mini-review · stuff I read

Having and Being Had by Eula Biss

Summary from Goodreads: “My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts,” Eula Biss writes, “the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after.” Having just purchased her first home, she now embarks on a roguish and risky self-audit of the value system she has bought into. The result is a radical interrogation of work, leisure, and capitalism. Described by The New York Times as a writer who “advances from all sides, like a chess player,” Biss brings her approach to the lived experience of capitalism. Ranging from IKEA to Beyonce to Pokemon, across bars and laundromats and universities, she asks, of both herself and her class, “In what have we invested?” 

The lady doth protest too much, methinks. I enjoyed Biss’s On Immunity immensely when it came out, so I was looking forward to Having and Being Had. However, I just got tired of the quibbling and worrying about “participation” in capitalism, from having a mortgage, to a steady paycheck at a major university (which pays a considerable amount of money), and making money from art, and on and on. I read the short essays between subjects in clinic while waiting for the centrifuge to finish running. Biss can write a sentence, so it was easy to read, but I just quit caring after a while.

Also, why is it that, in a book that is a series of short pieces worrying over participating in a capitalist society, nothing really is said about participating in gentrification? Because it’s kind of obvious from some of the details about the house and neighborhood that the house she and her partner purchased is in a neighborhood that appears to have been a Black community and is now mid-gentrification. There’s an oblique mention about rising interest and predatory reverse-mortgages, but nothing is directly addressed or examined, in my opinion.

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Highland Treasure by Lynsay Sands (Highland Brides #9)

A Buchanan brother finds a love to treasure in this scintillating historical romance from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands…

After escaping from the English soldiers who attacked her home and imprisoned her in a dungeon, Lady Elysande de Valance is grateful for the rugged Scots who are escorting her to safety in the Highlands. Even with danger dogging their every step, she hadn’t expected to welcome the strong comforting embrace of their leader, Rory Buchanan. They say he’s a healer, but she finds the heat of his touch does so much more…

Let his brothers get married—Rory is too busy tending to the sick to be bothered with wooing a bride. But when he is tasked with accompanying a family friend’s “treasure” to the Highlands, he is surprised to learn the treasure is a beautiful woman on the run—and even more surprised to discover bruises hidden by her veil. Rory makes it his mission to tend to her injuries and protect her, but the thought of losing her makes him realize that perhaps it is his heart that is most in need of healing….

Another Highland Brides novel! Can’t stop, won’t stop! FINALLY. Rory gets his HEA! Only after wistfully wishing for someone to love about six books ago.

In Highland Treasure Rory Buchanan has been in England dealing with various healer-y tasks. When he receives instructions to escort an old family friend’s “treasure” to Scotland he agrees…only to find that this treasure is a Lady, one Lady Elysande de Valance. Rory soon also discovers that Elysande has been badly beaten, almost tortured, by a man her father considered a friend. Elysande has no idea why this horrible man killed her father and tortured her mother but she agrees to go with a man her mother trusted to keep her safe. But their trip to the Highlands isn’t without it’s dangers – Elysande is being chased. When their traveling party is trapped in an English border town, it becomes very clear that someone with them is set on harming Elysande.

*dum, dum, dummmmmmm….* (Traditional murder twist in a Sands novel.)

This installment in the series feels very….short? The premise is bonkers, like all the Highland Brides books. I can’t quit this series since I really want to know how every, single one of these eight Buchanan siblings wind up lairding and ladying it up all over Scotland. (There’s still like one sibling left…and maybe a cousin?) It seems Sands took out at least two of the more bonkers murder attempts and the heroine actually doesn’t try to escape the guards set to keep her safe and Rory and Elysande actually talk about who they suspect is the bad guy (and that isn’t even the Big Bad, that guy is 100% off page) and…there isn’t much left to do in the book? So it’s fine. The scenes where they’re essentially hiding out in the border town inn that’s hostile to Scots and Elysande charms every inhabitant around are so sweet. Around the edges of Rory and Elysande’s love story is some really interesting stuff about the politics of King David of Scotland versus King Edward III of England. Sands really could have leaned into that divide, it would have been interesting to see play out.

Highland Treasure is out today!

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

Apropos Shakespeare · mini-review · stuff I read

This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith

Summary from Goodreads: An electrifying new study that investigates the challenges of the Bard’s inconsistencies and flaws, and focuses on revealing, not resolving, the ambiguities of the plays and their changing topicality.

A genius and prophet whose timeless works encapsulate the human condition like no others. A writer who surpassed his contemporaries in vision, originality, and literary mastery. A man who wrote like an angel, putting it all so much better than anyone else. Is this Shakespeare? Well, sort of.

