#CBR10 Review #5

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

Two books into the Mma Ramotswe books, and I’m just as much in love. Not all of the books follow the exact same pattern (large overarching mystery and several smaller mysteries), but that’s part of what makes them so enjoyable. Smith knows a winning formula when he sees one, but he also knows how to provide a little variation when necessary. And that brings me to Tears of the Giraffe, which I have not re-read ever.

Mma Ramotswe is trying to build a sturdy client base when Andrea Curtin, an American woman, walks into her office and asks for help in finding out what happened to her son, who has long been assumed dead. This is the mystery that unfolds over the course of the book and involves reviving a case long assumed unsolvable. At the same time, Mr. J.L.B Matekoni, Mma Ramotswe’s fiancé, is persuaded to adopt two orphans from the local orphanage, and there are several adventures that ensue with his home and suspect housekeeper, who is desperate to keep her job. Several other minor mysteries unfold, but Mma Ramotswe, as always, juggles everything by taking time for a cup of bush tea.

One of the things I like most about Mma Ramotswe is that she is a devout tea drinker (no lie). I feel that a lot of problems can be solved by taking a break for a little tea and thinking time. She illustrates good personal habits and self-care, something I’d like to mindfully practice this year and beyond.


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#CBR10 Review #4

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

I last read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency about two and a half years ago for my ENGL 2000 class, and which I reviewed for CBR 7 (aka, the only time I ever managed more than a triple cannonball, which gets more exhausting to reach each year). I have never made it through the entire series yet, but that’s one of this year’s goals. I was excited to read it again, because I find the gentle humor to be soothing in a time where we’re living a year in a week. And I enjoy reading about Mma Ramotswe so much.

I’m linking to my CBR7 review of the novel, so you can see my previous summary, and also I don’t like reinventing the wheel. Instead, I’ll focus this review on new takeaways. Something that really gripped me this time was the incredible decency of the good people on the show. I know, it’s a sad state of affairs when decency is refreshing and seemingly rare. In an era of political engagement and listening to nastiness all the time, it felt surreal to see a kind woman doing good for other people and helping people better their lives. There was also a part of me that amused myself by wondering how Mma Ramotswe would discuss 45 and his ilk to her friends (I’m betting that Alexander McCall Smith does NOT approve of him and would have plenty to say on the subject—maybe a goal for a future book?).

What I want to say most about this book is how much it energized me. The mystery is interesting, and Mma Ramotswe’s logical process is enjoyable to follow, also because she’s not a jerk to other people. That’s what makes it more entertaining than a lot of mystery books—we get her logic without having to resort to loner tropes or asshole stereotypes. Win!

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#CBR10 Review #3

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

If you have ever read any of my CBR Reviews the last several years, you know that Jane Austen is my literary ride or die. I don’t typically read Jane Austen fanfic (with the marvelous exception of Longbourne), but I *do* read a lot of scholarship and intellectual thinkpieces that are not mansplaining Austen to wimminfolk. And that is how fate led my husband to point out The Making of Jane Austen to me at our local library and caused me to glint with recognition. I do not know Professor Looser personally, but my MA thesis advisor does through Jane Austen scholarship and 19th century academic connections, and my former department chair at Marquette gets a shout-out in her acknowledgments! It’s fun playing the Six Degrees of Academic Kevin Bacon. Name recognition made me pick up this book, but the content is a game-changer for Austen scholarship.
Looser focuses on less-known aspects of scholarship or culture surrounding Jane Austen. In so doing, she opens up avenues for future researchers to explore. The part on dramatizing Austen is perhaps the most fascinating, because it shows the origin of the “sexy Darcy” which has been popularly attributed to Colin Firth, who took his performance from Laurence Olivier, who has HIS roots in a theater adaptation in the 1930s and an ever-evolving screenplay. It’s fascinating, and a great accompaniment to The Cinematic Jane Austen (which I own and find utterly fascinating, as well).
Looser proficiently bridges the gap between scholarly and general writing, and this book is all the more worth reading, because of it. If you like reading about Jane Austen culture, this book is for you. If you are interested in cultural literary movements and authors’ afterlives, this book is also for you.

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#CBR10 Review #2

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi

I read this book for CBR9, and I’ll post the link here, so that I don’t re-summarize anything for you. I’m reading it for my other book club at my local library (I know, lots of book clubs; what could possibly go wrong?), and I decided that in 2018, I needed a little no-nonsense good advice in my life again. As you know from reading my review, this is where Luvvie excels. She cuts through silly nonsense and makes excellent calls to action.

