Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the category “2 stars – an ok book”

lefaquin’s #CBR4Review #26: Spook by Mary Roach

As my last book of the year, I read Spook. Verdict: eh. There were some really interesting parts, and I can see why a lot of people really enjoy reading Roach’s books. She writes about history and current events in a scientific but approachable manner, and it’s definitely easily digestible. Some of my favorite parts are her footnotes though, when she goes into really esoteric parts of the history, but most of the book was too focused on achieving the goals of each chapter for me to really enjoy it.

By far, the best part of the book was pictures like that – real ones of old victorian ladies pulling gauze out of various body parts. To check out the rest of the review, see my blog!

 

 

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Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #32 – Death of a Serpent by Susan Russo Anderson

So clearly we’ve entered the mystery portion of my Cannonball. This was yet another Kindle freebie (I feel the need to disclose that every time, sorry if it’s annoying) I picked up because it was billed as an “historical mystery.”

The story takes place in Sicily in the late 1800s. Prostitutes are being murdered, marked, and dumped back at the brothel. The madam/brothel owner goes way back with Serafina, a local midwife/renaissance woman. Serafina investigates the murders, as she apparently has before (there are other books, which I have not read).

The killer could be a local mafia don, an old lover of Serafina’s, or possibly an odd monk who has recently come to town.  Serafina (like many of these lady detective stories) acts more like a modern woman than a woman of that time acted, at least as far as I know. Maybe women were always like we are. Regardless, she gets into a number of scrapes, puts herself and others in danger, all in the name of finding the murderer.

The story was fairly well researched, and fairly well written. There were a number of flaws with the writing and grammar, but I had originally chalked that up to a bad translation from Italian. Then I found out the author is American. It could also have been a bad scan for the Kindle, or just lack of editing. There are some good bones of a story here, and perhaps the author will work on her craft. Practice makes perfect, I hear.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #29 – Ridiculous by D.L. Carter

It’s an apt title, for sure.  And an awfully silly book. Millicent Boarder, her mother and sisters have gone to live with their nasty, miserly cousin Mr. North after being left penniless. Mr. North dies, and the ladies would be even worse off – except Millicent decides to go all identity thefty on everyone, and becomes Mr. North.

She takes over the management of his estates, which he had let fall into disrepair – and of course she does a great job.  On her way to see one farm, she comes upon a carriage accident, and stops to help.  There she meets a handsome duke and falls in love with him.  Of course they become friends because Millicent (Mr. North) is funny and has a way with the duke’s very shy sister.  They normally wouldn’t move in the same social circles, but Mr. North’s personality carries him through encounters with royalty and Beau Brummell.

There are the usual hijinks involving mistaken identities, wonderings about whether Mr. North and the duke are gay, and intrigues with the duke’s younger sister and a much older unsuitable suitor.  Let’s see if we can guess if everything comes out right in the end.

Ridiculous is a pretty frivolous book, but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it to certain of my friends who like that sort of thing.  It’s kind of a Regency romance, with a bit of farce thrown in. Not terribly intellectually taxing, but not all books have to be.  A little dumb piece of fluff never hurt anyone.

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #31: Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer

Heyer’s work is divided into dashing Regency-set romances and mostly light-hearted detective novels set 1920-1955ish. I very much enjoy the latter in the same way as I enjoy Agatha Christie, but they differ from Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple series in that the actual police rather than private detectives play a central role, and  I’d say they’re slightly inferior in quality as well – read individually every now and then Heyer’s detective fiction is fun but read many at the same time they start to blur into one as there is usually a central romance and main characters are rarely given features other than “pleasant,” “cynical and snide with a heart of gold,” “cynical and snide with the cold dead eyes of a killer,” “flamboyant foreigner,” “obviously gay and unmanly interior designer” and so on. The villains are generally well-drawn and various, though, and overall there’s a sense of ease rather than serious moral questions or threat.

Footsteps in the Dark is typical in that it involves young upper-class people who become embroiled in strange happenings in a country house that two of them have inherited. There are mysterious groaning noises, secret passages, and it’s all quite Gothic, a fact variously relished and feared by the group – until it’s realised that it must be human agency causing the eerie events, and there are, of course, several suspicious characters in the neighbourhood.

