31 December 2014

The Duke of Dark Desires (The Wild Quartet #4) by Miranda Neville

Summary from Goodreads:
Wanted: Governess able to keep all hours . . .
Rebellious Julian Fortescue never expected to inherit a dukedom, nor to find himself guardian to three young half-sisters. Now in the market for a governess, he lays eyes on Jane Grey and knows immediately she is qualified—to become his mistress. Yet the alluring woman appears impervious to him. Somehow Julian must find a way to make her succumb to temptation . . . without losing his heart and revealing the haunting mistakes of his past.

Desired: Duke skilled in the seductive art of conversation . . .
Lady Jeanne de Falleron didn't seek a position as a governess simply to fall into bed with the Duke of Denford. Under the alias of Jane Grey, she must learn which of the duke's relatives is responsible for the death of her family—and take her revenge. She certainly can't afford the distraction of her darkly irresistible employer, or the smoldering desire he ignites within her.

But as Jane discovers more clues about the villain she seeks, she's faced with a possibility more disturbing than her growing feelings for Julian: What will she do if the man she loves is also the man she's sworn to kill?

(I've tried four times to summarize this novel without spoiling details, but I can't do any better than the summary from the Goodreads page.)

I haven't read the previous Wild Quartet books (I have at least one kicking around somewhere) but since I previously read one Miranda Neville series backward (the Burgundy Club) I figured it wouldn't hurt to start with the fourth book in this series, either.  And it went very well - there were a few times where Julian would go to one of the previous books' heroes or heroines (in this series, the tie is a group of art collectors rather than antiquarian book collectors) but just enough information was dropped in conversation to clue the reader as to backstory without an info-dump.

That was a good decision on Neville's part because The Duke of Dark Desires is heavy on exposition for both hero and heroine.  These are not happy character histories - they never are when French aristocrats and the French Revolution are in play.  Jane is such a strong character and her story is both a very old one and a very modern one.  The stigma Jane fears is one that many women face when forced to make choices to simply survive.  Julian, too, has demons but they are less physically menacing - he's haunted by guilt and inadequacy, made larger by the fact that his mother dumps her three unwanted-though-that-is-never-made-explicit daughters in Julian's lap so that she might go gallivanting off with her new husband.  Together, though, Julian and Jane can burn up the page - both in sexual chemistry and in character.  Incidentally, Julian's middle half-sister, Fenella, is a delight.

I am definitely going to check out the earlier three books in the series, they seem like good romances (I am miffed, though only by a very tiny bit, that my suggestion for the title - "The Duke of Denford's Crime," to match her Oscar Wilde theme in the series - wasn't used. Oh well).

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

30 December 2014

Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After #2) by Tessa Dare

Summary from Goodreads:
Your presence is requested at romantic Twill Castle for the wedding of Miss Clio Whitmore and . . . and . . . ?

After eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She's inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.

Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother—even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.

So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride's cold feet?

● He starts with flowers. A wedding can't have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.

● He lets her know she'll make a beautiful, desirable bride—and tries not to picture her as his.

● He doesn't kiss her.

● If he kisses her, he definitely doesn't kiss her again.

● When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.

● And no matter what—he doesn't fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.

Clio Whitmore, fully in possession of Twill Castle (none of the that sketchy lawyer-selling-Ransom's-castle-from-under-him nonsense in this book), intends to escape from her very, very long engagement and set up her own household.  To do that, she needs control over her dowry and to do that, she needs her intended to sign the papers releasing her from obligation to their engagement without financial penalty.  Since her intended is not even in England (and hasn't been for years) she needs his younger brother - scandalous, sensual Rafe Brandon - to sign them as proxy.

Rafe, for his part, is intent on preserving Granville's respectability - the marquess is, after all, a respected diplomat.  Rafe is haunted by his father's disappointment in him, in that he wasn't his older brother and that he rejected his haute ton roots to support himself in the bare-knuckle boxing ring (polite gentlemen box at Gentleman Jackson's saloon).  He will not allow scandal through a broken engagement fall on his family again, not on his watch.  But Clio is undeterred.  She will not marry Granville so Rafe sets out to prove just how nice it would be to have a lovely wedding - by showing Clio how he thinks Granville would treat her if her were Granville which, let's just come out and say it, is exactly how Rafe would treasure Clio every day of her life.  And that is a very big problem for Rafe.

Say Yes to the Marquess is a lovely novel. The opening is a bit rocky.  I couldn't quite see where Dare was going with her hero and heroine - there was a lot of impasse having to do with the papers Clio wants Rafe to sign so she can break her engagement and Clio's mostly-horrible sister and brother-in-law getting in the way - until one very pivotal scene.  Now, I have a historical-accuracy quibble with this scene (the wedding preparations are on a modern preparation scale with food, and flowers, and cake, and dresses, and so on that just weren't a thing in the Regency period) but it is such a good scene.  I don't want to spoil it but we are given such a beautiful, heart-breaking backstory for Clio.  It had me in tears (in a good way!) and then I got all teary again at the end (of course) so a lovely romance to ring in the new year.  And Rafe is simply yummy - any time you give a hero the surname Brandon, he has some big shoes to fill (Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility looms large in my mind).

Now I wonder who our other two heroines-who-inherit-castles-from-Uncle-Humphrey are and whether all four couples will meet up.  That was one thing I missed greatly in comparison to the previous Spindle Cove series - I didn't see any connection beyond the castle set-up to connect Rafe and Clio to Ransom and Izzy from Romancing the Duke (review).  I hope everyone will come together later - When A Scot Ties the Knot is due out August 2015.

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

17 December 2014

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Summary from Goodreads:

A working father whose life no longer feels like his own discovers the transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature in this laugh-out-loud memoir.

Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he'd always wanted to read. Books he'd said he'd read that he actually hadn't. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.

