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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 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/

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/

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/

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/

Miss Kate’s CBRV review #4: Lorna Doone: A Romance Of Exmoor, by R.D. Blackmore

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I read Lorna Doone as part of my effort to read more of the classics, and I’m glad I did. This is the late 17th century in England, a time of political and religious strife. Charles II has just reclaimed the throne after years of exile.

Told in the first person, it is the story of John Ridd, a simple farmer living in Exmoor with his mother and sisters. Nearby live the outlaw clan the Doones. The Doones had once been wealthy nobles, but had lost their title and lands due to a lawsuit, and have since taken up banditry. John is a young boy when his father is murdered by them during a highway robbery. The Doones live in a heavily guarded valley and are pretty much untouchable.

One day, while out hunting, young John meets Lorna Doone. (She was kidnapped as a little girl and raised as a Doone.) Over the years they meet in secret, and fall in love. Eventually she tells John that she is slated to marry Carver Doone, the son of the Doone leader and a pretty bad guy. The Doones will then take her inheritance. As their romance matures, John becomes determined to save Lorna from her wicked family.

The story starts off slow, but builds and becomes exciting in parts. There is love, loss, battle scenes. Lorna Doone has never been out of print, and it’s easy to see why. The writing is extremely Victorian – Blackmore suffers in some parts from excessive wordiness, and his female characters are a bit one-note. Frankly, I found Lorna herself to be somewhat of a simpering bore. But as a modern kid of girl, I can’t expect a 19th century male author to share my sensibilities!

Where Blackmore’s writing shines, though, is in his descriptions of country life. Taking into account the upheaval in England during the Industrial Revolution, the author’s love of nature and the older ways of doing things are evident on every page. (Now I want to re-read Middlemarch.) Lorna Doone is not a quick beach read, but it’s a good one!

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

Miss Kate’s CBRV Review #3: Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

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Set in 1820s Iceland, Burial Rites is a novel based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir. In 1829, she was executed for a double homicide, the last person to be so sentenced in that country.c

At this time, Iceland is a backwater, provincial outpost whose officials have to answer to Copenhagen. There is no prison, so Agnes is sent to a farm to wait out her sentence. It’s a lonely place, and the family with whom she is staying (understandably) distrust her. She becomes close with the young clergyman sent to prepare her soul for the afterlife, and eventually, heartbreakingly, her full story comes out. As we hear of Agnes’ life, you get the sense that in this time and place, a woman like her never had a chance and that her fate was probably inevitable.

Burial Rites is not just the story of Agnes, though. It is rich with a sense of time and place, the descriptions of the stark Icelandic landscape vivid. We witness the effect Agnes has on those around her. As we near her execution time, the sense of dread is palpable. It’s a sad but beautifully written story.

It’s a sad, yet beautifully written story.

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

CBRV Review #2 – Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

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I’ve been terribly remiss with writing these reviews, but I wanted to get this one in before Thanksgiving!

As children we were all told about the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, their initial meetings with Native Americans, and warm and fuzzy story of the first Thanksgiving. And there it ends. (We hear something about witches later on, but things get a bit muddled until the 18th century.)  But what REALLY happened, before and after?

This is something Nathaniel Philbrick (author of In The Heart of the Sea which I SO want to read), explores in his excellent book. He spends a little time on the background of the Puritan community, covering their flight from England and decade-long stay in Leiden. We are introduced to William Bradford, William Brewster (so many Williams!), John Howland, the young indentured servant who fell off the Mayflower and had to be fished out of the sea. (Full disclosure: according to my Gram, he’s one of my ancestors.) And of course, the very short Miles Standish. He was short! And violent. But oh so short! Surprisingly, the description of the voyage is not long considering the book title. The real meat of the story comes later.

The author gives a beautiful, detailed account of the Puritans’ encounters with the Native Americans and their fragile alliance with the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit.  Illness, near-starvation, the rise of other, more successful colonies. The daily struggles, the political rivalries in English and Native American communities. Friendship and mistrust on either side. This all comes to a head in the very bloody King Philip’s War, 55 years after the landing at Plymouth. 

What struck me most about this book was how even-handed it is. Their are no real villains (ok, maybe one or two), and no real heroes. These were real people, and they were all remarkably human and well-rounded. Philbrick offers an unflinching narrative of the both the cruelty of some and the struggles of others to rise above it. 

I recommend it.

 

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I keep forgetting my password. Bleh

 

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