“It’s okay to be the teacup with a chip in it.” – The Comfort Book by Matt Haig

CBR BINGO: Self Care Square

I’m not a big reader of “self help” books. Not to say that I couldn’t benefit from one. I’m Gen X and I think we tend to lean a little hard on self reliance with a dash of the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. That isn’t necessarily healthy, so I thought I would try to tackle this square and broader my horizons a little bit. (Reason #5,674 on my why I love CBR Bingo list)

I loved The Midnight Library and really appreciated its approach to mental illness and suicide. Haig doesn’t disappoint in this non-fictional turn on the same topics. Here, he offers what he calls the “life rafts” he used to cope with depression and suicidal ideation: a series of notes, lists, poems and thoughts about his own journey. A pep talk for himself that might offer comfort to others who can relate to his struggles.

I am fortunate enough to not suffer from depression. Although, I have friends and family who do and I think those on the outside of it could also find comfort from this book and maybe a better understanding of what loved ones are going through. Obviously, everyone is different and mental illness is not stamped with the same cookie cutter. Haig is writing from is own experience but does a good job of balancing what he has overcome and what he still struggles with in a very approachable way that embraces the whole person:

And as we grow older it is good to keep tending to those unconventional parts of ourselves – the thoughts that buck the trend – because these are the parts that will keep us new and capable of surprise. They will stop us becoming a cover version of ourselves. They will help us become new songs.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“No, I think you’re highly intelligent. It’s not lucky for you, in a lot of ways. If you were a little bit stupider you might have an easier life.” – Beautiful World Where are You by Sally Rooney

CBR13 BINGO: Reader’s Choice (in the New Series Square) BINGO! Book Club Square to Machinery Square

I don’t think that I have ever had this much of a love/hate reaction to a book. Truly. Everything that I loved about Rooney’s Normal People is here. All of the awkwardness and raw emotion. Everything that I really didn’t like about Conversations with Friends is here too. All of the self indulgent naval gazing histrionics. Ugh.

The plot is not complex even if the characters think that they are. The entire story revolves around four characters: Alice, Eileen, Simon and Felix. The point of view switches between all of them, but is primarily focused on the women.

Eileen and Simon grew up together and have maintained their relationship into adulthood. Alice and Eileen were roommates in college have continued their friendship into their late twenties. After Alice has a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized, she leaves Dublin for the Irish coast. Here, she meets Felix, a townie, on Tinder and they begin a relationship (I’m using that term very, very loosely here).

Honestly. I don’t have much more to say about it than that. For the most part, it’s about three wildly self unaware people who love to talk about themselves and their feelings in a way that seems very emotionally mature but is so far from reality that its ridiculous. I’m reminded of parties in my post college/graduate school days where a certain group of people always hung out in the kitchen, smoking and talking about philosophy and politics and trying to psychoanalyze everyone. These are those people. Ironically (and maybe this was on purpose?), the townie who works in a warehouse and is presented as a working class stereotype is the only one who has some understanding of who he is: an arrogant pot stirrer who likes to poke at the tender emotional bits of everyone for entertainment. At least he is aware of it.

It’s not that Rooney isn’t a fantastic writer. She is. There is a gorgeous moment where Eileen looks at Simon and memories of their decades long relationship flood her thoughts. I love the way Rooney embraces the awkward and messy parts of love. BUT, I’m afraid that she writes only one kind of book and depending on the characters it could go either way. My fear is that the whole “write what you know” is at play here and what Rooney knows is young intellectual Irish people who love to talk about themselves and their feelings when they have no idea who they are or what they feel.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“It was happening again. Another fight with narrow-minded, hateful people…” – A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

CBR BINGO: Shelfie (because I had this sitting on my shelf wayyyyyyy past it’s library due date.)