This book is Andy's inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, this is a heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of what it means to be a reader, and a witty and insightful journey of discovery and soul-searching that celebrates the abiding miracle of the book and the power of reading.

If you want to know one of my "reading kryptonites", it's books about someone's reading life.  Was it a project? So many books in one year? A particular genre? Books they read as a child?  Sold.  So I jumped all over an email from HarperPerennial offering an advance copy of Andy Miller's The Year of Reading Dangerously.

Miller, at the time in his life depicted in The Year of Reading Dangerously, was in his mid-to-late thirties, a father, husband, editor, and writer.  He was busy, but he wished he could read books.  To clarify, read books for pleasure, since he read plenty for work.  He even had a work commute by train that would be long enough to allow him to read but he didn't take advantage of the opportunity.  So Miller decided that he would create a "List of Betterment" - 50 "great books" (and possibly not great) books that he ought to read or re-read.  He blogged under the pseudonym Leonard Bast, which was kind of hilarious, and even though he didn't turn into a prolific blogger he did keep reading book from his List, starting with Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, which I've read (in fact, I've read most of the books Miller put on his list).

This was a very fun book to read.  We all read - or don't read - for very different reasons.  What Miller did was take that perennial complaint of "I wish I read more books" and do something about it.  He read on his commute instead of dinking around or doing a crossword or working.  He read with his wife.  He even read a few things I would not have put on anyone's "reading betterment" list.  Like A Confederacy of Dunces, which I read cover to cover and honestly cannot determine why people love it (Ignacious T. Reilly is gross and when he takes his girlfriend's braid in his "paw" and smells it....ugggggghhhhhhhhh). 

Although The Year of Reading Dangerously is not a prescriptive for the reader's reading life (even though my store inexplicably chooses to shelve this in "Self Improvement" - I'm giving the buyer a side-eye on that one), Miller makes some changes based on what he realized about himself over the course of his reading project. There's some light-hearted fun and excellent footnotes.

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

13 December 2014

Episode 15 - #Unboxing Riot Read #6!

Riot Read #6 came while I was running around the store in full bookstore-retail-at-Christmas mode! Surprise packages are so fun to come home to after a long day.

07 December 2014

Unboxing Book Riot's Quarterly Box #5!

So I've been getting the Book Riot Quarterly box for about a year now.  It's 50 dollars every three months and I love it.  Because if there's anything I love more than getting books it's getting a surprise box of books and bookish stuff.

03 December 2014

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James (Holiday Blog Tour and Giveaway)


In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.

Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.

In September 1796, Jane Austen wrote in a letter that she has passed by the estate of Bifrons, "the abode of him, on whom I once fondly doated."  "Him" is Edward Taylor and Syrie James has taken this mysterious nugget and spun a tale of fifteen-year-old Jane Austen and her first crush in 1791.

Seventeen-year-old Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons, makes a favorable impression on the young Jane when he and his friend Tom Payler stop to rescue Jane, Cassandra, and their brother Charles when their carriage becomes stuck in the mud.  Edward is cosmopolitan, cultured, educated, good-natured, and handsome, all qualities perfectly designed to entrance an intelligent, ambitious, and sheltered young woman.  Their paths cross frequently with all the fêtes, balls, and visits held in honor of Jane's brother and his fiancée (and her sister and that sister's fiancée, who got unexpectedly engaged....).  Jane also sharpens her powers of observation (and her tongue) by observing the self-aggrandizing, unimaginative Lady Bridges and her daughters, the gregarious Sir Brook, various other neighbors, and, frustratingly, Miss Charlotte Payler - Tom Payler's younger sister and Jane's rival for Edward Taylor's affections.

Syrie James effortlessly captures the sweetness of teenage crushes - the uncertainty, the wish to impress, jealously, and the sudden certainty that, yes, this person above all others is destined to be your one-and-only.  But readers know, simply by the introduction to the novel, that this teenage love is destined to be bittersweet.  Jane herself tells us that she "once" was fond of Edward Taylor and James does a remarkable job giving the reader an engaging romantic plot while staying true to the biographical history of her very famous protagonist.

In addition to the marriage plot(s) Janeites and sharp readers will delight in picking out lines, scenes, and characters that James has borrowed from Austen's novels.  Sir Brook is an analogue to Sir John Middleton, from Sense and Sensibility.  Lady Bridges is a bit like a more-aware version of Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park.  Jane horses around by climbing a high wall to impress Edward Taylor, much like Louisa does to impress Captain Wentworth in Persuasion (don't worry, Jane is quite all right).  She even suffers from a combination of Elizabeth Bennet's prejudicial first impressions and Emma's blind but well-meant match-making.  These are lovely distractions from the separation we know comes at the end of the novel.

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James is available now, wherever books are sold (Penguin and BN).


Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.


Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie's unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

25 November 2014

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean (The Rules of Scoundrels #4)

Big, big note: If you have not read the three previous books in Sarah MacLean's The Rules of Scoundrels series - A Rogue By Any Other Name, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, and No Good Duke Goes Unpunished - you are warned that this last book in the series is a bit of a game-changer.  So if you don't want to be spoiled, stop reading this review now, go get the first three books in the series, read them, and then come back and read this review.  Actually, just buy this new fourth one, too, while you're at it.

So, you've been warned.

Summary from Goodreads:

She is the most powerful woman in Britain,
A queen of the London Underworld ...
But no one can ever know.

He is the only man smart enough to uncover the truth,
Putting all she has at risk . . .
Including her heart.

The fourth book in New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean’s incredible Rule of Scoundrels/Fallen Angels series. These four dark heroes will steal the hearts of their heroines and the readers alike! This is the last in the Rules of Scoundrels series—Chase’s story

By day, she is Lady Georgiana, sister to a Duke, ruined before her first season in the worst kind of scandal. But the truth is far more shocking—in London’s darkest corners, she is Chase, the mysterious, unknown founder of the city’s most legendary gaming hell. For years, her double identity has gone undiscovered . . . until now.

