Under the Black Flag (CBR7 #32)

Under the Black Flag has been on my radar since way back in 2012. It may have even been on it before, but that’s when I joined Goodreads and am now able to track when I put things on the to read list. While certainly a comprehensive look at the actual history of pirates and not just the lore, the book unfortunately takes a topic which should be highly entertaining (there’s a reason I wanted to read it after all) and makes it a bit dry and slow.

I feel a bit bad rating this a two star book, its probably really closer to a 2.5. There are things that Cordingly does well – he spends time analyzing the books, movies, and plays which helped shape our pop culture ideas of piracy – he does quite well. I have a feeling that some of these portions came directly from the museum exhibition that this book grew from. And I have a feeling the same thing can be said about the ultimate drawback of this book: that at some point in every chapter the reader is nearly drowned in a tsunami of facts and dates, and minutiae. Working in the field I know it’s a mistake that exhibit writers make just as often as text book writers. Put in ALL the information. Every detail you can, because you don’t know what is going to catch people’s attention and you need to write for everyone.

What it really does is litter a good book with about 75 pages of repetitions and detours which make the book a dry read.  But, if you can make your way through the text it is filled with valuable, succinctly written information that gives insight into the real world of pirates across many oceans, and not the ideas you might have regarding a swashbuckling, romantic life on the seas.

Surely not a perfect book, but it fulfills its mission statement. I would however only suggest it for those in a history lesson mood. And it should be noted that this book was originally published in 1995, so it is starting to feel a bit dated.

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

Maskerade (CBR7 #31)

“you started being a witch… when you opened your mind to the world and carefully examined everything it picked up” (146-7)

We’ve found the first Discworld novel that I haven’t loved. I’m a bit perplexed, really. I know that I have a deep and abiding distaste for The Phantom of the Opera but generally I find riffs on it to be pleasing enough. But… there just wasn’t enough of the story outside of the Phantom satire. I wanted more Witches, is what I think it boils down to.

I made myself a goal of reading one Discworld/Terry Pratchett book each month this year. In my efforts towards that goal I’ve been working my way through the Witches books. The witches’ books have delighted me thus far – they are wry and about women’s power and agency, while being just the littlest bit dark around the edges. Perfect for me. But this one didn’t have enough of the things I loved about the witches themselves to keep me interested. It was too much about the Opera and all the goings-on therein.

The seemingly intentional misspelling of masquerade in the title uses Mask to point us in the direction of Pratchett’s larger meaning. We are all hiding behind something (Nanny using a pseudonym for her cookbook, Greebo as a person, Agnes going by Perdita, the literal mask on the ghost(s)). Pratchett also uses various forms and functions of his writing technique to point to ideas he’s playing with – there are the ubiquitous footnotes, but also a rather sublime fixation on exclamation points and just how much enthusiasm it takes to turn the corner to madness. All of these things should have pleased me, as they have in other books. This is Pratchett being Pratchett, as far as I’ve understood his writing in thus far (admittedly I’m only five books in, but five books for most authors is a definitive sample).

Mostly, I missed Granny Weatherwax. As I started reading the novel I thought that the quandary over choosing what is Right versus what is Wrong, and how Granny’s character was setting off on a path of being like  Black Aliss with all the power she’s accumulated and the experiences she has had. Sure, by the time we get to how Granny chooses to deal with Salzella Pratchett is dealing with that question again, but for large portions of the text it’s being ignored. Granny, and by extension the rest of us, learn there would have been easier, less painful ways to defeat him (the Black Aliss ways) but Granny recognized that overcoming evil without becoming evil must often come at a personal cost. But it didn’t feel earned.

The other problem was that for the first time in my Discworld experience I was meeting characters who are recurring characters in the Discworld whom I’m running into for the first time, but have been introduced elsewhere, and I felt the lacking. I knew there were jokes and innuendo that I wasn’t catching because I hadn’t read any of the Watch books, or the Death books yet. So I think instead of wrapping up the Witches run with Carpe Jugulum next, I’m going to go back and read Mort.

 

Curtsies & Conspiracies (CBR7 #30)

I admit that I had no immediate plans of reading the rest of the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger when I finished Etiquette & Espionage. Sure, the book contained all of the wit and witticism one would expect from a Carrier steampunk novel, but it just didn’t grab me the same way Soulless had a few years ago. Well, my friend Crystal Clear had the book the second ready and waiting and dropped it off for me to read. I’m really rather glad she did.

