mini-review · stuff I read

We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork from Grown-Up Readers edited by Marisa Crawford and Megan Milks

Summary from Goodreads: In 1986, the first-ever meeting of the Baby-Sitters Club was called to order in a messy bedroom strewn with RingDings, scrunchies, and a landline phone. Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne launched the club that birthed an entire generation of loyal readers.

Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club series featured a complex cast of characters and touched on an impressive range of issues that were underrepresented at the time: divorce, adoption, childhood illness, class division, and racism, to name a few.

In We Are the Baby-Sitters Club, writers and a few visual artists from the original BSC generation will reflect on the enduring legacy of Ann M. Martin’s beloved series, thirty-five years later—celebrating the BSC’s profound cultural influence.

Contributors include Paperback Crush author Gabrielle Moss, illustrator Siobhán Gallagher, and filmmaker Sue Ding, as well as New York Times bestselling author Kristen Arnett, Lambda Award–finalist Myriam Gurba, Black Girl Nerds founder Jamie Broadnax, and Paris Review contributor Frankie Thomas.

One of LitHub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2021, We Are the Baby-Sitters Club looks closely at how Ann M. Martin’s series shaped our ideas about gender politics, friendship, fashion and beyond. 

I saw a copy of We Are the Baby-Sitters Club on Jeff Waxman’s Instastories, got super excited about it, and he was kind enough to send me a galley. (Thank you!!) A collection of essays and comics about The Baby-Sitters Club? For sure!

This is fun and diverse collection of essays, memoir, analysis, and comics about the BSC, including some work looking at the recent Netflix adaptation. I definitely recommend this for fans of the books – lot of nostalgia as well as good criticism. It covers a lot of representation from all corners. (The BSC is back on Netflix this fall!!)

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book sent to me by a publicist.

Austenesque

Cover Reveal: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner!

Last summer, surprise hit The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner kept us all entertained with her tale of a group of wildly-different Austenites who come together in post-war England to save Chawton. Natalie is back on May 17, 2022 with a new novel, Bloomsbury Girls, loosely connected to The Jane Austen Society by one Evie Stone, the whip-smart young woman who worked as a maid at the Great House at Chawton and is now part of the first class of women to receive degrees from Cambridge.

“One bookshop. Fifty-one rules. Three women who break them all.”

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare bookstore that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules.  But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry:  Single since her aristocratic fiancé was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances – most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone:  In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time – Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others – these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow. 

QUOTES FROM AUTHOR NATALIE JENNER

“I never intended for Evie Stone to be a major character in my debut novel, let alone inspire my second one, Bloomsbury Girls. But as time went on, I found I could not leave her behind in Chawton with the other society members. And then one day I rewatched a favourite movie, 84 Charing Cross Road, and I remember thinking, there’s a whole other story in here still to be told, of an upstairs-downstairs motley crew of booksellers, and right away the figures came to life.”

“As with The Jane Austen Society, Bloomsbury Girls features multiple characters and storylines revolving around one very charming location: this time, the quintessential Dickensian-type bookshop.”

“If The Jane Austen Society was the book I wrote when I was coming out of sadness, Bloomsbury Girls was written when I was very happy, and I hope it provides a little cheer to readers during this difficult time.

AUTHOR BIO

Natalie Jenner is the author of two books, the instant international bestseller THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY and BLOOMSBURY GIRLS. A Goodreads Choice Award finalist for best debut novel and historical fiction, THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, a career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

COVER REVEAL SCHEDULE

Aug 26 The Silver Petticoat Review

Aug 26 Austenprose

Aug 26 Relz Reviewz

Aug 26 The Calico Critic 

Aug 26 Bookfoolery 

Aug 26 Lu Reviews Books

Aug 26 Confessions of a Book Addict 

Aug 26 Savvy Verse and Wit

Aug 27 Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Aug 27 Life of Literature

