audiobooks · stuff I read

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Summary from Goodreads:
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

A fierce and provocative novel that adds a new dimension to the matchless oeuvre of Toni Morrison.

God bless and keep Toni Morrison. If I am half this articulate and creative at her age….wow.

Now, I had originally picked up at DRC of God Help the Child, and couldn’t get into it.  So I bought a hardcover when it came out – because why wouldn’t I buy Queen Toni in hardcover – and still couldn’t get into it.  This is not a big book, so I couldn’t figure out why this book wasn’t catching on for me.

So then I found God Help the Child on Overdrive, and it’s read by Toni Morrison.  *muppet arms*  Toni Morrison has such a wonderful reading voice, I wanted to marinate in her words (guys, the way she says words that start with “br”…convenient, since one of the main characters is named Bride).   But also, I figured out why I was having trouble getting into this book in print.

The characters are all expert at emotional distance.  Sweetness denies her child, Bride, love or human contact because she isn’t a light-skinned child like her parents.  Bride, desperate for this contact, does something terrible as a child and undergoes a terrible experience trying to right that wrong as an adult.  Booker, sensing that Bride is holding something back, pushes her away.  All this distance was pushing me away as a reader.  One of the things I love about Beloved was the emotionally gripping nature of the characters, Beloved’s anger, Sethe’s anguish – it’s right there from page one.  I was there for those characters almost immediately, but I was having trouble caring for the characters in God Help the Child.

Toni Morrison reading the book was a way in for me.  It took about half the book before I pegged what was going on and then began to care about why Bride was doing what she was doing.  Then the book got really, really good.  This is all beside the point that Toni Morrison can write a sentence.  That goes without saying.

So if you’re having a bit of trouble getting into God Help the Child, I recommend the audio book.  A great listen.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of the book from the publisher via Edelweiss, then bought a hardcover, then borrowed the audiobook from the library via Overdrive.

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audiobooks · stuff I read

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Summary from Goodreads:
From the bestselling author of Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes, a humorous account of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette—the one Frenchman we could all agree on—and an insightful portrait of a nation’s idealism and its reality.

On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been thirty years since the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000.

Lafayette’s arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted this country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans, it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing singular past.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a humorous and insightful portrait of the famed Frenchman, the impact he had on our young country, and his ongoing relationship with some of the instrumental Americans of the time, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and many more.

Sarah Vowell has a new book!  Actually, it came out back in October but it took until December for me to get ahold of an audiobook – because that’s the way to put a Sarah Vowell book in your brain.  I love her voice and reading style and she gets a whole load of actor (and sometimes non-actor, cf Stephen King as Abraham Lincoln in the audiobook of Assassination Vacation) buddies to voice different historical and contemporary people.

A book about Lafayette publishing during the phenomenal run that is the musical Hamilton is like the best thing ever.  Impetuous French teenage aristocrat showing up to offer his services to the fetal United States (which aren’t the United States yet since the Revolutionary War wasn’t over and the Constitution just a twinkle in the Founders’ eyes) – I don’t think it’s was ever emphasized in my history classes that Lafayette was so young.  It is really interesting how hard it was to keep the Continental Army from starving to death and how hard it was for France to get promised men and money to America (and then the US stuck its head in the sand during the French Revolution).  A really interesting story.

However, I don’t think Sarah Vowell’s usual format of historical-event-contemporary-aside-historical-event worked as well here.  It works amazingly well in Assassination Vacation because it’s structured more around her travels.  Lafayette in the Somewhat United States has a much more linear structure based around Lafayette’s life so jumping in and out doesn’t work as well.  I was also a bit disappointed that so much of the book focused on the Revolutionary War (despite the title, that should have tipped me off) but very little on Lafayette’s 1824 American tour.  But still, a fun book to listen to, definite recommend if you have a road trip.

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

One-Eyed Dukes are Wild by Megan Frampton (Dukes Behaving Badly #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
When does proper behavior deserve a deliciously improper reward?