The novel generates a bit of suspense, there is an unlikely love story, and there is plenty of good-humoured banter. The solution to the mystery is a bit different than the usual missing will or long-standing grudge, and it’s a fun, if slight read.

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #30: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Everybody knows what happens in Twilight, right? Bella is an angsty sixteen year old who is pale and clumsy and Edward is an angsty 80 year old vampire who is pale but swift and strong and sparkles in the sun like a marble statue of diamonds, or words to that effect. They meet when Bella moves to Forks, Washington, where Edward and his “family” live because it’s so cloudy all the time that the sun can’t reveal their true sparkly identities…And they hunt bears and mountain lions rather than people. Bella and Edward develop an intense connection, but this might endanger her life because…he is a vampire who may not be able to resist his…urges.

Things I like about Twilight: Bella and Edward have conversations. They may seem trivial, but they are genuinely interested in each other and they like talking to each other and finding out about each other, which is refreshing considering in how many YA and other romance novels love at first sight happens and then there’s a complication and then things end happily and then you realise that the protagonists have barely spoken two words to each other EVER or been in the same room without exchanging a couple of cute lines and then jumping into bed together / cut to complication and separate angsting until the reunion as the end credits roll and you picture them like Elaine Robinson and Dustin Hoffman sitting on the bus staring into space as it rolls into the sunset all “right, what now? Will this ever not be awkward?” In the films, of course, the conversation was replaced with moody looks and lip-biting and stupid music.

Things I don’t like: HE WATCHES HER SLEEP AND LISTENS TO HER SLEEPTALK WITHOUT HER KNOWING HE IS THERE. So wrong.

Stuff that’s supposed to come across as romantic but is actually creepy as hell is perhaps endemic to a certain kind of YA literature – consider all the random fistfights and possessiveness in which Elizabeth Wakefield and Todd Wilkins were enmeshed in the Sweet Valley High series, for instance. Anyone else have any other examples? I’d be really interested. Or examples of the opposite, well-crafted and realistic and non-creepy relationships in YA lit? And if no one else has read SVH…I’ll get me coat.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #27 – In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson

In Flight Entertainment is a collection of short stories, mainly about relationships.  My husband bought this for me after hearing a glowing review on NPR, which is as good a recommendation as any, I suppose.  Unfortunately, sad stories about sad, self-centered, lonely, depressed, abandoned, abandoning, cheating, awful people – and environmental damage – do me no good.  As I’ve said before, I read to escape. Stories about real life and all of its harsh realness just bring me down.

I had originally read one of the stories, “A Diary of an Interesting Year,” in the New Yorker.  It’s very well written, in diary form, from the point of a young woman who is one of the few survivors after an apocalypse.  I won’t spoil anything, but I’ll just say that the story is almost too real in its depiction of her life and the dangers she faces.

Another story, “Squirrel,” takes place during breakfast at a normal suburban breakfast – if the normal suburban breakfast involves discussions about literature, whether or not to kill a trapped squirrel, and thoughts of extra-marital affairs.

For me, I thought the language too precious, too studied, too much. Others clearly loved it (see the NPR review, NY Times, etc.). Maybe I just don’t get it, but I was not entertained.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #24 – Royal Renegade by Alicia Rasley

This book is subtitled:  “a Traditional Regency Romance Novel.”  Not my usual fare, but the description of the book on Amazon sold me.  Full disclosure, I got this for free for my Kindle, like quite a few others (seriously, there are a ton of free books for Kindle, you should check it out). It’s for sure a romance novel, but no bodices are ripped, and I’m pretty sure Fabio had nothing to do with the book cover.

Our heroine, Tatiana, is a Russian princess.  I have learned (through this book, and my attempts at reading Anna Karenina, among others) that Russia was lousy with royalty back before the revolution. Tatiana is the daughter of one of the conspirators who took out the most recent Tsar, who was then executed by the current Tsar (even though that’s who he helped).  Tatiana is extraneous, and is basically sold to the Duke of Cumberland, who may be a murderer, among other things (he’s apparently also ugly, and a bit scary in the boudoir).  Our hero, Viscount Devlyn, is a soldier in Wellington’s army, and is suffering from a form of PTSD.  He’s sent home to England to rest, and is then sent to fetch Tatiana safely to England.