Aug 27 Cup of Tea with that Book Please

Aug 27 Gwendalyn’s Books

Aug 27 The Green Mockingbird

Aug 27 History Lizzie

Aug 27 Books, Teacups & Reviews

Aug 28 The Interests of a Jane Austen Girl

Aug 28 Literary Quicksand

Aug 28 Bookish Rantings 

Aug 28 Jane Austen in Vermont

Aug 29 Robin Loves Reading

Aug 29 The Lit Bitch

Aug 30 Margie’s Must Reads

Aug 30 Syrie James

Aug 30 The Reading Frenzy 

Aug 31 Laura’s Reviews

Aug 31 Becky on Books

Sept 01 Nurse Bookie

Sept 01 Probably at the Library 

Sept 01 Reading Ladies Book Club

Sept 01 My Jane Austen Book Club

PURCHASE LINKS

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLEINDIEBOUND | KOBO | GOOGLE PLAY | GOODREADS

BLOOMSBURY GIRLS AT ST MARTIN’S PRESS

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Hot Under His Collar by Andie J. Christopher (The Nolans #3)

Summary from Goodreads: He’s forbidden fruit and she’s a rule follower, but their connection is something to believe in.

Father Patrick Dooley joined the clergy to fulfill his mother’s dying wish. While it once gave him purpose, he not so sure it’s his calling anymore. But it’s all he’s ever known and he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life if he decides to leave the priesthood. How can he reconcile his faith with his growing desire to live a different life?

Sasha Finerghty was content to admire Patrick from afar while she dated men who were perfect on paper and wrong in real life. But with Patrick’s church in need of funding to keep a community program afloat, she’s just the girl to solve their fundraising problem. Spending more time together only fuels Sasha’s crush on him, who finds a kindred soul in her.

The more Patrick gets to know Sasha, the easier it is for him to see a future unfolding for them. But it will take a leap of faith to turn their friendship into something more, and neither of them are quite ready to make the jump.

Woooooooo, #hotpriestsummer!

OK, so, if your preferred taboo/spice level is more Sierra Simone’s Priest, you’ll probably be disappointed by Hot Under His Collar. But if you’re looking for Fleabag-but-with-HEA, you might like this one.

Sasha has to take the lead on the fundraising events (her bestie and business partner is having morning-sickness-from-hell) to help save Patrick’s community program. She’s trying to break free of her parents’ (read: her mom, yikes) expectations of her to get married and join the Junior League, but she keeps dating all the wrong men. They’re not awful people, they just don’t do much for her. Perfect on paper, but imperfect for her. Patrick has started doubting his calling to the Church – he joined the priesthood because it was his dying mom’s wish and it was through the Church that he felt closest to her – but the Church’s stances on homosexuality, the sexual abuse scandals, and the fact that the Church doesn’t seem inclined to help those most in need are leaving him in doubt. Throw mutual attraction into the mix and all bets are off.

I liked it. HUHC is a very slow-burn, angsty-type romance with lots of longing looks and some sneaky kissing (plus one steamy no-touching scene) UNTIL [look, I’m going to spoil this a bit] near the end of the book when it is no longer “wrong” for Patrick and Sasha to actually have sex (because he’s officially defrocked about 6 hours before that happens). There is some discussion of the problems existing within the institution of Catholicism (hiding abuse and pedophilia, active homophobia, etc) which maybe could have punched up a little harder.

CW for all the above problems of the Catholic Church, plus awful entrenched patriarchy as exhibited by Sasha’s mom and sisters (and kind of her dad) – Sasha’s mom is a shitty bitch and I hope she falls down an open sewer cover.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

happy dance · stuff I read

Center Center: A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet by James Whiteside

Summary from Goodreads: A daring, hilarious, and inspiring memoir-in-essays from the American Ballet Theatre principal dancer, drag queen, and pop star who’s redefining what it means to be a man in ballet

There’s a mark on every stage around the world that signifies the center of its depth and width, called center center. James Whiteside has dreamed of standing on that very mark as a principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre ever since he was a twelve-year-old blown away by watching the company’s spring gala: the glamour, the virtuosity, the extremely fit men in tights!

In this absurd and absurdist collection of essays, Whiteside tells us the story of how he got to the top of his field–stopping along the way to muse about the tragically fated childhood pets who taught him how to feel, reminisce on summer dance camps at which he paid more attention to partying than to ballet, and imagine fantastical run-ins with Jesus on Grindr. Also in these pages are tales of the two alter egos he created to subvert the strict classical rigor of ballet: JbDubs, an out-and-proud pop musician, and Uhu Betch, an over-the-top drag queen named after Yoohoo chocolate milk.

