Born a Crime (CBR10 #4)

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Last year there were several glowing reviews of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime at Cannonball Read. Based on positive word of mouth I had already picked up the audio version which Noah narrates himself. I was intrigued by Noah – we’re the same age (well, I’m almost exactly a year older) but our lives couldn’t be more different, and I love a good memoir.

For the many reasons life throws your way I did not manage to listen to Born a Crime in 2017. However, fast forward to New Year’s where I am terribly sick, it was ridiculously cold, and the friends I was staying with decided to stay in and do nothing but watch Netflix and read books (there are many reasons why these women are some of my favorite humans on the planet) and we ended up watching several of Trevor Noah’s specials, and a documentary called You Laugh But It’s True which features a baby-faced 25 year old Noah breaking into the comedy scene and putting on his first one man show, The Daywalker. I was immediately mesmerized by the trajectory of this man’s career. In less than 10 years he went from comedian to respected host of The Daily Show.  (Full Disclosure, I have never watched The Daily Show with either Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah as host outside clips here and there.)

The documentary hit on some of the same stories he revisited in the book, giving a careful overview of what is was like to grow up in South Africa. In Born a Crime Noah stops being careful and instead explains in detail the realities of his life, the lives of his friends, and his mother. Noah’s mom Patricia plays a large part of his life and it is reflected in the book. I feel as though I know as much about Patricia Noah as I do about Trevor at the end of the book. She is simply amazing. Read this book, go to Netflix and find You Laugh But It’s True so that you can but faces and voices to names and see the world that Noah so lovingly recreates in his writing. The book has some pacing issues, but this is a great memoir and a fascinating look at an interesting life.

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.

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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. 

Three Nights with a Scoundrel (CBR9 #72)

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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. 

Northanger Abbey: an Audible Original Drama (CBR9 #63)

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While I love almost all things Jane Austen, I have a slightly bumpy history with Northanger Abbey. I read it for the first time back in 2013 when I was trying to make sure I had read all of her major works, and this was my last (I still have the minor works, but I’m in no rush with those). 2013 is in some ways my dark Cannonball year. I hit a major reading slump during a depressive episode and didn’t read for months at a time. Northanger was my thirtieth book that year but I declined to review it, ending at 29 with Eleanor &Park instead.

I struggled reading it then partly because of where I was emotionally, and partly because I made the grave error of reading the introduction first which gave away all the fun of the novel. BOO to Alfred Mac Adam, professor at Barnard College, Columbia University. Last year a friend lent me Marvel’s Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey comic to try it again and I came away from that experience much more positive about the story. The important thing I took away on second go was that this is Austen being down right hilarious in her authorial voice, I was not sad to revisit it once more.

Northanger was the October selection for the Go Fug Yourself book club on Goodreads. I decided to bump my audio copy of Northanger up the to read list and get to it. What I hadn’t realized was that this was yet another adaptation, in the vein of the comic I read last year. Anna Lea had taken Austen’s novel and broken it up into an audio drama which Audible cast masterfully. Seriously, it features Emma Thompson as the narrator/Austen as well as Eleanor Tomlinson, Ella Purnell, Jeremy Irvine, Douglas Booth, and Lily Cole. By further pulling the narrator’s voice outside of the goings-on of Catherine we the reader are treated to an even more biting commentary of the gothic novels promulgated in Austen’s time.  Also, it doesn’t hurt to have Austen’s observations delivered in the biting tones of Emma Thompson.

I am enchanted with the steadfast goodness of Eleanor Tilney, the bright eyed innocence of Catherine Morland, and the textbook baddie nature of John Thorpe. I find myself now much more positive in my appreciation of this work than I was four years ago when I encountered it for the first time.

 

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.

 

A Farewell to Arms (CBR9 #56)

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A few weeks ago, I put out a plea on my Facebook page – I had overlooked choosing a book for this year’s Banned Book Week. While emmalita sang the praises of This One Summer a book I already had on my to read list (which I did read that week), another friend gamely suggested that I read A Farewell to Arms since he was reading it as well. I checked out the audio offerings, and decided to give it a go since John Slattery narrated it and I’ve been meaning to read Hemingway this year anyway (I had For Whom the Bell Tolls already in this year’s to read list).

Friends, I did not enjoy this reading experience one single bit. Not even John Slattery’s voice could bring the characters to life on the page. It became more of a trial than anything else, and finally I just turned the speed up to be done with it and listened while doing chores around the house.

The only previous Hemingway I read was The Old Man and the Sea and I remember having the same feeling reading that book nearly twenty years ago that I do with this one: boredom. I will say right now that I am probably an outlier in this opinion, and Cannonball Read’s own bonnie wrote a review for Cannonball Read 5 giving it 3 stars and laying out the things Hemingway does well in his craft that kept her engaged. Unfortunately, those same things left me cold. Where Hemingway’s quick, short sentences which fit perfectly the topic of war, and the bursts of action captured by the style made bonnie feel connected to the setting, it instead placed artificial distance between me as the reader and Hemingway’s characters.

