31 December 2016

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State—which earned rave reviews and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, NPR, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus—and her New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

My final book of 2016.

Disclaimer: I fucking love Roxane Gay.  It's basically a given that I would love Difficult Women.  I'll try not to gush too much.

Difficult Women showcases all those different ways we women are "difficult".  We fall in love, we fall out of love.  We are fragile, we are strong.  We are our own person, sometimes we depend on others.  We demand respect.  We are smart, we make poor decisions.  Sometimes we hurt, sometimes we ask others to hurt us.  We are people, real people, and that makes us difficult because we take up space.

The stories contained within Difficult Women are raw, searing, brutal gut-punches. Roxane Gay has delivered another powerhouse, but longer, collection of stories. These stories are populated by even more strong, bent-but-not-broken women who stand proudly by their older counterparts in Ayiti.

Personally, I loved the stories without fantastical elements best but that's just me.  The amount that I love "North Country" more than "Requiem for a Glass Heart" is negligible, like the width of a human hair.  "I am a Knife" just burns off the page.  These stories are not easy and Roxane follows through with all her punches (that's a little bit of pun since one of the stories concerns a fight club for women).  Yes, racism, rape, grief, faithlessness, pain, and abandonment are hard to read but that makes these stories so human.  These women aren't decorative, they're real.  They live and breathe and hurt and hope.

Go out and put this in your eyeballs now.

Dear FTC:  I got a DRC of this collection from the publisher via Netgalley and then I bought my own copy because it arrived before Christmas.

24 December 2016

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter

Summary from Goodreads:
“A man with a great appreciation of what makes Paris tick.” —Newsday

Fromthe author of Immoveable Feast and We’ll Always Have Paris comes aguided tour of the most beautiful walks through the City of Light, includingthe favorite walking routes of the many of the acclaimed artists and writerswho have called Paris their home. Baxter highlights hidden treasures along theSeine, treasured markets at Place d’Aligre, thefavorite ambles of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach, andmore, in a series of intimate vignettes that evoke the best parts of Paris’smany charms. Baxter’s unforgettable chronicle reveals how walking is the bestway to experience romance, history, and pleasures off the beaten path . . . notonly of La Ville-Lumière, but also, perhaps, of life itself.

Proof positive that I never get rid of an advance copy until I've read it - The Most Beautiful Walk in the World got lost in the jumble of moving about 5 years ago and I only just recently unearthed it.

This is a nice, easily digestible book about a non-native, resident Parisian's favorite way to enjoy the city - by walking through its various neighborhoods and enjoying the strangeness of history. A fun read for winter.

Dear FTC: I got a galley of this book FOREVER ago and I finally found it and read it!

21 December 2016

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney

Summary from Goodreads:
“I want to rip out every page of this glorious book and hang them on my wall so that I can be surrounded by these incredible women all day long.”
—Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of The Vacationers and Modern Lovers

Across the globe, women are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and starting creative businesses. In the Company of Women profiles over 100 of these influential and creative women from all ages, races, backgrounds, and industries. Chock-full of practical, inspirational advice for those looking to forge their own paths, these interviews detail the keys to success (for example, going with your gut; maintaining meaningful and lasting relationships), highlight the importance of everyday rituals (meditating; creating a daily to-do list), and dispense advice for the next generation of women entrepreneurs and makers (stay true to what you believe in; have patience). The book is rounded out with hundreds of lush, original photographs of the women in their work spaces.

A very beautifully designed book of interviews with over 100 creative women about what inspires them.  Very diverse and inter-sectional.

My only criticism is that each profile was too rote, the same questions (or mostly the same questions) over and over. After a while, so I could only read it in small chunks at a time so it would't get too boring.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

20 December 2016

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Summary from Goodreads:
Don't spread the word!
Three-day weekend. Party at White Rock House on Henry Island.
You do NOT want to miss it.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

Ten is a very middle-of-the-road book, in my opinion. If And Then There Were None weren't one of my favorite books, and a masterpiece, and one I hadn't re-read very recently, I probably would have liked this better. I was mostly right about the murderer, no spoilers, because the McNeil's book is structured off of Christie's.  This also felt over-written.  Example: "'What is going on?' Her voice cracked.  She was tense."  At least one of those sentences is unnecessary.

But the plot just zips along. If you haven't read the ultimate locked-room mystery and you want a page-turner-y book that's a mash-up of I Know What You Did Last Summer+Scream+And Then There Were None then go for it.

Read for the Teen Book Group at my bookstore.

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

12 December 2016

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

Summary from Goodreads:
Eisner Award-nominated writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) and Valentine De Landro (X-Factor) team up to bring you the premiere volume of Bitch Planet, a deliciously vicious riff on women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation.

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman's failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

Collects BITCH PLANET #1-5.

I am kicking myself that I didn't start this series in floppies with issue 1 - at the time the run started, I tried issue 1 but couldn't get into it.  Damn is this compulsively readable in trade.

Fight the patriarchy! NC

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book AND it's signed by Valentine De Landro.  Ha!

05 December 2016

No Groom at the Inn by Megan Frampton (Dukes Behaving Badly #2.5)

Summary from Goodreads:
In this Dukes Behaving Badly holiday novella, a young lady entertains a sudden proposal of marriage—to a man she’s only just met...

What does a lady do when a man she’s never seen before offers his hand in marriage? Lady Sophronia Bettesford doesn’t scream and run away. Instead, she accepts the shocking proposition. After all, what’s her other choice? To live with her cousin, caring for six children and a barnyard full of chickens?

James Archer has roamed the world, determined never to settle down. He’s faced danger and disaster…he fears nothing and no one—except his mother and her matchmaking ways. So when ordered to attend a Christmastime house party filled with holiday cheer and simpering young misses, he produces—a fiancée!

Sophronia and James vow to pretend to be in love for one month. But when they promise to give each other a Christmas kiss, it becomes clear that this pact made out of necessity might just be turning into love.

Well, this was sweet and quiet. Being a novella, I feel No Groom at the Inn was too short to do the actual story of Jamie and Sophronia and their faux betrothal-of-convenience-turned-HEA justice. However, Frampton made the game of Dictionary a major plot point and part of a very swoony resolution.

A nice read for a cold evening (although I'm antsy as heck and was wishing it had a bit more action).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this novella.

