“First we only want to be seen…After that, we want to be remembered.” – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

CBR11 BINGO: Cannonballer Says

Since CBR6, Cannonballers have been (mostly) raving about this book. It was a CBR7 book club selection, faintingviolet read it more than once and the list of Cannonball reviews is over 34 and spanning CBR6 to CBR11. My eyes began to blur while attempting to calculate it. Suffice it to say, it is a looooonnnnngggggg list. Caitlin_D said that she was “late to the party” 3 1/2 years ago when she read and reviewed it. Maybe that makes my review the renaissance of Station Eleven?

I don’t want to shirk my review responsibility, but I don’t know that there is much more that I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said here at CBR. It’s also a book that you don’t want to give too much away about. It’s not that there is a lot of spoilery information that could be given. The plot doesn’t hinge on any big reveals, necessarily, but it’s such a rich text and I wouldn’t want to ruin the experience of reading it for anyone.

There is a ton of dystopian fiction floating around these days. Some good, some not so good, and some just too derivative and predictable. A good old fashioned pandemic is the perfect catalyst to show us all what we are made of. How and if we choose to carry on. What kind of meaning, if any, we feel compelled to give to such a catastrophic event. What religious zealotry or power structures will rise up. Who will choose to embrace lawlessness and who will strive to rebuild a better world.

Mandel’s book is no different and does sometimes feel a little similar to bits and pieces of other books, graphic novels and television programs that fall under this genre. What I think Mandel does differently here, is she just leaves us to it. There are no flesh eating zombies. There is no sort of religious cleansing a la “The Leftovers.” Most of the population gets sick and dies but a precious few do not. Those precious few are taxed with figuring out not just how to survive but how to thrive. Mandel’s post pandemic world focuses on history, art, music, and theatre. A Star Trek quote, “Survival is not enough”, is a mantra. Most of the characters are trying to build relationships with other people, not just for survival but for the sense of connectedness. In a new world without electronic devices, social media and celebrity, there is finally room to see and be seen.

It’s a great book and lives up to the hype. If you haven’t read it yet, just do it. Better late to the party than not at all.

Check out Cannonball Read 11. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“But no other option was presented to her…” – Mother Country by Irina Reyn

This is a very moody and atmospheric little book about the complexities of female relationships, particularly mothers and daughters. It was displayed at the library (I am easily suggestible) and the author is a writing professor at a local university so I thought I would give it a go.

Fearful of the political climate and worried about continuing to afford managing her daughter’s diabetes care, single mother Nadia and her 20 year old daughter, Larissa, plan to emigrate to the United States from the Ukraine.
When Larissa’s visa is denied but Nadia’s is not, she makes the decision to go without her daughter, hoping to eventually secure a visa for her once she gets settled in New York City.

Left behind, Larissa is now forced to begin taking care of herself and her health without the safety net of her over protective mother. While the wait for her visa turns from days to months to years, hostility erupts in the Ukraine. Harboring resentment towards the mother she now feels has abandoned her, Larissa is trapped in the middle of war zone while her mother is a world away in Brooklyn.

Nadia struggles to create and maintain a stable home environment by working two jobs. One as the nanny for a Russian born mother and the other as a health care helper for elderly Soviet immigrants. Thinking her hard work will persuade the government to finally process her daughter’s application, Nadia keeps her head down and plows on year after year. When communication between the two breaks down as the war escalates in the Ukraine, Nadia becomes increasingly desperate to get her daughter out, even attempting to secure a fiancé visa for her through a dating web site.

A stickler for the rules, Nadia finds herself in a position where there is no longer a playbook. The structure that she finds so comforting, no longer supports her and she is forced to reckon with a daughter that is now a grown woman with ideas of her own. Desperately clinging to the life she envisioned for the two of them in New York, Nadia must rewrite her story as her daughter is already establishing one of her own.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. The novel is full of vividly drawn characters, particularly the women whose relationships fill the pages: mothers and daughters, sisters and co-workers, friends and neighbors. I only have a cursory knowledge about the current and historical conflicts between Russia and the Ukraine so that aspect of the narrative was very interesting to me. Reyn does a great job of portraying Nadia’s deep connection to her homeland and her anguish over its destruction.

Check out Cannonball Read 11. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“People are like animals. Some are happiest penned in, some need to roam free.” – Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

CBR11 BINGO: Reading the TBR

This was a book that I received for CBR 10’s holiday book exchange (thanks again, kfishgirl). I read and reviewed Walls’ “Glass Houses” last year and loved it. I waited a bit to start this one because I am quickly going to run out of Jeannette Walls titles to read and I’m trying to drag it out a little. So, this one has been on my TBR pile since December 2018 and thus fulfills the “Reading the TBR” bingo slot!

