathaway parents following his abandonment and who is desperately in love with Win but won’t say anything about it because of propriety you’ve got one hell of a mess. When the Hathaways inherit, Amelia thinks things will improve, but instead things deteriorate.

Amelia is, to me, a standard eldest sister. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to her: I see some of myself in the way Kleypas builds the character of Amelia. She puts family first, worries over the details that others are only partially aware of, and does not want to let herself love after a heartbreak. Cam is taken with her looks and personality, and finds within himself the desire to put all the various Hathaway troubles to rights especially if that means binding himself to Amelia for good.

As I said, this is a good historical romance. Nevertheless, I’m rounding from 3.5 down to three stars so there must be a reason. There are a couple:

  1. The supernatural stuff. Cold rooms, ghostly presences, a change in the eyes. It was unwelcome, to me, in this continuing of the Wallflowers universe.
  2. All plot threads are left dangling to the last 50+ pages to be resolved. Something could have been resolved earlier, and some receive just a single sentence.
  3. Consent issues. Several times Amelia tells Cam that she does not want to sleep with him wherever they are (often a potentially public or unsecure location) and he goes right about moving things along regardless of her wishes. This is a historical, and in many ways I’m able to make the mental divide between the realities of then and now (particularly with Kleypas since she tends to do a better job than most of sticking with historical accuracies), but given the climate of the world around me right now the idea that Amelia’s bodily autonomy was not respected more often than not left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, readers love a take charge lead, but taking charge doesn’t mean ignoring your partners input.
  4. Too much story set up for the next books. We spend a lot of time with the fall and redemption of Leo, and many pages are spent with Merripen and Win setting up their book (which is the one I avoid, right?). Some of Kleypas’ best writing is in these scenes, but in combination with the Leo and treasure hunt (seriously, WTF?) it was all too much.

I am looking forward to checking in with the Hathaways during the year, and hopeful for continued sightings of the various Wallflowers.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come join us and say fuck you to cancer.

Bury Your Dead (CBR9 #6)

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Often it can be difficult to review a book in the middle of the series, particularly on the first read through. I don’t know, for example, what will happen to the characters in this story as the next 6 novels progress, I only know that they exist.

This means that I can only trace the works as they culminate in this book, Bury Your Dead. Bury Your Dead is, however, not a book which can stand alone: it is tied inextricably to its predecessor The Brutal Telling. I will have to spoil that book in order to discuss this one, so after the next paragraph, SPOILERS can be found.

I listen to these on audio, since Ralph Cosham was the perfect pair to the material.  I cannot recommend highly enough that you take this series on if you enjoy classic mystery novels. In an interview at the tail end of the recording Penny discusses the adventure of creating these books and building the community of Three Pines, the characters who inhabit it, and those who come to visit. She speaks earnestly about creating characters true to life, and not caricatures. I was also pleasantly excited to hear her discuss these books as not being cozies, which I certainly didn’t think they were. Penny is an author with a good idea, the character of Inspector Gamache, and she is dedicated to exploring all the stories that build out the person he is, and the various facets of a personality.

Spoilery zone.

Penny uses a new layout for her arsenal to tell three stories simultaneously. We work forward in time with two, and backwards

Of the two plots which work in forward time, the first links with the end of The Brutal Telling. Gamache and company arrested Olivier for the murder of the hermit. Olivier has told too many lies, and while Gamache has built and the prosecutors have won the case against him and he is in jail. Bury Your Dead picks up over a year later, with Olivier in prison and his partner Gabriel writing Gamache a letter every day, enclosing his favorite candy and a handwritten note with one question  “why would Olivier move the body if he committed the murder?”. Gamache is unsure about his findings following another tramatic event, and deploys Beauvoir to build the case as if Olivier is innocent.

The plot which unfolds in reverse order, with a touch of nonlinear storytelling deployed, is that of how Gamache and Beauvoir came to be recovering from nearly catastrophic injuries and the discovery of who kidnapped Agent Moran.  The final thread is that of the investigation of a murder in Quebec which Gamache finds himself pulled into as he finishes his convalescence at his former chief’s home.

Other than time this various strings would not necessarily be bound together, and the novel could certainly be read on a surface level where you do not unpack anything further. I am occasionally guilty of doing just that with the Inspector Gamache books. However, the struggle to face our shortcomings, and our fears, and our mistakes its linked across every facet of this novel. Penny continues to tell us stories about art, food, and death as well as meditations on the human condition.

This book, and the next A Trick of the Light, was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Big Little Lies (CBR9 #5)

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Cannonballers love Liane Moriarty, and they really love Big Little Lies. I could no longer hold out against the deluge of positive reviews and the upcoming HBO series produced by Reese Witherspoon who has a history of putting her money behind female driven projects.

Hot take: It is quite good, but I was able to call all the big twists save one. Read it before the HBO series arrives in late February if you want to be a smug book reader.

More in depth review to make MsWas happy:

Big Little Lies is told from the point of view of three different characters, all moms to the incoming kindergarten class: Madeline, Celeste, and Jane. Each is at a different place in her life, a different stage, and each has a BIG thing they are dealing with during school year.  Big Little Lies is also, however, a carefully plotted look at bullying amongst children and adults. Finally, Big Little Lies is mystery about the unraveling of a death at a school function.

It doesn’t sound as good in blurb form as it is in execution, no matter how much I play with it.

The characters, even the ones who only appear in end of chapter pull quotes from the interviews (and what an awesome way to include further character point of views and conflicting information), are all designed to pull you in, and they do the trick. In theory I shouldn’t have wanted to skip other things I’m doing in order to work through 460 pages of bullying, domestic violence, divorce and second family politics, but I did.

