99 Percent Mine (CBR11 #10)

99 Percent MineFirst, as someone who suggested The Hating Game to literally anyone requesting a romance recommendation in the past two and a half years I feel the need to send an apology out into the universe for Sally Thorne – I never wanted you to feel so much pressure for your next book. That being said, I’m so glad you were able to work through it and produce this, your sophomore outing. It is very worth the reader’s time and another example of the kind of contemporary romance I’m happy to read and extol its virtues.

99 Percent Mine is a friends to lovers romance. Darcy Barrett has travelled the world, and can categorically say that no one measures up to Tom Valeska, whose only flaw is that Darcy’s twin brother Jamie saw him first and claimed him as his best friend at age 8. When Darcy and Jamie inherit their grandmother’s tumble-down cottage they’re left with strict instructions to bring it back to its former glory and sell the property. Darcy has no intention of staying to see the project through, she’s working at the local biker bar to make enough money to finance her next trip overseas and away from her family, troubles, and her desire for Tom who remains off-limits – this time due to an engagement ring on another woman’s ring finger. But when Tom shows up to lead the renovation (and with her passport MIA) Darcy’s sticking around.

It may not be apparent from the plot summary, but this is a romance with some built in high stakes. Darcy has a heart condition that she hasn’t been taking care of and it informs her past with her brother and Tom as well as her present. Thorne writes frankly about navigating life with a chronic illness. The other high stakes item is Tom’s personal history that has led him to feeling the need to be perfect at all times to be accepted, to be good enough. Darcy is also struggling with some career issues, feeling as though she peaked at 20 when she won a photography prize and has since shuttered her wedding photography business after a truly terrible wedding shoot. She is carrying around a lingering sense of failure and having to settle for ‘good enough’ in her late 20s. These are themes that resonated for me.

Thorne delivers on characters with real weight and fleshed out backstory. It is also a similarly limited cast of characters, with the grand majority of the narrative taking place with just two characters, although this book does bring in a more side characters who are important to the plot moving forward as well as filling in character details for our main pair. This one isn’t quite The Hating Game, but it is still really quite good, AND FUNNY, even if the last chapter or two felt a little tonally off (but I am a fan of the epilogues!).

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 (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

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The Nature of the Beast (CBR11 #9)

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This is my first Inspector Gamache book without narrator Ralph Cosham. It took me a bit to get used to hearing Gamache’s voice in my head without the aid of Cosham, but after ten books Cosham is Gamache’s voice for me and once I got started it all worked itself out.

The tenth book, The Long Way Home, was a departure for both Penny and her characters and in some important ways this book is a return to form. We have at the core of this book a mystery set within the greater environs of Three Pines which opens even further the backstories of our favorite residents. But this is also a book that accepts the new status quo of the lives of Gamache, Beauvoir, and Clara.

I don’t fully know that I knew what to expect in this one, but I know that I wasn’t expecting Penny to dive into some truly horrendous baddies. There’s a serial killer haunting the periphery of the story and while other authors would use that to pile up the bodies Penny instead uses it to dig ever further into the whys of human nature. Why are we fascinated with what the serial killer did before the events of the novel, why would he kill so many, why is he resurfacing now, why is he still a threat from the SHU, and why is Gamache so afraid?

The serial killer isn’t even the main thrust of the mystery. Gamache is intent on enjoying his retirement with Reine-Marie in Three Pines, but that idyll is broken when the body of a young boy from town is discovered on the side of the road. An initial small, local search discovers things aren’t quite what they seem and something large and scary is found in the woods which brings in Chief Inspector Lacoste as well as the larger Canadian intelligence community. Three Pines is far from done uncovering her secrets.

I read an interview with Penny, and she nails what I love about these books. “[They] aren’t about murder; they’re about life and the choices that we make, and what happens to good people when such a harrowing event comes into their lives. It’s an exploration of human nature, I hope.” This book does that in spades, and while this book had to be returned over the Christmas holiday and I read it neatly in two halves I’m looking forward to book twelve, A Great Reckoning, and getting to read it all in one go.

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 (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Lethal White (CBR11 #8)

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Fan Art cover to match previous in series.

It took me much longer to read this book than I thought it would. Sure, it’s a 22.5-hour audiobook and that’s a decent amount of listening time for something that absolutely could not be “background” noise listening – my brain had to be engaged – but I started this book nearly two months ago (although I did take a two-week break). Some of it had to do with the type of story Rowling is telling, there’s a lot of plot here. Some of it is also the layers of meaning she is including and the commentary on family, loyalty, fame, and pressure.