They (of course) meet cute, they (of course) don’t like each other at first, and they (of course) have more in common than they realize.  They also (of course) fall in love, and (of course) encounter a number of difficulties along the way.

The book isn’t great, but it’s entertaining in its own way, especially if you are a romance fan. It’s generally not my bag, but for Regency period pieces, I’ll make the occasional exception.  There’s a sequel that involves John Dryden, Poetic Justice, but I’m not certain I’ll check it out.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #8: That trashy book, 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

50-shades-of-grey-o

Slave screams he thinks he knows what he wants
Slave screams thinks he has something to say
Slave screams he hears but doesn’t want to listen
Slave screams he’s being beat into submission

Don’t open your eyes you won’t like what you see
The devils of truth steal the souls of the free
Don’t open your eyes take it from me
I have found
You can find
Happiness in slavery—Happiness in Slavery, Nine Inch Nails

In 1992, Trent Reznor released the song, Happiness in Slavery. It is a thundering, abrasive song about master and servant and the ability to find happiness in sexual servitude. He is not the first to write about this type of relationship, nor is he the creator of the sentiment of happiness in slavery. The book, The Story of O, published in Paris, in 1954, revolved around the story of O, a female submissive who is trained to erotic “adventures”. Erotica in poetry and prose has existed for quite sometime. Some authors write it better than others, but it seems like their women characters always get shortchanged in the creative process.

I suppose it is a little late in the game to show up at the table with a review of 50 Shades of Grey, but here I am. I had heard so much about this stinking book that I knew I had to read it. If I didn’t read it, then how could I talk smack about it? You cannot condemn something you know nothing about, at least not in my opinion. I had heard so many people discussing this book, in whispered tones and embarrassed confessions. I saw the skit on Saturday Night Live and heard news anchors refer to it as “mommy porn.”  I also knew my female students were reading it, much as they have read Twilight for the last several years as sparkly vampires were everywhere, including their weekly journals and class discussions.

I actually paid money to read this book and took it with me to our beach vacation. I started reading it and felt the familiar girl meets weirdo vibe from the Twilight books, all the way to the girl was awkward and unknowing of her allure or value and the boy was rich, handsome, and dangerous, and so in love with the untutored girl. Where Twilight was afraid to go physically, 50 Shades was happy to explore what the author probably considered to be erotica and sweeping romance.

Yes, it was a lightly titillating read. I think I blushed more though, when I was sitting poolside, trying to cover what I was reading. My sons laughed and teased me for being ashamed of this book and were happy to point out the gray-haired granny across the pool proudly displaying the cover of her copy for all to see.

I know I should be reviewing this book, but I think the story has been played out. My biggest concern is once again how a book like this or Twilight influences young girls. So many of my female students have been looking for their Edwards the last 6 years at least. I know many of them graduated and hopefully matured, realizing it was all just Meyer’s adolescent dream world. Yet, these current students, fourteen to eighteen year old girls, are now picking up books like 50 Shades and graduating in maturity to this type of knowledge at a much younger age. I know that times have changed and the world has changed, but I don’t know if they really understand what they are reading. When one student wrote about her favorite book at the beginning of the school year, she wrote down 50 Shades and explained it was because of the love story. Maybe I’m old and cynical, but I think the relationship between Christian and what’s her name wasn’t the most healthy relationship to aspire to for a long term commitment. But then again, I don’t know what kind of messed up backgrounds some people have when they enter in to the fantasy world created in 50 Shades. Maybe that is the only healthy some people know and it seems safe and loving, in all of its twisted obnoxiousness.

I suppose I could write a missive about the warped reality that modern girls live in, growing up watching Disney princesses find their happily ever after. Additionally, the lack of a loving home environment sends some girls out looking for some human contact, any human contact. Any attention is good attention and sometimes the people you love like to hurt you. We live in a very hyper-sexual world where everything is on display so it becomes the norm. I guess it sounds like I think 50 Shades is a gateway to S&M and it could very well be. I can’t imagine girls in the 1950s running around reading The Story of O and trying it out with their beaus, but then again, I’m not that old.

