Mine Till Midnight (CBR9 #7)

Image result for mine till midnight

I said in my review last year of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter that I was particularly interested in seeing the character of Cam Rohan given his own book since Kleypas had taken the time to develop his character in an interesting way. Mine Till Midnight is that book, and the pairing of Cam and Amelia Hathaway five years after the events of Devil in Winter delivers on the promise, but falters a little in the overall package. It is much closer to the kind of check-in story I was hoping to find in A Wallflowers Christmas.

Mine Till Midnight (ugh with that title – its grammatically incorrect. House Grammarian takes issue) is Cam and Amelia’s story, and it works well: he knows he needs change in his life, so wants to finally abandon his gadjo ways and go back to being a Rom. Instead, the change he needs turns out to be a life with Amelia and taking on the various aspects of the life of her family as she tries to pull them up to respectability but will accept survival without embarrassing themselves. She is take charge and family focused, often to her own detriment.

Amelia’s family is a mess. Her older brother Leo is in a serious depression following an illness and the death of his fiancée, sister Win also suffered the same bout of scarlet fever and is physically diminished, Poppy is in need of a proper debut but they cannot provide one for her, and youngest Beatrix has a slight kleptomania problem in addition to any number of other things. Add in de facto brother Merripen, a gypsy who was adopted by the Hathaway parents following his abandonment and who is desperately in love with Win but won’t say anything about it because of propriety you’ve got one hell of a mess. When the Hathaways inherit, Amelia thinks things will improve, but instead things deteriorate.

Amelia is, to me, a standard eldest sister. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to her: I see some of myself in the way Kleypas builds the character of Amelia. She puts family first, worries over the details that others are only partially aware of, and does not want to let herself love after a heartbreak. Cam is taken with her looks and personality, and finds within himself the desire to put all the various Hathaway troubles to rights especially if that means binding himself to Amelia for good.

As I said, this is a good historical romance. Nevertheless, I’m rounding from 3.5 down to three stars so there must be a reason. There are a couple:

  1. The supernatural stuff. Cold rooms, ghostly presences, a change in the eyes. It was unwelcome, to me, in this continuing of the Wallflowers universe.
  2. All plot threads are left dangling to the last 50+ pages to be resolved. Something could have been resolved earlier, and some receive just a single sentence.
  3. Consent issues. Several times Amelia tells Cam that she does not want to sleep with him wherever they are (often a potentially public or unsecure location) and he goes right about moving things along regardless of her wishes. This is a historical, and in many ways I’m able to make the mental divide between the realities of then and now (particularly with Kleypas since she tends to do a better job than most of sticking with historical accuracies), but given the climate of the world around me right now the idea that Amelia’s bodily autonomy was not respected more often than not left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, readers love a take charge lead, but taking charge doesn’t mean ignoring your partners input.
  4. Too much story set up for the next books. We spend a lot of time with the fall and redemption of Leo, and many pages are spent with Merripen and Win setting up their book (which is the one I avoid, right?). Some of Kleypas’ best writing is in these scenes, but in combination with the Leo and treasure hunt (seriously, WTF?) it was all too much.

I am looking forward to checking in with the Hathaways during the year, and hopeful for continued sightings of the various Wallflowers.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come join us and say fuck you to cancer.

Advertisements

Bury Your Dead (CBR9 #6)

Image result for bury your dead louise penny

Often it can be difficult to review a book in the middle of the series, particularly on the first read through. I don’t know, for example, what will happen to the characters in this story as the next 6 novels progress, I only know that they exist.

This means that I can only trace the works as they culminate in this book, Bury Your Dead. Bury Your Dead is, however, not a book which can stand alone: it is tied inextricably to its predecessor The Brutal Telling. I will have to spoil that book in order to discuss this one, so after the next paragraph, SPOILERS can be found.

I listen to these on audio, since Ralph Cosham was the perfect pair to the material.  I cannot recommend highly enough that you take this series on if you enjoy classic mystery novels. In an interview at the tail end of the recording Penny discusses the adventure of creating these books and building the community of Three Pines, the characters who inhabit it, and those who come to visit. She speaks earnestly about creating characters true to life, and not caricatures. I was also pleasantly excited to hear her discuss these books as not being cozies, which I certainly didn’t think they were. Penny is an author with a good idea, the character of Inspector Gamache, and she is dedicated to exploring all the stories that build out the person he is, and the various facets of a personality.

Spoilery zone.