The scandalously unmarried Lady Margaret Sawford is looking for adventure—and is always up for a challenge. Her curiosity is aroused by a dangerous-looking stranger with an eye patch, an ideal companion for the life she longs for, no matter what Society might say. So when the piratical gentleman turns out to be a duke—and just as boringly proper as any other nobleman—she can’t help but incite him to walk on the wild side.

Well-heeled, well-mannered, and well beyond any interest in society’s expectations, the Duke of Lasham is tired of being perfect. Margaret’s lush beauty and gently laughing eyes are an irresistible temptation to embrace the imperfect—and her. But if a little misbehavior is appealing, unleashing his wild side is completely seductive—as long as the lovely Margaret is the object of his passion.

Megan Frampton is a new-to-me author this year with her series Dukes Behaving Badly.  The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior was a good start, but maybe needed a bit more work.  Put Up Your Duke was an excellent step up with a good plot but the new entry in the series, One-Eyed Dukes are Wild, really brought everything together with a fantastic plot, great hero and heroine, and good tension.

We met Lady Margaret Sawford in Put Up Your Duke when her sister Isabella made a marriage of convenience with Nicholas, the new Duke of Gage (which turns out well, obviously, since Isabella and Nicholas are the main characters in that book).  Isabella decides that she won’t let her parents marry her off to a man she’s never met, Lord Collingwood, breaks the engagement and announces that she is the mysterious author of the Gothic serials in the paper leading her parents to pretend she doesn’t exist.  (Which in the end is good, because Collingwood is a swine and the less said about Isabella’s and Margaret’s parents, the better.)  One-Eyed Dukes are Wild starts a few years later.  Margaret has returned to London – still the scandalous author, still unmarried, who lives alone with her maid and wears non-virginal colors.  She keeps herself financially afloat with her writing and her winnings at the gambling table (she’s a bit of a whiz with cards) because she’s still an aristocrat and she gets invited to parties for her reputation.

Seeking quiet at a party, Margaret crosses paths with the Duke of Lasham.  Lash (who has such a great first name, I’m not going to spoil it), despite his pirate-like eye patch, is so concerned with being the correctly-correct Duke Who Always Does the Right Thing Because That’s What Dukes Do isn’t quite sure what to do with Margaret.  She gives him the deference due his rank but doesn’t flatter, simper, cling, or entrap.  Indeed, she tells him at the first meeting that she doesn’t wish to marry him if they are found in the same room alone together.  When they later meet by happenstance at the National Gallery, and Margaret rescues Lash from a gaggle of “art appreciating” women, they begin to wonder if there is more beneath the surface of the other (that’s a really terrible sentence, I apologize).

I quite like Margaret.  She’s independent, feisty, rash but with good intentions, smart at cards, and has an excellent maid (though I am tired of the I-don’t-think-I’m-pretty-because-my-sister-is-gorgeous-trope).  I also like the idea that the “scandal” of her writing is that she writes fairy tales for money and they are published in the paper as opposed to writing actual scandalous material circulated under the counter, so to speak.  I loved how her adventures with Lash, when he decided he needed to stop being so “correct,” included going ballooning (which he loved) and eating eel pies (which I don’t think he did).  Even the scene where they go to the dance hall was an interesting twist – I have usually encountered scenes like this where the heroine is the one looking for adventure, not the hero, so this was a fun change.

What Frampton does in this book is turn the idea of “behaving badly” on its head.  In the previous books, the dukes generally are considered to be “bad” rakes (although, in my opinion, not nearly bad enough to deserve the sobriquet).  In this book, Lash is so proper and always does what is right and that behavior has caused him to be fenced in.  In his experience, behaving badly has consequences.  He doesn’t know how to feel or have his own emotions or read intimate situations correctly – this leads him to behave very badly later in the book.  The contrast in personality between Lash and Margaret creates excellent romantic tension.

One-Eyed Dukes are Wild was released today!  Happy reading!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean (Scandal & Scoundrel, #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
LADY SOPHIE’S SOCIETY SPLASH

The youngest of the infamous Talbot sisters scandalized society at the Liverpool Summer Soiree, striking her sister’s notoriously philandering husband and landing him backside-first in a goldfish pond. And we thought Sophie was the quiet one…

When she finds herself the target of very public aristocratic scorn, Sophie Talbot does what she must to escape the city and its judgment—she flees on the back of a carriage, vowing never to return to London…or to society. But the carriage isn’t saving her from ruin. It’s filled with it.


