Almost Midnight (CBR9 #75)

happy new year

Happy New Year! As a treat to myself I purchased this sparkly-covered illustrated version of two of Rainbow Rowell’s short stories which I have already read and reviewed. I love Simini Blocker’s art (I have two of her posters at home) and I love Rainbow Rowell so this was a bit of a no brainer for me.

For those of you unfamiliar, these are pretty good gateway drugs to Rainbow. Midnights is very much like her novel length works. We experience four new years’ eves with two teens who are clearly in love with each other and don’t necessarily know what to do with those feelings. I am fond of proselytizing the good word of Rowell’s ability to craft delightful, wonderful characters and these two are no less delightful and wonderful than her others.  I first read this story three years ago and they are firmly lodged in my memory the way few other story’s characters are. Also, it pulls at the heartstrings, the watching the one you want not quite manage to want you as well.

The second story is Kindred Spirits which focuses on Elena and her excitement to experience The Force Awakens,  her first true Star Wars theatre experience. We spend a few days in her company as she endeavors to have the line experience the original series and prequels audiences had. Hers isn’t like those, exactly, but she does come away with an experience all her own and a new friendship which helps her unpack the relationships she and others have to nerd culture. For me, I didn’t see The Last Jedi until just a few days ago and have watched certain sectors of fandom expose themselves as not being ready for where the movies are taking them. Rowell isn’t necessarily anticipating that, but this is a nice companion read to any viewing of a new Star Wars movie.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, my last for CBR9. At Cannonball Read we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society. Registration for our 10th annual read is open through January 2018. 


How the Light Gets In (CBR9 #74)

I traverse my reading year with Gamache books waiting for me along the way. Self-imposed rules mean that I read these books in the season which they are set, but in 2017 that still meant an embarrassment of Louise Penny and Ralph Cosham* riches as Bury Your Dead, The Hangman**, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, and How the Light Gets In happen chronologically between January and December, although across several years.

*Ralph Cosham narrated the first ten Inspector Gamache novels before he passed away in 2014. I have one more of his audiobooks and I will miss his Inspector Gamache very much.

**Technically I gave myself a pass on reading this novella out of seasonal order

How the Light Gets In follows the devastating events of The Beautiful Mystery and in many ways wraps up the threads that have been unspooling since Bury Your Dead. Gamache’s department is being turned upside down, Beauvoir has descended further into his drug addiction to pain killers, we discover who truly leaked the video surveillance footage of the attack at the dam. Gamache also has a limited time to solve a murder (or two) and uncover what his enemies inside the Surete are really up to.

It is hard to find the best way to write another review of a Louise Penny book singing its praises while also walking the tightrope of not giving the mystery away yet convincing you all to read this series. The language is delicious, the characters are so richly developed and exquisitely layered that you will want to return time and again to their world, no matter what new terrible thing is happening to them.  So, believe me and gives these a read.


This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend. Registration for our tenth read is open now. 

August (CBR9 #73)

Image result for august romina paula

For the first time in three years I am giving up on the Read Harder Challenge. Changing jobs in November (yay!) and the coming holiday bonanza has cut more severely than I anticipated into my reading time. I have knocked my review goal down to 75 from 78 and jettisoned four books from my to read list that would have completed this year’s challenge. (Expect to see some of them next year.)

The book I didn’t purge was this one, August. One of the challenges was to read a book set in Central or South America written by a Central or South American author. To me the easy choice was to expand my reading of works in translation, and somewhere in my travels I happened across August which is written by and author from and set in Argentina. Briefly the book is about a woman returning to the small town she grew up in, and while staying in the room of her deceased best friend coming to terms with herself and her life. While this book straddles the line with one of my least favorite tenses (first person present) it is really one woman confessing to her dead friend all the ways life is messing her up, and ruminating on what to do about them.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Romina Paula is under 40. Everyone I know in our early to mid-30s either is or has recently struggled in some way with the various emotions and family landscapes that Paula explores in this work. I hope this book does well enough that some of her other works will be translated, I would love to see what one of her plays is like.