Brilliant, driven, handsome-as-sin Duncan West is intrigued by the beautiful, ruined woman who is somehow connected to a world of darkness and sin. He knows she is more than she seems and he vows to uncover all of Georgiana’s secrets, laying bare her past, threatening her present, and risking all she holds dear . . . including her heart.

The very last paragraph of No Good Duke Goes Unpunished blew speculation of Chase's identity wide-open.  We see what we wish to see and, in Chase's case, readers of Sarah MacLean's The Rules of Scoundrels series assumed that Chase was a man given that the three previous heroes, Chase's fellow owners of the Fallen Angel, were all male.  Very, very male.  Instead, Chase "smoothed her skirts."  Boom.

The mysterious Chase is Georgiana, first introduced to us as a frightened teenager in Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord from the Love by Numbers series.  It is now ten years later and Georgiana is determined to re-enter Society, the same nest of vipers who turned on her and who willingly spill dreadful secrets for the chance to try their luck at the Angel's tables, all for the sake of her nine-year-old daughter, Caroline.  A titled husband would help Caroline to find a husband with a rank worthy of a duke's niece so Chase puts aside her breeches (yep!), dons a proper corset and evening gown, and steps into the harsh glare of the ton.

And it is harsh indeed.  A gossip rag has previously published a cartoon of Georgiana as Lady Godiva - and included Caroline.  At the first ball, Georgiana overhears a hoity, snotty ton miss putting her down.  When the vicious girl oversteps and brings the subject of Caroline into the conversation, the lioness in Georgiana rises up and pounces.  Chase decides she will ruin the girl, as she has so many of the ton over the last decade.

Duncan West witnesses the tongue-lashing Georgiana has doled out.  Lady Georgiana is far more woman than the secluded, ruined, woeful young lady Society has expected.  The newspaper magnate is intrigued - he offers to make amends for damage the cartoon has caused.  With the help of his Society papers, he can help Georgiana to find the type of titled husband she requires, the type who won't ask any questions (because, secrets) and the type very unlikely to require many "wifely" duties.  Georgiana, who has previously interacted with Duncan in her guise as "Anna," the madam of the Angel, agrees.  Duncan, of course, has no idea she lives a double, even triple life.

The well-defined layers of Georgiana's life now begin to twist and shift.  By happenstance, Duncan's curricle is directly behind Georgiana's carriage when it leaves the ball and heads straight for the Fallen Angel, also Duncan's destination.  He is stunned to see the glittering Anna emerge from Georgiana's carriage and breeze through the Angel's entrance.  Armed with what he thinks is Georgiana's secret, he presents her with a second bargain: get him truly damaging information on a certain aristocrat (he won't tell her why) or he will unmask her.

Thus begins the back-and-forth dance between a man and a woman who each have secrets, damaging, potentially life-threatening secrets, and a taste for vengeance.  Can Georgiana trust Duncan with her true identity?   Can Duncan trust Georgiana with the truth of his origins?  Neither is willing to come clean and engage in outright confession.  Each time a layer of disguise is lifted away, Duncan and Georgiana are drawn closer together.  So close, they might unwittingly bring disaster upon themselves.

Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover is a brilliant conclusion to the Scoundrels series.  Chase is such a multi-dimensional character, with a life is so compartmentalized - ostracized single mother, guilty parent, breeches-wearing casino owner, alluring courtesan, brilliant social engineer - that she steps right off the page.  We, the readers, know all her secrets from the beginning and that makes us her allies.  We can watch with relish as Duncan makes wrong assumption after wrong assumption until we just want to shake him because the truth is staring him in the face...then turn around and shake Georgiana for denying herself true happiness.  We can laugh as Bourne, Cross, and Temple needle Chase about her attraction to Duncan and chuckle as Caroline adroitly puts all the adults to shame.  We can sigh when...well, that one is too good to spoil but there's a pool....  The conclusion to the novel is a parallel to Chase's favorite casino game - roulette, the only game that is truly a game of chance and cannot be predicted.

I cannot say enough good things about Never Judge a Lady or the Scoundrels series as a whole.  They are four of my favorite historical romance novels with unique, vibrant heroes and heroines.  So I conclude this review with one word: perfect.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover is on sale today, November 25, from your favorite retailer!

Dear FTC: I received access to a digital ARC via Avon Romance and Edelweiss.

15 November 2014

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Summary from Goodreads:

Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

This is my second-ever outing with David Mitchell (the first being, of course, Cloud Atlas) and I'm not exactly sure where to begin.

Do not mistake hesitancy for dislike: I liked this novel a lot.  A. Lot.  But where to begin a review....

The Bone Clocks feels very much like two novels working in tandem.  One is a realist novel centered around a working-class protagonist, Holly Sykes, who may or may not have heard voices and whose little brother disappeared the weekend that Holly ran away from home.  The second novel is that of an epic battle between good and evil played out on the metaphysical world that exists under our own reality, but centered around Holly and the "radio people" she heard as a child.  It's like the magic trick with the two rings - they appear separate but through sleight-of-hand they intersect.

The characters in this novel are vividly drawn, starting with Holly herself.  If she had seemed like a stock character, or one that could have been replaced with a "sexy lamp" (to borrow from film criticism), this novel would have failed in spectacular fashion.  Because Holly, even though she is difficult and mouthy, takes no shit off anyone, least of all Oxbridge poseurs and psychic body-snatchers.  Even when she wasn't the narrator I kept reading in the hopes that I would get back to Holly's voice.

I am in a bit of a quandary, though.  I read an ARC copy of The Bone Clocks (and started out with a DRC) but I have heard that the advance manuscript differs from the finished edition in a number of ways (particularly those characters from other books who make cameos).  I don't have time for a re-read now, but do I go back later, after I've read more of Mitchell's backlist to see if I can recognize changes or meta-fiction elements I hadn't seen on this read?  Decisions, decisions.

