The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (CBR8 #42)

While feeling down I find it imperative to read books with happy endings. Our lead character in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend Sara, believes the same. I liked her from the start.

This book is predictable, and some may even call it cliché. I prefer to think that it knows exactly which tropes and expectations we the reader bring to the table and lays them out for us in a pleasingly familiar way. This is my way of saying that this book probably isn’t for you if you like daring creative works of literature. This is a love letter to books like itself, and the characters that we love alone the way.

The main character, Sara, travels from Sweden to meet her pen pal, Amy, in a SMALL town, Broken Wheel, in Iowa. If you are unfamiliar with U.S. Geography, it’s in the middle-ish.

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Anyway, Sara arrives in town in time for Amy’s funeral. Things are not going to plan and the already nervous Sara is pretty shaken and disappointed. The townspeople, in shades of actions to come, convince her to stay and she grows to love Broken Wheel and its way of life and pace, so different form the life she left. While the story starts off slowly (one of our main characters is dead, and we get to know her through her letters to Sara) the setting up of a new bookstore, a well-built love interest, some wacky small town characters (think Stars Hollow or Blue Bell) really had me swooning for the middle of this book. However, the end was full of… hijinks. Serious hijinks. Your mileage may vary.

I decided to pick this one up based on NTE’s excellent review from earlier in the year, and like she said “Sara is a true bibliophile.  Like calls to like – it’s how Sara and Amy initially bonded, over books – and it’s how the author hooked this book-loving reader/reviewer”. I really liked this one, but it isn’t the same as the love I feel for Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik, and all the cozy feelings I get whenever I reread it. A solid four-star book for me.

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

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Venetia (CBR8 #41)

With our book club this year I have added the personal goal of reading the runner up choices as well. I figured if it sounded interesting enough to a gaggle of Cannonballers to earn their vote, surely it deserves my reading attention as well. First up on that quest is Venetia one of the runners up to The Bollywood Bride.

I’m not sure if listening to this one via audiobook caused me to not realize how much I was enjoying the story (weird word choice and craft issues can definitely stand out while listening, some things just sound wrong) but when I went about recounting the story to crystalclear I realized how much I loved the main characters of the titular Venetia and her paramour Lord Damerel. These characters are grown-ups with defined personalities, intelligence, senses of humors, and histories. All the things which make us love romance leads.

Let’s unpack them a little: first we have Damerel: an older confirmed rake who doesn’t care much about anything any longer. Or at least he thinks he doesn’t, but underneath there’s a kind man which his growing friendship with Venetia brings out. He starts out intending to seduce her—but respect for her and her brother soon make him realize that he can’t do that. Which leads to a moral conundrum for Damerel: his life has been so reprehensible that he’s no longer accepted in society (his two elderly aunts are trying to find an appropriately on the shelf/desperate wife to help make him respectable enough that they can make him their heir instead of his fop of a cousin), and marrying a sweet younger lady like Venetia would make people despise him even more. Which brings us back around to Venetia – witty, resourceful and not easily fazed by events that would make most ladies throw up their hands in despair (seriously, her brother sends home a pregnant wife and terrible nuisance of a mother-in-law that Venetia is told nothing about and she moves smoothly along like things like this happen all the time to ladies used to running the family estate in their brother’s absence). She’s 25 years old–just about on the shelf by Regency standards. Because her father was a damaged soul, Venetia has spent her entire life in a small town with a very limited circle of friends and acquaintances, but she’s nevertheless well-read and socially adept, if rather innocent in the ways of the world, at least according to everyone else. She knows what she does not know and thinks that’s fine enough.

It’s charming to watch Venetia’s developing relationship with Damerel, they trade all manner of inside jokes (usually literary quotes and allusions that went over my head a bit) and they just understand each other. Their relationship is in turns witty and heart-wrenching since these are two characters who likely shouldn’t end up together on paper, but you as the reader are rooting for them in a major way since the other two men attempting to win Venetia’s heart made me want to punch them through the page and even Venetia is *this close* to rolling her eyes and hitting them with rolled up newspaper. There was also way more smolder than you might expect from a romance written in the 1950s in the style of Austen. Heyer never gives you anything more than a kiss, but that doesn’t stop her from making heat rising off the pages when these two are together.

This book is definitely worth the read.

Secrets of A Summer Night (CBR8 #40)

I don’t know if this was the best Kleypas to start off with, my other Romance readers will have to let me know, but I was not overly enraptured with it. There was plenty in this book which had the potential to hook me in, but it felt very by the numbers, even for a book that supposes its turning the tropes on themselves. (I unfortunately have a high bar for that.) Mrs. Julien is going to be so annoyed with me (she rates this book as 5 stars, I’d give it 3.5. It is very obvious why Beth Ellen is her romance twin and not I).

Secrets of a Summer Night is the first book of the Wallflowers series and focuses on the passed over debutantes of their season: Annabelle, Evie, Lillian, and Daisy. The four are young women out in society who bond over their mutual rejection by eligible men. After spending time on the side lines of many a ballroom, they decide to make friends with the women next to them and work together to find suitable husbands.