What struck me on the re-read was how much has changed. It seems silly or trivial to think about our social media behavior as being so crucial, when we have a president who acts like a toddler on Twitter. The last year has been surreal and made the 2016 and earlier musings that Luvvie had written seem almost…dated. Last year, I read the bonus essay which addresses the election and ensuing ridiculousness. Luvvie herself has adapted on her blog, and her 2017 posts were absolute fire. I personally recommend everything she’s ever written about Serena Williams (but especially calling out Maria Sharapova), the call of action to White Women, and that time P. Diddy/Sean “Puffy” Combs/Puff Daddy wore a cape to The Met. She rivals R. Eric Church in sheer delight at anything related to black celebrities.

Over one year later, Luvvie’s advice feels more necessary than ever. White women, we must do better. Please read this book, because it provides helpful and hilarious perspective on how to do better in our public and private lives.

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#CBR10 Review #1

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

This was A’s Book Club January pick, and I was delighted. I had read two other Isabel Allende novels before this (The House of the Spirits, which I will defend to this day over One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Zorro), and I have been hoping to work my way through her canon. And this is an excellent choice. I’ve made it a goal to read through more of Allende’s canon this year, and Eva Luna reminded me why.

Eva Luna is a storyteller, though she won’t realize this for many years. Her mother’s origins are murky, and her own are seemingly impossible. But Eva uses her years of servitude as fodder for her fantasies and tales. And amidst civil unrest, she searches for love, only to find it in a remarkable man whose abilities mirror her own. I realize that this is a bare-bones summary, but to be truthful, this is a novel that you really should experience on your own. It unfolds slowly and then, all at once (to paraphrase from John Green, if I may), and the experience is in the journey with which you follow Eva and her life.
This novel is peopled by extraordinary characters. And there is a trans woman’s storyline which is deftly handled, showing how ahead of the times Allende was when she wrote this in the 1980s. If you are an Allende fan, read this lovely book. And if you have never read her, this is a great place to start. I definitely look forward to reading Allende’s work as this year progresses.

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Stop trying to make nerfherders happen! My problem with The Last Jedi

Because I was in grading jail (thanks, KD, for bringing that delightful phrase to my attention!) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released, I had to wait until Christmas Day to see it with my spouse, two of my siblings, and my dad. I missed out on quite a few of the think pieces that flourished in the initial release and have had to catch up slowly. The consensus is neatly split into two camps: THIS MOVIE IS EXCELLENT; or THIS MOVIE IS NOT EXCELLENT. G, my third reader on my doctoral committee, argues that there is a cut of this movie that is an hour shorter and would thus be the best of all the films, and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t find it excellent, either. This was an enormous disappointment, because while I didn’t LOVE The Force Awakens, I did love Rey and Finn. Especially Rey.

This brings me to my own take on TLJ and why it disappointed me. I was getting ready this morning, and it finally hit me:

The Star Wars powers that be are still trying to make men happen. And yet The Force Awakens has shown that the universe/The Force has shifted in a way that makes replicating some of the cultural iconography of the original trilogy (we’re just going to pretend that the prequels never happened for the moment, mmmkay?) an impossibility and untrue to the direction the story now takes.

From here on out, there are SPOILERS. Come back if you want to be unspoiled going into the movie, which I highly recommend. I’ll be here when you get back.







Star Wars Exhibit

Captain Phasma knows you have no one to blame but yourself if you continue further…


Okay, now we get to the SPOILER stuff.

With the title of The Last Jedi, I was really looking forward to Rey’s training and struggle with/against The Force. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I was firmly in the “this is just okay” camp until a very particular moment.

You know that moment.

Rey Lightsaber

I never knew how badly I wanted to see a woman Jedi until I saw her onscreen. I wanted to laugh and cry and cheer all.at.once. And so, I went into TLJ thinking we’d get more of this awesomeness.

I do not feel that Rey’s story got its fullest justice. I still remember the training sequences in The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite of all the films) as some of my favorites in the series. Luke was a bit whiny, and so I had hoped with Rey’s grit, we would get something even better. That whole part felt a little rushed and was heavily steeped in Luke’s personal baggage. There is an intense connection with Kylo Ren that gets a LOT of play, however, and if the third movie sets up their ultimate conflict, then okay. If not, however, we’ve wasted a LOT of time on Kylo Ren, who, let’s face it, is no Darth Vader.

