mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Highlander’s Promise by Lynsay Sands (Highland Brides #6)

35564556Summary from Goodreads:
In a spellbinding new Highlands story from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands, the laird of the Buchanans finds the one woman who is his equal in passion and courage…

Aulay Buchanan has retreated to his clan’s hunting lodge for a few days of relaxation. But the raven-haired beauty he pulls from the ocean puts an end to any chance of rest. Though he christens her Jetta, she knows nothing of her real identity, save that someone is trying to kill her. As she recovers, it will not be easy for Aulay to protect her and keep her honor intact when she mistakenly believes they are man and wife.

Jetta sees beyond Aulay’s scars to the brave, loyal warrior she’s proud to call her own. But as the attempts on her life grow more brazen, Jetta realizes that not all is as she believes. And if Aulay is not her husband, can she trust the desire flaring in his eyes, or his promise to defend her with his life?

File under: I cannot quit Lynsay Sands’s Scottish romances. I can’t. They’re like crack.

God almighty, but I absolutely loathe amnesia tropes. They are #1 on my Shitty Romance Tropes list. Consent issues run rampant in them (the only romance I’ve ever read where this was handled well was Mary Balogh’s Slightly Sinful). The interactions between Jetta and Aulay weren’t bad as most. There is at least some discussion of consent and there is no deception (they do allow Jetta to think she’s married to Aulay for a bit when she starts waking up, but it doesn’t go on forever). At least they don’t do the nasty before Aulay breaks it to her they aren’t married – they do get RUL handsy, though, so there are some really fine lines.

The Highlander’s Promise is not the book I wanted for Aulay, poor guy. But it is a very readable, bananapants Sands Scottish historical. They even make a joke about how the Buchanans seem uniquely able to attract women with murderers after them (the murder bits are entirely predictable if you’ve read any Sands historicals). I’m actually interested in which brother is the next hero, since Rory (the one with the exceptional healing skills) has expressed that maybe he’d like to settle down and fall in love.

The Highlander’s Promise published yesterday.

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

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

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

36301029Summary from Goodreads:
Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings: these are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place.

From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

Do you like fantasy, mythology, and retellings? Do you like strong characters in your YA stories? You need A Thousand Beginnings and Endings! Such a great collection of Asian-mythology-inspired short stories from all different cultures written by YA fantasy writers at the top of their game. Out today! So much fun!

(Full disclosure: my friend Preeti has a story set at garba during Navratri, “Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers,” in this collection and ngl, it’s my favorite ❤️)

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin

36461782Summary from Goodreads:
A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story.

From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.

Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.

This is an interesting collection of essays. Parts 1 (“The Dead Girl Show”) and 3 (“Weird Sisters”) are the strongest sets of essays examining the culture’s obsession with The Dead Girl in TV/film/books and how a living female body is harder to handle (“Just Us Girls” about the B-horror flick Ginger Snap is excellent). Part 2, which is largely about LA and Bolin’s connection with Joan Didion was fine, but the writing didn’t feel as strong to me.

Dead Girls is out June 26.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Unthinkable: What the World’s Most Extraordinary Brains Can Teach Us About Our Own by Helen Thomson

36300968Summary from Goodreads:
Our brains are far stranger than we think. We take for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathize, and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced–or disappeared overnight?

Helen Thomson has spent years traveling the world, tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders. In Unthinkable she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people she encountered along the way. From the man who thinks he’s a tiger to the doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that’s not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.

Story by remarkable story, Unthinkable takes us on an unforgettable journey through the human brain. Discover how to forge memories that never disappear, how to grow an alien limb, and how to make better decisions. Learn how to hallucinate and how to make yourself happier in a split second. Find out how to avoid getting lost, how to see more of your reality, even how exactly you can confirm you are alive. Think the unthinkable.

Unthinkable well-researched book that fills up a little bit the giant hole left by the death of Oliver Sacks. If you liked The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, this is for you. Thomson is a science journalist with a degree in neuroscience, so it’s a bit different tack than Sack’s view as a practicing neurologist, but she covers twelve people with remarkable brain syndromes.