I’ll be giving the Read Harder challenge a go again in 2018 (the tasks are already up and I’m already a bit concerned with finding the right books for it and me), I just have to remember to make sure I pace myself better and not save so many for the last three months of the year.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for our 10th Read is open now, you can join us to raise money for the American Cancer Society by reading what you want, reviewing it how you see fit (with a few guidelines), and posting and sharing on our main page. I hope you will!

Three Nights with a Scoundrel (CBR9 #72)

Image result for three nights with a scoundrel

I usually set myself up with reading landmarks throughout the year, to keep things interesting for myself. It also helps to keep me on pace. The past three years I have ‘read with my ears’ Tessa Dare’s Stud Club series. It was a random choice, to pick this series to enjoy via audiobook, but I’ve stuck with it and it been for the good. The narrator, Rosalyn Landor, handles the text superbly and I’m fairly certain she improves upon Dare’s early, sometimes uneven, work.

Because that is in fact what we are dealing with: Three Nights with a Scoundrel is uneven. We are wrapping up a few storylines and they are not all as strong as they could be and the pacing suffers because of it. We learn the fate of that damned horse Ossiris as well as the circumstances of the death of Leo Chatwick, plus the resolution of who Julian Bellamy really is, or isn’t but it doesn’t come together in a completely satisfying whole.

There are things I truly and unabashedly loved – our heroine Lily who is deaf and the ways she functions in a society that isn’t built to accommodate her. The emotional landscape of her relationship with Julian is also expertly handled. I also enjoyed Morland’s pregnant ward Claudia and her various interactions as they were a hoot and not without consequence. It is all the other fluff and bits around the main story that detract from what Dare does very well. We have another strange pet, this time the parrot Tartuffe, who at least has plot significance, but he shouldn’t have had to, there should and could have been better communication between the leads. I know having a parrot around a romance novel should have been more amusing to me, it simply wasn’t.

We also receive visits from both previous couples in the series so the male leads can wrap up the murder investigation (ugh), but we were seriously shortshrifted where it came to Rhys and Meredith. They are bringing a crucial piece of the puzzle to London, but are merely treated as a conveyance. Urgh. And as to that piece of the puzzle… while I am always happy for more representation of lgbtq relationships in romance novels this one felt a bit shoehorned in and if it had been telegraphed I completely missed it. In a certain way it all came together a little too much deux ex machina for my personal tastes.

This one gets three stars for all it does right, but doesn’t get rounded up to four because to my mind it didn’t live up to the second in the series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society. Registration for our tenth year is open now. 

The Real Inspector Hound (CBR9 #71)

I always get a smidge nervous reviewing short works and book club choices. This one is both. Exciting times friends!

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My immediate takeaway when I finished was that it may be too absurdist for me. But that doesn’t quite grasp the idea I was after. From my limited experience with Stoppard, he is always playing with words, playing with meaning, playing with intent, and has no problem (perhaps prefers) to have his characters speaking at cross purposes. What that does to a reader is leave them with a sense of whiplash and “what the heck just happened?” Or at least, that’s what happens when that reader is me.

The Real Inspector Hound is about theatre, critics, reality, and fate. Or it is just a play about two people sitting around waiting for something to happen, like that other one. This is early Stoppard, and I found his introduction to my edition most edifying about his process and what we received as a result. He had bits and pieces of dialogue between the characters who would become Moon and Birdfoot, but they had no purpose. He would come back to it over the years and eventually the device of the body on stage, and that body being Higgs catalyzed Stoppard into its completion. Which makes sense to me that we ramble about a bit and then land on an ending.