But it doesn’t tell us the whole truth. So much of what we say about Shakespeare is either not true, or just not relevant. Now, Emma Smith – an intellectually, theatrically, and ethically exciting writer – takes us into a world of politicking and copycatting, as we watch Shakespeare emulating the blockbusters of Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd, the Spielberg and Tarantino of their day; flirting with and skirting round the cutthroat issues of succession politics, religious upheaval, and technological change. Smith writes in strikingly modern ways about individual agency, privacy, politics, celebrity, and sex, and the Shakespeare she reveals in this book poses awkward questions rather than offering bland answers, always implicating us in working out what it might mean.

I think This is Shakespeare is a really good collection of essays and criticism for 20 of Shakespeare’s more familiar/most often performed plays. Each chapter is a good jumping off point for discussion if you’re in a Shakespeare course or reading through the plays on your own. Smith brings together a number of ideas to address gaps or inconsistencies in the plays that lend to interpretations of the texts.

It’s a bit dry to read through cover to cover but that’s good since it lends to jumping around as most Shakespeare courses do.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

A Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok

Summary from Goodreads: In her debut collection, Monica Sok uses poetry to reshape a family’s memory about the Khmer Rouge regime—memory that is both real and imagined—according to a child of refugees. Driven by myth-making and fables, the poems examine the inheritance of the genocide and the profound struggles of searing grief and PTSD. Though the landscape of Cambodia is always present, it is the liminal space, the in-betweenness of diaspora, in which younger generations must reconcile their history and create new rituals. A Nail the Evening Hangs On seeks to reclaim the Cambodian narrative with tenderness and an imagination that moves towards wholeness and possibility.

A Nail the Evening Hangs On is a stunning debut collection that filters Sok’s family’s memories of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia through poems that are lush and stark at the same time. Particularly telling are the poems set at a prison museum dedicated to the bloody history of the regime, contrasting the behavior of the Western tourists gleefully handling weapons used by the KR with that of the narrator, a child of refugees and searching for evidence that a lost uncle had been there.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

In Accelerated Silence: Poems by Brooke Matson

Summary from Goodreads: “The thin knife that severed your tumor,” writes Brooke Matson in these poems, “it cleaves me still.” What to do when a world is split–terribly, wholly–by grief? When the loss of the beloved undermines the most stable foundations, the most sacred spaces, of that world? What else but to interrogate the very fundamental principles themselves, all the knowns previously relied on: light, religion, physical matter, time?

Often borrowing voices and perspectives from its scientific subjects, In Accelerated Silence investigates the multidimensional nature of grief and its blurring of boundaries–between what is present and what is absent, between what is real and imagined, between the promises of science and the mysteries of human knowing, and between the pain that never ends and the world that refuses to. The grieving and the seeking go on, Matson suggests, but there comes a day when we emerge, “now strong enough / to venture out of doors, thin // and swathed in a robe,” only to find it has continued “full and flourishing and larger than before.”

Sensual and devastating, In Accelerated Silence–selected by Mark Doty as winner of the Jake Adam York Prize–creates an unforgettable portrait of loss full of urgency and heartache and philosophical daring.

In Accelerated Silence is a heartbreaking collection poetry that uses the imagery and language of astrophysics to write about grief.

I’m terrible at reviewing poetry, especially contemporary poetry. Does it make me feel things? Do I like the imagery? Do the order of the poems seem to make sense/make a collection? All of these things are true for In Accelerated Silence. The juxtaposition of astronomical terms with the grief over losing a partner to cancer (and that journey) felt very unique.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Summary from Goodreads: Wintering is a poignant and comforting meditation on the fallow periods of life, times when we must retreat to care for and repair ourselves. Katherine May thoughtfully shows us how to come through these times with the wisdom of knowing that, like the seasons, our winters and summers are the ebb and flow of life.

Wintering was my other choice for the Book of the Year at work. It is a slow-read, dip in and out type of book – I read sections between subjects in the clinic at my day job. May gives us a memoir about settling into winter/ and cold weather rather than fighting it at a time when she felt lost and unhappy within her life. She was in the middle of a health crisis, she had taken leave from her job, her son was having trouble at school, and so on so concentrating on winter rituals was a way to get her through the cold, dark months. While reading I had wondered a bit at why the author chose to only discuss wintering rituals in Northern hemisphere cultures, and not Southern, and she did address that a bit in her Afterword.

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

stuff I read

Binding Shadows by Jasmine Silvera (Tooth & Spell #1)

Summary from Goodreads: There are two rules: find a way to use your magic and never reveal it to anyone.