ROYAL ROGUE’S REIGN OF RAVISHMENT!

The Marquess of Eversley was espied descending a rose trellis—escaping an irate Earl and his once-future countess. No lady is safe from Eversley’s Engagement Ending Escapades!

Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley, has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, a quality that results in a reputation far worse than the truth, a furious summons home, and a long, boring trip to the Scottish border. When King discovers stowaway Sophie, however, the trip becomes anything but boring.

WAR? OR MORE?

He thinks she’s trying to trick him into marriage. She wouldn’t have him if he were the last man on earth. But carriages bring close quarters, dark secrets, and unbearable temptation, and suddenly opposites are altogether too attractive…

There’s a new Sarah MacLean novel!!  The Rogue Not Taken is coming out on December 29, 2015!!  (Go, go preorder, then come back.  No, really!)

OK, so, gossip columns, social climbing, secret identities, road trip, parental estrangement, and broken hearts?  Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Lady Sophie Talbot, the plainest, quietest of the scandalous Talbot sisters – scandalous because they are the newest of the new money and new titles and Society eats up gossip columns about them – achieves notoriety when she knocks her sister’s philandering duke of a husband on his arse.  In a koi pond.  During a culturally tasteless garden party.  With the entirety of the ton watching.

Exeunt, stage right.  Sophie spies her chance to escape the party when the even more scandalous Marquess of Eversley – because he is infamous for ravishing young ladies, therefore causing their socially advantageous betrothals to be broken – comes climbing down a trellis in front of her.  King isn’t an idiot.  He doesn’t want to get married, much less be trapped into marriage with a Talbot sister, so he refuses to give Sophie a ride.  Sophie, however, bribes a footman, borrows the boy’s livery, and hops on the back of King’s carriage.  Only to find that 1) the carriage doesn’t turn toward Mayfair, 2) it doesn’t stop moving until nightfall when it is at an inn far away from London, and 3) King isn’t in the carriage, it’s full of wheels.  Nuts.  (King turns up a few minutes later as the winner of a curricle race.

Thus begins a trip to the north of England full of intrigue, tactics, highwaymen (gasp!), and dreams.  It’s like a Georgette Heyer novel if Georgette Heyer didn’t have to observe propriety in her fiction in the early twentieth-century.  I love Sophie – not quite as much as Pippa from One Good Earl Deserves a Lover because Pippa is my geeky homegirl and I lurve her – because she never stops wanting more for herself.  She doesn’t think that pots of money should change a person or require them to live in the social whirl of London.  She doesn’t just want to be the sister of women who court scandal simply for the sake of more inches in the gossip column.  She wants a happy marriage – certainly not her sister Sera’s, speaking of which, I hope Sera gets her own book – with books and tarts and country air.

Sophie also manages to knock King on his own arse.  Metaphorically, since I don’t recall her actually punching him.  And let’s face it.  King needed it.  The weight of the chip on his shoulder from his history with his father is SO BIG it would crush him if it actually fell on him.  Sophie chips away at King’s problems bit by bit and it’s so, so wonderful.  Although I wanted to crawl into the book and punch King at least twice…why are men so pig-headed?  Oy.  Delicious, but oy.

So jump in at the beginning of a new series with Sarah MacLean!  (I want to know, really, really, if we get to see the Fallen Angel and any of the previous rogues in the coming books – we know it’s the same world since we met Sophie in a scene during Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover).

Dear FTC: I received a DRC from the publisher via Edelweiss – and I have a copy on pre-order for my Nook because who doesn’t love a new Sarah MacLean novel?

Backlist Bump · stuff I read

Backlist Bump: Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

Summary from Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old Fee is a gifted Korean-American soprano in a boys’ choir in Maine whose choir director reveals himself to be a serial pedophile. Fee and his friends are forced to bear grief, shame, and pain that endure long after the director is imprisoned. Fee survives even as his friends do not, but a deep-seated horror and dread accompany him through his self-destructive college days and after, until the day he meets a beautiful young student named Warden and is forced to confront the demons of his brutal past.

[Backlist Bump is a new feature I’m trying – essentially, when a new-to-me author has a new book out often I feel like I need to stop and back-up to a previous book for comparison.  Alexander Chee gets the honor of being the guinea pig. (Sorry, Alex.)]

In February, the literary world will receive the sublime gift of Alexander Chee’s new novel The Queen of the Night (start drooling now, I’ll have a review up in January).  About three chapters into the DRC for Queen, I decided I had missed something in not reading Chee’s only previous novel, Edinburgh.  I’d read some of Chee’s short pieces but not his novel.  So I tracked down a used copy of Edinburgh – the novel is, sadly, currently out of print.

From the first line, Edinburgh had me caught and held fast:

After he dies, missing Peter for me is like swimming in the cold spot of the lake: everyone else laughing in the warm water under some too-close summer sun.  This is the answer to the question no one asks me. (Edinburgh, page 1)

The story of pre-adolescent Fee, narrated by his adult self, is a heart-wrenching tale of music, betrayal, and self-preservation.  There are places in this story where I couldn’t breathe.  Chee does not shy away from the painful parts of the book – the sexual abuse Fee and his fellow singers suffer at the hands of the choir director, the shame, the confusion – and yet it doesn’t feel graphic or gratuitous.  I think the first hundred pages or so might be hard to read for a survivor of such abuse, but the way Chee explores Fee’s survival compared with that of his friends is haunting. Fee, as a young man exploring the possibility that he might be gay, feels the weight of survivorship differently from his friends who struggle to reconcile their own sexuality, either as straight or gay or questioning, with their history of abuse. Even as Fee entered adulthood, and seemed to have found an equilibrium in his life, fate brought the past back around in a circle, like a musical coda.

Love melts all our murder. As much as it makes it. (Edinburgh, page 51)

At the heart of this book, though is Alexander Chee’s writing.  I read the majority of Edinburgh while on an airplane – tucked into a corner of my window seat, the end of my pen in my mouth, barely breathing, trying to hide the tears that kept pooling in my eyes. The sentences carved themselves into my brain.  Whatever you think about the subject or plot of this book, there is no arguement that Chee’s ability as a wordsmith is first-rate.  For example:

Blue. Blue because it’s the color people turn in the dark. Because it’s the color of the sky, of the center of the flame, of a diamond hit by an X-ray. Blue is the knife edge of lightning. Blue is the color, a rose grower tells you, that a rose never quite reaches. (Edinburgh, page 191)

Edinburgh is scheduled for re-release as an ebook, at the very least, on February 2, 2016, the same day The Queen of the Night is also scheduled for release in hardcover, ebook, and so on.  I haven’t yet found information for a paperback re-release, but I do hope that is also in the works.  Edinburgh deserves a “bump” so it can find a new audience.

Dear FTC: I tracked down a used copy of this book.

stuff I read

Sophia by Michael Bible

Summary from Goodreads:
“Michael Bible may have hit what a lot of us were trying, a singular new voice for CEOs to slackers. He’s so open, so easy, so fluid, you’ll smile with joy turning every page.”—Barry Hannah

If Nicholson Baker shaved his beard and moved south of the Mason-Dixon line, he’d look and sound a lot like Michael Bible. Uproariously funny, unabashedly sexy, and with a nuanced sincerity that won’t sneak up on you till the end, Michael Bible’s novel is not only much-anticipated, but highly rewarding.

If you are offended by the idea of a preacher drinking, doing drugs, and having sex, this short novel is likely not for you.  If you don’t have issues with those things, read on.

Because Reverend Maloney has sex dreams about the Holy Ghost (or maybe they’re real, who knows, because he’s got some substance problems).  He’s also got a booze problem, lady problems, and drags his genius friend Eli around to chess tournaments where he palms Eli’s winnings.  Along the way he narrates – mostly to Eli – a novel produced in koan-like (sort-of, these are longer than koans and completely un-Buddhist in spirit) paragraphs interspersed with the lives of martyred saints.  Bible winds up his amazing short novel in a New York metro-wide chess match that smashes together Harry Potter and Mikhail Bulgakov.

