stuff I read

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State—which earned rave reviews and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, NPR, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus—and her New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

My final book of 2016.

Disclaimer: I fucking love Roxane Gay.  It’s basically a given that I would love Difficult Women.  I’ll try not to gush too much.

Difficult Women showcases all those different ways we women are “difficult”.  We fall in love, we fall out of love.  We are fragile, we are strong.  We are our own person, sometimes we depend on others.  We demand respect.  We are smart, we make poor decisions.  Sometimes we hurt, sometimes we ask others to hurt us.  We are people, real people, and that makes us difficult because we take up space.

The stories contained within Difficult Women are raw, searing, brutal gut-punches. Roxane Gay has delivered another powerhouse, but longer, collection of stories. These stories are populated by even more strong, bent-but-not-broken women who stand proudly by their older counterparts in Ayiti.

Personally, I loved the stories without fantastical elements best but that’s just me.  The amount that I love “North Country” more than “Requiem for a Glass Heart” is negligible, like the width of a human hair.  “I am a Knife” just burns off the page.  These stories are not easy and Roxane follows through with all her punches (that’s a little bit of pun since one of the stories concerns a fight club for women).  Yes, racism, rape, grief, faithlessness, pain, and abandonment are hard to read but that makes these stories so human.  These women aren’t decorative, they’re real.  They live and breathe and hurt and hope.

Go out and put this in your eyeballs now.

Dear FTC:  I got a DRC of this collection from the publisher via Netgalley and then I bought my own copy because it arrived before Christmas.

Advertisements
mini-review · Overdue Reads · stuff I read

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter

Summary from Goodreads:
“A man with a great appreciation of what makes Paris tick.” —Newsday

Fromthe author of Immoveable Feast and We’ll Always Have Paris comes aguided tour of the most beautiful walks through the City of Light, includingthe favorite walking routes of the many of the acclaimed artists and writerswho have called Paris their home. Baxter highlights hidden treasures along theSeine, treasured markets at Place d’Aligre, thefavorite ambles of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach, andmore, in a series of intimate vignettes that evoke the best parts of Paris’smany charms. Baxter’s unforgettable chronicle reveals how walking is the bestway to experience romance, history, and pleasures off the beaten path . . . notonly of La Ville-Lumière, but also, perhaps, of life itself.

Proof positive that I never get rid of an advance copy until I’ve read it – The Most Beautiful Walk in the World got lost in the jumble of moving about 5 years ago and I only just recently unearthed it.

This is a nice, easily digestible book about a non-native, resident Parisian’s favorite way to enjoy the city – by walking through its various neighborhoods and enjoying the strangeness of history. A fun read for winter.

Dear FTC: I got a galley of this book FOREVER ago and I finally found it and read it!

mini-review · stuff I read

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney

Summary from Goodreads:
“I want to rip out every page of this glorious book and hang them on my wall so that I can be surrounded by these incredible women all day long.”
—Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of The Vacationers and Modern Lovers

Across the globe, women are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and starting creative businesses. In the Company of Women profiles over 100 of these influential and creative women from all ages, races, backgrounds, and industries. Chock-full of practical, inspirational advice for those looking to forge their own paths, these interviews detail the keys to success (for example, going with your gut; maintaining meaningful and lasting relationships), highlight the importance of everyday rituals (meditating; creating a daily to-do list), and dispense advice for the next generation of women entrepreneurs and makers (stay true to what you believe in; have patience). The book is rounded out with hundreds of lush, original photographs of the women in their work spaces.

A very beautifully designed book of interviews with over 100 creative women about what inspires them.  Very diverse and inter-sectional.