Hunting down lost books is more than a job, it’s a way for Barbara to conceal her powers in the mundane world of the university library. One misstep and she risks exposure to ruthless necromancers willing to destroy anything supernatural they cannot control. But when the prickly new professor in charge of her latest assignment proves more than he seems, rules and reason are no match for her growing fascination.

After years of battling to cage the beast within him, Tobias returns to Prague and the safety of his pack of brothers. Unfortunately, his new job handling a collection of rare editions comes with a research assistant irresistible to both beast and man. Revealing his secret could endanger his entire family and he refuses to risk passing on the curse in his blood.

When the discovery of an enchanted book of spells triggers unpredictable surges in Barbara’s magic, unleashing the beast within himself may be the only way to free her. Trapped between a witch and a necromancer, they must survive a perilous reckoning with the past, or neither will have a future.

Binding Shadows is the first book in the Tooth & Spell Trilogy and is as a prequel to Death’s Dancer.

I picked Binding Shadows up around Halloween off a list of recommendations for witchy romance novels.

Yes, witchy things plus bonus werewolf hero (actual werewolf, not Immortals After Dark Lykae hologram). The world-building is very interesting in this book. It’s an alternate magical modern world – so it has computers and planes and Google, etc. – but there’s also been a magical world war called the Godswar and now magic and magical creatures are strictly regulated by the magical ruler of whatever zone you’re in. Where Barbara and Tobias are, it’s the Necromancer (who we never see, by the way, so I hope that’s planned for a later installment) who controls people by making them zombies. The story is also set in Prague which is not a usual setting for a romance, even a paranormal one, so that was also a nice change, too. It’s also very diverse – both Barbara and Tobias are multiracial – but it’s also very clear that there are not many people of color in this Prague, so there is an undercurrent of racism that I felt in some of their interactions with the academic world. (I’m pretty sure this book would also fall under that Dark Academia tag.)

It is a longer-slow-burn romance until suddenly it isn’t, so you’re forewarned that it builds the world for a while before Barbara and Tobias get together, but it’s definitely very sexy when it happens.

stuff I read

The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert (Dirty British Romance #1)

He’s reckless, dominant, and deliciously dirty. This prince is no fairytale.

Prince Ruben of Helgmøre knows exactly what he wants—and his current obsession is Cherry Neita. Everything from her rollercoaster curves to her fearsome attitude commands his attention. And best of all? She has no idea who Ruben is. Until the paparazzi catch them in a dark alley, her scarlet lipstick smudged, and his hands somewhere naughty…

All Cherry wanted was a night or two with the hottest man she’d ever seen. Turns out, that man is actually a prince, and now he needs her to play princess. Well, princess-to-be. One year as his fake fiancée, and he’ll make all her problems disappear. Easy. Right? Wrong.

The closer Cherry gets to Ruben, the brighter their passion burns. But the royal family hides dark secrets, and their palace is a diamond-studded trap. Can true love bloom from false beginnings? Or will this fairytale end in a happy-never-after?

The Princess Trap is a steamy, standalone BWWM royal romance. Warning: this book is 70,000+ words of extreme pleasure and intense romance, ending in a HEA. NO cliffhangers and NO cheating. Enjoy responsibly! ***Please be aware: this story contains scenes of abuse that could potentially trigger certain audiences.***

An Instagram friend (SarahSaysRead) is doing a Talia Hibbert read-along (#LoveAndBiscuitsRead), starting with The Princess Trap. Which turned out to be on sale right now in ebook so I was like alright! I loved Chloe and Dani (and Eve’s book is coming out in the spring) so I was into reading more of Talia’s books.

Now, it didn’t all work for me. I thought the resolution was really rushed – we went from an extremely high-tension situation, to like, half a chapter of ending and then the epilogue. Bang bang bang. And I also felt that, despite the information Cherry gets about Ruben’s family and upbringing, the necessary conversation to finally clear ALL the air between Cherry and Ruben comes very late in the book so the two characters don’t quite connect emotionally for me in that goooood HEA-feeling way. All that being said, Cherry is a delicious character. She’s strong and smart and plus-sized and GORGEOUS but she also has her own insecurities (there’s a small, almost throw-away bit of description from Ruben’s POV that opens up why Cherry never appears without full-face makeup). Talia also wrote in some great and very pointed commentary about how White women force Black women to conform to White beauty standards. And despite Cherry being (deservedly) pissed at Ruben for trapping her into this super-awkward fake-fiancee-but-I’ll-pay-you-for-your-time, they have real chemistry together and it’s so good.

Content warning that there is child abuse described on the page and occurring in characters’ memories on page. I would also note that here is some homophobia and/or kink-shaming espoused by the clear villains of this book.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book on my Nook.