04 December 2016

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit

Summary from Goodreads:
"This is the ultimate 'feel-good' book for exhausted campaigners and activists . . . an intensely personal account, a meditation on activism and hope." Guardian

Praise for Men Explain Things To Me
"It s a fraught time to be female in America (or should I say fraught-er), and a newly expanded edition of Rebecca Solnit s Men Explain Things to Me is the most clarifying, soothing and socially aware document I ve read on the topic this year." Lena Dunham

"Trenchant and timely reflections on persistent inequality between women and men and gender-based violence." New York Times

A book as powerful and influential as Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, her Hope in the Dark was written to counter the despair of radicals at a moment when they were focused on their losses and had turned their back to the victories behind them and the unimaginable changes soon to come. In it, she makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and a wide reading of environmental, cultural, and political history, Solnit argued that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable, and that pessimism and despair rest on an unwarranted confidence about what is going to happen next. Now, with a moving new introduction explaining how the book came about and a new afterword that helps teach us how to hope and act in our unnerving world, she brings a new illumination to the darkness of 2016 in an unforgettable new edition of this classic book.

Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of eighteen or so books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster, including the booksMen Explain Things to MeandHope in the Dark, both also with Haymarket; a trilogy of atlases of American cities;The Faraway Nearby;A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster;A Field Guide to Getting Lost;Wanderlust: A History of Walking; andRiver of Shadows, Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West(for which she received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at Harper's and a regular contributor to the Guardian."

Thanks so much to Haymarket Books for making Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark available for free a few weeks ago. It was what I needed in the aftermath of the election, to get both riled up and stay hopeful. (Also has one of the best definitions of NAFTA I've run across.)

And to quote Dumbledore, who doesn't figure here but has the line that resonates the most: hope can be found in the darkest of places, if one only turns on the light.

Dear FTC: I picked this up from Haymarket during their post-election deal.

03 December 2016

Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #11)

Summary from Goodreads:

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king's secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.


Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she's the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.


When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

At the conclusion of Duke of Sin, the Duke of Montgomery leaves Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, a shortlist of names.  All men who are purported to be members of the Lords of Chaos, all probably likely to be the four men who kidnapped Bridget, Montgomery's wife.  As Duke of Pleasure opens, Hugh has been hunting these men - with little success - only to find himself the prey.  Trapped in an alley in London, he attempts to fight his way out.  He has two little boys at home, two little boys still traumatized by the death of their mother, and he doesn't want to leave them.  Hugh is saved by the intervention of the Ghost of St. Giles, who at the conclusion of the fight kisses him and then dashes off over the London rooftops.

This Ghost is a woman.

Alf, the streetwise waif introduced in Lord of Darkness, is now the Ghost of St. Giles.  Trained by Godric St. John (squee), she has taken over from the previous three Ghosts while also maintaining the fiction that she's a teenage boy.  Ghost by night, boy by day, and no time to be a woman of any kind in between.  The bits of backstory Alf allows us to see are heartbreaking.  She is the most at-risk character thus far introduced in her Maiden Lane series.  Life on the streets of St. Giles is deadly for girls and women who have no one to protect them. Alf has neither money, nor rank, nor family to protect her.  So she protects herself and those even less fortunate than she by disguising her true self.  Hugh presents a bit of a problem.  Being attracted to a duke who thinks he's employing a crafty male street urchin to help dig up dirt on the Lords of Chaos unearths a lot of confusing feelings Alf would prefer not to have.

Hugh, on the other hand, is a very odd duke.  Compared to Montgomery and Wakefield (from Duke of Midnight), who are so full of their own consequence and rank as to be impossible, Kyle is an egalitarian.  His father is the King (yep, the actual King of England) but his mother an actress and was created a duke when his father acknowledged him.  He's been emotionally shredded in his previous marriage, spent years as a soldier on the Continent, and doesn't know how to comfort his own children.  His quick mind is puzzled by the Ghost of St. Giles and his reaction.  He's been slowly planning to remarry - to Lady Jordan, an old friend of his wife's - and the introduction of a savvy women who can match swords and wits with him was definitely not in his plans.

Oh hai. This is excellent, which is all my soppy heart can put together right now. I CRIED over my lunch during one scene (not that one, the one where Kyle talks to his older son, the scene toward the end).  Alf is a fantastic character, and even if you think it's a stretch that a Duke, even a by-blow Duke, and a destitute commoner with no surname will have a Happily Ever After, you won't really care about that by the end. Although there might be a bit of reinforcement of gender norms (Alf ends up in a dress), it doesn't sound like she will be mewed up in the house serving tea or sewing or anything.  Given that all the previous Ghosts have retired on marriage - and all of those very big males - it doesn't seem out of line that Alf would retire as well (and I'm curious to see if Winter or Wakefield have been training anyone).  I also liked that the potential rival, Lady Jordan, was given the opportunity to stick up for what she wanted in a marriage, which also removed the risk of too much love triangle (dislike those intensely). In addition, we get a substantial Godric and Megs sighting (they're my favorite pair, still).

And now I really, REALLY need Duke of Desire since the teaser chapter is even more perplexing than any of Montgomery's sociopathic schemes in Duke of Sin.

Dear FTC: Of course I bought this on my nook. (Besides, no one would give me a DRC ahead of time.)

02 December 2016

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Summary from Goodreads:
A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together

One of Entertainment Weekly's Most Anticipated Titles of 2016
A Fall 2016 Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
A Publishers Lunch Fall 16 Buzz Book
A The Millions Most Anticipated Book
One of Library Journal’s “Five Big Debuts” for Fall 16

Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

The Wangs vs. the World is a funny, poignant, and frustrating story of a family that had it made...until they didn't anymore. This is a "rich people behaving badly" story with a twist - a family of immigrants and first-generation Chinese-Americans and while some of them need a smack (ugh, Charles you're a turd) some of them need a hug (Grace, you're my favorite). Chang moved the narrative using geographic location in a way that it almost became another character. I feel like this is the mirror opposite to Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers, which is set in the same time period (2008 financial meltdown) but concerns an immigrant family in a very different set of circumstances. I'm very glad both books came out this year (and if you haven't read the Mbue, go do that, too).