While “Glass Castles” was a memoir written about Walls’ own life, “Half Broke Horses” is about her maternal grandmother. It’s a work of fiction; a “True-Life Novel” sewn together with bits and pieces about her grandmother’s life from stories and memories told to Walls by family members and friends. Only eight years old when her grandmother died, Walls had clearly still formed a connection with her. Judging by her portrayl in the book, it isn’t hard to see that Lily Casey Smith definitely made an impression on everyone who encountered her.

True to life, half true or mostly rewritten history, it really doesn’t matter to me. This book is quite the romp through history and the American South West (with a minor detour in Chicago). It spans from the early 1900’s to the early 1960’s through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, two world wars, and bouts of biblical weather.

No stranger to work, Lily Casey Smith was raised on various ranches; riding horses almost before she could walk and breaking them soon after. An adventurer to her core, she was also thoughtful and practical. A whip smart problem solver who, though she held many jobs, was always, in the end, an educator.

Having read about Lily’s daughter (Walls’ mother Rose in “Glass Castles”) it was interesting to see where she came from. At one point in the book, Lily says that the only person she was never able to teach was her daughter. Rose seems to have absorbed all of the free spirited adventure from Lily, but none of her pragmatism. Both, however, struggle with putting the needs of their children above their own.

The world that both Jeannette Walls and her mother grew up in is fascinating, often tragic and certainly a study on how your childhood shapes who you become. It is a world full of characters that I am often horrified by but always want to root for. With both “Glass Houses” and “Half Broke Horses”, there is an underlying sense of pride that Walls has for her family’s tenacity, intelligence and forward thinking. While how they care for each other (or neglect to) isn’t always healthy, Walls somehow manages to let the love they have for each other shine through.

Check out Cannonball Read 11. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“Monsters know when they are recognized..” – Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

The psychological profiling and tracking of serial killers in books, television and film is extremely interesting to me. The first book that I encountered along those lines was “Silence of the Lambs” and I devoured all of the prequels and sequels to that book as they came out. FBI agents’ freaky ability to get into a serial killer’s head and predict what, where, when and how is FASCINATING. Walking that very thin line between having a healthy mind and one that can process the mind of a monster is stuff that drama is made of.

So, I was already a fan of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling’s Thomas Harris when I picked up this new book; his first in over a decade. I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. Well, I guess that I am but I’m disappointed about it.

This book leans heavily on the super unhinged dude with super dark proclivities part of the scale. The FBI profiling super kick ass woman who is not taking that AT ALL part of the scale is, unfortunately, not weighted enough. With the FBI and other authorities taking a seat waaayyyy in the back of this particular bus, our super kick ass woman is Cari Mora, who was conscripted at 11 to become a child soldier for Colombian revolutionaries. Eventually escaping to Miami, Cari Mora works odd jobs, one of which is as a caretaker for the vacant home of Pablo Escobar in Miami Beach. Rented out as a location for television and film until it can be sold, the house is believed to rest on a buried treasure of gold hidden away by Escobar.

Caught between two groups looking to find and remove the gold as well as the always present threat of ICE, Cari Mora struggles to keep herself alive and her dreams of a better life within reach. Attracted by her physical and emotional scars, Hans-Peter Schneider, the leader of one of the groups trying to retrieve the gold, also wishes to collect Cari for much darker purposes.

Okay. I read this book in a day. It is absolutely a page turner, BUT, it isn’t, in the end, a very good book. There is a lot going on here, loads of characters get dropped in pretty quickly and become hard to follow. The whole drug money gold plot line is often blurred by Hans-Peter’s organ stealing and super extreme kink niche businesses. Law enforcement officials and other ancillary characters get shoe horned in during the last couple of chapters and the book seems like it will cliff hang and lead to sequels when it suddenly and very abruptly ends. While a muddier ending and sequel set up to this book may have been a little frustrating, I think I would have liked it better if that was where it was headed.

There is just way too much going on here and lots of it reads like an outline for a few novels or a screenplay. The Hans-Peter character is a little unbelievable and instead of being a relatable yet terrifying person like Hannibal, he is too cartoonish. I couldn’t shake the image of Hank from the show Barry every time Hans-Peter was on the scene. The character of Cari Mora was outstanding and so layered but Harris just doesn’t really let her go anywhere. She deserves better.

The portrait Harris starts to paint about Miami and it’s people could have been so much richer and more engaging. Timely issues regarding immigration were also brought up and pretty much shrugged off. So much good material but just a sketch of what it could be. No follow through on much of it.