Unthinkable publishes on June 26.

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

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography by Lucy Worsley

31450766Summary from Goodreads:
“Jane Austen at Home offers a fascinating look at Jane Austen’s world through the lens of the homes in which she lived and worked throughout her life. The result is a refreshingly unique perspective on Austen and her work and a beautifully nuanced exploration of gender, creativity, and domesticity.”–Amanda Foreman, bestselling author of Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire
Take a trip back to Jane Austen’s world and the many places she lived as historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen’s childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses–both grand and small–of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life. In places like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park, Chawton House and a small rented house in Winchester, Worsley discovers a Jane Austen very different from the one who famously lived a ‘life without incident’.
Worsley examines the rooms, spaces and possessions which mattered to her, and the varying ways in which homes are used in her novels as both places of pleasure and as prisons. She shows readers a passionate Jane Austen who fought for her freedom, a woman who had at least five marriage prospects, but–in the end–a woman who refused to settle for anything less than Mr. Darcy.
Illustrated with two sections of color plates, Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen at Home is a richly entertaining and illuminating new book about one of the world’s favorite novelists and one of the subjects she returned to over and over in her unforgettable novels: home.

Jane Austen at Home is a lovely, meticulously-constructed biography of Jane Austen that uses the location and atmosphere of Austen’s homes – from Steventon, to Bath, to Lyme, to Godmersham, to Southampton, to Chawton, to London, and finally Winchester – as a jumping off point to examine how these physical places tell us about Austen’s life. Worsley also examines how the single, impoverished women of the Austen family and their friends/near relations stuck together to create a found family of their own.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book when it came out and have been savoring it very slowly.

mini-review · stuff I read

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America by Alissa Quart

36137920Summary from Goodreads:
Families today are squeezed on every side—from high childcare costs and harsh employment policies to workplaces without paid family leave or even dependable and regular working hours. Many realize that attaining the standard of living their parents managed has become impossible.

Alissa Quart, executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, examines the lives of many middle-class Americans who can now barely afford to raise children. Through gripping firsthand storytelling, Quart shows how America has failed its families. Her subjects—from professors to lawyers to caregivers to nurses—have been wrung out by a system that doesn’t support them and enriches only a tiny elite.

Interlacing her own experience with close-up reporting on families that are just getting by, Quart reveals parenthood itself to be financially overwhelming, except for the wealthiest. She offers real solutions to these problems, including outlining necessary policy shifts, as well as detailing the do-it-yourself tactics some families are already putting into motion, and argues for the cultural reevaluation of parenthood and caregiving.

Written in the spirit of Barbara Ehrenreich and Jennifer Senior, Squeezed is an eye-opening page-turner. Powerfully argued, deeply reported, and ultimately hopeful, it casts a bright, clarifying light on families struggling to thrive in an economy that holds too few options.

We were all told that college was the path to success, right? Go to college, get a nice 9-to-5 job, buy a house in the suburbs, and you’re good. Right? Nah, probably not anymore. Now you’ve probably got $50,000 in student loans, two jobs (because neither job has enough hours to qualify for a healthcare plan), and an apartment.

Squeezed is a sort-of Nickel and Dimed but for struggling and/or downwardly-mobile middle-class, educated, under-employed families. It is very well-researched. Although Quart stays primarily within the confines of two-partner M/F families and single moms (rarely, single dads) there is a lot to think about. It would have been nice, though, if the subjects had been less homogenous. Fair warning: if you already have a lot of anxiety about debt, income, future earnings, job stability etc., Squeezed will probably exacerbate that, it’s not a calming book.

Squeezed is out on June 26.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality by Allison Yarrow

34217537Summary from Goodreads:
The close of the 20th century promised a new era of gender equality. However, the iconic women of the 1990s—such as Hillary Clinton, Courtney Love, Roseanne Barr, Marcia Clark, and Anita Hill—earned their places in history not as trailblazers, but as whipping girls of the media. During this decade, American society grew increasingly hostile to women who dared to speak up, challenge power, or defy rigid expectations for female behavior.

