31 December 2015

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Summary from Goodreads:
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

A fierce and provocative novel that adds a new dimension to the matchless oeuvre of Toni Morrison.

God bless and keep Toni Morrison. If I am half this articulate and creative at her age....wow.

Now, I had originally picked up at DRC of God Help the Child, and couldn't get into it.  So I bought a hardcover when it came out - because why wouldn't I buy Queen Toni in hardcover - and still couldn't get into it.  This is not a big book, so I couldn't figure out why this book wasn't catching on for me.

So then I found God Help the Child on Overdrive, and it's read by Toni Morrison.  *muppet arms*  Toni Morrison has such a wonderful reading voice, I wanted to marinate in her words (guys, the way she says words that start with "br"...convenient, since one of the main characters is named Bride).   But also, I figured out why I was having trouble getting into this book in print.

The characters are all expert at emotional distance.  Sweetness denies her child, Bride, love or human contact because she isn't a light-skinned child like her parents.  Bride, desperate for this contact, does something terrible as a child and undergoes a terrible experience trying to right that wrong as an adult.  Booker, sensing that Bride is holding something back, pushes her away.  All this distance was pushing me away as a reader.  One of the things I love about Beloved was the emotionally gripping nature of the characters, Beloved's anger, Sethe's anguish - it's right there from page one.  I was there for those characters almost immediately, but I was having trouble caring for the characters in God Help the Child.

Toni Morrison reading the book was a way in for me.  It took about half the book before I pegged what was going on and then began to care about why Bride was doing what she was doing.  Then the book got really, really good.  This is all beside the point that Toni Morrison can write a sentence.  That goes without saying.

So if you're having a bit of trouble getting into God Help the Child, I recommend the audio book.  A great listen.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of the book from the publisher via Edelweiss, then bought a hardcover, then borrowed the audiobook from the library via Overdrive.

30 December 2015

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Summary from Goodreads:
From the bestselling author of Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes, a humorous account of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette—the one Frenchman we could all agree on—and an insightful portrait of a nation's idealism and its reality.

On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been thirty years since the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000.

Lafayette's arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted this country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans, it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing singular past.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a humorous and insightful portrait of the famed Frenchman, the impact he had on our young country, and his ongoing relationship with some of the instrumental Americans of the time, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and many more.

Sarah Vowell has a new book!  Actually, it came out back in October but it took until December for me to get ahold of an audiobook - because that's the way to put a Sarah Vowell book in your brain.  I love her voice and reading style and she gets a whole load of actor (and sometimes non-actor, cf Stephen King as Abraham Lincoln in the audiobook of Assassination Vacation) buddies to voice different historical and contemporary people.

A book about Lafayette publishing during the phenomenal run that is the musical Hamilton is like the best thing ever.  Impetuous French teenage aristocrat showing up to offer his services to the fetal United States (which aren't the United States yet since the Revolutionary War wasn't over and the Constitution just a twinkle in the Founders' eyes) - I don't think it's was ever emphasized in my history classes that Lafayette was so young.  It is really interesting how hard it was to keep the Continental Army from starving to death and how hard it was for France to get promised men and money to America (and then the US stuck its head in the sand during the French Revolution).  A really interesting story.

However, I don't think Sarah Vowell's usual format of historical-event-contemporary-aside-historical-event worked as well here.  It works amazingly well in Assassination Vacation because it's structured more around her travels.  Lafayette in the Somewhat United States has a much more linear structure based around Lafayette's life so jumping in and out doesn't work as well.  I was also a bit disappointed that so much of the book focused on the Revolutionary War (despite the title, that should have tipped me off) but very little on Lafayette's 1824 American tour.  But still, a fun book to listen to, definite recommend if you have a road trip.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this book from the library via Overdrive.

29 December 2015

One-Eyed Dukes are Wild by Megan Frampton (Dukes Behaving Badly #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
When does proper behavior deserve a deliciously improper reward?

The scandalously unmarried Lady Margaret Sawford is looking for adventure—and is always up for a challenge. Her curiosity is aroused by a dangerous-looking stranger with an eye patch, an ideal companion for the life she longs for, no matter what Society might say. So when the piratical gentleman turns out to be a duke—and just as boringly proper as any other nobleman—she can't help but incite him to walk on the wild side.

Well-heeled, well-mannered, and well beyond any interest in society's expectations, the Duke of Lasham is tired of being perfect. Margaret's lush beauty and gently laughing eyes are an irresistible temptation to embrace the imperfect—and her. But if a little misbehavior is appealing, unleashing his wild side is completely seductive—as long as the lovely Margaret is the object of his passion.

Megan Frampton is a new-to-me author this year with her series Dukes Behaving Badly.  The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior was a good start, but maybe needed a bit more work.  Put Up Your Duke was an excellent step up with a good plot but the new entry in the series, One-Eyed Dukes are Wild, really brought everything together with a fantastic plot, great hero and heroine, and good tension.

We met Lady Margaret Sawford in Put Up Your Duke when her sister Isabella made a marriage of convenience with Nicholas, the new Duke of Gage (which turns out well, obviously, since Isabella and Nicholas are the main characters in that book).  Isabella decides that she won't let her parents marry her off to a man she's never met, Lord Collingwood, breaks the engagement and announces that she is the mysterious author of the Gothic serials in the paper leading her parents to pretend she doesn't exist.  (Which in the end is good, because Collingwood is a swine and the less said about Isabella's and Margaret's parents, the better.)  One-Eyed Dukes are Wild starts a few years later.  Margaret has returned to London - still the scandalous author, still unmarried, who lives alone with her maid and wears non-virginal colors.  She keeps herself financially afloat with her writing and her winnings at the gambling table (she's a bit of a whiz with cards) because she's still an aristocrat and she gets invited to parties for her reputation.

Seeking quiet at a party, Margaret crosses paths with the Duke of Lasham.  Lash (who has such a great first name, I'm not going to spoil it), despite his pirate-like eye patch, is so concerned with being the correctly-correct Duke Who Always Does the Right Thing Because That's What Dukes Do isn't quite sure what to do with Margaret.  She gives him the deference due his rank but doesn't flatter, simper, cling, or entrap.  Indeed, she tells him at the first meeting that she doesn't wish to marry him if they are found in the same room alone together.  When they later meet by happenstance at the National Gallery, and Margaret rescues Lash from a gaggle of "art appreciating" women, they begin to wonder if there is more beneath the surface of the other (that's a really terrible sentence, I apologize).

I quite like Margaret.  She's independent, feisty, rash but with good intentions, smart at cards, and has an excellent maid (though I am tired of the I-don't-think-I'm-pretty-because-my-sister-is-gorgeous-trope).  I also like the idea that the "scandal" of her writing is that she writes fairy tales for money and they are published in the paper as opposed to writing actual scandalous material circulated under the counter, so to speak.  I loved how her adventures with Lash, when he decided he needed to stop being so "correct," included going ballooning (which he loved) and eating eel pies (which I don't think he did).  Even the scene where they go to the dance hall was an interesting twist - I have usually encountered scenes like this where the heroine is the one looking for adventure, not the hero, so this was a fun change.

What Frampton does in this book is turn the idea of "behaving badly" on its head.  In the previous books, the dukes generally are considered to be "bad" rakes (although, in my opinion, not nearly bad enough to deserve the sobriquet).  In this book, Lash is so proper and always does what is right and that behavior has caused him to be fenced in.  In his experience, behaving badly has consequences.  He doesn't know how to feel or have his own emotions or read intimate situations correctly - this leads him to behave very badly later in the book.  The contrast in personality between Lash and Margaret creates excellent romantic tension.

One-Eyed Dukes are Wild was released today!  Happy reading!

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

21 December 2015

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean (Scandal & Scoundrel, #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
LADY SOPHIE'S SOCIETY SPLASH

The youngest of the infamous Talbot sisters scandalized society at the Liverpool Summer Soiree, striking her sister’s notoriously philandering husband and landing him backside-first in a goldfish pond. And we thought Sophie was the quiet one…

When she finds herself the target of very public aristocratic scorn, Sophie Talbot does what she must to escape the city and its judgment—she flees on the back of a carriage, vowing never to return to London…or to society. But the carriage isn’t saving her from ruin. It’s filled with it.