It’s not my favorite of the series, but it’s not my least favorite either (my favorite is Career of Evil despite its very violent nature) even though I found the mystery the least engaging of the four books so far. It has the potential for an interesting set up, Rowling takes on the political sphere, growing the world of Cormoran Strike  a little larger as she goes. The book picks up immediately where the previous one left off, satisfying the cliffhanger appropriately but painfully for those of us who hate Matthew with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. Then Rowling drop kicks us one year into the future where Strike and Robin are barely speaking to each other. The firm is doing well enough after the Shackleford Ripper case that they’ve been able to hire on contract investigators and slowly Robin and Strike have developed an icy gulf between them.

Billy Knight kicks off the story when he shows up in Strike’s office asking for help in ascertaining if he really did see a child murdered and buried near his home as a child. Unfortunately, Billy isn’t a reliable witness as he is deep into an episode and shows signs of living rough. Billy sticks with Strike though, and in the process of following up on Billy he meets his brother Jimmy, which in turn bring Strike int the orbit of Jasper Chiswell and the story is truly off to the races. The Chiswell family becomes the main focus and that family’s dynamics are complicated while also a bit stereotypical for fiction. There’s a gold digging younger wife, a disgraced youngest son, two loyal daughters, and the beloved dead eldest son.  Strike investigates Chiswell’s political enemies, and never lets the dead child out of his mind, wondering how it all ties in, chewing the details over and over.

I’m continually surprised with how much story Rowling tells, and I shouldn’t be anymore. The initial case Robin and Strike are hired for by Chiswell is over before the halfway point. Most authors would have wrapped things up in their narrative around this point and I wouldn’t be mad at them for doing so. There was already plenty of story to be had, but much like her other works Rowling slowly builds a world and then slowly unpacks the details, both of our two main characters and their personal lives, but also in the various characters who make up the cast of characters in this murder mystery. Because oh yes, there is a dead body and its demise must be solved.

Rowling is usually writing intricate mysteries where the clues are there in front of you, and even if you don’t catch the signs along the way, the resolution make sense after the big reveal.  This is generally the case this time but by the time the final revelations were made it also felt like the answers were overly convoluted. I felt vindicated when even Robin couldn’t seem to put together the slightly too many tangentially related clues.

But the characters are really and truly what make these books so enjoyable. They continue to feel like fully fleshed out people, whether we’ve known them for four books or they are brand new to us in this outing. Rowling is incredibly adept at giving life to her characters, and I feel as comfortable in this series as I did with the Potter books. Robin and Strike have rich internal lives that they don’t share with others and while it’s such a small detail in characterization, it has become incredibly important for establishing their unique rhythms. I wasn’t happy reading the decisions Robin was making regarding her relationship with Matthew, or what she was choosing to share or hide (she hid everything) but it all made sense in the context that Rowling had developed in the previous books: she spent three books showing how unhealthy, codependent relationships are incredibly subtle, persistent, and destructive.

So much of the novel is about relationships – Robin and her failing marriage, Strike and his girlfriend Lorelei, Strike and Charlotte, and how Robin and Strike react to each other in the aftermath of Robin’s wedding and each thinking the other is in a happy relationship.  There are multiple dysfunctional pairs of people peppered throughout, being foils for one another and yet another facet of the investigation for Strike to chew on. We also get more information about old secondary characters (Vanessa Akwenzi gets more fully fleshed out and we get updates on Nick and Ilsa, and an important few chapters with Strike’s nephew) as well as the new secondary characters, Barclay being a standout and I’m excited to see an interaction between him and Shanker in a future book, as this one was sorely lacking in Shanker (but the nature of the case precluded the kind of work Shanker is best at).

There is something else that stood out to me in the reading, something that was very obviously a sign post and left me wishing I had read more Ibsen, something I had not anticipated ever being the case. Rowling uses quotations from Henrik Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm at the beginning of each chapter in Lethal White. This is the very first time in any of the Strike novels that all the epigraphs came from a single source (although Career of Evil is all Blue Oyster Cult lyrics it isn’t quite the same thing). I did a little digging after I finished the novel, even though I was sorely tempted to do so before I finished, to double check my instinct. Rowling did indeed take the bones of Rosmersholm and send it through the blender of her creative mind and produce the narrative of Lethal White.