I would give it 3 stars for keeping me on the edge of my seat for a day, but upon inspection and because I know what Harris is capable of, it’s a two. Bummer.

Check out Cannonball Read 11. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“The Chosen ones never know that they are chosen.” Daisy Jones and the Six – by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Another of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club picks strikes again. This is definitely a page turner and a great summer read. Might I also recommend having some good 60’s rock ‘n roll playing in the background as well? Sit under the umbrella or with an umbrella in your cocktail and enjoy.

The basic plot here is pretty straight forward. A band from Pittsburgh called The Six and a singer songwriter named Daisy Jones come together to record a duet and the rest is history. A meteoric rise into stardom, the predictable quibbling of band members that feel upstaged by the singers and the eventual dismantling of the band are examined through a series of recorded interviews. The interviews take place years after the events with each member of the band, their manager, record label executives, friends and family members.

As the reporter plots out the history of how The Six and Daisy Jones came to be, a story about dynamic personalities and the hold that they can have over family and friends, over audiences and at times, even over themselves begins to shine through. We have all known people that can just walk into a room an immediately command attention without asking for it. Those who seem effortlessly talented or interesting or smart.

Of course, our heroes and heroines need to be flawed. In the world of rock ‘n roll this stereotypically means excess, substance abuse and infidelity. Reid, however, approaches their “predictable” struggles in a more unpredictable way. There are no cut and dried Yokos or long suffering and disgruntled wives lurking in the background. No wide-eyed ingénues that never get out from under destructive relationships. Drug and alcohol problems don’t necessarily take the same forms or travel the same paths as you might expect. It’s a familiar song sung to a different tune.

The relationships that form between a group of people who experience the wonder of creating something together that moves others is a bond few people experience. The preciousness of that is not lost here. It’s a great book to while away the afternoon. It is as entertaining as it is thoughtful.

Check out Cannonball Read 11. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“An Eden of dangerous things” – Florida by Lauren Groff

I don’t generally read a lot of short story collections. When I do, I prefer the ones that have some kind of thread that tie them together. This book fit that particular bill.

While each of the stories in this collection have something to do with the state of Florida, the thread that I found the most intriguing was parenthood. What does it mean to parent? How much of one’s identity is tied up in the role of parent? Is there a limit to what can and should be personally sacrificed for your children OR parents?

Groff sets her stories, for the most part, in a hot and sticky world full of snakes, panthers and unpredictable, destructive weather. Here, neglected sisters must be their own saviors. An abandoned son learns what it means to be a husband and parent. An adult daughter lives her own life one month a year while the remaining eleven months are spent caring for her ailing mother.

Interspersed throughout the stories, is a recurring character referred to only as “the Mother”. With her, Groff offers a startlingly honest look at the frustrations and ennui of parenting. This character is novel worthy and I would love to spend a book’s worth of time on just her story.

The heat and unique and varied landscape of Florida is a great backdrop for examining these different parental relationships. As varied as the landscape, loving and caring for children isn’t universally the same. Whether in the swamp or in the tidy xeriscaped suburbs, not every parent is a natural nurturer. Not every parent can keep you safe from the dangerous creatures that lurk just outside.

Check out Cannonball Read 11. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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“…his attraction to her felt terrifying, like an oncoming train, and he threw her under it.” – Normal People by Sally Rooney

Wow. I’m not exactly sure where to start with this one. This was my book club’s pick for June and it is killing me that I will be out of town and unable to discuss it.

Classmates at school, Marianne and Connell operate in completely different spheres. He hangs out with the popular kids, plays sports and is raised by a single mother who is a house cleaner. Marianne is mostly a loner, unpopular at school and lives with her wealthy widowed mother and brother.

They see each other outside of school only because Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house. When their awkward exchanges lead to an awkward sexual relationship, both struggle to figure out what they mean to each other, and eventually to the world at large.

The basic plot has been discussed by fellow Cannonballers so I don’t really need to get too deep into that. I read through the handful of CBR reviews on the book and pretty much concur with everyone else. I had the “Eleanor and Park” vibe as well while reading the book and did also find myself a wee bit preoccupied with the comparison in the early part before the characters went off to college.

Rooney’s ability to capture the painful inner dialogue of the characters is spot on. While both are definitely dealing with issues of depression, anxiety, and abuse, a lot of what they wrestle with is relatable to everyone. Rooney juxtaposes blistering self unawareness with little punches of acute understanding. She takes you on a journey over the course of young adulthood in a way that is both painful and hopeful. The honest vulnerability of her writing is what makes this novel so brilliant. The best book that I have read so far this year.

Check out Cannonball Read 11. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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