But that ending doesn’t mean a great deal on its own, nor does it really resolve anything. We are still left without firm footing about who each of these characters are, or even if Higgs is really dead.  I don’t think we know who anyone in the play is at all, making the “real” in the title a red herring. It’s a similar play on words to “Absolutely True” in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

As we move from the word play of our critiques and their supercilious language and self-absorptions, to the play within the play which is riffing on any number of genres, there is a moment where the characters have already been pulled into the maelstrom of events. It probably happens before the play begins, but there’s really no way to know for sure. The character motivations and choices that had led them to this moment and we’re off. Without Higgs’ dead body on stage, there’s no reason for Moon to be there miscommunicating with Birdboot, without Birdboot’s fascination with leading ladies he isn’t drawn onstage and on and on.

What does the author have to say about it all? Quite a bit actually. Here’s a quote MsWas found from Tom Stoppard in Coversation:

I originally conceived a play, exactly the same play, with simply two members of an audience getting involved in the play-within-the-play. But when it comes to actually writing something down which has integral entertainment value, if you like, it very quickly turned out that it would be a lot easier to do it with critics, because you’ve got something known and defined to parody. So it was never a play about drama critics. If one wishes to say that it is a play about something more than that, then it’s about the dangers of wish-fulfilment. But as soon as the word’s out of my mouth, I think, shit, it’s a play about these two guys, and they’re going along to this play, and the whole thing is tragic and hilarious, and very, very carefully constructed.”

So where does that leave us? As I said over in the Cannonball Book Club Discussion Post “I feel like he is both fucking with everyone and very carefully critiquing the ever-loving shit out of existence, while just having a go at a dead body on stage.” And that about sums it up.

This play was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Mockingbird: I Can Explain & Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda (CBR9 #69 & 70)

I had been itching for a while to get my grubby mitts on Chelsea Cain’s eight issue run of Mockingbird. I had been following along with some stellar reviews at Cannonball Read, as well as Chelsea Cain’s experiences with this her first venture into comics via the media. She was nominated from a Best New Writer Eisner for this run but Marvel Corp failed to pass along pertinent information to her about how to attend, etc. this summer and all that happened after rabid so-called fans chased Cain off of Twitter last October because volume 2 of this run, Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda, featured the character wearing a shirt with the same.

As the books’ two Eisner nominations would suggest these are quality work, both from Cain as writer and the amazing roster of artists who put in more than common effort to make for simply stunning visuals.  I have not read many comics, but the style of these from the lettering to the color scheme made them incredibly easy to read while feeling warm and welcoming. That plus Bobbi Morse’s unique sarcastic delivery via Cain made for a treat of a reading experience.

Bobbi is our narrator and shapes the story, setting the tone as it suits her. She can be unreliable and twists her recounting of the events we experience as she wants. But this topsy turvy narration experience is built on strong bedrock of character: this is a series that balanced its deep, introspective look at its lead character with superhero-related ass-kicking and zany-ness, all while not shying away from her personality quirks.

These are genuinely wonderful, clever, and funny comics. This is to my understanding a step to the side of what traditional comics are; the creative teamed played with structure and character in ways that make the series feel fresh and funny, but also expected the reader to be engaged. If you are going to get the full Mockingbird experience you have to pay attention. The issues in Volume 1 can be read in any order, there is a litany of easter eggs hidden in the background art which add layers and meaning to the action on the page. I often stopped and just unpacked the visual banquet waiting for me on each page behind the dialogue bubbles.  While this run is named for her alter ego Mockingbird, this is really a conscious look at Bobbi Morse as a character both beyond and including her super hero identity. She is a woman fighting for her place in the world, and not being quiet about the bullshit she sees around her.

Mockingbird presents its lead as a lens through which to have timely (when is there not a good time?) discussions about gender, toxic masculinity, sex, and love. These subjects become crucial to understanding the way Bobbi thinks and operates as both a woman dealing with her troubled relationships and as a hero in a world that always told her she couldn’t be one. The series is quietly a deeply personal examination of Bobbi while not being afraid to bring the funny (there are mercorgis folks, what more can I say?) but at the end of the day being more than just a quick little jaunt.

All in all it made me miss Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird on Agents of SHEILD. I feel like she would be the perfect person to play this version of the character, which is pretty close to the one she played on the show.



This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.