I want a pain I understand instead of the one I don’t. “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate

beforewewereyoursMy mother and I are both readers, but only once in a while do we recommend a book to one another that we like. She skews towards easy beach multigenerational sagas and anything by Nora Roberts. I generally do not. When we do find something that we both like, it is usually one that is an emotional wringer and then we blame each other for suggesting the book. I think that she wanted to punch me after she read “Me Before You”.  I have similar feelings after having read this one. Thanks, Mother.

The source material is mined from real life events that are so horrific that it seems impossible to have taken place at all, let alone over the course of decades. Basically a sociopath was able to garner enough clout to have people, at best,  look the other way and, at worst, assist her in stealing children to sell for profit. Housing them in abhorrent conditions and then parading them around like show ponies to wealthy people desperate to have children but unable to, Georgia Tann trafficked children for several decades. Caitlin_D wrote a great review about Tann’s biography here.  I’m curious, but I think I need a breather from this book before I can jump into the non-fictional version.

The book goes back and forth between two stories: the five Foss children in 1930’s Tennessee and the present day Stafford family in South  Carolina. It’s obvious from the start that there is a connection between the families, but the logistics of that build until the end of the book.

The story of the Foss children, told through the voice of the oldest sibling, Rill, who is 12, is the more compelling one.  When their parents must leave for the hospital to seek help for the difficult delivery of  breech twins, the five Foss children are taken from their home on the river and placed into the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Rill tries to keep her siblings safe and close to her but one by one, they begin to disappear as they wait for their parents to return for them.

The present day story line finds Avery, a member of a respected political Southern family, uncovering family secrets after her Grandmother begins to suffer from dementia. Both address the ties of family but the struggle to keep secrets hidden for political and social optics can’t hold a candle to the desperation of a 12-year-old girl trying to hang onto her siblings.

It was obviously a heart wrenching read, but a good book. There needs to be a better way to talk about books that are hard to read but worth it because enjoy doesn’t cut it.  Appreciate?  Maybe.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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Where exactly have you spent these past three years, my Lord? Among some Amazon tribe? “The River of No Return” by Bee Ridgway

riverofnoreturnAfter disappearing from a battlefield in 1812 Spain, Lord Nicholas finds himself in a London hospital 200 years in the future.  Under the instruction of an organization called The Guild, he is whisked away to a retreat in the Chilean mountains to learn how to fit into his new time. Along with his fellow students, Nick discovers that he is a time traveler. His near death experience in battle triggered his abilities.

After boning up on current affairs, idioms and wardrobe choices, Nick settles in New York City.  Flush with money provided by the Guild, he basically spends his time charming the ladies and helping out the cheese businesses that he owns in Vermont,  while adhering to the Guild Club Rules: no one talks about the Guild and you can never go back home. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done when his dreams are frequented by the vision of a young woman from the past.

Back in the 1815 English countryside, a young woman is bereft after the death of her beloved grandfather who often entertained her by performing tricks that stopped time. Unaware of her inherited ability, and at the mercy of her unsavory cousin who has inherited the estate, Julia struggles to find a way out.

Until the Guild resurfaces after 10 years, Nick is unaware that he can go back in time. In need of his assistance to stop a rival group of time travelers, Nick discovers that the Guild may not have been completely honest about his abilities or their intentions. Travelling back to 1815, he reunites with the family who thought him dead on the battlefield and comes face to face with the woman who haunts his dreams.

I’m all for the timey wimey stuff, so I enjoyed this book. It was a bit uneven and parts of it could drag a bit, but the premise and the characters were pretty compelling. It gathered steam towards the finish and I was psyched to get the next book in the series. The ending lent itself to a sequel, Goodreads had (River of No Return #1) next to the title AND it was published in 2013, so I was ready to indulge in the luxury of having found a good one that had already published sequels to move right on to. Alas! It looks like that was the intention, but then NOTHING. Five years is a long time, no? Ridgway did publish a prequel, e-book only as far as I can tell, in 2014 but that’s it.  It’s a little frustrating. I just found Malin’s review from CBR 7 here and she had a similar take. Shake that writer’s block, Bee! We’re waiting.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A novel of peculiar incidents and unruly dissidents. “Competence” by Gail Carriger

competenceBook three of  Carriger’s Custard Protocol series does not disappoint. I know that this author is much discussed in the CBRosphere, so no doubt some of you are already reading this or have it waiting in the wings. For those of you who have not discovered her books yet,  immediately begin with these.  I read  my first of her books during CBR3 and described them as “If Jane Austen lived in Victorian England and was getting properly shagged on a regular basis, this is what she would have written.” I stand by that but should probably amend it to “If Jane Austen lived in Victorian England next door to a shape shifter and was getting properly shagged on a regular basis, this is what she would have written.”  If that appeals, go off and read The Parasol Protectorate series and do not read this review any further as it is slightly spoilery.

