Funkyfacecat’s #CBR5 Review #11: Mary Poppins, She Wrote by Valerie Lawson

The gaps in Saving Mr Banks scream to be noticed — what happens between the sweet, imaginative, tremulous Ginty Goff, and Miss Travers, the crotchety, chic and red-lipsticked dame who holds the keys to something Walt Disney very much wants and refuses to release them for mere filthy lucre? While the film links Miss Travers to Ginty through (some might say excessive) flashbacks, a great deal must have occurred between the ages of 10 and 60, between the Australian drawl of Ginty and the clipped upper-middle-class accents of Miss Travers, between the blazing red dust of the Australian outback and the twee terraced house with the cherry tree outside it.

Apparently, between Allora and Los Angeles, Travers fell in with various spiritual gurus, travelled the world, was a published journalist and poet, had a stint acting, and did a great deal more with her life than write about a stern governess and whimsical adventures that  she always insisted were not “children’s books”–and the people she knew, her triumphs and suffering, and her accomplishments and ambitions far exceed the brief list I have given as well.  She was, as everybody is, a person of contradictions, who tried to hide her past (including her name and nationality) but gave hints of it in her work, and wanted no biography but meticulously kept records and sold them to public archives. (Lawson uses this last as a justification for breaking Travers’s command to have no biography, which is a bit tenuous.) Suggestions of the author’s vulnerability and powers appear in Emma Thompson’s marvellous performance in the film, but unfortunately the gaps in the film don’t allow her to fulfil the full potential of the role and the story.

Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers (1999) goes a long way towards connecting the dots, but unfortunately–or perhaps inevitably–draws some of its lines out of conjecture and flights of fancy, trying to recreate Travers’s process and imagery–”she might have felt this” or “she probably remembered that.” Nevertheless, it’s a persuasively argued biography, with the evidence it produces going a long way towards sharpening a great deal of the sugar of Saving Mr Banks. I won’t spoil all the revelations, but I must say that if Disney did indeed use this biography as a basis for the film, it’s an extraordinary case of double-think at work; Travers’s experience with Disney did not end in a heartwarming scene of reconciliation between Walt and P. L., and she publicly criticised the film for the rest of her life. I recommend Mary Poppins, She Wrote to anyone who loves the books (not children, though!) and was left wanting by the film.

Teresaelectro’s #CBR5 Review #9: Thorn Queen by Richelle Mead

I voraciously consumed the Georgina Kincaid series by Richelle Mead. Meaning when I came across the Dark Swan books, I was instantly intrigued. Storm Born was an easy read with another kick-ass female protagonist – a shaman named Eugenie Markham. However, the tone of this series seemed far more serious than a succubus demon with romance problems. Nevertheless, I delved into the second book, Thorn Queen with no expectations.

In the first book, Eugenie discovers her father was the brutal, all powerful Storm King. A prophecy foretells she will deliver a male heir who will rule both the human dimension and the Otherworld. Thus, she must continually fight off creatures trying to impregnate her by any means necessary (i.e. rape). None of the supernaturals seem to have heard of birth control, which could totally throw a wrench in the works. Eugenie simply decides to never have kids and stay vigilant with her pill. Voila. Apocalypse averted. [small spoiler] At the climax of this first book, when Eugenie defeats an evil king, she inherits a kingdom in the Otherworld that is physically and emotionally tied to her, even when she’s crossed over by to the human world. This means she immediately and at no warning from her sexy OtherWorld tutor/ally King Dorian transforms the lush land into a desert. Almost a near replica of her Tuczon, AZ home in the human world.

 

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At the start of Thorn Queen Eugenie doesn’t want to be Queen of anything. She is afraid of the strong storm magic from her evil father who liked to murder people with lightening for fun. She rather keep her that part of her locked away, content with her semi-uneventful shamanistic existence. But she can’t give up her kingdom that easy. If she’s in the human world too long, the land literally suffers without her – a fierce drought has taken hold of the land and the fae have no irrigation systems. She takes pity on them and is eventually talked into harnessing some power to call rain for crops. Too bad, she’s pretty shit at it. Raw storms with killing lightening come natural, but seasonal rain not so much.

