The Viscount Who Loved Me (CBR7 #58)

Image result for the viscount who loved me

As a relatively newly emboldened romance reader I have been attempting to expand my horizons. With a steady supply of suggestions there have been plenty of options for me. After happily reading Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, I made sure to request The Viscount Who Loved Me from the library. I hadn’t been overly impressed with Anthony Bridgerton, head of the Bridgerton family and eldest of eight siblings. Mostly because while his overprotective treatment of his sister Daphne felt appropriate to the 1813 setting of the book, I couldn’t make peace with the terrible way he treated his supposed best friend, Simon. But, Quinn has a way with words and specifically with family dynamics and interactions so I was willing to give this book a fair shake (and it wasn’t hurt by my need to read a series in order).

The Viscount Who Loved Me finds us a year later, and the 1814 Season is well underway. The Sheffield sisters have made their debut the same year, with Kate taking the wallflower position in regards to her younger, more beautiful, sister.  When Anthony Bridgerton starts sniffing around, Kate decides to do everything in her power to keep this infamous rake away from her sister who deserves to have a love match, even if Kate and their mother are hoping for a financially advantageous match to help alleviate their situation. Anthony has decided to finally marry this Season, but purely for the production of an heir. You see, he believes that sine his father and paternal uncle both died in their thirties that he is destined to do the same. Therefore, an advantageous, but loveless marriage is deemed to be the solution to his limited years. It would simply be too difficult to have to leave a true love behind.

Where I have seen other reviewers dinging the book and the character of Anthony it has been on this count. While it made for occasionally boring reading (we cover the same ground with Anthony several times) it is a believable hang-up, even if his solution seemed odd to me. My bigger problem is this: if Anthony is so convinced of his impending death (in 9 years or less) why not just remain a bachelor and let his brother Benedict inherit the title and his future progeny would inherit the estate/title? I know this is a historical romance novel and therefore marriage almost MUST be on the table, but couldn’t the setup have been Benedict on the marriage hunt and Anthony caught off guard and falling for Kate that way? Regardless, the set up kept me annoyed at Anthony more than it ingratiated me to him.

My other major complaint is that for the second book in a row in the series (of which I am only two books in) the lead couple is forced to marry after being caught in a compromising position. Again, I can see why from a writer’s perspective this would be a useful trick to keep the timelines moving given both Simon and Anthony’s backstories, but it felt like overly familiar territory.

Happily I can report that there were things which did work for me – basically anytime Anthony or Kate’s families appeared on page. Both group dynamics were handled expertly and I believe that this is Quinn’s true gift as a writer (although with such a small pool to choose from I could be jumping the gun on that regard). But even here I have a niggling concern… the aforementioned Benedict. He is the next Bridgerton in the series and we know nothing about him. With the amount of time third brother Colin spent on page this book, and the last, I was expecting book three to be his. But no, Quinn is diving into the story of Benedict. And I will be along for the ride, as I’ve already requested the book from the library for next month. But I remain cautiously optimistic.

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

The Martian (CBR7 #57)

I have a crush on Mark Watney. I feel like I need to get that out of the way. Also, why aren’t we worshipping duct tape? Okay, moving on.

If asked, I would not consider myself a big fantasy or sci-fi reader, but that is obviously changing if you take a look at my last several books. I have figured out why I have shied away from these works in the past – more often than not they are about plot, plot, plot and not about characters. I am ALWAYS more interested in the character than I am about the action. Don’t give me a trope or a cypher, give me a person. What Andy Weir has given us character loving sci-fi readers with The Martian is a character we can root for and love, and hope to have friends like (seriously, I would totally date Mark Watney were he a real person and not a fictional character) while simultaneously giving us huge amounts of plot to read through and wonder how our characters are ever going to get through it. It’s a tough balance, and most of the time Weir nails it.

The Martian is one of the most reviewed books around the Cannonball Read, and I won’t waste your time with a big plot description, mostly because this book is a very good example of its best to go in knowing very little. Suffice it to say that our mechanical engineer/botanist astronaut finds himself injured and alone on Mars following his presumed death (his bio readouts went to zero and his crew say him stabbed by flying metal) and his crews forced evacuation from Mars. He has some supplies, but not nearly enough to survive the years it would take for rescue, that is, if anyone knew he was alive or he had any way to communicate that fact to Earth.

Without veering into spoiler land, there are a handful of things that are keeping this book rounded down to a 4 star instead of up to a 5 star (although, the last page and  half almost had me making the change). There is a lot of science (as there should be) and while Weir does a great job of having Watney break things down into understandable phrasing (for example: One kilowatt-hour per sol is… it can be anything… I’ll call it a “pirate-ninja”). But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find myself skimming the explanations of how Mark solved things, or didn’t. Also, the other characters that exist are not as finely drawn as Watney (it would be nearly impossible to do so, honestly) but I was often left cold with them. So we’re going with a 4.5 rating.