ROYAL ROGUE'S REIGN OF RAVISHMENT!

The Marquess of Eversley was espied descending a rose trellis—escaping an irate Earl and his once-future countess. No lady is safe from Eversley’s Engagement Ending Escapades!

Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley, has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, a quality that results in a reputation far worse than the truth, a furious summons home, and a long, boring trip to the Scottish border. When King discovers stowaway Sophie, however, the trip becomes anything but boring.

WAR? OR MORE?

He thinks she’s trying to trick him into marriage. She wouldn’t have him if he were the last man on earth. But carriages bring close quarters, dark secrets, and unbearable temptation, and suddenly opposites are altogether too attractive…

There's a new Sarah MacLean novel!!  The Rogue Not Taken is coming out on December 29, 2015!!  (Go, go preorder, then come back.  No, really!)

OK, so, gossip columns, social climbing, secret identities, road trip, parental estrangement, and broken hearts?  Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Lady Sophie Talbot, the plainest, quietest of the scandalous Talbot sisters - scandalous because they are the newest of the new money and new titles and Society eats up gossip columns about them - achieves notoriety when she knocks her sister's philandering duke of a husband on his arse.  In a koi pond.  During a culturally tasteless garden party.  With the entirety of the ton watching.

Exeunt, stage right.  Sophie spies her chance to escape the party when the even more scandalous Marquess of Eversley - because he is infamous for ravishing young ladies, therefore causing their socially advantageous betrothals to be broken - comes climbing down a trellis in front of her.  King isn't an idiot.  He doesn't want to get married, much less be trapped into marriage with a Talbot sister, so he refuses to give Sophie a ride.  Sophie, however, bribes a footman, borrows the boy's livery, and hops on the back of King's carriage.  Only to find that 1) the carriage doesn't turn toward Mayfair, 2) it doesn't stop moving until nightfall when it is at an inn far away from London, and 3) King isn't in the carriage, it's full of wheels.  Nuts.  (King turns up a few minutes later as the winner of a curricle race.

Thus begins a trip to the north of England full of intrigue, tactics, highwaymen (gasp!), and dreams.  It's like a Georgette Heyer novel if Georgette Heyer didn't have to observe propriety in her fiction in the early twentieth-century.  I love Sophie - not quite as much as Pippa from One Good Earl Deserves a Lover because Pippa is my geeky homegirl and I lurve her - because she never stops wanting more for herself.  She doesn't think that pots of money should change a person or require them to live in the social whirl of London.  She doesn't just want to be the sister of women who court scandal simply for the sake of more inches in the gossip column.  She wants a happy marriage - certainly not her sister Sera's, speaking of which, I hope Sera gets her own book - with books and tarts and country air.

Sophie also manages to knock King on his own arse.  Metaphorically, since I don't recall her actually punching him.  And let's face it.  King needed it.  The weight of the chip on his shoulder from his history with his father is SO BIG it would crush him if it actually fell on him.  Sophie chips away at King's problems bit by bit and it's so, so wonderful.  Although I wanted to crawl into the book and punch King at least twice...why are men so pig-headed?  Oy.  Delicious, but oy.

So jump in at the beginning of a new series with Sarah MacLean!  (I want to know, really, really, if we get to see the Fallen Angel and any of the previous rogues in the coming books - we know it's the same world since we met Sophie in a scene during Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover).

Dear FTC: I received a DRC from the publisher via Edelweiss - and I have a copy on pre-order for my Nook because who doesn't love a new Sarah MacLean novel?

19 December 2015

Backlist Bump: Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

Summary from Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old Fee is a gifted Korean-American soprano in a boys' choir in Maine whose choir director reveals himself to be a serial pedophile. Fee and his friends are forced to bear grief, shame, and pain that endure long after the director is imprisoned. Fee survives even as his friends do not, but a deep-seated horror and dread accompany him through his self-destructive college days and after, until the day he meets a beautiful young student named Warden and is forced to confront the demons of his brutal past.

[Backlist Bump is a new feature I'm trying - essentially, when a new-to-me author has a new book out often I feel like I need to stop and back-up to a previous book for comparison.  Alexander Chee gets the honor of being the guinea pig. (Sorry, Alex.)]

In February, the literary world will receive the sublime gift of Alexander Chee's new novel The Queen of the Night (start drooling now, I'll have a review up in January).  About three chapters into the DRC for Queen, I decided I had missed something in not reading Chee's only previous novel, Edinburgh.  I'd read some of Chee's short pieces but not his novel.  So I tracked down a used copy of Edinburgh - the novel is, sadly, currently out of print.

From the first line, Edinburgh had me caught and held fast:
After he dies, missing Peter for me is like swimming in the cold spot of the lake: everyone else laughing in the warm water under some too-close summer sun.  This is the answer to the question no one asks me. (Edinburgh, page 1)
The story of pre-adolescent Fee, narrated by his adult self, is a heart-wrenching tale of music, betrayal, and self-preservation.  There are places in this story where I couldn't breathe.  Chee does not shy away from the painful parts of the book - the sexual abuse Fee and his fellow singers suffer at the hands of the choir director, the shame, the confusion - and yet it doesn't feel graphic or gratuitous.  I think the first hundred pages or so might be hard to read for a survivor of such abuse, but the way Chee explores Fee's survival compared with that of his friends is haunting. Fee, as a young man exploring the possibility that he might be gay, feels the weight of survivorship differently from his friends who struggle to reconcile their own sexuality, either as straight or gay or questioning, with their history of abuse. Even as Fee entered adulthood, and seemed to have found an equilibrium in his life, fate brought the past back around in a circle, like a musical coda.
Love melts all our murder. As much as it makes it. (Edinburgh, page 51)
At the heart of this book, though is Alexander Chee's writing.  I read the majority of Edinburgh while on an airplane - tucked into a corner of my window seat, the end of my pen in my mouth, barely breathing, trying to hide the tears that kept pooling in my eyes. The sentences carved themselves into my brain.  Whatever you think about the subject or plot of this book, there is no arguement that Chee's ability as a wordsmith is first-rate.  For example:
Blue. Blue because it's the color people turn in the dark. Because it's the color of the sky, of the center of the flame, of a diamond hit by an X-ray. Blue is the knife edge of lightning. Blue is the color, a rose grower tells you, that a rose never quite reaches. (Edinburgh, page 191)
Edinburgh is scheduled for re-release as an ebook, at the very least, on February 2, 2016, the same day The Queen of the Night is also scheduled for release in hardcover, ebook, and so on.  I haven't yet found information for a paperback re-release, but I do hope that is also in the works.  Edinburgh deserves a "bump" so it can find a new audience.

Dear FTC: I tracked down a used copy of this book.

08 December 2015

Sophia by Michael Bible

Summary from Goodreads:
“Michael Bible may have hit what a lot of us were trying, a singular new voice for CEOs to slackers. He’s so open, so easy, so fluid, you’ll smile with joy turning every page.”—Barry Hannah

If Nicholson Baker shaved his beard and moved south of the Mason-Dixon line, he’d look and sound a lot like Michael Bible. Uproariously funny, unabashedly sexy, and with a nuanced sincerity that won’t sneak up on you till the end, Michael Bible’s novel is not only much-anticipated, but highly rewarding.

If you are offended by the idea of a preacher drinking, doing drugs, and having sex, this short novel is likely not for you.  If you don't have issues with those things, read on.

Because Reverend Maloney has sex dreams about the Holy Ghost (or maybe they're real, who knows, because he's got some substance problems).  He's also got a booze problem, lady problems, and drags his genius friend Eli around to chess tournaments where he palms Eli's winnings.  Along the way he narrates - mostly to Eli - a novel produced in koan-like (sort-of, these are longer than koans and completely un-Buddhist in spirit) paragraphs interspersed with the lives of martyred saints.  Bible winds up his amazing short novel in a New York metro-wide chess match that smashes together Harry Potter and Mikhail Bulgakov.