She calls again upon Dorian for help, who says in not so many worlds he still wants to bang her, but only willingly. And she’ll thank him for it. Talk about sure of yourself. In the end, since he likes her and is such a nice guy, he agrees to help her with no strings attached. Eugenie still suspicious demands a female teacher this time around since things got a little hot and heavy last time. So Dorian offers to lend his number 1 mistress to teach her magic. And let me tell ya, that lady is NOT pleased. Eugenie is offended but decides to get in a few quickie sessions. The plan is to learn air and water magic, call some rain, abdicate that throne and get the hell out of dodge. Leaving behind the temptation for power (and sex from Dorian) in the Otherworld. In the human world, she lives with her veterinarian/shapeshifting fox boyfriend who just moved in with her. However, even that situation is a bit of a pickle. His ex-girlfriend Faery queen is having his baby back in the Otherworld. These fae don’t get pregnant often and consider babymaking a dying art.

In summary, this Eugenie gal has to contend with a new kingdom, powerful seductive magic, hot Dorian, also hot boyfriend, potential supernatural rapists and figuring how to give up said kingdom. Throw in a mystery of disappearing girls and we got shitload of subplots going on in this book. Mead surprisingly juggles all these stakes quite well. I was way more engaged than with the first book. Instead of being afraid of the Otherworld, Eugenie feels a motherly allegiance for her kingdom especially when she learns innocent girls are being kidnapped. And with the prophecy, there is this undercurrent of anxiety with her every move. She could be seduced by her own power and embrace that dark prophecy at any moment. We do see a glimpse of her power, but of course we must wait until book 3 to see how it all unfolds.

A few spoiler-free reviews on goodreads have me quite apprehensive about the last book saying it took a horrible near offensive turn. So naturally, I’m curious for Iron Crowned but not sure I’m up for a character sabotage. Definitely at the bottom of my library wishlist.

Read my other reviews and musings on my blog.

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR5 Review #08: Swan Song by Edmund Crispin

I am horribly, ridiculously behind, but now my thesis is winging its way to examiners, my last teaching before Christmas is almost done, I can read fiction guilt-free, and in theory I have time to post some more reviews. So here goes.

I like old-school detective stories, and I like Oxford, and I have liked detective stories set in Oxford, and I enjoy Lewis occasionally, but I did not enjoy Edmund Crispin’s Swan Song (1947) very much. Starring Gervais Fen, in a nebulous sort of way, the plot centres around an odious opera singer and the drama behind the scenes–when Edwin Shorthouse is found dead in a locked room after a conversation in which several people expressed murderous intent, could it possibly be suicide as the police suspect?

Gervais Fen is an academic, but it’s unclear, at least from this novel, in what field. He is considered witty, and has, as is right and proper, an ambivalent relationship with the more conventional forms of law and order, i.e. Inspector Mudge. He lacks much personality beyond the occasional quip and leap of logic. In this particular investigation, he is aided by Adam, also an opera singer, but of a pleasant, non-primadonna type, and his new wife Elizabeth, who writes about crime and is well read up on poisons. The action takes place in Oxford just after the war, which is indicated not only by street names and references to random colleges, but the use of the Bird and Baby, which Tolkien, Lewis and the Inklings called The Eagle and Child pub, and the occasional splash of local colour: ‘There goes C.S. Lewis,’ said Fen suddenly. ‘It must be Tuesday.’ And this may be overly persnickety, but if someone’s familiar enough with Oxford and its literary scene to call the Eagle and Child the Bird and Baby, they should know that C.S. Lewis usually went by “Jack.” 

Anyway. It’s a pleasant enough read, despite irritations, but it suffers in comparison with the Other Oxford detective novel – Fen seems a pale Wimsey, Elizabeth a non-descript Harriet Vane, the solution to the crime, although ingenious, contains both heavily signposted elements (“he was not to know that someone else knew where the revolver was” and that kind of thing) and elements that the reader, i.e. me, could see coming from miles off but do not become clear to the celebrated detective until the final denouement. Overall, disappointing, but passes the time. I might try another of his books at some point.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #52: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

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This long read recently won the Booker Prize and has garnered much praise for its author, 28-year-old New Zealander Eleanor Catton. It’s an ambitious project, and every review I’ve read of it references Catton’s emulation of 19th century novels, a la Charles Dickens. The Luminaries, like a soap opera, involves a large caste of characters and complicated, intersecting story lines. Once you get through the first 400 pages, it starts to come together and gets a little easier to follow. I kept thinking as I was reading that it would make a wonderful mini-series (and would be easier to follow and keep everyone straight).

