Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “faintingviolet”

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #52 (!) Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

*commences happy dancing*

This is my 52nd Cannonball Read 4 review, and I am typing it on December 31, 2012! I did not dare to dream I would reach this goal (I only signed up for a half cannonball), but since I have it is fitting that it’s for reading a book I was not sure I ever would.

Why I was relatively sure I wouldn’t read Devil in the White City was that while it focuses on the men and women (but mostly men) who designed and built the Fair it also focuses on killers lurking in Chicago at the same time, one of who used the Exposition to lure his victims. So y decision was made, since I didn’t feel like reading about serial killers I was simply going to move past this book on the shelf. Then, earlier this summer I watched a documentary about the same serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes, born Herman Mudgett. I was intrigued by the story of Holmes and decided that I could in fact abide reading his tale through Larson’s authorial voice. I’m ever so glad I made that decision. Read more over on my blog.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, completes my Cannonball Read 4!

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #51: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

I picked this one up on a lark. I’m a sucker for girly movies which are played too many times on Basic Cable. It should be obvious that I watch a lot of Diane Lane movies. One of them is Under the Tuscan Sun based on the book by Frances Mayes recounting her experience moving to Italy. When I picked up the book I hoped to discover more of the characters whom I loved so much on the screen: the young lovers, the Polish laborers, and the Fellini-crazed woman in town. This was simply not to be.

All the book and movie have in common are the female lead, Frances, and her home – Bramasole. Bramasole and the Tuscan countryside drive the narrative. To quote another reviewer on Goodreads “Plot: Author summers in Tuscany, buys an old farmhouse, refurbishes it, travels through Italy, and cooks constantly.” This is pretty much it folks. But the story of the multi-year restoration and refurbishment of Bramasole make for an entirely engrossing account of what life can look like when you dare to dream a little bigger than you let yourself dream before. There are other parts of the book, for example traveling to Etruscan graves, which are less captivating. In fact I was as bored reading about her excursions as her husband seemed to be in doing them.

Earlier in the Cannonball I reviewed Rob Lowe’s memoir and said that one of the more interesting facets of that autobiography was his seeming openness to talk about the events which had occurred in his life. There is a similar chapter in Under the Tuscan Sun, which serves almost as an epilogue, in which Frances discusses how the movie went about filming in Tuscany and what it was like to see yourself and your story taken apart and reworked. This was intriguing reading for me.

While this may not be the book you are looking for if you love cheesy Diane Lane movies (which is a shame since the edition I read has a picture of Lane as Frances on the cover) it certainly is a nice slice of life to visit for a change of pace.  Since she cooks and cooks it is also a nice treat that many of the winter and summer recipes are included in the book. I only wish that I had remembered to photocopy them before I returned the book to the library!

 

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #50 The Witness by Nora Roberts

Last Nora Roberts of CBR4! Well, for me J

Before the gargantuan task of the Cannonball had been set before me (by me, for a fantastic cause) I had stayed away from romance novels, and specifically Nora Roberts books for several years. My graduate program simply ate all the time I had, and a smaller part of me was ashamed at the sheer amount of romance novels I consumed to that point in my life. So, I took a break. Then I realized that if I was going to attempt a real go at this thing I needed books that I could sail through in a matter of hours to help offset the books which would take weeks to read. And also the weeks which would not permit much free time to read at all. This is when I fell back into love with Nora Roberts.

The Witness is perhaps a return to Roberts at her best. Earlier this year I reviewed The Search which along with Black Hills shows Roberts not at her thriller best.  The Search and Black Hills each had their strong aspects and their weak moments, but The Witness is strong throughout. The Witness is the story of Elizabeth, a teenage genius who acts out against her controlling mother and finds herself caught in the middle of a mob execution. The book is broken up into four sections, each chronicling a different segment of Elizabeth’s life and named for a different person. The first section introduces the reader to the 16-year-old Elizabeth as she experiences that fateful night and the subsequent weeks in protective custody. Later sections delve into her life on the run, her current identity, the local sheriff determined to learn all about her, and her eventual plan to put things right.

I’ve intentionally left much of the detail out of this review, purely for laziness’ sake. I will mention that Roberts’ excellent job outlining her locations, from Chicago’s tony neighborhoods to Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains. This one also features a male protagonist straight from Roberts’ own central casting – Brooks Gleason, police chief in a small town after time in a big city police force, quirky parents, and two older sisters, one of whom is married with kids and they all live nearby. A truly fun read, possibly less for its thriller concepts and more so for intricate storytelling.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #49: The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

This year I let the Cannonball be my excuse to spend more time with Sarah Vowell. I have on my bookshelf several of her books (Radio On, Assassination Vacation) but there were several books I had yet to tackle. The Wordy Shipmates was one, and one that I continually confused with another Vowell book The Partly Cloudy Patriot. I re-read The Partly Cloudy Patriot for CBR4 because I forgot that I had already read it. In my defense it had been years. Now I’m happy to report that The Wordy Shipmates lives up to the other Vowell books I have had occasion to read.

