A Fatal Grace (CBR7 #104 – Double Cannonball!!)

Ladies and Gents, welcome to my Double Cannonball review!

MsWas posted awhile back singing the praises of the Inspector Gamache series. I quickly started the series and fell in love with the main characters, setting, and pace of the mystery. I like to space out series when I can, so when I discovered that the second book in the series, A Fatal Grace, is set around Christmastime I knew I would chose it as my December Audible credit (the narrator of these, Ralph Cosham, is simply a delight). Nothing like reading about the coldest, snowiest winter in Quebec while experiencing an El Nino winter that has highs in the 60s in 70s in the Northeast and high 80s in the Southeast of the United States.

This novel finds Gamache traveling back to the town of Three Pines to investigate one or the odder murders he’s come across – murder by electrocution. It doesn’t seem too strange, until you realize that most accidental electrocutions have been reduced, and the possibility of actively electrocuting someone has been greatly reduced my modern life.  Gamache is called in to decipher who could have committed the murder, at a frozen lake during a curling match, of possibly the most hated woman in town.

What I really loved about this book, aside from the intricacies of the investigation of CC de Poitiers murder, was the natural expansion of the universe of the novel. We learn more about some favorite Three Pines residents including the Morrows, Gabriel and Olivier, Myrna Landers, and Ruth Zardo. We are also introduced to some additional residents and get more information on the case that has stalled Inspector Gamache’s career and those who remain loyal to him. Penny is working to create a ever increasingly complex world which is only a good sign as this series is expecting its twelfth installment in the new year.

As to the mystery, this one was a bit simpler to piece together than the Still Life’s but sufficiently complicated to hold my interest throughout. Expect a review of book number three, The Cruelest Month this spring, since I’m enjoying reading the Gamache books along with the seasons they are supposed to be taking place in.

I think this will likely be my last review for CBR7, since I’m not planning on getting any reviewing done while on vacation through the New Year, but I’m looking forward to CBR8 and book club!

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

Completed Read Harder Challenge 2015

When I undertook the Read Harder Challenge put on by Book Riot this year I wasn’t expecting it to be too difficult. And honestly, it wasn’t. It did push my reading boundaries and scope – which is the point. It also introduced me to works I may not have given a second thought previously. All of this is good. Below is an accounting of all 24 tasks and the various books that satisfied the requirements.

  1. A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
  2. A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
  3. collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people)
  4. A book published by an indie press
  5. A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ
  6. A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
  7. A book that takes place in Asia
  8. A book by an author from Africa
  9. A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native AmericansAboriginals, etc.)
  10. microhistory
  11. YA novel:
  12. sci-fi novel
  13. romance novel
  14. National Book AwardMan Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
  15. A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)
  16. An audiobook  –
  17. A collection of poetry
  18. A book that someone else has recommended to you
  19. A book that was originally published in another language
  20. A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection ofcomics of any kind (Hi, have you met Panels?)
  21. A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)
  22. A book published before 1850
  23. A book published this year
  24. self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”)

Every Day Is for the Thief (CBR7 #103)

This is my 103rd review. I think three things have made my reading output this year increase exponentially. Those three would be: no cable television, the discovery that audiobooks work for me as part of my current commute, and the Read Harder challenge put on by Book Riot. (Although, the last two are really one in the same.) I am in the middle of listening to my 17th audiobook of the year, and Teju Cole’s Every Day Is for the Thief completes my final of 24 tasks for the Read Harder Challenge.

Task number 8 is to read a book by an author from Africa. Teju Cole was on the list provided by Book Riot, so off we went. (I should mention that since I’m feeling a bit of reader fatigue I did try Half A Yellow Sun but could not get into it, and the length at the tail end of the year was a bit off-putting. It remains on my to read list.) In this rather slim volume (my copy was 162 pages, some with pictures) Cole traces the experience of a Nigerian ex patriate returning to Lagos for an extended visit, and making peace – or not – with the country he rediscovers through adult eyes.

