BEA · mini-review · Readathon · stuff I read

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin

Summary from Goodreads:
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone away unexpectedly and left her niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle, in charge of the Upside-Down House and the beloved animals who live there: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, and Penelope the parrot, among others. Families in town soon realize that like her great-aunt, Missy Piggle-Wiggle has inventive cures for all sorts of childhood (mis)behavior: The Whatever Cure and the Just-a-Minute Cure, for instance. What is a stressed out parent to do? Why, call Missy Piggle-Wiggle, of course!

New York Times-bestselling author Ann Martin brings her signature warmth and comic genius to a new character. And artist Ben Hatke brings it all to life!

I love Ann M. Martin, author of the Baby-Sitters’ Club and the Doll People series among others.  I was so interested and excited to hear that she was going to re-boot Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

I really want to love Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure (I loved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a child, even though her stories don’t age well). But though Missy is a nice and fun update, and the format is quite similar as a group of linked vignettes, it didn’t quite gel for me. The opening felt rough, I couldn’t quite get a handle on Missy’s age (since she looked very young in illustrations), and the timeline felt like it needed work. Still, I found it very funny (plus my ARC is signed 🙂 )

Dear FTC: I have an ARC I got from BEA.

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mini-review · Readathon · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Summary from Goodreads:
Proof that we’re living in the best of all possible worlds: THERE’S GONNA BE A SQUIRREL GIRL GRAPHIC NOVEL! It’s a stand-alone adventure that’s both great for new Squirrel Girl readers, and also for people who ALREADY know about how she can talk to squirrels and also punch really well! Behold: a story so HUGE it demanded a graphic novel! A story so NUTS that it incorporates BOTH senses of that word (insanity AND the weird hard fruit thingies) (they’re fruits, did you know that?) (I didn’t until I looked them up just now, so looks like we’re all learning science from this solicit text for a comic book!) Squirrel Girl has defeated Thanos, Galactus, and Doctor Doom. TWICE. But in this all-new graphic novel, she’ll encounter her most dangerous, most powerful, most unbeatable enemy yet: HERSELF. Specifically, an evil duplicate made possible through mad science (both computer and regular) as well as some Bad Decisions. In other words, SQUIRREL GIRL BEATS UP THE MARVEL UNIVERSE! YES. I CAN’T WAIT, AND I’M THE GUY WRITING IT.

I LOVE Squirrel Girl in all her nutty goodness. When Tony Stark brings back some alien technology (because Tony always has the best common sense), SG gets cloned! And the clone decides that Earth is for the squirrels!! Can Doreen beat herself?

I loved it.  The Unbeatable Squirrel Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe is a wacky tour through Marvel’s characters – even the less-known ones – mixed with Doreen’s go-nuts attitude.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove #5)

Summary from Goodreads:
On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library. Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville—the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

Thus far, Tessa Dare has given us a series about a Channel-side village dedicated to letting eccentric ladies be eccentric ladies (Spindle Cove) and a series about young women inheriting castles from an eccentric godparent (Castles Ever After).

Now she crosses the streams in Do You Want to Start a Scandal.  Although formally listed as Spindle Cove #5, the book brings together Charlotte Highwood (the little sister of Diana and Minerva in Spindle Cove) and Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville (the long-absent fiance from Say Yes to the Marquess).  Charlotte’s mother, having two happily married elder daughters, is now on the husband hunt for her funny, loyal, and sweet youngest daughter.  Charlotte has agreed to the Parkhurst house party so she can attempt to persuade her best friend’s parents to let the two girls go to Italy.  Piers has dutifully arrived at the house party to investigate Lord Parkhurst’s background for a diplomatic assignment (and determine what the large monetary sums are funding).