Curtsies & Conspiracies picks up almost immediately after E&E. Sophronia and her friends are in the middle of their first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, and it’s time for exams. Some do very well, some less well, but all are being put to further tests. These various plot threads all come to a head when Sophronia learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. There is a conspiracy afoot-(as the title of the book would have you be ready for) However, this conspiracy may have dire implications for both supernaturals and humans.

It’s this part of Carriger’s novels that I really enjoy, the solving of plots. Carriger weaves in old standbys from the novels of manners and overlays them with the idea that since so much of a woman’s life was and is about subterfuge; wouldn’t they make the best possible spies? Sophronia is certainly proving herself up to the task, but being a girl of 14, there are certain consequences she doesn’t foresee and Carriger doesn’t shy away from them. This was certainly an improvement in tone from the first outing in this series.

I find myself looking forward to the third book, Waistcoats & Weaponry whenever it finds its way to my door.

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

Natural Born Charmer (CBR7 #29)

Natural Born Charmer is a book that I ended up reading based on reviews I saw at the Cannonball. I don’t remember exactly what about the review caught my eye, but I added it to my to-read list and requested it from the library. The story hangs around Dean Robillard, quarterback of the fictitious Chicago Stars (this is the 7th book in a series tied around this organization). He’s on his way to his new property in Tennessee (where his mother is secretly acting as his house manager/remodeling G.M.) when he runs across Blue Bailey walking along the side of the road in half a beaver costume. He ends up giving Blue a ride once he discovers she’s got nowhere else to go. But she isn’t the only unexpected house guest that arrives at Dean’s new (old) farmhouse.

I don’t know how I feel about this one. The various characters were often tough to care about initially, but they grew on me as I read.  I think my initial problem is that since so much of Blue and Dean’s banter is based around sarcasm and false identities keeping track of who they really were became slightly difficult. The plot was a straight forward romance plot of two seemingly opposite people end up stuck together for a limited amount of time. But the resolution of that plot went differently than the standard trope and instalove that has permeated other romance novels I’ve read lately. Instead of deciding to tie the knot at the end of two months they decide to spend some time apart proving that their feelings are true and they are trustworthy stewards of each other’s emotions. The details of the story were often outlandish, but were woven together in a manner that didn’t feel ludicrous. We are talking about an artist, a quarterback, a recovered junkie/groupie, an aging rock idol, a town hard ass, and a runaway eleven year old. But, it all comes together in a way that works, even if it’s very predictable.

I’ve decided that 3 stars is the rating, a 3.5 if I’m feeling generous.

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

Above the Dreamless Dead (CBR7 #28)

Every so often I come across a book and think, god I wish I was still in the classroom so I could get this book into the hands of kids. I think I’m going to email my friend who teaches reading and be all crazy about using this book, or parts of it, in her poetry unit.  Where was this when I was trying to learn/understand/make meaning of poetry? Not even to get started about WWI Trench Poets and the passing of the 100th Anniversary of this war with very little fanfare.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads, because it does a better job than I can at encapsulating the book:

As the Great War dragged on and its catastrophic death toll mounted, a new artistic movement found its feet in the United Kingdom. The Trench Poets, as they came to be called, were soldier-poets dispatching their verse from the front lines. Known for its rejection of war as a romantic or noble enterprise, and its plainspoken condemnation of the senseless bloodshed of war, Trench Poetry soon became one of the most significant literary moments of its decade.

The marriage of poetry and comics is a deeply fruitful combination, as evidenced by this collection. In stark black and white, the words of the Trench Poets find dramatic expression and reinterpretation through the minds and pens of some of the greatest cartoonists working today.

With New York Times bestselling editor Chris Duffy (Nursery Rhyme ComicsFairy Tale Comics) at the helm, Above the Dreamless Dead is a moving and illuminating tribute to those who fought and died in World War I. Twenty poems are interpreted in comics form by twenty of today’s leading cartoonists, including Eddie Campbell, Kevin Huizenga, George Pratt, and many others.

I am a graphic novel, graphic memoir, comics collection newbie. For those of you who read this format more frequently you will most certainly not have the entry issues I did in following the formatting. I also don’t read much poetry, but first person narrative works and songs have always been easier for me, since the meaning is more readily at the surface. However, there was still more to unpack, more to understand and the various artists who contributed to this work very evidently took the time to study their chosen poems and make interesting artistic choices as well as servicing the meaning and allusions in the various texts.

And thanks to Shmookariah for putting this on my radar.

