Kindred Spirits (CBR8 #21)

I am the World Book Day Book Fairy.

I thought I ordered one copy of the book; I actually received closer to 4 dozen from the book depository. I am not the only person this happened to, as the internet has let me know, and somehow I think it was on purpose, that we were led to believe we were getting one, and got so many more so that we would have the opportunity to send the book further out into the world. I had a blast mailing the book to Cannonball friends and foisting piles of books on my local friends who have taken them off further into the world including school libraries (crystalclear for the win!).

The joyful spirit of World Book Day was matched in Kindred Spirits and Elena’s hunt for the line experience for The Force Awakens. Elena is all about Star Wars and this short story focuses on the few days and few new faces Elena encounters along the way. While the line isn’t anything like what Elena expected based on the prequels or the original releases (what have you done to us online preordering?).

The book is very much a meditation on what our particular pop culture preferences. Elena’s love of Star Wars is shared with her family, but not her friends so she is out on her own for the line. Gabe and Troy are the others in line, and each brings their own particular fan experiences. Maybe my favorite part of the novella was the discussion between Elena and Gabe about girls and nerd culture, and with the mainstreaming of nerd culture if it really exists anymore.

Not my favorite Rowell work, but certainly enjoyable for the Rainbow fans out there.

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

Very Good Lives (CBR8 #20)

I don’t know that I’ve ever sat and read a commencement address before. As usual, this new experience comes to me at the hands of the lovely reader of Cannonball Read, who I’m pretty sure read all the things. Well, certainly some one reads everything.

Fighting a nasty sinus infection, I decided the inherent pick me up of a commencement address was in order and I luckily had this one ready to go. Perhaps the only thing I am jealous of people who attend big “name” universities is that they are the only ones who get really awesome commencement address speakers. My undergraduate graduation (which was a December graduation at that) had a local investigative reporter and while her speech was interesting, it didn’t have a lot of “wow”. Graduate school was even less interesting than that.

What I like about Rowling’s speech (and the fun line drawing illustrations which accompany it in text form) is how simple her message is: embrace failure and use your imagination. These are two incredibly important pieces of advice for young people entering the real world, many of whom had – as she rightly pointed out – not dealt with a lot of failure or adversity on their path to Harvard (or so one would think). I never would have expected my first ten years post grad to be so entirely full of failures, and she’s right – my imagination is what got me to the next thing each time.

So if you find yourself in need of a good talk, you could do a lot worse than some insightful words from J. K. Rowling.

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

Born with Teeth (CBR8 #19)

I don’t know that I would have ever picked up Kate Mulgrew’s poignant and beautifully written memoir if it hadn’t been for narfna’s lovely review from late last year. Sure, I had put it on my 500 book deep to read list over on Goodreads (side note: I may have an electronic hoarding problem – send help!), but it like many other “oh that looks interesting” books would have slipped past my immediate attention.

You see, I didn’t know who Captain Janeway was.

My only real recognition of roles played by Mulgrew before reading this book were her Emmy-nominated turn as Red on Orange is the New Black and as Latimer’s mom on Warehouse 13. I have since scanned her IMDB page and can honestly say I’ve missed most of her work along the way. And that says nothing of all the stage work she’s done – I recognized many of the plays as she talked about them in the book, but I have never had the pleasure of seeing her on stage, as is the case with most people I’m sure.

But even though I missed *the role* which should have defined Mulgrew for people my age, I didn’t need to know anything about it because Mulgrew’s life and story are both mirror images of my family, and exist on a plane we won’t ever understand. Mulgrew is roughly my mother’s age, and I am the same age as her two sons (give or take). Mulgrew is both very Irish and very Catholic and that is a way of life I understand very well.

Seriously, when I saw this picture I thought it was one of my mom’s cousins.

Born with Teeth covers Mulgrew’s life from birth until about 2000. In prose that is simultaneously poetic and precise Mulgrew takes the reader on the journey of what it was like to grow up in her rather eccentric, but all too relatable household. Mulgrew is one of eight children raised in her Irish Catholic home in Iowa. Her story, like the story of so many people, includes the deaths of siblings, her early career choices and hopes, substantial professional achievements, and private sorrows. It is apparent while reading (or in my case listening to) Mulgrew’s work to see the precision and care she took to make her real emotions and experiences apparent and understandable to the reader (because seriously, how many people’s mothers were friends of Jean Kennedy and summered with the family at Hyannis port, and were therefore occasionally pulled into the larger political world?)

I don’t want to talk too much about the course of Mulgrew’s life, because I’m hoping that you’ll take the time to seek out this book for yourself, or take a wander down the interwebs to discover more of her story. I will point out that the Audible audio version includes an interview that Mulgrew did as part of the book tour last year, and it was an enjoyable addition.

Morning Star (CBR8 #18)

Morning Star rounds out the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, wunderkind of science fiction publishing the past three years. There’s a movie deal, a bunch of us at Cannonball Read have read the books, and you may want to as well. Heck, how else are you to weigh in on the many comments on scootsa1000’s first review of the book?

