mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wilde in Love by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #1)

34121896Summary from Goodreads:
Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . . .

The first book in Eloisa James’s dazzling new series set in the Georgian period glows with her trademark wit and sexy charm—and introduces a large, eccentric family. Readers will love the Wildes of Lindow Castle!

Eloisa James, who is basically the romance writer that got me back into reading romance with A Kiss at Midnight, has a new series!  Cue the confetti cannons!  She’s going back to the Georgian era of her Desperate Duchesses series and focusing on the romantic exploits of a single family: the Wildes, headed by the Duke of Lindow, who live in Lindow Castle on the edge of a bog.  The series doesn’t start with the Duke (more on him later).  It starts with the third son, Alaric.

Now, Alaric has become famous – infamous, really – as a globe-trotting explorer, sending back accounts of the people and places he’s seen.  There are books and broadsides and a play (which has all the worst parts of cheap Georgian melodrama) detailing his exploits. And maybe some of those exploits were embellished by someone other than Alaric?  And miniatures, that women buy and swoon over. When Alaric arrives back in England after an absence of five years he finds a horde of women ready and willing to be his next “wilde” adventure. (To use a “wilde”-ly anachronistic twenty-first century comparison, the ladies are into Alaric as if he were all the members of 1-D rolled into one.)

Except Willa. When Alaric meets Willa at his father’s castle – where a party has gathered to celebrate his older brother North’s engagement (North is something else, more on him a bit later, too) – he is immediately intrigued by the only woman in the room who isn’t trying to get into his breeches. Plus she’s a sharply intelligent women. And she has a love of good books and dirty jokes. When an emotionally disturbed young woman appears claiming to be Alaric’s long-lost would-have-been fiancée from a Christian mission in Africa, Willa agrees to be Alaric’s pretend fiancée to spike the girl’s guns. And we allllll know how long “pretend” engagements remain pretend….

It’s always so, so much fun to start a new romance series. This one has many of my favorite elements (Georgians, smart ladies, fashion, cute pets…although I feel bereft that my favorite fashionable Duke, Villiers from Desperate Duchesses, doesn’t even get a mention, le sigh, but I do agree with Eloisa that Villiers tends to just take over any narrative you allow him into). Willa and Alaric have a slow-burn romance, the kind that makes them friends first and lovers after. I love it. Eloisa James’s romances are high on my list of favorites, not just for the couples, but because they’re all so meta-textual. I enjoy the puzzles Eloisa leaves her readers with references to other books, whether within that time period or not. She also gives us excellent B-plots – North and his betrothed Diana present a unique problem of their own (and a cliff-hanger!).

I said that I would get back to the Duke of Lindow later. Actual warm, affectionate, live fathers in romance are rare (possibly rarer than mothers who aren’t terrible or dead) and the Duke is a wonderful addition to this book. There’s a scene late in the book between Alaric and his father that is just so warm and wonderful. You can also get the Duke’s romance with his third wife, Ophelia, in parts when you submit proof of your pre-order for books in the series (details are on Eloisa’s website).

(And check out the cutie on the cover!)

Wilde in Love is out Tuesday, October 31! (Just a few days!)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and I have a copy pre-ordered on my Nook.

Advertisements
mini-review · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (transl. Elizabeth Bryer)

29633622Summary from Goodreads:
Blood of the Dawn follows three women whose lives intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as “the time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. The novel rewrites the conflict through the voice of women, activating memory through a mixture of politics, desire, and pain in a lucid and brutal prose.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez (b. 1975, Lima, Peru), critic, scholar, and author, founded PERUFEST, the first Peruvian film festival in New York, where she lives, and won the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize for her debut novel, Blood of the Dawn.

Blood of the Dawn came across my radar when Amanda recommended it on a recent episode of All the Books.  So I picked it up at the library and put it in my readathon stack. And it is an absolutely heartbreaking and stunning short novel set during the time of the Shining Path insurgency told through the voices of three women: a revolutionary true-believer, a Quechua villager, and an upper-class reporter/photographer. Brutal, pain-soaked, and surreal.

TW for rape, which is an unavoidable event during this period in Peru and used against women on both sides of the conflict, and other brutality.

mini-review · stuff I read

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks

34128230Summary from Goodreads:
From the best-selling author of Gratitude, On the Move, and Musicophilia, a collection of essays that displays Oliver Sacks’s passionate engagement with the most compelling and seminal ideas of human endeavor: evolution, creativity, memory, time, consciousness, and experience.

