Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Sami Kivelä

38748572Summary from Goodreads:
While investigating police brutality and corruption in 1970s Detroit, journalist Elena Abbott uncovers supernatural forces being controlled by a secret society of the city’s elite.

In the uncertain social and political climate of 1972 Detroit, hard-nosed, chain-smoking tabloid reporter Elena Abbott investigates a series of grisly crimes that the police have ignored. Crimes she knows to be the work of dark occult forces. Forces that took her husband from her. Forces she has sworn to destroy.

Hugo Award-nominated novelist Saladin Ahmed (Star Wars: Canto Bight, Black Bolt) and artist Sami Kivelä (Beautiful Canvas) present one woman’s search for the truth that destroyed her family amidst an exploration of the systemic societal constructs that haunt our country to this day.

From my first round of Pigeon/TBR recs from Book Riot (thanks, Mya!).

Abbott is an immersive, one-two punch from Saladin Ahmed on story and Sami Kivelä on art that explores the racial politics of 1970s Detroit while also giving us a supernatural-horror plot. Elena Abbot as tough investigative journalist is a smashing lead character. Kivelä’s artwork is AMAZING, the colors, the combination of gritty realism and really trippy, psychedelic fantasy art was stellar (it’s a bit gory, though, so if you’re not into that then you might want to skip this one). The story hinted at some excellent backstory for Abbott that I hope Ahmed gets a chance to explore in future arcs.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book after it was recommended to me through a paid program.

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Apropos Shakespeare · stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509–1659, selected by David Norbrook and edited by Henry R. Woudhuysen

609526Summary from Goodreads:
The era between the accession of Henry VIII and the crisis of the English republic in 1659 formed one of the most fertile epochs in world literature. This anthology offers a broad selection of its poetry, and includes a wide range of works by the great poets of the age – notably Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Sepnser, John Donne, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Poems by less well-known writers also feature prominently – among them significant female poets such as Lady Mary Wroth and Katherine Philips. Compelling and exhilarating, this landmark collection illuminates a time of astonishing innovation, imagination and diversity.

Selected and with an introduction by David Norbrook, and edited by H.R. Woudhuysen.

One of my goals this year was to read very (very) long books. One of my goals was to start, and finish, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. I loved the poetry we read when I took a Restoration literature class, and I love Shakespeare, so I was very interested in an overview of poetry  from this period. It’s a long haul of a book but a good overview of British Renaissance verse from the early Tudor period through just before the Restoration. I would have like better notation (there were a lot of analogies or references not explained), and for the poems in Scots or Welsh better translation side by side on the page as opposed to the endnotes, but I do appreciate that the editors didn’t modernize the spelling. It was harder to read in places but very interesting to see how spelling began to standardize over these 150 years of verse.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy from the local indie bookstore.

stuff I read

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

13623785Summary from Goodreads:
The American South in the twenty-first century. A plantation owned for generations by a rich family. So much history. And a dead body.

Just after dawn, Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years. Today she sees nothing unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields. Assuming an animal has been out after dark, she asks the gardener to tidy it up. Not long afterwards, he calls her to say it’s something else. Something terrible. A dead body. At a distance, she missed her. The girl, the dirt and the blood. Now she has police on site, an investigation in progress, and a member of staff no one can track down. And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn’t know. As she’s drawn into the dead girl’s story, she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, its beauty, is not to be trusted.

A magnificent, sweeping story of the south, The Cutting Season brings history face-to-face with modern America, where Obama is president, but some things will never change. Attica Locke once again provides an unblinking commentary on politics, race, the law, family and love, all within a thriller every bit as gripping and tragic as her first novel, Black Water Rising.

The Cutting Season is a very slow burn mystery, with so much backstory and character history and racial history and politics and economics packed into it. While Locke ties up the central plot of the story and the murderer is caught, many more questions are less-satisfactorily solved. Particularly that of the Louisiana plantation itself and it’s role in the 21st century as an event hall that offers a highly dramatized play about the history of the area to the tourists.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book at a library sale.

audiobooks · Chemistry · stuff I read

The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by Deborah Blum

43228964Summary from Goodreads:
From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times -bestselling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change

By the end of nineteenth century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. “Milk” might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses. Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product. This was not by accident; food manufacturers had rushed to embrace the rise of industrial chemistry, and were knowingly selling harmful products. Unchecked by government regulation, basic safety, or even labelling requirements, they put profit before the health of their customers. By some estimates, in New York City alone, thousands of children were killed by “embalmed milk” every year. Citizens–activists, journalists, scientists, and women’s groups–began agitating for change. But even as protective measures were enacted in Europe, American corporations blocked even modest regulations. Then, in 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the agriculture department, and the agency began methodically investigating food and drink fraud, even conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who came to be known as, “The Poison Squad.”

