Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #104: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

imagesI know I have definitely read John Grisham books before… but I can’t for the life of me remember any of the particulars.  Somehow though, leafing through Sycamore Row brought such a great sense of familiarity, I had finished the first few chapters before I had even realised I was reading it.   I have no idea whether Grisham’s representation of small town Mississippi is realistic, but then, I also didn’t realise immediately that this novel was set in 1988 – so I guess I’ll just take the scene at face value.

This novel picks up the story of Jake Brigance – a small town lawyer who was at the heart of Grisham’s first novel A Time to Kill.  (Note: though that novel has now been majorly spoiled for me by the events in this one, it still sounds like a great read.   Perhaps read that one first if you’re interested.)  Here, Jake is drawn into a dispute over a will, after a wealthy local white man hangs himself, but directs Jake by letter to ensure his family is disinherited in favour of his black housekeeper.  Did the housekeeper take advantage of a sick old man?  Was he in his right mind in making this final will?  Is it morally right to leave money outside the family?  The town is divided on the rights and wrongs of the issue.  Jake is suddenly faced with a court battle to defend the will against the slick, big city lawyers, aided only by the housekeeper’s daughter, his alcoholic former partner (now disbarred), and the local go-to divorce lawyer.

Though the twists and turns here weren’t that hard to see coming, I still enjoyed this story.  The courtroom setting was not too dry as the story really kept coming back to the community and the people, facing issues of race, family and money in a small town.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #103: Gunn’s Golden Rules by Tim Gunn

UnknownThis is the second book I’ve read this year by Tim Gunn, but this was published a few years earlier.  The first I read, Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible, was a wonderfully curated history of fashion that I very much enjoyed.  Golden Rules however is quite different, and seemed to change gears so many times, that I never really felt like I knew what the point of it was.

Loosely put together along the theme of “life’s golden rules” this feels like an absolute brain dump of Gunn’s life.  Don’t get me wrong – I think he is an incredibly interesting man and I admire him for what he has achieved in his life.  However, this book really doesn’t have a strong enough pathway for me to feel comfortable with it as a presentation of life lessons; it veered so greatly between professional stories to the most incredibly personal revelations, that it felt like I had stolen someone’s diary.  It was the inconsistency of the subject matter and voice that I found uncomfortable.

For those who like Gunn on Project Runway, there are enough insider stories of the show, the contestants and the judges to make it interesting.  For those looking for further detail on Gunn from “It Gets Better” he does share many stories of his childhood and sexuality.  Maybe the key to enjoying this book is to read it one chapter at a time rather than cover to cover – individually the stories are interesting, but it is as a collection where the cracks begin to show.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #102: The Ladies’ Delight by Emile Zola

UnknownThe Ladies’ Delight – originally published in French as Au Bonheur des Dames – is a delightful read.  This is the novel that the BBC/PBS series ‘The Paradise’ is based on, but is so much better.  The plot is almost identical, though set in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century.

The story is all about the advent of the department store.  Until this time, retail was a very select affair, with shopkeepers selling only one or two specialty items.  The idea that all manner of goods could be sold under one roof with low costs on specific items pulling in the customers was considered absolutely revolutionary.  We enter this world with Denise Baudu – a young woman from the provinces who has come to Paris with her two younger brothers after the death of their parents.  Their uncle owns a store across the street from Au Bonheur and as such, his livelihood has been much affected.  Since he cannot provide for them, Denise must do the unthinkable and apply for a job at the department store.

From Denise’s perspective, we see behind the glamorous façade – the 13-hour workdays, the expectation that the female sales assistants stay unmarried, live chastely in the attic, and retire at 40.  There is much in-fighting and jostling for position within the departments, and Denise as the unsophisticated country girl bears the brunt of much of it.  However, she soon catches the eye of the visionary owner of Au Bonheur, Octave Mouret.

The world Zola describes feels absolutely real and the Parisian landscape is wonderful.  The difference in position between the salesgirls and the women they serve is so distinct that they seem to be from different completely different worlds.  This is a fantastic read.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #101: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

UnknownThe fifth installment in ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ series (which I will always think of as the Matthew McConaughey lawyer series) is actually a pretty good read.  I felt like I’d obviously missed some backstory to this plot, which wasn’t explained that well, but I guess that’s expected when you’ve missed the previous three books in any series.  Still, it’s an easy one to pick up and dive into.

Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a defense attorney in LA.  Running his own firm from the back of his Lincoln towncar, he rates pretty low on the glamour scale.  His “firm” consists of a junior lawyer, his ex-wife and her new husband, and they basically are surviving month to month on bank foreclosure cases and the like.  This looks to change when a man arrested for the murder of a prostitute asks for him by name… with the recommendation coming from the murder victim herself – an old friend of Mickey’s.  From there it’s wheeling and dealing as Mickey works the angles to save his client.

This was an easy read that kept up a nice pace with lots of good plot development.  It is very much a procedural, so would probably only appeal to those who like the battle of wits in the courtroom and getting the inside scoop on some of the shady deals that happen as a matter of course within the justice system.  Not necessarily a must-hunt-down, but would be a good one to read on the plane flying home for Christmas.


Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #100: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Unknown2This book was a total standout for me, in that it may be the most boring thing I have ever read.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I adore an Austen-adjacent story and this appeared to be an interesting take – Pride and Prejudice retold from the point of view of a servant in the Bennet’s home of Longbourn.  Unfortunately, this makes the book so severely limited in scope, as though the servants are present throughout the story, their lives are necessarily filled with the drudgery of their work.  I have never been so grateful for my washing machine until I was subjected to page after page of rather too much detail about the state of the Bennet family laundry.

The author does take a few licenses with the source material – the young Mr Bennet had a rather scandalous secret bastard son with Mrs Hill the housekeeper.  This son reappears as a footman during the story without knowing the truth of his parentage… shades of Gosford Park.  Elements of the original story are otherwise incorporated as we go along, which is fine while the action is actually taking place at Longbourn, but is completely forced when the story moves elsewhere, as obviously, the servants have no oversight as to what is going on away from home.

I think this novel would have been a lot more interesting if it were set in a larger household a la Downton Abbey or Gosford Park, or simply did away with the Pride and Prejudice connection all together, but at Longbourn with only Mr and Mrs Hill, Sarah, Polly and the footman, I’m not surprised the author spent so much time dwelling on laundry day.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #99: Flesh Wounds by Chris Brookmyre

UnknownChris Brookmyre to Christopher Brookmyre is as Iain Banks to Iain M. Banks – the same author but pursuing a totally different style and subject matter.  Christopher Brookmyre is an author I have found hilarious for years – a Scottish writer of some of the funniest satirical novels I’ve ever read.  On the other hand, Chris Brookmyre plays it completely straight with his series starring Jasmine Sharp; a rookie PI in Glasgow.  Flesh Wounds is the third of the series, continuing Jasmine’s story, her connection with the underbelly of Glasgow and her somewhat problematic relationship with the police.

Flesh Wounds begins with the assassination of local crime boss Stevie Fullerton.  Jasmine is pulled into the case when Glen Fallon, a close friend, is arrested for the crime.  Fallon is the logical suspect and all the evidence points to his guilt – seemingly an easy win for the police.  But this is Glasgow, are there are layers of history and bad blood that set Jasmine in a new direction.

This novel relies heavily on characters and relationships that were established in the first two novels: Where the Bodies Are Buried and When the Devil Drives, so I would definitely recommend reading those before starting this book.  At times I actually found myself wishing I had taken the time to reread them myself, as I only half remembered certain elements that were further developed here.  Nonetheless, an absorbing read, well written and full of Glasgow colour that really brings the story to life.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #98: The Circle by Dave Eggers

UnknownMae Holland is a young woman in a crappy job when she gets the opportunity of a lifetime  – a role at The Circle, the most powerful and influential tech company in the world.  A hybrid of Facebook, Google, Twitter et al, The Circle is an all-in-one internet identity for users, linking everything from your personal banking, social media, online shopping, health care, internet searches – you name it, it has been consolidated.  There’s no agenda here, it’s simply the next logical step to making the internet a more convenient and tailored service for users.  Now that there is no anonymity, users are more considerate towards one another; with all your online activity in one place, it truly does offer real connectivity to the people and things you care about.

Mae is thrilled to be a part of the future and be involved in some projects with outstanding benefits – Child Track, which protects children from abduction by microchipping and monitoring their whereabouts, to a preventative health program, where an ingested chip constantly monitors and uploads data to your profile where changes will alert medical services.  Mae soon becomes integral to life at The Circle where she experiences just what true integration and sharing is.

