Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #86: The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr

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I read a lot of Sherlock Holmes in college. My Victorian England class picked apart the Hound of the Baskervilles over a three week period, and the detective fiction class I took covered at least three or four of his stories. This is the first Holmes novel I’ve read that wasn’t by Doyle, and I have to say that Caleb Carr captured his essence perfectly.

Holmes and Watson are called by Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft, to investigate some deaths that took place at “Holyrood House” in Edinburgh. Mycroft is worried about the safety of Queen Victoria, while locals insist that spirits haunt the house due to the murder of one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ secretaries centuries before.

There’s the usual appearance of otherworldly things, which of course Holmes debunks one by one. The plot itself is nothing spectacular, but it’s always fun to watch Holmes do his thing while Watson attempts to keep him under control.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #85: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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“He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man had been called.”

This is my first time to review a book that I’ve actually read before, though this time I listened to the audiobook instead of reading the novel. I read Stardust for the time in maybe 2005 or 2006. I enjoyed it, as I enjoy all things Gaiman. Then, a few years later, I saw the movie. This has to be the one and only instance I can think of when a movie has improved upon the book from which it was adapted. The film version of Stardust is, first of all, cast PERFECTLY, and in the places where it deviates from the book, it does so in a way that I wish Gaiman had thought of when he wrote the novel.

Anyway, I’ve seen the movie quite a few times but never revisited the novel. I was looking for an audiobook to accompany me on the treadmill, and thought I would read it again. While it’s not my favorite Gaiman novel (Neverwhere), it’s still a great story.

Gaiman set out to write a fairytale for adults, and Stardust was the result. Young Tristran Thorn sets out into the land of faerie to fetch a fallen star for his love, and encounters all sorts of strange and wondrous things along the way.

One note about the audiobook: I love listening to Neil Gaiman talk. I’d listen to him read the phonebook. My only complaint — and it’s a minor one — is that the main character’s name is “Tristran”, and even in Gaiman’s lovely voice, that name sounds like someone speaking through a mouth of marbles. Very glad that the movie adaptation dropped that second “r”!

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #84: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

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“You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. If you won the Irish Sweepstakes and bought a house that needed furniture would you fill it with bits and pieces of rubbish? Your mind is your house and if you fill it with rubbish from the cinemas, it will rot in your head. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”

This is a sad book. Frank is born in Brooklyn during the depression, an unwanted child whose appearances forces a marriage between his unhappy mother and alcoholic father. The family moves to Ireland after the death of his sister, where his extended family resents him because he looks like his Northern-born father. Two more babies die. No one has any food or money or heat. They live in a flea-infested house that floods every winter. It was a terrible time for many, many people, and particularly bad for Frank’s family, since his father drank every penny he made before disappearing completely.

Still, I liked the book. McCourt’s writing style is humorous, and he blends tragedy and comedy in such a way that makes the story stay very balanced. His anecdotes about his teachers and friends made me laugh even while the descriptions of the hunger and cold his family suffered made me tear up. He obviously had a good mind, and therefore was able to rise above the tragedy so many endured.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #83: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

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“I have no idea how people function without near-constant internal chaos. I’d lose my mind.”

Well, it’s definitely heartbreaking. As for staggering genius…eh. This memoir, written about the deaths of Eggers’ parents and his subsequent raising of his much younger brother (at the time of his parents’ deaths, Dave was 21 and his brother was 7) follows the Eggers brothers to California and watches them try their best to grow up together.

Eggers’ writing style is known to anyone who reads McSweeney’s, which I did religiously for a while and then became bored of. The book followed a similar path to me. It’s very meta — characters break the fourth wall occasionally and Eggers admits that he made certain parts up entirely. It also rambles in a stream of consciousness kind of way. At first, his way with language was enjoyable but eventually I began skimming the pages-long paragraphs of musings, just waiting for some actual plot to reappear.

The actual events of the novel are interesting, and Eggers’ attempt to pick apart his own psyche while raising his little brother is a heroic effort. Definitely an interesting work, and I think I may try one of his fictional novels next.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #82: The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins’ War #3) by Philippa Gregory

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While this is the third book published in Gregory’s “Cousin’s War” series, it is the first chronologically, and I really wished I’d read them in chronological order rather than as they were published. The Lady of the Rivers focuses on Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, whose daughter is the main character in The White Queen. As a result, I already knew how Jacquetta’s story would end, and therefore wasn’t as intrigued by the telling of her life. Obviously, these are historical characters, so a quick Wikipedia search would have revealed all the details anyway. But I think I would have been more interested in Jacquetta as a young woman if I didn’t already know her as an old lady from The White Queen.

She’s also not a very interesting character, in my opinion. She’s married off to the Duke of Bedford as a young woman due to his interest in her so-called magical powers. Gregory has incorporated magic into her “historical fiction” before, but here she just mentions it as a power Jacquetta might possess, but never really lets her use it.

After the duke dies, Jacquetta remarries for love. She spends the rest of the book, which covers the timespan at the beginning of the War of the Roses, simply following around the Queen (Margaret of Anjou) and having a baby about every 18 months. Seriously. Her husband goes to war, she goes to court, he returns, she gets pregnant, she returns home, has the baby and it all repeats again. I think there’s 14 kids total, and Gregory mentions every.single.one. But we don’t get to know any (other than a small bit about Elizabeth, who is the focus of The White Queen, so again, I already knew her story).

It’s just really repetitive and very dull in parts. The fun thing about Gregory’s novels is the gossip and backstabbing of the royals, and this book just lacks that. If you’re going to read the series, either start here as a bit of background, or skip it entirely.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #81: The Infinite Plan by Isabel Allende

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Allende’s The Infinite Plan follows the life of one man, Gregory Reeves, from his time as a four year boy traveling the country in a van with his parents until he is an old man. Gregory goes through many changes in his life, living in the barrio for while, attending college, serving in Vietnam and several careers. He also marries, fathers children, has countless lovers and loses friends. As we follow Reeves through his life, we learn about the consequences of his decisions and the affects they have on others.

This was a pretty interesting book. Reeves is not terribly sympathetic, but seeing his through the eyes of his friends and family (Allende switches from first to third person throughout the novel) make you understand why he is loved fiercely by some and hated by others. He’s definitely a unique character.

In the end, I’m not sure how much I enjoyed Reeves’s story versus how much I enjoy Allende’s manner of writing. But either way, I liked it.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #80: Zorro by Isabel Allende

24796I will admit, going into the novel, my entire knowledge of the canon of Zorro was based on the movie with Antonio Banderas, which I watched one million times as a confused pre-teen, alternating my lust between Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones. I finally landed on Banderas, but it was a close one.

Anyway.

Allende wrote Zorro as an origin story for the hero, and it is really a lot of fun. Since I’ve never read any other Zorro books or seen the other movies, I honestly have no idea how much as based on other stories and how much she made up. But as she traced his journey from birth to Spain to returning to Alta California, I had a lot of fun watching this wicked little boy grow into the justice-seeking hero we all know. 

The female characters in the book are well-developed too (as Allende’s often are) and made it that much more of a fun read.