Center Center is an exuberant behind-the-scenes tour of Whiteside’s triple life, both on- and offstage–a raunchy, curious, and unapologetic celebration of pushing boundaries and expressing yourself to the fullest, as well as the debut of a sparkling comedic voice that will resonate with anyone who has a mortifying Google search history or cringe-worthy teenage memories they’d rather forget.

James surprised us all this spring by announcing that he had written a book! Hurrah! Center, Center is a compulsively readable set of autobiographical essays and memoir in varying styles – but all of them “sound” exactly like James (if you follow him on social media, you’ll know what I mean). His drag personality is here, his pop music personality is here, his ballet personality is here. These loosely connected pieces all fit together to give us a picture of James Whiteside, a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, who also has a pop music career, who also does drag, who has his own worries and doubts about himself as a gay man and owns his own mistakes. He is extremely frank regarding choices that he made at many points in his life, even ones that are not flattering to him at all. A standout piece in this collection is the essay where he writes about his mother’s life.

A few content warnings for homophia (that James receives), some moments of not-great drag persona choices, and inexperience with pet ownership.

Center, Center is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Icepick Surgeon by Sam Kean

Summary from Goodreads: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes the gripping, untold history of science’s darkest secrets, “a fascinating book [that] deserves a wide audience” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

Science is a force for good in the world—at least usually. But sometimes, when obsession gets the better of scientists, they twist a noble pursuit into something sinister. Under this spell, knowledge isn’t everything, it’s the only thing—no matter the cost. Bestselling author Sam Kean tells the true story of what happens when unfettered ambition pushes otherwise rational men and women to cross the line in the name of science, trampling ethical boundaries and often committing crimes in the process.

The Icepick Surgeon masterfully guides the reader across two thousand years of history, beginning with Cleopatra’s dark deeds in ancient Egypt. The book reveals the origins of much of modern science in the transatlantic slave trade of the 1700s, as well as Thomas Edison’s mercenary support of the electric chair and the warped logic of the spies who infiltrated the Manhattan Project. But the sins of science aren’t all safely buried in the past. Many of them, Kean reminds us, still affect us today. We can draw direct lines from the medical abuses of Tuskegee and Nazi Germany to current vaccine hesitancy, and connect icepick lobotomies from the 1950s to the contemporary failings of mental-health care. Kean even takes us into the future, when advanced computers and genetic engineering could unleash whole new ways to do one another wrong.

Unflinching, and exhilarating to the last page, The Icepick Surgeon fuses the drama of scientific discovery with the illicit thrill of a true-crime tale. With his trademark wit and precision, Kean shows that, while science has done more good than harm in the world, rogue scientists do exist, and when we sacrifice morals for progress, we often end up with neither.

I’m still running the COVID19 serosurvey at work – and will be until about May 2022 – so I read between subjects and waiting for the centrifuge to finish spinning in about 10 minutes chunks. Ideal books for this broken-up reading time are non-fiction with short arcs/many chapters – The Icepick Surgeon by Sam Kean totally fits this bill. Kean is a good storyteller of science history and this book is basically “what happens when scientists go bad”. Like, real bad. Some of them were pretty awful to start with, some got on that slippery slope of “justifying their actions” and wind up making terrible decisions.

CW for, well, it’s about scientists throughout history going bad so there’s racism, misogyny, sexism, slavery/slave trading, bad ethics, animal mistreatment, abuse of patients, somewhat graphic descriptions of surgical prodecures, etc.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Exposed by Kristen Callihan (VIP #4)

Summary from Goodreads: Brenna: There are some people in life who know exactly how to push your buttons. For me, it’s Rye Peterson. We can’t spend more than ten minutes together before we’re at each other’s throats, which makes working together that much harder. Rye is the bassist for Kill John, the biggest rock band in the world, and I am his publicist. It doesn’t help that the man is gorgeous, funny, talented, and…never takes anything seriously. Avoidance is key. But everything changes when he overhears something he shouldn’t: a confession made in a moment of weakness. Now the man I’ve tried so hard to ignore is offering me the greatest temptation of all—him.

Rye: Brenna James is the one. The one I can’t have. The one I can’t get out of my mind. Believe me, I’ve tried; the woman loathes me. I managed well enough—until I heard her say she’s as lonely as I am. That she needed to be touched, held, satisfied. And I could no longer deny the truth: I wanted to be the one to give her what she craved. I convinced her that it would just be sex, mutual satisfaction with nothing deeper. But the moment I have her, she becomes my world. I’ve never given her a good reason to trust me before. Now, I’ve got to show Brenna that we’re so much better together than we ever were apart. Things are going to get messy. But getting messy with Brenna is what I do best.

