Managing Expectations (CBR15 #14)

Unbeknownst to me, I’ve been following along with Minnie Driver’s acting career in real time since her debut in Circle of Friends. Several of her performances have stood out to me over the years and as I have a fondness for memoirs, picking hers up seemed inevitable and going the author read audio route all the better. For almost a week Driver’s voice accompanied me on my various drives (and notably in and out of Philly for work in a day) and it was truly delightfully pleasant.

That might seem like faint praise but given my reading year delightfully pleasant is really quite high praise. In Managing Expectations Driver is thoughtful and introspective, unpacking the personality quirks and lived experience that make her who she is. About half the book skips through Driver’s childhood as she grows up in the shadow of her parents’ failed relationship and the fact that her mom was her dad’s mistress and her mom’s battles to maintain custody of her daughters in the 1970s.

The subtitle of this book gives an important indication of its parameters. Driver selected stories that highlight various times in her life and explore a larger topic or theme. I won’t go into them here; I’m hoping you’ll read them for yourself (also… its been four weeks since I read this) but while her career is a focal point it isn’t the only one. The complexities of life are the real point of the book. Driver approaches it all with grace. Grace for herself, and grace for those who were in and out of her life.   

Sakina’s Restaurant (CBR13 #10)

Sakina's Restaurant

In trying to get out of my reading slump I went back to my old Audible library to see what was hanging out there that I hadn’t listened to yet. One of the books there was Sakina’s Restaurant by Aasif Mandvi. I thought I was getting a straightforward short story not a recording of a one man show, and that effected my experience, I think. There’s a way you tell a story when you are going to be in front of an audience versus when you’re recording on your own; there’s an energy in an audience. Aasif Mandvi (Actor, comedian, and writer) originally performed this work off-Broadway 20+ years ago (and won an Obie Award for it). While this recording intends to capture the experience, I think it falls short.

Sakina’s Restaurant tells an age-old story: a poignant tale of immigrating to New York in pursuit of the American dream. In this case it is specifically the story of an Indian Muslim man who goes to America to search for a better life which for him means to become a millionaire. Once in America he works as a waiter at his uncle’s restaurant. It is from that place that we the reader are introduced to the rest of the cast of characters: his uncle, wife and their two children. The work is centered on a man’s desire to give the best to his children who have grown up and ‘forgotten’ their values and culture. The larger themes are of lost and broken dreams, but at under 90 minutes it just doesn’t get there.

A Mind of Her Own (CBR11 #45)

A Mind of Her Own

This one was okay and therefore 2 stars. I don’t often rate books 1 or 2 stars, at this point in my Cannonball history my to read list is pretty well-honed in on books that I’m going to have a good response to (making them 3 stars or higher). But, back in the spring when I still had an Audible subscription this was one of their free Originals so I scooped it up.

I’m not sad I chose it, I just wish it knew what it wanted to be.

In 75 minutes of audiobook Paula McLain goes about telling the story of Marie Curie before she accomplished all the things that made her famous, when she was still Maria Sklodowska, a 25-year-old student of physics and chemistry at the Sorbonne.  McLain has several false starts, painting a picture of a stark and withdrawn Marie who has sworn off interpersonal relationships for the single-minded goal of succeeding where so few women were even allowed to be. She also pursues the Marie that excels where others do not. We also get the Marie who still Lived in Warsaw and watched her sister and mother die, and hatched a plan to get her remaining sister and herself the university degrees they would ned to pursue their dreams of medicine and science.

But, McLain never really commits to any of these versiosn of Marie, bouncing between them and overlaying the love story of Marie and Pierre and his steadfastness in contrast to her determination to return to Poland, to work in science, and to succeed. He imagines a life where they can do those things together (short of moving to Poland, but the real Pierre did offer to follow Marie there). She eventually capitulates and they are married, within 8 years they will earn the Nobel Prize.

While A Mind of Her Own didn’t hang together for me, it certainly wasn’t the fault of Hillary Huber’s narration, she did a great job with the material at hand.

Calling Me Home (CBR10 #62)


There are few things more disappointing than a book you had high hopes for letting you down. I really wanted to like this one, but the writing bothered me too much. The story is fine, not great but fine. There were a lot of stereotypical plot contrivances along the way. There were several times I rolled my eyes; popular media needs to stop perpetuating lazy stereotypes.