Charlotte and Piers end up trapped in the library alcove while a very enthusiastic couple (not them) has a love-making session on the library desk.  When the young son of the house, alerted by the noise, discovers Charlotte and Piers the two seem like they will be forced to marry.  Charlotte’s mother is over the moon but Charlotte has her doubts.  Lord Granville is a rather forbidding, stern ex-diplomat, albeit one who seems to have strange skills in his repertoire including lock-picking and landing excellent punches.  Besides, what about her plan to go to Italy?  Piers is intrigued by Charlotte’s quick wit and cheerful demeanor.  But she is quite young, compared to him, and he’s already had one long-term broken engagement (which he helped break).  Despite their nagging objections to the match, Charlotte and Piers discover they work very well together as they try to discover who exactly was tupping in the library.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal is an adorable and fun Regency romance.  Charlotte and Piers are well-matched characters and the B-plot – the Parkhurst investigation – has a freshness to its reveal.  Even though the story brings two of Tessa’s series together you can read it without needing to have read the previous 7 books (plus two novellas).  But…you’ll get a bit more out of it if you have read A Week to Be Wicked, Beauty and the Blacksmith, and Say Yes to the Marquess because Minerva, Colin, Diana, Aaron, and Rafe (Clio is in “an interesting way” to use Regency parlance) all make appearances in this book.  Speaking of Colin, he appears twice and tells NO dirty math jokes (humph).  Tessa does make up for this by giving us a priceless scene with Charlotte, her mother, a basket of produce, and “the talk” (I have one word for you – aubergines).

I was wrong about the villain.
Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

mini-review · Readathon · stuff I read

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Summary from Goodreads:
Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake — and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.

I love Raina Telgemeier’s art style and her stories about those rocky middle-school/junior high years.  Ghosts was a must-get at BEA and I’m glad I saved it for Readathon.

Ghosts was a fun story and a great mix of the real and the fantastical, so a bit of a departure for Telgemeier. There’s also a lesson in honoring your roots and making the most of every day. I love the parents, Raina gives them a bit of backstory, too, which is sometimes rare in kids’ books where the focus is on the child protagonists (and the parents are often dead/missing).  The Allende-Delmar family is also a biracial family, which I’m glad to see in a children’s book (particularly a graphic novel).

I am seeing some critical reviews calling out Telgemeier’s use of a Spanish mission and the Dia de los Muertos cultural practices as a major plot point in the book.  I’m not familiar with the nuances of that culture, so I can’t comment on Telgemeier’s accuracy.  However, the use of Dia de los Muertos does feel very surface-level to me and could have used more development.

Dear FTC: I have a signed galley from BEA.

mini-review · Readathon · stuff I read

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Summary from Goodreads:
A brilliant and utterly engaging novel—Emma set in modern Asia—about a young woman’s rise in the glitzy, moneyed city of Singapore, where old traditions clash with heady modern materialism.

On the edge of twenty-seven, Jazzy hatches a plan for her and her best girlfriends: Sher, Imo, and Fann. Before the year is out, these Sarong Party Girls will all have spectacular weddings to rich ang moh—Western expat—husbands, with Chanel babies (the cutest status symbols of all) quickly to follow. Razor-sharp, spunky, and vulgarly brand-obsessed, Jazzy is a determined woman who doesn’t lose.

As she fervently pursues her quest to find a white husband, this bombastic yet tenderly vulnerable gold-digger reveals the contentious gender politics and class tensions thrumming beneath the shiny exterior of Singapore’s glamorous nightclubs and busy streets, its grubby wet markets and seedy hawker centers. Moving through her colorful, stratified world, she realizes she cannot ignore the troubling incongruity of new money and old-world attitudes which threaten to crush her dreams. Desperate to move up in Asia’s financial and international capital, will Jazzy and her friends succeed?

Vividly told in Singlish—colorful Singaporean English with its distinctive cadence and slang—Sarong Party Girls brilliantly captures the unique voice of this young, striving woman caught between worlds. With remarkable vibrancy and empathy, Cheryl Tan brings not only Jazzy, but her city of Singapore, to dazzling, dizzying life.

Sarong Party Girls came across my radar in a blogger pitch from HarperCollins.  It has comps to Crazy Rich Asians and the idea of a novel written in “Singlish” (the Singaporean creole that combines English, Cantoese, and Malay among other languages) really intrigued me.  It made a perfect Readathon book.

The story of Jazzy and her friends – who at 27 years old are falling on the “old” side of the single-girl crowd – and their attempts to secure an ang moh (white Western and RICH) husband is compulsively readable.  In between the girls’ evenings out and lunches with successful (read: married and with at least one half-Asian baby because that’s what really seals the deal), Tan slips in a bit of cultural criticism.  Through narrator Jazzy’s eyes, we see that young women like her are caught between traditional southeast Asian family values (get married, be respectful, keep house), Western white feminist values (get an education, get a job, be respected for your work ethic and career), and Western male misogyny (the “Asian doll” stereotype, the assumption of sex work, being held up to specific ideals of female beauty that few women in the world can meet let alone maintain).  In one scene Jazzy convinces a male friend to bring her along as an “escort” for a “men’s evening out” and it is eye-opening.

