Sunday 28 May 2023

CBR15 Book 20: "Miss Buncle's Book" by D.E. Stevenson

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

15-word review: Anonymous spinster Barbara Buncle writes a book to pay the bills, her entire village rages.

This witty novel, originally published in 1934, features rather plain and unassuming village spinster Barbara Buncle falling on hard times and writing a novel to make enough money to be able to pay her bills. She briefly considered keeping chickens but doesn't like birds. As Miss Buncle hasn't really been anywhere or experienced much outside village life, she uses her own neighbours and the village of Copperfield where she lives as her inspiration. It's only when her novel, "Disturber of the Peace" comes out, under the assumed name of John Smith, that the shenanigans begin. 

Once a couple of the villagers read the novel, and recognise themselves and others around them in the thinly veiled caricatures, the rumour mill starts and soon everyone needs their own copy. Miss Buncle's London publisher, who wasn't entirely sure if the book he agreed to publish is a brilliant satire or just a strange little tale about a seemingly innocuous country village, visited one night by a mysterious piper, who sets in motion a lot of life-changing events for the inhabitants, is delighted. It's quite clear that the scandalised villagers have no idea that with every copy sold, the mysterious "John Smith" makes even more money so they're rather playing into "his" hands with their outrage.

Several prominent villagers become determined to uncover the true identity of the author, leading to some truly amusing conversations and meetings in sitting rooms. Then, several of the events in the novel in fact seem to start happening in reality as well. A confirmed bachelor proposes to his neighbour, and they elope. Two confirmed spinsters leave town together to visit warmer climates (as one is rather in need of somewhere less damp than an English village). As the weeks pass and more and more of the villagers read the novel, the search for the identity of the author gets a bit out of hand. Meanwhile, Miss Buncle has been tasked with writing a follow-up to her debut, as "The Disturber of the Peace" is selling like hotcakes all over the country. 

This book felt extremely British to me, and to anyone who's watched Agatha Christie adaptations, or other pleasant stories set in quaint English villages shouldn't have any problem imagining the various characters who populate Copperfield. Stevenson manages to flesh out and bring to life a large cast of characters, some very sympathetic, others rather loathsome. There are very few irredeemable individuals in the story, in fact, there is a refreshing amount of complexity in the sprawling cast. Miss Buncle is a very likable protagonist, and the reader can't help but be amused as she not only overcomes her initial financial difficulties but comes to realise that her little book has made her quite wealthy. With the advice of some new friends, she allows herself to splurge a bit and give herself a makeover. Even with her new expenditures, no one in the village seems to figure out that she's "John Smith".

I think I first saw this book recommended on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and bought it in an e-book sale ages ago. In March, it fit into a number of my reading challenges, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Apparently, it's the first in a series. I'm not entirely sure I need to read the continuing adventures of authoress Barbara, however. This doesn't feel like it needed sequels. 

Judging a book by its cover: This cover is obviously not the original, and until I got to the latter half of the book, when Barbara finally gets to spend some money and gets a fashionable haircut and new clothes, the lady on the cover seemed stylish, but rather inappropriate in what was the story of a dowdy village spinster. I especially love the scarf blowing in the wind. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Sunday 14 May 2023

CBR15 Book 19: "To Sleep in a Sea of Stars" by Christopher Paolini

Page count: 880 pages
Audio book length: 32 hrs 29 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR15 Passport Challenge - Different genres (Sci-fi)

15-word review: Kira touches the wrong alien artifact and things escalate wildly from there. Excellent audio book.

The audio book, which even listening at x1.5 speed felt like it lasted approximately forever, is narrated by Jennifer Hale and she does an amazing job. I was surprised to see, that with the exception of this and the upcoming follow-up (the book is set in the same universe, not sure if it's a sequel, prequel, or companion novel), she has only really narrated a few books (although she appears to have done voice acting in cartoons for years). I'm not sure I would have kept going with the book if not for her pleasant voice and ability to make the story come alive. Even so, when I had about 20% of the book left, I did the thing I often end up doing, which is read the rest myself, since I just want to get to the end.

Outland is the fantasy/sci-fi/all-thing-nerdy shop in Oslo where I help chair the monthly book club. This was the book selection for March, and it feels like I spent much of the month getting through it. I was rather skeptical to when it was first announced. Can't say I was terribly impressed with Eragon when I read it back in the long long ago (I don't seem to have a record of when I read it, but it will have been before 2007), and the book was also absolutely massive. Still, I was pleasantly surprised.

Was the book at least 150 pages too long? Yup. Did the spaceship crew that end up sort of adopting Kira feel like the cast of Firefly? Yeah, a bit. Was Gregorovich the ship mind the most awesome character in the entire story? You betcha. This is one of the areas where Hale's narration just elevated the story. Her depiction of Gregorovich is pretty much one step away from completely unhinged the whole time, and helped really establish him in my mind (which is ironic, since he's a disembodied voice on a ship). 