It was such a treat to meet Jade Chang at Book Riot Live this year - I'm looking forward to her next book.  (And you can pick up The Wangs vs the World in the Barnes and Noble Discover Bay.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this novel.

01 December 2016

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Summary from Goodreads:
The debut collection from the vibrant voice of Roxane Gay is a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.

Brb. Gotta round up all the bits of my brain that Roxane Gay exploded out of my skull with her amazing writing.  Ayiti is a very small story collection but Gay's writing has maximum impact.  I've been holding off on reading An Untamed State due to subject matter, but one of the stories in Ayiti seems to be an early version of that book so I might be able to get through it.

Trigger warning for very frank descriptions (though not gratuitous) of abuse and rape.

Dear FTC: You bet your butt I bought my copy of this book - also have it signed.

30 November 2016

Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner

Summary from Goodreads:
“Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become,” Peter Orner writes in this collection of essays about reading, writing, and living. Orner reads—and writes—everywhere he finds himself: a hospital cafeteria, a coffee shop in Albania, or a crowded bus in Haiti. The result is “a book of unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.” Among the many writers Orner addresses are Isaac Babel and Zora Neale Hurston, both of whom told their truths and were silenced; Franz Kafka, who professed loneliness but craved connection; Robert Walser, who spent the last twenty-three years of his life in a Swiss insane asylum, “working” at being crazy; and Juan Rulfo, who practiced the difficult art of silence. Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Yasunari Kawabata, Saul Bellow, Mavis Gallant, John Edgar Wideman, William Trevor, and Václav Havel make appearances, as well as the poet Herbert Morris—about whom almost nothing is known.

An elegy for an eccentric late father, and the end of a marriage, Am I Alone Here? is also a celebration of the possibility of renewal. At once personal and panoramic, this book will inspire readers to return to the essential stories of their own lives.

Oh look, another book of essays about books and personal reading.  Yes, please.

Am I Alone Here? is an interesting collection of personal essays. Orner contrasts what he is reading - or finds he NEEDS to read at times - with his personal life.  His relationship with his dying father is complicated and his relationship with his ex-wife (who appears to have bipolar disorder) both come under scruitiny.  The writing gets a bit navel-gaze-y on occasion, but the range of authors Orner reads and writes about is really awesome (particularly the short story writers). Orner has a toss-off line that states he prefers literature where families have trouble communicating and it's a through-line between his reading and memoir.

Another great book from Catapult.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

28 November 2016

99 Poems by Dana Gioia

Summary from Goodreads:
So much of what we live goes on inside--
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.

Dana Gioia has long been celebrated as a poet of profound intelligence and powerful emotion, with lines made from ingenious craftsmanship. 99 Poems: New & Selected for the first time gathers work from across his career, including a dozen remarkable new poems. Gioia has not ordered this selection chronologically. Instead, his great subjects organize this volume into broad themes of mystery, remembrance, imagination, place, stories, songs, and love. The result is a book we might live our lives alongside, and a reminder of the deep and abiding pleasures and reassurances that poetry provides us.

99 Poems is a beautifully wrought and precise poetry collection but it feels very bloodless at times. Some poems are meant to be Poe-like, but I don't get a chill. Some are worded to be melancholy, but I don't feel sad. The best sections are III (Remembrance) and IV (Imagination) where emotion begins to come through. He also has a whip-crack jab at MFA programs in My Confessional Sestina (p86).

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy from the library.

25 November 2016

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

Summary from Goodreads:
A debut novel that tells the story of Rasa, a young gay man coming of age in the Middle East

Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. Rasa spends his days translating for Western journalists and pining for the nights when he can sneak his lover, Taymour, into his room. One night Rasa's grandmother—the woman who raised him—catches them in bed together. The following day Rasa is consumed by the search for his best friend Maj, a fiery activist and drag queen star of the underground bar, Guapa, who has been arrested by the police. Ashamed to go home and face his grandmother, and reeling from the potential loss of the three most important people in his life, Rasa roams the city’s slums and prisons, the lavish weddings of the country’s elite, and the bars where outcasts and intellectuals drink to a long-lost revolution. Each new encounter leads him closer to confronting his own identity, as he revisits his childhood and probes the secrets that haunt his family. As Rasa confronts the simultaneous collapse of political hope and his closest personal relationships, he is forced to discover the roots of his alienation and try to re-emerge into a society that may never accept him.

Guapa is a moving debut about a young man caught between his public and private personae and the turmoil in his country. Haddad's writing is strongest when Rasa looks back over his own life, examining his relationship with his grandmother, the growing realization that he is gay, and how he places himself within the larger Arab and Muslim cultures. The forward drive of the plot sort of conks out about halfway through the book but that's a minor complaint. One of the most interesting things I noticed was that nearly every character, major or minor, tells Rasa WHO he is at some point in the book, making it a novel about "labels" as well as Rasa's awakening.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

21 November 2016

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

Summary from Goodreads:
A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.

Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that, often, her everyday experiences become points of comedic fodder. And as a black woman in America, she maintains, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the absurdity you are handed on the daily. Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of "the black friend," as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel ("isn t that . . . white people music?"); she's been called "uppity" for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page and she s going to make you laugh as she s doing it.

Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is "Queen. Bae. Jesus," to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, "2 Dope Queens," to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, "You Can't Touch My Hair" examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise."

You Can't Touch My Hair is a laugh-out-loud book of essays about race and culture from the wonderfully funny Phoebe Robinson (of 2 Dope Queens and Sooo Many White Guys and other comedy/stand-up places). The opening chapters about hair are a draw, but the chapter "Uppity", about the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman, is worth the purchase of the book for those 20-ish pages alone. And then she ends with an excellent series of letters for her little niece, Olivia (we benefit from those letters, too).

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book at Book Riot Live.

17 November 2016

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen (Sarah's Scribbles #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
Are you a special snowflake?

Do you enjoy networking to advance your career?

Is adulthood an exciting new challenge for which you feel fully prepared?

Ugh. Please go away.

This book is for the rest of us. These comics document the wasting of entire beautiful weekends on the internet, the unbearable agony of holding hands on the street with a gorgeous guy, dreaming all day of getting home and back into pajamas, and wondering when, exactly, this adulthood thing begins. In other words, the horrors and awkwardnesses of young modern life.

It's all true. Every panel.

