Caitlin’s #CBR5 #57: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

shining-girls
I did not like this very much. It was just kind of gross and weird, which was sad because the premise is really good. You can read my review here.

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narfna’s #CBR5 Review #101: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

bridget-jones-mad-about-the-boy1SPOILERS AHOY. Just this whole thing. Don’t even read it. Unless you don’t care about being spoiled about something that was in the news and people freaked out about on Twitter and also you learn in the very first paragraph of the book. In that case, welcome, dear friend.

When I say that I was sad about the news that Helen Fielding would be killing Mark Darcy in her third Bridget Jones book, I am practicing the rhetorical technique known as litotes, which is fancy asshole for “understatement.” The reason I am being a fancy asshole about it is that I have never in my life been more upset about the death of a fictional character than I was about Mark Darcy. ‘Devastated’ would be an accurate word for my emotional state. Also ‘destroyed.’ And ‘demolished.’ I am laid waste to. The more astute of you will notice that I am now employing the opposite of litotes, hyperbole, which is one of my favorite and most used forms of expression. I am doing this because I am a fancy asshole, as stated previously, but also because I am putting off as long as possible having to write the rest of this review, which I am convinced will crumble me until I am nothing more than dusty remains of what used to be a person.

Because Fuckin’ A, Mark Darcy is dead.

Initially, I wasn’t even going to read the thing. I felt betrayed. I felt it was unnecessary and cruel. And I hadn’t even liked the second book all that much anyway SO THERE. But then I got curious. And a friend reviewed it positively. And I gave in.

I’m so glad I did. I loved this book. I loved it hard. I loved it against my will.

If the first two books were about Bridget coping with the life of a terminally single woman, and then learning to navigate the perils of adult relationships, and both of those things were now accomplished, then what is the point of having a third book? Well, it turns out that what Bridget is coping with this time around is how a person can live through their grief and come out the other side. Fielding is also clearly interested in examining through Bridget the process of coming to terms with aging, and what’s like to have to start over after you thought you were done. You had it in the bag. And I think it’s something she succeeds at handily.

It’s not that these topics are anything new. Actually, I’m fairly sure there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of books written surrounding similar issues. What sets this one apart, however, is that we knew Bridget before she was a fifty-year old widow with two young children, grieving over a husband she loved very much. We fell in love with Mark Darcy as she fell in love with him, we experienced their relationship pangs and joys together, and we were almost as happy as she was when their story ended in a — what turned out to be — temporary happy ending. So now, we’re not just reading a story about a widow trying to start her life over and cope with her loss, we’re experiencing those losses with someone very like a friend. And we’re not just reading about her grief; we’re experience it right along with her. I felt physical pain during the scenes when Bridget thought about her dead husband, what his face looked like the night their daughter was born, how he kissed her goodbye the last time she saw him, how he would never see his children grow up.

And the thing about those scenes is that Fielding uses them so sparingly, interweaving them with episodes of Bridget’s awkwardness in dating, in parenting, in friendship, and in work, that they hit all that much harder when they appear. Bridget is trying so very hard to move past the death of her husband. She isn’t dwelling on it (at least anymore, but it’s been years in book time since Darcy’s death). Fielding’s style very much reflects Bridget’s state of mind. I found myself alternately sobbing and laughing on more than one occasion.

Because yes, this is a sad book. But is also a very, very funny one.

So if you take anything from this review, if you’re one of those people who are refusing to read this book because of what you heard on the news, I ask that you reconsider. It might stil be painful for you, but it will be painful in a way that feels true, and you will come out the other side just fine, just as Bridget does. Maybe you’ve just got a little more sadness mixed in with the rest.

I’m almost tempted to give Mad About the Boy five stars, writing this. But she did kill Mark Darcy after all, and we can’t let her completely get away with it.

[4.5 stars]

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #70: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThis will be my last book and book review for 2013. I definitely don’t have time to read and review another one, and I’m already looking forward to Cannonball Read 6 and the books I’ll be reading next year.

“I just wish that God or my parents or Sam or my sister or someone would just tell me what’s wrong with me. Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense. To make this all go away. And disappear. I know that’s wrong because it’s my responsibility, and I know that things get worse before they get better because that’s what my psychiatrist says, but this is a worse that feels too big.” (139)

 The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) by Stephen Chbosky was a book I would not have read if it weren’t for my new book club. I saw the movie, which was all right, but I was distracted by Hermione and I didn’t love it. I also rarely read a book after having seen the movie. The visuals from the movie are too strong and interfere with my imagination. But it’s a short book, so I figured I could suck it up for my friends. And I liked it! Much more than the movie. Charlie’s insight and inner thoughts came across much more clearly for me in writing than on the screen. Not that the movie did a bad job, it just has its limits. I still wish I’d read the book before seeing the movie, but I’m glad I read it.

Continued…

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #68: Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas

Suddenly YouI picked up Suddenly You (2001) by Lisa Kleypas because I was still craving some romance after finishing Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed an Earl. It’s not that I disliked I Kissed an Earl, but I kept waiting for a comforting kind of intimacy that I never found. Apparently I have very specific needs for my romance. Thus, with my romance craving unfulfilled, I tried another one.