Dear FTC: I started with a DRC of this novel via Edelweiss then finished reading with a paper ARC that was sent to my store.

25 October 2014

The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe

Summary from Goodreads:
Chilling real-life accounts of witches, from medieval Europe through colonial America

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft, never failing to horrify, intrigue, and delight.

Penguin is not kidding when they say "real-life" accounts.  Katherine Howe has collected primary source documentation on the persecution of suspected witches,  The transcripts of trials and interrogations are chilling - one was guilty of being a witch simply by accusation. The incidents occurred primarily in Colonial America but a few from England are included. Howe has a doctorate in this exact period of United States history - as well as being descended from accused witches on both sides of her family tree - and provides excellent introductions to each piece of material.

The Penguin Book of Witches is an excellent short anthology of court records and testimony.  However, it does not read smoothly.  Howe did not re-write the accounts simply to make the reading experience easier, which I appreciate because there is no reason why the testimonies cannot be read in the original rather than in a "modernized" edition (cf. my least favorite question at the bookstore: "Do you have an English translation of [insert English language classic like Jane Eyre here]?").  But the layout of the actual text makes for difficult reading.  Unintelligible or missing writing was noted in the transcripts as [torn] or [illegible], right in line with the text and was confusing.  I would be reading along and read [torn] as something actually stated and have to back up to re-read.  In future editions, Penguin should add a few spaces around the lacunae and perhaps place the text in italics - this is a short book so a few more pages could be spared for ease of reading.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book through the Penguin First to Read program.

20 October 2014

Darling Beast (Maiden Lane #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Summary from Goodreads:

Falsely accused of murder and mute from a near-fatal beating, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam. With the Crown's soldiers at his heels, he finds refuge in the ruins of a pleasure garden, toiling as a simple gardener. But when a vivacious young woman moves in, he's quickly driven to distraction . . .


London's premier actress, Lily Stump, is down on her luck when she's forced to move into a scorched theatre with her maid and small son. But she and her tiny family aren't the only inhabitants—a silent, hulking beast of a man also calls the charred ruins home. Yet when she catches him reading her plays, Lily realizes there's more to this man than meets the eye.


Though scorching passion draws them together, Apollo knows that Lily is keeping secrets. When his past catches up with him, he's forced to make a choice: his love for Lily . . . or the explosive truth that will set him free.

At the end of Duke of Midnight, we were introduced to the men running Harte's Folly, a London pleasure garden and theatre that is now a smoking ruin.  Also at the end of Duke, we find out that Apollo Greaves, falsely accused and imprisoned-in-Bedlam-but-now-escaped Viscount Kilbourne, has taken refuge there while hiding from his sister Artemis's husband (Maximus, Duke of Wakefield, was not entirely convinced that Apollo in insane, so he kept Apollo in his basement after breaking him out of Bedlam.  Go read Duke of Midnight - it makes far more sense if you do).

A few months later, when Darling Beast opens, the garden is under re-construction and has gained another set of inhabitants: Lily Stump, celebrated actress under contract to Harte's Folly, and her son Indio and their housekeeper/nurse/dresser/old friend Maude.  Their small savings have dwindled.  No theatre means no income to pay her and her contract burned a lot of bridges in the London theatre community.  When Indio and his little dog Daffodil (aka Daff) make the acquaintance of the enormous, mute gardener (Apollo) Lily finds herself dangerously attracted to him.  It seems the regenerating garden holds many secrets: Apollo's identity, his location (which involves Artemis as well), Lily's past, and the secret to her success.  Only two of these secrets might prove to be fatal.  An opportunity for Lily to earn extra money at a country house party brings everything out into the open.

Elizabeth Hoyt has delivered another excellent installment of the Maiden Lane series. It's a beautiful story for Apollo and Lily in another cross-class romance with a bit of shading for Trevillion and Phoebe, who will be featured in the next book, Dearest Rogue (due in May or June 2015, I think).  The inclusion of a curious little boy and his energetic dog (Hoyt says in her acknowledgements that Daffodil was inspired by someone else's Italian greyhound but I see a lot of her Miss Puppy Pie in Daff; I'm still rooting for a series of picture books inspired by Miss Puppy Pie's exploits) provide many opportunities for laughter as does Apollo's insistence on calling Maximus "His Grace the Ass" (Apollo has his reasons).

My new favorite addition to the cast of Maiden Lane is Valentine Napier, the 7th Duke of Montgomery, who is a sort of silent partner in Harte's Folly.  Dry, witty, nattily dressed, and canny as all hell, he's the Hoyt answer to Eloisa James's Leopold Dautry, Duke of Villiers, from the Desperate Duchesses series.  I wonder if the mysterious Miss Royle will end up with Montgomery (in my head he sounds EXACTLY like Tom Hollander in his Lord Admiral role from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies; if they ever adapt these - because who knows - he better be on the casting list).  Although before we get to Montgomery, we'll have a book for Asa Makepeace first, in Sweetest Scandal, I think, who is a completely different sort of personality from his younger brother, Winter (Thief of Shadows).

19 October 2014

#Readathon Wrap-Up Fall 2014

Hello all!

Just a short Readathon wrap-up post!

I didn't get as much read this time around as I have in past years (the total page count is a bit down) due to work and I just couldn't get that "reading groove" going.

But I did finish four books and start a fifth:

So that's 992 pages and I read for 10 hours and 41 minutes total.  That's still really good!!

Thanks to all the organizers at Dewey's Readathon and I'll be ready to read-it-up in the spring!

18 October 2014

It's time for #Readathon! Dewey's 24-hr Readathon Fall 2014 edition

It's October and that means Readathon!  I'll be reading most of today, Saturday, October 18, except for the 12-6 block because I have to work at the bookstore.  Boo.