So if you need to get away from your nutty relatives and Christmas-overload, blow your mind with Sophia by Michael Bible (not giving away where the title comes from).

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove #4.5)

Summary from Goodreads:
A snowstorm hath no fury like a spinster scorned!

Miss Elinora Browning grew up yearning for the handsome, intelligent lord-next-door…but he left England without a word of farewell. One night, inspired by a bit too much sherry, Nora poured out her heartbreak on paper. Lord Dashwood Missed Out was a love letter to every young lady who’d been overlooked by gentlemen—and an instant bestseller. Now she’s on her way to speak in Spindle Cove when snowy weather delays her coach. She’s forced to wait out the storm with the worst possible companion: Lord Dashwood himself.

And he finally seems to have noticed her.

George Travers, Lord Dashwood, has traveled the globe as a cartographer. He returned to England with the goal of marrying and creating an heir–only to find his reputation shredded by an audacious, vexingly attractive bluestocking and her poison pen. Lord Dashwood Missed Out, his arse. Since Nora Browning seems to believe he overlooked the passion of a lifetime, Dash challenges her to prove it.

She has one night.

The first Tessa Dare book I read was A Week to be Wicked and I fell in love with her banter and silly nerd jokes.  Which means I fell in love with Colin, who tells some naughty math jokes.  So I’ve been waiting and waiting for Colin to reappear (we got a wee bit of Colin in Any Duchess Will Do).  I got my wish with Lord Dashwood Missed Out, where he, Griff, Rycliff, and Thorne have to go out and find a missing author who is supposed to have arrived for a reading at Pauline’s bookshop in Spindle Cove (PS: if you haven’t read any Spindle Cove books, you probably won’t know who these characters are).  There are jokes and swashbuckling and silliness, which are my favorite parts of Tessa Dare novels and a sweet B-plot for Pauline and Griff involving missing sherry.

The main plot of the novella, that of Nora – the missing author – and her pamphlet about a man who missed what was under his nose and the globe-trotting Lord Dashwood who was her childhood friend and obviously the dude who “missed out” is sweet.  I don’t feel like their backstory was quite strong enough to support the relationship outcome in this novella, so perhaps it needed more pages, but it was a fun read.  Clearly, my favorite parts were the ones with Colin.

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

mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

A Fine Summer’s Day by Charles Todd (Inspector Ian Rutledge #17)

Summary from Goodreads:
New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd takes readers into Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge’s past-to his perplexing final case before the outbreak of World War I.

On a fine summer’s day in June, 1914, Ian Rutledge pays little notice to the assassination of an archduke in Sarajevo. An Inspector at Scotland Yard, he is planning to propose to the woman whom he deeply loves, despite intimations from friends and family that she may not be the wisest choice. To the north, on this warm and gentle day, another man in love-a Scottish Highlander-shows his own dear girl the house he will build for her in September. While back in England, a son awaits the undertaker in the wake of his widowed mother’s death.

This death will set off a series of murders across England, seemingly unconnected, that Rutledge will race to solve in the weeks before the fateful declaration in August that will forever transform his world. As the clouds of war gather on the horizon, all of Britain wonders and waits. With every moment at stake, Rutledge sets out to right a wrong-an odyssey that will eventually force him to choose between the Yard and his country, between love and duty, and between honor and truth.

This is a good way to jump into an established mystery series – with a prequel! A Fine Summer’s Day has a good serial killer plot, but perhaps too neat a bow on the end. I hadn’t read any of the Ian Rutledge novels before (and will be rectifying that shortly with A Test of Wills) but I do know the basics of Rutledge’s issues. There are two short scenes that could have been dispensed with completely – one coming in what is basically the Prologue and one in the Epilogue (and only slightly related to that bow I alluded to). Since the character in question makes no appearance of any sort in the book between those two scenes he/it is completely unnecessary.

Dear FTC: I received a hardcover review copy from the publisher – sorry I didn’t get it read/reviewed until now.