And this brings me to Kylo Ren. I really felt like TPTB tried SO HARD to make Kylo Ren happen, and you do not make Darth Vader happen. He unfolds naturally over time, and the cult follows. And I am sorry, but Adam Driver is no James Earl Jones. Enough with the uncontrolled, angry white man. We have more than we can shake a stick at in the United States in 2018.

And speaking of men, we need to talk about the ridiculous Poe Dameron plot. Oscar Isaac, please forgive me. It pains me to speak ill of anything associated with you…

Nathan Dancing Gif

(we’ll always have the dancing gif)

…but why are we returning to the deep well of angsty men who have a problem with female authority? THAT STORY HAS BEEN TOLD SO MANY TIMES. Basically, Poe Dameron in TLJ is Harry Potter and Plutarch Heavensbee and Han Solo and Tom Sawyer and Matt Damon and DO I NEED TO KEEP GOING. It’s important to see how a male character evolves and changes, but the “send Finn and Rosie off to the casino and the ship” storyline just took way too long and had too little payoff, as far as developing Poe’s character within this particular film. If there is a particular story arc that makes sense in the third film, then I might be convinced to change my mind. And there had damn better not be a ridiculous love triangle where two women are fighting over a man in the third film, because I am done watching strong women fight over a dude, even if that dude is John Boyega.


(He looks like a young Denzel Washington here, and I mean that as an enormous compliment)

Ultimately, it comes down to expectations and preferences. There is a prevailing mythology that Han Solo is the hero of Star Wars and Darth Vader its well-deserving and iconic villain. I enjoy the camp and theater that comes with Darth Vader, but the hero of the series has always–for me–been one General Leia Organa.


Much fandom is dedicated to Han Solo and Chewbacca, and this is not unwarranted by any means. But let’s be real, while Han and Chewie were getting themselves out of tight situations and while Han was trying to talk himself out of the price on his head, Leia was keeping the rebellion alive and orchestrating plans without the same kind of ballyhoo or label of wunderkind that got placed on Luke. As a general, Leia is clearsighted about where the Rebellion needs to head next in order to survive the attacks of The First Order.

The Force Awakens shows the incredibly diverse power that women have in order to orchestrate change and resistance in oppressive societies. And instead of propelling us further into this exciting shift, The Last Jedi seems to be trying to remind us, “Hey, we’ve got a new Han Solo now! Look at the new Darth Vader!” and it’s jarring and a little dated. The Han Solos and Darth Vaders will always have their time and place, but it’s time to move on. Stop trying to make the nerfherders happen.

Instead, my hope is that the third and final film in this new sequence shows us what those of us who are women already know: The Force is Female.





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#CBR9 Review #157

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I was able to squeeze one last review in before the year is up. Even better, it’s a book that’s been languishing on my TBR list. Hooray! I have some goals for 2018, and it’s nice to really trim the to-read pile significantly. This is an author well familiar to me, though I’ve never finished this book until now.

C.S. Lewis is perhaps best known for his Narnia fantasy books, but he’s also an academic and Christian apologist. Mere Christianity is a defense of Christianity in post-war, postmodern society where the question, Does any of this matter? prevails. The book is divided into several parts, which include both the theology and the lifestyle of Christianity. The latter part has to be read in context of time period and author biography, because there are some…startling, shall we say…ideas about marriage (having read the Space Trilogy, I was not surprised, but it’s a little surreal to read in 2017). I mean, that’s kind of the deal with Lewis, though. He is well-intentioned, buuuuuuut a little sexist in his thinking.

If you are a fan of Lewis the fantasy writer, this takes a very different tone than what you might expect. If, however, you like Lewis’s more academic work, this fits neatly into that genre. You might philosophically disagree with his conclusions, but he engages the defense for Christianity well. Since I was not necessarily looking to defend my own faith or reading it in a moment of questioning, I didn’t glom onto that part. But it may prove useful at another point in life. Lewis’s work is interesting and engaging, and his use of logic works well in discussing the “God” part of us all that engages with some form of spirituality.

And that’s a wrap on 2017. See you all for CBR10. I’ve got two book club picks to read first and then a read-through of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series on deck first.

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