Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory (CBR8 #36)

Ah, here we go. I tore through this book over two mornings ingesting every detail Ms. Doughty had to offer about her life and what her time working in crematories and mortuaries has taught her. Perhaps it was a kinship I felt with a similar academic mind craving information. Perhaps it was my previously mentioned interest in forensics, death, and disaster. But whatever it was, this book simply worked for me in a way that my previous read did not.

Perhaps the best way to understand Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is to understand its author. Caitlin Doughty was a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a fascination with death took a job at a crematory, turning her curiosity into her life’s work. Starting with her first job in the industry, which fills in the majority of this memoir, Caitlin (I’m going to call her Caitlin, I don’t think she’d mind) learned to navigate the mysterious culture of those who care for the deceased. But perhaps what inclined me to appreciate Caitlin and her book is that she strives to demystify death. She leads us behind the often closed doors of her unique profession and answers questions you need answered.  For example, do you know how many dead bodies a Dodge Springer van can hold? You’ll learn.

This book is honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, and its engaging style reminds me favorably of Dr. Mutter’s Marvels in that it makes a taboo topic both welcoming and absorbing. Caitlin is now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, which you can learn more about by visiting her website Order of the Good Death. I’ll tell you one thing though, I am even more convinced than I was upon finishing Mary Roach’s Stiff that I will not be having myself embalmed. Natural burial or science, those sound more and more like the only rational choices, not what the death industry has become.  I agree with Caitlin that it is time to become more comfortable to what death really means, since its an experience we will all share.

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

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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (CBR8 #35)

This is another in a long series of books which I picked up to read solely on the recommendation of my fellow Cannonballers, however I probably should have paid slightly closer attention (again, nothing new there).  While Carrie Brownstein’s memoir chronicles life from an interesting perspective, it did not hold my attention and instead left me wanting.

ModernLove read this book earlier this year, and gave it four stars. It was her assertion that she was not someone who had listened to Sleater-Kinney (Brownstein’s band) or seen more than an episode of Portlandia (her show with Fred Armisen) and still found this work relatable and well written which convinced me that since I shared those qualities, I too should read this book. ModernLove wasn’t wrong, Brownstein constructs her narrative in a manner which does not assume that you are overly familiar with her work or the Pacific Northwest. This was all good.

The problem for me was in the actual writing of the book. This memoir was too focused on the subject, it was too focused on the “me” and the “I”. Yes, Brownstein does many things well – she is critical of herself and her place in the narrative she is telling us. BUT, I found this book to be simultaneously overwritten and narrow in scope. It was very disappointing because Brownstein obviously has talent and a great vocabulary, but other than being impressed with her word choice I found myself skimming overly long paragraphs waiting for Brownstein to return to her through line. She also does not expand her story out to the universal, in being circumspect and critical of her own self-importance Brownstein appears to miss the opportunity to bring in outside perspectives.  As janniethestrange said in her review “she repeatedly says that she spends ‘too much time’ in her head and that disconnect is evident throughout the book, leaving me little to connect with on an emotional level.”

This leaves me sorrowfully ranking this book at two stars, I wish I enjoyed the book as much as I was interested in the story of someone who has managed to navigate the minefield of being a woman and simultaneously living an artistic life. If only all the chapters were as moving as the chapter about the sexism , much of it backhanded, which she has experienced along the way.

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

Doomsday Book (CBR8 #34)

This review will be the definition of spoiler free, come see us over at the Cannonball Read June 1 to talk details.

I am, as they say, perplexed by this book. It was like a roller coaster ride. At the beginning, I felt like this:

There was a great wide world of story ahead and it was all for me. Historians! In the near future! Using the scientific method and time travel!

But then, I spent a lot of time waiting for thins to start happening.

And that was not the most pleasant experience, really. I went the audio route for this one, since I knew I would be under a bit of a time crunch and I could listen at 1.25-1.5 speed depending and that would help. It did, but listening to all the pieces be set up on the board while knowing that there was still 20+ hours of audio left me wondering what all the fuss was about, because you good people had already started rolling in the 4 and 5 star reviews.