First up is Annabelle, 25 and about to be in serious danger of being made into someone’s mistress. Annabelle’s father passed away several years preceding the action of the book, and his minor fortune has not lasted, no matter how carefully Annabelle or her mother have been about their finances. Enter Simon Hunt, who has been highly interested in Annabelle since a chance meeting a few years earlier. Being stuck in the middle class, no matter how rich his financial investments in business have made him, he knows Annabelle won’t marry him and he’s not the marrying sort anyway so he’ll just procure her as a mistress. But Annabelle won’t be anyone’s mistress if she can avoid it, and with the help of her friends she’s using a country house party to ensnare a member of the peerage.

Of course things don’t work out that way, this is a romance novel after all, and instead we are treated to some lovely scenes of a headstrong woman and a rake sure that he doesn’t need reforming coming to understand that they do in fact wish to be married to the other. I was… only okay with the book up to that point, no matter how much I enjoyed the characters. I thought the book improved once they were married and the characters had to figure out how to exist in each other’s worlds. I also REALLY liked the other wallflowers and hope to have a better experience as I head through those books soon.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (CBR8 #39)

In finishing Hamilton: The Revolution, and being mired by yet another round of inequality for women in our country, I decided to stay the course with another non-fiction book, this one about a dynamo of gender equality. I was familiar with Justice Ginsburg, but Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave me so much more.

Notorious RBG chronicles the personal history of RBG, her experiences in law school and pursuing a law career while being a mother (not an easy job ever, but certainly difficult in the 1950s and 1960s), her work as an educator, a founder of the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU, the cases she presented to the Supreme Court, her eventual move to a judgeship on the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., and her eventual nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court in 1993 as only the second female justice following Sandra Day O’Connor.

But it also does more than that.

The book strives to introduce us to RBG’s life’s work, and why it became her life’s work in the first place. I tweeted about my first “aha” moment in the book when I came across the timeline which makes up chapter 2, and I read this:

historic rape culture

And then I was even more invested. I tweeted about it, and got the most retweets and likes than I’ve ever had and the book just kept the ball rolling, including great academic notes on some of RBG’s writings for the court about equality under the law. As someone whose favorite amendment is the fourteenth, I am now even more in love with the Notorious RBG.

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Hamilton: The Revolution (CBR8 #38)

Two words: So. Good.

Listen friends, I am super late to the Hamilton party (well, by internet standards). I don’t live far from New York, one of my very close friends works in theatre whom I watch the Tonys with every year (eventually), but I don’t get to the theatre much.  I was aware of Miranda from In the Heights, before the storm that was Hamilton arrived in 2015, but because it’s still out of reach I hadn’t let myself even listen to the cast album.

And then my kryptonite arrived. An annotated (full) libretto with chapters chronicling the history of Alexander Hamilton and the creation of the play, plus insights about the actors – SOLD. And it didn’t hurt that a couple of fellow cannonballers sang the book’s praises.

The big boons of this book, to me, were the amazing photos of the production, the inclusion of personal correspondences of Miranda’s, and his annotations and personal recollections, and the general artistic design of the book. It is designed to look like one of the many pamphlets written by Hamilton over the course of his life. This history nerd freaked out.

The book tracks the development of Hamilton from concept album idea to fully fleshed out Broadway Musical. It has, for me, just the right amount of information to keep me feeling satisfied as well as still leaving room for more excitement.  I have heard tell of this book being difficult to come by, to which I can only hope that your library system is as wonderful as mine and manages to get this book into your hands.

And if you haven’t seen it (or just want to watch it again), carpool karaoke with James Corden, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Jane Krakowski. I’m going to go back to listening to the cast album.

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

The Things They Carried (CBR8 #37)

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal must be an absolutely astounding audio book because I can’t imagine what it must have taken to beat out Bryan Cranston’s reading of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. I was so convinced it was award worthy that I went looking it up and was sadly disappointed. This audio experience was one of the most affecting I’ve experienced, and Cranston’s work is simply masterful.

Tim O’Brien, through the way he weaves his narrative as beautifully read by Cranston (I know I’m going on about it, it was THAT good), tells us the story of the emotional truth of Vietnam. O’Brien covers the territory of his own experience, and also what we ask of soldiers in general during war. But perhaps even more meaningfully, O’Brien is telling to story of how people process the various things we all find ourselves dealing with in our lives –  he’s simply using the war as the lens through which to tell his varied stories and observations.

I was struck with the craft of O’Brien’s work. The way in which he embraces creative non-fiction to unpack the multiple ideas of truth really spoke to me. The general structure of the book has O’Brien relating one set of events to us, and then in the next section approaching those same events from another angle, telling the reader where he may have lied in order to get at the broader truth, but then progressing the narrative until he finds us at another place where he is telling us the creative non-fiction version of events, and backtracking once again.

And the first chapter in the book, the literal things they carried, sets the mood perfectly for what is to follow.

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