So if you need to get away from your nutty relatives and Christmas-overload, blow your mind with Sophia by Michael Bible (not giving away where the title comes from).

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

07 December 2015

Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove #4.5)

Summary from Goodreads:
A snowstorm hath no fury like a spinster scorned!

Miss Elinora Browning grew up yearning for the handsome, intelligent lord-next-door…but he left England without a word of farewell. One night, inspired by a bit too much sherry, Nora poured out her heartbreak on paper. Lord Dashwood Missed Out was a love letter to every young lady who’d been overlooked by gentlemen—and an instant bestseller. Now she’s on her way to speak in Spindle Cove when snowy weather delays her coach. She’s forced to wait out the storm with the worst possible companion: Lord Dashwood himself.

And he finally seems to have noticed her.

George Travers, Lord Dashwood, has traveled the globe as a cartographer. He returned to England with the goal of marrying and creating an heir--only to find his reputation shredded by an audacious, vexingly attractive bluestocking and her poison pen. Lord Dashwood Missed Out, his arse. Since Nora Browning seems to believe he overlooked the passion of a lifetime, Dash challenges her to prove it.

She has one night.

The first Tessa Dare book I read was A Week to be Wicked and I fell in love with her banter and silly nerd jokes.  Which means I fell in love with Colin, who tells some naughty math jokes.  So I've been waiting and waiting for Colin to reappear (we got a wee bit of Colin in Any Duchess Will Do).  I got my wish with Lord Dashwood Missed Out, where he, Griff, Rycliff, and Thorne have to go out and find a missing author who is supposed to have arrived for a reading at Pauline's bookshop in Spindle Cove (PS: if you haven't read any Spindle Cove books, you probably won't know who these characters are).  There are jokes and swashbuckling and silliness, which are my favorite parts of Tessa Dare novels and a sweet B-plot for Pauline and Griff involving missing sherry.

The main plot of the novella, that of Nora - the missing author - and her pamphlet about a man who missed what was under his nose and the globe-trotting Lord Dashwood who was her childhood friend and obviously the dude who "missed out" is sweet.  I don't feel like their backstory was quite strong enough to support the relationship outcome in this novella, so perhaps it needed more pages, but it was a fun read.  Clearly, my favorite parts were the ones with Colin.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this novella from the publisher via Edelweiss.

06 December 2015

A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd (Inspector Ian Rutledge #17)

Summary from Goodreads:
New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd takes readers into Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge's past-to his perplexing final case before the outbreak of World War I.

On a fine summer's day in June, 1914, Ian Rutledge pays little notice to the assassination of an archduke in Sarajevo. An Inspector at Scotland Yard, he is planning to propose to the woman whom he deeply loves, despite intimations from friends and family that she may not be the wisest choice. To the north, on this warm and gentle day, another man in love-a Scottish Highlander-shows his own dear girl the house he will build for her in September. While back in England, a son awaits the undertaker in the wake of his widowed mother's death.

This death will set off a series of murders across England, seemingly unconnected, that Rutledge will race to solve in the weeks before the fateful declaration in August that will forever transform his world. As the clouds of war gather on the horizon, all of Britain wonders and waits. With every moment at stake, Rutledge sets out to right a wrong-an odyssey that will eventually force him to choose between the Yard and his country, between love and duty, and between honor and truth.

This is a good way to jump into an established mystery series - with a prequel! A Fine Summer's Day has a good serial killer plot, but perhaps too neat a bow on the end. I hadn't read any of the Ian Rutledge novels before (and will be rectifying that shortly with A Test of Wills) but I do know the basics of Rutledge's issues. There are two short scenes that could have been dispensed with completely - one coming in what is basically the Prologue and one in the Epilogue (and only slightly related to that bow I alluded to). Since the character in question makes no appearance of any sort in the book between those two scenes he/it is completely unnecessary.

Dear FTC: I received a hardcover review copy from the publisher - sorry I didn't get it read/reviewed until now.

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman (The Sandman #0)

Summary from Goodreads:
Twenty-five years since The Sandman first changed the landscape of modern comics, Neil Gaiman’s legendary series is back in a deluxe hardcover edition!

The Sandman: Overture heralds New York Times best-selling writer Neil Gaiman’s return to the art form that made him famous, ably abetted by artistic luminary J.H. Williams III (Batwoman, Promethea), whose lush, widescreen images provide an epic scope to The Sandman’s origin story. From the birth of a galaxy to the moment that Morpheus is captured, The Sandman: Overture will feature cameo appearances by fan-favorite characters such as The Corinthian, Merv Pumpkinhead and, of course, the Dream King’s siblings: Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction and Destiny.

Collects: The Sandman: Overture 1-6

There isn't a whole lot I can say about Neil Gaiman's return to the world of Dream.  The Sandman was an entry into comics for me and I love Gaiman's storytelling.  As the first volume Preludes and Nocturnes opens, The Sandman (Dream) is returning to his realm weary and spent after a great battle.  His defenses are down and so he is captured by an amateur occultist and imprisoned.  During this time a sleeping sickness occurs, the Dreaming is disrupted.  This kicks off the rest of the Sandman run.

The Sandman: Overture are six issues presented as a prequel.  However.

HOWEVER.

What this new volume really does is bring the end of the Sandman series and the beginning together in an ouroboros-like circle.  It reflects the life of the Endless, that an ending is also a beginning and a beginning an ending.  I would not have understood half of what was going on had I not already read the entirety of the Sandman series.  So in that way, Overture is also a sequel.

It's also flipping gorgeous.  Seriously, if you haven't read Sandman go read it and if you have read it, go read Overture.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

05 December 2015

Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich

Summary from Goodreads:
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown---from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster---and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live. Comprised of interviews in monologue form, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucially important work, unforgettable in its emotional power and honesty.

The Chernobyl disaster is one of those events that loomed over my grade school/middle school current events topics.  Radioactive cloud.  Meltdown.  If you're eight or nine, what do these words even mean?  Mostly fear, and this was long before I learned about Three-Mile Island and how close we came in the United States to a similar disaster.

Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, conducted a series of interviews with survivors of Chernobyl and their family members.  If I read the dates correctly, these interviews were conducted in the early- to mid-1990s, after the break-up of the Soviet Union.  Rather than assemble the information into a traditional history book, Alexievich chose to present it as oral history.

This editorial choice has created a devastating book to read.  It would have been a sad and horrifying narrative about a disaster that could have been prevented - and much of the subsequent human suffering and illness alleviated by having infrastructure and information that was actually based on fact and not dogma - just as a conventional work of journalism.  However, presenting the transcribed interviews with minimal editing was a choice that presented a gutting and damning work.  It will haunt you.  Voices from Chernobyl is a must-read for anyone involved in public health, public administration, disaster preparaedness, et cetera.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

03 December 2015

Slaughterhouse 90210 by Maris Kreizman

Summary from Goodreads:
The perfect book for anyone with a Netflix account and a library card.

"Smart, sharp, and hilarious, Slaughterhouse 90210 is the perfect pick-me-up and never-put-me-down book." - Jami Attenberg, bestselling author of The Middlesteins

Slaughterhouse 90210 pairs literature's greatest lines with pop culture's best moments.

In 2009, Maris Kreizman wanted to combine her fierce love for pop culture with a lifelong passion for reading, and so the blog Slaughterhouse 90210 was born. By matching poignant passages from literature with popular moments from television, film, and real life, Maris' work instantly caught the attention (and adoration) of thousands. And it's easy to see why.

Slaughterhouse 90210 is subversively brilliant, finding the depth in the shallows of reality television, and the levity in Lahiri. A picture of Taylor Swift is paired with Joan Didion's quote, "Above all, she is the girl who 'feels things'. The girl ever wounded, ever young." Tony Soprano tenderly hugs his teenage son, accompanied by a line from Middlemarch about, "The patches of hardness and tenderness [that] lie side by side in men's dispositions." The images and quotes complement and deepen one another in surprising, profound, and tender ways.