And then things got going, and I understood.

There are so many layers, so much context, so much world building built it that you have to wait, and then you start to have fun, but there’s also that moment when the doom is coming (which by the way the blurb for the book spoiled for me, not that it isn’t telegraphed a mile away) that I actively stopped reading because I didn’t want to read what I knew was about to happen. It was too much, both for the characters and for me.

This book lives and dies by its characters, and they are good. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to think.

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

Manners & Mutiny (CBR8 #33)

First, a note of thanks to crystalclear for not wanting to bash my head in for how long this book sat on my desk, unread. It is her copy and I am a bad friend for not returning it to her in a timely fashion. Beware of friends who overcommit on their reading capacity, we’re a terrible liability to your own reading.

That being said, this is the final book of the Finishing School series, a prequel of sorts to The Parasol Protectorate series (the Soulless books). It is Carriger doing what Carriger does, with her brand of humor. Are there werewolves? Yes. Vampires? Yes. Fancy dress and tea? You bet! Intrigue? OF COURSE. Political machinations in an alt-history Victorian England? You betcha. Awesome leading ladies doing awesome leading lady things? Indubitably.

I don’t want to give much away (and I’m assuming if you’re reading this review its because you’ve either read this series or that cover caught your eye) but this book quite nicely wraps up the events of book the third, Waistcoats & Weaponry, which itself is a natural progression from book 1 and 2 (Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies respectively). I really enjoyed my time with these characters and their stories, and the epilogue made the definitive connections between the two different series (although many connections were already in place). I did miss some of my favorite characters being needfully off-page, so I’ve downgraded this one to three stars, but I couldn’t be more certain in suggesting this series to you, if all those things in my previous paragraph sound good to you.

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

When He Was Wicked (CBR8 #31)

The sixth book in the Bridgertons series brings us to the elusive Francesca. She’s rarely, if ever, mentioned in the other Bridgerton novels, except in passing generally explaining why she isn’t around (too young, too married, too widowed, too far away in Scotland). I’ll admit that I was concerned going into a book with a character we had so little invested in, but the last time I had that worry we got the great Benedict and Sophie in my second favorite Bridgerton book, An Offer from a Gentleman.

I was however, underwhelmed this time.

When the book opens in 1820, Francesca and John, Earl of Kilmartin are happily married (their marriage had previously taken place off-page between An Offer from a Gentleman and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton), when tragedy strikes and John goes to sleep and never wakes up. Quinn also takes the time to introduce John’s cousin Michael. He was visiting the pair when John dies, and he happens to be in love with Francesca. However full of issues this set-up might sound, Quinn navigates it well, instilling Michael with a sense of honor and respect so he keeps his feelings hidden from everyone, including Francesca. When it all becomes too much he removes himself to India to settle into the title he just inherited, and try to create the space he needs in order to keep his relationship with Francesca in its appropriate box.

Fast-forward four years later, and the main portion of this story comes together. Francesca decides to come out of mourning and is considering re-marrying because she has a deep desire for children. Off to London she must go. Michael finds himself ready to return to England and stop running from the sadness of “taking over” his cousins life, thinking he is prepared to re-enter the life of Francesca, but a couple months in London without her would be best. So sorry, they both arrive at the same time (oh romance novels, you do love a plot convenience) and he is still 100% in love with her.

I found Quinn’s writing about the characters’ internal struggles both helped to build their relationship on a deeper emotional level, and let me feel like I knew the characters. They both feel that they mustn’t have romantical feelings for one another, but I think Quinn just did a better job with Michael than with Francesca. Some of my favorite moments in the book are when Michael basically has the internal reaction of the nopetopus in regards to his still being in love with Francesca.

no scared nsfw nope gross

He feels if he gives in to this last boundary he will be completely ruining the love and respect he felt for his cousin. It will be like he wished for his death. Quinn plays this to the full, and plays with all the various subtexts it offers. She just seems to leave Francesca in the NO place for far too long.