Oliver Sacks, a scientist and a storyteller, is beloved by readers for the extraordinary neurological case histories (Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars) in which he introduced and explored many now familiar disorders–autism, Tourette’s syndrome, face blindness, savant syndrome. He was also a memoirist who wrote with honesty and humor about the remarkable and strange encounters and experiences that shaped him (Uncle Tungsten, On the Move, Gratitude). Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep familiarity not only with literature and medicine but with botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, and psychology. The River of Consciousness is one of two books Sacks was working on up to his death, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human.

The River of Consciousness is a short collection of previously published essays that make us feel the loss of a person like Oliver Sacks very keenly. He loved science and scientific advances in all fields, not just his chosen profession of neuroscience. The collection is a bit too eclectic to be was wonderful as something like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. The essays on Darwin aren’t that interesting, and perhaps a bit meandering, but for the essays that focus more particularly on neuroscience and the brain, especially “Scotoma: Forgetting and Neglect in Science,” Sacks’s love and passion shine through.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

9735306Summary from Goodreads:
The extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world.

When G. Willow Wilson—, already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—, leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future.
She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a ““third culture” that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide.

img_8728The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights “One Community, One Book” chooses a book each year and programs readings, lectures, and community discussions.  Now that the Iowa City Book Festival happens in the fall, they coordinate occasionally to bring the author for a lecture-discussion.  This year the book selected was The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson. *cue squealing* And I got to be Willow’s chauffer from the airport  *#DED* I think I set a zillion ghost emojis to my friend Kat. She did a signing at Daydreams and then one after her lecture and I got allll my things signs plus she’s lovely and nope, I’m not a creepy fan. Nope nope nope.

This is a lovely memoir about finding one’s faith and adopting a culture you love even while fighting the media stereotypes about that culture and faith. When Willow was in town, I talked to her a little bit about this book which was largely written 10 years ago with the enthusiasm of a person in her mid-20s. She mused that maybe she could have written some things differently, or had done more research on a topic, from the distance of another 10 years of living in the “third culture” she and Omar have tried to build for themselves.

Even if she wishes things had been written differently, I feel like she approached this book with sensitivity and a great deal of love and gave a lot of nuance to very “big picture” issues. Her descriptions of Omar’s family are so wonderful (I’d love to meet his mom, Sohair). There is a later chapter where Willow had the opportunity to meet a sheikha, a female imam, and how Westernization has possibly eliminated the need for sheikhas, to the detriment of many. It’s an interesting line of thought.

Dear FTC: OF COURSE I BOUGHT MY OWN DAMN COPY.

mini-review · Readathon · stuff I read

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

30304222Summary from Goodreads:
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé uses political and pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood and its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity, and politics. The poems weave between personal narrative and pop-cultural criticism, examining and confronting modern media, consumption, feminism, and Blackness. This collection explores femininity and race in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, and Hip Hop. The voice of this book is a multifarious one: writing and rewriting bodies, stories, and histories of the past, as well as uttering and bearing witness to the truth of the present, and actively probing toward a new self, an actualized self. This is a book at the intersections of mythology and sorrow, of vulnerability and posturing, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence.

Book #2 for Readathon! So much to unpack in this slim volume. Bravo, Morgan Parker!

Going to have to sit with this one a bit. It makes me itchy – both the good and uncomfortable kinds of itchy – and there is such rhythm to the lines without actual “meter.”

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy.

 

mini-review · stuff I read

Worlds From the Word’s End by Joanna Walsh

34146471Summary from Goodreads:
This collection cements Joanna Walsh’s reputation as one of the sharpest writers of this century. Wearing her learning lightly, Walsh’s stories make us see the world afresh, from a freewheeling story on cycling (and Freud), to a country in which words themselves fall out of fashion—something that will never happen wherever Walsh is read.

“Joanna Walsh is clever, funny and merciless. She abducts people from their apparently normal lives and confronts them with the fact that dystopia is not a place in the future but a room in their own house.” —Yuri Herrera, author of Signs Preceding the End of the World

“Terrifyingly perceptive, subversively hilarious–these stories are part Daniil Kharms, part-Lydia Davis–while also managing to be singularly Joanna Walsh; how her writing always manages to make everything else I read (and write) seem specious and frivolous.” —Sara Baume, author of The Line Made by Walking

“Worlds from the Word’s End is an anti-mainstream collection. Joanna Walsh’s thick, blurred and claustrophobic worlds deal with deconstruction, estrangement, silence and the disappearance of common language. This is unconventional writing that is going to enchant unconventional readers.” —Dubravka Ugrešić, author of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

I had never read Joanna Walsh’s books before, but I was intrigued by the pull quote and blurbs. Worlds From the Word’s End is a small literary short story collection that lies somewhere between Laura van den Burg and Sofia Samatar in tone. There are a couple of stories set in dystopias that seem just one or two clicks off from our own (one is a society that has gradually decided words/lanuage was passé so that was interesting). There are a couple about being a book person, particularly the third story.

