Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Love”

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #16: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

This book has been reviewed ad infinitum around these parts, so I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to add to the conversation. It is largely worth all the hype, although I guess I will say that I expected and wanted a little bit more from it. Still, a very worthwhile read if you like truly creative and imaginative fiction.

Celia Bowen is the daughter to the famous magician Prospero the Enchanter, and heir to his (very real) magical powers. At a young age, her father binds her to a mysterious competition with a shadowy counterpart.  Essentially, she and her opponent will be representing two different schools of magical thought and practice.  She joins the fantastical  Cirque des Reves (Circus of Dreams) as their illusionist, and the games truly begin.

Let’s just call that the most vague synopsis ever and move on, ok? It would be really difficult to add much more to it without giving a lot away, and frankly, I am not up to the challenge of boiling the creative imagery of this book down to a few sentences. That is the selling feature here: the world (ok, mainly the circus) that Morgenstern has dreamed up is stunningly gorgeous. Within a few chapters, you will want to go to this circus, truly. It’s like a supremely ornate and exquisitely decorated pastry: all spun sugar and delicate detail. Every square inch of the place is wrought with loving craftsmanship, and nothing has been left out. It’s an amazing place, punctuated by amazing performances and a truly superior imagination.

Like a pastry, the Cirque des Reves is beautiful to look at, and delicious for a little while, but it’s ultimately hollow and unfulfilling. As impressive as the circus itself is, the characters and the plot are considerably less so. The characters we encounter, aside from Celia, are all drawn in fairly shallow strokes, with very little in the way of purpose or motivation. Celia’s opponent in the magical game, Marco, has hardly any personality to speak of; I will acknowledge that some part of that is integral to the character, but it doesn’t do much to make him a sympathetic figure. The supporting cast are essentially human extensions of the circus: curiosities left largely unexplained. The main story is actually a love story, but without fully realized characters it’s somewhat difficult to fully invest in the idea, and I found it hard to understand how or why the two individuals in question were, in fact, in love with one another. A secondary plot line, involving a young man named Bailey whose future becomes entwined with that of the Circus, fares a little better in that Bailey himself is a standard trope: a dreamer who wishes to escape his mundane line for a life of excitement. Obviously, the Circus itself can fulfill his fantasies, but in the final tally, exactly how it is supposed to do that is left rather vague.

I really, really wanted to like this book. I didn’t dislike it, exactly, but again, it was like eating something super-tasty but not all that filling. It left me wanting more. It seems to me that if Morgenstern had dialed back on descriptions of the circus (an entire chapter to describe a clock, really?) and put a little bit more of herself into her characters, the end result would be worth twice of what it actually is. She clearly has a great deal of talent, but in the case of The Night Circus, I don’t think that talented was focused in the right directions. There are a lot of great ideas, and sketches for great characters here, but ultimately, more time was spent on the trimmings and trappings, and less on the meat of the thing. Delightful if you have a sweet tooth, but less so if you’re looking for sustenance, I’m afraid.

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #14: The Scott Pilgrim series, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I bought my husband Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Boxset (all 6 SP books) for his birthday, and at some point, I decided to just sit down and read them myself. Since they take about 30 minutes apiece, I don’t really feel appropriate counting them all separately (although boy, would that help my cause!) , plus given their episodic nature it’ll just be easier to review them as a whole, so that’s what I’m going to do.

First let me say that I’m not at all a comic book/graphic novel kind of girl. I didn’t really grow up with them (aside from the odd Archie comic here and there) and they’ve just never held that much interest, even as they’ve become much more of a literary genre over time. In reading the Scott Pilgrim series, I have realized that the main reason for this is that they’re just too busy for me, and make me a little ADHD. Attempting to look at both words and pictures and connect the two at the same time is apparently too much for my brain. Does anyone else have that problem?

Anyway, Scott Pilgrim! Scott is an underachieving 24 year old who has no ambitions in life and seems perfectly content to sit around in a studio apartment and freeload off of his gay roommate, Wallace.  He lives in Toronto,  plays bass in an apparently really crappy band (called Sex Bob-Omb) and has recently started “dating” a 17-year-old named Knives Chau. All of this starts to change when he bumps into a girl he’s only previously seen in his dreams. Her name is Ramona Flowers, and she’s  mysterious! And American! Scott is immediately smitten, but if he wants to woo her, in addition to breaking things off with Knives, he will have to fight all of Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes, who have apparently formed some kind of coalition for the purpose of destroying anyone who attempts to date her. Along the way, in addition to his video game-style fights with a motley crew of characters led by evil mastermind Gideon Graves, Scott will have to come to terms with himself, make peace with his past loves, and maybe do a little growing up as well.

