pyrajane’s review #36: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Cold BloodBook groups are the best because not only do you get to pick books that have been on your To Be Read list since forever, but you also get to read books that you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up on your own.  In Cold Blood is the latter.  It’s one of those books that I’ve probably thought “Huh.  I should read that some day.”  Happily, a book group member had access to a ton of copies, so here we are.

I had very little background knowledge of this story.  I know the book itself is considered a great work and is often found on Books You Must Read list.  It also helped create a genre of fictionalized journalism where Capote took nonfiction and added in the details.  We don’t know what really happened, but Capote interviewed people and filled in the blanks with his own details.  This, of course, bothers some people who think it creates fiction.  Once you muddy the waters, it’s no longer a truthful account.

In November 1959 in a town in Kansas, four members of the Cutter family were murdered.  This was a place where things like this don’t happen.  There was no motive, no reason for the family to have been targeted and it looked like whoever had done it was going to get away with it.

Read more about the murder, the men who committed it, and Capote’s research and nonfiction fiction.

Miss Kate’s CBRV review #8: Lady of Hay, by Barbara Erskine

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OK. This book looked promising to me at first. Part historical fiction, part thriller/romance/fantasy, it seemed the perfect Next Read. But for me it devolved into full-on hate read.

Set in 1980s London, the book centers on Jo Clifford, a “modern, independent career woman”. She is a journalist, and in the course of researching a story on past life regression, she is hypnotized and begins to have visions of life in the 12th century. it turns out that Jo is the reincarnation of Matilda de Braose, wife of William de Braose, actual historical bully, and one of King John’s closest friends.

As she goes deeper and deeper into the investigation, Jo starts to regress automatically. She has no control over when or for how long these sessions last. She gets more and more involved with Matilda’s life, believing that YES, she is Matilda.

This part was interesting. Although a lot of the real Matilda’s life is murky, it’s obvious that the author did her research here. De Braose was a noble with lands in Wales, and was responsible for some pretty gruesome attacks on the local population. He was raised up quickly, and when he angered John (a petulant SOB if there ever was one), he lost everything. While de Braose fled to France, his wife Matilda and oldest son were captured and starved to death at Corfe castle in 1210.

Again, I enjoyed the parts of the book that dealt with Matilda. But Jo was a bore, and my heart sank every time the book switched back from Matilda’s story. Seriously. Jo is supposedly a “strong” woman. How do we know? Because we keep being told this. There’s clearly no evidence of it in over 600 pages, as she really has no personality. Ugh. (I’ve never read Barbara Erskine before, so I can’t say anything about her other work, but I’m not likely to try her again.)

I generally don’t like straight romance novels but I like good writing, so I gave this book a chance. Is this a Romance novel? I don’t know. The “romance” itself was pretty sickening. The men in her life are the Worst. SPOILER! Everyone Jo knows was also regressed. They knew her in the past, all want her now, and at various times they: let themselves into her apartment/hypnotize her against her will/RAPE!/BEAT!/or just creepily take advantage of her. But at no time does this nitwit consider calling the cops or even changing her freaking locks. CHANGE YOUR LOCKS!

She just keeps going back for more. And on. For 600-plus pages. I’d say that this is the author’s commentary on the mindset of an abused woman, but I think that would be giving her too much credit. I honestly believe that Erskine thinks this shit is romantic.

Lady of Hay could also have used an editor – at over 600 pages, I can’t tell you how much time is wasted describing about Jo’s latest linen shift dress or how often she shared dinner and a bottle of wine with Nick despite the fact that he’d tried to strangle her the night before. the story could easily have been told in half the pages. At one point, about 500 pages in, new characters are introduced out of the blue and become important for a hot minute. I liked them, but kept waiting for them to have a purpose. I frankly would have preferred the book to be about them.

Why did I keep reading? Because I’m not a quitter, that’s why. But seriously – if you want to read a good book about the Plantagenets or Wales in the 12th Century then read Sharon Kay Penman. Spare yourself this dreck.

Read more reviews at misskatesays: http://misskatesays.com/2014/01/04/miss-kates-cbrv-review-8-lady-of-hay-by-barbara-erskine/

loveallthis’s reviews #1-26: a roundup post!

loveallthis 2013 reads

I read and reviewed 26 books in 2013. Here they all are.

  1. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner – 2 stars
  2. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – 4 stars
  3. Among Others by Jo Walton – 4 stars
  4. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling – 2 stars
  5. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell – 3 stars
  6. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire – 2 stars
  7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 5 stars
  8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 5 stars
  9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – 3 stars
  10. Some Things that Meant the World to Me by Joshua Mohr – 2 stars
  11. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace – 5 stars
  12. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer – 4 stars
  13. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – 3 stars
  14. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain – 3 stars
  15. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter – 4 stars
  16. Stonemouth by Iain Banks – 4 stars
  17. Embassytown by China Mieville – 3 stars
  18. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – 4 stars
  19. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld – 3 stars
  20. Shift by Hugh Howey – 4 stars
  21. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – 5 stars
  22. Railsea by China Mieville – 2 stars
  23. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – 4 stars
  24. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – 2 stars
  25. Oblivion by David Foster Wallace – 4 stars
  26. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – 4 stars

Phew! On to next year. Happy reading, everyone!

pyrajane’s review #35: Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation by Aisha Tyler

Let’s all join hands and frantically get these last reviews in before noon tomorrow, shall we?