In some ways this work reads like a travelogue, in others as a journal, and still sometimes like a script. The reader accompanies the unnamed narrator as he spends long days comparing present-day Lagos to the Lagos of his memory, and ruminating on the changes that have taken place in both the city and himself. This is a very different coming of age story than one might be accustomed to, not focusing on the signposts of adolescence, but instead the soul searching of the mid-twenties.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration is open now (until January 15, 2016) for Cannonball Read 8, which starts in January.

One Dance with a Duke (CBR7 #102)

A while back narfna mentioned trying romance novels in audio book format and I thought it sounded like an interesting idea. Then Audible, those b@stards, had a sale (I may have overspent with them lately) and Tessa Dare’s One Dance with a Duke was there. I’m not sorry I spent that $5 – even though its far from my favorite romance I read this year.

The basic premise from Goodreads:

A handsome and reclusive horse breeder, Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, is a member of the exclusive Stud Club, an organization so select it has only ten members — yet membership is attainable to anyone with luck. And Spencer has plenty of it, along with an obsession with a prize horse, a dark secret, and, now, a reputation as the dashing “Duke of Midnight.” Each evening he selects one lady for a breathtaking midnight waltz. But none of the women catch his interest, and nobody ever bests the duke — until Lady Amelia d’Orsay tries her luck.

In a moment of desperation, the unconventional beauty claims the duke’s dance and unwittingly steals his heart. When Amelia demands that Spencer forgive her scapegrace brother’s debts, she never imagines that her game of wits and words will lead to breathless passion and a steamy proposal. Still, Spencer is a man of mystery, perhaps connected to the shocking murder of the Stud Club’s founder. Will Amelia lose her heart in this reckless wager or win everlasting love?

So, the standard romance stuff. What this novel does well is give us two interesting protagonists in a marriage of convenience plot. I particularly enjoyed the frankness of Amelia in her time and place. It’s not to say that I don’t truly and really enjoy a book where the older, wallflower leading lady is discovered to be something more, (see Romancing Mr. Bridgerton for example) or pushing the social mores (any Courtney Milan book) but it was refreshing on this outing to see Amelia embrace her historically appropriate goals: to marry, a love match all the better, but mostly because she wants the job of wife. And in the 1810s, it was absolutely a job; in her marriage to the Duke Amelia will now manage a series of households and all social responsibilities. Amelia has been ready for just such a reality, and embraces it, even as she is unsure whether or not she can trust and truly embrace her new husband.

We also see in Spencer that while who Amelia is works for him (he likes his ladies curvy and with a brain, he sees her skills and talents as valuable and her embroidery as art) he does not fall prey to the idea that she is somehow a hidden gem that society has missed. She is simply the right one for him. While Spencer can seem dominant and indifferent and often finds himself saying exactly the wrong thing, Dare gives good, believable explanations as to the development of his character and his Duke of Midnight persona.  Dare also gets points for the gradual way in which Spencer and Amelia get to know each other and fall in love.

So what didn’t work for me, and has thus landed this book a 3 star rating? Here’s a handy list:

  1. Anytime anyone discusses horses, especially (but not limited to) that damn Ossiris and the formation of the Stud Club.
  2. Amelia’s savior complex as related to her younger brother Jack and his unrepentant ways.
  3. Also, Spencer’s inability to use his words when frustrated with Amelia’s savior complex.
  4. The MURDER subplot tenuously tying this novel to the next two in the series.
  5. The investigating of the MURDER subplot.
  6. The structural pacing of the MURDER subplot and Amelia’s savior complex completely disrupting the natural flow of the romance plot.

I will however be reading the rest of the series eventually, because what Dare gets right, she gets very right.

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

Rising Strong (CBR7 #101)

I don’t read as many “self-help” books as I probably should. I like to learn. Scratch that, I LOVE to learn, and in many ways books traditionally shelved in the “self-help” department are meant to help us do just that. So why stay away? Because of the other types of books that inhabit those shelves. The ones that are all touchy feely or tell you to “let go and let God”. (Yes, thank you, I’m aware of that, now what?) When I decided to do the Read Harder Challenge and saw that Task 24 was read a self-help book, I shuddered. More than reading a short story collection, more than reading a book published before 1850 (I’ve already read a bunch of the heavy hitters), this was the one that put pause in my step. I tried to funny my way around it, and really didn’t like the book I initially chose (The Fabulous Girls Guide to Decorum) so when NTE wrote her profoundly great and personal review of Rising Strong by Brene Brown, I knew I probably needed to suck it up and read this book. Right now.