But I have a nice stack of books:

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer
The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe
Age of License by Lucy Knisley
People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
Field Notes on Democracy by Arundhati Roy
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
California by Edan Lepucki
On the nook: Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt and Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie
On the iPad: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett, The Human Body by Paulo Giordano, and a DRC that I kind of can't tell you I have (but it will be amazing!!!)

(I made a video of my stack and a few readathon tips for my BookTube channel if you want to watch)

In a goofy departure from my norm, most of my stack is comprised of library books and DRCs.  Go figure.

Righty-ho, then.  My coffee will be brewing, my scones are baked, my brownies are baked, my Excel spreadsheet is ready, and with any luck I will be awake for the kick-off at 7am CDT.

But if I'm not, my post will be up then.  Haha.

Get ready, get set, READ!!

12 October 2014

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

Summary from Goodreads:
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career

A beloved star of stage, television, and film, Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

I first noticed Alan Cumming as an actor in the movie Circle of Friends (he plays the skeevy clerk who bamboozles Minnie Driver's mother into thinking he's helping the family business).  He then popped up as the manager in Josie and the Pussycats, among other things, and right now he can be found performing on Broadway in Cabaret and introducing Masterpiece Mystery in his delightful Scots accent.  I knew little about his personal life - not surprising since he's not one of those A-listers being stalked by the papparazzi - but after reading the promotional copy (which was similar to the summary above) I knew this was a memoir I should read.

At minimum, Not My Father's Son is a well-structured and well-written memoir about the crazy summer that Alan Cumming spent shooting an episode of the British geneaology series "Who Do You Think You Are?" - learning about his maternal grandfather and undergoing severe emotional upheaval from his abusive father. Cumming has a great writing style (he does not appear to have a co-writer) and while many parts of the book, particularly episodes from this childhood, are upsetting and sad, he doesn't let the reader dwell or wallow in the past. There's a fantastic digression about the insanity that is the Eurovision Song Contest and another digression about his hair since he had just started appearing regularly on The Good Wife and was during this time period going au naturel with his natural salt-and-pepper color. And another short digression centered on the BS women put up with in clothing, nails, and hair removal (he was shooting part of a miniseries at the same time as all the "Who Do You Think You Are?" stuff where he played a transvestite).  The story of Cumming's journey into his family's past was so compelling.  Well done.

(And he calls his mother Mary Darling - because Darling is her maiden name and she's also a darling. It makes her seem like a distant relation of the children from Peter Pan. Isn't that sweet?)

Dear FTC: I received access a digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

28 September 2014

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

Summary from Goodreads:
Why do we fear vaccines? A provocative examination by Eula Biss, the author of Notes from No Man’s Land, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.
In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.

When I saw that Eula Biss was coming out with a book of essays about vaccination - and I couldn't tell whether she was yea or nay on the topic - I tracked down the Graywolf Press people and asked for a review copy of On Immunity.  As someone who is both a bookseller and works in the field of epidemiology and has had to deal with the fallout when someone decides not to vaccinate and then catches and spreads a vaccine-preventable disease, well...let's just say I felt uniquely situated as a reader of this book.

On Immunity is an excellent book of short chapters exploring the nature of vaccination as both a concept and a practice.  Beginning with the Greek myth of Achilles, whose mother attempted to prevent his death by either burning away his mortality by sacred fire or dipping him in the River Styx (depending on the version you read) leaving behind his heel as his only vulnerability, Biss meditates on the reasoning behind anti-vaccination, the history of compulsory medicine, the nature of scientific research, language/semantics, skepticism, community versus the individual, the undying nature of stuff that gets on the Internet, and the anxiety that comes with being a parent.  She touches on feminism, classism, and racism in examining compulsory vaccination policies.  And, yes, there are vampires - particularly the Victorian construct of the vampire as metaphor for sex, disease, and contagion (aka, moral disintegration).

The structure of On Immunity is a bit different than Biss's previous collection, Notes from No Man's Land.  Notes consists of discrete essays on the topics of culture and race.  On Immunity, in contrast, only appears to have chapters that stand alone, except when you get right down to examining them they actually need the rest of the book to work.  Each chapter introduces a theme but calls back or looks forward to other sections of the book similar in ways that the individual body is part of a collective and can never be completely separate from community.

The reason I was so interested in this book - setting aside the fact that Biss is a wonderful essayist - is that she isn't a scientist.  Her perspective comes from a much different place than mine and, given that I respect her writing, I was willing to read her perspective even if I disgreed with it in the end.  I think the greatest compliment I can pay a book is to say it engaged me with the text.  I have notes scribbled all throughout my copy for things I need to look up, notes where I did check something in a biology/epidemiology text book, or straight up responses (I have a note "That's a BS statement" next to a quote from an anti-vaccine "expert" - and I use "expert" only in the politest sense).  Biss explores both sides of the compulsory vaccination debate as objectively as she can.  By the end of the book, she has made her decisions about vaccinating her child - since I haven't had a snit in this review you can probably guess what it was - and it was a delight to read the connections she drew between science and the humanities.

A recommended read for everyone.

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

25 September 2014

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Summary from Goodreads:
What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn't enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.

It's 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar—written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.

In deciding to read How to Build a Girl for review, I gave myself a fatal flaw: I read the novel immediately after reading Moran's memoir How to Be a Woman.  I couldn't resist: the memoir was $1.99 on Nook and I love Caitlin Moran on Twitter.  She's such a funny, badass, cool lady.

Unfortunately for her fictional alter-ego, Johanna on the page does not measure up to Caitlin on the page.  How to Be a Woman feels soul-bearing, eviscerating at times in its honesty.  How to Build a Girl has so much perfectly autobiographical detail that it felt like I was reading draft #2 of her memoir rather than a new novel.  Moran has a great writing style and she gives Johanna a fabulous voice but when read so close together real-life wins out over fiction.  She does throw in a great bit on cynicism near the end of the novel, though.