Book 3 in the Court of Thorns and Roses DID NOT DISAPPOINT. Breaking what I call “the third book slump” in most series, this book was by far my favorite. My devotion to these characters is getting deep, people. I’m in Outlander love territory here. I can see its shortcomings. I recognize the sometimes messy history and repetitive phrasing, but, I’m all in.

This is a book about love, I think. Love between siblings, friends and romantic partners. Lost love, unrequited love, re-united and re-ignited love. LOVE.

Lucien pines for Elain. Elain pines for her human fiancee. Nesta and Cassian fight their feelings. Tamlin is jealous of everyone’s feelings. Hybern is long past being capable of feeling anything. Even the monsters here, imprisoned in timeless traps, yearn for connection.

Since I feel like I need to critique this in some way…I’m not a big fan of battle scenes and there is a lot of that here. However, there is just enough of a human element to keep me from getting blood spilling/sword thrusting/shield raising fatigue.

Rumor is that Hulu is adapting this as a tv series with Ron Moore and I hope that comes to fruition. Moore is the King of bringing material with a rabid and particular fan base to life in a satisfying and acceptable way. I am optimistic that he will not disappoint.

Now I have to see how long I can hold out before I read book 4 which was recently published. I suspect that I won’t last long.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“Every man you ever meet is nothing but the product of what was withheld from him, what he feels owed.” – What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

CBR13 BINGO: Travel (Alexandria Egypt to a Mediterranean island) BINGO! (Free to Machinery row)

I love it when CBR Bingo brings something into my life that I may not have picked up otherwise. On the hunt for the “Travel” square, this title jumped out from the new book display at my library and turned out to be one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

When bodies wash up on a small Mediterranean island, the local officials gather the remains and comb through the detritus of a sunken refugee boat. The sole survivor, Amir, is a nine year old boy who flees into a grove of trees. A local teenager, Vänna, spots both the boy and the military officials looking to remand him in custody of the island’s detention center. Her split decision to help the boy launches a tender story about the hope of childhood and the cynicism of adulthood. It is the story of two strangers without a shared language or history: a girl who is willing to risk everything to help a boy she doesn’t know and a boy who is willing to trust her. El Akkad gives voice to the human being that the world tends to erase with politics.

This book is absolutely one of my favorites for this year. I could just fill this review with passages from this book. Honestly that is what I would LOVE to do just to give you all an idea of the wordsmithing here. Ugh, it’s brutal but so lovely.

I don’t want to spoil the discovery of this book with too much, but I’ll leave you with this little gem:

“It was a place sick with the ruins of colonial beauty. The new condominiums stood on the grave of the classic British and French and Italian villas, which stood on the graves of the Mamluk palaces, which stood on the graves of the Ottoman mosques, which stood on the graves of the Greek and Roman temples, which stood on the graves of myriad nameless and ancient villages long ago swallowed by the sea. Everywhere these identities warred and the warring produced no victorious identity, no identity at all, only the sense of manifold incompleteness, the universal aftertaste of conquest.”

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“And all for a spot of snow.” – The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, Mia Ryan

CBR13 BINGO: Old Series (Lady Whistledown Series 2003) BINGO! (The Wilds to Free row)

When I finished the Bridgerton books, I snatched up all of the Bridgerton adjacent novels. I figured I would bust them out once the weather got cooler (it will get cooler, right?) and I could curl up with a cup of tea and while away an autumn afternoon with Regency shenanigans. I guess taking advantage of a momentary reprieve of almost 90 degree weather before ramping right back up into the high 80’s AGAIN kinda works?

In my haste to get my hands on these books, I did not read the fine print. This is actually 4 novellas laced to together by Lady Whitledown’s observations during an unusual winter season in London. Apparently the Thames freezing over is a cause to come back from the country and throw a few balls. Why not. Anyhoo, Julia Quinn wrote one of the novellas (and the Lady Whistledown exerpts) while the remaining three were written by other romance authors.