The novel opens on a dark and stormy night. Really. A weary traveler named Walter Moody stumbles upon a meeting of a dozen unusual men, men who wouldn’t seem to have any common cause. But of course they do, and it’s complicated, with each man telling his piece of the story. In short, it involves the murder of hermit Crosbie Wells, missing person emery Staines, drug-addled whore Anna, gold, and a very bad man with scar on his face. Catton spins her story both backward and forward, and between the dozen men at the meeting plus another half dozen or so important characters, it gets rather hard to manage at times.

One aspect of the novel I found confusing had to do with the gold. The story unfolds in an 1860s gold rush town in New Zealand called Hokitika. Catton has done extensive research on the gold rush and gets her economics and society facts straight, but the plot lines that involve gold — who’s got it, where did it come from and where is it now — read like a literary form of 3-card monte. I suppose it’s intentional, keeping the reader as confused and in the dark as the twelve men trying to find out what happened to the Wells, Staines and Anna. But then there’s the complication of the missing trunks (more than one!) and one character stealing another’s identity to commit financial fraud.

Another aspect of the novel that was lost on me had to do with astrology. The luminaries — sun and moon — refer to two particular characters, and the 12 men each stand for a sign of the zodiac. Each chapter begins with a chart of the zodiac for that particular day and how particular characters interacted with each other on that day. A character named Lydia, who works as both a madam and amateur astrologer, leads seances and reads people’s charts for them. Perhaps this is simply Catton showing popular interest in astrology at that time, but I’m sure there is some deeper, greater significance to all this astrological stuff that I’m just missing.

Still, I was willing to remain bewildered over the economics and astrology thanks to the brilliantly drawn and diverse characters and a story that holds together well if you stick it out to the end. The hookers here do not have hearts of gold, the Chinese miners are abused and not considered worthy of consideration, the pharmacist deals in opium, a politician is being blackmailed, and Walter Moody may or may not have seen a ghost. Striking it rich, forgetting one’s past and exacting revenge seem to be common goals on the frontier, and that makes for good reading.

The end of the novel does not provide the reader with all loose ends tied up neatly in a bow, but it was a satisfying resolution to me. On the whole, I liked the novel quite a lot. It can be a bit of a slog at first, but once you see the connections among the characters and the facts of their pasts slowly work their way forward, it’s an engrossing story.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #50: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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Cannonball Read V: Book #50/52
Published: 2007
Pages: 304

Genre: Young Adult

Hannah is a high school student who committed suicide. Before she did it, she recorded 13 cassette tapes naming all of the people who contributed to her decision to end her life and why. If the people on the tapes don’t pass them along to the next person the list, a second set of tapes will be made public. The book follows Hannah’s classmate Clay and his experience listening to the tapes.

I had really mixed feeling about this book.

Read the rest in my blog.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #49: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Cannonball Read V: Book #49/52
Published: 1925
Pages: 177

Genre: Classic

On my quest to read more classics, this one was high on the list. Mostly because it’s short. It’s no secret that I generally don’t get into the classics very well for some reason. I usually find them extremely slow and boring. The Great Gatsby started out that way, but by the end I was pleasantly surprised.

If you don’t know the plotthe story is narrated by a man named Nick who moved into a small house on Long Island, NY. He notices that his neighbor always holds elaborate parties at his mansion next door, but is rarely seen himself. Eventually Nick and his neighbor, Jay Gatsby become friends and Nick finds out that Gatsby has been in love with his cousin Daisy for years. Daisy just moved back to the area with her husband. 

Read the rest in my blog.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #48: Born to Bleed by Ryan C. Thomas

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Cannonball Read V: Book #48/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 184

Genre: Horror

I loved Ryan C. Thomas’ The Summer I Died and I had no idea there was a sequel until recently. I picked it up despite the mediocre reviews and unfortunately came to the same conclusion: disappointing.