I have struggled for years to describe why first person present tense narration in literary fiction often fails to engage me. I think I finally found my answer in my review of A Room of One’s Own last month. I did not “hear” the voice of Hemingway’s protagonist Frederic Henry, instead I was listening to him rattle off the activities of his life (not entirely dissimilar to Sookie Stackhouse narrating her own life – I know, harsh).  It almost always falls into tell not show, or at least that’s my experience with Adult fiction. YA does it better, because those authors are generally more comfortable making their narrators story tellers as opposed to fact spewers.

I also know I’m reading this 85 years too late, as the context implied for Hemingway’s  contemporary readers is not as readily accessible for his modern readers. I know the general history of the Great War, but I don’t know and understand the details the way a contemporary reader would have. Even though this book laregely did not work for me, I can understand why it was Hemingway’s first major success.

 

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

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (CBR9 #30)

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I have had this book on my to read list since CBR5 in 2013. This year I decided as part of my overall Cannonball goal of 78 books, that I was also going to work my way through my audiobook and owned book backlog. A little. With that goal in mind I set up a monthly goal list, with a book or two I already own, a book or two I have in audio form in Audible, and then I pick a couple more to take out from the library.

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In making up April’s goals, I came across The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in my Audible account and put it on the list. I promptly pushed it off the list to May and here we are. The fun thing about putting a book on your to read list five years ago and purchasing it two years ago means you often go into it completely forgetting why you added it in the first place. I mention this to say that I went in with zero expectations of what this book would be like, or what its format was.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel, made up of letters, telegrams, and notes created by the characters inside its pages. I am generally unsure about this style, although I’ve quite enjoyed Sorcery & Cecelia, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Attachments (yes, that one counts). Which must have been why I decided to try it in audio with a full cast, since that approach has worked for me in the past. It worked this time. I will never know if it was the great narration or simply the beautiful language that pulled me in, but both are worth your time.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is structured around Juliet Ashton, an author who survived the Blitz in London, and her various relationships with old friends and new. The new friends are all on the isle of Guernsey, where one of her books ends up. Its new owner, Dawsey Adams, reaches out to Juliet for help in tracking down more books by the same author and the plot is off to a running start.

Cannonball Read’s own J Coppercorn mentioned to me on Twitter that this one reminded her in feeling to Anne of Green Gables, and I cannot disagree. It has the same unfolding feel of life on a country island. I also mentioned its similarities to Sorcery & Cecelia, but I’m leaning more towards Tall Pine Polka now that I’m done. In her only book, Mary Ann Shaffer balances between the realities of loss and suffering the island of Guernsey suffered during occupation in World War II, and the ramifications for her characters, but she also layers in the more lighthearted and humorous. That is one of the qualities I most appreciate about Lorna Landvik’s book.

Finished by her niece Annie Barrows after she passed, Mary Ann Shaffer is also working through what reading means to people in this book. So many of the members of the Literary Society were not readers before the alibi became a truth, that we as the reader (and likely word lover) get to experience the discovery of the solace, the enrichment, and the joy of books with these characters.

And for me, it doesn’t hurt a bit that there’s a little love story woven in as well. Get in now if you haven’t already, its currently being filmed and a movie version will hit theatres next year.

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

Everything I Never Told You (CBR9 #22)

I don’t know how I feel about this book.

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There is so much that this book does well, starting with its beautiful prose. It’s loosely a mystery, but more in the ethereal way that mysteries exist in our lives when tragedy strikes. There are some questions that we will simply never know the answers. This book unravels the ambiguities of familial relationships and societal pressures which shaped its characters and leaves us with enough unresolved to feel real, and true.

Each character in this family is fully formed and three-dimensional, and our central character, the now deceased Lydia, carries the burden of the expectations of those other characters. Her parents, like far too many parents, place the pressure on her to be what they wished they had been. It is enough to choke whatever she would have wanted out of the realm of possibility.

Lydia’s death is not a spoiler; the book opens with its acknowledgement. The greater mystery of the work is how she could have died in the manner she did without anyone truly knowing what happened. No one in her family saw past Lydia’s serene façade.  Her parents viewed her through their own expectations and the show she put on, and her siblings knew her better, they knew of anger, they knew  she could be scheming but also deeply lonely. However, did anyone really know her?

I don’t know that I’ve ever read something that does such a good job of capturing the complicated web of family dynamics, and that may be the reason that I was in some ways turned off from the novel. It all rang perhaps a little too true, a little too close to home for me to sink into this work of fiction. For that perhaps I should rank it highly? But what about my overall ambivalence to the work, and coaxing myself to read it? Should that not rank it lowly? Instead, I will demure, and leave it unrated.

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