I just hate that the literary bar has been set so low by the trash that is E.L. James 50 Shades of Grey. This is the type of book that is popular and gets on the bestseller list, yet in all of its controversy, it has not opened a dialogue for true discussions about sex, erotica, or relationships. People just giggle about the salacious content, speculating on the rumored cast of a big screen adaptation, and hotels offer 50 Shades Weekend Getaway Packages. I recommend this book only because it is o.k.to know what people are reading, especially your kids, and have a real conversation about love and sex if you have teenagers at home dabbling in popular literature.

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Blythes Are Quoted: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 9 by L. M. Montgomery

The Blythes Are Quotes coverI was excited to finally get to this after having been a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series for as long as I can remember. The Foreword says, “The Blythes Are Quoted is the last work of fiction the world-famous author of Anne of Green Gables prepared for publication before her untimely death on April 24, 1942…. The typescript was delivered to Montgomery’s publisher on the day she died—by whom we do not know; Montgomery evidently intended it for publication, since it is amended in her hand-writing.” This is the first printing that includes Montgomery’s entire manuscript. It is speculated that earlier printings removed some things that were felt to be anti-war at a time when patriotism was heavily favoured.

I had read enough about this last book beforehand to know to expect something very different. That certainly was the case. Calling it “Book 9” in the series, is really only because of when it occurs chronologically and that the Blythe family is connected in some ways. However, if you expect a continuation of the stories in the vein of the rest of series, you will be disappointed.

Rather than a novel following the Blythes as they grow up, this book is a compilation of short stories and poems. Most of the short stories are about people unrelated to the Blythe family who gossip about the Blythes at some point to keep that connection to Anne. In true gossip fashion, some of it is true and some not, but if you know the rest of the series you will know which is which. Sometimes a family member is also a very minor character. The poems are scattered in the gaps between short stories and are mostly attributed to Anne in little scenes of discussion about the poem and family with Gilbert and the beloved family housekeeper, Susan. The others are attributed to Anne and Gilbert’s middle son, Walter.

Even though it is not a true continuation of the series, it makes the most sense to read this after the others in the series to know who the Blythe family is when they are mentioned and to understand the grief of the family that is mentioned when talking about a lot of the poems. You have to be paying close attention though to get the details about marriages and grandchildren that are scattered throughout.

Read the rest of the review at Loopy Ker’s Life

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #23: So He Takes The Dog by Jonathan Buckley

This cost me 10p in the big library clear-out, and while I was reading it, I went back and forth on whether it was worth more, or perfect as a library book. I’m still undecided.

So He Takes The Dog is the story of how one day, in a quiet southern English town, a homeless man is found dead, and how the police are trying to piece together his life in order to get to the bottom of the crime. Henry had been hanging around town for years, but nobody knew anything about him other than that he was odd, if helpful enough, and seemed to do nothing but walk along the beach and mutter to himself. The police officers in charge quickly realise that finding out anything about such an elusive character’s life is quite difficult. Slowly, they track down the few people who had ever known him, and uncover a secret from Henry’s past that may or may not explain his life and death.

Several things about this novel are strange, some deliberate, some not. It quickly becomes clear that just like there is no coherent backstory for Henry, the plot is a bit of a meandering mess. One officer’s private life slowly moves into the focus of the story, and it never becomes clear why this is. The officer himself does not take the form of an omniscient narrator, but rather talks a bit about himself here, stoically describes the drudgery of day-to-day police work there, slips into his colleague’s head and recounts his memories somewhere else. It’s hard to know who knows what when it takes a while to even establish whose point of view we’re taking. Eventually, I either got used to it, or the plot become more straightforward. In any case, the novel turned into a quick read.

A fulfilling read, or even just a pleasant one, it was not. Not because of any gory details (there weren’t any), or because it turns out the crime is never solved (by the time you realise that, you have stopped caring anyway). The characters just never really come to life, and the emotionless way in which the case is described makes it hard to connect with anyone. I don’t doubt that this is deliberate on the part of the author – the main character does suffer from disillusionment and the realisation that his life has turned sour. Jonathan Buckley has done everything right in his way. The language mirrors the characters’ sense of displacement and a kind of spiritual homelessness – which brings the story full circle. It’s all very neat and interesting, but you can only get through so much coldness before you stop caring altogether. Interesting? Maybe. A book you might like? Probably not.

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