Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Bothari”

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #55: Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

I’ve tried several times this year to love Georgette’s mysteries as much as I love her romances, but after listening to Sylvester on audio book on my way home for Christmas, I’ve decided it’s no use – there is a lightness in her romances that is missing from her mysteries. Sylvester was absolutely delightful. Plus, it was read by Richard Armitage! It’s not hard to love a book when it’s read to you by the king of the dwarves.

Phoebe Marlow is a budding author who wrote a book skewering several prominent members of the upper-class Ton after her first season in London. She is horrified when Sylvester, Duke of Sulford, shows up at her father’s house to supposedly make an offer for her hand. Sylvester has a reputation for being cold and arrogant, and she had made him the villain of her book (under a pseudonym, of course – genteel young ladies didn’t do such vulgar things as novel-writing). He needs a wife to run his estate, and Phoebe is unfortunately eligible.

Determined to marry only for love, Phoebe flees with her childhood friend Tom. They get stuck in an inn in a snowstorm, coincidentally alongside Sylvester and his hired man. Naturally, they all get to know each other, Phoebe learns to like and respect the man behind the villain, and they become friends as they both settle in London (Phoebe decides to move in with her grandmother, continuing her plan to run away even after she finds out Sylvester doesn’t want to marry her anyway).

The rest is pretty typical – budding love, misunderstandings keeping them apart, flirting and arguing – but the wonderfulness of Georgette’s writing makes even the most unexceptional story sing. The downside of the audio book was that I couldn’t flag pages for favorite quotes and words to look up, but it definitely made my road trip more fun.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #54: Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb

J.D. Robb’s series about New York City homicide detective Eve Dallas is formulaic as hell, but this one reminded me why I’m still reading. It hit every single checkmark on my previously written bullet list, plus a couple I had forgotten, but it was still a fine read. In this one, Eve’s partner Peabody stumbled across a ring of corrupt cops, and the two have to work together with Internal Affairs to take down a wicked lady cop. There’s lots of trap-setting and secret-keeping, but I think what made the story more compelling was Eve’s new habit of self-reflection. She, the daughter of a horrible abusive jerk, survived and overcame her upbringing to make herself into the strong, worthwhile citizen that she is. The crooked cop, however, is the daughter of a retired police commander, who took her privileged upbringing and all her opportunities and used them to line her own pockets, quietly having anyone who got in her way (including cops in her own squad) bumped off. Eve sees their similarities and differences and reflects on how differently her life could have gone, and she takes a step back and sees how the people she has come to depend on have made her a better person and a better cop. Kind of smarmy, sure, but it’s a nice change from the usually tough-as-nails, “I’ll do this my way, on my own” detective. There’s not much a mystery to this one, since we know who the bad guy is right away, but it’s cool to watch them gather evidence and build the case without alerting any of the bad guys that they’re on to them.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #53: Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean

My very trustworthy mother loaned me this book, but even knowing that I’m pretty much guaranteed to like her recommendations, it still sat on my shelf for ages because it didn’t sound even a little interesting to me. A war book? About Nazis in the snow? With a bunch of soldiers? Not really my cup of tea. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

“Eight Allied agents…seven men and a woman…parachute onto a mountainside behind enemy lines in wartime Germany. Their mission: to rescue an American general before the Nazis can force him to reveal secret D-day plans. HERE IS WHERE THE ACTION IS.”

Where are the spaceships? Dragons? Magic? Clever detectives? Here is where the action is? Please.

I have (re)learned my lesson. When I finally started reading, these characters jumped off the page and I was hooked by page two. The book starts with the small group of soldiers huddled together in the back of a freezing cargo plane, being smuggled to the Schloss Adler (a remote castle controlled by the Nazi Alpine Corps), wondering how they got assigned to what is probably a suicide mission. General Carnaby has been captured, and the information in his head will change the path of the entire war if the Germans can break him. And, as the men on the plan keep ominously saying, “Everyone talks.” They must race against time to find the General before the torture gets too far, and hope he can last until they make it to the castle – which is guarded by soldiers, dogs, helicopters, and only reachable by cable car.

It’s a breathless, dangerous race, full of brave plans, foolhardy bluffs, disguises, surprising compassion, and brutal double-crosses. Major Smith and Lieutenant Schaffer are the main characters, and they are fantastic. Smith is wickedly smart and is always thinking rings around the enemy, and it’s a treat to watch Schaffer evolve throughout the (very brief) mission to become a capable right-hand man. I worried for them, up there in the snow in enemy territory, even when I wasn’t reading.