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

All He Ever Desired (CBR7 #27)

Sometimes my Nook is a dangerous thing. Heading into this year’s Cannonball Read I had a game plan. I went through my Goodreads to read list, picked the books from the past few cannonballs that I hadn’t gotten around to and really wanted to read. I also looked for books in my to be read that would work for various challenges on Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, and made a big list for myself. I then went to my lovely library’s online catalogue and put in requests for the first few months of the year so that the books I wanted to read would magically arrive at my local library and weekly emails would alert me to their presence. It was a flawless system!

Except that I forgot to include space in my schedule for book recommendations from friends and what I like to think of as decompression reads. All He Ever Desired and All He Ever Needed before it are definitely decompression reads – something that I can just read without my brain having to solve a puzzle or unpack greater meaning. These types of books are often underrated, but I feel they are absolutely necessary to my overall reading experience.

When I finished All He Ever Needed I wanted more of the characters and locations, and more time away from my real world. So, I immediately downloaded All He Ever Desired to my Nook. It was the definition of an impulse buy, but I can happily say that it was five dollars well spent. The book picks up immediately after its predecessor. The Kowalski family member featured this go around is Ryan. After college Ryan built a life for himself several hundred miles away from his family. He has done well professionally, but failed at marriage. He’s back in his hometown of Whitford to oversee a crew from his building company making repairs to the inn his family has owned for generations. This has also put him back in contact with Lauren Carpenter, the girl who he always wanted, but had married his best friend. Lauren is herself at loose ends. Divorced for 8 years and raising her 16 year old son on her own during the week before he’s off to his father’s house on weekends, Lauren finds herself wondering what if she had taken Ryan up on his offer to run away fifteen years ago.

Ms. Stacey uses plot devices to put these two into greater proximity and romance ensues. While I may have complained bitterly in my previous review of her work that the timelines for these romances feel very, very rushed I felt it less with the Ryan and Lauren combination since distance and stepchildren were going to be hurdles that needed to be dealt with pronto (although if they are married by Christmas in book six, 10 weeks away from the main action in book five, I may change my mind about that). I continue my praise of Ms. Stacey as far as making her characters deal with real world issues, and having the solutions be real world solutions. I am also always pleased when the younger characters in the Kowalski world show up since the author gets the tone right with them, and was not disappointed in the characterization of Lauren’s son.

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

Scandals of Classic Hollywood (CBR7 #26 – Half Cannonball!)

I discovered Anne Helen Petersen and her brand of celebrity history over on The Hairpin. I was never a religious reader of her articles; there just isn’t enough time to read all the things, all the time. But, when I found out that she was putting together a book based on classic scandals I added it to my list and kept an eye out.

Here’s the Goodreads summary, in case you are unfamiliar:

Believe it or not, America’s fascination with celebrity culture was thriving well before the days of TMZ, Perez Hilton, Charlie Sheen’s breakdown, and allegations against Woody Allen. And the stars of yesteryear? They weren t always the saints that we make them out to be.  Part biography, part cultural history, the stories contained in this book cover the stuff that films are made of: love, sex, drugs, illegitimate children, illicit affairs, and botched cover-ups. Based on Anne Helen Petersen’s popular column on the Hairpin, “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” is sensationalism made smart.”

I ended up listening to Scandals of Classic Hollywood on my commute to and from work, and as far as timing went this was fantastic. The chapters each lasted approximately one leg of my journey (about 45 minutes door to door) so I was able to eat up the various stories in usually one sitting, maybe two. This was good, since each chapter is based around the scandal of a single star of the classic Hollywood era, or a couple, depending on the scandal. The problem I had though was that while the blurb above promises sensationalism made smart, we lost some of the fun along the way. Part of what kept me enthralled on the long reads over at The Hairpin was the nitty gritty detail over the history with the combination of the sarcastic. Much of the sarcasm is missing from the book, unfortunately.

Petersen’s book is made of new chapters, but the scandals she covers are largely familiar, and some of them Petersen has covered before.  The other problem I ran into in listening to this as opposed to reading it, and I can’t say if its coverage is satisfactory in the print edition, is that I had to go look up pictures of the various stars in question as many physical traits or objects are described as being linchpins to various scandals and I just couldn’t picture it in my mind’s eye. Also, some of the chapters are a bit light on’ scandal’ itself and were more about the Hollywood machine. Which in and of itself is fascinating, and I wish slightly that Petersen had set her book up with that as the skeleton, and not relied so heavily on time period and type of scandal to group her sections.

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