I won’t go point by point, there are others who have done extensive writing on the comparisons, but Rowling is continuing to play with metaliterary creations. The major plot points and locations in Lethal White are mirror images of things in Ibsen’s work, or are building off those ideas. I will say that it gave more meaning for me to the super injunction storyline, and the general fear of the press in this and the other Strike novels. Lethal White also shares imagery with Rosmersholm, the ubiquitous white horses and the hauntings of shared memory.  As an added bit of interesting trivia Rosmersholm is returning to the London stage this spring and starring Cannonball favorite Hayley Atwell and Tom Burke, who plays Strike in the television adaptation.

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Sometimes it’s a very small world.

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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 (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

My Sister, the Serial Killer (CBR11 #7)

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Reviews for this one kept popping up on Cannonball Read following its November 2018 publication. I’m a bit squeamish and while I like mystery books I don’t read horror. Pluiedenovembre assured me that this one wasn’t scary or gory so I requested it from the library. Like ASKReviews mentioned in her review of this book a few days ago, it is also a very quick read. The chapters are short and crisp, with rapid fire information.

Our point of view character is Korede, a nurse in one of Lagos hospitals. She is detail oriented, and likes things to be just so. She is next up to be head nurse and has a crush on one of the doctors she works with who is calm, patient, and sweet to children. She also has a history of literally cleaning up after her sister Ayoola’s murders.

When the book begins Korede is responding to the scene of Ayoola’s third murder of a boyfriend. Ayoola claims its self-defense but Korede is starting to wonder how true that excuse is, while tossing the body over the edge of a bridge. The novel tracks Korede’s evaluation of who Ayoola is, and how her responses to the situations she finds herself in are more and more firmly defining who she really is. What are the limits of Korede’s loyalty? Who will she act to defend, her sister, or the man she has fallen for who is now in Ayoola’s grip? Will she find her way out of this criminal loop, or is she the more dangerous sister?

This one lands at a four star rating because while it is funny, has some amazingly tense moments, and it has great characters it is still missing that slight something that would have pushed my appreciation across the invisible line into five stars. But as this is Ms. Braithwaite’s debut I am intrigued by what her mind comes up with next and if her style will be different in her next outing.

 

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 (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge (CBR11 #6)

Until a few years ago I didn’t know that this book from 1942 existed, and once I did, I still didn’t quite grasp where it was set, which little red lighthouse and great gray bridge it was talking about. How silly I felt when I was flipping through this one after a long day to discover that it is set along the Hudson River and the great gray bridge is the George Washington bridge which I drive over several times a year.

In some ways this is just another children’s book about knowing your place, and that being little doesn’t mean that you don’t have value and worth in a world dominated by those that are “great”. But as I dug in a little deeper it’s the story of life on the river a century ago. Even deeper than that, it is a story of a love affair with an inanimate object. In some ways, this book saved its titular little red lighthouse. This children’s book is part in a great tale of historic preservation, a cause near and dear to my heart.

The lighthouse started its life on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook in 1880, guiding ships into New York Harbor. But by 1917 it had become obsolete and was dismantled and put in storage. Four years later, it was reassembled on Manhattan’s Washington Heights. The relocated lighthouse, renamed Jeffrey’s Hook Light, stood forty feet tall, and was the only lighthouse on the island of Manhattan. The George Washington Bridge was built to tower over it in 1931 and its bright lights rendered the lighthouse obsolete once more. It had already captured the hearts and imagination of the community and in 1942 Hildegarde Swift wrote The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge telling the tale of the landmark. In 1951, after decommissioning the lighthouse, the U.S. Coast Guard moved to dismantle it and auction off the parts, but a public outcry bubbled up. The USCG then gave the property to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In 1979, it was inducted into the National Register of Historic Parks, and in 1982 $1.4 million was raised to restore the lighthouse and Fort Washington Park.

The other neat feature of this book are the illustrations by Lynd Ward, godfather of the graphic novel. He is most famous for his woodcuts (which I don’t think the illustrations in this book are, but I might be quite wrong) and his six “wordless novels”. There’s an award given each year by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book in his name for excellence in graphic novels and the 2018 winner was My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

Hildegard of Bingen: Mystical Writings (CBR11 #5)

Hildegard Of Bingen: Mystical Writings (Crossroad Spirtual Classics Series)

Every so often a book about faith sneaks into my reading. There was a time when I was much more involved in organized religion, but it has been a tough fit for me in the past decade or more. I have tended to hold my personal faith a little closer than that shared in a large gathering. The historian side of me is also always looking to learn more about the faith I was raised in and a couple of years ago when the ladies of the Stuff You Missed In History podcast did an episode on Hildegard of Bingen I paid specific attention. Here was a religious person from the better part of a thousand years ago who shared ideas that sound very familiar to the modern ear. I was intrigued.