I am however cautiously optimistic about the movie. Just saying.

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

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (CBR7 #56)

I swear I thought I read this book, I have not. I really honestly and truly do not know how a story I know so well, with lines I quote all the time, could have snuck past me. I blame the movie. And the television show. And pop culture? I don’t know. But this has all been solved because now I have read it. Or Stephen Fry read it to me and it was delightful.

For anyone else who may have missed this one, here’s the basic idea. Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway (which itself becomes redundant almost immediately), our guy Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher from Betelgeuse 7 working on the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ford has spent the last fifteen years on Earth posing as an out-of-work actor and become best friends with Arthur, who is already having a terrible day as his house is being demolished for a highway. Once they are off-planet their adventure only grows as they become looped up with a series of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox: the two-headed, three-armed president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot. All this while traveling through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”).

Makes sense, yes?

Douglas Adams is playing with the reader, layering in ideas and notions that are meant to make you think while simultaneously going for the laugh. The book is performing on several levels at the same time, and what you get out of it has much more to do with what you are willing to put into it. I chose to go the audiobook route for Hitchhiker’s Guide because its read by Stephen Fry. There may not be a more perfectly suited human to reading this words aloud. I have already purchased the next book in the series and foresee running through the whole series in the next few months.

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

Jane, the Fox, and Me (CBR7 #55)

My choice to read Jane, the Fox, and Me was influenced by my participation in the Read Harder Challenge. Tasks 19 and 20 are to read a work originally published in another language and a graphic novel, graphic memoir, or collection of comics of any kind. I had some other books picked out for these tasks, and I have every intention of reading them, but when bonnie and the Chancellor’s reviews of this book back in January I knew that this was something I wanted to check out.

I have a tough time with short form fiction. In their way, short stories (no matter the author it seems) and comics have never really been able to hold my attention. I am also usually distracted by the amount of visual stimuli on the page. Thankfully for me, this beautiful hardcover edition of the translation of Jane, the Fox, and Me features large images, often taking up the entire page. This gave my brain a break and let me sink into the intricate but simple artwork accompanying the meaningful text.

In trying to figure out how to encapsulate the story of Helene I think I’ll let Goodreads give you the gist. “This emotionally honest and visually stunning graphic novel reveals the casual brutality of which children are capable, but also assures readers that redemption can be found through connecting with another, whether the other is a friend, a fictional character or even, amazingly, a fox.” I was bullied a bit as a child and young adult. I had a stutter, and I have always been on the heavy side. There were plenty of people who would use those things to cast me out, or have some fun at the expense of my last name. Thankfully for me I had friends, other likely outcasts, who stuck by me and whom I stuck by and we are lucky enough to call each other friend some 18-24 years later. We are incredibly close and it’s the shared view of the world, the power of literature, and being in the trenches that has done that for us. Jane, the Fox, and Me takes a magnifying glass to those early days when we were finding ourselves and finding each other. This is a book that should not be missed. I hope you read this work and it means something to you, and that it makes you think of your friends who have picked you up along the way.

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

In the Heart of the Sea (CBR7 #54)

I was vaguely aware of the sinking of the whaleship Essex, and its role as the inspiration for Moby-Dick when I heard that there was going to be a movie* about it staring one of the many Marvel Chrises and that the movie was based on a book of the same name. In the Heart of the Sea is a book about 19th century history, sailing, oceans and a story of survival for some but not all? I was in.

In case you are similarly vague on the details, in 1820 the Essex sailed from Nantucket what was then a routine expedition for whales in the Pacific Ocean. Fifteen months later, in the watery desert of the South Pacific, it was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing the islands to the west, decided to make for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three twenty-five foot boats. During ninety days at sea under atrocious conditions, the survivors clung to life as starvation and dehydration began to take their tolls.

This seems a relatively straightforward story, and it is. But what Nathaniel Philbrick brings to the table in In the Heart of the Sea is the context of the actions and decisions of the men on the ship and the culture of the island that sent its men tens of thousands of miles away for years at a time to harvest the sperm whale from further and further reaches of the ocean. Using primary source documents and modern research a narrative of the full experience is brought to light for the modern reader. That in addition to the history of the whaling industry, of Nantucket Island, and of the suffering of the crew of the Essex are all bound together and make for both an interesting and edifying read that is powerfully engrossing.

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

*based on the trailer alone it looks as though the movie has fictioned up the tale again, but it still looks breathtaking.

