A Wallflower Christmas (CBR8 #84)

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It should be known that I am a completist. I love to complete a series, it’s like the book version of checking the last thing off of a to do list. (I also like to do lists.) To cap off the Wallflowers series Lisa Kleypas wrote A Wallflower Christmas, and I was in because I also like to finish the year with a Christmassy read when I can, and I’ve already reread and reviewed A Kiss for Midwinter once this Cannonball.

As I summarized in my review of Scandal in Spring, Kleypas set herself up with four friends who were on the outside of the matchmaking market of their various seasons, and found fun and interesting pairings for each. Half of our Wallflowers are sisters, and this fifth book (although a very skimpy 200 pages in my hardcover version from the library) focuses on their eldest brother Rafe. We’ve already been introduced to the horrible parenting of the Bowmans, and Rafe’s childhood was certainly no better and perhaps worse. While I have a fondness for men with terrible childhoods as romance protagonists, this book suffers from other shortcomings which bring it down to a two.

While not the most grievous, it should be noted that this book reads like a series of vignettes as opposed to an actual story. If Kleypas had released the characters of Rafe and Hannah to their own 100 page novella the story flow would have progressed nicely, but in order to shoehorn in the visits with the beloved Wallflowers, and create a place for Hannah in the pantheon, the narrative arc is sacrificed in places. And that is not the worst crime, Kleypas’ worst crime and what in all honesty has me rounding this down to 2 stars is the nonsensical plot line where Lillian thinks Marcus has eyes for another woman and the amount of real estate it is given in this book in comparison to our short visits with Simon, Sebastian, and Matthew.

But even that 100 page novella would need something more, because the story is very paint by the numbers, and per Kleypas’ Authors Note at the end is a way to give her readers what they want, and hopefully convince them to move over to her other series.

Do I regret reading this? No, it’s not bad; it’s just not very good. Rafe is a rake out of central casting with a grudge against his father and designs on being let back into the family business. Hannah is a woman of middle class means just trying to ensure her cousin marries for love and will be treated well while trying to find a small corner of life for herself – and has her thoughts turned completely upside down by falling in love with the very opposite of “good” Rafe. It filled that perfect place for me as something to read while sitting in an airport and then on a plane and not being able to concentrate since the world is alive with holiday travelers. This is review 84, and I had hoped to get to 85 (from an overly ambitious 91, that would have been 1 and three quarters cannonball). I still have about a week, but I don’t know if I’ll sneak another one in. If I don’t, it’s been a great year cannonballers and I’ll see you in January for CBR9.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for CBR9 (yes our ninth year!) will be open until January 13th, 2017. Come join us.

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Completed Read Harder Challenge 2016

In its second year, I have once again completed Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. I appreciate that these 24 tasks push me to consider what I am reading, and give me a way to prioritize my endeavors. Below are all the books which I have read as of December 21, 2016 in attainment of these various goals.

I look forward to 2017’s challenge as the tasks continue to get more specific.

Read a Horror Book

Read a nonfiction book about science

Read a collection of essays

Read a book aloud to someone

Read a middle grade novel

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie award.

  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, narrated by Robert Glenister. Mystery 2015

Read a book over 500 pages long

Read a book under 100 pages

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender

Read a book that is set in the Middle East

Read a book by an author from Southeast Asia

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900

Read the first book in a series by a person of color

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)

Read a food memoir

Read a play

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness

A Life in Parts (CBR8 #83)

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When I found out that Bryan Cranston would be publishing a book in 2016, I was on the lookout. I am a late in the game Cranston fan, but there’s something about the roles he’s chosen, and the way he conducts himself in public that spoke to me, and I thought, I’d really like to know what he has to say. Since I had particularly enjoyed his reading of The Things They Carried I decided to go with the audio version.

Here’s the thing about this book: Cranston has the goods. He’s an introspective writer unpacking the sixty years of his life and his nearly forty-year career with wisdom and clarity. Badkittyuno and Caitlin D have laid out how wonderful this book is and what a good person Bryan Cranston is, not perfect, but lovable.

And here I come in with a three-star review.

I’ve had some ups and downs with memoirs and autobiographies this year. I’ve also had a bunch in the middle. Here’s what I think kept me from loving this book, even though I should have. Other than a gimmick (each chapter is categorized by a role whether as an actor or as a person) there is no real point to how the narrative is broken down. Cranston chronicles his life from beginning until the years following Breaking Bad, but that’s about all. There’s some good soundbite insights that you’ll likely see quoted elsewhere, and cautions about making sure you are making the correct decision for you, and not for someone else, but I felt myself left wanting with this one.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration is open to join us for CBR9 through January 13, 2017. Cannonball Read is an annual, memorial book challenge to read and review 52 books in a year. Or 26. Or 13. Choose your level and read to meet your goal all while fundraising for the American Cancer Society in the memory of AlabamaPink.