I’m also embarking on the Reading Women challenge this year, and one of the tasks on that one is a translated book published before 1945. I took this as an opportunity to reach ALL the way back to Hildegard and the late 12th century and read some of her work directly, or as directly as possible when translated from Latin across 800 years. With that, Hildegard of Bingen: Mystical Writings by Hildegard of Bingen, edited by Fiona Bowie and Oliver Davies and featuring several translators published in 1990 ended up on my January to read list.

The first half of the book is a series of essays about Hildegard, her times, and the religious upheaval happening all around her both locally in Germany and stretching all the way to Rome and on to the Crusades. I am familiar with a bit of this, but it was nice to have it all packaged together as an extensive preamble to Hildegard’s own writings. The book is slim, my copy clocks in at less than 160 pages and about 60 of those were the preamble, so the writings we get are excerpts from her larger works. Hildegard wrote extensively after one of her visions instructed her to write down what she was experiencing (and she received support from local religious men). Her writings however weren’t limited in any way – she is writing about matters of state, the schism in the church with reigning popes and anti-popes, as well as the nature of faith and god, and two different medical texts.

I sat with this book for many days, pondering the nature of the divine tends to require slowing down and really absorbing what you are reading. I was also sitting on a federal petit jury during the week, weighing the evidence put in front of us and it was mentally exhausting. I don’t know that I’m any fonder of Hildegard now, but I do feel closer to a forebear in my faith. She was no nonsense in a really fun way, and I wish her books read as her letters do, I think they would be much more accessible, but I also understand the intense societal pressure to create as formal a writing as possible. Best of all to me, although they come to it from slightly different angles, she and Carl Sagan agree that we are in fact all made of star stuff.

Reading Women 2019 task 14: a translated book published before 1945

Read Harder Challenge: tasks 9, a book published before January 1, 2019 with less than 100 reviews on Goodreads, and 10, a translated book written or translated by a woman

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

Soul Music (CBR11 #4)

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I don’t know what to say about this one, really. Its plagued me for over a week – I liked the book, I liked what it had to say about grief and memory… but I can’t quite put it together into a comprehensive opinion about the book. Here’s some thoughts I do have, though.

The book in typical Pratchett and DEATH fashion splits the narrative – we have a fab foursome causing wizards to shake, rattle and roll, and managing to bring some broken furniture and jam-packed concerts to the Mended Drum. Suddenly, there’s an earworm loose in Discworld, and now everyone’s got a song in their hearts. In addition to that, we have Death once again going off the grid and abandoning his responsibilities in a similar vein to Mort, leaving the repercussions to be dealt with by someone else. This is only the third Death book and yet it already feels repetitive. Part of the reason it frustrates me is because Death is a fun character, and I want to see more of him doing the job of Death. It was also a lot of waiting for emotionally honest moments like Reaper Man. But when they come his expresses misery at the fact that he is capable of preventing deaths but is forbidden to do so is poignant.

This one fell flat for me. I think most of the music references were from the 50s and 60s, and since that’s the music my dad played all the time I think I caught most, but certainly not all, of Pratchett’s in-jokes, but they felt more tiresome than inspiring by page 200 of 424 (there was a time I was lamenting the relatively short length of Mort, and unfortunately this one being nearly twice as long doesn’t help). The constantly-repeated “he looks elvish” joke, Imp’s translated name… it’s all a bit much. It squeaks by with 3 stars because I love the Death of Rats, Quoth the Raven, Susan, the swing that Death built for her and pillows on bony knees, and her memories returning while Binky and Albert go about what needs doing.

As is usually the case, it’s easier to identify my complaints than what worked. I enjoyed the humor as is usually the way with Pratchett books, he has a great way of using witty descriptions for common things. I also really enjoyed the character of Susan, as the granddaughter of the anthropomorphic personification of a concept. The things she “inherits” from him even before officially inheriting the work are another interesting sidetrip into what we pick up in all the other ways besides genetics.

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 (within a few guidelines), and stick it to cancer one book at a time.