With over 150 color photographs from some of popular culture's most iconic moments, Kreizman shows why comparing Walter White to Faust makes sense in our celebrity obsessed, tv crazed society.

Do you like books?
Do you like pop culture?
Do you like movies and television?

You may like Slaughterhouse 90210, then.  Maris Kreizman has married literary and pop culture moments in meme-like fashion.  Some are poignant, some are hilarious.  And if you already follow the original Tumblr blog, you likely won't remember all Maris's posts (many of the cross-cultural pieces were new to me and I've been a follower for quite some time). The juxtapositions are spot-on. There's even a helpful appendix for those of us who, like me, can't immediately place the photograph of the TV show or movie.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

02 December 2015

The Great Christmas Knit-Off by Alexandra Brown

Summary from Goodreads:
Heartbroken after being jilted at the altar, Sybil has been saved from despair by her knitting obsession and now her home is filled to bursting with tea cosies, bobble hats, and jumpers. But, after discovering that she may have perpetrated the cock-up of the century at work, Sybil decides to make a hasty exit and, just weeks before Christmas, runs away to the picturesque village of Tindledale.

There, Sybil discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, an emporium dedicated to the world of knitting and needle craft. But Hettie, the outspoken octogenarian owner, is struggling and now the shop is due for closure. And when Hettie decides that Sybil’s wonderfully wacky Christmas jumpers are just the thing to add a bit of excitement to her window display, something miraculous starts to happen….

Let's see...knitting, Christmas, romance, tiny English village, nerdy things...yes, please, I will read a book about all these things together.  The Great Christmas-Knit Off by Alexandra Brown seemed to have the Venn diagram intersection of all these things.

This is a sweet, heartwarming, and lovely book to read in the run-up to the holidays. Civil servant Sybil (Sybs, to her friends) has been coasting on auto-pilot after her fiancee left her standing at the altar - dressed in Princess Leia's hair-buns and white robe - and ran off with her identical twin sister.  Her parents are clueless and image obsessed.  She's not sleeping.  And now that there's a massive mistake in a council estate claim, one that Sybil worries she might have caused, she needs to escape London for a weekend.  Lucky for Sybs, her best friend has just opened a pub in the picturesque town of Tindledale so she packs up her adorable dog Basil and her knitting for a weekend away.  Sybs stays for the month. The welcoming people of Tindledale - from the flamboyant American proprietor of the B&B to the perfectly dressed owner of the vintage clothing shop to the local estate owner - bring Sybil friendly ears to listen and shoulders to cry on and the occasional life-lesson.  There's even an adorkable Irish doctor.  When Sybs discovers the local knitting shop, Hettie's House of Haberdashery, and Hettie's own troubles, Sybil finds the one thing she has been lacking: purpose.

Now, as wonderful and heartwarming and charming as Sybil's story is, I have to comment on the writing style.  The first-person, present-tense point-of-view narration with lots and lots and lots of adjectives used in this book is not for everyone.  "I kick the door with my red Converse sneaker" is not a sentence that sits well with me and there were times where Sybil's memory and Sybil's present situation got entangled.  There were times when the tense and descriptions worked really well - in Hettie's shop or the vintage clothing store - and other times it just grated.  There were also a few switches to a third-person perspective for scenes with Hettie when Sybs wasn't present and these felt unnecessary.

Style aside, the heart of this book is in the right place. If you are looking for a heartwarming December read and a romance that is, if not a Happily-Ever-After ending, at least a Happy-For-Now ending, complete with knitting, Christmas sweaters, snow, quaint villages, quirky villagers, and cute dogs The Great Christmas Knit-Off is for you.  Snuggle up with a blanket and hot cocoa and you'll be a happy camper for a few hours at least.

Dear FTC: I received a finished review copy of this book from the publisher.

01 December 2015

Sweetland by Michael Crummey

Summary from Goodreads:
The scarcely populated town of Sweetland rests on the shore of a remote Canadian island. Its slow decline finally reaches a head when the mainland government offers each islander a generous resettlement package—the sole stipulation being that everyone must leave. Fierce and enigmatic Moses Sweetland, whose ancestors founded the village, is the only one to refuse. As he watches his neighbors abandon the island, he recalls the town’s rugged history and its eccentric cast of characters. Evoking The Shipping News, Michael Crummey—one of Canada’s finest novelists—conjures up the mythical, sublime world of Sweetland’s past amid a stormbattered landscape haunted by local lore. As in his critically acclaimed novel Galore, Crummey masterfully weaves together past and present, creating in Sweetland a spectacular portrait of one man’s battle to survive as his environment vanishes around him.

In the seventh, and final, Riot Read envelope, there was a book titled Sweetland by Michael Crummey.  It came highly recommended by most of the Riot staff and the insert was written by Brenna Clark Gray who has a thorough knowledge of Canadian literature (last Canada Day, she tweeted a #CanLit recommendation for each year of Canada's independece).  It took me a few months to get around to it - and a little push from a SRC task - but I did get around to Sweetland.

Which I feel is a sentiment that the narrator, Moses Sweetland, would have appreciated.  Time moves slowly on Sweetland's island.  Sure they have electricity and the Internet, but it's still a place of hiking, fishing, and trapping.  People leave and they come back.  You have a lot of time to think and Moses Sweetland does a lot of thinking over the course of the novel.  About his mother, his uncle, his brother, his niece and her special-needs son, his own life both on and off the island, and the time he rescued Sri Lankan migrants and discovered a secret his sister had been keeping. Interestingly, the reason why the government is so insistent on everyone taking the buyout is never explored.  But why should the reason matter? Sweetland the narrator does not care why the government wants the town's residents moved - he only feels that his place is on the island.

The novel becomes increasingly fraught - not necessarily through action, although there are tense moments, but through Sweetland's memories.  He has no wish to be elsewhere and so becomes part of the environment.  Sweetland is a melancholy, meditative novel about one man's connection to a particular place and his wish to remain just as he is, on his island.

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book through a Book Riot subscription program.

27 November 2015

Movie Star Drool: Victor Frankenstein

*There may be spoilers. You are warned.

Howlers are more fun with friends. I saw this with my friend Kate and we clearly have way too much SCIENCE in our brains (I have a degree in epidemiology, she's finishing a PhD in linguistics) so we did some snickering and "no, that is not correct"-ing and generally had a good time 'shipping McAvoy and Radcliffe.

The plot for Victor Frankenstein is mostly cobbled together with a vague idea of what the original Mary Shelley book was about. The movie focuses on Victor Frankenstein's demons through the lens of Igor/no-name abused circus clown and his super-genius talent for correcting Frankenstein's experimental blockages. Plot connections are tenuous (did we need Andrew Scott's Scotland Yard detective, except as deus ex machina in reverse?) and half-baked (Jessica Brown Findlay's Lorelai is saved from dying in hospital by a wealthy Baron to be in his cabaret - which we don't see, ever - and also to be his beard in public but is apparently just accepted into society (which speaks to how someone didn't do his/her research into Victorian Society behavior and class beliefs) and also drags Radcliffe's Igor upstairs during a ball....the Baron wouldn't take that well). It all turns out as one expects. Particularly if you go into this expecting nothing but ridiculousness.

There is some great casting. Louise Brealey, of Sherlock and Bleak House fame, has the unfortunate and super offensive/inaccurate screen credit of "Sexy Society Girl" in a fantastic bit part where she gives excellent "shocked and offended because I am a LADY and we are discussing procreation" face during a fancy dinner. Freddie Fox can make a career playing upper-class Old Money Englishmen, because he is that good at it.  Victor's father is cast so deliciously I won't spoil it but for 5 minutes of screen time that actor was worth every second.  As Igor, Radcliffe wears two of the worst wigs currently in cinemas (although I am worried the second might have been his own hair with FAR too much mousse - not a good look) but he does some good physical acting as a hunchback and as the owner of a newly-straightened spine after Victor miraculously cures him through a combination of zit popping and chiropractic (it was gross, part of it). James McAvoy, though, drank the Kool-Aid for this movie.  He was SELLING that dialogue like the rent was due tomorrow. He had a lot of commitment and that went a ways toward making this movie less terrible than it could have been. A long way, LOOOOONG way, from being a good movie.