Deeply researched yet thoroughly engaging, 90s Bitch untangles the complex history of women in the 1990s, exploring how they were maligned by the media, vilified by popular culture, and objectified in the marketplace. In an age where even a presidential nominee can be derided as a “nasty woman,” it’s clear that the epidemic of casting women as bitches persists. To understand why we must take a long, hard look back at the 1990s—a decade in which female empowerment was twisted into bitchification and exploitation.

Yarrow’s thoughtful, clear-eyed, and timely examination is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand gender politics and how we might end the “bitch epidemic” for the next generation.

I liked 90s Bitch – it’s a good overview of how conservative backlash and media marketing strategies worked against very high profile women in politics (Monica Lewinsky), entertainment (Courtney Love), and crime (Marcia Clark). There are some rough transitions between subjects that I think could have been done better. I also think that some areas could have been fleshed out with more examples – there is a conspicuous absence of Janet Jackson (how can anyone forget her 90s release “Janet”? The “If” video, lordt) and Daria (and there was an easy opportunity when talking about Girl Power and the “self-esteem” remedy, which Daria tackled head-on).

Addendum: this book, while the author tries to cover some culture related to people of color – mostly rap culture/Living Single, and Anita Hill, of course – and LGBTQ+ it is very white and heteronormative, just FYI.

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean (The Bareknuckle Bastards #1)

35695972Summary from Goodreads:
When Wicked Comes Calling…

When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She’s seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won’t accept a marriage without it.

The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain…

Bastard son of a duke and king of London’s dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.

For the Promise of Passion…

But there’s nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she’d rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil’s carefully laid plans are in chaos, and he must choose between everything he’s ever wanted…and the only thing he’s ever desired.

Sarah MacLean has a new series! While I’ve been hoping for a book for the last, unmatched Soiled S sister Sesily (who is AMAZING in The Day of the Duchess and I love her), I will take a new trilogy about a set of illegitimate siblings who are basically made to “Hunger Games” each other to become the “legitimate” heir to a really, really awful duke. Brothers Devil and Whit, with their sister Grace, escaped with their lives to begin a secret life on the streets of Covent Garden. They are now the reigning family in that area of London, rich and untouchable, except the third brother, Euan, has come to London as the current duke to look for a bride and break the vow the brothers swore to each other: that the duchy will never have an heir.

We last saw Felicity Faircloth departing from the sham marriage mart party in The Day of the Duchess where she acquitted herself well when she found herself in a really awkward situation. In the interim, she’s been cast-off by her former frenemies and made to watch the glitter of Society from the sidelines. When she accidentally-but-was-maybe-wishing-aloud announces that she’s Euan’s fiance – which is a surprise to Euan – Felicity becomes drawn into the dangerous game Devil is laying for his treacherous brother. Devil promises he can teach Felicity to ensnare Euan while plotting to use her to bring Euan down. (This sounds really convoluted but it’s not – it makes sense when you read it, I’m just rubbish at summarizing the whole thing.)

4.5 stars. Sarah really goes in a different direction with this series. It’s still a MacLean novel, but her writing from Devil’s point-of-view is very different from her other heroes. The writing itself feels different, more stark or terse. This made me pause and re-read her Rules of Scoundrels series, which has three of her darker heroes, just for comparison. I took one for the team, y’all. jk, they’re some of my favorites, not a hardship at all. I do wish we had got more of Felicity and Devil together in Covent Garden earlier in the book for a longer amount of time. Their HEA feels a tad rushed. But I LOVED, loved, loved the climax of the story.

I’m looking forward to Whit’s book next. But I really want to know more about Nik. She’s really interesting. (Actually, I think I’d take a novel with Nik and Ses as a couple – free idea, Sarah, you may have it.)

Wicked and the Wallflower is out today!! Go get a copy!

Dear FTC: Yeah, yeah, I read a digital galley via Edelweiss, and then we got a paper galley and I re-read it, and I had a pre-order on my nook.