Let’s start off with the easy part. I liked this book. I liked it quite a bit most of the time. I liked it more than I liked Golden Son, and maybe even more than I liked Red Rising, since I thought this final book did a better job with the pacing. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It does many things well, and several things not so well.

This book, like its predecessors, is very dense. This is both a pro and a con. When you finish reading these books, you’re exhausted. There is just so much that happens and all “down time” happens off page. The reader is thrust from plot point to plot point and Brown never lets up on the accelerator. In conjunction with that, Brown never stops escalating his plot. To the point where I’m often shocked that he manages to find the skinny nuance in which he slides in even more tension and drama to a story that is already full of both.

Another point on the high stakes discussion: we, as the reader, are not allowed to love anyone. Ever. For any reason. Unless we are prepared to watch Darrow lose them. Even in the rare cases that Darrow doesn’t lose them forever, the process is heartbreaking. Brown is very good at hitting the emotional cues.

Brown will attempt to wring every emotion out of his reader over the course of the series, just prepare yourself for that. He may not succeed in making you feel all the emotions, but he is certainly going to try.

Also, on a completely silly note, I still really like the way people curse in this world. Gorrydamn is on par with frakking.

As to the underutilization of women in science fiction problem and if Brown commits too many crimes against his female characters (a topic which comes up again and again if you read reviews of his work): I come down on the side of no, he does a good job (but not great, since I have to defend it) of gender politics in his story and world building.

  • Mustang and Victra are integral to the planning and execution of everything that is done by Sevro, Darrow, and the Sons of Ares during the course of Morning Star and its predecessor Golden Son.
  • The Howlers are a female inclusive group, and the ladies are kicking just as much ass as their male counterparts. The original group had 50% ladies, and the later additions keep the ratio similar.
  • The Sovereign is female, and so is her greatest warrior Aja.
  • Orion. Blue Lady Pirate of Space. Enough Said.
  • Holiday the ever-increasingly badass Gray Legionnaire.

Things that were not so great? Similar complaints to the previous outings: there are just too many names to remember, and when a character shows up on page after having been missing for hundreds of pages, or a book or two, Brown assumes you remember. And even if you didn’t and flip back to the front of the book to the character listings with allegiances and colors to find a character you won’t – only the “major” characters are listed. Forget trying to remember which Howler is who.

The nitty gritty of battle is boring. I’m a history person, but I still don’t care. This one definitely had less of that than either Red Rising or Golden Son, but it was still boring and I may have skimmed pages here and there to get around it.

Freaking Single POV writing. I know many of you are writers, and I beseech you: if you are going to write books which expand out into a universe give the idea of additional POVs a shot. Not all narratives are served by staying faithfully with one character, and especially if that character is male and we have no avenue for getting into the heads of his female counterparts. There is a plot development at the end of the book which comes to us with ZERO foreshadowing (maybe some of you caught it? I certainly didn’t) that left a bitter taste in my mouth. I understand that the character in question had reasons for not talking to Darrow about what she was hiding, but because she felt that she couldn’t speak to him, we had no way of knowing or understanding her character motivations. It happened time and again through this story and I would have loved a few chapters from Victra, Mustang, Sevro, or even Roque or Thistle. The bad guys don’t view themselves as such, and hearing from those that had betrayed Darrow and Sevro would have made for interesting reading. But the author has to build that stuff in, and Brown didn’t and his books could have.

I remain forever, House Barca.

Raylan (CBR8 #17)

Let’s get the rating part out of the way first. This was a 3.5 read for me that I am rounding up because the narrator is Brian d’Arcy James* and I love his voice, and what he is able to do with it while narrating the various characters, actions, and dialogue in Leonard’s version of the world.

Second, while Raylan is listed as a novel, it barely qualifies. It has the length certainly (a little over six hours of audio) but the way the story is structured is really closer to three novellas tied together, or a five-episode arc of the television series Justified**.

Also, I should fully admit that some of the rating of this book *might* have more to do with my affection for the characters than it does for the book itself. But, I am often rating a book based on characterization separate from plot, and Leonard has drawn the characters of Raylan and Boyd so clearly that I am a fan.

Raylan follows its titular character through a seemingly regular set up of Marshall Givens most likely problems in Harlan County and its environs. We follow him as he deals with the Crowes, the mining company, Loretta (but sadly, no Mags Bennett**), Boyd and Ava, the plot to steal kidneys, and a young female poker player who is caught up in a bust and mistaken for a bank robber.

You know, a typical day in the life for Raylan Givens.

I say if you are a fan of the author, the series, and good audiobooks this would be a choice for you. But only if you really like all three.

*He originated the role of King George III in Hamilton off Broadway and is in Something Rotten for which he was nominated for a Tony, and was apparently in Spotlight which I haven’t seen. But yes, this is a guy with a great voice and acting chops!

**I have only watched through season three, so the stories and characters in this book were like listening to an alternate universe telling of season two, which I watched relatively recently. It was a nice bit of nostalgia.

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