A+ set decoration and costume design. We commented a lot on the waistcoats McAvoy and Radcliffe wore, the textiles were very pretty. Jessica Brown Findlay wore beautifully vibrant clothes (guys, someone needs to cast her as Lena Heady's younger sister ASAP because man, does Findlay look like Heady did when she did some period films in the late 1990s/early 2000s).

In short: a fun popcorn movie, not a good movie in any way (has a really weird title card at the end of the credits that states how many people worked on the movie).

Previews:
1. Deadpool - in it, and I really hope the soundtrack is that dope.
2. Krampus - I get a distinct Drag Me To Hell vibe off this trailer and since I spent most of that movie with my hoodie pulled over my face like Kevin from South Park, I pass.
3. In the Heart of the Sea - I might be up for Ben Wishaw as Herman Melville and a sea-soaked Thor, er, Chris Hemsworth.
4. The Revenant - I think this was the movie that had some reviewer saying something like this wasn't a movie for women (yep).  Technically, Victor Frankenstein isn't a movie for women, either, since it clearly ranked only one named female character who did not audibly talk to another female character (there's a Mrs. Winthrop (uncredited) in the IMBd listing that I don't remember from the credits roll in the actual movie because it was really short) and a plot that is so full of holes it might be cinematic Swiss cheese.  And yet I paid 8$ plus tax for it.  If I don't see The Revenant in the theatre it's more likely due to the fact that I have yet to really like an Iñárritu film (haven't caught Birdman, yet).  I have seen my share of "brutal" movies (raise your hand if you've seen Salò).
5. The Hateful Eight - Tarantino.  I usually catch up with him after the DVD release.  And a three-hour movie really tests limits on my bladder.  However, if I luck out and any of the nearby theatres get the 70mm film (which I highly doubt) I might try for a screening.  (There are two named female characters! And Tarantino known for brutality onscreen! Now I'm on a rant....guess I need to take my new Mulholland Dr. Blu-ray out for a spin).

26 November 2015

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

Summary from Goodreads:
He was the brother of “the Arab” killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus’s classic novel. Seventy years after that event, Harun, who has lived since childhood in the shadow of his sibling’s memory, refuses to let him remain anonymous: he gives his brother a story and a name—Musa—and describes the events that led to Musa’s casual murder on a dazzlingly sunny beach.

In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his broken heart, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him. A stranger among his own people, he wants to be granted, finally, the right to die.

The Stranger is of course central to Daoud’s story, in which he both endorses and criticizes one of the most famous novels in the world. A worthy complement to its great predecessor, The Meursault Investigation is not only a profound meditation on Arab identity and the disastrous effects of colonialism in Algeria, but also a stunning work of literature in its own right, told in a unique and affecting voice.

Recasting established classics through novels using secondary characters' points-of-view or different cultural lenses - Things Fall Apart after Heart of Darkness, Longbourn after Pride and Prejudice, On Beauty after Howard's End - has created an interesting genre of literature full of books with important and interesting commentary on classism and colonialism/post-colonialism.  The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud joins in the conversation by taking as its starting point the unnamed Arab who becomes Meursault's victim in Camus's The Stranger.

Daoud imagined an extended family for "the Arab" and, most importantly, a name - Musa.  Musa's suriving younger brother, Harun, discourses nightly - and often drunkenly - to an unnamed investigative journalist (and the reader) about how his brother has been forgotten, how his life changed irrevocably, and how the country of Algeria itself has changed since the afternoon of Musa's murder.  He wants recognition for Musa, acknowledgement that the French colonizers and literati of Algeria favored acclaim for the murderous Meursault despite his guilt and ignored the poor Alergian man who died.  Harun doles out his tale bit by bit.

The Meursault Investigation is a meandering, stream-of-consciousness novel.  It wasn't what I expected - I had expected something more like a shifted-perspective novel that overlapped more with The Stranger.  There is a bit of that, but Harun is a child of about ten when Musa dies and so can't give the reader much in the way of information about his brother's life.  The majority of the plot seems to present Harun as a mirror to Meursault, driven to disaffected murder by the presence of his very-much-alive mother, and aksi comment on the impact of the opposing French colonialization and Algerian independence through Harun who is caught between them.  I think the style of the book loses a little something in the translation - it felt stilted and formal at times.

Despite wanting to like The Meursault Investigation more than I did, this was an interesting book. I haven't read The Stranger since high school, so I may have missed some of Daoud's specific points, but as long as one knows the gist of the plot of The Stranger they should be just fine reading The Meursault Investigation. The plots aren't that dependent on details from one to the other.

Bump: If the time period and setting of the book intrigues you, I can recommend Assia Djebar's Children of the New World, a novel set amid the tumult of the revolution and independence movement in Algeria, and the film The Battle of Algiers.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

20 November 2015

You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

Summary from Goodreads:

The author of Don’t Worry It Gets Worse takes on the F-word

Alida Nugent’s first book, Don’t Worry It Gets Worse, received terrific reviews, and her self-deprecating “everygirl” approach continues to win the Internet-savvy writer and blogger new fans. Now, she takes on one of today’s hottest cultural topics: feminism.

Nugent is a proud feminist—and she’s not afraid to say it. From the “scarlet F” thrust upon you if you declare yourself a feminist at a party to how to handle judgmental store clerks when you buy Plan B, You Don’t Have to Like Me skewers a range of cultural issues, and confirms Nugent as a star on the rise.

The subtitle for Alida Nugent's new book You Don't Have to Like Me is "Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism."  And that is precisely what she writes about.  About finding and maintaining friendships with other women and how while she was busy trying to be The Cool Girl (you know, the one who burps, chows Big Macs, agrees with dudes' BS, and tries to be like a dude while maintaining a Hot Girl Bod) she was throwing other women under the bus.  About the "warning labels" that get attached to girls but not to boys. About the utter uselessness and hetero-normative-ness and obsessed with tab-A-in-slot-B-ness of sex education in public school (if you're even lucky to get that).

In the piece "Feral" Nugent calls out the utter bullshit whereupon women are taught to "Get Home Safe" and to take their drinks to the bathroom with them lest they get spiked and how presenting oneself as "female" in any way is dangerous yet we do not teach boys and men not to rape (Nugent presents a close call she had while walking home from work one evening).  The pieces "Shrink" and "All the Diets I've Been On" present contrasting pictures of the way food and pleasure and body image become twisted and unrecognizable.  "Advice I've Received as a Woman" is a hilarious and uncomfortable tally of all the conflicting and constraining (and occasionally amazing) advice Nugent has been offered because she is cis-gendered female.  The book winds up with the fantastic essay "Does This Skirt Make Me Look Feminist?" which reinforces the notion, at play throughout the book, that there is no right way to "do" feminism and that stereotyping feminists is ridiculous.

I was reading a few reviews for You Don't Have to Like Me and came across one that gave it a 1-star because Nugent was just repeating what others have said and wasn't saying anything new.  Considering that, on average, women still make less than men (which is the statistic for white women; the ratio gets larger for African-American women, Latinas, etc. as Nugent points out), we still teach women to "be safe" rather than teach men not to rape or feel entitled to sexual attention from women, we still call women "sluts" for having sex (or enjoying sex at all) yet slam women who don't have sex as prudes, and push a media representation of female beauty that is nearly impossible to achieve or maintain then deride women for taking pride in their appearances it is very clear that voices like Alida Nugent's, Roxane Gay's, Rebecca Solnit's, and others are still needed.  And they are needed to be loud, clear, and real and to repeat themselves.  We can't say anything new until what we're saying right now becomes part of the cultural fabric and the norm.  Also, Nugent, as a woman who is both Puerto Rican and Irish, reminded me that the feminism that I need and practice - as a white, middle-class, straight, cis woman - is different than what she needs as a biracial woman, or what a transgender woman needs, or what a black woman needs, and so on.  We still have a ways to go until feminism isn't a big, red Scarlet F.