Better Nate than Ever (CBR8 #32 – there’s one every year that gets missed)

Nate’s just this kid, you know?

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He’s out on an adventure, and he’s exploring who he is and what interests him, and what life is like outside of his hometown of Janksburg, PA and his typical, but pretty unhappy, family. He’s exploring New York and the audition process, and himself.

I loved Nate. How could you not love someone so honest as a protagonist? Federle puts just the right amount of 13-year-old into Nate’s voice. He’s just the smallest bit standoffish, while also baring his soul. He has things about himself that he knows, but he isn’t comfortable deciding yet, or certainly telling us about. He’s gone off on an adventure theoretically for someone else, but really he’s doing it for himself. This is a kid who dreams big (Broadway!) but his big dreams can also feel a little small (Applebee’s in Times Square!).

I find it difficult to sum up the plot of this book (boy runs away to NYC to audition for a play, hijinks ensue), because it’s pretty sparse. But the texture of the narrative offers so much more. You could just give it a cursory read, what you imagine its intended middle grades audience would do, or you can let yourself go back to that time in your life and really sink in to all that is and isn’t being said.

I listened to this one, and Federle narrates himself. It was VERY good. I am even more excited to pick up more of Federle’s writing. (Thanks to ModernLove for highlighting this author, and the Read Harder Challenge for making me read a Middle Grades book).

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

On the Way to the Wedding (CBR8 #82)

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The end of 2016 finds me reading and reviewing quite a few Romance novels. This is my third in recent weeks. I decided to read the second four books in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series this year, which meant it was time to make sure I hit that goal and finally get to Gregory’s book, On the Way to the Wedding.

When I started the Bridgerton series in 2015, I knew from the romance readers around Cannonball Read that these were peak Quinn books, and I was starting with perhaps the cream of the crop for this author. I didn’t care, given the variety of my reading habits I knew I would and could stretch these books out over a few years. 2015 saw me read, review, and highly enjoy (well, mostly) The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. I ended on a high note; I waffle back and forth about whether Benedict or Colin’s book is my favorite.

2016 started off with a bit of fits and starts as far as Bridgerton books were concerned. To Sir Phillip, With Love and When He Was Wicked were set concurrently with Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and reading them separated over many months did not help the experience, although Eloise in To Sir Phillip was a delight to me. It’s in His Kiss moves forward to the next year and embarks on the story of youngest Bridgerton Hyacinth and her love Gareth. The Eloise/Phillip and Hyacinth/Gareth books were the high points for me in the second half, and while I fell hard for book eight’s pairing of Gregory and Hyacinth, their book didn’t completely live up to the characters Quinn built.

At this point, nearly 300 words in, I feel I should say that this book is firmly a 3.5 rating for me. It was a perfectly serviceable Bridgerton book, and Quinn continues to excel at building great characters, but she doesn’t always know what to do with them, specifically when providing an antagonist. I personally find that Quinn’s style is at its best when the problems remain within the character’s own personalities, (Sophie’s distrust, Colin’s blindness to what’s been right in front of him, Hyacinth’s bullheadedness), but where there is some sort of external dilemma… Quinn struggles. I’m not alone here, either. Malin, in her review of this book, says Quinn “rarely manages to do good antagonists and the books where there is no outside party trying to interfere with the lovers are generally better.” Mrs. Julien is with us too: “the only challenge is that it seems to be hard for her to shift gears when the going needs to get tough.  Everything glides along beautifully, but when the action in On the Way to the Wedding gets ratcheted up, it’s too sudden a tonal shift and jarred with the carefully crafted buoyancy of the rest of the story”.

The outside antagonists in On the Way to the Wedding are the men contracting Lucy’s betrothal to Lord Haselby. Both are odious, overbearing, and violent. One is worse than the other, and when the true levels of his treachery are uncovered the novel takes a decided turn in tone, heading for suspense. Up until this point this is just another fluffy, light, whimsical meditation on what love is, and what falling in love feels like, or doesn’t. I was on board. This was the good stuff: if you’re already spoken for and your best friend is a stunning beauty, what is your understanding of falling in love? Particularly if you haven’t laid eyes on your betrothed in years? What if you are the last unmarried sibling in your family where everyone has found a truly loving pairing, how does that affect your thoughts on the ease of finding love? This is what I am here for.

And then… the sturm and drang of it all gets well out of proportion. Thankfully Quinn balances this against reappearances by several beloved siblings and Violet, but you know something’s off when not even Colin can pacify me. It’s also a nitpick, but we as the reader never find out how exactly these two crazy kids overcome the various obstacles to their wedding and if they are ever properly accepted in polite society, since the epilogue skips ahead 12 or 13 years. Is it answered somewhere else? I have questions.