So, what is the story about? After hearing  a story how her grandmother fell in love with a young black man when she was a teenager author Julie Kibler took that inspiration and wrote a book about how that may have played out. We meet Isabelle McAllister as an elderly woman living alone in Texas and as the story unfold, we learn in flashbacks about Isabelle’s teenage years in small-town Kentucky in the 1930s, and the impossible romance that develops between her and Robert Prewitt, the son of her family’s housekeeper. The secondary story is that of Dorrie Curtis, a single mother in her thirties and Isabelle’s present day hair stylist. In much the same way we learn about teenage Isabelle in her POV chapters we also learn some of the details of Dorrie’s life and the relationship between the two women, despite their different ages and races in her POV sections. Together, they are on a cross-country road trip to a funeral where the great reveal of Isabelle’s past will come to light.

Like I said before, the writing itself bothered me. I’m not a first-person lover, but I’ve warmed to it over time, however, deployed in less than spectacular ways it can become clunky and that is exactly what listening to this audiobook felt like. This book used a lot of informal speech instead of actual descriptions, which misses the beauty possible in describing feelings and situations when a story is told well in first person.  Structurally the flashback chapters are set up to be Isabelle telling Dorrie about her past in detail, but tonally it didn’t land. I found myself waiting desperately to get back to the Dorrie chapters to recap the Isabelle ones and move the plot forward.

It felt as if the author wanted to cram a ton of issues into one book simply because there were big issues surrounding the meat of her story. Some of the events—the bigotry, threats, and brutality—are familiar and predictable and I can see why that would appeal to most readers. Unfortunately, I am not most readers.

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 for the American Cancer Society.

Want to join us in sticking it to cancer one book at a time? Registration for our ELEVENTH year is now open. 

Jane Eyre (CBR10 #53)

Image result for jane eyre thandie newton

For many, Jane Eyre is part of the reading undertaken during their education. For some it is read in high school, for others college, but for me it never joined the reading lists of my various courses. In fact, until several years ago when I read Agnes Grey I had read nothing at all by any of the Bronte sisters. It is however fully in the milieu of a reader’s culture; I understood it enough to get the jokes in Texts from Jane Eyre and Hark! A Vagrant.

I have seen cinematic versions of the story (quite enjoying the Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender version and the visual world built around them by Cory Joji Fukunaga) but I don’t know that even those had prepared me for the version of the story written by Bronte. I had been meaning to read this for years, and had the audio version read by Thandie Newton (a lovely narrator) waiting for me in my Audible account. With the advent of CBR10 Bingo one of my white whales became This Old Thing, as it was published in 1847 – 171 years ago.

I suppose this story is well known, the orphaned Jane Eyre is expelled from her aunt’s home at age 10 and sent away to school. Eight years in residence there prepares her to be a governess and she finds a position at Thornfield Hall as the governess of Adele, a young French orphaned girl. She enjoys her life there, even if it is a bit quiet and mundane. The owner of Thornfield returns, the house becomes livelier, and over time and conversations a love connection is formed between Rochester and Jane Eyre.  Rochester’s past and the madwoman in the attic prevent their marriage and Jane leaves Rochester to attempt a life of her own on her own terms. Events however bring her back to Thornfield Hall.

While the gothic elements of the novel do place this firmly in its time, it also has incredibly beautiful and descriptive turns of phrase throughout, and such language makes this a classic which has kept its place in the great pantheon all this time. The book moreover doesn’t sound its age, if that makes sense. It is of course more formal than our writing is today; there are references and allusions that no longer match our daily lives, but this is in so many ways a modern novel.

Its modernity does not prevent it from being both long (over 19 hours of audio or about 600 pages) and slow. While on the whole I enjoyed my time with the novel, and with Thandie Newton’s voice portraying Jane as she often broke the fourth wall to refer to me as “dear reader”, it did not prevent me from finding myself needing to be at a secondary task while listening: I needed to drive, to color, to cook, or clean while I was reading with my ears in order to keep myself engaged.  As Jen K said in her review “these people don’t have conversations, they monologue at each other”, and there was one point following the discovery of Rochester’s attempt at bigamy where his character spoke for nearly an hour straight.