I’ve seen some readers echo the blurb’s comparison to Austen’s Emma but I don’t quite agree there.  I was reminded a lot of Thackeray’s Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair.  Jazzy reflects Becky’s desire to move up the social ladder through marriage but also Becky’s gimlet eye and resourcefulness. And, also like Becky, Jazzy doesn’t want to “settle” when she wants more, even if that means heartbreak and disillusionment.

Sarong Party Girls was an excellent read start to finish.  And don’t worry about the Singlish – you’ll pick it up after a few pages.  (I find it much easier to read than A Clockwork Orange’s Russian-based argot “Nadsat”, for example.)

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

mini-review · Readathon · stuff I read

The Devourers by Indra Das

Summary from Goodreads:
For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.

I had to wait until one of our merch managers was finished with the galley before I could get it in my hot, little hands.  Because The Devourers sounded b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

It’s so hard to believe this is a debut novel.  Das’s fantasy is an astonishing, weird, gripping, revolting, and utterly fascinating book.  Did I mention revolting?  These shifters/werewolves are made in the same vein as Glen Duncan’s werewolves – cruel, emotionless, gross, vicious, inhuman, raw.  You can practically smell the rank animal-ness rising off the page.  Das pulls from many mythologies to create his shifters’ histories (I’m sure I’ve missed some of them) and anchors his narrative in the history of northern India and Pakistan during the Mughal Empire of the seventeenth-century. Surrounding this story from the scrolls is the framing narrative of Alok and his struggle with his sexuality.

The Devourers is well-worth the read if you are looking for something different in the fantasy genre.  If graphic violence makes you squicky, it may not be for you.  (Oddly enough, parts of it reminded me of the Underworld movies in tone; not the setting, obviously.)

For funsies, check out Mahvesh Murad’s “Midnight in Karachi” podcast episode with her interview of Indra Das.

Dear FTC: I read an ARC that we got in at the store.

stuff I read

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelley DeWees

Summary from Goodreads:
Jane Austen and the Brontës endure as British literature’s leading ladies (and for good reason)—but were these reclusive parsons’ daughters really the only writing women of their day? A feminist history of literary Britain, this witty, fascinating nonfiction debut explores the extraordinary lives and work of seven long-forgotten authoresses, and asks: Why did their considerable fame and influence, and a vibrant culture of female creativity, fade away? And what are we missing because of it?

You’ve likely read at least one Jane Austen novel (or at least seen a film one). Chances are you’ve also read Jane Eyre; if you were an exceptionally moody teenager, you might have even read Wuthering Heights. English majors might add George Eliot or Virginia Woolf to this list…but then the trail ends. Were there truly so few women writing anything of note during late 18th and 19th century Britain?

In Not Just Jane, Shelley DeWees weaves history, biography, and critical analysis into a rip-roaring narrative of the nation’s fabulous, yet mostly forgotten, female literary heritage. As the country, and women’s roles within it, evolved, so did the publishing industry, driving legions of ladies to pick up their pens and hit the parchment. Focusing on the creative contributions and personal stories of seven astonishing women, among them pioneers of detective fiction and the modern fantasy novel, DeWees assembles a riveting, intimate, and ruthlessly unromanticized portrait of female life—and the literary landscape—during this era. In doing so, she comes closer to understanding how a society could forget so many of these women, who all enjoyed success, critical acclaim, and a fair amount of notoriety during their time, and realizes why, now more than ever, it’s vital that we remember.

Rediscover Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

Let me tell you how nice the HarperPerennial team is – I spied a bright, pink spine with the words “Not Just Jane” written on it in an Instagram photo of their fall sales conference, asked about it, and they offered to send me a copy.  What sweethearts.  Or they just didn’t want me to hold their interns hostage or whatever.  Hahaha.

But seriously.

One day Shelley DeWees surveyed her bookshelves and wondered why Jane Austen and the Brontës,  were the only women writers from nineteenth-century England anyone seems to know about (you can throw George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) and Virginia Woolf in there as part of the literature “canon” of undergraduate education).  She started poking around and found a host of women writers – some of them best-selling – who took advantage of changing culture and economics to support themselves with writing careers.  After doing her research, DeWees narrowed her focus to just seven women writing between 1800 and 1900: Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  These seven women came from middle-class backgrounds, had reasonably good educations (for what could be expected at the time), and most turned to writing to support themselves and their families in an era when women began to claim jobs and legal status.  Not Just Jane is the resulting book.