Dear FTC: I first received a DRC of this book via Penguin Random House's First to Read program, but it expired so I ought a copy instead.

19 November 2015

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford

Summary from Goodreads:
The Sun King is a dazzling double portrait of Louis XIV and Versailles, the opulent court from which he ruled. With characteristic élan, Nancy Mitford reconstructs the daily life of king and courtiers during France’s golden age, offering vivid sketches of the architects, artists, and gardeners responsible for the creation of the most magnificent palace Europe had yet seen. Mitford lays bare the complex and deadly intrigues in the stateroom and the no less high-stakes power struggles in the bedroom. At the center of it all is Louis XIV himself, the demanding, mercurial, but remarkably resilient sovereign who guided France through nearly three quarters of the Grand Siècle.

Brimming with sumptuous detail and delicious bons mots, and written in a witty, conversational style, The Sun King restores a distant glittering century to vibrant life.

Nancy Mitford's biography of King Louis XIV during his years of building and living at Versailles is a book I bought for the cover. Bravo, New York Review of Books Classics.

This is a slim, under-200 page history/biography of the French King Louis XIV, the Sun King, from the time he starts the transformation of his father's old hunting lodge at Versailles, in approximately 1661, to his death September 1, 1715.  Along the way we learn about his wife, his brother, his brother's wives, his official mistress, his other mistresses (including the one he likely eventually married), his son, his son's wife, his grandson, his illegitimate children, and his great-grandsons.  Mitford touches on the weirdness of French court customs.  There are wars, religious persecution, suspicion of witchcraft and devilry, and poisonings (fer shizz, poisonings were a THING in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France).  There's also quibbling over French support of the deposed English king, James II, and his family.  Nancy Mitford does gossip like no one's business.

This was written in the 1960s, with research started in the late 1920s, and some of Mitford's views about Jews or Catholics or Germans (and her usage) reflect a .  It isn't too pervasive but it is good to keep in mind that Mitford was a novelist, not a professional biographer or historian.  There is just one (small) drawback to this new edition of The Sun King - according to the Introduction by Philip Mansel the original edition was a "coffee table" book with photographs of Versailles at the "appropriate moment[s] in the text".  Aside from the fabulous yellow cover, there are no photographs in the NYRB Classics edition.

If you're looking for a gift for a history buff or someone who like more narrative-style non-fiction, The Sun King would be a great choice (and so cheery to look at in the middle of winter).

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

18 November 2015

Lingo by Gaston Dorren

Summary from Goodreads:

Whether you're a frequent visitor to Europe or just an armchair traveler, the surprising and extraordinary stories in Lingo will forever change the way you think about the continent, and may even make you want to learn a new language.

Lingo spins the reader on a whirlwind tour of sixty European languages and dialects, sharing quirky moments from their histories and exploring their commonalities and differences. Most European languages are descended from a single ancestor, a language not unlike Sanskrit known as Proto-Indo-European (or PIE for short), but the continent's ever-changing borders and cultures have given rise to a linguistic and cultural diversity that is too often forgotten in discussions of Europe as a political entity. Lingo takes us into today's remote mountain villages of Switzerland, where Romansh is still the lingua franca, to formerly Soviet Belarus, a country whose language was Russified by the Bolsheviks, to Sweden, where up until the 1960s polite speaking conventions required that one never use the word "you" in conversation, leading to tiptoeing questions of the form: "Would herr generaldirektör Rexed like a biscuit?"

Spanning six millenia and sixty languages in bite-size chapters, Lingo is a hilarious and highly edifying exploration of how Europe speaks.

Being a book person, words and languages are things I've always found interesting (not nearly as much as my friend Kate, who studies linguistics, specifically how people tell each other where to put things [actual things, not euphemistic things]).  I'm not fluent in any of my second languages (German and French, which makes the idea of them being second languages silly) but I do like the sounds and quirks of each language, what makes them all different from one another.

I happened across Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages while looking through Edelweiss catalogs.  This was apparently published in the UK last year and then picked up for US publication by Atlantic Monthly Press.  Just from reading the description I was hooked.  I had no idea there were at least sixty languages in Europe.  (Yes, insert "ignorant American" joke here.)

Each language chapter is truly bite-size.  Dorren focuses on what makes each language interesting, whether that is the language's resurrection like that of Manx or Cornish, or it's isolation like Channel Islands Norman.  Even the country's history gives shape to a chapter; the chapter on Lithuanian is narrated in contrasting dictatorship/revolutionary styles (Comrades!).  At the end of each chapter, Dorren points out words that have been "borrowed" by the English language and terms that are extremely unique to that language.  I got a kick out of the Icelandic chapter when the unique word was the "Christmas Book Flood" (I'm not even going to try and spell it in Icelandic) which was a topic in an early Book Riot podcast.

Now, if you're not up on all your grammatical forms of speech you might have to do some Googling or go find Grammar Girl's site or something.  The book does assume that you remember what predicates and cases and so on actually are (not what you think they are, trust me, I fell into that trap).  But Lingo is a really fun, quick read and, since the holidays are coming up, it would make the perfect gift for a word or trivia lover.

Lingo by Gaston Dorren will be available in the US on December 1, 2015.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

17 November 2015

Extra, Extra: A first look at Sarah MacLean's new novel, The Rogue Not Taken!

News Flash: Announcing a sublime – and scandalously wonderful – new series from New York Times, USA Today and Washington Post bestselling author Sarah MacLean!

The author aroused immediate interest when she announced this high-concept affair: “I'm thrilled to announce my next project -- the Scandal & Scoundrel series, which I pitched to my editor as ‘Old School TMZ,’" says MacLean. “It’s modern celebrity gossip with a pre-Victorian twist. Basically, this is my way of convincing my husband that all those glossy magazines in our house are ‘work necessities.’

The first novel in the series, THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN (Avon Books; ISBN 9780062379412; eISBN 9780062379399; on-sale 12/29/15) is a riff on a certain elevator incident made famous at a Met gala several years ago. But in MacLean’s imagination, the scurrilous turns absolutely sensational, as a ballroom imbroglio sets off a very heated carriage journey along the Great North Road. It’s a long way from London to Scotland…you would be quite amazed at how much drama can ensue between a seemingly ill-matched duo on such a wild ride!

[Melissa's editorial: Are you intrigued yet?  I, for one, I was offering to do considerable groveling for an advance copy of any or all manuscript versions.]

The Rogue Not Taken description:

Lady Sophie’s Society Splash
When Sophie, the least interesting of the Talbot sisters, lands her philandering brother-in-law backside-first in a goldfish pond in front of all society, she becomes the target of very public aristocratic scorn. Her only choice is to flee London, vowing to start a new life far from the aristocracy. Unfortunately, the carriage in which she stows away isn’t saving her from ruin . . . it’s filled with it.

Rogue’s Reign of Ravishment!
Kingscote, “King,” the Marquess of Eversley, has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, resulting in a reputation far worse than the truth, a general sense that he’s more pretty face than proper gentleman, and an irate summons home to the Scottish border. When King discovers stowaway Sophie, however, the journey becomes anything but boring.

War? Or More?
He thinks she’s trying to trick him into marriage. She wouldn’t have him if he were the last man on earth. But carriages bring close quarters, dark secrets, and unbearable temptation, making opposites altogether too attractive . . .

[Melissa's further editorial: I'm eleven chapters into The Rogue Not Taken and I might love Sophie more than I love Pippa from One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.  Maybe...Sophie still hasn't dissected a goose....or had a no-touching scene....]