If you don't already read Sarah's Scribbles online, go do that.  So glad I got to meet Sarah at Book Riot Live.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

16 November 2016

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today by Simon Morrison

Summary from Goodreads:
On a freezing night in January 2013, a hooded assailant hurled acid in the face of the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet. The crime, organized by a lead soloist, dragged one of Russia’s most illustrious institutions into scandal. The Bolshoi Theater had been a crown jewel during the reign of the tsars and an emblem of Soviet power throughout the twentieth century. Under Putin in the twenty-first century, it has been called on to preserve a priceless artistic legacy and mirror Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions. The attack and its torrid aftermath underscored the importance of the Bolshoi to the art of ballet, to Russia, and to the world.

The acid attack resonated far beyond the world of ballet, both into Russia’s political infrastructure and, as renowned musicologist Simon Morrison shows in his tour-de-force account, the very core of the Bolshoi’s unparalleled history. With exclusive access to state archives and private sources, Morrison sweeps us through the history of the storied ballet, describing the careers of those onstage as well as off, tracing the political ties that bind the institution to the varying Russian regimes, and detailing the birth of some of the best-loved ballets in the repertoire.

From its disreputable beginnings in 1776 at the hand of a Faustian charlatan, the Bolshoi became a point of pride for the tsarist empire after the defeat of Napoleon in 1812. After the revolution, Moscow was transformed from a merchant town to a global capital, its theater becoming a key site of power. Meetings of the Communist Party were hosted at the Bolshoi, and the Soviet Union was signed into existence on its stage. During the Soviet years, artists struggled with corrosive censorship, while ballet joined chess tournaments and space exploration as points of national pride and Cold War contest. Recently, a $680 million restoration has restored the Bolshoi to its former glory, even as prized talent has departed.

As Morrison reveals in lush and insightful prose, the theater has been bombed, rigged with explosives, and reinforced with cement. Its dancers have suffered unimaginable physical torment to climb the ranks, sometimes for so little money that they kept cows at home whose milk they could sell for food. But the Bolshoi has transcended its own fraught history, surviving 250 years of artistic and political upheaval to define not only Russian culture but also ballet itself. In this sweeping, definitive account, Morrison demonstrates once and for all that, as Russia goes, so goes the Bolshoi Ballet.

Bolshoi Confidential was at the top of my list of galley-gets at BEA.  (I mean, come on - I'm "balletbookworm" pretty much anywhere on the Internet.)  I wasn't able to get it read for the release date so I saved it for my plane ride to Book Riot Live.

Overall, Bolshoi Confidential is a well-researched book detailing the history of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow from its early origins as a motley theatre troupe pre-Napoleonic invasion through the nearly $700 million renovation of the Bolshoi theatre in the 2000s (and the acid attack on artistic director Sergey Filin in 2013). Of particular concentration are the Soviet years, when political ideology forced the artists of the ballet to reject "formalism" (a work's artistic value is determined by its form) for glorification of the realism of the Soviet people.  This was an ever-shifting, uncertain, and hard-to-perfect definition since a) that stricture doesn't particularly lend itself to creativity or good art and b) could land the artist in hot water/unemployment/worse depending on the mood or whim of the censor. It really is this push-pull between the Imperial and Soviet histories that creates a lot of the friction that makes for good reading.

However, it is very obvious that Morrison is not a dance writer, or even a dancer. His descriptions of dance steps or clarifications between the major evolutions of ballet (the introduction of blocked pointe shoes, for instance, or differences between French, Italian, Russian, Bournonville, Cechetti, and Vaganova styles) are muddled or stilted. The section discussing the struggles of Prokofiev, Shostokovitch, and Khatchaturian - all major Russian composers of the 20th century ballet repertoire - is extremely well-written and wonderful to read. Morrison is a professor of music and it shows.  But the focus is on the music and less on the dancers. In a book marketed as an inside look at the Bolshoi BALLET, there needed to be more about the actual dancing and dancers. A good read overall, but I needed more.

Dear FTC: I picked up a galley of this book at BEA.

10 November 2016

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

Summary from Goodreads:
Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, a novel about violence, love, and religion in modern India

On a train bound for the seaside town of Jarmuli, known for its temples, three elderly women meet a young documentary filmmaker named Nomi, whose braided hair, tattoos, and foreign air set her apart. At a brief stop en route, the women witness a sudden assault on Nomi that leaves her stranded as the train pulls away.

Later in Jarmuli, among pilgrims, priests, and ashrams, the women disembark only to find that Nomi has managed to arrive on her own. What is someone like her, clearly not a worshipper, doing in this remote place? Over the next five days, the women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide pursues a forbidden love; and Nomi is joined by a photographer to scout locations for a documentary. As their lives overlap and collide, Nomi's past comes into focus, and the serene surface of the town is punctured by violence and abuse as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark history that transforms all who encounter it. A haunting, vibrant novel that was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and short-listed for the Hindu Literary Prize, Anuradha Roy's Sleeping on Jupiter is a brilliantly told story of contemporary India from an internationally acclaimed writer.

Sleeping on Jupiter was a surprise galley I picked up from the lovely people at the Graywolf Press booth at BEA.  I'm not well-read in contemporary Indian or south Asian literature so I was eager to pick this up (I won't pass up a Booker long-listed novel).

Sleeping on Jupiter is a deeply spiritual yet very stark novel about six people in a temple town: three elderly women on a vacation/pilgrimage, a temple guide, a photographer, and a young woman using the guise of a location scouting trip to find the ashram where she lived as a child.  It was interesting that Roy chose to create Jarmuli; the town isn't a real place, but an amalgam of seaside towns full of religious pilgrims and tourists.  I was very taken with the writing style.  Roy was able to describe the town, Nomi's childhood, and the seaside with precision yet I didn't feel over-loaded with descriptions.  Utterly spellbinding and heartbreaking.

Trigger warning for several scenes of sexual violence and child abuse (Roy based these scenes on legal cases in India).

Dear FTC: I picked up a galley of this novel at BEA.

01 November 2016

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

Summary from Goodreads:
YOU'LL GROW OUT OF IT hilariously, and candidly, explores the journey of the twenty-first century woman.

