Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Search Results for: “gone girl

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #49: Gone for Good by Harlen Coben

At the annual library used book sale last Friday, I found two Harlan Coben books I had long wanted to read but which my library couldn’t get for me, so I had a happily productive weekend working my way closer to my Cannonball goal! Next up is Coben’s The Poet. But first, Gone for Good. This novel is vintage Coben, of the Tell No One quality I’ve been yearning for. I found this 2002 story a quick but nonetheless fascinating read, where most of the cliched stratagems of the thriller writer were avoided in favor of a more penetrating psychological journey. Yes, Coben has a scary psycho killer known as the Ghost–and plenty of gore as well–but he also refuses to let us draw easy conclusions.

Despite the recent death of his beloved mother from cancer, Will Klein is in a good place, with a job he loves and a woman he loves. But all that changes in one night. He suddenly discovers that his idolized older brother Ken, who the FBI insists fled 11 years earlier after raping and strangling Will’s former girlfriend but who Will is convinced was both innocent and died a second victim that night, is in fact still alive. And the love of his life Sheila disappears in the middle of the night, leaving a note saying “I will always love you.” Although Will is convinced that he has always been the coward in the family, he manages to stand up to an FBI bully, a terrifying psychopath, and his own fear of failure to search for both Ken and Sheila. But the more he learns, the more sinister links he discovers between his brother and his beloved and Will begins to question everything–including his love for the woman he was about to propose to.

Coben’s writing is riveting, as always, with many turns and twists in his plots. But this is one of the first of his novels where I found the same turns and twists in his characters, making for edge-of-your-seat reading as you try to figure out whether the good guys are bad, the bad guys are good, or whether there is a little of both in all of them. And therein, I think, lies the secret to this novel’s success. Especially fascinating was Squares, the former Nazi turned yoga guru and Will Klein’s best friend. With a murky past and a guilt-ridden present, Squares is a lovingly-drawn representation of the power of redemption and, as such, the perfect counterpoint to the terrifying Ghost.

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #28: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

You know you’ve watched too many episodes of “No Reservations” when reading Kitchen Confidential provides the experience of an audio book.  I’ve wanted to read this for years, so was very excited when my book club picked it as an upcoming read.  I was not disappointed.

In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain discusses how he came to focus on food through seminal experiences in France such as eating freshly harvested oysters.  He unflinchingly describes his early years as a grunt in various restaurants in Provincetown and NYC and his training at the CIA.  Along the way, he acquired and overcame a drug addiction while developing a fondness for what many would consider unsavory characters.   Readers who are offended by vulgarity might want to skip this one as Bourdain would make a sailor proud.  Luckily, I am a sailor so I just enjoyed it.

 I enjoyed this book a great deal for the humor, the brutal (no really, BRUTAL) honesty, and wide ranging knowledge shown.  Frequently, I found myself reading sections aloud to my boyfriend – you gotta hear this!  The book made me want to try all sorts of different dishes that I never have.  At the same time, the descriptions of the sweaty, fetid, festering kitchens and the customary cuts and open sores on the hands of the people preparing the food makes me think twice about eating anything I haven’t prepared myself.  Any momentary thoughts I ever had about how romantic it would be open a restaurant – gone.  Never coming back.

One of my favorite parts was when Bourdain shipped out on a last minute trip to Japan to check up on a restaurant for his bosses.  At the time, he had not been doing much travelling and was content as a New Yorker.  His descriptions of Japan, jet lag and the process of familiarizing oneself in such a foreign land was fantastic.  I also really appreciated the many mea culpas he included in the book – admitting to his youthful screw-ups, explaining why other people really are much better chefs than he is, and even saying that despite everything he has said about Emeril Lagasse, he now thinks Emeril really is a good chef who came up the hard way.  This book is not only a great book about restaurants and love of food, it’s a master class in how to do humility right. 