With this I conclude my reading of the main books of the Bridgerton series. I’ll be on the lookout for more Quinn, but next year’s Romance reading will be focused on Lisa Kleypas’ Hawthorne series, and perhaps Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers series. Oh, and I really should make time for the last book in the ridiculously named Stud Club series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Reigstration to join us for CBR 9 is open until January 13, 2017.

Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums (CBR8 #81)

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I work in museums. Specifically, I work at historic sites, and one of the main types of historic sites is the Historic House Museum (HHM). There are a lot of ways in which HHMs are interesting and important to our cultural heritage, and tons of ways where the traditional methods of running such institutions are just plain bad ideas at this point. The entire cultural sector is down in visitation/consumers, so there are always conversations being had about how to be better, attract more people, and just what the heck we should be doing in the first place.

Enter Franklin Vagnone, the self-appointed Museum Anarchist. If our field has a loyal critic, its him. He has built his personal brand and his professional career on bringing the HHM out of the previous century and putting the visitor experience first. He has many loyal supporters (houses should be alive!), and many detractors (you’re going to let someone nap on your lawn?).

I’ve been following his writings and work for a few years, as promoting a quality visitor focused experience is one of the most important parts of my job. Whether loved or loathed (and his coauthor and co-researcher Deborah) he has a lot to say and brings up points for reflection. I’m mostly in his camp, we need to loosen up and refocus on what people want to discover and experience, and be less precious about the vase in the corner of our perfectly researched period room (that no one can see anyway because its behind that rope and then four feet away in the dark corner because we can’t add any non-historic lights. You understand, don’t you?).

At work we’re prepping for an overhaul of one of our site’s interpretation, our mission, and even possibly our name. We are also in the prep year for our next phase of long range plans. I needed to get some ammunition to go into these meetings, and this book, which lays out ways in which to research our sites, and make decisions which make us more inclusive and less enslaved to old ideas is going to cause waves. But in any organization waves need to happen. I’m getting ready to suggest this as mandatory reading for everyone in my organization for 2017. We’ll see how that goes.

I don’t know that this book will have interest to anyone outside of the field.  Its broken down into manageable pieces, but it is very dense. I described it to one of my colleagues as being edited with a scalpel, everything in these 200 pages is important and a point of thought, but that means you have to be invested and focused. I spent weeks working slowly through this work flagging ideas which I now need to go back and write notes about to prepare for these upcoming big idea meetings and goals. How do I make people feel welcome? How do we make the experience authentic? What rules can we throw away, which rules can we bend, what new methods do we need to instill? In the best possible way this book is making me think. It’s a very good book.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for CBR9 is open until January 13th, 2017. Come Join us.

Scandal in Spring (CBR8 #80)

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Here we have the concluding story of the Wallflowers quartet (ok, not quite, there is a Christmas book about a brother that I have already requested from the library even though Mrs. Julien marked it two stars…) and we have arrived at Daisy’s story, our last remaining Wallflower. I’ve had ups and downs with these books this year, but mostly this book ends the series on a good note.

Scandal in Spring shows that Kleypas has learned from her previous outings.  I still feel It Happened One Autumn suffered greatly in the pacing department (I was bored, and that’s never okay) this fourth book tempers the drama of the third, The Devil in Winter with the more reasonable pacing and practicality of the delightful first book, Secrets of a Summer Night (beware the beginning of that review, I probably owe the book a rewrite as it has grown on me in the last several months).

Daisy is the final remaining Wallflower and her father is done waiting for her to find a match. Lillian already nailed the most eligible bachelor in England and his business is secure, now he just needs to marry her off. In order to accomplish this goal, he gives Daisy an ultimatum: find a wealthy peer to marry or marry his protégé Matthew Swift. Daisy is not pleased about this idea.

Kleypas balances the unveiling of Matthew as not a bad man like Daisy’s father as well as moving Daisy out of the kid sister side kick role well. So much so that by the time the deed was done and these two were heading in the same direction I was not expecting the capital S scandal which is unleashed on them in the final quarter of the book. Matthew tells us it’s out there, but not what it is, and it’s a big one. This book rounds up to four and not down to three because Kleypas gives the plot time to unravel itself as it should to be even vaguely historically accurate (which she generally is, her 1840s England is recognizably 1840s) even though she doesn’t necessarily give it the page real estate it could have used. These plot points also continue to round out the cast of characters and build some good will towards them.

I’m on board with Lisa Kleypas and will be moving on to her Hawthorne series in 2017.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Won’t you think about joining us? Registration is open until January 13th, 2017.