As both a tomboy and a late bloomer, comedian Jessi Klein grew up feeling more like an outsider than a participant in the rites of modern femininity.
In YOU'LL GROW OUT OF IT, Klein offers - through an incisive collection of real-life stories - a relentlessly funny yet poignant take on a variety of topics she has experienced along her strange journey to womanhood and beyond. These include her "transformation from Pippi Longstocking-esque tomboy to are-you-a-lesbian-or-what tom man," attempting to find watchable porn, and identifying the difference between being called "ma'am" and "miss" ("Miss" sounds like you weigh ninety-nine pounds).
Raw, relatable, and consistently hilarious, YOU'LL GROW OUT OF IT is a one-of-a-kind book by a singular and irresistible comic voice.

This has been my year of reading humorous personal essay collections by funny ladies (Lindy West, Luvvie, Jenny Lawson, Faith Saile, next up in line is Phoebe Robinson and in the library hold queue is Amy Schumer). Crush the patriarchy!

Rather than laugh-out-loud funny or sassy, in You'll Grow Out of It Klein goes for sarcastic self-deprecation (lady, we can be wolves together) when interrogating what, exactly it means to try for sleek femininity when all we really want to do is drink wine at lunch and watch old movies in our ratty sweats.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

27 October 2016

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin

Summary from Goodreads:
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone away unexpectedly and left her niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle, in charge of the Upside-Down House and the beloved animals who live there: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, and Penelope the parrot, among others. Families in town soon realize that like her great-aunt, Missy Piggle-Wiggle has inventive cures for all sorts of childhood (mis)behavior: The Whatever Cure and the Just-a-Minute Cure, for instance. What is a stressed out parent to do? Why, call Missy Piggle-Wiggle, of course!

New York Times-bestselling author Ann Martin brings her signature warmth and comic genius to a new character. And artist Ben Hatke brings it all to life!

I love Ann M. Martin, author of the Baby-Sitters' Club and the Doll People series among others.  I was so interested and excited to hear that she was going to re-boot Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

I really want to love Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure (I loved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a child, even though her stories don't age well). But though Missy is a nice and fun update, and the format is quite similar as a group of linked vignettes, it didn't quite gel for me. The opening felt rough, I couldn't quite get a handle on Missy's age (since she looked very young in illustrations), and the timeline felt like it needed work. Still, I found it very funny (plus my ARC is signed :) )

Dear FTC: I have an ARC I got from BEA.

26 October 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Summary from Goodreads:
Proof that we're living in the best of all possible worlds: THERE'S GONNA BE A SQUIRREL GIRL GRAPHIC NOVEL! It's a stand-alone adventure that's both great for new Squirrel Girl readers, and also for people who ALREADY know about how she can talk to squirrels and also punch really well! Behold: a story so HUGE it demanded a graphic novel! A story so NUTS that it incorporates BOTH senses of that word (insanity AND the weird hard fruit thingies) (they're fruits, did you know that?) (I didn't until I looked them up just now, so looks like we're all learning science from this solicit text for a comic book!) Squirrel Girl has defeated Thanos, Galactus, and Doctor Doom. TWICE. But in this all-new graphic novel, she'll encounter her most dangerous, most powerful, most unbeatable enemy yet: HERSELF. Specifically, an evil duplicate made possible through mad science (both computer and regular) as well as some Bad Decisions. In other words, SQUIRREL GIRL BEATS UP THE MARVEL UNIVERSE! YES. I CAN'T WAIT, AND I'M THE GUY WRITING IT.

I LOVE Squirrel Girl in all her nutty goodness. When Tony Stark brings back some alien technology (because Tony always has the best common sense), SG gets cloned! And the clone decides that Earth is for the squirrels!! Can Doreen beat herself?

I loved it.  The Unbeatable Squirrel Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe is a wacky tour through Marvel's characters - even the less-known ones - mixed with Doreen's go-nuts attitude.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

25 October 2016

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove #5)

Summary from Goodreads:
On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library. Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville—the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

Thus far, Tessa Dare has given us a series about a Channel-side village dedicated to letting eccentric ladies be eccentric ladies (Spindle Cove) and a series about young women inheriting castles from an eccentric godparent (Castles Ever After).

Now she crosses the streams in Do You Want to Start a Scandal.  Although formally listed as Spindle Cove #5, the book brings together Charlotte Highwood (the little sister of Diana and Minerva in Spindle Cove) and Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville (the long-absent fiance from Say Yes to the Marquess).  Charlotte's mother, having two happily married elder daughters, is now on the husband hunt for her funny, loyal, and sweet youngest daughter.  Charlotte has agreed to the Parkhurst house party so she can attempt to persuade her best friend's parents to let the two girls go to Italy.  Piers has dutifully arrived at the house party to investigate Lord Parkhurst's background for a diplomatic assignment (and determine what the large monetary sums are funding).

Charlotte and Piers end up trapped in the library alcove while a very enthusiastic couple (not them) has a love-making session on the library desk.  When the young son of the house, alerted by the noise, discovers Charlotte and Piers the two seem like they will be forced to marry.  Charlotte's mother is over the moon but Charlotte has her doubts.  Lord Granville is a rather forbidding, stern ex-diplomat, albeit one who seems to have strange skills in his repertoire including lock-picking and landing excellent punches.  Besides, what about her plan to go to Italy?  Piers is intrigued by Charlotte's quick wit and cheerful demeanor.  But she is quite young, compared to him, and he's already had one long-term broken engagement (which he helped break).  Despite their nagging objections to the match, Charlotte and Piers discover they work very well together as they try to discover who exactly was tupping in the library.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal is an adorable and fun Regency romance.  Charlotte and Piers are well-matched characters and the B-plot - the Parkhurst investigation - has a freshness to its reveal.  Even though the story brings two of Tessa's series together you can read it without needing to have read the previous 7 books (plus two novellas).  But...you'll get a bit more out of it if you have read A Week to Be Wicked, Beauty and the Blacksmith, and Say Yes to the Marquess because Minerva, Colin, Diana, Aaron, and Rafe (Clio is in "an interesting way" to use Regency parlance) all make appearances in this book.  Speaking of Colin, he appears twice and tells NO dirty math jokes (humph).  Tessa does make up for this by giving us a priceless scene with Charlotte, her mother, a basket of produce, and "the talk" (I have one word for you - aubergines).