This books takes place 10 years after the horrifying events in The Summer I Died. ***SPOILERS FOR THE SUMMER I DIED*** Roger ended up surviving after watching his sister and best friend die at the hands of a maniac. ***END SPOILERS*** He’s obviously still very traumatized and barely functioning after he moved to southern California to be an artist. He’s out painting at a lake one day when his co-worker at the galley he works for, Victoria, and her boyfriend mysteriously vanish. After finding their car still there with blood on the ground, Roger goes all detective to track down a suspicious SUV that was there earlier and that he thinks might be the kidnappers.

Read the rest in my blog.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #47: The Green Mile by Stephen King

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Cannonball Read V: Book #47/52
Published: 1996
Pages: 548

Genre: Mystery

Having read most of Stephen King’s books, I’m not sure how I managed to never pick up The Green Mile. I’ve also never seen the movie (yet…working on that), so I went into this book only knowing the basic plot: It takes place on death row and there’s a giant guy who may or may not have done the crime that landed him there.

Paul Edgecomb is the narrator who is in a nursing home type place writing down this story that happened when he was a prison warden in the 1930s. He saw a lot of people die while working on death row, but John Coffey stood out to him. He was brought to the prison after being convicted of raping and murdering two little twin girls (but did he actually do it?). He’s a strange man – absolutely huge, but gentle and soft-spoken and seems to never stop weeping tears. Turns out, John Coffey has some special healing abilities as well.

Read the rest in my blog.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #46: Duma Key by Stephen King

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Cannonball Read V: Book #46/52
Published: 2008
Pages: 700

Genre: Horror/Fantasy

Another brick of a Stephen King book. Some are completely worth wading through 1000 pages (The StandUnder the Dome…shut up, I liked that one) and some aren’t (InsomniaThe Tommyknockers).Duma Key was pretty middle of the road. Good enough to actually finish (can’t say the same for those last two I mentioned up there), but not crazy good.

Read the rest in my blog.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #51: The Night Guest: A Novel by Fiona McFarlane

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The Night Guest is one of those mysterious, sly novels that throws you off balance and causes you to second guess the author all the way through. You know from the first pages that our main character Ruth is someone out of the ordinary. As we learn more about her, it becomes less clear what is real and what is fantasy.

Ruth is a 75-year-old widow, mother of two grown sons, living alone at a beachside house in Australia. When we first meet her, she has been awakened by a sound in the house which she is certain is a tiger. The next morning, a government carer named Frida Young unexpectedly arrives on Ruth’s doorstep to help her for a few hours each day. While Ruth is willing to accept Frida’s help, and her sons are pleased that someone is looking after mum since they are too far away and too busy to check in on her, there is something a bit off, perhaps even sinister about Frida. Ruth experiences occasional qualms over her presence, but what we learn throughout the novel is that Ruth is experiencing the onset of dementia. How much of her concern is genuine and how much is a figment of her imagination? And what about that tiger? It seems easy enough to write that off as a bad dream or a sign of dementia, but what if it’s something real?

The Night Guest is, on one hand, a story about growing old, losing your faculties and independence, and needing to rely on strangers for help. It was especially poignant for me because we, like many, are dealing with this in our family right now.  Ruth’s dementia becomes an opportunity for her to revert to her past, to remember her youth and first love in Fiji. Ruth’s parents were medical professionals and missionaries there and Ruth did not move to Australia until she was 19 or so. McFarlane reveals Ruth’s dementia through her recollections and telling of stories about her time on Fiji, stories whose details change and become muddled as the disease progresses.

But it’s that tiger that really fascinates me. The tiger appears at the very beginning of the story and again towards the end. Ruth’s reaction to the thought of a tiger in her home is not what you might expect. Rather than fear, she experiences something more like exuberance. “… there was another sensation, a new one, to which she attended with greater care: a sense of extravagant consequence. Something important, Ruth felt, was happening to her, and she couldn’t be sure what it was: the tiger, or the feeling of importance…. She felt something coming to meet her — something large, and not a real thing, of course, she wasn’t that far gone — but a shape, or anyway a temperature.”  She goes on to think, “For some time now she had hoped that her end might be as extraordinary as her beginning.” I can tell you that the end of the novel is rather extraordinary and would be a topic of some discussion in a book group.

I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. This progress of the dementia plus our concerns about Frida make for a suspenseful and tense tale. And that cover art is pretty cool, too.