M is for Magic (CBR7 #53)

My adventures in short story reading continue, and I’ve reached the point where I’m convinced they aren’t for me. Not even the glorious, melodious Neil Gaiman reading his own collection, M is for Magic, to me could do the trick. I appear to be broken in some way.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good stories in this collection. There are several that are quite good, just not good enough to round the collections overall rating up from a 3 star. The stories in this collection rely heavily on source material and don’t often grow beyond them. Sometimes a great idea doesn’t need to, the riff is enough. But sometimes the reader is left wanting. There are eleven stories contained in M is for Magic (all previously published elsewhere) and they span Gaiman’s career from the 1980s to the 2000s. Let’s discuss:

“The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds” – is a strong start to the series, a hardboiled whodunit featuring storybook characters. The best kind of riff.

“Troll Bridge” – tale of growing up and making choices, some of which lead to the troll bridge. I enjoyed the beginning of this one, but the end petered out for me.

“Don’t Ask Jack” – a story with no point. Moody and atmospheric, but leading nowhere.

“How to Sell the Ponti Bridge” – is a story of a con-man telling other con-men his greatest caper. It is one of Gaiman’s earliest works, and it age shows. There are lots of meandering bits which took away from the overall effect.

“October in the Chair”- an interesting idea, but with a slightly lackluster payoff. What if the months of the year were people who gathered around a fire to tell tales of their experiences? Gaiman excels at building out the personalities of each month, and the story October shares has its moments, but it just didn’t hold my attention.

“Chivalry” – this one was just a kooky bit of fun. A widowed woman finds the Holy Grail at a shop and brings it home. But, Galahad needs to retrieve the Grail and attempts to offer her all sorts of things in exchange. Probably my favorite of the collection.

“The Price” – another very good story. The pacing of this one is perhaps its greatest strength. A cat protects a family – so simple yet expertly executed.

“How to Talk to Girls at Parties”  This one was so strange. Girls are aliens, literally.

“Sunbird” I was not as impressed with this one since I put the pieces together very quickly and just waited for the end to arrive. Your mileage may vary.

“The Witch’s Headstone” was too long. TOO LONG. I mean sure, it was very entertaining. But did I mention that it was too long?

“Instructions” was short and sweet.

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

Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (CBR7 #52!)

In conversation with some friends a couple months ago it occurred to me that I don’t know anyone who is transgender. Or, I might, but I don’t know for sure. I also realized that I know very little about the issues facing the Transgender community outside of the coverage of said issues in the media over the past few years. In was fortuitous then that as part of the Read Harder Challenge task number five is reading a book either about or by someone who identifies as LBGTQ. Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers fulfills both sides of that challenge.

Cris Beam writes about her experiences with the transgender community in Los Angeles between 1997 and 2005, but more specifically about a handful of transgirls she developed relationships with. Transparent is both a general information text about what being transgendered means, an account of the various social injustices that befalls these women – especially the under aged ones who are kicked out by their families, or choose to run. It is also a very personal story of Beam’s fostering of one of the girls and what that experience gave her.

While this book talks about an important topic, and generally handles it with grace it is not a perfect book. The front half of the book dragged, and was at times confusing. As many of these girls (which is the predominant group Beam interacted with) begin living full and even part time as women they often change their names several times, which means one person in the book is often referred to by 3 or 4 different names in the course of the beginning of the book which is purely confusing. I wish Beam had just chosen to refer to each woman by the name she used last, and of course making references to their birth names when appropriate.

The other criticism that can be laid against this book is that it at times can read as a white woman rescuing a person of color. There are lots of a book that fit that description, but in Transparent Beam is also working through her own issues of abandonment by a parent because she is a lesbian, which gives her a place to make correlations. I never felt a sense of a personal crusade, I saw someone chronicling how one choice to volunteer their time led to several years of decisions that made someone unexpected a part of their family. This is an experience that I can relate to.

This book is my cannonball book, and I’m happy that it was this one – a book you should read if the topic is of interest to you.

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

Not My Father’s Son (CBR7 #51)

I love Alan Cumming. I don’t know exactly when or where he entered my life but I have always had affection for the Scotsman. When I discovered that he had written a memoir and that it was well received I decided to add it to my list of summer reads memoirs. Summer is officially underway (I just finished working my first week of summer camp) and I have listened to Mr. Cumming tell us a series of stories about his life.

Cumming does not aim to tell the whole of his life story, or even the story of his fame. Instead, he recounts the events of the summer of 2010 while he was filming an episode for the British version of the television show Who Do You Think You Are. I admit, I’m a sucker for this show, but have only seen its American cousin. He agrees to be a part of the show in order to answer a question for his mother whom he simply adores. You see, her father died under suspicious circumstances in Malaysia when he was 35 years old. In the lead up to his taking part in the show, Alan’s own estranged father, fearing what might be uncovered about his own connection to Alan, hits him with news that is completely unexpected and must be dealt with immediately.

