Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean (Scandal & Scoundrel #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
Lonesome Lily Turned Scandalous Siren

Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn’t hesitate…until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke

The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan Comes to Town

Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else’s problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It’s the perfect plan, until Lily declares she’ll only marry for love…and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much…

The recent Dukes of Warnick are a particularly unlucky lot.  The title (and rapidly enlarging ducal fortune) passed through fourteen heirs in the space of two weeks before landing on the recalcitrant Scottish Brute, Alec Stuart.  When the solicitor turns up to inform Alec of his miraculous fortune, Alec shrugs him off.  So the efficient London man leaves Alec in peace for five years…until Alec’s dazzlingly beautiful ward Miss Lillian Hargrove lands herself in the scandal of all scandals.

A nude painting.  Painted by a man who is not her husband.  Who is an actor.  Quell horror.

Lily has been betrayed.  Derek Hawkins (sound familiar? You’ll figure out where he’s appeared before.) swept her off her feet and begged her to pose nude for him.  A painting just for him.  No one would see it.  He promised and she loved him….  Lily now has ten days before the painting is exhibited on the final day of the Royal Academy Exhibition and ruins her forever.  The last thing she needs is a very surly, six-and-a-half-foot tall, riveting Scotsman in an ill-fitting suit breaking down her front door.  And then he has the effrontery to tell her what to do.

Alec, for all that he means well, goes about doing everything wrong.  He has no interest in Society, while Society regards him as something akin to a sideshow attraction.  And he hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with a ward who is in her mid-twenties.  He decides that the best course of action is to get Lily married before the painting is unveiled.  When he commands Lily to attend a ball hosted by his best friend King (and King’s wife Sophie, the hero and heroine of the marvelously excellent previous book in the series, The Rogue Not Taken) Lily counters him.  Not by refusing to attend, mind, but by deliberately trying to scuttle his attempt to find her a husband (no spoilers).  So begins the tug-of-war between a man and a woman who are absolutely perfect for each other but whose sizable baggage keeps getting in the way (and Alec’s baggage is unique, let me tell you).

This a swoony, swoony romance with a feisty, feminist heroine at its center.  Lily claims the male gaze for her own, obsessing over Alec’s kneecaps when he appears in a kilt.  She’s clever and fiercely independent.  Lily’s nude painting scandal is directly influenced by the contemporary problem of revenge porn and leaked sex tapes or nude photographs.  All those ton gossips pointing their fingers?  We’ve seen them Twitter-shaming the poor woman for having trusted her partner and posed for the pictures.  Lily takes control of her scandal in a strong, fist-raised conclusion to the book.  But for all the kick-assed-ness Lily exudes, there’s a palpable sweetness in the progression of her happily-ever-after.  I cried so many happy tears.

To go with the swooniness, there are two lovable canines and guest appearances from at least one Rogue and the aforementioned King and Sophie and…the Dangerous Daughters!  That’s right, Sophie’s Scandalous Sisters Seleste, Seline, and Sesily (no Sera, sadly) make a significant appearance and befriend Lily.  We get to see far more of the women than we did in Sophie’s book, particularly Sesily who is amazing.  We also, drum-roll, get a brief visit to the Fallen Angel!!

My wish-list for Sarah now includes:
1) a novella for Lord Stanhope, bc you KNOW that man has a history
2) a novel for Sera, because her husband needs to either die or get punched in the dick and then start appreciating her (mostly sentiment held over from the last book, but still)
3) a novel for Sesily, because that girl is amazing and she needs an amazing dude to appreciate her

A Scot in the Dark is available TODAY!!  Run out and buy it or download it from your retailer of choice!  And if you are new to Sarah, never fear, you can read this without having read any of her previous books but you’ll want to hide your credit card….you might need to go on a binge. *grin*

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and OF COURSE I had this pre-ordered for my Nook.