All of the stories revolve around a night at the theater, a skating party full of mishaps, and a Valentine’s Day ball. A core of the same characters waltz and skate around in the stories with a handful of those appearing as the main love connection in each novella. You’ve got your Darcy-like Dukes and Earls and your rakes sideswiped by LOVE. Unhappily betrothed ladies and awkward debutants that just need someone to really SEE them. Etc. Etc.

Honestly, it was a mixed bag. I was here for all of the Lady Whistledown, but unfortunately, her name was a little bit click-baity here. While her observations tie each of the novellas together, she and her Bridgerton cohorts are nowhere to be found. The rest of the “ton” isn’t quite as interesting. Fortunately, the first novella was the dud and it picked up from there with each successive story. The forward momentum kept me going and the second two novellas (one penned by Quinn) were enjoyable. Each was sort of a speed dating version of a Bridgerton novel. A lot of immediately falling in love and leaping into compromising behavior. Nobody was dueling over a virtue killing kiss here. These eager beavers went straight to the bodice ripping.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“The problem with wanting is that it makes us weak.” – Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

CBR BINGO: Pandemic

I used to read a lot more YA. A lot as in almost exclusively, and was particularly drawn to the fantasy/supernatural end of that spectrum. Rife with trilogies and series, which are also my bag, I fell down that particular rabbit hole for years. I think I was a little overloaded on it after awhile and when books began to blur together, I kind of phased out. I guess when you get to the point where you can’t remember which series is which, it’s time to call a time out.

Then, I picked up A Court of Thorns and Roses and remembered WHY I read those books in the first place (I’d argue ACOTAR is pretty racy for YA. My library begs to differ). Yes, some of these books aren’t particularly well written and can be shamefully derivative. BUT, if they have interesting world building, compelling characters and enough imminent peril to keep me up until 2am flipping those pages? Damn. That’s entertainment, folks. If the reading is an immersive experience that brings me joy, I’m not going to argue. There is just too much garbage happening these days and if I can escape completely, for a couple hours at a time, I’m gonna.

Bardugo offers that aforementioned escape into a world of warring kingdoms severed by a long dark slash that separates the western side from the rest of the land. The dark slash, the Shadow Fold, is full of super scary people-eating wraiths called the Volcra. People generally try to stay out of it but in order to get goods and game that only reside in the West, parties of soldiers, gamesman and the mystical Grisha risk periodic crossings. The Grisha are people gifted with extraordinary talents like manipulating elements, squishing internal organs and cutting things and people in half. Helpful talents but even the Grisha fear what slithers and flies inside the Shadow Fold.

Alina is taken in as a child by a rich Duke who offers his estate as an orphanage. Becoming an apprentice cartographer when she is grown, Alina eventually finds herself on one of treks across the Shadow Fold. Acting on pure emotion when a Volcra attempts to snatch her best friend, Alina awakens a power that she has been keeping under lock and key since childhood. A power that the greatest Grisha, The Darkling, has been waiting for.

I was on the fence about this series. Read the reviews, saw the covers staring at me at book stores and the library but finally caved (much in the same was as I did with Bridgerton) when the filmed version popped up on Netflix. I flipped the “do I just watch it or am I going to read it first” coin and landed on the library. Much like Bridgerton, I’m glad that I did.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“I’m not clockwork.” – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

CBR13 BINGO: Machinery

Big thanks to Merryn for using this novel for the Machinery square. Very clever way to fill a square that would have otherwise had me stumped or using up my free/pandemic options. Machinery with magical shenanigans is more my speed. Thanks!

This novel dips its toes into multiple genre pools: historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and a dash of romance. It’s hard to find a story uninteresting if it can bring together the Fenian bombings of 1884, the premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, the crumbling of feudal Japan AND a steampunk Octopus.

After his sister is widowed, Thaniel works as a telegraph clerk in Victorian England’s Home Office. He sets aside his life as a pianist for a steadier income to help support her and her two sons. While going through the clockwork-like motions of a government cog, he comes home one day to find a pocket watch in his apartment. When the pocket watch serves a function much greater than the telling of time, Thaniel seeks out its creator, Keita Mori. At the same time, he meets a physicist, Grace, who longs for the kind of freedom that marriage could bring to her scientific pursuits.