WoundsI like Aisha Tyler.  I liked her onTalk Soup.  I liked when they brought her in to Friends so they could have a black friend.  I like her on Archer, which I don’t watch enough of.  I love love love her podcast, Girl on Guy.  I was super excited when she announced that she’d be hosing the return of Whose Line Is It Anyway?.  She’s super funny, and even better, she’s really smart and geeky.  She’d been talking about her book for a while on Girl on Guy and I was really looking forward to reading it.  I wish I had gotten the audio version though.

Tyler ends Girl on Guy by asking her guest to share a self-inflicted wound.  These are stories of things that are just bad and you have no one to blame but yourself.  Wrecked credit, getting an STD twice from the same girl when you know it’s going to happen the second time, punched in the face by a jealous boyfriend… usually these are super embarrassing stories and the most cringe inducing part is that you can’t blame it on anyone else but yourself.  These are the moments where you look back and wonder “What did I think was going to happen???”  But hopefully they’ve made you a better person.  Or not.  Who cares, as long as it’s a good story.

Tyler turns her question on to herself for this book and creates a memoir of sorts where she retells her own self-inflicted wounds.  Some are hysterical, some are learning experiences, some show her path to success.  It’s a good mix, like anyone’s life should be.  There are some that I sort of flipped through and others that I completely related to and took my time with.  I think most people will find at least one story that they will cringe along with and think “Oh god… me too.  I did this.”

Read more over on my blog, if you so wish.

pyrajane’s review #34: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Whoops!  Wrote this one a while back and forgot to post it here.

I love love love Holly Black.  When I read Tithe for the first time, I found a kindred spirit.  I’ve read all of her YA and dug up a lot of her short stories in various anthologies.  I’ve been lucky to see her on a few different panels at different book events.  Even better, she lives a few towns over from me, so sometimes I’ll see her when I’m out.  And then I embarrass myself by trying to tell her how much I like her writing.  Seriously, it’s bad.  I once walked past her in a restaurant and didn’t want to interrupt her, so I planned on tossing out a quick “Thank you for writing” but instead I sang it.  I sang it.  “Thank yooooooooo… for wriiiiiiiiitinggggggg…..”  Think of the scene from Elf where they think Buddy is a sing-o-gram except make it horrific.  I don’t know what happened in my brain.  I then followed up with “I donnnnnn’t knowwwwww… why I am sinnnnnnngingggggg….”  She laughed and thanked me.  I went to the bathroom and realized I was going to have to walk by her table again on the way back to mine.  I’m in my thirties and I had just awkwardly and painfully serenaded a favorite author.  I think I managed to save it on the way back with a casual “I really love your books” as I passed by.  Smooth.

Coldtowns are where the vampires live.  And those who might become vampires.Coldtown And those who are obsessed and enthralled with vampires and want to serve them in any way.  It’s also where people are sent who are infected and if you can prove you’ve made it through your quarantine without turning, you can leave.  But no one ever seems to leave.

When you’re bit by a vampire, you get cold.  And hungry.  If you go Cold and then drink human blood, you’re done.  You get sicker, then you die, and then you come back to life, or whatever the category is for vampires.  The guideline for quarantine is eight-eight days.  If you can make it that long without taking human blood, you’ll be OK.  The problem is that when you’re craving blood, you will do anything to get it, including trying to kill your own daughter.

Read more about seventeen year old Tana, her bitten ex-boyfriend and a vampire that she’s either helping, or is waiting to kill her.

Look, I know that Twilight has done a lot of damage, but please don’t judge this book by those.  It’s really good and it’s not a “Ooooo, I’m going to write bad vampire YA to cash in!” book.  Black is an incredibly talented writer and had this been published before all the Twilight crap, it would be getting the love and attention it deserves.

And hey!  If you like Twilight, then check out a different tale of what happens when a teenage girl gets involved with a vampire.

ABR’s #CBR5 Review #26: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

xmas-carolAfter my failed attempt to get in the holiday spirit by reading Holidays On Ice, I picked up the surefire solution, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Nearly all of us know the story … Ebeneezer Scrooge is the original miser who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve in an attempt to redeem him.

You may think you have heard or seen the story so many times there isn’t a point to reading the book, but you’d be wrong. The book is perfect. It manages to be festive and foreboding, comical and creepy without the sentimentality that comes with so many holiday stories (many of which are interpretations of this very story).

Although it is relatively short – 170 or so pages – I spent a week reading it leisurely to my kids. Whether you read it alone, out loud to your family or find an audio version you can enjoy, I would highly recommend making this book part of your holiday traditions.

Miss Kate’s CBRV review #7: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

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This book is creepy.

The story is this: Dr. Montague studies the paranormal. To this end, he gathers a group of disparate people to investigate Hill House – a creepy old mansion that no one wants to stay in overnight. There’s Theodora – flirtatious and glam; Eleanor – mousy, lonely and weak willed; and Luke – heir to the property. 

They come together in the house, and in the course of the next few days they investigate the property as their sense of horror grows as the house itself seems to be coming alive. Not much actually HAPPENS for most of the book, but the feeling of dread is pervasive. Jackson’s descriptions of the dark, mildewy manse practically jump of the page.

This story is short – more like a novella. When the ending comes – and it does, abruptly – it’s quick and devastating.

Read more reviews at misskatesays.com: http://misskatesays.com/2014/01/03/miss-kates-cbrv-review-7-the-haunting-of-hill-house-by-shirley-jackson/