I'd say go for How to Build a Girl if you haven't read Moran's memoir very recently - I loved it. But if you have read How to Be a Woman recently then I'd give it a few months or so before trying out her novel.

(Related: I honestly didn't realise there were hippies in England. I thought that was a US thing and were called something else in the UK)

Dear FTC: I purchased a copy of How to Be a Woman on my nook and was given access to a digital review copy of How to Build a Girl from the publisher via Edelweiss.

10 September 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Summary from Goodreads:
An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

This is the elevator pitch that sold me on Station Eleven: A travelling troupe of musicians and Shakespearean actors in a post-superflu pandemic North America try to stay alive.  Think David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas but less structured or spread out in time.

I'm in.  I liked Cloud Atlas, I like multiple narratives/perspectives, and I was down for a post-apocalyptic world caused by an influenza super-bug because I'm an epidemiologist and I'm weird like that.

There are three things that stand out for me in this novel.  First, Mandel ever so deftly weaves together the stories told by each narrator into a web centered on one character, Arthur Leander.  The allusion to Cloud Atlas makes so much sense, the way that characters are either Arthur's wife, or ex-wife, or lover, or fellow actor, or child, or EMS provider or extended contacts of those characters.  There doesn't seem to be a formal structure, like the nesting Mitchell used in Cloud Atlas, but it does resemble the chaotic jumble of a puzzle, each piece informing the reader how it fits into the broader narrative of the book.  Second, I completely loved the way in which Mandel realized the gradual breakdown of society as more and more people fall ill and die.  How are supplies transported around the world or even between cities? How is electricity supplied? If the apocalypse comes in the form of disease, who are the first to die and who are the last?  How do survivors form communities?  She created this world so brilliantly - it's anchored in reality and set just enough in the future to be unsettling.  Finally, the idea of the Station Eleven comic books was brilliant.  I agree with karen on Goodreads: if someone doesn't join up with Mandel to actually illustrate the books and make them a real thing there is a missing opportunity.

I have read some criticism that the inclusion of a religious cult/fanatical cult leader was cartoonish or unnecessary.  I have to disagree.  Given the information that we are supplied with through the narrative, the emergence of such a character is not out of the realm of possibility in an end-of-the-world situation.  Look at the Doomsday cults that crop up even now.  I found it very easy to reverse the situation and believe in the creation of a cult for the duration of the novel.

Station Eleven is on track to be one of my favorite books of 2014.  Bravo, Emily St. John Mandel.

Dear FTC: I received access to a digital review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

26 August 2014

Once More, My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
They are England’s most eligible bachelors, with the most scandalous reputations. But for the right woman, even an unrepentant rogue may mend his ways…

Born to the street but raised within the aristocracy, Drake Darling can’t escape his sordid beginnings. Not when Lady Ophelia Lyttleton snubs him at every turn, a constant reminder he’s not truly one of them. But after rescuing her from a mysterious drowning he realizes she doesn’t remember who she is. With plans to bring her to heel, he insists she’s his housekeeper—never expecting to fall for the charming beauty.

While Ophelia might not recall her life before Drake, she has little doubt she belongs with him. The desire she feels for her dark, brooding employer can’t be denied, regardless of consequences. So when her memory returns, she is devastated by the depth of his betrayal. Now Drake must risk everything to prove she can trust this rogue with her heart once more.

Lady Ophelia Lyttleton is so high in the instep that she can barely be polite to Drake Darling, even at a family wedding.  She would prefer to rub his nose in his gutter birth and then toss him out onto the street where he belongs.  So it is little wonder that Drake would relish the opportunity to take Ophelia down a notch or two.  When he rescues her from certain drowning in the Thames, and Ophelia can't remember who she actually is, Drake informs her she is his new housekeeper.

Now, this is where I have problems.  Amnesia plots are very hard to pull off, particularly when one character gains some power over the other.  And then you throw in the issue of consent...  I was iffy on Miranda Neville's The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton.  Mary Balogh did a superb take on the amnesia plot in Slightly Sinful, even having the hero and heroine acknowledge that he many never regain his memory or, if he does, what he remembers could pull them apart.  Here, in Once More, My Darling Rogue, the deception is carried on by Drake far longer than it should have to the point that one could argue that she could not fully consent to any sort of sexual activity - and it is only after that that Ophelia regains her memory.  I don't care how much he castigates himself...I would have shot him or worse.  Even though the characters reconcile, and we learn about Ophelia's past, and the HEA is good, the amount of deception in this plot left a bad taste in my mouth.

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

16 August 2014

A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin by Sophie Jordan (The Debutante Files #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
The last woman on earth he would ever touch . . .

Declan, the Duke of Banbury, has no interest in ushering Rosalie Hughes, his stepsister, into society. Dumped on him with nowhere else to go, he's determined to rid himself of the headstrong debutante by bestowing on her an obscenely large dowry . . . making her the most sought-after heiress of the Season.

. . . is about to become the only one he wants.

But Rosalie isn't about to go along with Declan's plans. Surrounded by fortune hunters, how is she supposed to find a man who truly wants her? Taking control of her fate, Rosalie dons a disguise and sneaks into Sodom, a private club host to all manner of illicit activity—and frequented by her infuriatingly handsome stepbrother.

In a shadowed alcove, Declan can't resist the masked temptress who sets his blood afire . . . any more than Rosalie can deny her longing for a man who will send her into ruin.

The set-up for A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin is good: neglected heroine dropped on her step-brother's doorstep without so much as a by-your-leave; step-brother hero, not having seen her for ages nor in a charitable frame of mind, decides to get her married off as soon as possible.

Declan can do that.  He's a duke and he's rich so the obstacles of Rosalie's poverty and questionable upbringing can be overcome with a little town polish and a gaggingly large dowry (supplied by himself).  Of course, Declan falls in love with her himself.

