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.

 

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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. 

Lord of Scoundrels (CBR9 #16)

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This friends, is why you review books right away. Because I don’t really remember a darn thing about this audio book I finished it last Monday.

You see, I’ve been packing, and moving, and generally trying to survive work. While not the best time to try to read and review, let’s see if I can’t give this book a fair shake. You’ll be getting review in bullet point format.

Overall impressions: it was good. I cranked up the audio speed though because the narrator was a bit laconic in her delivery, but her vocal differentiation worked well. The heroine, Jessica Trent, is the draw here. She has everyone’s number and will bend events to her will.

General Thoughts about this Romance Offering:

  • Our hero, Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain is a tough character to root for. He’s the damaged sort of male who is going to make the world suffer for his lot in life but when Loretta Chase is on, she can make this Alphahole type work. I begrudgingly found myself liking him and rolling my eyes at him the same way that his ladylove did.
    • He also has ISSUES with women, and that can make for a difficult read, be warned.
  • Jessica Trent is the type of sterner stuff you want to see a romance lead be made of. Yes, the various plot points surrounding here can feel far-fetched for even Regency romance reading, but I love her. She starts the book as a spinster bluestocking of no consequence by choice, she’s intelligent, sharp, quick witted, perceptive, and she has interests and (shockingly) a career plan. She grounds the otherwise audacious plot offerings.
  • In the second half of the book Chase does the unfortunately unexpected for the genre and has her characters establish an honest relationship beyond the physical, and its one of the books many strengths.
  • The always present but often unwelcome subplot problem: A note to authors from your very own faintingviolet – you do not have to string the McGuffin that was your meet cute item all the way through the story and have some sort of terrible calamity around it. There was enough calamity with the secondary plot of the by-blow son.
  • When the big reveal about the son happens we aren’t subjected to pages upon pages of misunderstandings, but instead the characters have grown and developed their relationship and instead we get a chapter about dealing with the problem head on. Like grownups.

I’m going to end this review by quoting Mrs. Julien, because she sums up the overall feeling of the book better than I’m going to be able to today.

“ He takes one look at Jessica and wants to lick her from head to toe. She takes one look at Dain and wants to rip all his clothes off. LET THE GAMES BEGIN! It’s beauty and the beast meets reformed rakes make the best husbands meets tortured hero, with a side of moustache twirling by minor characters trying to ruin everyone’s day. “

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come on over and see what everyone’s reading and reviewing, you never know what you’ll find.

Moonraker (CBR9 #11)

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It would appear that I am in the minority as regards my opinions regarding Moonraker, the third James Bond novel by Sir Ian Fleming.

I didn’t much enjoy it.

Moonraker is back to the three-act structure we found in Casino Royale, and the three acts are decidedly similar. Act one is background knowledge via gambling, act two is the discovery of the mission and its true scope, act three is the part where Bond makes his moves and recovers from the physical cost of the mission (Fleming should be commended for not flinching from the realities of the physical suffering).

There are people, and people I trust (Cannonball Read’s own Halbs!), who rank this book as “the platonic ideal of a Bond novel”. In fairness, I see their arguments, I respect their arguments, but I simply do not agree that the final product should rank anything above three stars.

Arguments in favor of this book are usually based around these points. I have opinions:

  • The Baddie. Sure, there’s a believable, larger than life baddie with an amazing name. But he’s cartoonish.
  • It’s a classic Cold War anxiety plot about the lurking nuclear threat. Okay, this one they get.
  • Our heroine: she’s calm, cool, collected, and an intelligence agent that Bond respects, but also puts the moves on (spoiler: he fails!). Gala did nothing for me except for the brief scenes when she is trying to extract crucial information about the Moonraker launch and gets caught. It’s the only time I felt she had distinguishable characterization. I’ll admit she’s more like Vesper from Casino Royale than Solitaire from Live and Let Die but she’s still nowhere as good as Vesper.
  • Henchmen whose uniformity makes sense. But, everything about them felt off to me and only made sense after the preposterous explanation of the cartoonish baddie.
  • A gambling scene, which as a demonstration of understanding and of Bond’s skills works, but it stalls the book.

I’m listening to these, so some of Fleming’s wordcraft hits me differently, but my goodness Bill Nighy might be the best match yet to voice to Bond. Even when the story was loosing my interest Nighy’s voice pulled me back in.

Also, it should be noted I am a fan of the complete ridiculousness that is the movie version of Moonraker. What can I say, I love Jaws and ridiculous Roger Moore as Bond action. You can judge for yourself whether to trust my opinions.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We read books and write reviews in order to say fuck you to cancer. Join us, won’t you?

Career of Evil (CBR9 #4)

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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.