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #27: The Vanity Girl by Compton Mackenzie

The Vanity Girl by Compton Mackenzie is another successful Gutenberg Roulette pick. One of the fantastic side effects of randomly picking books from Gutenberg this way, is that when I enjoy the book it encourages me to look up the author as well. A quick perusal of our good friend Wikipedia shows Mackenzie to have been a fascinating individual (as was the last author I reviewed here). For movie buffs, several of his novels were made into films, including Sylvia Scarlett, who appears here occasionally as a cynical frienemie.

 This book covers the story of Norah Caffyn’s rise from a comfortable middle class upbringing to become Countess of Clarehaven. Initially, she is young, beautiful, and incredibly self-centered. She parlays her youth and beauty into an acting gig, which allows her to meet wealthy, titled men. Determined not to go the way of other actresses, she sets very strict rules for her own behavior and follows them. Hilariously, she decides that her name just isn’t elegant enough for the stage, but her sister’s name of Dorothy is perfect, so she renames herself Dorothy Lonsdale and invents a fabulous backstory as she tries to snare a titled husband. Dorothy’s husband Tony, the Earl of Clarehaven, is quite a good match for her. Spoiled rotten and rich, he adores her as he would a new toy. Unlike her, he doesn’t seem capable of growth.

For much of the book she reminded me a great deal of Scarlet O’Hara in the way she traded on her beauty and felt that she was owed things because of her beauty. However, unlike Scarlett O’Hara, as life kicks Norah/Dorothy around she grows, becoming more self-aware and sympathetic with maturity. In that, I guess this was a pretty realistic book. Who among us wasn’t a self-centered brat at 19 and hopefully a more decent person with the passing of 10 years?

Recently I’ve read a number of books from this time period and I realize that what I enjoy are the period details. It is like studying anthropology to read about people for whom a normal day didn’t include things like grocery shopping, doing laundry or using a computer, and whose lives revolved around being social, always sending notes and darting off to lunch or dinner or the theatre.  It’s hilarious to see how important class was to them – you could actually go buy a book that told you who someone else’s ancestors were and why they received their titles.

What is becoming more and more noticeable and distasteful to me about these older books is the casual racism. For instance, in The Vanity Girl, one of the major characters is a Jewish man named Hausberg/Houston.  He is a friend of Dorothy’s since fairly early on in her career, becomes a business partner with her husband, vacations with them, and is considered by Dorothy as a potential husband for one of her sisters. Despite all this, the book has many disturbing anti-semetic descriptions and allusions to ugly things as typical of his “race”. I don’t see why the book had to sink to this. Hausberg/Houston is sort of the anti-Tony – highly intelligent, self-made and very disciplined, although not necessarily a nice guy.  All the anti-semetic remarks really detracted from the book.  Although, it probably explains the alienation that Hausberg felt in upper class British society and why he did certain things.

I can also see more parallels to Gone with the Wind (which I HATED, btw) as I think about it. Tony or, more specifically, his title of Earl, are the stand-in for Ashley while Hausberg turns out to be a not handsome Rhett. Olive, a former roommate, is Melanie and  Clarehaven is Tara.   And they all come together to allow the heroine to grow and mature. The difference is that in this book, she does seem to grow into someone you might want to actually talk with. For my book club, I have to read an Edith Wharton, but I think after that I’m going to take a fairly long break from this time period of late Victorian/early Edwardian. It’s starting to get to me!

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #13: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This is my second time through the Millennium trilogy, so I’m going to try and keep this review short and to the point.

Everybody and their mother knows the story by now, or at least they should. Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced journalist, is hired by one of the richest men in Sweden to find out what happened to his sixteen year old niece, Harriet Vanger, who was murdered over forty years before. Lisbeth Salander is a socially introverted, genius hacker, whose life collides unexpectedly with Blomkvist’s, and the two form an unlikely partnership. I first read the books back in February 2010, and since then I’ve seen both film adaptations (Swedish and American) multiple times. I am so familiar with the story by now that I’ve internalized it. I am completely unable to be objective — as if I ever was able in the first place — Salander and Blomkvist are real people as far as I’m concerned, and I think it’s a damn shame we won’t ever get to hear any more from them past book three.

