I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (CBR10 #14)

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I was floored by this book. I’m glad that I was able to sit and read it over the course of one day, to really sink into it and give it my full attention. Yesterday my region was hit by our fourth nor’easter of the month (seriously, I’m ready for second winter and March to find the exit) and since my job often makes us come into work in terrible weather conditions, and I live in a pretty inaccessible place, I spend most snow days staying in the guest room of the lovely Ale and her husband. Bonus for me was that I had a true crime book to read about a serial rapist and murderer who has not been caught and I was going to spend daylight hours with people, one of whom is a police officer. Huzzah!

I like true crime, but I usually get my fix via television or podcasts. I did a quick search of my books for the past few years and it looks like I’ve only read one since I started Cannonball Read – The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse. That book, and my enjoyment of it, has a lot in common with I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Michelle McNamara took her obsession with the Golden State Killer and made it accessible to the rest of us, in beautifully crisp chapters built on her exquisite prose. Her writing is chock full of detail, but it never feels overwhelming . McNamara crafts the world of the Golden State Killer, and finds the balance between the facts of the case and making meaning from them. The writing is never lurid, but it doesn’t flinch from the truth of the crimes committed. But most of all the entire book I infused with a sense of curiosity, of wanting to know the truth, the answer.

I imagine that Ms. McNamara would have been a great conversationalist, but not necessarily in the way we generally use that term. We usually mean that someone is great at talking about anything, but my favorite kind of conversationalist is someone who is able to weave together several topics to elucidate a larger concept. The raconteurs.  Michelle McNamara was one of those people, and her posthumously published book introduces us to a fantastic writer with an enormous gift for research who was taken from us too soon.

I’m not the most likely candidate for this book: I never read Ms. McNamara’s website, True Crime Diary, and I’m not overly familiar with the Golden State Killer or any other monikered killers.  I did read Ms. McNamara’s article “In the Footsteps of a Killer” for L.A. Magazine, but my memory of it is vague.  I was concerned before I started this book that the unsolved nature of the crimes would leave me feeling empty, or depressed, and while the very nature of GSK’s crimes (over 50 rapes and 10 rather gruesome murders) did affect me greatly McNamara structured her narrative in a way where the not knowing isn’t a detractor it is instead just another facet of the story.

My big take aways from this one? People don’t call the police enough for legitimate issues and we are living during the great changing of the tide for cold cases. May the officers on the case and the amateur sleuths aiding them be successful, and may the victims have healing.

Five unapologetic stars for a book that made me feel why introducing me to a lovely person and a truly terrible one, and all the ones in between.

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

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A Wish Upon Jasmine (CBR10 #13)

Last fall I picked up the first book in the La Vie en Roses series, Once Upon a Rose. Due to some ridiculous writing by the New York Times at about the same time, my review of that book is mostly subsumed by my rage about the way genre writing is discussed by major reviewers. However, I found much to be enjoyed in Laura Florand’s writing, and was excited to return to the South of France for a little refueling between One of Us is Lying, The Hate U Give, and Missoula.

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In A Wish Upon Jasmine Florand continues playing with tropes and deconstructing classic story structure, but this one is a quite a bit less light and frothy. In A Wish Upon Jasmine the trope Florand is tweaking is the “Big Misunderstanding” that usually takes place much later in standard Romance fare. The “Big Misunderstanding” is what keeps the main couple apart, some occurrence which they have come to opposite conclusions. For this book the “Big Misunderstanding” happens before the beginning of the book and in much the same way that Loretta Chase’s A Duke in Shining Armor the reader is dropped into action already in progress. Unfortunately, Florand did not do it as well as Chase, but that is a very high standard indeed.

In the second book in the series we are following the relationship of Damien Rosier, the self-appointed “mean one” in this generation of his family, following the lead of his father and grandfather. He is really the glue that holds his family’s (and hometown’s) perfume business together. It falls to Damien to take care of the money that finances his family’s dreams and to that end he has created around himself a steel shell, but it protects his soft heart. Six months ago he met Jess and fell head over heels following a one night stand, but she ghosted him based on several factors in her life. Neither has really recovered.

Enter Tante Colette, our story engine. She gifts Jess the Rosier’s family perfume shop in Grasse where she can get back to the nuts and bolts of her profession and put together the pieces of her family history. We then spend the next two thirds of the book watching Damien turn himself inside out to repair the relationship with Jess while she is naïve to the point of emotional blindness. It made for a slog of a read both in the beginning while trying to figure out what happened before the book began and piecing together the timeline, and then in the back half watching the main characters slam together like rocks falling off a cliff.

And these two things are what keep me from wanting to rate this anything above 2.5 stars. But, Florand wrote dynamic, fully fleshed out characters in an evocative settings with an emotionally vulnerable hero and she also portrays the intensity of emotional and sexual attraction with a deft hand, and it makes me want to rate this 3 stars or slightly higher. I am at an impasse with myself.

Looking over the book descriptions of this series and her L’Amour et Chocolate series I think I am going to go back to those books and start again. While I am interested in seeing what comes to pass with the other Rosier cousins (official and otherwise) I think I want to go back and lay in more groundwork with the work of a contemporary writer whose craft I appreciate.

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 (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

The Hate U Give (CBR10 #12)

Quick Review: This is a very good YA debut by Angie Thomas and it is important reading to be done in this cultural climate in the United States. Thomas clearly, and evocatively, brings the reader into the layered life of a black teen in today’s United States with its systemic racism. It reminded me of of my own history, and my lived experience, and grew it out. But it isn’t a primer in the way that Between the World and Me is, it is a story, a beautiful narrative of coming to terms with things that are impossible to come to terms with all while living your life the best that you can. I highly suggest this and will be on the lookout for more of what Ms. Thomas writes.