These books have a lot going for them. They’re obviously a love song to the city of Toronto, to video games, and to comic books themselves. Additionally, they’re a funny and original take on the standard tropes of coming-of-age, and of love and relationships. In fighting the Seven Evil Exes, Scott and Ramona both have to work through their issues with past relationships in order to arrive at a place where they can make an adult attempt at maintaining the one they are in together. In realizing his feelings for Ramona, Scott has to come to some kind of determination about his own self-worth. He’s a pretty selfish and clueless character, to be honest, and as he moves along, he develops at least a little more depth and understanding, although I have to say that I didn’t find him to be a great deal more redeemable at the end than at the beginning. The secondary characters are generally more enjoyable than our hero; Knives is a fun caricature of a teenaged girl, Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer (and one of Scott’s exes) Kim Pine is biting and sarcastic, and serves, in some ways, as Scott’s conscience. Scott’s roommate, Wallace, is the voice of reason, or at least of practicality. Ramona herself is somehow sympathetic, although I feel as though we get a little too much of her through Scott’s eyes, making her less of a fully-realized character and more an object to be attained.

Mainly, I think it’s the format that I had difficulty enjoying.  Again, associating a brief piece of text with the images around it was somehow hard for me, and I often felt lost trying to keep things connected. Additionally, maybe I’m just not a visual person, but all of O’Malley’s female characters looked nearly identical to me, and I was never quite sure who was talking. In a larger frame it was ok; Knives has black hair, Kim has freckles, Ramona has a distinctive hairstyle, but in any kind of close-up image, they all just look like the same big pair of eyes. I had trouble with some of the male characters, too. I spend a lot of time reading picture books to my daughter, and I don’t have any issues there, so it’s something about the busy formatting here that bugs me. I do feelingly apologize to any and all comic/graphic novel/anime enthusiasts, and I gave it my very best try, but mostly reading these just gave me a headache.  I could definitely appreciate the finer points of the series as a whole, although I would have wished for a most sympathetic main character, and I can totally see why these are so popular. But I think I’ll stick with my overly wordy Victorian novels for the time being, if nobody minds.

ElCicco#CBR4Review#30: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter



… [T]rue quests aren’t measured in time or distance … so much as in hope. There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant — sail for Asia and stumble on America — and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along. 

Beautiful Ruins is a story of quests. Spanning a 50 year period starting in 1962, the characters in this novel each have a quest or dream of some sort — for fame, success, love. It is a humorous and charming novel that moves back and forth between a small Italian coastal village in 1962 and the West Coast of the US today, with special focus on the movie industry.

The action starts in a small coastal Italian fishing village called Porto Vergogna — Port of Shame. Pasquale, age 20, is trying to build up a beach so that the family hotel, the Hotel Adequate View, can become a jet setters’ vacation destination. He has big dreams to build a tennis court on a cliff, attract Americans and so on. The local fishermen think he is crazy as he piles up rocks that get washed away with the tides. Then one day, a gorgeous American starlet shows up at the hotel. Within a few short days, Pasquale’s dreams and his life undergo a dramatic shift.

In modern day LA, Claire, an assistant to a once successful movie producer named Michael Deane, is growing restless over her job and her porn-addicted boyfriend. She wants to make meaningful, important films and not the dreck that Deane produces. She is ready for a change, but should she leave her boyfriend? Should she leave her job to work for a film museum that the Scientologists are building? On a fateful “wild pitch” Friday, when friends, acquaintances and people owed favors by Michael Deane are given an audience to pitch truly outlandish film and TV ideas, Claire meets a young writer and an old Italian gentleman. Within a few short days, her dreams and life undergo a dramatic shift.

From here, Walter artfully weaves the stories together, fleshing out his characters (including actor Richard Burton, filming Cleopatra in Italy in 1962) and unfolding the events that link the first two chapters together. While much in the story is sad — separated lovers, betrayal, death — there is a generous amount of humor in the writing, such as this interchange between Pasquale and his mother:

“You should push me out into the sea and drown me like that old sick cat of yours.”

Pasquale straightened. “You said my cat ran away. While I was at university.”

She shot him a glance from the corner of her eye. “It is a saying.”

“No. It’s not a saying. There’s no such saying as that. Did you and Papa drown my cat while I was in Florence?”

“I’m sick, Pasqo! Why do you torment me?”

And this description of Michael Deane:

The first impression one gets of Michael Deane is of a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed. After all these years, it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals, and stem cell injections that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.

The novel ends on a bittersweet note, but I won’t tell more than that. It’s an enjoyable read and perfect for summer vacation if you are looking for a good book.

