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.

A Life in Parts (CBR8 #83)

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When I found out that Bryan Cranston would be publishing a book in 2016, I was on the lookout. I am a late in the game Cranston fan, but there’s something about the roles he’s chosen, and the way he conducts himself in public that spoke to me, and I thought, I’d really like to know what he has to say. Since I had particularly enjoyed his reading of The Things They Carried I decided to go with the audio version.

Here’s the thing about this book: Cranston has the goods. He’s an introspective writer unpacking the sixty years of his life and his nearly forty-year career with wisdom and clarity. Badkittyuno and Caitlin D have laid out how wonderful this book is and what a good person Bryan Cranston is, not perfect, but lovable.

And here I come in with a three-star review.

I’ve had some ups and downs with memoirs and autobiographies this year. I’ve also had a bunch in the middle. Here’s what I think kept me from loving this book, even though I should have. Other than a gimmick (each chapter is categorized by a role whether as an actor or as a person) there is no real point to how the narrative is broken down. Cranston chronicles his life from beginning until the years following Breaking Bad, but that’s about all. There’s some good soundbite insights that you’ll likely see quoted elsewhere, and cautions about making sure you are making the correct decision for you, and not for someone else, but I felt myself left wanting with this one.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration is open to join us for CBR9 through January 13, 2017. Cannonball Read is an annual, memorial book challenge to read and review 52 books in a year. Or 26. Or 13. Choose your level and read to meet your goal all while fundraising for the American Cancer Society in the memory of AlabamaPink.

Twice Tempted by a Rogue (CBR8 #79)

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At the tail end of 2015 I listened to my first Romance audio book. It was an interesting experience. Not my favorite, but also not bad. Since I started the Stud Club books that way, with Tessa Dare’s One Dance with a Duke I figured I would continue on that path for the series and picked up Twice Tempted by a Rogue.

Then I promptly forgot to read it as I worked through other books this year. When I finished We Should All Be Feminists and All the Single Ladies I needed a fluffy palate cleanser: audio book romance to the rescue!

First, I liked this one quite a bit more than its predecessor. It wasn’t burdened with world building. This is relatively early Dare, and she gets better at pacing those things out, but for now she only had one new location to introduce and a relatively small cast of characters straight out of central casting to introduce so things went more smoothly. The title is ludicrous, which is a problem with the genre as a whole, but c’mon, nothing here is remotely accurate.He’s not a rogue, she’s doing the tempting, and the temptations are nonstop.

We follow Rhys St. Maur and Meredith Maddox as they square off and fall in love. Easy. He’s the very definition of a tortured soul and she’s a by the bootstraps survivor. They have a shared history, and it is both a boon and a problem for their furthering relationship. I’ll say no more here because this is a very straightforward love story and to recount the play by plays just doesn’t serve it.

The MURDER subplot is back, but it is contained to the second half of the novel and only completely dominates a couple scenes. We are also in the “someone else is off looking for clues” portion where we as the reader can sit back and let that disaster of a story line wait for the third book. The final quarter of the book is a bit cheesy and overly dramatic (Cave Ins! Runaway Carriages!), which was probably exacerbated by there not being as many story lines cluttering up the narrative as there was in One Dance with a Duke. Dare may have felt the need to ramp of the DRAMA, when really, this book had great small scale romance elements, a la Lisa Kleypas.

But I really enjoyed my time with these characters, and while its tough sometimes to listen to narrators have to be in the voice of the opposite sex, the narration here was good, even at 1.25 speed. I’m an outlier, this book is the lowest rated of the series over on Goodreads, but I liked it quite a bit – for exactly what it is.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration is open through Friday January 13 for Cannonball Read 9.