The writing is great too. You really get a sense of the urgency of the mission: their chances of success of depressingly low, but they have no choice but to try it anyway. There’s a lot of action (“here is where the action is!”) but it’s not all guns and fighting. Smith’s verbal fights are just as exciting, and there were a couple passages I had to re-read because Smith had left me behind while he was out-thinking the enemy (through my own denseness; not a fault of the writing). A sample sentence, from a chase scene with a bus with a snow plow attached vs. a squad of Nazi motorcyclists: “There was a thunderous series of metallic bangs interspersed with the eldritch screeches of torn and tortured metal as the snowplough smashed into the motorcycles and swept them along in its giant maw.”

The book was published in 1967, and Mom’s paperback says “Now a major motion picture!” I will have to check it out and see if they do Smith and Schaffer justice. And next time, her recommendations go to the top of my reading list.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #52: Windover by Jane Aiken Hodge

This was a soap opera of a book. So many terrible things happen to Kathryn that it’s almost funny after a while. I was eagerly turning pages, thinking “What next? Will she be struck by a meteor? Lose a limb to a pack of wild dogs? Have to wear last season’s fashions?”

In the late 1700s, Kathryn has a wimpy hypochondriac mother and a horrible lech of a stepfather, so by age 16 she’s running the household at her home, Windover Hall. After she falls in love with the family tutor, things start to go bad for her.

    1. Horrible stepfather has a fit that she’s canoodling with someone beneath her station, beats the tutor up and throws him off a cliff (this happens by page seven).
    2. Horrible stepfather runs their family deep into debt; family lawyer advises Kathryn to marry well to save the family. Kathryn refuses, wanting to marry for love, until:
    3. Horrible stepfather corners and kisses her, telling her it’s not his fault that she’s grown into such a lovely young woman, and sooner or later he will have her. (ew ew ew)
    4. Kathryn marries a rich young banker whose mother hates her.
    5. Horrible mother-in-law does not let her run her new household; husband Thomas talks to his mother more than her.
    6. Kathryn can’t imagine life going on like this and wades out into a river to end it all. A scared Thomas stops her, but only has a change of heart for a day or two.
    7. Time goes on and she fails to get pregnant, disappointing the mother-in-law and causing Thomas to beat her, ‘cause that obviously helps fertility.
    8. Things get worse and worse, Thomas’s bank is about to go under, and he shoots himself right before Kathryn finds out she’s pregnant.
    9. Kathryn and her maid flee to London to protect the heir.

Once in London, Kathryn must find a way to make a living (in a proper ladylike way), save the family bank (although why she continues to care about this rotten family I have no idea), and make a happy life for herself and her baby, though by that point I’m not sure that she understands the word ‘happy.’ More like ‘alive and unmolested.’ Through all the ridiculous calamities, though, Kathryn remains terribly likeable, and I actually liked the book. I just kept thinking “Really? Now what?” She deals stoically with all her troubles, and tries to find a balance between standing up for herself against the cruel male world, and still being ladylike. Her maid Beth is sweet and spunky, and there were some fun spinster aunts I would’ve liked to see more of, but mostly Kathryn is on her own.

Since this is regency and romancy, of course it has a happy ending, but the book is really about the journey. Kathryn has a horrible, no-good, very bad life, but stays true to herself (mostly) and ends up on top.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #51: The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson

My dad saw me reading this when we met up for Thanksgiving. He gave a little nostalgic snort and said he’d read it long ago, tossing it back on the hotel side table a little dismissively. I think that kind of sums up this book: it’s one you read when you’re learning to be a fantasy fan. It’s fantasy fiction 101: dragons, knights, comic relief magicians, noble quests, talking animals. It covers all the bases, and it does so very neatly, but to re-read it now, it seems a little paint-by-numbers. Still a fun read, but Gordon “Single R” Dickson’s got nothin’ on the meatier Double Rs of the fantasy world.

Jim is a poor grad student, madly in love with fellow student Angie. They work long hours on campus, trying to save up enough money to move out of student housing and into their own grown-up place. In a rushed scene that doesn’t explain much, Angie volunteers to try her professor’s astral projection device. She disappears from the lab, and Jim panics as he tries to go after her. The professor dials the device back to lower power, theorizing that Jim can send his consciousness out to find Angie and draw her back.

The next thing he knows, Jim is trapped in the body of a dragon named Gorbash. He finds himself in a medieval world full of magic and fantastic creatures, and it just so happens that he’s a medieval studies expert and fits right in. Angie gets kidnapped by a bad dragon, Jim in his good-dragon body has to go save her, along with the usual side adventures and companion-finding along the way. (Dragons call humans ‘georges’ in this world.)

