Jane Eyre (CBR10 #53)

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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.

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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.

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The Long Way Home (CBR10 #35)

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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)

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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.

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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)

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)

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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.

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.