I was wrong about the villain.
Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

24 October 2016

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Summary from Goodreads:
Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake -- and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.

I love Raina Telgemeier's art style and her stories about those rocky middle-school/junior high years.  Ghosts was a must-get at BEA and I'm glad I saved it for Readathon.

Ghosts was a fun story and a great mix of the real and the fantastical, so a bit of a departure for Telgemeier. There's also a lesson in honoring your roots and making the most of every day. I love the parents, Raina gives them a bit of backstory, too, which is sometimes rare in kids' books where the focus is on the child protagonists (and the parents are often dead/missing).  The Allende-Delmar family is also a biracial family, which I'm glad to see in a children's book (particularly a graphic novel).

I am seeing some critical reviews calling out Telgemeier's use of a Spanish mission and the Dia de los Muertos cultural practices as a major plot point in the book.  I'm not familiar with the nuances of that culture, so I can't comment on Telgemeier's accuracy.  However, the use of Dia de los Muertos does feel very surface-level to me and could have used more development.

Dear FTC: I have a signed galley from BEA.

23 October 2016

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Summary from Goodreads:
A brilliant and utterly engaging novel—Emma set in modern Asia—about a young woman’s rise in the glitzy, moneyed city of Singapore, where old traditions clash with heady modern materialism.

On the edge of twenty-seven, Jazzy hatches a plan for her and her best girlfriends: Sher, Imo, and Fann. Before the year is out, these Sarong Party Girls will all have spectacular weddings to rich ang moh—Western expat—husbands, with Chanel babies (the cutest status symbols of all) quickly to follow. Razor-sharp, spunky, and vulgarly brand-obsessed, Jazzy is a determined woman who doesn't lose.

As she fervently pursues her quest to find a white husband, this bombastic yet tenderly vulnerable gold-digger reveals the contentious gender politics and class tensions thrumming beneath the shiny exterior of Singapore’s glamorous nightclubs and busy streets, its grubby wet markets and seedy hawker centers. Moving through her colorful, stratified world, she realizes she cannot ignore the troubling incongruity of new money and old-world attitudes which threaten to crush her dreams. Desperate to move up in Asia’s financial and international capital, will Jazzy and her friends succeed?

Vividly told in Singlish—colorful Singaporean English with its distinctive cadence and slang—Sarong Party Girls brilliantly captures the unique voice of this young, striving woman caught between worlds. With remarkable vibrancy and empathy, Cheryl Tan brings not only Jazzy, but her city of Singapore, to dazzling, dizzying life.

Sarong Party Girls came across my radar in a blogger pitch from HarperCollins.  It has comps to Crazy Rich Asians and the idea of a novel written in "Singlish" (the Singaporean creole that combines English, Cantoese, and Malay among other languages) really intrigued me.  It made a perfect Readathon book.

The story of Jazzy and her friends - who at 27 years old are falling on the "old" side of the single-girl crowd - and their attempts to secure an ang moh (white Western and RICH) husband is compulsively readable.  In between the girls' evenings out and lunches with successful (read: married and with at least one half-Asian baby because that's what really seals the deal), Tan slips in a bit of cultural criticism.  Through narrator Jazzy's eyes, we see that young women like her are caught between traditional southeast Asian family values (get married, be respectful, keep house), Western white feminist values (get an education, get a job, be respected for your work ethic and career), and Western male misogyny (the "Asian doll" stereotype, the assumption of sex work, being held up to specific ideals of female beauty that few women in the world can meet let alone maintain).  In one scene Jazzy convinces a male friend to bring her along as an "escort" for a "men's evening out" and it is eye-opening.

I've seen some readers echo the blurb's comparison to Austen's Emma but I don't quite agree there.  I was reminded a lot of Thackeray's Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair.  Jazzy reflects Becky's desire to move up the social ladder through marriage but also Becky's gimlet eye and resourcefulness. And, also like Becky, Jazzy doesn't want to "settle" when she wants more, even if that means heartbreak and disillusionment.

Sarong Party Girls was an excellent read start to finish.  And don't worry about the Singlish - you'll pick it up after a few pages.  (I find it much easier to read than A Clockwork Orange's Russian-based argot "Nadsat", for example.)

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

22 October 2016

The Devourers by Indra Das

Summary from Goodreads:
For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.

I had to wait until one of our merch managers was finished with the galley before I could get it in my hot, little hands.  Because The Devourers sounded b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

It's so hard to believe this is a debut novel.  Das's fantasy is an astonishing, weird, gripping, revolting, and utterly fascinating book.  Did I mention revolting?  These shifters/werewolves are made in the same vein as Glen Duncan's werewolves - cruel, emotionless, gross, vicious, inhuman, raw.  You can practically smell the rank animal-ness rising off the page.  Das pulls from many mythologies to create his shifters' histories (I'm sure I've missed some of them) and anchors his narrative in the history of northern India and Pakistan during the Mughal Empire of the seventeenth-century. Surrounding this story from the scrolls is the framing narrative of Alok and his struggle with his sexuality.

The Devourers is well-worth the read if you are looking for something different in the fantasy genre.  If graphic violence makes you squicky, it may not be for you.  (Oddly enough, parts of it reminded me of the Underworld movies in tone; not the setting, obviously.)

For funsies, check out Mahvesh Murad's "Midnight in Karachi" podcast episode with her interview of Indra Das.

Dear FTC: I read an ARC that we got in at the store.

18 October 2016

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelley DeWees

Summary from Goodreads:
Jane Austen and the Brontës endure as British literature’s leading ladies (and for good reason)—but were these reclusive parsons’ daughters really the only writing women of their day? A feminist history of literary Britain, this witty, fascinating nonfiction debut explores the extraordinary lives and work of seven long-forgotten authoresses, and asks: Why did their considerable fame and influence, and a vibrant culture of female creativity, fade away? And what are we missing because of it?

You’ve likely read at least one Jane Austen novel (or at least seen a film one). Chances are you’ve also read Jane Eyre; if you were an exceptionally moody teenager, you might have even read Wuthering Heights. English majors might add George Eliot or Virginia Woolf to this list…but then the trail ends. Were there truly so few women writing anything of note during late 18th and 19th century Britain?