Continued…

loulamac’s #CBRV review #82: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris; audiobook read by Johanna Parker

dead until dark

I watch True Blood, but I am not a fan. I don’t like Anna Paquin’s performance, and Stephen Moyer makes my skin crawl. I watch True Blood for Eric, I swoon over True Blood for Eric, I rewind and pause True Blood for Eric. So that, plus my monomaniacal loathing of all things Twilight might have you wondering why on earth I would go to the trouble of downloading this audiobook for my gym and running sessions. Why indeed? It just sort of happened, and now that it has, it’s not right but it’s ok. I won’t be reappraising the ghastly TV Sookie’n’Bill any time soon, but I didn’t mind this book.

For any of you who don’t know already, Sookie Stackhouse is a telepathic waitress in rural Louisiana. Vampires have recently ‘come out of the coffin’, although they are still something of a rarity in Sookie’s hometown. All that changes when Bill Compton, veteran of the American Civil War, walks into the bar where she works. The two are thrown together when Sookie saves his life, and before long they’ve fallen into bed, and in love. Alongside this unusual love story is a murder-mystery, as someone is killing local chicks who’ve got history with vampires. Sookie looks like she’s lined up to be the next victim, and her brother Jason is the prime suspect.

The murder element of the plot had much more traction in the book than I remember from the TV show, which is part of the reason I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Johanna Parker’s reading is another. She manages to overcome the more banal sequences (much of the book is given over to descriptions of what Sookie is putting on as she gets dressed, down to the colour of the scrunchy she has put over the elastic band that’s holding her ponytail in place), and gives Sookie a voice that is down-home without quite being hokey. Sookie is selfish and frightened, but also loves her friends and family, and really cares about what happens to them. Johanna Parker gives her dignity and stops her from coming across as shrill (Anna Paquin, take note).

loulamac’s #CBRV review #81: Life & Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee

michael k

This is a strange, disquieting, upsetting book. It is dream-like and confusing, while being very well-written. Having said that, I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t see how you can ‘enjoy’ reading a book about a brutal world intruding into the existence of a fragile idiot savant. Terrible things happen.

Michael K is a simple man, in every sense of the word. Living in a South Africa riven by civil war, Michael’s in his thirties, and his hare-lip and learning disabilities mean that his existence is limited to his work as a municipal gardener in Cape Town and taking care of his invalid mother. Illness has meant that she can no longer work as a domestic for a rich family who live in a luxury apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and she wants nothing more than to die on the farm where she was born. So with nothing more than a cart Michael has made, very little money and no official papers, the pair set out on their journey. It is winter, and after a short time Anna is in hospital, where she dies, leaving Michael alone. Before long, Michael is picked up by the authorities, and finds himself in a work camp. What follows is a surreal chain of events that sees him escape, nearly starve to death in the mountains, cultivate pumpkins on an abandoned farm, be arrested again and kept in the prison hospital before escaping once more to return to the coast.

The sense of the chasm between the haves and have-nots is intense in this novel. Anna K lives in a small room under the stairs in the apartment block, a room intended for the air conditioning equipment. The book also seethes with injustice, whether it’s the unfairness of Anna K’s life, her ignominious death, the exploitation of refugees in the work camp, or Michael’s incarceration. What’s interesting is that despite the books subject matter, it somehow doesn’t come across as political. Michael isn’t accepting of his fate, but in his repeated escapes from imprisonment and refusal to eat he isn’t making a statement, he’s just doing what feels right for him.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #80: Call for the Dead by John Le Carré

smiley

This is an interesting, charming little book. While no classic, it is noteworthy as it is the first outing of David Cornwell as John Le Carré and provides the introduction of George Smiley.

The plot hinges upon a murder mystery, is set against the backdrop of the cold war and features characters we’ll get to know better in the Karla Trilogy. Unlike the later Smiley novels however Call for the Dead is more focused on the solving of a crime than it is international espionage, and reveals much more about Smiley’s emotional life. Fascinatingly this includes his courtship of, marriage to and first estrangement from ‘the demon Ann’, a character who is so absent but so crucial to Smiley’s battle with Karla.

The crime in question is the apparent suicide of a civil servant from the Foreign Office, who kills himself in his Surrey home a matter of hours after meeting with Smiley. Smarting as his boss points the finger, Smiley’s spidey-sense is set a-tingling when his initial interview with the widow throws up more questions than it answers. Working with a policeman who is on the eve of retirement, and the reliably glib Peter Guillam, Smiley  digs deeper and uncovers a conspiracy that goes back to his years as a recruiter in pre-war Germany.

As I said, this is no classic. The writing and plot do show glimmers of the glory that was to come in Smiley’s People (read my review of that here), but the chapter headings, massive chunks of dialogue, and explanatory epistle from Smiley at the end are pretty clunky. It is worth a read though, if only to satisfy any curiosity you may have about Smiley himself.