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Romantic Reads · stuff I read

If I Only Had a Duke by Leonora Bell (The Disgraceful Dukes #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
After four failed seasons and a disastrous jilting, Lady Dorothea Beaumont has had more than enough of her family’s scheming. She won’t domesticate a duke, entangle an earl, or vie for a viscount. She will quietly exit to her aunt’s Irish estate for a life of blissful freedom. Until an arrogant, sinfully handsome duke singles her out for a waltz, making Thea the most popular belle of the season.

The duke ruined her plans and he’ll just have to fix them.

Dalton, Duke of Osborne, is far too heartless for debutantes or marriage—he uses dalliances and public spectacle to distract from his real purpose: finding the man who destroyed his family. When his search leads to Ireland, the last thing he needs is the determined, achingly innocent Thea, who arrives in the dead of night demanding he escort her to her aunt. His foolish agreement may prove his undoing. The road to the Emerald Isle is fraught with unforeseen dangers, but the greatest peril of all might just be discovering that he has a heart…and he’s losing it to Thea.

At the end of the previous book in Leonora Bell’s The Disgraceful Dukes series (which I have not read although it is on my Nook), Lady Dorothea Beaumont releases the hero (to whom she is affianced) so he can marry the woman he loves (Thea is literally at the altar when she finally works up the courage to defy her mother and do this).  Thus, Thea was exiled to her aunt’s cottage in Ireland where she is quite happy to spend her time helping keep bees, make marmalade, and explore the Duke of Osborn’s nearby property which contains a surprising and important hidden art collection.  As If I Only Had a Duke opens as Thea returns to London determined to convince Osborn to allow her to study the collection.

Dalton, as he prefers, has no intention of doing anything with his father’s ill-gotten gains.  Least of all with Lady Dorothea Beaumont whose mother is on such-a-quest-from-hell-to-snare-a-duke-for-her-daughter that she [see previous book] to snare Dalton’s best friend.  Which didn’t work out, thankfully for both the friend and Dalton.  Besides, even if he were attracted to the girl (and he isn’t, he really, really isn’t) his nighttime exploits as the vigilante the Hellhound would put her in danger.  So Dalton takes his revenge – he makes Thea popular despite her pleas that she just wants to exit Society and study his art collection (not a euphemism, get your mind out of the gutter).

Thea is, understandably, pissed that Dalton has made her the center of attention.  Worse, her mother and grandmother are determined to marry her off to a horrible, lecherous man simply for the sake of a four-letter aristocratic title.  So Thea outwits Dalton and convinces him to take her to Ireland in secret.  And as with any good road-trip historical romance, things go deliciously side-ways.

Thea and Dalton have excellent chemistry together as characters.  Thea is finding her own way as a woman after years of being under constant scrutiny and criticism from her mother.  Dalton learns to trust that Thea won’t condemn him for his actions.  The secondary characters of Con (Dalton’s Irish manservant-cum-comrade) and Molly (an Irish teenager Thea befriended) provide a bit of comic relief.  The madcap roadtrip from London to Bristol is a delight.

However, what didn’t really work for me was the Hellhound B-plot and how it worked into Dalton’s past.  It did provide the impetus to get Dalton to go to Ireland, and take Thea with him, but it didn’t do much for me.  In fact, the plot just rolled over with a whimper and a conclusion off the page.  For something that provided so much conflict early in the book I would have liked a bit more out of the resolution of that plot point.  But it wasn’t off-putting, so I’ll definitely back up to read Book 1 and look for the next book in the series.

If I Only Had a Duke is out on Tuesday, August 30!

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

BEA · dies · mini-review · stuff I read

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Summary from Goodreads:
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape. Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey.

Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

If The Underground Railroad doesn’t win all the literary prizes this year then those judges have no idea what they’re missing.