What Carriger began with the Parasol Protectorate series, carries on with the offspring of Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Maccon, Prudence. As Captain of the Spotted Custard dirigible, she steers her little on board family across the aetheorosphere in search of adventure. Her ship is kept afloat by a dashing French engineer, a socially awkward scientist and an extremely competent and stylish purser. Round that out with a sexy shapeshifter, a ghost butler, a mysterious drifter and an imprisoned soulless Italian and you have quite the crew.

This third installment  in The Custard Protocol series finds the Spotted Custard refueling in between adventures. The focus here is on the Tunstell twins, Primrose and Percival, which was interesting. Both are prickly, adorably clueless and generally a lot of fun to spend time with.  Struggling with her attraction to the werecat, Tasherit, Primrose throws herself into her onboard ship duties and attempts to find distraction in their latest adventure. Spurred on by a coded message from Prudence’s mother, the crew find themselves on a very delicate and dangerous rescue mission in the Andes. Will they run out of fuel?  Can they navigate an uncharted part of the aetherosphere? Are there enough pastries and cream for tea? Why on earth is Percy wearing a rather questionable fez? These are just some of the crises the intrepid crew must navigate.

Carriger has created a paranormal steampunk paradise full of natural, supernatural and metanatural characters who always have time for a proper tea and accessorize with a purpose even under the most dangerous and extenuating of circumstances. They are witty, sassy and fiercely protective of one another. I admire Carriger’s ability to write such diverse characters so naturally.  They are who they are and not much fuss is made about it which is refreshing.  I am always a little bit sad when I finish one of these books. I try to read them slowly, but it is impossible.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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A golden cage is still a cage. “Circe” by Madeline Miller

circeYet another book that I probably would not have read if it hadn’t been recommended and eloquently reviewed by fellow Cannonballers.  I took a Greek and Roman mythology course in college a million years ago and, sadly, very little of it stuck in my brain. I’m sure that a better familiarity with Greek gods, goddesses et al would have enhanced my reading of this, but I don’t think that it’s necessary here. This is a well told, gripping story of an immortal woman whose longing for acceptance, companionship, love and respect are very, very mortal.

The first-born child in the union of  sun-god and Titan, Helios, and nymph Perse,  Circe is a disappointment to them from birth. Never pretty enough, clever enough or powerful enough to interest her family or the deities around her, she becomes a vessel for their dissatisfaction and a target for constant ridicule.  When her desperate need for love reveals the strength of her true powers, she is exiled to the isolated island of Aiaia where she begins to write her own story.

Miller’s book  is about a lot of things, but one of the most prominent themes is imprisonment.  Circe is not alone in her exile. There are many characters here trapped by magic, by other’s expectations of who they are or should be, by marriages, by their own lust for power, or their devotion to others.  Even the gods build their own cages out of fear, hubris and stubbornness, but is Circe’s struggle against the prison of immortality that drives the story.

I agree with some of the earlier reviews that pacing was a bit of an issue, particularly towards the end of the story. Otherwise, it was a beautiful and bittersweet book and well worth the read.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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An Engineer is no match for a Historian with his dander up! “Mortal Engines” Philip Reeve

mortalengines

This is a book that has lurked on the edges of my “I should add this to my TBR pile” mental list but somehow never made it on. I saw the trailer for the upcoming film version of it and knew it was something that my kid and I would both like, so I took the plunge.

In terms of world building, it’s a unique one in the vast landscape of dystopian, steampunk, young adult fare. Hundreds of years in the future, we have somehow ruined our planet in a cataclysmic war, and now cities are mobile and will travel. Imagine an entire metropolitan city shoved into a hotel on wheels.  Larger cities consume smaller cities or suburbs in an increasingly competitive and desperate grab for dwindling resources. One of the more successful cities practicing this “Municipal Darwinism” is London. Led by a mayor and broken up into ruling guilds with specializations in things like engineering and history, the city chases down its prey, gobbling up other cities’ resources and enslaving or killing the inhabitants.

London is turned upside down when a young woman, Hester Shaw, attempts to kill a beloved and revered Historian, Valentine. This assassination attempt throws Hester together with a historian apprentice, Tom,  in an unlikely partnership that reveals to Tom that his city and the “heroes” that inhabit it are anything but heroic. Katherine, Valentine’s daughter,  comes to similar conclusions while digging into her Father’s past. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of ignoring the value of history and a chilling look at unhinged and misguided leadership.