Penny uses a new layout for her arsenal to tell three stories simultaneously. We work forward in time with two, and backwards

Of the two plots which work in forward time, the first links with the end of The Brutal Telling. Gamache and company arrested Olivier for the murder of the hermit. Olivier has told too many lies, and while Gamache has built and the prosecutors have won the case against him and he is in jail. Bury Your Dead picks up over a year later, with Olivier in prison and his partner Gabriel writing Gamache a letter every day, enclosing his favorite candy and a handwritten note with one question  “why would Olivier move the body if he committed the murder?”. Gamache is unsure about his findings following another tramatic event, and deploys Beauvoir to build the case as if Olivier is innocent.

The plot which unfolds in reverse order, with a touch of nonlinear storytelling deployed, is that of how Gamache and Beauvoir came to be recovering from nearly catastrophic injuries and the discovery of who kidnapped Agent Moran.  The final thread is that of the investigation of a murder in Quebec which Gamache finds himself pulled into as he finishes his convalescence at his former chief’s home.

Other than time this various strings would not necessarily be bound together, and the novel could certainly be read on a surface level where you do not unpack anything further. I am occasionally guilty of doing just that with the Inspector Gamache books. However, the struggle to face our shortcomings, and our fears, and our mistakes its linked across every facet of this novel. Penny continues to tell us stories about art, food, and death as well as meditations on the human condition.

This book, and the next A Trick of the Light, was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Big Little Lies (CBR9 #5)

Image result for big little lies

Cannonballers love Liane Moriarty, and they really love Big Little Lies. I could no longer hold out against the deluge of positive reviews and the upcoming HBO series produced by Reese Witherspoon who has a history of putting her money behind female driven projects.

Hot take: It is quite good, but I was able to call all the big twists save one. Read it before the HBO series arrives in late February if you want to be a smug book reader.

More in depth review to make MsWas happy:

Big Little Lies is told from the point of view of three different characters, all moms to the incoming kindergarten class: Madeline, Celeste, and Jane. Each is at a different place in her life, a different stage, and each has a BIG thing they are dealing with during school year.  Big Little Lies is also, however, a carefully plotted look at bullying amongst children and adults. Finally, Big Little Lies is mystery about the unraveling of a death at a school function.

It doesn’t sound as good in blurb form as it is in execution, no matter how much I play with it.

The characters, even the ones who only appear in end of chapter pull quotes from the interviews (and what an awesome way to include further character point of views and conflicting information), are all designed to pull you in, and they do the trick. In theory I shouldn’t have wanted to skip other things I’m doing in order to work through 460 pages of bullying, domestic violence, divorce and second family politics, but I did.

As I said above, I really enjoyed this book, and the workmanship Moriarty has on display in it. I’m going to leave off here, and keep this review rather vague, because I want you (for the dozens who still haven’t read it) to go in clean, like Station Eleven, I feel like that’s the best plan.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read which raises money for the American Cancer Society and enjoys saying FUCK YOU to cancer.

Career of Evil (CBR9 #4)

Image result for career of evil

OVERALL THOUGHTS

4.5 rounded up to 5 stars, because this book deserves a higher ranking than its predecessor.

I had thought the world of Rowling’s writing was done for me. And then. AND THEN. This series showed up in my life and I have the gift of her back. Writing intricate but not unsolvable mysteries where the clues are right there in front of you, and if you are anything like me only make sense to you after the big reveal.  No BBC Sherlock magic here, just good writing.

SPOILER FREE GENERAL REVIEW SECTION

I’ve gone back to my reviews of the earlier books and while The Cuckoo’s Calling didn’t blow my skirt up, I noticed dramatic improvement in The Silkworm and both shone with Rowling’s characteristic strengths: she can build the hell out of her world and build characters of incredible depth without acres of exposition. She shows, not tells. Rowling’s gotten comfortable and moved away from the paint by numbers approach (which was on full display in The Cuckoo’s Calling), while still embracing the mechanics of the genre.

Career of Evil is a step above. The Strike books are ever overly grand in their setting or pace, but this story dials it down to the point of precision of a master craftsperson.

Book three in the series finds Strike and Robin in the crosshairs of a man bent on revenge against Strike and planning to use Robin to exact it. Our antagonist’s opening salvo is mailing a dismembered leg to Robin at the office. Rowling uses the technique of laying out the antagonist’s goals from their point of view, then opening the First Act and having Strike lay out the possible suspects to draw the reader in. You have just enough information from the antagonist’s point of view to think you know who did it.  Rowling allows you to go on that way for a bit, and then layers in how ALL of the suspects fit the information you as the reader have.

And then the game is on.

This book has plenty of plot. SO MUCH PLOT. There are murders, stalkers, police investigations, road trips, narrow misses but that isn’t what pushed me to round this book up to five stars. But we’ll get there in just a second.