In addition to being incredibly personal, Jane Eyre is a novel of intensity; it is a passionate depiction of a woman’s search for equality and freedom. We see Jane become an individual and stand up for herself as a person worthy of whatever agency and independence she can carve out for herself. That, for me is the crux of the novel – it is at its core the story of a young woman who chooses herself above all else. When her principles and sense of self were going to be compromised, she removed herself from the harmful situations causing them to be so time and time again, from that of a small child begging to go to school to walking away from two proposals of marriage. Yes, there is romance, an exploration of passion and sexuality (fire and ice abound), and an examination of the extremes of masculinity (Mr. Brocklehurst, Mr. Rochester, St. John Rivers), but those are merely elements surrounding the center. We see in Bertha (the woman the book locks in the attic) the dearth of agency and independence that was possible and probable. Jane’s aunt Mrs. Reed, Miss Temple, Helen Burns, Mrs. Fairfax, Bessie, and the Rivers Sisters show the smaller continuum of expectations available to women and the vagaries of life Jane is navigating.

Image result for jane eyre quotes self

This book is 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 for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

The Long Way Home (CBR10 #35)

Image result for the long way home gamache

In order to pace myself I read the Inspector Gamache books in the season or month they are set and it has been eight long months since I last visited the greater environs of Three Pines. Book nine, How the Light Gets In, had a feeling of finality to it, of bringing together the various storylines and setting a new normal for our characters. I was unsure what I should expect when it finally came time to read The Long Way Home, what would life look like in Three Pines now that Gamache had retired there?

In reality what I found was characters and an author trying to decide what is next. The Long Way Home refers to several things, and certainly the book is chronicling how Gamache and others come to terms with the actions necessitated by the end of How The Light Gets In, but it is also a study in the character of Peter Morrow even though he is largely absent from the page. It has been over a year since Clara kicked Peter out, and she is finding the weeks of silence following when he should have returned to Three Pines to be filled with ever-increasing dread. Why has he not returned? What has happened to him? She is concerned enough to ask the still recovering and newly retired Gamache to help her find him.

Gamache and Beauvoir do help Clara, and the majority of the book trails the Clara-led journey to find Peter, visiting new locations and old characters along the way. It is hard to find the best way to write another review of a Louise Penny book, particularly when I’m not fond of it, while also walking the tightrope of not giving the mystery away. The mystery in this one isn’t who committed the murder (although there is eventually a confirmed murder) but rather what is keeping Peter away. I found it hard to care why Peter was missing, or if he had in fact reformed from his terrible ways which led to Clara kicking him out in the first place.

The other let down for me in this book was the lack of a secondary plot. Everything is very linear, including the direction of the hunt for Peter. In a certain way Gamache and Beauvoir are going through the motions, and in much the same way of my other least favorite, A Rule Against Murder, we are kept almost entirely away from Three Pines and its residents. The portions of the book which interested me were when Penny went poking around in the psyches of our characters, but we get less and less of it as the book continues.

The language, however, is delicious and Penny finds ways to insert food into her narrative to describe locations and character moods. The characters are richly developed and beautifully layered that you will want to return time and again and Penny charmingly and closely describes some new enchanting food in each chapter. I’m not kidding, of the 41 chapters in this book I think 39 had some glorious description of exquisite food, just enough to add some lightness to the book as well as make the reader hungry.

This was the final Ralph Cosham narrated Gamache book, and I will miss his work greatly. His voice is the voice of Three Pines for me, and I hope to be able to read the next few books in his voice.

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.

Scrappy Little Nobody (CBR10 #34)

Image result for scrappy little nobody

I went away this weekend with one of my favorite people and we spent our time looking at gorgeous scenery, visiting museums and historic sites, and eating and drinking local. In doing so we spent a lot of time in the car going from place to place, so my travel buddy suggested we listen to Anna Kendrick’s autobiography because he was sure I would really enjoy it. This is why he’s one of my favorites, perfectly lovely weekend away and happy to re-listen to an audiobook because I would want to read it.