For those of you who haven’t heard plot details — where have you been? — I’m not going to say any more about the plot because part of the joy the first time is the discovery of all the twists and turns. What I am going to say is that even though Larsson’s writing may not be stellar*, his imagination more than makes up for it. Lisbeth Salander is one of my favorite characters in literature, ever, and the ways in which he makes use of her to say his peace about the rights of the dispossessed — specifically the rights of women in male-dominated cultures, and the marginalization of the mentally ill and those that are perceived to be sexually or socially deviant — ultimately elevates the trilogy beyond mere thriller/mystery status. It’s the reason I can sit here and read it (or watch it) multiple times and still the story will have lost none of its power, despite the fact that I already know all the answers to whatever mysteries it contains.

*For instance, lots of people become annoyed when he starts describing in detail meals characters eat, or actions they take that are seemingly irrelevant. I happen to find this quirk of his endearing, and all of those “irrelevant” details are part of what I love about his books.

Part of what fascinates me about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as a first novel in a series is that Larsson kind of sneaks up on you with the point of it. You could very easily read the book and then assume that sequels will follow the pattern set up by the first one, and would focus on Salander and Blomkvist as a team who will solve mysteries like it in the future. Instead, Larsson mainly uses the story of the Vangers as an extended “meet-cute” for Salander and Blomkist, and to set up Salander as the protagonist. Her story is the real center of the trilogy. This book is as much about setting up the next two books as it’s about itself. Larsson wasn’t interested in creating a series of grocery-store mysteries. He was interested in delving into the nitty gritty of Salander’s life, and all the meaty stuff comes directly from it. She is the mystery and the challenge, not some murderer du jour.

The last thing I want to say is that it puzzles me when people express their disdain for this series by saying it’s misogynist. I have to wonder just exactly what kind of reading comprehension those people were taught in school, because these books are the very opposite of misogynist. Just because a story features misogyny as a theme, and characters who act in misogynistic or sexist ways, does not mean that story is espousing those misogynistic viewpoints. I can definitely understand people who simply object to the level of violence and dark sexuality that the book contains, but as far as I’m concerned, all that violence does have a very salient point at the end of it.

And now I’ve gone and lied to you about this being a short review. Whatever, I’m going to go make an omelet.

[Link to original review here.]

chasitymoody’s #CBR4 Review #4: Girls Night Out: Twenty-Nine Female Vampire Stories by Stefan Dziemianowicz, Rober Weinberg, and Martin Greenberg

After getting past the title listed on the spine of this book (there was no dust jacket to tell me the full title), I opened it to the title page to make sure it wasn’t some homage to that awful underaged sex orgy celebration called, “Girls Gone Wild.”

Imagine how surprised I was to find that this was a celebration of women – vampiric and otherwise – who had just cause to be celebrated for their choices and stances. No underaged sex, or boob flashing for the attention it might bring, here. There was no shame and/or disillusion wafting through some poor girl’s memory after a night of drunken decisions. In fact, I really want to find the dust jacket just so I can celebrate this book being nothing like I thought it would be when I first found it in the stacks.

Check out the full review on my blog.

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review # 02: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenster

Very rarely, I find a book so beautiful that I put it down and delay finishing it.  The Night Circus was one of those books.   Erin Morgenstern builds the most incredible fantasy imaginable.  Two magicians begin a contest, a game or test of skill.  However, they play through intermediaries, their students.  They have apparently done this before with different students and different venues.  This time, the chosen venue is a circus, where the two competitors, Celia and Marco, must use their skills in a game with unknown rules.

What follows is gorgeous descriptions of circus tents filled with divers fantasies – ice palaces, paper forests, jars and vials filled with stories – but which is only open to the public at night.   This could have gone two ways: it could have been the setting for a banal horror story, or it could have taken the less obvious and more complex route.  I am happy to say that the story, like the circus it depicts, took the less obvious and much more satisfying route.

I won’t say more about the actual story, as I think it would be better to come into it blindly.

