Miss Kate’s CBR6 Review 1: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’ Engle

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Hello! I should really have started writing these earlier in the year, but since I obsess so much over them, tend to put it off.

And here is another thing I put off – reading this book. It has been on my list for YEARS, but I never got around to it until this year.

Originally published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe.  The story is  pretty simple: the Murry kids’ father is a scientist, and while working on the mysterious “tesseract”, he disappears. Meg and her brother Charles Wallace are pulled (by their mysterious neighbor Mrs. Whatsit) into a plan to rescue him.

They travel through space to a distant planet and fight an evil being by the name of “The Black Thing”, the source of all evil. The story is pretty exciting, and I imagine for young children it would be even more so. Though I found some of the “immortal” characters a little silly, it didn’t mar my enjoyment. (Besides, this wasn’t written for old bags like me.)

Honestly, though, I felt that the storyline is really secondary to the characters and their development. Meg is 13 or so – awkward, smart (especially in math), but not as smart as her genius brother Charles Wallace, a 5-year old prodigy. She has a smart mouth, is unpopular , strong and fiercely loyal. You find strong female characters like her in modern YA fiction: Lyra Belacqua, Katniss Everdeen, etc – but I imagine Meg Murry was the first. And she is awesome. Charles Wallace, as I said, is a genius who can talk to Meg through telepathy. Calvin is the BMOC, but we find that he also considers himself an outcast.

A Wrinkle in Time is a classic for a reason. Read it, and get your kids to read it.

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Miss Kate’s CBRV reviews #10, 11,12: The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

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I’m a little late to this party, and probably the last person I know to read these books. My husband has had the first movie uploaded to our Tivo for awhile, and we haven’t watched it because I wanted to read the books first!

Anyway, in the future, after the oceans rise and North American continent has been reshaped, the former United States is now called Panem. Split into 12 districts, they are ruled over by the Capitol. There had been 13 districts, but 75 years before the 13th district led a rebellion against the Capitol. The rebellion was crushed, and the 13th District was detroyed. As a lesson to the rest, every year the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games. Two young people from each district are chosen to compete in a fight to the death. The people are forced to watch, and the winner gets food and shelter for themselves and their families for the rest of their lives.

Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year old girl living in District 12 (what is currently Appalachia). She hunts illegally with a bow to feed her mother and sister. She’s a tough cookie, but she has to be to survive. When her little sister’s lot is chosen in the Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place.

She is sent to the Capitol to prepare for the games with Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son and the other “tribute” from District 12. There they are trained and sent into the arena to meet and try to kill the tributes from the other districts.

The first book, The Hunger Games, tells of this first competition. It’s harsh. I’ve heard these books described as the “anti-Twilight”, and while they are more than that, I can’t think of two more opposite characters than Katniss and Bella. Katniss is smart, resourceful, but also vulnerable in a way that feels genuine. She’s not supergirl, but she’s pretty awesome. Young girls need more characters like her. The Hunger Games ends with the end of the competition and announcing of the winner.

Catching Fire starts where the first book left off. We find Katniss dealing with the consequences of her decisions in the arena. The Capitol is not happy with her. I won’t spoil it, but she has to go back and compete again, this time against new characters. This book felt the shortest, and I read through it pretty quickly. Where the first spent time setting up the Hunger Games universe, this just rolled right out of the gate and was fast paced.

Mockingjay, like Catching Fire, begins exactly where the second book ends. In this book, Katniss finds herself the unwilling symbol of rebellion against the Capitol. I think while good, (and a fitting end to the trilogy), I enjoyed this book the least. The pacing is necessarily slower – there is a great deal of soul-searching and we do see growth from all of the characters.

There is a quote that runs through all 3 books, from Haymitch, former champion and mentor to the tributes from 12: “Always remember who the real enemy is.” In the end, Katniss does.

Read more reviews at Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

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Miss Kate’s CBRV review #9: City of Women, by David R. Gillham

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1943 Berlin. The title of this book refers to the fact that at this point in WWII, Berlin is basically populated mostly by women holding the home front together.

Sigrid is the wife of a soldier away at war. Middle-aged, living in a drab apartment with her horrible mother-in-law, she goes through the motions every day. She works at an office, tries to make her rations go as far as they can, tries to keep her had down and be a model citizen.

She has desires, though. Sigrid can’t stop thinking about her former lover, who is Jewish. She has lost contact with him and is frantic to hear whether he has managed to get out of Germany. There are other people who enter her life, as well: the high-ranking Nazi officer and his pregnant wife who move in to her building, the young girl downstairs working as a mother’s helper who is more than she seems.

Soon Sigrid is involved with things and people she knew existed, but was careful to avoid. She is faced with the choice of either continuing to ignore the reality around her, or to face it and do what is right.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Sigrid felt real to me: intelligent, passionate – she is compelling, a hausfrau who rises above what is expected of her. What struck me the most, I think, is how nuanced many of the characters are. Like real people, they are neither completely good nor bad.    

I highly recommend this book.

Read more reviews at Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

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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 I 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 Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

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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 Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

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Miss Kate’s CBRV review #6: The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession, by Charlie Lovett

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Peter Byerly is an antiquarian restorer and book dealer. He is also in mourning for his wife Amanda. His friends and family despair of him ever pulling himself out of his funk.

One day while leafing through an old volume on Shakespeare forgeries, he finds a watercolor portrait of what looks like his late wife. It’s can’t be, because this picture was painted during the Victorian era.

This starts him on a journey to discover the truth about the painting and the book in which it was found. He also tries to tackle the mystery of whether Shakespeare actually wrote his masterpieces. The story moves back and forth in time, and I won’t spoil it by telling you more.

The Bookman’s Tale has been compared to Shadow of the Wind, another great story about book obsession. I can see it, but this actually reminded me more of The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, in that the book itself is almost a character. Some of the coincidences in this story are a bit too convenient, and there’s a little supernatural element towards the end that I felt didn’t really fit. If you love books, however, I think you’ll like this.

Read more reviews at Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

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Miss Kate’s CBRV review #5: Midwife of the Blue Ridge, by Christine Blevins

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Given my obsession with the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I pretty much jump when I see any books about 18th century Scotland/Scottish immigrants. I picked this book up hoping to get a taste of some bodice-ripping, witch-cursing colonial goodness before Gabaldon’s next book comes out. I was’t too disappointed with Midwife of the Blue Ridge. While it’s not a great book, it is fun.

The book’s description says that “As the lone survivor of an attack on her village, she is thought to be cursed…she hopes to escape the superstitions of the old country…” This all happens within the first couple of chapters, and then we never again hear of her being considered a witch. Maggie is a young Scottish midwife who signs herself into indentured servitude in America. She arrives in 1763, around the time of the Native American uprising known as Pontiac’s War.

Maggie’s feisty, she’s gorgeous, she catches the eye of all the red-blooded men in the colony. There are your usual characters: the folksy settlers, the super hot frontiersman who is afraid of marriage (of course), and the rich, titled, dissipated fop (read: villain). There are war parties, kidnappings, settler being thrown off their land, etc. Through it all, Maggie keeps her chin up. 

There was nothing really surprising in this book, no plot twists that I didn’t see coming (ok, maybe a couple). But it’s a fun, escapist read.

Read more reviews at Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

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