I was not familiar with Brene Brown at all when I purchased the audio version of this book. For those of you similarly unaware, Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and her primary fields of study are vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Hello, this is a researcher I need to be spending more time with. I, like I’m sure many of you, struggle deeply with those four topics. Brown is also the author of several books including The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. I’ve not read those yet, but she refers to them throughout Rising Strong, encapsulating their lessons and I have added them to my to read list.

As I mentioned, I did this book the audio route. In some ways this was good, I was forced to spend about 45 minutes at a clip listening to and processing what Brown was telling me. It also had the bonus of feeling like a sister-friend was just chatting with me in the car about the bigger ideas and obstacles in life. We all need these people, and I’m lucky enough to have a few. I was able to have some definite “aha” moments, including that we can’t love someone for who they could be, we have to love them for who they are, with the understanding that they are doing the best that they can. This kicked my ass, and had me looking at all of my major friendships and relationships and thinking “am I seeing them for who they are or am I forecasting onto them who I want them to be?” Big, tough questions.

The main thrust of this book though is not these nuggets. Brown is laying out the process and practice that helps people get back up after a fall, whether its major (chronic illness, grief, failure) or the more everyday (that dingbat in the office just sent you another nasty email) that will help us get through these things healthily. She talks about how we process emotions and thoughts via story, so we need to deal with the story we are telling ourselves when we are metaphorically face down, and really unpack what’s happening. For me, this got me to admit, out loud, to myself that I resent having to share the holidays with my stepfamily. This for me was a big first step, and it is reflected in my shitty first draft (a Brown term) about the story I am telling myself about their involvement. I rationally know that 10 years in we all have had to learn to maneuver around each other, but that doesn’t prevent a part of my brain from being angry that the only major holiday I spend with my mom and brothers, I also have to share with them. Now to figure out how to go through the next steps, and that’s where I wish I owned this book in hardcover, so I could refer back to dog-eared pages and highlighted sections.

If any of this sounds like it could be useful to you, pick up this book.

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

Borrowed Time: An Aids Memoir (CBR7 #100)

I had a goal with this book, I wanted to be able to read and review it in time for World Aids Day, which is December 1st. I have been in a bit of a reader’s slump. I have been reading some heavy hitting things of late; Between the World and Me, Rabbit-Proof Fence, and The Fifteenth Minute come immediately to mind for different reasons, but each was difficult to review in its own way, and this one is as well. In my last review I talked about how the dark times in our history are where we have the most to learn, and how giving ourselves over to looking at the other side is where we grow. I think for many people, nearly 28 years after its initial publication Borrowed Time is a great place to start to see the other side of AIDS, if it has not already been a presence in their own lives.

In Borrowed Time, Paul Monette was describing the year and a half fight to keep his love alive and how they and their friends fought the early years of the AIDS crisis away from the hotspots of New York and San Francisco in the early to mid-1980s. On the surface, this should be foreign territory to me, but it isn’t. The people in our lives dictate what we experience and understand, and nine year old me was introduced to my first openly gay man (to my recollection), who was HIV positive after we moved to Florida. He was my neighbors’ uncle and a delightful human. He died a few years later due to complications of AIDS and knowing him, his family, and his illness has prevented me from ever viewing someone with HIV or AIDS as being the other.

But there is value in looking back, and seeing a from the trenches view of the time now that I am old enough to fully understand the ramifications of what was happening. Monette uses his journals, memories, and recollections of family and friends to reconstruct 3 years, 1984-1987. In those years, his friends are being diagnosed with what would later be called HIV and some already progressed to AIDS. For years the medical community would be chasing its tail on what was causing the decrease in immune responsiveness and opening up these patients to opportunistic infections. Monette documents and discusses the health scares and setbacks, as well as his and Roger’s emotional responses to what was happening around them. It is also a fascinating firsthand account on the early medical research and how much of getting care was about who you knew, and how hard you were willing to push.

This book starts slowly, but builds in pacing as Roger becomes more ill. A fascinating and engaging read, all these years removed.

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