My only criticism is that each profile was too rote, the same questions (or mostly the same questions) over and over. After a while, so I could only read it in small chunks at a time so it would’t get too boring.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Summary from Goodreads:
SHHHH!
Don’t spread the word!
Three-day weekend. Party at White Rock House on Henry Island.
You do NOT want to miss it.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

Ten is a very middle-of-the-road book, in my opinion. If And Then There Were None weren’t one of my favorite books, and a masterpiece, and one I hadn’t re-read very recently, I probably would have liked this better. I was mostly right about the murderer, no spoilers, because the McNeil’s book is structured off of Christie’s.  This also felt over-written.  Example: “‘What is going on?’ Her voice cracked.  She was tense.”  At least one of those sentences is unnecessary.

But the plot just zips along. If you haven’t read the ultimate locked-room mystery and you want a page-turner-y book that’s a mash-up of I Know What You Did Last Summer+Scream+And Then There Were None then go for it.

Read for the Teen Book Group at my bookstore.

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

mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

Summary from Goodreads:
Eisner Award-nominated writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel) and Valentine De Landro (X-Factor) team up to bring you the premiere volume of Bitch Planet, a deliciously vicious riff on women-in-prison sci-fi exploitation.

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

Collects BITCH PLANET #1-5.

I am kicking myself that I didn’t start this series in floppies with issue 1 – at the time the run started, I tried issue 1 but couldn’t get into it.  Damn is this compulsively readable in trade.

Fight the patriarchy! NC

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book AND it’s signed by Valentine De Landro.  Ha!

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

No Groom at the Inn by Megan Frampton (Dukes Behaving Badly #2.5)

Summary from Goodreads:
In this Dukes Behaving Badly holiday novella, a young lady entertains a sudden proposal of marriage—to a man she’s only just met…

What does a lady do when a man she’s never seen before offers his hand in marriage? Lady Sophronia Bettesford doesn’t scream and run away. Instead, she accepts the shocking proposition. After all, what’s her other choice? To live with her cousin, caring for six children and a barnyard full of chickens?

James Archer has roamed the world, determined never to settle down. He’s faced danger and disaster…he fears nothing and no one—except his mother and her matchmaking ways. So when ordered to attend a Christmastime house party filled with holiday cheer and simpering young misses, he produces—a fiancée!

Sophronia and James vow to pretend to be in love for one month. But when they promise to give each other a Christmas kiss, it becomes clear that this pact made out of necessity might just be turning into love.

Well, this was sweet and quiet. Being a novella, I feel No Groom at the Inn was too short to do the actual story of Jamie and Sophronia and their faux betrothal-of-convenience-turned-HEA justice. However, Frampton made the game of Dictionary a major plot point and part of a very swoony resolution.

A nice read for a cold evening (although I’m antsy as heck and was wishing it had a bit more action).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this novella.

mini-review · stuff I read

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit

Summary from Goodreads:
“This is the ultimate ‘feel-good’ book for exhausted campaigners and activists . . . an intensely personal account, a meditation on activism and hope.” Guardian

Praise for Men Explain Things To Me
“It s a fraught time to be female in America (or should I say fraught-er), and a newly expanded edition of Rebecca Solnit s Men Explain Things to Me is the most clarifying, soothing and socially aware document I ve read on the topic this year.” Lena Dunham

“Trenchant and timely reflections on persistent inequality between women and men and gender-based violence.” New York Times

A book as powerful and influential as Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, her Hope in the Dark was written to counter the despair of radicals at a moment when they were focused on their losses and had turned their back to the victories behind them and the unimaginable changes soon to come. In it, she makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and a wide reading of environmental, cultural, and political history, Solnit argued that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable, and that pessimism and despair rest on an unwarranted confidence about what is going to happen next. Now, with a moving new introduction explaining how the book came about and a new afterword that helps teach us how to hope and act in our unnerving world, she brings a new illumination to the darkness of 2016 in an unforgettable new edition of this classic book.

Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of eighteen or so books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster, including the booksMen Explain Things to MeandHope in the Dark, both also with Haymarket; a trilogy of atlases of American cities;The Faraway Nearby;A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster;A Field Guide to Getting Lost;Wanderlust: A History of Walking; andRiver of Shadows, Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West(for which she received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at Harper’s and a regular contributor to the Guardian.”