I think one of the reasons that I loved this book so much was that at times, I felt as though I actually was a visitor to the circus (or rêveurs, as the book calls them).

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR4 Review #49: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

*Audiobook Review*

Clay is a web-designer who has lost his job in San Francisco.  Since the recession, he has had a hard time finding a job in his chosen field.  Then he stumbles on the night clerk position at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  His new job seems rather pointless.  There are few late night customers, except the eccentric regulars who madly rush in, demand a particular book, then dash out.  Those customers don’t even buy books, they loan them.  Then there is Mr. Penumbra.  He’s like a slightly daffier Professor Dumbledore.  Mystery starts, zany, mad-cap adventures ensue.

This is one of those books that I really enjoyed while reading it, but afterwards, the more I thought about it, the more unsatisfying I found the ending to be.  This book has been getting rave reviews, but I really felt like it was The DaVinci Code by way of Google.  Seriously, did Google pay to be mentioned in this book?  I have a drinking game for you. Step One: Drink every time somebody says the word Google.  Step Two: Die.

All in all, this was a pleasantly diverting read, but pretty forgettable.  It is not something that I am going to insist that people read,  unlike Gone Girl.  Have you read Gone Girl yet?  WHY NOT?!?!? Do you hate things that are good?

3/5 Stars

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #12: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell

The_Carrie_Diaries

Welcome to the 1980s, Carrie Bradshaw style! If you are like me, most of what you know about Carrie came from the HBO series Sex and the City. I never read author Candace Bushnell’s column in the New York Observer, and I have never read the book Sex and the City. Even with my simple knowledge based on Sarah Jessica Parker’s portrayal of Carrie, I was smitten with the character and her hapless-in-love cohorts. Most people know that Carrie is  Candace Bushnell’s alter ego, so that meant there has to be more to the story of Carrie than just her sexual and dating adventures as a grown woman. She had to start somewhere, and The Carrie Diaries takes the reader back in time to a place where Carrie was a senior, a virgin, and a non-published writer.

I admit I am a person seemingly stuck in nostalgia for the 1980s and many times, stuck in high school. As a teacher of high school students, I have perpetually been on the verge of graduation for twenty years now. I love to read a good high school novel. It is familiar to me because I spend at least 180 days a year in that mind-set so it is comfortable and rarely changes. There is always drama. There is always gossip. There is always that hope for goals and dreams coming true, if you can just get along with the popular crowd or avoid that bully, it will all be over come graduation. I enjoy thinking that at least the characters in the books I read can finally get out of town and make something of themselves in the big city. We all know how The Carrie Diaries will end: she will move to New York. She will become a published author. She still might not be lucky in love. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Candace Bushnell takes the reader back to Carrie’s senior year. Carrie is the oldest sister in a family of three girls, with an overprotective widower for a father. Carrie has a nice little collection of friends in this book, but I felt sometimes that Bushnell didn’t completely flesh them out, instead, picking a few here and there who were pivotal in helping Carrie reach her goal of making it to New York City. If I had not gone back and looked up those character names, I would’ve never remembered them, they were that forgettable. I couldn’t forget the new boy at school, Sebastian Kydd, who is handsome, wealthy, perfect, and trouble . I guess Carrie’s taste in the wrong  type of men was established at an early age. I didn’t forget the outrageously named characters who cause lots of friction in Carrie’s life with school and Sebstatian: Donna LaDonna and Lali Kandesie. Donna is the most popular girl in school and she is loved by many suitors and feared by everyone else, except Carrie. Lali is a longtime friend of Carrie’s, but we all remember how tenuous our high school friendships were when a boy was involved.

I did enjoy learning about Carrie’s senior year in high school, and I was surprised to learn she was once a competitive swimmer. I never got that vibe from her in the TV series. I wish that Bushnell had explored the death of Carrie’s mother and how that affected her life. I almost think that Bushnell intended to write more on Carrie’s life prior to Sex and the City‘s timeline, but now the CW has the new series, The Carrie Diaries scheduled to air in 2013, so I don’t know what Bushnell intends to do with Carrie. I am interested in how this new TV series will be presented and if Carrie Bradshaw will appeal to a new generation of viewers.