Now, if your eyeballs roll at the very idea of “literary biography” let me assure you that Not Just Jane is very interesting and very readable.  DeWees goes out of her way to present contemporary criticism about these seven women, ranging from critical thoughts on their work to knee-jerk reactionism about lady scribblers. [These reactions boil down to “Omg, the ladeez they are writing THINGS and people are READING THEM because IMPROVED ACCESS and won’t someone think of the children!” Victorians can hand-wring with the best of them.  Isn’t it frustrating amusing how history repeats itself?]  Changes in the publishing industry – like the repeals of taxes on knowledge that decreased the costs of printing and increased circulation and access – allowed these women and many others like them to become prolific and popular authors.  We need to revisit these women and bring them back into view.  Even though I am well-read in Regency and Victorian literature, I had really only heard of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, probably the best known of the seven, although I haven’t yet read her (most popular work: Lady Audley’s Secret).

I do wish that Not Just Jane had been longer. I would have read a book three times as long to cover more years and more writers (DeWees’s reasons for setting her boundaries leave out eighteenth-century writers who influenced Jane Austen like Fanny Burney and Ann Radcliff).  However, I am not the average book buyer and I understand the decisions made in making this as accessible a book as possible.  (I made it one of my handsells at the store so I can try and make everyone buy it.)  But Shelley, if you write that longer book, call me – I will read it!

Not Just Jane is out October 25, 2016 from HarperPerennial – which is next Tuesday, so tell your bookseller you want a copy.

If you want a chuckle, search #notjustjane on Instagram and you’ll see a few ‘grams (or if you’re a Litten, I posted some there, too) with my annotations/notes (in which I try to be amusing).  I’m @balletbookworm both places.

Dear FTC: I received an ARC from the publisher waaaay back in April (thanks for the ARC, Olive!).

mini-review · stuff I read

Brat Pack America: Visiting the Cult Movies of the ’80s by Kevin Smokler

Summary from Goodreads:
From the fictional towns of Hill Valley, CA, and Shermer, IL, to the beautiful landscapes of the “Goondocks” in Astoria and the “time of your life” dirty dancing resort still alive and well in Lake Lure, NC, ’80s teen movies left their mark not just on movie screen and in the hearts of fans, but on the landscape of America itself. Like few other eras in movie history, the ’80s teen movies has endured and gotten better with time. In Brat Pack America, Kevin Smokler gives virtual tours of your favorite movies while also picking apart why these locations are so important to these movies.

Including interviews with actors, writers, and directors of the era, and chock full of interesting facts about your favorite ’80s movies, Brat Pack America is a must for any fan. Smokler went to Goonies Day in Astoria, OR, took a Lost Boys tour of Santa Cruz, CA, and deeply explored every nook and cranny of the movies we all know and love, and it shows.

How up are you on your 80s teen movies?  Seen all the John Hughes movies, including the ones he wrote not directed?  How about nerd movies?  How about 80s teen movies that look back to its writers’ or directors’ teen years in the 50s or 60s?  How about low-budget indies shot in urban locations?

Yeah, I’m talking about Beat Street.

Taking a different tack from Practical Classics – revisiting high school English class staples as an adult – Kevin Smokler turns his eye to what was once a booming cinema draw:  the teen movie.  Specifically those from the 80s, which are receiving new attention through either nostalgia anniversaries or reboots.  (A generation is what…25 or 30 years long?  Time to recycle.)  Brat Pack America is the culmination of Smokler’s travels around America as he examined how the setting of teen 80s movies reflected, commented, and documented American society as the country changed over the decade.

The result is a thoughtful, comprehensive examination of the rise of the 80s teen movie in all of its incarnations. Smokler focuses on movies that can be tied to geographic locations (real and imagined) and how those locations informed the movie or vice versa (or perhaps provided weird anachronisms). He also situates the movies within their larger social contexts – America’s shift from an industrial economy to a service one, the expansion of teenagers as a population with buying power, the rise of hip-hop, the growing availability of mass culture and mass marketing. Brat Pack America is a must for anyone who wants to read more about film culture.

If you’re over on Letterboxd, I’ve run a watchlist of the films Smokler examines in the book if you need to do a little homework.

Dear FTC: I received an advance copy of this book from the author’s publicist.