As I said above, I really enjoyed this book, and the workmanship Moriarty has on display in it. I’m going to leave off here, and keep this review rather vague, because I want you (for the dozens who still haven’t read it) to go in clean, like Station Eleven, I feel like that’s the best plan.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read which raises money for the American Cancer Society and enjoys saying FUCK YOU to cancer.

Career of Evil (CBR9 #4)

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OVERALL THOUGHTS

4.5 rounded up to 5 stars, because this book deserves a higher ranking than its predecessor.

I had thought the world of Rowling’s writing was done for me. And then. AND THEN. This series showed up in my life and I have the gift of her back. Writing intricate but not unsolvable mysteries where the clues are right there in front of you, and if you are anything like me only make sense to you after the big reveal.  No BBC Sherlock magic here, just good writing.

SPOILER FREE GENERAL REVIEW SECTION

I’ve gone back to my reviews of the earlier books and while The Cuckoo’s Calling didn’t blow my skirt up, I noticed dramatic improvement in The Silkworm and both shone with Rowling’s characteristic strengths: she can build the hell out of her world and build characters of incredible depth without acres of exposition. She shows, not tells. Rowling’s gotten comfortable and moved away from the paint by numbers approach (which was on full display in The Cuckoo’s Calling), while still embracing the mechanics of the genre.

Career of Evil is a step above. The Strike books are ever overly grand in their setting or pace, but this story dials it down to the point of precision of a master craftsperson.

Book three in the series finds Strike and Robin in the crosshairs of a man bent on revenge against Strike and planning to use Robin to exact it. Our antagonist’s opening salvo is mailing a dismembered leg to Robin at the office. Rowling uses the technique of laying out the antagonist’s goals from their point of view, then opening the First Act and having Strike lay out the possible suspects to draw the reader in. You have just enough information from the antagonist’s point of view to think you know who did it.  Rowling allows you to go on that way for a bit, and then layers in how ALL of the suspects fit the information you as the reader have.

And then the game is on.

This book has plenty of plot. SO MUCH PLOT. There are murders, stalkers, police investigations, road trips, narrow misses but that isn’t what pushed me to round this book up to five stars. But we’ll get there in just a second.

But before we go into spoiler land, I cannot suggest enough that you listen to these books on audio. Robert Glenister is the second best narrator I have listened to, and is only second to the incomparable Ralph Cosham who reads the Inspector Gamache books.

Here we go.

SPOILERY IN DEPTH TALKY TIMES

What this book is really about is sexism. Rowling burns down the misogyny of both daily life and violence against women. She shines a light on all of the incidental ways woman are made to suffer and are put at risk by the world we live in, and she has very obviously been heading here from the beginning because we finally have the Robin backstory reveal.

Seriously, I said spoilers.

There’s a lot of detailed violence and rape in this book, including Robin’s story of her rape and recovery. With this narrative move, laid in place way back in Cuckoo’s Calling we have the heart of the discussion that Rowling is placing under all the other violence of the book. The perpetrators are men, the victims are women, and it’s not always about outright violence.

It’s a discussion of sexism both casual and pervasive that Rowling achieves by letting us into the minds of the antagonist, a serial killer who objectifies women; Strike, a man who tries to be good and still ends up short sometimes because it’s difficult to overcome the effects of his white male privilege, history with his mother, and military training; and Robin who is objectified, victimized, and mistreated by the most important people in her life despite being more than competent.

Rowling gives us another wonderful heroine in Robin. She explores how Robin took control of her own recovery (defensive driving and self-defense courses) and we learn that she is so committed to the work that she and Strike do because she wanted to be in this field before her attack and felt as though it was taken away from her. But she’s overcome what happened to her, and she’s strong as hell (sorry for that earworm) and better able to take care of herself then either her partner or fiancé think she is. Both have their own veiled sexist ways of trying to protect her, and Robin is steadfastly not letting them put her in mothballs as she was following her collegiate rape. This however has major implications for both the mystery portion of the novel and the character driven aspects of the book.

Robin and Strike’s personal lives serve as foil for the case they are attempting to solve. Robin and Matthew’s relationship is rocky at best in the beginning of this book, and then Matthew confesses to cheating on Robin following her rape, WITH A FRIEND WHO IS STILL IN THEIR LIVES (the fucking asshole, seriously if you were on the fence at all about Matthew at the beginning of this book you won’t be at the end) their engagement is called off. Which then leads Strike to notice all the more closely how his new girlfriend of about six months just doesn’t measure up to Robin, and we as the reader are allowed to see how he struggles to keep Robin in the “coworker” box all this time. It, plus the dangers of a case where they are both targets, creates an increasing sense of tension as more and more victims accumulate.

I’m running out of words to talk about the end of the book, but it’s dramatic, and with all good mysteries the clues were there along the way, there’s no trick. The personal entanglements got the better of me as Robin goes back to Matthew and their wedding occurs.

Because still: Fuck You, Matthew for that dick move. YOU DO NOT GET TO DELETE VOICEMAILS AND BLOCK CALLERS ON YOUR FIANCEE’S PHONE, JACKASS.

I don’t know how the smile Robin gives the battered Strike while saying I do to dickweasel Matthew is going to play out, but all I can say is: Please let book four be released this year. PLEASE.

Also… on audio, which I already mentioned I LOVE, there’s 20 minutes of acknowledgements and song credits. I THOUGHT THERE WAS MORE BOOK. I AM STILL MAD/SAD THERE WASN’T MORE BOOK. I NEED MORE ROBIN, STRIKE, AND THE DELIGHTFUL SHANKER MY GOD I NEVER TALKED ABOUT SHANKER.

Ahem, I’ll see myself out for now.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We’re pretty awesome if I do say so myself, why don’t you stop on by and see what wackiness we’re up to.