Surrounded by people who try to “engineer” him for their own purposes: love, freedom, civic duty or money, Thaniel tries to piece together his own past, present and future.

I reviewed Pulley’s Bedlam Stacks last year. It was one of the few books that I read in 2020 that managed to grab my attention during the great pandemic reading slump. You have to pay attention to Pulley. Every word is intentional. A very non-linear writer, Pulley doesn’t leave breadcrumbs to follow or dumb anything down–she writes as if she expects the reader to be able to piece it all together eventually. I appreciate that. It can make for a slow start, but definitely pays off in the end.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“…when you open your heart to rewilding a landscape…you’re opening your heart to rewilding yourself.” – Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

CBR BINGO: Landscape

Years ago a friend recommended I read Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Prodigal Summer, about a wildlife biologist studying coyotes. It wasn’t something I thought would be in my wheelhouse, but I loved it and have been on the lookout for books of the the same ilk ever since. Give me books about folks obsessed with nature and wildlife written with obvious respect and awe. Paint those landscapes with words and give voice to the wild.

I struggle with finding a name for this genre. The closest coined phrase for it that I have come across is “eco-fiction.” Basically, when nature is as much a character as the people in a book, I’m all for it.

I saw this novel getting rave review everywhere, but it was the subject matter that I was drawn to. It reminded me of Sarah Hall’s Wolf Border which is a great book about the same topic: reintroducing wolves back to the forests of Scotland.

Inti Flynn is an Australian in charge of an international team of biologists attempting to introduce several packs of wolves to the Scottish Highlands where they were wiped out hundreds of years ago. Their goal of re-foresting the Highlands by depopulating the high number of grazing deer, is met with pushback from local farmers in the small rural town who fear the apex predators will feed on their livestock and impact their livelihood.

Already busy navigating the locals’ disdain while keeping a keen eye on the wolves assimilation, Inti is also caring for her traumatized twin sister, Aggie. Housebound, Aggie never leaves their small cabin in the woods. Communicating only through American Sign Language and a sign language they created as children, Aggie drifts in and out of engagement with Inti and world.

When a local man suddenly goes missing, the town rallies around one culprit: the wolves. Strapped with a condition that makes her feel everything she sees, Inti struggles with her own desires, her sister’s pain and the real possibility that a fiercely independent rogue wolf may have murdered someone.

This is one of those books that I devoured. It was breathtakingly atmospheric. Everything having to do with nature, the landscape and the wolves was borderline poetic. Many of the humans in the story, however, were a little one dimensional. The main characters, all of whom suffered from some kind of trauma, were more fleshed out, but even they tended to bang the same drum repeatedly. Mired in their history. It may be that the animals and the natural landscape were rendered so vividly and so nuanced that, by comparison, the people were sometimes one note.

I also had some issues with the ending. An extreme act of violence felt too easily dismissed or excused. It didn’t sit particularly well with me. Or, at least, it wasn’t dealt with in a believable way.

Most of these observations didn’t really hit me until I finished reading the book. I think this review reads as negative but I truly could not put this book down. Highly recommend it but couldn’t really review it without mentioning where it fell short.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“Perhaps all humans are lonely. At least potentially.” – Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

CBR13 BINGO: Book Club (Obama’s Summer Reading List 2021)

Ishiguro writes the kind of books that you can’t discuss too much without giving away the plot. In the most simple synopsis: Klara is an artificially intelligent robot that can be purchased to be a child’s bff. Initially showcased in a storefront window, she is soon supplanted by newer models and relegated to lesser and lesser positions in the store. While languishing in a shady corner in the back of the store, she is finally purchased as a companion for a sickly teenaged girl named Josie. Of course, as the story goes, Klara’s role may be much more than just companionship.