This, unfortunately, where the novel starts to fizzle.  Declan and Rosalie have some chemistry, but they don't quite come off the page for me.  I didn't buy the Sodom plot element - the tantalizing sex club seemed over-the-top and anachronistic...also less than tantalizing.  Rosalie's mother is caricature-bad mother terrible.  I like the book well enough to hope the follow-up is an improvement.

Dear FTC: I received an advance digital copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

13 August 2014

Unboxing Riot Read #2!

I recently joined the "book-tube" community.  Yeah, I'm a little behind the curve on that, but I decided to make an unboxing video for the Riot Read #2.  Enjoy!

11 August 2014

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Summary from Goodreads:
Finally, a novel that puts the "pissed" back into "epistolary."

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can't catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville's Bartleby.

In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies. We recommend Dear Committee Members to you in the strongest possible terms.

Jason Fitger writes a lot of letters.  Letters of recommendation, letters of complaint, emails of the persuasive variety.  He writes letters for a writing student for whom Fitger seems to be the only one with visions of promising output.  He writes letters for one of those students for whom everything she touches - from law school to medical school to writing retreats - turns to gold.  He writes letters to the dean/chair/university president complaining about dwindling resources, fellow faculty members, and the din of construction.  You sympathize with the sheer number of letters.

But as humans go, he's also a dick.  He praises an institution in one paragraph and then undercuts with snide comments in the next.  He calls a colleague colorful names in one letter and in the next he's asking that colleague for a favor.  He's mined his personal life for fodder to mock in his novels and burned nearly every, last bridge (his writing career/reputation is currently non-existent).  His social filters are non-existent.

This short, epistolary novel is wry and uncomfortable.  We laugh at Fitger's tone while knowing all the while that his wording would likely get him fired in the real world (or maybe not; tenured faculty can have a lot of rope with which to hang themselves).  We sympathize with the letter recipients, even if we don't get to read their responses (if any - Fitgers letters might be the ones consigned immediately to the circular filing cabinet).

Dear Committee Members is a quick read, perfect for those who are looking for something similar to Amis's Lucky Jim.

Dear FTC: I received access to a digital review copy via the publisher.

04 August 2014

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Summary from Goodreads:
A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

Caveat: I follow Roxane Gay on Twitter, have done so waaay before I read Bad Feminist so I am happily attuned to the way she goes about things.  She's pretty awesome.

So, the glue that holds Bad Feminist together is the actual title essay.  In it, she basically says, "Look, when we put someone on a pedestal as the epitome of feminism and they fuck up in some way, we then shame the hell out of them, remove them from the pedetal, and find someone else to be the ideal.  Which is stupid.  We all screw up.  We should try to be better."  (That's all my paraphrasing.  Roxane says it much better)  Which is true - everyone can, and should be a feminist, no matter that someone might like pink high heels, or have a secret stash of Chris Brown CDs, or just really, really like to wear a frilly apron and cook a whole lot. (alert: if you follow Roxane for any length of time she lurrrrrves Ina Garten on the Food Network.  Hardcore.)  And just because you like those things doesn't mean that you also shouldn't be respected for who you are and given a fair shake.  She also writes so well about race and culture - she brought up aspects of The Help that I hadn't thought about - and has a fantastic essay about being a person of color in academia.

Some of the essays get extremely self-referential - there's one about playing competitive Scrabble, which I didn't even know was a thing - but so well-written.  Get a copy and settle in to read.

Now, where can I get a Bad Feminist pin?

Dear FTC: I received a digital advance copy of this book from the publisher.

19 July 2014

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla (Pink Carnation #11) by Lauren Willig

Summary from Goodreads:
In the latest Pink Carnation novel from national bestselling author Lauren Willig, rumors spreading among the ton turn deadly as a young couple unites to solve a mystery....

In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.

Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.

Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.

The Pink Carnation series is one of those book series where you didn't even know you wanted the novels in the twisting path it takes to the end (i.e. the novel where our beloved Pink Carnation finds her match) but you do. I certainly do. And none more so than the newest installment, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, because the heroine is the high-energy little sister of our favorite Regency vegetable.

That's right: Sally Fitzhugh, sister of Turnip, has elbowed her way to the head of the Pink Carnation heroine queue and claimed this book for her own.  (Sally would say she hasn't elbowed anyone, just been very, very determined.)

Sally, having made her debut on the marriage market, is finding herself a little bored with it all.  She has grown a little apart from her two best friends, Lizzy Reid and Agnes Wooliston, whom we met in Turnip's book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, and subsequently had their own road-tripping adventure complete with crazed French spy in Miss Gwen's book, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (and I should really start calling Miss Gwen "Mrs. Reid" before she comes after me with her parasol).  At a ball held at the Vaughns' Lizzy dares Sally to walk through the garden into that of the Duke of Belliston (who is rumored to be a vampire, of all things, aside from a recluse). Sally being Sally takes her up on it, determined to reclaim some of the "recklessness" the trio once prided themselves on.

And there is a presence in the mysterious garden, Lucien, the Duke of Belliston, who is amused to find a young lady who, though startled, is feisty and full of words and completely not at all the sort to faint dead away when catching sight of him.  Lucien is a much different sort of gentleman than Sally is used to finding in the ton's drawing rooms. He is reserved, severely understated in his personal attire (particularly when compared to Turnip), has a delicious accent from spending the last however-many years in Louisiana with his decidedly un-tonnish Martinque-descended mother's family, and is in possession of a true family scandal: his parents were killed by poison from the manzanilla tree, attributed to his mother who was acknowledged to be a skilled botanist and not at all liked among Society's matrons.

For his part, Lucien has no time for tonnish young ladies, no matter how pretty or matter-of-fact or unafraid.  He has returned to London to revenge himself on his parents' murderer.  However, when Sally saves him from a situation that would have easily landed him in the hangman's noose - Duke or no Duke - their fates become entwined.  And the outcome is predictably delicious (but don't eat those manzanilla apples, those aren't for eating).