This a raw, searing, gutting novel of will and grit and fear and mistrust and hope. Whitehead has pulled from so many parts of history to create the world that Cora occupies, from racism and the inhumanity of slavery to eugenics to Tuskeegee. All the open wounds laid bare.  Whitehead also chose to use elements of magical realism and alternate history novels to explore different ideologies that have been floated in the past regarding racism and segregation.  Cora is transported between states using a literal underground railroad – one state seems to have a sort-of progressive benevolent (yet menacing) segregation, another violently rejects all African-Americans or sympathizers, another presents an ideal utopia.  The plot and writing are truly phenomenal. A masterpiece.

(My only regret is that Oprah surprised us by picking this for her bookclub, moving up the publication date by over a month and goofing up my reading schedule.  I had just finished being wrecked by Homegoing so wasn’t able to get this at the beginning of the month.)

Dear FTC: I got an ARC of this book at the Adult Author Breakfast at BEA and you can be sure that I’ll be buying a copy of this, too.

stuff I read

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Summary from Goodreads:
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy

Named one of BuzzFeed’s “Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Summer”

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

I was not lucky enough to get an early galley copy of Behold the Dreamers but I heard so many good things about it.  Cameroonian immigrant family working for a white family who gets their money from Lehman Brothers in 2008?  Gimmie.  I did finally luck into an Edelweiss approval this month!  So I was able to read it before publication (almost – the DRC expired with about 30 pages to go!  Curses!  So I had to read those quickly at the store.)

The glue in this novel is the relationship between Jende and Neni.  Both of them have huge dreams.  Jende wishes to be someone important, perhaps a businessman, but someone who can prove to his family back in Limbe that he is more than just the garbage man who knocked up his girlfriend (even though he was able to earn enough to later bring her to the US and marry her here).  He wants his son to get a good education, become a doctor or lawyer.  Someone with money.  Neni wants desperately to finish her education, something almost impossible as a single(-ish) mom in Cameroon, so she starts classes at a community college with the ultimate goal of becoming a pharmacist.  When Jende lands a well-paying job as the private chauffeur to the Edwards family  – financier father, ladies-who-lunch mother, law-student-turned-spiritual wanderer elder son, precocious younger son – it looks as if the family’s fortunes are rising.

Until the bottom falls out of Lehman Brothers, as it did in any investment company in 2008 who cooked their books and used those wretched subprime mortgages.  Mr. Edwards winds up in an awkward situation (read: tabloid expose).  Jende loses his job.  The Jonga’s asylum application becomes complicated.  And tensions within both families reach the boiling point.

Behold the Dreamers is a rich, textured novel about one immigrant family’s experiences during the economic downturn of 2008-2009.  The Jongas are in pursuit of the American Dream – the idea that any person can have a good life if he or she works hard and follows the rules.  It’s the dream that I, as a white American citizen, was told my Germanic ancestors crossed the Atlantic for and that presumably is the same dream that pulls twenty-first century emigrants here from all over the world.  But the system is working against the Jongas (immigration/INS, financial, family ties back in Cameroon, institutionalized racism) and it pushes Jende and Neni to make hard choices.  Mbue’s omniscient narrator does not judge the characters.  The reader is allowed to determine whether characters’ morals or decisions are “bad” or “good” and I really enjoyed that.  Also, the writing is absolutely fabulous.

I wanted perhaps a little bit more closure at the end (no spoilers).  It felt a little one-sided in those last 5-10 pages, in my opinion, but it doesn’t take anything away from the book as a whole. I will be thinking about the Jonga family, particularly Neni, for a long time.

Behold the Dreamers is available now in the US wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read most of this book from a digital galley via Edelweiss but it expired so I had to borrow a finished copy from my store.

Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Mythic, Volume 1 (Issues 1-8) by Phil Hester and John McCrea

Summary from Goodreads:
Science is a lie, an opiate for the masses. The truth is, magic makes the world go ’round. And when magic breaks, MYTHIC fixes it. Apache shaman Waterson, Greek immortal Cassandra, and cell phone salesman Nate Jayadarma are the crack field team assigned with keeping the gears of the supernatural world turning, and more importantly, keeping you from ever knowing about it. Join Eisner nominee PHIL HESTER (Green Arrow, The Coffin) and Eisner winner JOHN McCREA (Hitman, The Boys) on their latest expedition to the dark heart of weird comics. Collects Mythic #1-8.