KingfisherWorld upset damn cricket oh no

I found myself frustrated with Francesca’s behavior. It’s not that I couldn’t understand it, just that it dragged on. It is one of the weaknesses in Quinn’s writing, that she will let a story stall out at an emotional point and spend more time there than strictly necessary. This book also left me wanting as far as Quinn’s usual sarcastic humor goes. It’s there, it’s just… not as great as it usually is. And finally, When He Was Wicked lacked the other Bridgertons: and the family dynamics of that bunch are what really make the books sing (Eloise’s book To Sir Phillip, With Love shows that in spades. Once the family is in on the shenanigans everything gets turned up to 11).

spinal tap it goes up to 11 gif

And Colin felt off. Colin is my favorite. There is no denying it, he is, but his characterization felt off. Believe me, I LOVED that he was the one to put in Michael’s head that he actually, could, in fact, marry Francesca and the world would not end. I just wish those interactions had been more and more in line with Colin in the other books. And here’s my last bit of annoyance before I conclude this review and tell you to go ahead and read all eight of these books, Quinn seems to have retconned her previous books (specifically Romancing Mr. Bridgerton) to put Francesca and Michael in town during the events of books four and five. I DON’T REMEMBER HER BEING THERE. I don’t know if its because I read the book six months ago, or because Francesca wasn’t memorable, but the fact that these three books are intended to overlay just didn’t work for me in that all I kept thinking was “Her? She was there?”

Anyway, read these books and you too can write 750 words about your feels as regards romantical fluff.

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

How to Be a Woman (CBR8 #30)

I have a feeling my review of Moran’s How to Be a Woman is going to be more a discussion about these types of Feminism 101 books and the backlash they can sometimes bring. Here’s my disclaimer… we all have to start somewhere. And memoirs are inherently going to be the story of a person. This book is that, one woman’s account of how she came to deal with becoming and being a woman in the world she inhabits, today. She writes it honestly, humorously, and with a great deal of heart. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t expecting a masterwork of the next wave of feminism. I was expecting someone to tell me her story, and she did.

“At some point – scarred and exhausted – you either accept that you must become a woman – that you are a woman – or you die. This is the brutal, root truth of adolescence – that it is often a long, painful campaign of attrition.” (10)

So I’m pleased with the book. But, there’s always more to the story. Out there on the interwebs (which I define as anyplace outside of the safety net of CBR and CBR adjacent places) there has been a lot of backlash about this book. And a lot of one star ratings. I can see most of the complaints, but I can’t make myself downgrade my rating of this book.

I feel like this is also a place to mention that the title of this book is not How to Be a Feminist. While Moran’s feminism is front and center to her writing here, the book is not intended to be prescriptive. For every time Moran lays out a “we should do THIS” statement, she’s backtracking and coming at it from another angle just a few pages down the line. Also, it’s an important note that this is a populist feminism she is writing about that concerns itself with the everyday shit women have to endure. She’s not saying that bigger issues like pay inequity and abortion are unimportant, but rather that women need to decide how they feel about the things they encounter in their own lives and run it through a lens of “are the boys being made to put up with this shit?”.

It should also be noted that this book is now five years old. We have had a lot of movement forward in the past five years, but sometimes it feels like we’re still just uncovering the bits that still need to be sorted. Intersectionality? Oh yes, we can and should be doing better. Transgender rights? Well, what’s going on in certain states around the U.S. is definitely a sign of alarm, and we’ll have to continue reckoning with that civil rights issue as we have with the ones which came before. Just getting everyone to agree on the terminology we’re using? Still a battle, every day. (As a friendly reminder, if you believe in equal pay for equal work and an equal choice in what work you take on – you’re a feminist.)

In summary, if you like memoirs and those books which might be classified as Feminism 101, then this book might absolutely be for you. Otherwise, I’m sure you’ll find something which suits you better.

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