I know I talked about Managed here (which is book 2 of the VIP series, the first and third are Idol and Fall) – and now we finally have a book for Rye with Exposed!

Oh man – this book. Frenemies to friends/fuckbuddies to lovers. Callihan has been setting up Brenna and Rye in the three previous books by having them develop this icy politeness/work relationship so that she can just crack it in Exposed. I love how all the conflict in this book is internal, just Rye and Brenna working out their misconceptions and prejudices toward each other. A lot of their history has to do with how young they were when they first met and were attracted to each other and then not really being able to act on that through external pressures and events. I do wish that Callihan had done more with the subplot (there’s a thing going on with Rye’s hands – alarming, since he’s a musician) that seems to kind of drop away after a bit. I do love how Scottie keeps showing up in the books as this sneaky matchmaker, haha. Fatherhood hasn’t fazed him in the least.

Dear FTC: I had my copy pre-ordered on my Nook since I’m not fancy enough to have got a galley.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Summary from Goodreads: Two best friends. Ten summer trips. One last chance to fall in love.

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.

Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read, a sparkling new novel that will leave you with the warm, hazy afterglow usually reserved for the best vacations. 

I loved Beach Read when it came out last year so I was really looking forward to People We Meet on Vacation. A little opposites-attract, a little friends-to-lovers, a little second-chance romance? With vacations in a year where we all couldn’t go anywhere? Sure!

Well, I was very YMMV on this book. I really wanted to like People We Meet on Vacation but the structure of the book bounced back and forth A LOT between the “this summer on this last-chance-to-save-our-friendship trip” timeline and preceding summers’ vacation timelines to explain how Poppy and Alex’s friendship and summer trips occurred. It switched almost every other chapter so I just never had time to get into either timeline. The tension in the narrative kept breaking – until the last little bit of the present day timeline then it took off like a shot.

And then I just don’t quite understand why Poppy and Alex couldn’t be together romantically instead of as friends? There were so many elements here I liked (vacation disasters! fish out of water! opposites attract! only one bed!) and the premise was interesting but it just didn’t work for me as much as I hoped. But I did like Poppy and Alex so much as characters – Poppy is the girl who just has a goofballs, fun-loving family that goes with the flow (and who takes the first chance possible to escape from the shitty goldfish bowl that is her town/high school) and Alex is the guy from a conservative household who had to grow up quickly when his mom died in childbirth and his father suffered major depression (and, coincidentally, is from the other half of their town/the other high school) who don’t meet until they both end up at the same meet-and-greet for freshmen at their college. And then they become unlikely best friends. I did love that part a lot.

Edited to add: I did a re-read of this book on audio and for some reason, the performance of the narrator (Julia Whelan, who is great) really helped me parse out the problem of why Alex and Poppy just couldn’t be together. For whatever reason, the characters’ voices weren’t coming across in text but hearing it performed made it click.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

Summary from Goodreads: From the acclaimed author of Imagine Wanting Only This–a timely and moving meditation on isolation and longing, both as individuals and as a society.

There is a silent epidemic in America: loneliness. Shameful to talk about and often misunderstood, loneliness is everywhere, from the most major of metropolises to the smallest of towns.

In Seek You, Kristen Radtke’s wide-ranging exploration of our inner lives and public selves, Radtke digs into the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains. Through the lenses of gender and violence, technology and art, Radtke ushers us through a history of loneliness and longing, and shares what feels impossible to share.

Ranging from the invention of the laugh-track to the rise of Instagram, the bootstrap-pulling cowboy to the brutal experiments of Harry Harlow, Radtke investigates why we engage with each other, and what we risk when we turn away. With her distinctive, emotionally charged drawings and deeply empathetic prose, Kristen Radtke masterfully shines a light on some of our most vulnerable and sublime moments, and asks how we might keep the spaces between us from splitting entirely.

Seek You is Radtke’s follow-up to Imagine Wanting Only This. It’s a very beautiful meditation on loneliness – the color palette for this book is gorgeous. Some of the transitions within sections felt rough to me and it was a bit hard to switch between Radtke’s own story of loneliness/being alone and her research.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because digital galleys weren’t available.