There is one story, “Simple Hans”, that I really didn’t like and it felt out of place in the collection.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the publicist.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #12)

27240748

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

When I started reading romance again in 2011/2012, there were only three books in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series.  And then three more…then three more.  Now, the twelfth and final book has arrived and I was really looking forward to this.  The series has evolved in a direction that I don’t think anyone expected and I really wanted to know how Hoyt was going to wrap it up. Besides, Raphael was introduced in Duke of Pleasure and that was very…intriguing.

Duke of Desire was not the book I was expecting.  It’s a good book, and I really liked it, but it felt more a conclusion to the 10-12 trilogy (Duke of SinDuke of Pleasure, and Duke of Desire) than to all twelve books as a complete entity. I suppose I had wanted a “get the whole band back together” type of ending for the series.

The timeline for the book is too compressed, in my opinion, to really allow a solid relationship between Iris and Raphael to fully develop. Also, I think Raphael’s original plan – infiltrate the evil cult to take it down from the inside – was pretty half-baked. (Because you sort of have to participate in something icky then? like when the undercover cop has to do the line of coke so no one thinks he’s the narc…only this cult deals in rape and murder, not substance abuse, so what did Raph think he was going to have to do to gain the group’s trust? I have logistics questions. He didn’t answer Iris’s questions satisfactorily.) Lucky for him Iris showed up aka was served up to him because she was kidnapped by the cult by mistake forcing him to abandon his original plan. Iris surprised me as a heroine. She may not fight with swords like Alf but she stands her ground and picks apart Raphael’s mental blocks until he is able to function as a human again. (Speaking of Alf, boooo, no Alf. Kyle shows up, but not Alf. Humph. Also, no Val…because I would have relished his appearance at the climax of the plot.)

But a big trigger warning. This book gets dark, really dark. Hoyt had been dancing around depicting what the Lords of Chaos get up to for a few books now, but she really went for it in Duke of Desire. Raphael has PTSD and I think Hoyt really gave a good depiction of what it was like to suffer from psychological trauma at a time when those issues weren’t recognized. TW for descriptions of child abuse and rape.

(1,000,000 negative points to the cover designer. Got a scarred hero? Sure, put an unscarred dude on the cover. *side-eye*)

So that is it for Maiden Lane novels (there are a few novellas in the pipeline still).  Lord of Darkness with Megs and Godric is still my absolute favorite of the series, followed by Dearest Rogue and Duke of Sin.  Can’t wait to see what Elizabeth Hoyt has up her sleeve next.

Duke of Desire is out today!

Dear FTC: I read an advance copy of this book from the publisher, but I also have it pre-order on my nook.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System by Sonya Huber

32815566Summary from Goodreads:
Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. What about on a scale of spicy to citrus? Is it more like a lava lamp or a mosaic? Pain, though a universal element of human experience, is dimly understood and sometimes barely managed. Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System is a collection of literary and experimental essays about living with chronic pain. Sonya Huber moves away from a linear narrative to step through the doorway into pain itself, into that strange, unbounded reality. Although the essays are personal in nature, this collection is not a record of the author’s specific condition but an exploration that transcends pain’s airless and constraining world and focuses on its edges from wild and widely ranging angles.

Huber addresses the nature and experience of invisible disability, including the challenges of gender bias in our health care system, the search for effective treatment options, and the difficulty of articulating chronic pain. She makes pain a lens of inquiry and lyricism, finds its humor and complexity, describes its irascible character, and explores its temperature, taste, and even its beauty.

Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System is a very insightful collection of essays about the experience of living with chronic pain. Huber uses a lot of different essay forms to discuss parenting with pain, how to describe pain (and the inability of a scale to convey “pain” to her medical team), what it is like to be a patient with chronic pain and not have access to a coordinated care team, negotiating a partnership (both emotional and physical) with a lover, and how her writing changes depending on her pain level. Most of the pieces were previously published in blogs and journals, so they overlap on occasion, but this is a must-read collection.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy.