Romantic Reads · stuff I read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stuff I read

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stuff I read

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, where can I get a Bad Feminist pin?

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