To celebrate the new book, cartographer Amy Solomon designed a beautiful map of Sophie and King's route to Happily Ever After!  Isn't it lovely?  Sarah has provided some commentary for the route:

Stop #1: "Sophie Stows Away" (English Country Estate near London)
Author Commentary:
There are moments in life when you know that you just can't go on without a change. Lady Sophie Talbot, the youngest of the infamous Talbot Sisters (darlings of the gossip rags and nicknamed the Dangerous Daughters) knows this is the case when she lands her odious, philandering brother in law backside-first in a fish pond at a major event of the London Season. And so, Sophie does what's necessary. “I simply need conveyance home,” she requests of Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley, notorious rake and her only chance of escape. Sophie's desperate, and in possession of the Marquess's boot, so she thinks she has a leg up, so to speak. King has other ideas.

Stop #2: “The Carriage”
Author Commentary:
Lady Sophie Talbot, youngest and least interesting of the scandalous Talbot sisters (think 19th Century Kardashians) isn't so uninteresting once she's decided to stow away atop a carriage belonging to the Marquess of Eversley -- notorious rogue and her recent nemesis. Indeed, she cannot wait for the horrible man to discover that she's disguised herself as an outrider and stolen conveyance home to central London. There's just one problem...

Stop #3: “The Fox and the Falcon Posting Inn”
Author Commentary:
By the time Lady Sophie Talbot finds herself outside the Fox & Falcon Posting Inn, miles from her home in London, she's realized she's made a huge mistake. She only ever intended to hitch a ride home to Mayfair--and simultaneously stick it to the arrogant, handsome, horrible Marquess of Eversley, who happens to be minus a boot, thanks to Sophie. Suffice to say, things got out of hand. And now, dressed as a male servant in the drive of a roadside inn, things are about to get much much worse.

Stop #4: “Beware Highwaymen!”
Author Commentary:
Suffice to say, being on the road with an arrogant aristocrat is no fun at all, so Lady Sophie Talbot does what any self-respecting woman would do, she "borrows" his money, and gets herself on the next mail coach north. All seems fine -- until Highwaymen arrive, and that arrogant aristocrat arrives just in time to see her entire plan go pear-shaped.

Stop #5: “The Warbling Wren”
Author Commentary:
Being shot on the Great North Road isn't exactly a thing people expect to happen, and Lady Sophie Talbot finds herself in the rooms above The Warbling Wren pub, under the welcome care of a rather mad doctor and the watchful eye of the rather infuriating (and infuriatingly handsome) Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley. There are worse things, she supposes. Or are there? Not for King.

Stop #6: “Mossband”
Author Commentary:
Lady Sophie Talbot, youngest and least interesting of the infamous Talbot sisters, has decided that her best bet to escape London and the aristocratic life for which she'd never been intended is to take herself home -- to the small village on the Scottish border where she spent the first ten years of her life. And perhaps, after a disastrous journey north, something would go right, and her childhood friend Robbie, now the village baker, would make good on their silly youthful promises and marry her. Of course, Sophie isn't alone. She's saddled with the horrible, handsome Marquess of Eversley. Who has done everything to ruin her plans. Until now.

Stop #7: “Lyne Castle”
Author Commentary:
The Country seat of the Dukes of Lyne, Lyne Castle is the childhood home of Kingscote, Marquess of Eversley, who left home at eighteen after a terrible tragedy and never returned. Summoned home by his ailing father, King finally returns--with the unexpected addition of Lady Sophie Talbot, irritating and somehow irresistible. The estate boasts one of the most complicated labyrinths in Britain...where King and Sophie find solace, and heartbreak, and each other.
Here's an excerpt from Stop #7:
Sophie would want love. She’d want it pure and unfettered, given freely, along with all its trappings. She’d want the marriage and children and happiness and promise that came with it.

King could see it, the life she wanted. The line of little girls, blue-eyed and brown-haired, in love with books and strawberry tarts. For a moment, he imagined them smiling at him the way their mother did, filled with happiness and hope.
For a moment, he let himself believe he might be able to give it to her.

But she would want love, and he would never be able to give it.

He didn’t have it to give anymore. And those children, they would never be his.

He set her down on the edge of the fountain, coming to his knees, as though she was Ariadne and he the Minotaur, worshipping at her feet, adoring her even as he knew she could not survive in the labyrinth, and he could not survive beyond it.

“Tell me about last night,” he said softly, looking up at her, his hands at the hem of her skirts.
“What—” She caught her breath as his fingers explored the skin of her ankles. “What about it?”
“I hated it,” he said. “I hated stopping.”

She pressed her lips into a thin, straight line. “I hated that you stopped.”

His hands were beneath her skirts, pushing them back, farther and farther, up and over her knees. He pressed his lips to the inside of her knee, swirling his tongue there, loving the little gasp of surprised pleasure that came at the touch.

“I hate that I will have to stop today, as well."
[Melissa's further, further editorial: Three other excerpts were released today, look for other The Rogue Not Taken teaser posts from bloggers.]

Intrigued?  Yes?  Need more?  Here's what Elyse from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books had to say: “The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean is my favorite book of hers to date. If you’ve read her, or know me, then you know that I just said a thing.”

The Rogue Not Taken, Scandal & Scoundrel Book 1, will be available in the US on December 29, 2015, wherever books are sold - so get those pre-orders in now!  Now, if you're looking for signed mass market copies, anyone who orders a signed, print copy of the book from WORD Bookstores will get a gorgeous printed copy of the map!  Visit the WORD website for more information: http://www.wordbookstores.com/book/9780062379412 (link via Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahmaclean.net/the-rogue-not-taken).

You can also try your luck with our giveaway from Avon Books!  Click the Rafflecopter link for a chance to win a very exclusive early bound manuscript of THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN, along with some artisanal honey. Yum!  [Melissa's even further editorial: Honey is very important in this story, trust me.]

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much to Avon Books and Sarah MacLean!

16 November 2015

Armada by Ernest Cline

Summary from Goodreads:

[Normally, I'd have the flap copy here but I think the description posted on Goodreads shows that whoever wrote it didn't really read the book.  Because it's factually incorrect and then gives away a good chunk of the book making it not as fun to read.  So not posted here.]

After the phenomenal success of Ready Player One, I, along with about a bazillion other people, have been eagerly awaiting Ernest Cline's next book.  As in rabidly anticipating.  Great title - Armada.  Great cover design.

Weirdly, as happened with Ready Player One, I had trouble getting into the "voice" of Zack Lightman.  Maybe late-teenage male protagonists aren't quite my thing.  And the plot of the book just wasn't catching me - gifted gamer with parent issues (deceased father), not great at school, obsessed with eighties/nineties video games and trivia.  So I put the DRC aside and got on the list to borrow the audiobook from the library.  Wil Wheaton had returned as narrator and he had been my way into Wade Watts's voice in Ready Player One.

Luckily, Wheaton's narration worked again.  However the stars have aligned, Wheaton's voice and Cline's characters are a great fit.  I was able to listen to the book and understand the character better than I had reading it.  I liked Zack.  My only stumbling block now was the actual plot.  I've watched movies like The Last Starfighter and 2001 and The Black Hole (my dad and I watched a lot of sci-fi movies when I was a kid) and I've read Ender's Game.  Even though Cline gives us a few twists, I felt like I'd come across portions of Armada in other forms.  It didn't ruin Armada for me, which turned out to be a great audiobook, it just didn't seem as fresh or original as RP1.  And I think this is why people seem to be bagging on Armada - it suffers greatly from second-book-anticipation-syndrome because it's predecessor was so excellent and this one is just similar enough to pale in comparison.

My advice: if you've recently read Ready Player One, wait a bit before reading Armada.  If you've had some space or you're new to Ernest Cline, give it a go.  Particularly on audiobook.  Wil Wheaton is a fantastic reader of Cline's books.

Dear FTC: I originally started reading a DRC of this book I received from the publisher via Edelweiss but then switched to a digital audiobook borrowed from the public library.