This book, in turn, was really good for what we were looking for it to be: entertaining and an easy way to keep conversation going (10 hours in and out of a car is a long time, no matter how much you like the person you’re travelling with). Kendrick is a little younger than us, and even though her life has some very different aspects to it (Tony nominated teenager, Oscar nominated young 20 something) there was still plenty of reflections about growing into your adulthood when we did that hit a very truthful note and definitely gave us things to commiserate about, remember, and laugh about.

So if I enjoyed it so much why is it only three stars? Because it doesn’t really rise above what it is, it’s a pretty straightforward memoir that clocks in at about 6 hours of audio (probably more if anyone else narrated it, Kendrick speaks quickly). She’s honest about who she is, what her experiences are, but she’s not diving any deeper. If you like her Twitter presence, you will like this book though; her authorial voice is the same.

The Cuckoo’s Calling (CBR10 #27)

*Note: This reviews were completed in 2018 before the author’s hateful views towards our trans siblings was widely known and acknowledged by the author. My reading experience was what it was and these reviews will remain up, but it should be noted that I find her TERF values abhorrent and will no longer be supporting her through further readings or reviews. 

I don’t scorn rereading (see please, my Harry Potter reread), it just isn’t something I do often since I joined up with the Cannonball crowd back in 2012. It is sometimes very difficult to find new words to express a reaction to a book, and now that writing a review is part of my reading process I cannot skip a review. If I read a book… I’m reviewing it (with the exception of on book back in CBRV, but I still reviewed it on Goodreads).

So, why did I dive back into the world of Cormoran Strike? Several reasons, actually. I was longing for the world of these books, having spent 18 months away from them, I was willing the announcement of the publication date of book four, Lethal White, into existence (we got it!), and I had purchased the audio of the first book in the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling several months ago because I wanted to own the complete series as read by Robert Glenister. Which meant that I had spent money on a book that I had already read, so I should probably read it again to help justify to myself the purchase price (worth it).

So what is The Cuckoo’s Calling for the uninitiated? It’s a classic murder mystery in its style and delivery. Strike is an injured war hero, he’s just broken up with his mysterious fiancée after a long on and off again relationship, he’s the son of two famous people but eschews the spotlight for himself, and is dead broke. He’s hardened and grizzled, and he’s clever where others aren’t. He is also dogged and determined, and endearingly befuddled like all great investigators in fiction. Robin is the eager sidekick, super competent at all things, with agency: she has desires and wants and fears and ambitions that come to life over the course of the book and series. The victim is a gorgeous supermodel who apparently jumps to her death, but her grieving brother can’t accept how the case was closed and hires Strike to find out what really happened, and hopefully before their mother passes away from end stage cancer.

On the surface it would be easy to say that these books don’t share a lot thematically with the Harry Potter books, but I would disagree with that assertion. This is also a story where the unsuspecting forces of good battle to resist the forces of fear and hate. The characters of Robin and Cormoran are rediscovering themselves, unpacking who they can be and are in the pursuit of knowledge, of truth (how more Hermione can you be?). Additionally, the writing has a similar and familiar structure, Rowling’s style of writing flows easily; she uses plenty of adjectives and humor and is very good at putting you in the room with her characters. I’m watching along with the BBC miniseries as I reread, and it is so noticeable when the adaptation moves away from Rowling’s plotting – the character motivations are diminished. The adaption for the first book, which is three episodes, should have been enough time to lay the story arc out as Rowling wrote it, there was no need to move some plot points around or change the nuance of Guy.

But I digress. My complaint about this book when I read it back in 2015 was that the beginning was too slow, I no longer agree with that assessment. As I sat in my car listening to the world unfold I was happy to have the time Rowling puts into her worlds – she is not so much a builder as a suggester, but she does quite a bit of character and world building in the first quarter of the book before launching us, securely, into her better-than-average mystery. The series works on re-read (so far) on the strength of its characters and getting to spot the clues that Rowling left for us in plain sight.

My reread of this will continue in a few weeks, I’ve got a new shortened deadline to get these read again (although I know I have to wait a bit past publication for the audio version to be released).

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

Born a Crime (CBR10 #4)

Image result for born a crime

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.

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.