In Not Just Jane, Shelley DeWees weaves history, biography, and critical analysis into a rip-roaring narrative of the nation’s fabulous, yet mostly forgotten, female literary heritage. As the country, and women’s roles within it, evolved, so did the publishing industry, driving legions of ladies to pick up their pens and hit the parchment. Focusing on the creative contributions and personal stories of seven astonishing women, among them pioneers of detective fiction and the modern fantasy novel, DeWees assembles a riveting, intimate, and ruthlessly unromanticized portrait of female life—and the literary landscape—during this era. In doing so, she comes closer to understanding how a society could forget so many of these women, who all enjoyed success, critical acclaim, and a fair amount of notoriety during their time, and realizes why, now more than ever, it’s vital that we remember.

Rediscover Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

Let me tell you how nice the HarperPerennial team is - I spied a bright, pink spine with the words "Not Just Jane" written on it in an Instagram photo of their fall sales conference, asked about it, and they offered to send me a copy.  What sweethearts.  Or they just didn't want me to hold their interns hostage or whatever.  Hahaha.

But seriously.

One day Shelley DeWees surveyed her bookshelves and wondered why Jane Austen and the Brontës,  were the only women writers from nineteenth-century England anyone seems to know about (you can throw George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) and Virginia Woolf in there as part of the literature "canon" of undergraduate education).  She started poking around and found a host of women writers - some of them best-selling - who took advantage of changing culture and economics to support themselves with writing careers.  After doing her research, DeWees narrowed her focus to just seven women writing between 1800 and 1900: Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  These seven women came from middle-class backgrounds, had reasonably good educations (for what could be expected at the time), and most turned to writing to support themselves and their families in an era when women began to claim jobs and legal status.  Not Just Jane is the resulting book.

Now, if your eyeballs roll at the very idea of "literary biography" let me assure you that Not Just Jane is very interesting and very readable.  DeWees goes out of her way to present contemporary criticism about these seven women, ranging from critical thoughts on their work to knee-jerk reactionism about lady scribblers. [These reactions boil down to "Omg, the ladeez they are writing THINGS and people are READING THEM because IMPROVED ACCESS and won't someone think of the children!" Victorians can hand-wring with the best of them.  Isn't it frustrating amusing how history repeats itself?]  Changes in the publishing industry - like the repeals of taxes on knowledge that decreased the costs of printing and increased circulation and access - allowed these women and many others like them to become prolific and popular authors.  We need to revisit these women and bring them back into view.  Even though I am well-read in Regency and Victorian literature, I had really only heard of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, probably the best known of the seven, although I haven't yet read her (most popular work: Lady Audley's Secret).

I do wish that Not Just Jane had been longer. I would have read a book three times as long to cover more years and more writers (DeWees's reasons for setting her boundaries leave out eighteenth-century writers who influenced Jane Austen like Fanny Burney and Ann Radcliff).  However, I am not the average book buyer and I understand the decisions made in making this as accessible a book as possible.  (I made it one of my handsells at the store so I can try and make everyone buy it.)  But Shelley, if you write that longer book, call me - I will read it!

Not Just Jane is out October 25, 2016 from HarperPerennial - which is next Tuesday, so tell your bookseller you want a copy.

If you want a chuckle, search #notjustjane on Instagram and you'll see a few 'grams (or if you're a Litten, I posted some there, too) with my annotations/notes (in which I try to be amusing).  I'm @balletbookworm both places.

Dear FTC: I received an ARC from the publisher waaaay back in April (thanks for the ARC, Olive!).

14 October 2016

Brat Pack America: Visiting the Cult Movies of the '80s by Kevin Smokler

Summary from Goodreads:
From the fictional towns of Hill Valley, CA, and Shermer, IL, to the beautiful landscapes of the “Goondocks” in Astoria and the “time of your life” dirty dancing resort still alive and well in Lake Lure, NC, '80s teen movies left their mark not just on movie screen and in the hearts of fans, but on the landscape of America itself. Like few other eras in movie history, the '80s teen movies has endured and gotten better with time. In Brat Pack America, Kevin Smokler gives virtual tours of your favorite movies while also picking apart why these locations are so important to these movies.

Including interviews with actors, writers, and directors of the era, and chock full of interesting facts about your favorite '80s movies, Brat Pack America is a must for any fan. Smokler went to Goonies Day in Astoria, OR, took a Lost Boys tour of Santa Cruz, CA, and deeply explored every nook and cranny of the movies we all know and love, and it shows.

How up are you on your 80s teen movies?  Seen all the John Hughes movies, including the ones he wrote not directed?  How about nerd movies?  How about 80s teen movies that look back to its writers' or directors' teen years in the 50s or 60s?  How about low-budget indies shot in urban locations?

Yeah, I'm talking about Beat Street.

Taking a different tack from Practical Classics - revisiting high school English class staples as an adult - Kevin Smokler turns his eye to what was once a booming cinema draw:  the teen movie.  Specifically those from the 80s, which are receiving new attention through either nostalgia anniversaries or reboots.  (A generation is what...25 or 30 years long?  Time to recycle.)  Brat Pack America is the culmination of Smokler's travels around America as he examined how the setting of teen 80s movies reflected, commented, and documented American society as the country changed over the decade.

The result is a thoughtful, comprehensive examination of the rise of the 80s teen movie in all of its incarnations. Smokler focuses on movies that can be tied to geographic locations (real and imagined) and how those locations informed the movie or vice versa (or perhaps provided weird anachronisms). He also situates the movies within their larger social contexts - America's shift from an industrial economy to a service one, the expansion of teenagers as a population with buying power, the rise of hip-hop, the growing availability of mass culture and mass marketing. Brat Pack America is a must for anyone who wants to read more about film culture.

If you're over on Letterboxd, I've run a watchlist of the films Smokler examines in the book if you need to do a little homework.

Dear FTC: I received an advance copy of this book from the author's publicist.

12 October 2016

I'm Judging You: A Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi

Summary from Goodreads:
Comedian, activist, and hugely popular culture blogger at AwesomelyLuvvie.com, Luvvie Ajayi, serves up necessary advice for the common senseless in this hilarious book of essays

With over 500,000 readers a month at her enormously popular blog, AwesomelyLuvvie.com, Luvvie Ajayi has become a go-to source for smart takes on pop culture. I'm Judging You is her debut book of humorous essays that dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives—from the cultural importance of the newest Shonda Rhimes television drama to serious discussions of race and media representation to what to do about your fool cousin sharing casket pictures from Grandma's wake on Facebook. With a lighthearted, rapier wit and a unique perspective, I'm Judging You is the handbook the world needs, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some "act right" into our lives, social media, and popular culture.