15 November 2015

Cat is Art Spelled Wrong edited by Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach, and Sarah Schultz

Summary from Goodreads:
"Coffee House Press, a major nonprofit publisher, recently launched a Kickstarter for a book examining the Internet's cat video fetish. The book, if the Kickstarter campaign reaches its $25,000 goal, will be titled Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, and examine themes like what makes something art, whether art is good or bad, and how taste develops. In other words, cat videos can actually be . . . pretty serious."—The Washington Post

"Coffee House Press one-ups all boring Kickstarter campaigns with Catstarter, a campaign to fund a book on cat videos."—The Millions

"Coffee House Press's upcoming book, titled Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, takes the opportunity to examine a seemingly irrelevant subject from new perspectives—from 'the line is between reality/self on the internet' to 'how cat videos demonstrate either that nothing matters, or that any art matters if anyone thinks it does.' Thus, it's an earnest attempt to uncover more about human nature—especially in today's internet-driven world."—Cool Hunting

Fifteen writers, all addressing not just our fascination with cat videos, but also how we decide what is good or bad art, or art at all; how taste develops, how that can change, and why we love or hate something. It's about people and technology and just what it is about cats that makes them the internet's cutest despots.

Contributors include: Sasha Archibald, Will Braden, Stephen Burt, Maria Bustillos, David Carr, Matthea Harvey, Alexis Madrigal, Joanne McNeil, Ander Monson, Kevin Nguyen, Elena Passarello, Jillian Steinhauer, Sarah Schultz, and Carl Wilson.

Why do we like cat videos so much? Or Henri, the existential Chat Noir?  Or Grumpy Cat or Maru or share a video of a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba chasing a duckling so many times that the hit count is in the millions?  (Admit it, you've been obsessed with those recent videos of cats freaking out over cucumbers sneaking up on them from behind.)

Well, Coffee House Press's new book, Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, pulls together pieces of many different varieties.  Some concentrate on cultural criticism, some bubble over with enthusiasm, some make us snuggle our own balls of fur a little tighter.  Ander Monson contributes a stellar piece titled "The Internet is a Cat Video Library" which contemplates both internet culture and an actual small-animal lending library (btw, if you haven't read Monsen's Letter to a Future Lover get on that).  Kevin Nguyen contributes some insight into the I Can Has Cheezburger work ethic with "The No Sleeping Cat Rule."  And, yes, there is an Internet Cat Video Festival, detailed in Sarah Schultz's "There Was a Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, and It Was Glorious."

My only regret is that it wasn't longer!

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

30 October 2015

Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
A twist of fate . . .

Devon Ravenel, London's most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl's three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon's own.

A clash of wills . . .

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she's ever known?

Much fanfare accompanies the release of Cold-Hearted Rake because it marks the return of Lisa Kleypas to Avon Books for a new historical romance series.  We are introduced to a high-spirited, temperamental, somewhat dysfunctional family, the Ravenels.

As Cold-Hearted Rake opens, we are introduced to the dissolute Devon Ravenel (Dev) and his younger brother Weston (West), drunk and sprawled over the furniture.  Dev has just had the misfortune to inherit the Trenear earldom from his obnoxious, useless, and now very-dead cousin Theo with whom he never got along and now finds himself in possession of a mountain of debt and an extremely run-down estate.  And three teenage cousins.  And one widow.  As Dev drunkenly whines about how inconvenient the whole, messy thing is and how the widowed Lady Trenear must be awful, Kathleen, Lady Trenear, reveals herself.  She has heard the whole thing and gives Dev a piece of her mind.  Dev is a right bastard in his response to her and so they arrive at a stalemate of mutual loathing.

Dev, as he starts unraveling the mess his cousin made of the Trenear estate, begins to see the potential in his inheritance.  He has never had anything he could work at, nothing that he could create with his own hands and brain (because God-forbid the nobility actually be useful for anything), and realizes that he can become more than just the screw-up poor cousin.  For her part, Kathleen wrestles with guilt over her possible association with her husband's death and with the shadow of her strange upbringing.  She has never had a family that felt like "family" and now that she has three sisters-in-law and two cousins-in-law (West manages to make himself endearing far before Dev) she might have found the family warmth she had been missing.

Cold-Hearted Rake reminds me of Kleypas's Secrets of a Summer Night (Wallflowers #1) in structure - a lot of plot detail to set up both this book and the coming series, many side-characters (the three younger cousins - Helen, Pandora, and Cassandra - are a delight as is West), and a possible B-plot romance to set up the next book in the series, Marrying Winterbourne.  However, there is so much other stuff going on in the book - and a long plot timeline - that we are constantly pulled away from the development of Dev's and Kathleen's romance.  Dev is an out-and-out dickweasel to Kathleen at different points in the book, even after they have started to thaw toward one another, and Kathleen, in my opinion, needed a stiffer spine in places.  We don't see them grow toward one another over the course of the book so it makes the HEA feel rushed and unconvincing.  That's saying something considering Kleypas managed to take St. Vincent, who was more-or-less the villain at the end of It Happened One Autumn and turn him into one of the best romantic heroes in the follow-up, The Devil in Winter.  The resolution in Cold-Hearted Rake makes me think Kleypas didn't put her all into Dev and Kathleen.  It isn't terrible, it's just not as good as I know it could be (in addition, we never quite find out how Theo managed to screw up so much without anyone knowing about it).

Cold-Hearted Rake is out this week from US retailers!

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

28 October 2015

Scandal Takes the Stage by Eva Leigh (The Wicked Quills of London #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
Eva Leigh’s smart and sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues, with a playwright and a Viscount . . . together they may create a scandal worthy of the stage, but can their love last after the final curtain falls?

Successful playwright Maggie Delamere has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood. She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness . . . and vows to rebuff the wildly persistent—and irritatingly handsome—scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist...

For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s brilliant work, and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but if it means loosening Maggie’s pen—and her inhibitions—he’ll do exactly that.

But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be . . . and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.

We were introduced to Maggie and Cam in the first book of Eva Leigh's new series, Forever Your Earl.  Maggie is Eleanor's playwright friend while Cam is Daniel's buddy-in-debauchery.  Cam is a devotee of the theatre, specifically of Maggie's Imperial theatre and her plays, known as burlettas - plays with sung dialogue (think Singspiel) - to avoid issues with new play licenses peculiar to the London theatre scene.  As Scandal Takes the Stage opens, Cam turns on the charm - or what he thinks is charm - when he finally meets Maggie only to run up against a brick wall of disdain.  Maggie has no use for idle, useless, noblemen.

Maggie's immediate problem is that she has writer's block.  She must produce a new burletta or the money walks.  Cam is a distraction.  She doesn't need distractions (yes, she does).  When the producers pull out of the Imperial after Maggie fails to deliver a workable play, Cam becomes the Imperial's patron and lures Maggie out to his country estate, an idyllic writing retreat.  There the two become close, very close, and Maggie begins to open up, both in her writing and to Cam.

Compared to Forever Your Earl, Scandal Takes the Stage is a romance with a much slower burn.  Earl snaps and sparkles while Scandal putters along until it starts to smolder.  I liked all the backstage swirl of the Imperial and the camaraderie of the theatre company, the costumers and the dancers and the actors.  The idea of the cross-class romance of Maggie (commoner) and Cam (viscount, who will eventually become a marquess) was very intriging.  But their story felt flat.  Not every romance has to buzz and fizz with tension but I felt as if their relationship was jumbled together without time for everything to gel on the page.  For instance, Maggie informs Cam that she comes from a Jewish family and, therefore, doesn't attend Sunday services.  This is an interesting tidbit, and an uncommon one, but then goes nowhere.  It isn't used by Cam's father to object to their relationship, that I recall, and it isn't explained how Maggie and Cam could marry in the Church of England (I'm not entirely certain of my English church history, but I think there were rules still in place about religion and the nobility in the early 19th-century).  Similarly, we don't get a satisfactory explanation as to why Cam is so resistant to getting married.

Scandal Takes the Stage is available now in the US - it's a nice follow-up to Forever Your Earl, but perhaps suffers a bit in comparison.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.