Over the next thirty years, a titanic struggle took place, with the courageous and fascinating Dr. Wiley campaigning indefatigably for food safety and consumer protection. Together with a gallant cast, including the muckraking reporter Upton Sinclair, whose fiction revealed the horrific truth about the Chicago stockyards; Fannie Farmer, then the most famous cookbook author in the country; and Henry J. Heinz, one of the few food producers who actively advocated for pure food, Dr. Wiley changed history. When the landmark 1906 Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land, as “Dr. Wiley’s Law.”

Blum brings to life this timeless and hugely satisfying “David and Goliath” tale with righteous verve and style, driving home the moral imperative of confronting corporate greed and government corruption with a bracing clarity, which speaks resoundingly to the enormous social and political challenges we face today.

The Poison Squad is a very good overview of the development of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the political struggles of the era which are, annoyingly, still the same struggles today. “Regulation stifles business and prevents us from making as much greedy money as possible” versus “please stop trying to poison the populace with unknown food additives, pesticides, chemical dyes, etc.” (you can guess what side I come down on). It’s a bit dry in places but since I tend to listen to audiobooks on 1.5-1.75x speed I didn’t notice as much.

Dear FTC: I borrowed the audiobook from the library via Libby.

stuff I read

Open Mic Night in Moscow: And Other Stories from My Search for Black Markets, Soviet Architecture, and Emotionally Unavailable Russian Men by Audrey Murray

36381102Summary from Goodreads:

Open Mic Night in Moscow: And Other Stories from My Search for Black Markets, Soviet Architecture, and Emotionally Unavailable Russian Men.

The raucous and surprisingly poignant story of a young, Russia-obsessed American writer and comedian who embarked on a solo tour of the former Soviet Republics, never imagining that it would involve kidnappers, garbage bags of money, and encounters with the weird and wonderful from Mongolia to Tajikistan.

Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Siberia are not the typical tourist destinations of a twenty-something, nor the places one usually goes to eat, pray, and/or love. But the mix of imperial Russian opulence and Soviet decay, and the allure of emotionally unavailable Russian men proved strangely irresistible to comedian Audrey Murray.

At age twenty-eight, while her friends were settling into corporate jobs and serious relationships, Audrey was on a one-way flight to Kazakhstan, the first leg of a nine-month solo voyage through the former USSR. A blend of memoir and offbeat travel guide (black markets in Uzbekistan: 5 stars; getting kidnapped in Turkmenistan: 1 star) this thoughtful, hilarious catalog of a young comedian’s adventures is also a diary of her emotional discoveries about home, love, patriotism, loneliness, and independence.

Sometimes surprising, often disconcerting, and always entertaining, Open Mic Night in Moscow will inspire you to take the leap and embark on your own journey into the unknown. And, if you want to visit Chernobyl by way of an insane-asylum-themed bar in Kiev, Audrey can assure you that there’s no other guidebook out there. (She’s looked.)

I was a little miffed back when I got the galley (in July) and started reading it while on a trip. Open Mic Night in Moscow is NOT about a stand-up comedy tour through Russia, which is how it was pitched to me (and is now “solo tour” sounds in the flap copy). Instead, the book details a hodgepodge tour through a number of former Soviet republics arranged on the fly in Murray’s quest to understand Russian men (eh, Russian-ish men because it turns out that none of them are actually from Russia and are instead from Belarus, etc.). Harrumph.

Once over that hurdle, this is a fairly interesting book. All respect to Murray for getting into situations I would never get myself into, starting with traveling alone where you REALLY don’t speak the language and the US may not be well-regarded (if at all), although I could have used less of the adorkable, “haha, silly American who doesn’t know that Mongolia was never part of the USSR”-tone. The intricacies of obtaining visas for all of the disparate countries with various levels of access to the wider world is mind-boggling. Open Mic Night in Moscow has hits of Eat, Pray, Love but the sleep-in-a-yurt, AirBnB, Couchsurfing, meet the locals and the fixers, and figure yourself out as you go version. The writing needs a bit of polish but sleeping next to a fiery crater in Turkmenistan makes up for it. (And Murray does wind up doing a few comedy shows, so the pitch wasn’t entirely wrong, but this is not a solo stand-up tour for comedy.)

Thanks to Harper/William Morrow for the galley.

Dear FTC: I received a galley from the publisher.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt (Greycourt #1)

38309947Summary from Goodreads:
New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she’s attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading amongst the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins—sins he’d much rather forget. But she’s also fiery, bold, and sensuous—a temptation he can’t resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he’ll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya’s trust-by whatever means necessary.

With the publication of the final book in her Maiden Lane series last year, I was wondering what Elizabeth Hoyt was going to do next. Maiden Lane started dark and got darker, ending with the destruction of a secret cult that prided itself on the degradation of women and children.