Mythic is a really fun take on the mythology vs technology divide, similar to what Neil Gaiman did with American Gods but only more cracked out. If that makes sense.  Magic and gods and demons are a real thing, managed by a secret organization of other gods and magic workers to handle incidents.  A bit like the Fables universe from Bill Willingham.

The story took a bit to get going, in my opinion, and perhaps that’s because Hester and McCrea went really big right away. I sort of had to go with it for a few chapters. Once I had the “villain” figured out and how all the characters were related it was really fun. I’d missed this one in issues so I’m glad Noel pushed this one out for the Graphic Novel group at the store.  

(Bonus: Phil came to our Graphic Novel Book Group meeting at the store – he’s a local so it was really fun to talk to him about themes and if they’re going to write more…and that’s a maybe if he and McCrea can get the time to work on it.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover by Paul Buckley

Summary from Goodreads:
From Drop Caps to Deluxes, Penguin Creative Director Paul Buckley presents a visual overview of the innovative covers that have put Penguin Classics at the forefront of the book design world

In Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, Paul Buckley showcases more than ten years of stunning cover designs from Penguin Classics. This curated tour begins with the now-iconic redesign of the signature Penguin Classics black-spine series in 2003 and moves through award-winning series like the Penguin Classics Graphic Deluxe Editions, Penguin Drop Caps, and Penguin Horror. Exhibiting a mesmerizing array of front covers and full cover layouts, Paul Buckley illuminates the unique and inventive approaches to typography, image, and design that grace Penguin’s covers of the best works in literature. Throughout the book, the artists and designers including Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, Jillian Tamaki, Jessica Hische, and Ruben Toledo who have collaborated with Penguin Classics offer commentary on the design process. For lovers of classic literature, book design, and all things Penguin, Classic Penguin has you covered.

It’s so pretty!!!! I want all the Penguins!!

Even though I have a copy of Penguin 75 I had to have a copy of Classic Penguin.  I love, love, love how Penguin, under the direction of Paul Buckley, have been designing their classics lines.  Black Spines, Drop Caps (oooh, Drop Caps), Graphic Deluxe Editions, Horros, and the forthcoming Galaxy cloth-bound SF/Fantasy editions.  A must-have for classics and graphic design fans, especially since a number of the designers and artists talk about their design process for a number of the books.  (But the Coralie Bickford-Smith cloth-bound designs weren’t discussed at all…humph!)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life by Heather Havrilesky

Summary from Goodreads:
Should you quit your day job to follow your dreams? How do you rein in an overbearing mother? Will you ever stop dating wishy-washy, noncommittal guys? Should you put off having a baby for your career?

Heather Havrilesky, the author of the weekly advice column Ask Polly, featured on New York magazine’s The Cut, is here to guide you through the “what if’s” and “I don’t knows” of modern life with the signature wisdom and tough love her readers have come to expect.

How to Be a Person in the World is a collection of never-before-published material along with a few fan favorites. Whether she’s responding to cheaters or loners, lovers or haters, the depressed or the down-and-out, Havrilesky writes with equal parts grace, humor, and compassion to remind you that even in your darkest moments you’re not alone.

Not quite as awesome as Tiny Beautiful Things from the Dear Sugar columns (I 💖 Cheryl Strayed), but How to Be a Person in the World is definitely a solid collection of advice columns.  The Ask Polly tone is much less supportive Den Mom (Dear Sugar tone) and more Here is Some Common Sense.  A good summer read. (And I do hope that the people who wrote in basically asking for permission to cheat on their partners got dumped. What tools.  And that’s basically the Ask Polly line.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.