I'm Judging You is gut-busting, honest, and intersectional. Luvvie really takes aim at all our bad habits - both digital and off-line - by holding up a mirror to each of us. Are we over-sharers on Twitter? (The irony of posting this on a social network/blog is not lost on me.) Do we take advantage of friends? Are we concern trolls who use micro aggressions? Mirror.

(I would like to do a re-read with the audio since Luvvie reads it herself.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

08 October 2016

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Summary from Goodreads:
In this smart and enthralling debut in the spirit of The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family's long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she's rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë's literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that's never been shown outside of the family.

But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn't exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father's handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world's greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë's own writing.

A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, this vibrant and original novel is a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

When I was offered a galley of The Madwoman Upstairs, I was immediately intrigued.  A literary mystery about Brontë heirs?  Ooh, yes.  But it didn't turn out that way.  I could not get into the book.  I eventually borrowed the audiobook from the library and sped up the narration so I could at least try and fulfill my agreement to read and review the book.

The most interesting aspect of this book is the bildungsroman, the journey that Samantha takes over her first year of college to more properly understand (and mourn) her father. Her relationship with her dad is the most compelling in the book - and he is dead when the novel opens. I don't buy Samantha's ability to get into Oxford or her relationship with her mother, but Samantha's memory and relationship with her father was the part of the novel that had the most care in development and dimension. The whole Brontë mystery pales in comparison and for that I feel I've been sold a false bill of goods. What happened to my creepy "vast literary mystery" with comps to Special Topics in Calamity Physics? Is the "madwoman" Samantha (because side-eye)?  Anne Brontë? The whole "mystery" had a very soggy (literally), whimpery ending.

Additionally (and this really, really grated on me), the protagonist does not earn her HEA (Happily Ever After in Romancelandia Parlance).  I might get a little spoiler-y here. The relationship with her tutor/professor, one James Timothy Orville III, is very flimsy, built on questionable insta-lust on her side (? who knows bc she's never had much experience with dudes and is socially awkward?) and his attraction to her as a good student on the other (? Maybe?). Except for the tempting and very cheeky idea to quote bits of Jane Eyre from the scene under the tree at the very end of this book, the romance felt unnecessary.

I can't help but feel that if I turned this book over and shook it like a piggy bank those missing pieces of plot I was promised might appear and I'd have the book I wanted to find.

Dear FTC: I received an advance galley of this book from the publisher but then I had to borrow an audiobook to finish reading it.

06 October 2016

The Best American Science and Nature Writing edited by Amy Stewart

Summary from Goodreads:
Science writers get into the game with all kinds of noble, high-minded ambitions. We want to educate. To enlighten,” notes guest editor Amy Stewart in her introduction to The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016. “But at the end of the day, we’re all writers . . . We’re here to play for the folks.” The writers in this anthology brought us the year’s highest notes in the genre. From a Pulitzer Prize–winning essay on the earthquake that could decimate the Pacific Northwest to the astonishing work of investigative journalism that transformed the nail salon industry, this is a collection of hard-hitting and beautifully composed writing on the wonders, dangers, and oddities of scientific innovation and our natural world.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016 includes Kathryn Schulz, Sarah Maslin Nir, Charles C. Mann, Oliver Sacks, Elizabeth Kolbert, Gretel Ehrlich, and others

Amy Stewart, guest editor, is the award-winning author of seven books, including her acclaimed Kopp Sisters novels and the bestsellers The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants. She and her husband live in Eureka, California, where they own a bookstore called Eureka Books.

Tim Folger, series editor, is a contributing editor at Discover and writes about science for several magazines. He lives in Gallup, New Mexico.

I was really looking forward to this installment in the Science and Nature series - Amy Stewart!  Who writes books - both novels and science-y non-fiction! And owns a bookstore!

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016 is a wonderfully curated collection of science writing. Amy Stewart chose pieces not just for the science but for the narrative voice as well. There are wonderful articles reporting about ice in Greenland, the dubious evidence or lack thereof for bed-rest in pregnancy, why sports bras don't fit (oh man, such a great article), the health hazards women working as manicurists face in the workplace, the issues surrounding the push to bring electricity to all of India, the disservice done to women and girls with autism by the research/medical community, and a 15,000 page mathematical proof (you read that right). And yes, I cried when I read Oliver Sacks's piece.

I specifically have to commend Amy Stewart for purposely tipping the balance of the collection to reporting that affects women and women's issues (like sports bras).  *fist bump*

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

04 October 2016

Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein

Summary from Goodreads:

Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.

In “The Cartographers,” the main character works for a company that creates and sells virtual memories, while struggling to maintain a real-world relationship sabotaged by an addiction to his own creations. In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the robotic brother of an adopted Chinese child malfunctions, and only in his absence does the family realize how real a son he has become.

Children of the New World grapples with our unease in this modern world and how our ever-growing dependence on new technologies has changed the shape of our society. Alexander Weinstein is a visionary new voice in speculative fiction for all of us who are fascinated by and terrified of what we might find on the horizon.

When I made my galley list for BEA, Alexander Weinstein's debut story collection was near the top of my list.  Not just for the title - similar to that of an amazing novel by Assia Djebar about the Algerian revolution that overthrew the French colonial government in the 1950s and 60s - but also for being both speculative fiction and a story collection.  Sign me up.

Children of the New World is an excellently written, cohesive collection of short stories in the tradition of Philip K. Dick.  It's as if A Scanner Darkly, We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? begat some nieces and nephews who worry about humanity becoming obsessed with our devices and/or are so obsessed with virtual reality that people won't leave their houses for any reason. There's virtual sex, virtual school, custom-built siblings, brain-altering implants, and artificial intelligence that becomes alarmingly prescient (Siri, are you reading this?) Futurist technology is not going to make us happy in any of Weinstein's imagined timelines.

You can find Children of the New World in the Discover Great New Writers Bay at Barnes and Noble.

Dear FTC: I picked up a galley of this book from the publisher at BEA.