I didn't really think I'd enjoy this much, and am glad to have been proven wrong. I'll probably end up checking out the next Fractalverse novel as well. 

Judging a book by its cover: I like this cover, with the person looking like they're taking an elegant dive into water, but instead of water, she's surrounded by stars and floating in empty space. The neon blues also look really good. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Friday 12 May 2023

CBR15 Book 18: "Georgie, All Along" by Kate Clayborn

Page count: 366 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

15-word review: Trying to get some direction in her life, Georgie turns to a new-found teenage journal

Georgie is feeling adrift. She's worked as a personal assistant for a number of industry people in L.A, and was really good at it. Now, however, her former boss decided to retire to the countryside and doesn't need a P.A. anymore. Georgie is free to go home to her family to realise her own dreams, the only problem is, she has no idea what those are. She had hoped to help her best friend Bel get settled before having a baby, but discovers that with the exception of one room, her friend has a picture-perfect home and doesn't need much of anything from Georgie except her company.

As Georgie's parents are going travelling, she can stay in her childhood home and take care of their plants. Unexpectedly, her parents had also made an arrangement with Levi Fanning, former wild child, and current grouchy recluse, to let him stay at their place while his house is having the floors redone. Georgie, used to her parents being scatter-brained, takes the surprise house mate (and his dog) in her stride and they agree to share the space. 

While sorting through her Bel's one messy room, Georgie rediscovers an old journal, where she and Bel used to write stories about their dreams and goals in high school. Looking through it, she realises that she hasn't always been without plans or purpose and she becomes determined to complete a number of the goals in the book. Once Levi finds out about her quest (after rescuing her from a near-drowning attempt) he offers to help her achieve her goals. 

Kate Clayborn writes romances about complicated, messy people who feel entirely real and she makes you feel privileged that you get to spend time with them throughout their story. Georgie has had a loving and supportive upbringing, while Levi was literally cast out by his family and has worked very hard to overcome his teenage rebel reputation in his hometown. There is definitely some tension developed in the friendship/tentative romance between him and Georgie once he discovers that she's friends with his younger brother and sister, neither of whom he's seen for years. Things are further complicated when the truth comes out about Georgie's teenage crush on his brother, who is now the successful manager of the family hotel.

Georgie could have been an annoying character, but I feel like a lot of people today can identify with her seeming aimlessness. Society seems to expect that everyone has their lives planned out and clear goals for their future by the time people graduate high school, and that's obviously not the case for everyone. While she doesn't have a college education or a standard career path, Georgie is clearly a creative person who adapts quickly to new challenges and has been a very successful personal assistant to several demanding clients because she's really good at anticipating people's needs and shows a willingness to problem solve. Seeing the successes of Bel (beautiful new home, career, successful husband, baby on the way) makes it even more difficult for her to see that her life choices haven't necessarily been as poor as she seems to think they are.

Levi made some poor choices during his teenage years mainly in direct response to his overbearing father's unreasonable demands of him. His experimentation with drugs and alcohol led to a very unfortunate episode when his younger siblings were endangered, and since then, Levi hasn't had any contact with them, because his father sent him away. He assumes that his siblings resent him for what happened way back when, and has made no attempt to reconnect with them, even after moving back and taking over his mentor's construction business. Without any help from his family, he's had to remake his life on his own and find his own support network. It's clear that he doesn't always realise that he's done a remarkable job, because he works with manual labour rather than has a business degree, and his only family is his neurotic pitbull and the people who work for him. He's definitely thrown for a loop when he discovers that Georgie has been working part-time at his family's hotel, and that she may be more interested in his brother than him. 

As well as the romance between two vulnerable people, this book also focuses on the complicated friendship between Bel and Georgie. Having been each other's best friends growing up, it's clear that the women are now at different points in their life. Georgie seems to think that Bel has everything anyone could ever want, and how is there even space for Georgie in this life now? While she may not realise it, the reader can see that Bel's insistence on joining Georgie on a lot of her journal quests suggests that she may not be as content in her life as Georgie believes, it's clear that Bel is chafing a bit at her situation. It's another very relatable situation, friendships change as people themselves grow and change - but the obvious love between the two women is still very much present, and while they haven't been able to see each other as much during the past few years, Georgie is wrong to think that Bel has "moved on" without her.

This is probably my favourite of Clayborn's romances so far. She's only getting better with each new book. I look forward to seeing what we get next. 

Judging a book by its cover: I think this cover is lovely, and in a fairly different style from most cartoony covers on romances. The colour combination, the messy hairdo, and the woman's face hidden behind the book, it all works for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read