The part where it gets a little Fantasy 101 is with the rules of the quest. Jim seeks the advice of a wizard, who tells him that he can’t go straight to the castle where Angie is being held – he must go find companions to help him. Why? Because that’s how stories go. Ooookay. So Jim goes out traveling aimlessly and runs across Sir Brian. “You need a Noble Companion?” asks Sir Brian. “How coincidental! I myself am out adventuring to make my name in the world, so I will go with you.” You can practically see Dickson’s checklist as he fills in all the puzzle pieces. There’s even a mystical auditing department, so the wizard can say when there are enough Good Powers to defeat the Dark Powers.

It sounds like I didn’t like it, but really it is an enjoyable book. The characters are mostly fun, if a little flat, and watching Jim adjust to life as a dragon with no access to cars or telephones is interesting. It’s just all a little too easy. Jim’s tired? Dragons only need to sleep 20 minutes! Jim’s hungry? Dragons only need to eat every three or four days – why hellooo, friendly innkeeper with a fully-stocked cellar! Jim has enough companions? Off to save Angie we go! There’s a very young-adulty feel to the whole proceeding, including a couple long soul-searching passages where Jim learns Lessons About Himself.

So, read this if you’re feeling nostalgic for youth-friendly fantasy, or if you’re trying to figure out if you like fantasy novels. Or get it for your favorite geeky middle-schooler for Christmas.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #50: Blood in the Water by Jane Haddam

You know that co-worker friend who’s really cool, and you think you could be outside-of-work friends instead of just friends-at-work? And then you start hanging out outside of work and you realize that too much of this person is not a good thing, and small doses is best? I think I may have hit my lifetime dose of Gregor Demarkian novels. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of them, or at least all but one or two. I used to really enjoy them – I liked the stories, and Gregor, and the happenings on Cavanaugh Street, and the way Jane Haddam gives such detailed background into what other authors would consider minor characters. This time, I found myself sighing a little in exasperation at some of Gregor’s quirks, and felt a little weighed down by all the minor-character details – how do I know what’s important? Is that a clue, or a character-building expository blip?

This time, Gregor is hired by a snooty gated community outside Philadelphia. Two bodies were found in the poolhouse on the property, although one is too badly burned to be recognized. They are assumed to be Martha Heydrich and her young lover Michael, and Martha’s husband Arthur is promptly arrested. When the local police run DNA on the burned body, it comes back male, so Arthur is released, and the authorities are flummoxed. Enter famous retired-FBI agent turned detective Gregor Demarkian. He shuffles around the community, observing behavior and imploring the local cops to think – the answers, he says, are always right there. If I were the local cop, I think Gregor would’ve been the third body. He gets a little bit schoolteacher-condescending with them. Not that schoolteachers are all condescending, but you know what I mean. That “Everything you need to know is right in front of you. You just have to put it together” nonsense. Why not just say “That guy did it. Arrest him whilst I tell you how and why”?

So I’m not sure if this book is not as good as previous books, or if I’ve just read too many and am getting tired of them. It was an audio book, so maybe listening to it illustrated the more annoying aspects more than reading it would have. If you’re a Gregor Demarkian fan, this hits all the usual notes, and the mystery itself is appropriately mysterious. However, I think I’ll take a nice long break before I read another one.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #49: Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

I seem to be on a Georgette kick this year. This was another one of her mysteries, and it was pretty interesting. I always picture Georgette books as taking place back in regency romance days, so when her more modern mystery characters talk about answering the telephone it always startles me.

At one of Mrs. Haddington’s bridge parties, one of her guests is murdered. Chief Inspector Hemingway must sort through the guests, the staff, and the hostess and her daughter to find the culprit. Things are hopelessly muddled, with Mrs. Haddington herself emerging as the main suspect, up until she is also found murdered. The victims and suspects are all majorly upper-class, with the exception of Mrs. Haddington’s secretary, Miss Birtley, and nobody wants to lower themselves to speak to a (gasp!) policeman. Hemingway is calm and unflappable and handles the rich folk with ease. He’s a great character, and very fun to watch. Miss Birtley is probably the closest thing to a usual Georgette heroine: she’s got some spunk and a rich love interest (a guest at the party), but I wouldn’t call her a main character. There are gobs of people in this book, but each is memorable enough that it’s easy to follow, even if you don’t get to spend much time with them. The upper-crusties definitely come off as the villains of the piece, regardless of the murderer. It’s delightful to watch Georgette skewer them – her writing is always so delicious. Some favorite lines:

“She gave her empty tinkle of laughter, and flitted off to exchange over-affectionate greetings with a raddled brunette in petunia satin.” (I had to look up raddled – it means unkempt or run-down in appearance.)

“He was not precisely known to the police, but once or twice the breath of ugly scandal had wafted perilously near to him.”

Good police work, good characters, a fairly brisk read – I enjoyed this one, but I still like Georgette’s romances better.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #48: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

I admit up front that I cannot be in any way objective about a Lois book. I love her, and I love everything she writes. She could write beatnik Vogon poetry about office supplies and I would buy it in hardback. She has great characters, great stories, and great writing. She is my favorite by a mile, and a new Lois book is like Christmas.