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is adorable, as I expected Sally Fitzhugh's book to be, but it also feels a teensy bit unsatisfying.  It is disconnected from the Pink Carnation/spy plot that developed in Purple Plumeria even though "spies" are introduced into this novel and Mrs. Reid loans our couple the use of her extensive spy-finding experience. It was hugely satisfying to see Turnip as a doting daddy (the scene with Parsnip, Arabella, and jam was so adorable) but I wasn't happy with only name-dropping for my favorite couples - Geoff and Letty, Miles and Hen, Vaughn and Mary - without any actual interaction with the characters since this is rumored to be our last novel to feature any of them (although the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale does get in a fabulous line).  Readers of Gothic literature will be absolutely delighted with all the bits Lauren has dropped in from Mrs. Reid's The Convent of Orsino.  

On the Colin-Eloise front, Eloise is back in the US, teaching at Harvard, with Colin visiting for Halloween (in the timeline of the books, we're still in 2004-2005 in these sections so the Twilight craze is just beginning).  I was really delighted to see Lauren working in the very harsh realities/baises of academia - particularly the possibility that Eloise's work will be side-lined because it doesn't read as interesting as her very stuck-in-the-mud, male adviser.

Excellent addition to the Pink Carnation series!  (If you've not yet encountered any of the Pink books, start with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation).

PS: there is a great shout-out to The Princess Bride - you'll have to be looking for it. My copy also had a sneak peek of The Lure of the Moonflower, the last in the Pink Carnation series (for now, although Lauren hasn't ruled out revisiting side characters in novellas or specials) and, augh, must wait 'till next summer!

Dear FTC: I won an ARC of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

09 July 2014

The Empathy Exams

Summary from Goodreads:
From personal loss to phantom diseases, The Empathy Exams is a bold and brilliant collection; winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.

Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain—real and imagined, her own and others’—Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.

I started hearing buzz about a new collection of essays from Graywolf Press back in the winter.

"But I don't believe in a finite economy of empathy; I happen to think that paying attention yields as much as it taxes. You learn to start seeing."

Holy who knows what this book is amazing go read it now yes please thank you.  Because I don't think that I can write a cohesive review.  All the essays are amazing, particularly the title essay.

The Hundred-Year House

Summary from Goodreads:
Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents’ wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there’s Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room.

Violet’s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony—and this is exactly the period Zee’s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track—besides some motivation and self-esteem—is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn’t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head—that is, if they were to ever uncover them.

In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer.

Old houses seem to have a life of their own.  Laurelfield, the crumbling Chicago estate of an estranged offshoot of the Canadian Devohr family is no different.  The Devohrs seem to be a cursed line, plagued with suicides and mysterious deaths.  The last of the Devohrs are Gracie and her daughter Zee, born Zilla. Zee has returned home (reluctantly) to teach at the local college.  She and her husband Doug live in the Laurelfield carriage house, soon shared by another couple Case and Miriam, Zee's step-brother and his wife.  Things seem fairly orderly: Zee will teach (and try to get Doug hired at the college) and Doug will finish his monograph of Edwin Parfitt.

Then things start to go weirdly wrong.  Zee is obsessed with forcing out her elderly colleague, then imagines Doug and Miriam are having an affair. An old dress re-appears in a wrong place.  Doug writes and writes but not on his monograph - he is ghost-writing Baby-sitters' Club-type books.  Case suffers a series of accidents.  Gracie becomes fanatical about guarding the arts colony files from Doug.  Bruce begins hoarding supplies to survive the Y2K meltdown.  Is the house causing all these things to happen?  The ghost of Violet Devohr?

As the wheels begin to come off normality we find that the characters wear their identities like cloaks, one under the other, much like the history of the house reveals that it has been a home, a prison, and a haven of creativity.  Lies are created and lies are uncovered.  Relationships are made and broken.  At the end of each section we step through a doorway in time as the house sheds another layer to let us out into another one of its secrets.  It's a bit like a counter-part to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.  How much crazy is lent by the environment and how much is lent by the inhabitants?

Makkai's progression through Laurelfield's history is very interesting.  A reverse first-half of Cloud Atlas, if you will.  I only have one very minor bone to pick and that has to do with a very short (perhaps 10 pages) section where Makkai does a very neat wrap-up of all the previous characters' lives.  It's redundant, in my opinion, because readers who pay attention have already pegged what happened, it pulls you out of the established narrative of the book just before you get the very last bit of information that you need.

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai is available from Viking Adult on July 10.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book via the Penguin First to Read program.


Summary from Goodreads:
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble;it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn't expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

In one of those random happenstances, we got a review advance of the audiobook for Rainbow Rowell's new novel, Landline, at the store.  I liked Eleanor & Park and looooooved Fangirl so I decided I would give this one a try.

So, actual novel first.  I don't like this as much as either of the two YA novels (and we can debate until the cows come home whether we can also put them in "New Adult" which I think should be a much more inclusive category than what it's currently used for), primarily for the reason that Georgie annoyed the crap out of me with her seeming inability to get her head out of the sand and actually realize how she's managed to treat her very nice husband as part of the furniture.  And also allow her douche-y, controlling so-called best friend Seth to become the third member of her marriage.

I do not like Seth. At all.  From his first appearance in the book.  I'm pretty sure that was Rowell's intention but ugggggghhhhhhhh he needs to have his ass kicked repeatedly.

But I did really love the magical-realism of the landline telephone and all the flashbacks Rowell employed to establish her relationship with Neal.  They were in college right around when I was in college so I enjoyed wallowing in all the early-to-mid 90s pop culture stuff.  So that was enjoyable.

There's a surprise at the end of the book if you've read one of Rowell's other books (not going to say which one).

As to the narrator....it was OK.  Her voice fit Georgie but I didn't particularly care for her "Neal" or "Seth" voices.

Dear FTC: I listened to an advance listening copy provided to my store by Macmillan Audio.