My only criticism is that Reeve really leans heavily into this world without a lot of proper explanation.  There are so many unique naming conventions and social and cultural practices dropped  rapidly into the story that there is little time for the reader to really ease into it. It wasn’t intellectually challenging, but the volume of  it bogged me down a bit and I found that I would have to go back and re read paragraphs.  All of the nuances of the world are thrown at the reader lightening fast, driven by a plot that is constantly moving from crisis to crisis.  I generally find that the vast majority of books could use more editing to pare them down, but in this case, it might have been better to take time to fully explain things. This is the first book in a series and I’m not sure if I will continue with it but it will be interesting if, now that I have experience with Reeve’s world,  it will be a little easier to sink into the next book.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

 

 

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All couples start off as Romeo and Juliet and end up as Laurel and Hardy. “My Ex-Life” by Stephen McCauley

myexlifeThis book was selected by my book club. I’m not sure that it would have been one that I picked up on my own, but I enjoyed it. It’s an interesting exploration of how we connect and disconnect with the world around us and how relationships evolve over the years.

After  their short marriage ended 30 years ago, David and Julie reconnect. Now both in their mid 50’s and experiencing a break up and a divorce respectively, they come together at Julie’s hodge podge old Victorian house in a small seaside village in Massachusetts. David, who runs a business helping high school students apply to college, is there to help Julie’s 17-year-old daughter figure out her future as much as he is trying to figure out his own.  Having recently split with his boyfriend, David finds himself self medicating with food and about to lose the carriage house that he rents in San Francisco for far below market rates.  Julie, also about to lose the roof over her head if she can’t come up with enough money to buy her husband out, is juggling an increasingly distant teenaged daughter, the pressure of a financially over extended ex-husband, a wide assortment of Airbnb guests and a wee bit of a pot smoking problem.

Smarting from their wounds, David and Julie quickly fall into the comfort of mutual affection and familiarity. Their new non sexual attachment is an interesting one, and McCauley does a good job of exploring their unique relationship. David, Julie and Julie’s daughter, Mandy, are complex characters who, while not always self-aware, are struggling to be which makes them very relatable and likable. The other cast of characters in the book are basically just foils for this which is one of the problems that I have with the book. Every other character is part of a selfish and money hungry horde.  Virtually indistinguishable from each other, they seem to exist just to throw up roadblocks and rub salt into the wounds of the main characters.

My biggest complaint, however, was that Julie and Mandy were always at the mercy of the male characters in the story. Doing little to actively save herself, Julie pretty much smoked pot and worried while her ex-husbands either tried to take advantage of her, kept personal information from her “for her own good”, or made unilateral decisions about her life.  Mandy has a similar trajectory with her father pressuring her about her future and an older local man preying on her insecurities. Even though McCauley went to great pains to illustrate that Julie and her daughter Mandy were interesting and smart women, he essentially rendered  them helpless in the face of adversity. Both shut down and wait for the man on the white horse to swoop in. Ugh. For that, I would give it 2 1/2 stars, but it was really very well written and interesting otherwise, so I give it a 3 with reservations.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

 

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.. the good Lord went to ridiculous lengths to make sure that one of the finest minds in existence was housed in a body least likely to be suspected of it. “A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas

studyinscarletwomenThis wasn’t on my radar at all until  CBR folks started reviewing The Lady Sherlock Series.  Thanks! I have zero knowledge of the Sherlock Holmes novels aside from how they are interpreted or reinvented by television and film. At some point, I probably should add that to my ever-growing pile of BOOKS I SHOULD READ.  For now, I can’t in any way make comparisons in this review but I have the sense that this book stands on its own merit anyway.

Charlotte Holmes is not content to marry well and live out a dull life in society. Unable to secure the funds from her family to attend school in hopes of becoming a headmistress and therefore owning her own keep, she devises a rather extravagant plan to force her Father into cooperation. When that plan backfires spectacularly, Charlotte runs away from home armed only with her brilliant mind and an odd talent for sizing people up within moments of meeting them.  This talent is well suited for crime solving,  as it turns out. Charlotte becomes Sherlock and Sherlock becomes Charlotte’s beard of sorts. Posing as the sister and assistant to the ailing fictitious Sherlock allows her to hang her shingle and earn her own living in a man’s world.

Give me a sassy heroine who is whip smart and fidgety in her corset and I’m sold. This one did not disappoint! The second book in the series is already atop my TBR and a third is going to be published in October. I love it when goodness lines up like that.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.

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