Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “British”

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #58: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling


BEFORE, 9/20/12: Confession time, you guys: I haven’t been that excited for the new Rowling, although you’d think I would be, the way I’ve behaved over her previous novels (hint: like a fuckin’ lunatic, yo). Since I first discovered Harry Potter in October of 1999, I have yet to find any story that touches me the way(s) HP does, for whatever reason. Not that my love of HP has instilled in me ridiculously high expectations or anything, EXCEPT THAT IT TOTALLY HAS.

I would tell you that I’ve re-read those books more times than I can count, except that would be a lie because I HAVE counted, and I’m just not telling you because, frankly, it’s obscene. But no matter how many times I re-read them, they still make my heart beat fast, make me laugh, make me cry, and make me scream obscenities and want to throw things across the room (Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, and specifically Dolores Umbridge, is responsible for the first recorded incidence of Ashley-on-book-violence). They make me feel FEELINGS, and in only the best ways. And every time I pick them up again, they never fail to make feel like I’m discovering magic for the first time all over again — you know, like Madonna in “Like a Virgin,” except with books instead of sex.

The last time a favorite author of mine came out with a new book, I was crushingly disappointed by it. Alice Sebold followed up her ethereal and haunting The Lovely Bones with the absolutely god-awful The Almost Moon. I hated that book as much as I loved her first one, and I loved her first one a lot. So maybe it’s my brain’s way of protecting me against disappointment, this not caring. I pre-ordered The Casual Vacancy like a good fan, like a good little bibliophile, but deep down where it counts, I felt nothing, and it feels awful. I feel dead inside, like someone who is allergic to ice cream or cookies or something equally as awesome.

BEFORE REDUX, 9/24/12: It’s three days before the release date, and I have been trolling the internet for every last scrap of information I can find about this book. This has led me to two conclusions: 1) I still fucking love Jo Rowling — I want to be her BFF, and I’m so happy she’s still putting her words out into the universe; and 2) I have let my fear that I am going to hate this book consume me. I’m absolutely petrified. I have to stop thinking about this now. Read more…

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #11 of Edmund Crispin’s Love Lies Bleeding

Robert Bruce Montgomery was an English composer and author of nine detective novels and 2 short story collections.  He was considered one of the last of the classic English mystery novelists.  He was a great fan of John Dickson Carr and his detective, who was a fellow and English Professor at the fictional St. Christopher’s college located near Oxford, is modeled after Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell.  Dr. Gervase Fen is in physically different from Fell, but mentally and personality-wise they are similar.  Published under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding is my first sampling of this author.  I found two of his books in a local used book store.  This is the 5th of the books featuring Dr. Fen and was originally published in 1948.  My version was a Felony & Mayhem reprint from 2007.  The other book I bought was the first of the series, but I wasn’t paying attention and scooped this one up on Monday to read while waiting on my foster son at the eye doctor and dentist.  This is supposed to be one of the weaker books, but I enjoyed it.  Montgomery mixes a bit more more humor into his writing than Carr does.  He tends to be very fond of dropping literary and musical references into the mix.  Dr. Fen is the sort of character that is fun on paper, but would probably drive a person homicidal in real life.

The premise is that Dr. Fen is invited to be a key speaker at a “speech day” at a boy’s boarding school.  He is a friend of the headmaster and agrees.  Apparently this day is part of a weekend where the parents visit, awards are given and events produced.  One of the events is a play that involves students from a local girl’s school.  A 16-year-old girl is behaving oddly and parents and staff are afraid she has been, if not assaulted, in some other way messed with.  Then she disappears, supposedly run away with an unknown man, although the girl’s school headmistress doesn’t believe it.  Poison is missing from the chemistry lab.  This all happens before Dr. Fen arrives.  Then night after he arrives two professors are shot, one on and the other off campus within a short time of each other.   Later another murder is uncovered.   Are they connected?  The local  police are out of their depth, but not the good doctor.  The solution of the murders, theft  and kidnapping was actually too improbably to even suspend belief.  There were just too many details that had to have happened exactly right for at least two of the crimes to have occurred.  On the other had, the colorful characters, humor and just the literary, almost musical quality to the prose made it worth the purchase price and time spent reading it.  I also have to like an author who can create a character like Mr. Merrythought, a somewhat homicidal old possible bloodhound, who hangs around the campus terrorizing everyone.

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!

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #21: In a Dark House by Deborah Crombie

One of those paperbacks I picked up at the library for my “in-between” reading times, this British “psychological thriller” was better than I feared, but nothing to get too excited about either.. While the story is ultimately forgettable, the writing is far from mediocre and sets up a tense atmosphere that goes well with the multiple mysteries imbedded in this novel.

Fire is the central character in In a Dark House, which centers around a psycho firebug, a female firefighter, an unconventional politician with a secret, a missing person, several murders, and a child abduction. Police investigators and lovers Gemma and Duncan are engaged in what start out as separate cases, but which of course merge in the course of the story. The conclusion is rather predictable about three-quarters of the way through the story, but even so, it weaves together nicely in the end.

Unfortunately, many of the characters are undeveloped, including the Gemma/Duncan duo charged with solving the crime. They just don’t draw you into their world, and they each seem to operate with their own set of rules. An exception is Rose, the dedicated firefighter with an investigative flair and a stubborn  resistance to the macho atmosphere at the firehouse. In effect, she solves the mystery but gets little credit for it, which was frustrating for this reader who found her the real—if unsung—hero of the story.

LurkeyTurkey, #CBR4 Review #9: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Full disclosure: I listened to this on audiobook with the incredibly fun and enthusiastic Nadia May narrating.  She sounds like Julie Andrews a la “Mary Poppins,” and I found myself compelled to listen.  So, there might be a bit of a bias because the narrator was so darn good.

London, 1920-ish.  A body is found naked in a bathtub with nothing to identify him but a pince-nez, much to the confusion and chagrin of the house inhabitants.  Scotland Yard is called in, as is amateur detective, the amusing and charismatic Lord Peter Wimsey.  Across town, a wealthy financier is discovered missing!  Is he the body in the tub, or is there more than meets the eye? 

This book is a delightful “whodunit,” and one of my favorite mysteries in the last few years.  The development of the lead characters, namely Lord Peter and his manservant, Bunter, are wonderful characters: funny, intelligent, and believably invested and understanding of each other.  Lord Peter’s mother, the Duchess, is another wonderful addition to the story, as is Charles Parker, Lord Peter’s “partner in crime.”  The interaction between the characters really does make this book a lot of fun, as do the twists and turns along the way.   

All in all, a fairly delicious mystery for a rainy day.  I would highly recommend the audiobook (obviously), as the British accent was a charming change of scene, and more realistic than the ” ‘ALO, guvnor!” accent I always seem to have in my head when reading Brit Lit.  Good fun, all the way around.

Siege’s #CBR4 #7: Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham

In which Siege reads a rather typical British “country house” murder mystery.

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