Thanks so much to Haymarket Books for making Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark available for free a few weeks ago. It was what I needed in the aftermath of the election, to get both riled up and stay hopeful. (Also has one of the best definitions of NAFTA I’ve run across.)

And to quote Dumbledore, who doesn’t figure here but has the line that resonates the most: hope can be found in the darkest of places, if one only turns on the light.

Dear FTC: I picked this up from Haymarket during their post-election deal.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #11)

Summary from Goodreads:
IN THE ARMS OF DANGER

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king’s secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE

Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she’s the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.

ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER

When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

At the conclusion of Duke of Sin, the Duke of Montgomery leaves Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, a shortlist of names.  All men who are purported to be members of the Lords of Chaos, all probably likely to be the four men who kidnapped Bridget, Montgomery’s wife.  As Duke of Pleasure opens, Hugh has been hunting these men – with little success – only to find himself the prey.  Trapped in an alley in London, he attempts to fight his way out.  He has two little boys at home, two little boys still traumatized by the death of their mother, and he doesn’t want to leave them.  Hugh is saved by the intervention of the Ghost of St. Giles, who at the conclusion of the fight kisses him and then dashes off over the London rooftops.

This Ghost is a woman.

Alf, the streetwise waif introduced in Lord of Darkness, is now the Ghost of St. Giles.  Trained by Godric St. John (squee), she has taken over from the previous three Ghosts while also maintaining the fiction that she’s a teenage boy.  Ghost by night, boy by day, and no time to be a woman of any kind in between.  The bits of backstory Alf allows us to see are heartbreaking.  She is the most at-risk character thus far introduced in her Maiden Lane series.  Life on the streets of St. Giles is deadly for girls and women who have no one to protect them. Alf has neither money, nor rank, nor family to protect her.  So she protects herself and those even less fortunate than she by disguising her true self.  Hugh presents a bit of a problem.  Being attracted to a duke who thinks he’s employing a crafty male street urchin to help dig up dirt on the Lords of Chaos unearths a lot of confusing feelings Alf would prefer not to have.

Hugh, on the other hand, is a very odd duke.  Compared to Montgomery and Wakefield (from Duke of Midnight), who are so full of their own consequence and rank as to be impossible, Kyle is an egalitarian.  His father is the King (yep, the actual King of England) but his mother an actress and was created a duke when his father acknowledged him.  He’s been emotionally shredded in his previous marriage, spent years as a soldier on the Continent, and doesn’t know how to comfort his own children.  His quick mind is puzzled by the Ghost of St. Giles and his reaction.  He’s been slowly planning to remarry – to Lady Jordan, an old friend of his wife’s – and the introduction of a savvy women who can match swords and wits with him was definitely not in his plans.

Oh hai. This is excellent, which is all my soppy heart can put together right now. I CRIED over my lunch during one scene (not that one, the one where Kyle talks to his older son, the scene toward the end).  Alf is a fantastic character, and even if you think it’s a stretch that a Duke, even a by-blow Duke, and a destitute commoner with no surname will have a Happily Ever After, you won’t really care about that by the end. Although there might be a bit of reinforcement of gender norms (Alf ends up in a dress), it doesn’t sound like she will be mewed up in the house serving tea or sewing or anything.  Given that all the previous Ghosts have retired on marriage – and all of those very big males – it doesn’t seem out of line that Alf would retire as well (and I’m curious to see if Winter or Wakefield have been training anyone).  I also liked that the potential rival, Lady Jordan, was given the opportunity to stick up for what she wanted in a marriage, which also removed the risk of too much love triangle (dislike those intensely). In addition, we get a substantial Godric and Megs sighting (they’re my favorite pair, still).

And now I really, REALLY need Duke of Desire since the teaser chapter is even more perplexing than any of Montgomery’s sociopathic schemes in Duke of Sin.

Dear FTC: Of course I bought this on my nook. (Besides, no one would give me a DRC ahead of time.)