But before we go into spoiler land, I cannot suggest enough that you listen to these books on audio. Robert Glenister is the second best narrator I have listened to, and is only second to the incomparable Ralph Cosham who reads the Inspector Gamache books.

Here we go.

SPOILERY IN DEPTH TALKY TIMES

What this book is really about is sexism. Rowling burns down the misogyny of both daily life and violence against women. She shines a light on all of the incidental ways woman are made to suffer and are put at risk by the world we live in, and she has very obviously been heading here from the beginning because we finally have the Robin backstory reveal.

Seriously, I said spoilers.

There’s a lot of detailed violence and rape in this book, including Robin’s story of her rape and recovery. With this narrative move, laid in place way back in Cuckoo’s Calling we have the heart of the discussion that Rowling is placing under all the other violence of the book. The perpetrators are men, the victims are women, and it’s not always about outright violence.

It’s a discussion of sexism both casual and pervasive that Rowling achieves by letting us into the minds of the antagonist, a serial killer who objectifies women; Strike, a man who tries to be good and still ends up short sometimes because it’s difficult to overcome the effects of his white male privilege, history with his mother, and military training; and Robin who is objectified, victimized, and mistreated by the most important people in her life despite being more than competent.

Rowling gives us another wonderful heroine in Robin. She explores how Robin took control of her own recovery (defensive driving and self-defense courses) and we learn that she is so committed to the work that she and Strike do because she wanted to be in this field before her attack and felt as though it was taken away from her. But she’s overcome what happened to her, and she’s strong as hell (sorry for that earworm) and better able to take care of herself then either her partner or fiancé think she is. Both have their own veiled sexist ways of trying to protect her, and Robin is steadfastly not letting them put her in mothballs as she was following her collegiate rape. This however has major implications for both the mystery portion of the novel and the character driven aspects of the book.

Robin and Strike’s personal lives serve as foil for the case they are attempting to solve. Robin and Matthew’s relationship is rocky at best in the beginning of this book, and then Matthew confesses to cheating on Robin following her rape, WITH A FRIEND WHO IS STILL IN THEIR LIVES (the fucking asshole, seriously if you were on the fence at all about Matthew at the beginning of this book you won’t be at the end) their engagement is called off. Which then leads Strike to notice all the more closely how his new girlfriend of about six months just doesn’t measure up to Robin, and we as the reader are allowed to see how he struggles to keep Robin in the “coworker” box all this time. It, plus the dangers of a case where they are both targets, creates an increasing sense of tension as more and more victims accumulate.

I’m running out of words to talk about the end of the book, but it’s dramatic, and with all good mysteries the clues were there along the way, there’s no trick. The personal entanglements got the better of me as Robin goes back to Matthew and their wedding occurs.

Because still: Fuck You, Matthew for that dick move. YOU DO NOT GET TO DELETE VOICEMAILS AND BLOCK CALLERS ON YOUR FIANCEE’S PHONE, JACKASS.

I don’t know how the smile Robin gives the battered Strike while saying I do to dickweasel Matthew is going to play out, but all I can say is: Please let book four be released this year. PLEASE.

Also… on audio, which I already mentioned I LOVE, there’s 20 minutes of acknowledgements and song credits. I THOUGHT THERE WAS MORE BOOK. I AM STILL MAD/SAD THERE WASN’T MORE BOOK. I NEED MORE ROBIN, STRIKE, AND THE DELIGHTFUL SHANKER MY GOD I NEVER TALKED ABOUT SHANKER.

Ahem, I’ll see myself out for now.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We’re pretty awesome if I do say so myself, why don’t you stop on by and see what wackiness we’re up to.

Talking as Fast as I Can (CBR9 #3)

Image result for talking as fast as I can

We already have a couple of reviews of Lauren Graham’s newest book Talking as Fast as I Can over at Cannonball Read and from the people I’m also friends with on Goodreads I’m sure there will be more. I am going to weigh in now with my review, and it’s this: the book is good, in parts only okay, with moments of great. Three stars.

Wait, you want more? Okay, fine. But, I don’t like coming in with the first meh review on this one.

Graham got her writing deal based on a book she started writing on the set of Parenthood, which as a Graham aficionado I have of course read: Someday, Someday, Maybe. That book was also good, and I rated it three stars as well, but that may have had something to do with the depression I was in during CBR5. Very little got through the malaise in 2013. Her authorial voice in the memoir is different from in the novel, and that was good. Very good news actually. But… I preferred her tone in Someday.

I bet this book works better in audio. The things that bothered me had to do with repetition in the short page count (barely over 200 pages). I love a parenthetical aside, but with books written from first person singular as if in conversation with the reader, the same asides can grow old fast.  Just how many times am I expected to think it’s cute that she’s saying hello to the various hosts of the Today Show as she references the morning show circuit?