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #34: The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll

Title: The Dark Queen
Author: Susan Carroll
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary:  I wasn’t sure I liked this book at first – as a historical romance, with more sex and a more serious plot than the “chick flick” style romances I occasionally I read, it was a little outside my comfort zone.  But I ended up loving it and the other four books in the series enough that I would definitely read more books like them, partly for the great plot and partly because I’m a sucker for a happy ending :)

During the late 16th century in Renaissance France, Ariane Cheney, a daughter of the earth and lady of the faire isle, is duty bound to prevent the misuse of power by other daughters of the earth.  Although the true witches are those she defends against, she also faces the superstitious minds of the time, some of whom would brand her a witch as well.  When a stranger arrives seeking Ariane’s help against the dark queen, Catherine di Medici, even the strong Ariane needs some help.  She has no one to ask but the Comte de Renard, although she hesitates to do so because of both their mutual attraction and her uncertainty his intentions are as straightforward as he would have her believe.

Read more here…

rusha24’s #CBR4 review #9: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore is one of my favorite authors, and this short story collection, her third I believe, is perhaps most quintessentially “her.” Birds of America is incredibly sharp-witted and clever, full of barbs and one-liners that zing. Her language is at its most precise and efficient, and these characters among her most finely drawn. But while there’s usually a cool or detached tone to her writing, these stories are shot through with a sense of melancholy that seems more pronounced than in her earlier stories. There is just something sad about the characters in this book, in their muddled and hopeless attempts to connect with and be known by others. I had to keep putting the book down after a story or two, just couldn’t take the self-sabotage.

I think the reason why these stories struck me as particularly sad was because I could understand the emotions of these characters, but only in a contextual kind of way. Moore’s earlier story collections resonated strongly for me partly because she wrote them when she was younger, strictly about young people, and I read them at an age where the fickle nature of her characters just made sense—I could (and still can) identify with many of them. This collection however, concerns people that are very much Adult: moving past divorces, never-realized careers, aging families, etc. And so while I could follow the characters’ thoughts and appreciate the stark wit of the prose, the types of sadness on display here seemed beyond my reach of empathy. These people are hurting, some of them desperately, terribly, and I could not mitigate that pain through the filter of my own experiences. I could merely follow along with the pain until the story ended, at which point it glanced off me and became forgotten.

That’s not to say that these characters and stories are forgettable. That Lorrie Moore quirk, something which can put some readers off and make others fans for life, is very much present in Birds of America. A few of the stories, “Charades” and “What You Want to Do Fine” in particular, stand among her very best. It might be a cop-out, but I think maybe I’m just too young to be able to love this book. In other words, if I came back to it in a decade, I think it would strike me as even sadder—but I would know what to do with that sadness. It would be familiar, probably funnier in its understanding of what it means to have truly loved and lost.  I’ll try to love and lose a bit more, before I come back to this book the next time.



sunnywithahigh’s #CBR4 Review #1: Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion



Zombies are disgusting. Really. Their flesh, when they have flesh, is rotting away; they stink (I would assume) and they eat brains. They eat brains. In Marion’s world, the zombies are on the verge of destroying the last vestiges of humanity. Countries no longer exist, having been wiped out by the Dead. The Living are holed up in pockets trying to survive. In the chaos of a feeding frenzy, a zombie who calls himself R comes across a Living girl named Julie and inexplicably, falls in love. Far from a meetcute, R falls for Julie whilst going through her boyfriend’s memories – memories he gains by eating said boy’s brains. What follows are agonizingly lovely musings from R on what it means to love and be human, a feeling he’s all but forgotten. He and Julie embark on an uneasy friendship (because, again, eating of brains) and when she leaves the airplane he’s brought her to he decides to follow her. What follows may change their world.

As a reader, I bought this story completely. The narrative allows open access to R’s thoughts – ones that he cannot express vocally to others due to his limited capabilities as a Dead. He shares his thoughts on the spread of zombies, their current situation, how it feels to eat a brain (a far more complex experience than you might imagine), and his burgeoning feelings for Julie. Far from a passive Swan, Julie is an explosion; a bright streak through R’s pallid existence, and she comes with baggage. At times, the baggage is a little too obvious, but the payoff in her relationship with R is more than enough to overlook her sometimes plodding plot points (most of the stuff about her parents seems superfluous). Marion works a little dual narrative action in, using Julie’s dead boyfriend’s voice to good effect.

Warm Bodies is the cure for dark romance fatigue – a love story played out against a dystopian background that never feels overwrought or untrue. Touches of unexpected humour (Julie compliments R’s eyes, asking if they ever change colour, like when he kills people – R’s slow response is, “I think…you’re thinking…of vampires.”) and deep darkness serve to add further depth to the story. It’s a quick read but one you’ll want to revisit. Four and a half out of five brains.

Sidenote. Of course the movie versions of R and Julie look like this, because…you know, why not?

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