In The Wordy Shipmates Vowell digs deep into th history of the Puritans who arrived in what would become Boston under the leadership of John Winthrop. This is a book following the exploits of a community and leader who would fight the Pequot War, banish Roger Williams and Anne Hutchison, and get into a battle about where our fascination with ‘the city on the hill’ really comes from and just how Puritan much of popular American culture remains.

For more of this review please visit my blog.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #48: The Devil in Music by Kate Ross

When I started reading the Julian Kestrel mysteries earlier this year based on Siege’s review of Whom the Gods Love I knew there were only four novels because the author, Kate Ross, had passed away in 1998 after battling cancer. Now that I have read all four books, I wonder how much Ms. Ross knew about her impending death when this book was published the year before. The Devil in Music is a powerhouse of a novel, and longer by far than any of Ms. Ross’ other works. It also unpacks the riddle of Julian Kestrel so completely that this reader is not saddened by the fact that there are no more stories of his antics. 

The Devil in Music finds Kestrel traveling on the Continent with his loyal servant Dipper and his bereaved friend MacGregor. It’s the autumn of 1825 and Julian is looking for both the joys of travel but also to escape some of the fame of his crime solving successes. Hearing of a murder uncovered after 4 and a half years in northern Italy, Julian decides to throw his hat in the ring to help solve the crime. And it is investigated and solved. One of the best compliments I can give Ross is that she does not fall back on deus ex machina answers to her mysteries.

 The layers of storytelling employed by Ross and her band of characters (once again receiving their own listing in the front of the book) keep the mysteries unsolved for over 400 pages. I won’t delve into them because I want you to read the book with fresh eyes. Simply know that there are murders to be solved, persons to be found, and secret identities to be uncovered. You can proceed with the Julian Kestrel novels knowing that you will be satisfied, although with characters so rich there can simply not be enough.

 

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 #47: The Summer of the Great-grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle

A friend of mine has a blog where she discusses her feminist ideals as well as books which relate to feminism. She gathers ideas for what to read from varying sources and reads across a wide range of genre and time. The Summer of the Great-grandmother was difficult for her to track down, so I borrowed it for her from my library system(sshhh don’t tell them). When she returned the book to me she suggested that I read it as well, since some of the topics covered are of interest to us both. I figured why not?

I am not disappointed in my choice to read Ms. L’Engle’s book. In fact, I should probably announce right from the beginning that this is the only L’Engle book I have ever read (yes, that means that I have not read A Wrinkle in Time).  I did not know what to expect as far as authorial style but I must say that I was pleased to spend several evenings in the company of Ms. L’Engle and her family. For, although the book does focus on the end of life care for the titular great-grandmother, L’Engle’s own mother, it also delves into the various stories of those who came before – sometimes tracking Ms. L’Engle’s roots back to her three times great-grandparents and the type of life they led in the early 19th century. In fact, as Ms. L’Engle was born in 1918 many of the stories she recounts take place in 19th century America, and more specifically in the post-Antebellum South.

I was born in the north, and raised in the South. I am of two minds about almost anything. I have a cutting Northeast-based way of handling coworkers and friends, but sink back into a more demure, Southern way of handling instances where I feel put-upon or diminished. L’Engle very effectively shows the reader the various strings of familial ties which led to her own personality and that of her mother as they are both simultaneously of two worlds.

The book is broken up into sections which travel in reverse time order. The first section deals with the great-grandmother as she was that final summer – sinking into the debilitating effects of atherosclerosis. The second focuses on the mother of Ms. L’Engle’s memory, where the reader learns not only about the great-grandmother, but of the author in equal doses. The third focuses on the great-grandmother’s life before the birth of her only child at age 38, as L’Engle describes “the mother I could never truly know” and the family history of ‘tell me a story’. The final portion of the book deals with L’Engle’s experience during her mother’s death.

This is not a light fluffy read, nor is it a lecture. It is merely the musings of a highly educated and highly imaginative woman as she deals with the decisions we will all likely face. How do we decide what’s best for our loved ones at the end of their lives? I couldn’t recommend this one more highly.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #46 Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Somehow I managed to not review this one for three weeks. I am unsure how that occurred. I know I started writing this review several times, I guess I haven’t finished it until now. The third Anne book is almost as good as the first two. I don’t know if reading any of the following Anne books will be as wonderful as reading the first, but they all fall nicely into the heart. Anne of the Island finds our hero attending college, and all that means.

 

What I learned about myself reading this one is that it is difficult to watch anyone you care about go through the pratfalls and indecisions of late adolescence. While much happens in these books the plot point which stands out to a reader looking at the long game is Anne’s relationship with Gilbert. At the beginning of their sophomore year at Redmond Anne and Prissy, Phillipa, and Stella have been able to rent the adorable little house along the park where many wonderful things happen. But it is also here that Anne turns down the marriage proposal of Gilbert. In fact, Anne turns down not only Gilbert, but four others as well over the course of the four years in Kingsport. It isn’t until the end of the fourth year that Anne discovers she was very wrong in her notions of romantic love.