The great stuff is that Graham shares her personality with us, and it’s very much what you would expect. It was nice to get an idea of her personal history and I enjoyed the stories about her extra year, undergrad, and eventually graduate school. I loved the chapter where she assesses her career history and the loving way she talks about both Gilmore experiences and Parenthood.

Also, and this really is a nitpick; I did not enjoy reading about what a struggle it was to get this book published on time. I was excited to see where certain projects are in the pipeline (I really am excited for her collaboration with Mae Whitman for The Royal We) but, it was a little off-putting.

Hopefully those of you who are going to read this love it more than me, but know that I really did enjoy my time reading it, and thanks to ellepkay for my book exchange gift!

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

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (CBR9 #2)

Image result for daughter of smoke and bone

I try to read a little bit of many different genres throughout the course of any given year. However, like most people, I lean more heavily on some genres than others. Fantasy, while one of our most read genres (over 150 pages of reviews!) on the Cannonball Read, has been a slowly growing genre for me. It took some in depth discussions with Ale for me to nail down my problems: I have a very difficult time getting my brain around non-Earth settings, and the tropes, particularly the Quest, do not always hold my attention.

Which brings us to a work of Fantasy that I should have read three years ago when it was gifted to me as part of the Cannonball Read Book Exchange instead of just letting it wallow on my bookshelf. To the best of my recollection I became aware of Daughter of Smoke and Bone all the way back in Cannonball Read 4. Yes, this has been languishing on my to read list since 2012.  But, I was nervous. Then I read My True Love Gave to Me, really loved Laini Taylor’s story in that collection, and felt like I could finally read this… two years ago.

In fact, this book had been on my shelf so long I had forgotten what it was supposed to be about in the first place and actually went in cold. Here is a synopsis from Goodreads for those who want more information than I apparently did.

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That question haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?”

I absolutely LOVED the beginning of this book. The world that Taylor builds around Karou and Brimstone felt lived in and real. The building out of our heroine felt natural and dynamic.  I was deeply curious about the mysteries embedded in the narrative as Taylor laid in more and more detail. When Akiva arrives on the scene, things only get more complicated and interesting.

The middle section of the book suffered a bit for me (there’s some well-handled instalove, but I automatically have trepidation about it whenever it shows up). The final section while incredibly well played kept one of my favorite characters off page (that feels like a spoiler, but for the dozen of us who hadn’t yet read this book I’m intentionally staying super vague) and had me contemplating a four star rating. Then I immediately looked up the next book in the series, put my request in, and will be picking it up this evening. Any book whose sequel I want to read immediately is a book that deserves to be rounded up to five stars. This is not a perfect book, but it is a brilliantly put together one that left me engaged, entertained and desiring more time with the characters and their journeys. It’s a win, folks.

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

Dukes Prefer Blondes (CBR9 #1)

Image result for dukes prefer blondes

Here we are again lovelies. It’s the beginning of another Cannonball Read and I am telling you about a romance novel that I enjoyed and picked up based on the suggestions of other cannonballers. It’s the system at its finest, really.

We almost read this one for Book Club last year, and part of me wishes we had, and another part of me thinks this one would have been a little too tropey as well. And I say that knowing full well that it ended up on Mrs. Julien’s best of list for CBR8.

I don’t normally struggle with reviews, but I’m having a tough time coming up with my point of view on this one. Dukes Prefer Blondes didn’t really grab me out of the gate, and that might be my own fault for reading it before bed on vacation. The book is also fourth in a series, and I haven’t read any of them. You don’t need to, but I could tell there was backstory I wasn’t quite piecing together in the early part of the book.

Our romantic pair in this outing is Oliver “Raven” Radford and Lady Clara Fairfax. She was raised to marry a duke (I believe see book 1 of the series for further details?) and he is a barrister like his father and third in line to a dukedom, but his cousin is only a few years older than him and it looks as though he will continue his life just as it is. Of course, that’s where Lady Clara arrives needing his help to find and rescue a boy from a nefarious crime figure. Drama Ensues.

The parts of the book which focus on the relationship building between Raven and Clara worked for me, particularly when he needs to convince her family to let them wed. But the narrative felt uneven in places, as though the three distinct acts of the book were actually three novellas all about the same characters. I’m not complaining, really, just processing as I type. Ah, I’m a little rusty at this reviewing thing

So, to recap: yes, read this book, but your mileage may vary.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, now in its ninth year. You can join us in reading, reviewing, and saying fuck you to cancer until January 13, 2017 when registration closes. Otherwise, please just come on by and read reviews or keep an eye out for our Book Club posts. All are welcome.