Interspersed with the stories of Alan’s relationship with his father and his hunt for information about his maternal grandfather he takes us back and forth along the timeline of his life from growing up in Scotland to his early career, his first marriage, and his life with his husband. There is a lot that Cumming is working through and we’re better for taking the time to listen.

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

Talk Sweetly to Me (CBR7 #50)

The Brothers Sinister series has come to an end for me, and it’s unfortunate that it goes out with a bit of a whimper. I have loved reading this series – it has contained some of my absolute favorite romances and delightful characters while also being a beacon for what quality historical fiction (romantic or not) can and should be. I have spread these seven works out over the course of nearly a year – I read The Governess Affair in late July of 2014 – in order to savor them. I will likely revisit the previous six works, but I’m not sure I’ll ever read Talk Sweetly to Me again.

Talk Sweetly to Me is the story of Stephen Shaughnessy, writer at the Women’s Free Press whom we met in The Suffragette Scandal, and his neighbor Rose Sweetly. Rose is not the typical romance heroine, which we have all come to expect from Courtney Milan. Rose is a computer, someone who literally computes the math for an astronomer. Rose is also black. Both Rose’s intellect and race become the crux of the plot in this novel. Can Stephen convince Rose that he is genuinely attracted to her, supports her career aspirations, and wants to fight the social injustices which haunt her life?

This should all go very well, but there are components missing. It starts for me back in The Suffragette Scandal. Stephen was not the most well drawn secondary character in that novel. Sure, he’s interesting, but a lot of that interest is left off the page in Talk Sweetly to Me. We as the reader are assumed to know/remember Stephen’s own history of discrimination, etc. and his abilities and experiences at Cambridge and with Free Marshall and her paper. Additionally, Rose’s internal life isn’t given time on page as perhaps it should have been. Milan falls victim to telling rather than showing. We know that Rose is concerned that Stephen doesn’t understand what it’s like to be black in 1880s England, but the reader isn’t always clearly shown what that experience looks like. That problem is probably exacerbated by the relative shortness of this work. The novella clocks in at less than a hundred pages, and sometimes brevity does an author no favors.

My other problem is that when I heard that there would be a companion novella for The Suffragette Scandal I was hoping that it might focus on one of the two (!) homosexual couples in that work. I know that those plots were pretty well wrapped up in novel, but that would be a fascinating story to revisit 5-10 years later. Not that this one wasn’t, it just wasn’t what I hoped for, and Stephen wouldn’t have been the Shaughnessy brother I would have chosen to revisit. But I do understand why Milan did choose him and why she chose to pair him with a character like Rose. Milan does write fantastic Historical Notes to go along with her works explaining the real history that inspires her work.

To sum up, read this series, but maybe stop at The Suffragette Scandal.

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

Persuasion (CBR7 #49)

I finally finished my reread of Persuasion as part of the Go Fug Yourself Bookclub on Goodreads. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was nice to visit a known favorite and bring some new understandings to why this book works for me.

As expected, I loved it. It’s probably unfair really since Persuasion has such a particular place in my literary heart. It’s the first Austen that I read of my own choosing and reminds me of a specific place and time. We read both Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility in high school and I fell a little in love with Austen from the get go (I’ve chronicled my love of Austen elsewhere).  So, on a study abroad trip to Oxford I picked up copies of all the Austen works I could find. Persuasion became the first I read of that collection and the one I love the most as a complete work.

Jane Austen has stronger heroines, and more overtly or dashing romantic heroes, but there is something so honest, real, and relatable about the tale of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. There are bigger, more grand moments in other novels, and Austen plays with literary devices and satirizes the novels of her day in her other works. But in Persuasion I’ve always felt that she is telling the most honest story she embarks on. We all know these characters – we have our own Marys, our own Sir Walters, our own Lady Russells, and our own Crofts. While Wentworth is the sort of romantic lead who works for me, and that letter, and his revelations of the last couple of chapters make me feel for him even more, I am more invested in this novel for the slice of life it offers on display than for the romance (even though I would list this in my top 50 romance reads if I ever get around to making such a list).

And in approaching this novel at this time in my life, no longer the young girl who pines artfully, but as the woman who still hopes and struggles to find her place, I have even more affection for Anne. She is both an injured party and the injurer. Yet, she takes no offense and shirks no blame. She doesn’t expect others to be more than they are capable of being, and owns the errors she has made and expects only what life has to bring her. Austen uses her narrator to skewer the rest of Anne’s family, but never Anne. Not because she is without sin, but because she is a fully actualized human aware of the foibles of the world.  We should all be so lucky to be an Anne Elliot and loved by a Captain Wentworth.

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