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Longer thoughts:

This book is made of lovely, delicate moments that add up to a complex whole. Thomas, with her first novel, y takes on racism and police shootings through the eyes of her 16-year-old narrator, Starr Carter. Starr is an engaging narrator who straddles different worlds and in unpacking the kind of code switching life Starr leads, Thomas creates a sympathetic and complex protagonist.

There’s so much to notice in this book, so many layers to peel back. The Hate U Give masterfully covers dozens of topics, and with care. Through Starr’s narration we are exposed to what’s it like to be one of the only Black students in a private white high school, life with rival gangs in your neighborhood, code switching and curating your persona based on where you are and who you are with, interracial dating, seeing your friend shot and killed, protests and discovering what purpose they serve and where the line is between protest and riot.

This is an outstanding novel for teens and adults to begin reckoning with what it might be like to witness, and be the victim, of injustice and violence. The nuanced way Thomas treats the shooting of Starr’s friend Khalil, and all the people involved provides any number of entry points for the reader. Thomas even gives nuance to the characters who express racist ideas, imbuing them with the reality of how their individual worldviews would be shaped.

Ms. Thomas also delivers readers a chance to engage in self-examination when it comes to racism and our response to the increase in police shootings of unarmed people of color. In the nearly 450 pages of this novel Thomas gives plenty of examples, but the one that stuck with me the most was the brewing, and then finally exploding, argument between Starr and her white friend Hailey. We have a problem in the United States with the use of the indefinite article in front of the word racist. For my generation of white folks (Oregon Trail Gen X/Millennials) we were raised with the notion that a person was “racist” if they were so demonstratively. What many of us have learned since is that this educational paradigm was wrong. It is possible, and staggeringly LIKELY, that we will all say and do racist things without being the bogeyman that we imagine “a racist” to be. Privilege makes us push back against it, we think to ourselves “I’m not the bad actor here, I’m just saying/thinking what other people are saying/thinking”. Angie Thomas pulls that string and unravels how indoctrinated our society is with the idea that “bad” kids who are acting like “thugs” somehow don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt while the “good” guys who are using “necessary force” must be presumed to be acting correctly. It is shameful, and it is unfortunately nothing new, but we do need to be talking about it and this book is an important component of the conversation, because as a reader you see Thomas call bullshit as she tears apart the idea of the “thug” by introducing us to Starr, and Khalil, and Seven, and Kenya, and Devante, and all of the other characters living in Garden Heights.

Structurally the book has several sections which jump forward in time, some small jumps, some larger. The pacing is built around how Starr must deal with the fallout of being the witness to Khalil’s murder. In this way Thomas gives a primer on the process of how extrajudicial killings by police officers are dealt with in the criminal justice system. It also shows in unmistakable light how the rage of watching unjust things happen turns into flat-out rage at the world around you, and how “thug” behavior of riots and looting occur.

The tension, the twists, the pauses, the resolutions, all of these left me content, but my world wasn’t shattered. Thanks to the #weneeddiversebooks crew, of which Ms. Thomas is a part, we are getting the diverse books we need in our hands. You do need to read this one, even if YA isn’t your genre.

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 (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

The Holy or the Broken (CBR10 #11)

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In much the same way that my brother’s visit inspired me to pick up Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry the Winter Olympics pushed me to move The Holy or the Broken up my to read pile. There were several figure skaters who performed to some version of “Hallelujah” and I’ve always had an interest in this iconoclast of a song, so the book was already on its way to me by happenstance (it was however delayed by over 20 days in arriving thanks to some unforeseen issues in the library transit system. The snail was epically slow.)

But the delay meant that I had the book ready to go after watching these performers interpret the song in a physical setting, making me all the more ready to read what amounts to an oral history of the path of this unlikely success story.

First, my bona fides: I’m not entirely sure when I first heard this song, but it was probably the Jeff Buckley version, and most likely sometime between 1998 and 2000. That however was no less than the third iteration of the song and it would have been about fifteen years old, and at least five since that specific rendition was recorded. But, I got on the “Hallelujahtrain before Rufus Wainwright and Shrek.

In The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, & the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, Alan Light traces the history of the song’s creation, its reinventions, and its turn as a pop standard of the American Songbook. Since its debut on Cohen’s Various Positions album in 1984 “Hallelujah” has never held still. Light chronicles Cohen’s career leading up to and moving to what amounts to the present day as this book was published in 2012, as well as highlighting the other major recordings of the song. He unpacks the differences in each version, and how the song sustains such a diversity of interpretation. This book  looks at the personalities, and the situations that led to different renditions while engaging in a discussion of how the listening public has seemingly moved beyond listening to the meaning of the lyrics and how “Hallelujah” has become an emotional touchstone which cues us to emote, or allows us the space to do so.

Light also lets in the conversation about whether or not there is too much “Hallelujah” in pop culture these days, and what the effects of Jeff Buckley’s untimely death had on the legend of his iteration of the song. In some ways this is a slim work, by tracing two artists, one with a tragically short career and the other who stepped away from the limelight for years at a time and zoning in on their one shared song Light gives himself tight parameters. It doesn’t stop him from discussing other interpreters of the song including Bono, or Paramore, but it does mean that in some chapters he is retreading the same ground. There is only so much to say, or so much insight to be gained, from the ubiquity of the song on singing contest show circuit in the early to mid-2000s. But at 231 pages, those times are blissfully brief.

I can only suggest this book to people who have a sincere fondness for the song, or one of its nearly two dozen covers. I enjoyed my reading during the recent nor’easter, but I cannot say that the experience would necessarily be shared by many others.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, race to 52, review how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.