So, obviously, I loved this book. It’s the latest in the Miles Vorkosigan series, but this one’s about his cousin, Ivan Vorpatril. There’s a lot of background, so I’m not sure how confusing it would be if you’d never read a Vorkosigan book, but Ivan’s adventure could still stand on its own as far as the story and the people.

Ivan is a captain in the military on the planet Barrayar. On a trip off-planet with his admiral boss, he is reluctantly dragged into a snafu where he is trying to protect a lady fugitive, and she thinks he’s one of the assassins on her trail. Ivan ends up stunned and tied to a chair, but still does his best to charm Tej, who is scared and on the run, far from her home planet. The task Ivan believed would be temporary becomes increasingly complicated as he tries to protect Tej from his own military as well as her powerful family’s powerful enemies.

We’ve got political intrigue, criminals with hearts of gold, plain ol’ bad-guy criminals, lords and ladies, spies, genetically modified supporting characters, romance, drama, interplanetary shenanigans, and lots of callbacks to the absolutely glorious world of Barrayar for those who love to spend time there. It’s great to see Ivan in a starring role, even though I missed Miles.

If you’re a fan of sci-fi, you should read the Miles books. If you’re a fan of fantasy, you should read the Chalion series, as well as the Dag and Fawn books. If you’re a fan of good books in general, you should read everything.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #47: Walpuski’s Typewriter by Frank Darabont

In the introduction to this book, Frank Darabont acknowledges that it’s silly, and it totally is. It’s a nice, breezy little cautionary fairy tale about being careful what you wish for. Walpuski longs to be a writer, but he gets more than he bargained for when he takes his busted typewriter in for repair and meets a creepy mysterious shopkeeper straight out of central casting. He goes home with an enchanted typewriter, guaranteed to write him a bestseller, but of course, it’s not all puppies and rainbows. It’s fun, and it’s a quick read, but it’s not really worth seeking out unless you’re a die-hard Darabont fan. It reads a bit like a college writing assignment, and a bit like a therapy session for a poor sap with writer’s block.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #46: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I chose poorly for this last book, my fellow Cannonballers. I had been frecking along at a pretty good pace, but then I picked up a 600-page Wilkie Collins classic, and it stopped me in my tracks. It was good, and I enjoyed it, but it was not a quick or easy read. It messed up my Cannonball flow!

This was a pretty dense story, and I’m not sure how much I can say without giving too much away and still giving it justice. Nutshell: Walter Hartright is a drawing teacher who is hired to teach watercolors to two young ladies of quality for a summer. The three become close, and Hartright naturally falls in love with the beautiful one (Laura). Her half-sister Marian breaks the news to him that Laura has been betrothed to a much older lord, and that she will soon be old enough to marry him. Hartright is heart-broken and leaves the house, hoping to sever the bond before Laura is in love with him too. Too late, of course, and the rest of the story follows our thwarted lovers and their quest for happiness.

There are many, many obstacles before them. A mysterious woman in white warns Laura that her fiancé Sir Percival is a monster. A mysterious Italian uncle is charming but nefarious, manipulating everyone in sight but making Marian’s skin crawl. Hartright might be being followed. The woman in white shows back up to talk about the monster fiance’s “Secret.” There are financial shenanigans, investigations, escapes from asylums…it’s all very convoluted and exciting.

The story is told in chunks: Hartright gets the first few chapters, then it switches to Marian’s diary, the family lawyer gets in on the action, the Italian uncle Count Fosco gets to testify…it’s a neat glimpse into all sides of the story, and a good look at the different personalities. Marian talks a lot of smack about the innate weakness of her fellow females, but there’s an undercurrent of snark that I enjoyed. When angry, she talks about wanting to jump on a horse and ride through a raging storm to get to the villain, but then writes: “Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience, propriety, and petticoats for life, I must…try to compose myself in some feeble and feminine way.”

Count Fosco is wildly dramatic and overimpressed with himself. A sampling of his self-adbsorbed yammering: “Youths! I invoke your sympathy. Maidens! I claim your tears. Where, in the history of the world, has a man of my order ever been found without a woman in the background self-immolated on the altar of his life? I stand here on a supreme moral elevation, and I loftily assert her accurate performance of her conjugal duties.”

I liked this book more than I expected to. I had read Wilkie Collins in lit class, but not this one. I liked the dual heroes (Hartright and Marian) and the dual villains (Sir Percival and Count Fosco). I wish Laura had been a little worthier of the devotion and love of the heroes, rather than pale and sickly and swooning, but oh well. I guess a little of that comes with the classics territory.

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