This is a weird one. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it. Like Never Let Me Go, this book made me anxious. And sad. Or anxiously sad? See what I mean? I think its the tone but also the dreaded “I-know-this-is-going-to-have-some-weird-and-terrible-ending” thing you come to expect from authors who have written at least one “some-weird-and-terrible-ending” book.

The naiveté of Klara and the matter of fact tone set off ALL of my warning bells. Things must not be as they seem. Klara does not see the whole picture so WE cannot see the whole picture. Danger is around every corner. Something wicked this way comes.

Ishiguro writes books that seem like simplistic carry-ons at first but so much is stuffed inside every little hidden pocket that no way is it going to make the weight requirement. That baggage is gonna be CHECKED. I could spend days unpacking what’s going on in this novel: the destruction of the environment, technology replicating what it is to be human, science enhancing what is already human.

However, one of the MANY interesting topics that stood out for me was the parent/child relationship. While this book is set in a dystopian future where desperate parents scramble to give their children EVERY perceived advantage (including artificially created idealized “friends”), our very real present has wealthy people getting their kids into competitive colleges based on fabricated athletic prowess. It’s a little chilling to think that this dystopian future is hitting closer to the present than we’d like. Let’s face it, rom-coms have satirized parents applying to the “best” pre-schools for their unborn babies for decades. Wasn’t there always a kernel of truth in that exaggeration? Technology is just the engine to propel that.

Poor Klara is the repository of all of the other character’s angst. The artificial “friend” that can be confided in without consequence or judgment. A comfort for the loneliness without the need for all that pesky reciprocation.

After I wrote this review, I went back and found my review for Never Let Me Go which was my 4th review EVER for CBR way back in CBR3. Pretty much the entire review for that book was the same as my thoughts above. A decade has not changed my core reaction to Ishiguro apparently: an out-of-body reading experience waiting for the shoe to drop.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“Is this what people do?” – Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell

CBR13 BINGO: Rec’d square (Cannonball Read has been my go-to when looking for something to read for as long as it has been around. That’s over a decade of recommendations, folks. One of the greatest loves of my reading life is Rainbow Rowell and I have to thank many, many great Cannonballers for that. So, I’m stretching the Rec’d Square here a bit because it wasn’t one specific Cannonballer who recommended this book in particular. It was a group effort recommending the author in general. While I may have come across Rainbow Rowell eventually, I will forever be grateful for this reading bunch who found her and put her on my radar. I have said many times that I would read a grocery list if it was written by Rainbow Rowell. Love, LOVE this lady and 15 year old me would have CHERISHED these books had they existed.)

Regardless of the age group targeted or the characters’ stage in life, Rowell captures what it’s like to fall in love and be in love like no one else. All of the awkwardness, vulnerability and yearning is rendered PERFECTLY. The inner monologue of the besotted is Rowell’s true talent. Oh, and she can write completely believable conversational dialogue which is a true gift.

Now that I have fangirl-ed all over the author here, let’s get to it. This is the final book in the Simon Snow trilogy. Just do yourself a favor and read the books. So many Cannonballers can’t be wrong.

The entire magical Scooby gang is back in England with one American Normal (Shepard) in tow. In the aftermath of their stateside adventure and still reeling from the “chosen one” fiasco, everyone scatters; each of them trying figure out what to do next.

When Simon and Baz catch wind of a new self-proclaimed “chosen one” who is luring in Mage’s with weak magical powers (including Baz’s stepmother) with the promise to enhance their abilities, the siren song of the common enemy brings them all together again. It takes a certain kind of bravery to battle demons and vampires and powerful magicians hellbent on world domination. A bravery they are familiar with and find comfort in. In this final book, however, it’s emotional bravery that the characters need to summon to allow themselves to be open and vulnerable enough to recognize that their path may not be what everyone, including themselves, had expected of them but was just what they needed to feel whole.

Check out Cannonball Read 13. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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