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #24: South Riding by Winifred Holtby

South Riding by Winifred Holtby is a large novel that contains multitudes and contradictions, nevertheless held tightly in place by its structure, the unusual one of town council responsibilities: Education, Highways and Bridges, Agriculture and Small Holdings, Public Health, Public Assistance, Mental Deficiency, Finance, and Housing and Town Planning and the short space of time it happens in. If I had to sum its scope and emotional topography up quickly it would be Gone with the Wind meets D.H. Lawrence, but it’s more realistic than the former and less…icky…than the latter.

The novel was written and set in the mid-1930s, in a Britain still scarred by the First World War, during a depression, under the clouds of intensifying Nazism and power struggles in Europe.  Sarah Burton is a cynically idealistic 37 year old returning to Yorkshire’s South Riding to take up the post of headmistress at a girls’ school. Her motto is “take what you want and pay for it,” her ambition is to turn the struggling school into an efficient and inspiring institute. Robert Carne is a gentleman farmer with a crumbling family estate and a wife in a mental institute and a highly-strung daughter who becomes Sarah’s pupil. The usual sort of thing both does and doesn’t happen – the two form the central relationship of the book, representing diametrically opposed politics, heritage, attitudes towards both future and past, but their interactions take an unusual course. Networked to their narrative are multiple others, tales of corrupt councillors and poor families stuck in their stations, in the fading dreams of ambitious but impoverished girls, in the transition from agriculture to industry. The question of “who pays for it?” becomes a centrally defining question for the novel, adding a layer of philosophical musing tightly bound to practical consideration and in no way impairing drama and humour.

South Riding is a difficult read because of its sprawl but it’s definitely rewarding, with odd and comic turns of phrase, flashes of insight into universal character and motivation, well-evoked conflicts within a community and an era, strong and complex characters and plenty of quiet, sometimes sly, humour and pathos.  There also happens to be a BBC miniseries of South Riding for those who like that sort of thing.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #45: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up begins with the thump of a box dropped on a porch.  The box contains the mementos of a relationship and a letter explaining the items and tracing the course of a failed relationship from its tentative beginning to its heart-breaking end.  Each chapter opens with a lovely picture, drawn by Maira Kalman, of a memento and a portion of Min’s letter to her ex-boyfriend, Ed.  Min, short for Minerva, works her way through the items chronologically, so her explanation of each item also helps us understand her relationship with Ed.  She starts with a bottle cap from the dark beer they drank at her friend’s “bitter birthday” party, a party at which popular, athletic Ed was an uninvited an unexpected guest.  Although they move in different circles in the rather strictly divided world of high-school society, Ed and Min strike up a conversation that ends with him asking for her number.  To her surprise, Ed calls and asks her out, and they share a magical first date at the independent movie theater where movie-obsessed Min spends a great deal of time.  After the film, they spot an old woman they suspect is the lead actress from the film they just watched, and they surreptitiously follow her around the city trying to determine whether or not she really is who they think she is.  After that first night, though, their differences begin to emerge as they struggle to balance their very different lives.  Min starts hanging out at basketball practice to watch Ed after school instead of going to the coffee shop with her best friend.  Ed tries to spend time with Min’s friends, but he clearly doesn’t fit in with them.  No one thinks they can make the relationship work, which makes Ed and Min all the more determined to find a way to stay together.  Of course, as we know from the title, it doesn’t work in the end, but despite the fact that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, I was completely engrossed in it.  Handler does a wonderful job of capturing what it’s like to be a girl in love, and Kalman’s illustrations add a lot to the story.  It’s a story that is unique and yet feels familiar because, regardless of the particulars, nearly all of us have felt the heartbreak of a first love gone wrong.  It’s so familiar that there’s now a website dedicated to the novel where you can write your own break-up story.  Handler’s more famous for the Lemony Snicket novels for kids, but here he proves he’s equally adept at young adult literature as well.

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