This is a fantastic book.  Each step towards “completing the circle” (or “closing the circle” depending on your point of view) seems eminently logical.  Arguing against each small step towards further integration seems pointless, as individually, each step appears a good idea.  But when taken as a big picture, the concept is terrifying.  Is privacy a form of theft?  What is democracy?  What are the rights of the individual versus the rights of a society?  At times this may seem a little heavy-handed, but I loved the way this novel led me through the ever-increasing steps towards a totalitarian society, and yet each step seemed entirely justifiable.  The concept of communication and friendship – what does it really mean to have those ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ as opposed to meaningful connection?   Seriously, this is a wonderful book – one of the best I have read all year.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #97: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

imagesWhat an adorable book.  I read this with a grin on my face, as it was such a good depiction of being at work.  Okay, I might be more of an IM girl with my work friends, but the whole stream of conversation that you can keep up through a day while managing to work at the same time is exactly like this.  I truly hope that my conversation isn’t popping any red flags because I would hate for anyone to read some of the nonsense conversation we get into.

Beth and Jennifer are two friends who work at a newspaper office.  It’s 1999, so email is still a bit of a novelty.  They spend their days maintaining an ongoing conversation about all their shizz – relationship issues, family, everything.  What they don’t realise is that their conversation has raised a flag with Lincoln in the IT Security Office.  At first he reads their emails in his role to monitor the improper use, but he soon becomes drawn into their story.  Though he’s never met them, the more he reads, the more he falls for one of them.  But how can he possibly tell her that he’s fallen in love with her through reading her private conversations with her friend?

This is a wonderful story and I’ll definitely be looking for more by this author.  Though normally the idea of a book written in email conversation would be enough for me to set it aside, here it really is more of a back and forth conversation between the two girls (no painful email formatting etc.) and is further broken up by chapters about Lincoln.  It works really well and I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #96: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

imagesI was surprised to discover this book published in 1993 was actually about the author’s experience in 1967.  Not having seen the movie, I had been aware of the subject, but didn’t know any of the particulars.   Sadly, like a lot of experiences shared about mental health institutions, it served mainly to make me think how much harm is done in the “best interest” of the person.

Susanna is 18 in 1967.  After a short meeting with a doctor she has never seen before, she agrees to enter McLean Hospital, a psychiatric centre in Massachusetts.  She goes with the understanding that this will be to give her a break for a couple of weeks.  However, she is there for nearly two years before she is released.

Susanna tells her story as a series of vignettes that leap around in non-chronological order.  There are stories of her fellow patients, the staff, her treatment, her need to try to make sense of the time that is passing, and the difficulty of reintegrating back into the world.  This really is a self-contained realm away from any external influence, though the patients are allowed television, so they get some sense of the radical changes happening outside.

There is a lot of interest here – the trends in psychiatric diagnosis that need to label individuals in order to cure them, the difference between understanding the mind and treating the brain, and whether there is an identifiable line between normal and deviant.  It is also apparent now that Susanna was caught up by her society’s fear of changing values and radicalism.  Some of her “symptoms” would now clearly be dismissed as typical teenage behaviour.  That isn’t to say that Susanna was not clinically ill – she does describe some self-destructive behaviour – but her incarceration for two years is completely disproportionate.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #95: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

sleepI was a huge Stephen King fan when I was a teenager.  I think Dead Zone was my first, which absolutely scared the beejeezus out of me, and then I slowly worked my way through the lot – always finding something new at the library or a secondhand bookshop.  I always had a preference to the novels I read back in the heyday – Salem’s Lot, Christine, The Shining, It…  Some of the later novels weren’t really my cup of tea, so I stopped seeking them out.  But hearing that Doctor Sleep was a sequel to The Shining was enough to get me back on track, and this book is absolute classic King.

Doctor Sleep is the story of Danny Torrance, now a grown man.  His psychic abilities – his “shine” – has lessened now that he is older, but he is still haunted by memories of his experience as a child, and embraces alcoholism in an attempt to block everything out.  This of course creates new demons and Dan is in a self-destructive spiral.  Now working as an orderly in a hospice, Dan uses his abilities to assist the passing of the residents, and gains the nickname Doctor Sleep.

Abra is a young girl with a very strong shine.  She is being pursued by members of the True Knot, a vampire-like group who feed on “steam” which emanates from children with shine as they die.  The True Knot travel constantly across the US in an RV convoy, searching for their victims.  They appear as completely harmless seniors, totally escaping notice.  Abra becomes aware of them and reaches out to Dan to help her.

Because this is a Stephen King book, there is obviously a whole lot more than that going on.  This is a fast paced book that really sweeps you along.   There is a real sense of peril, compelling characters and great dialogue.   I loved a couple of the throwaway references to other books – nicely played.  I’ve read a lot of negative reviews about this novel, basically coming down to the fact that this isn’t as good as The Shining.  To me, I think that I have a sense of nostalgia about all of King’s early novels that will always make them seem to be the classics, but I did find this to be an enjoyable read.