 

There’s lot s else happening with Anne as she ages from 18 to 22 and discovers  life on her own terms. Her best friend is married and has a child, the sale of her very first story, to name but a few. The overarching feeling I had while reading the adventures of Anne and her friends was that I wanted to sit and talk with them the way I sit and talk with my sister who is about the same age these days. This did not lessen my enjoyment of this book in the slightest.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #45: Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery

I love Anne. I love how she strives for goodness, embodies true friendship, and endeavors to live by her principles. Although much has changed in Anne’s world she and Marilla have settled into a relationship of easy affection and mutual respect. In this outing we experience a string of events in Anne’s life over the course of two years picking up after she decides to put off college following the death of Matthew.

Like all new teachers Anne has some idealistic and rather unrealistic notions of what she can achieve, but that does not stop her from trying and eventually achieving a great deal. Not to worry though, our Anne continues to find herself in and out of scrapes including accidentally dyeing her nose red.  It’s against the backdrop of teaching young minds that Anne seems to come into herself as an adult. By the end of the novel she has taught the three Rs, she has also learned how complicated life can be. Anne’s adventures include forming the Avonlea Village Improvement Society, meddling in her neighbor’s romance, and helping Marilla bring up two orphans at Green Gables.

There’s an undeniable undercurrent in the book about romance. In fact, marriage and married life is one of the strongest elements of the book and the theme of communication in relationships between women and men and the danger of unhappiness caused by unresolved misunderstandings is played out over and over again in the various stories encapsulated in each chapter. Read more about this and my other thoughts over on my blog.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #44: Whom the Gods Love by Kate Ross

I find myself sitting to type of this review minutes after completing the reading of Whom the Gods Love by merit of the fact that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy there is little else for me to do. Perhaps it is the reality of the damage done to my home state, the weeks of recovery in front of all of us, the lack of internet and phones, or the amount of deaths in this Julian Kestrel novel that leave me feeling vaguely melancholy. It could also be the realization that there is only one more book by Kate Ross for me to consume.

 

Whom the Gods Love is filled with literary allusions and death. The book picks up a small while after the activities of A Broken Vessel finding Julian and Dipper back into the normal pattern of life. That is, until Julian is approached by Sir Malcolm Falkland, father of the deceased Alexander Falkland. Sir Malcolm is distraught, the Bow Street Runners have run into a dead-end and the Quality won’t fully participate in the investigation. Sir Malcolm approaches our amateur sleuth to piece together the mystery of who would kill such a popular young man.

 

Julian takes on the challenge, if only to occupy his time and give Sir Malcolm peace of mind, but it quickly becomes clear that there is much more below the surface than Sir Malcolm or any of Alexander’s acquaintances could have known. Ms. Ross utilizes a character list in the beginning of this book, partly because there are so many characters to keep track of, and partly I think as a nod to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice which gets referenced once again. While this book had a slow start I’ve decided to give it a three star rating because it’s full of historical insights and kept me guessing about the mystery at hand.

This review is cross-posted.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #43: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Thank goodness this one is over and there’s only going to be one more.

You know how you enjoyed the Sookie books as trashy summer reads and they lured you into watching that crazy True Blood on HBO? Yeah. All the reasons you did are gone in this the twelfth book in the series. There has been a complete and total annihilation of the story arc and character developments in this series and we the loyal reader who simply must read the entire series because we have some OCD issues are paying the price.

The plot for Deadlocked is that the fae are still infesting the Bon Temps environs, Claude is missing in Faery, Sookie has a magic fairy object that others are on the hunt for, the vampires are still dealing with the fall-out from the murder of Nevada vampires from several books ago, and someone is trying to frame Eric for the death of a woman on his front lawn, Eric has also been betrothed to another vampire and is waiting for Sookie to use her magic fairy object to save him from this without giving her a reason to do so. Oh, and there’s a missing werewolf who witnessed the vampire killings which may be related to the dead girl on Eric’s front lawn. I think that about covers it. Somehow, all of these disparate things attempt to tie together. Attempt being the operative word.

These books were never capital L literature. They were fun. So why take the fun away? Charlaine Harris seems to have it out for those of us who show up looking for the previous formula of a coherent mystery surrounding some aspect of Sookie’s personal life (whether it be her zoo of boyfriends, vampire friends, or fae family) and fun character development featuring the romance novel angle.  What are we left with? Mundane chapter swollen with the minutia of our formerly perky, polite, considerate protagonist’s day. The truth is it’s boring, and ultimately a waste of words. The action is absent, the characters are hollow and the main storylines are resolved with a flick of the fairy wrist and a new plot development pops up in the final 15 pages just in time to lure the reader into reading the final book next year.

This is only my second 1 star book of the Cannonball… be warned, stay away.

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