Not the Duke’s Darling is a solid, fast-moving start to Hoyt’s new series. This is an enemies-to-lovers-with-a-second-chance romance (one of my favorite tropes!) that also dabbles a bit in secret societies (although these two doesn’t go in for sex cults, thank goodness) that pits women and women’s knowledge against some wild-eyed witch-hunters. Hoyt starts off with a bang, almost literally, with an undercover Freya rescuing a small child from his nefarious uncle then off to a house-party to investigate the identity of a politician bent on restarting witchcraft trials. Along the way Freya comes across an old friend-now-nemesis the Duke of Harlow (Christopher), who is bent on stymieing a blackmailer and getting Freya to tell him what she’s up to (good luck with that). And then there’s a murder….

I quite liked Freya as a character but I also really liked how Hoyt dug into questions of how women were treated in marriage – legally – in the 18th century and how Christopher chooses to allow Freya to make up her own mind without getting overly possessive or seducing her into agreement. This not-quite-a-beta-male hero is a welcome relief to a sea of heroes who growl, stalk, and generally act overly possessive. I hope Hoyt gets a bit more into the Wise Women in future books of the series.

Plus there’s a cute dog, which is a bit of a requirement in a Hoyt novel anymore.

Not the Duke’s Darling is out today, wherever books are sold.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Karina Longworth

38647394Summary from Goodreads:
In this riveting popular history, the creator of You Must Remember This probes the inner workings of Hollywood’s glamorous golden age through the stories of some of the dozens of actresses pursued by Howard Hughes, to reveal how the millionaire mogul’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity trapped, abused, or benefitted women who dreamt of screen stardom.

In recent months, the media has reported on scores of entertainment figures who used their power and money in Hollywood to sexually harass and coerce some of the most talented women in cinema and television. But as Karina Longworth reminds us, long before the Harvey Weinsteins there was Howard Hughes—the Texas millionaire, pilot, and filmmaker whose reputation as a cinematic provocateur was matched only by that as a prolific womanizer.

His supposed conquests between his first divorce in the late 1920s and his marriage to actress Jean Peters in 1957 included many of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, among them Billie Dove, Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Lana Turner. From promoting bombshells like Jean Harlow and Jane Russell to his contentious battles with the censors, Hughes—perhaps more than any other filmmaker of his era—commoditized male desire as he objectified and sexualized women. Yet there were also numerous women pulled into Hughes’s grasp who never made it to the screen, sometimes virtually imprisoned by an increasingly paranoid and disturbed Hughes, who retained multitudes of private investigators, security personnel, and informers to make certain these actresses would not escape his clutches.

Vivid, perceptive, timely, and ridiculously entertaining, Seduction is a landmark work that examines women, sex, and male power in Hollywood during its golden age—a legacy that endures nearly a century later.

I’ve been a fan of Karina Longworth’s work on her podcast You Must Remember This for a while so I was really excited to see that she had a book coming out about Howard Hughes. Not because of Howard Hughes, because ew, gross, but because she was going to shine a light on the women he treated like garbage. Seduction is the story of how Hughes had this weirdly charming personality, convinced a lot of people that he knew what he was doing in the movie business, and ultimately became a person suffering from untreated mental illness.

One of the major themes in Seduction is how Hughes controlled women’s careers in the movie industry, to the extent that some of them didn’t even work during the time they lived in Hollywood. Women like Jane Russell, Faith Domergue, and Billie Dove who were poised for Betty Davis-levels of stardom, and who were good actresses, were reduced to their noticeable physical assets and made far fewer movies than contemporaries at other studios. Myraid other young women, some of them young enough to require their mothers to come with them, were lured to Hollywood with the promise of stardom and then kept under constant surveillance and prevented from working.

While I was not shocked that he was a completely gross, creepy, controlling predator, particularly toward very young women of a certain physical type, I was surprised that he was a really bad businessman and filmmaker (I should have known about the filmmaker stuff, I have seen The Conqueror, do not recommend). He tinkered with movies so long that they went over budget, or no longer made sense. RKO died under his leadership. The only reason he had money to blow in Hollywood was because he inherited an extremely prosperous manufacturing company from this father and then picked up lucrative defense contracts during World War II.

Hughes was not the only gross dude running around Hollywood between the 1920s and 1960s. There were a lot, trust me. For all the glitz and glamour, “classic” Hollywood had a lot of garbage hiding under rocks and Karina shines a very strong light on one particular corner. Now, if you have listened to some of the podcast episodes that were produced as part of the publicity for Seduction don’t worry that the same information is re-hashed in both places – the episodes and the book complement each other, so I highly recommend both.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak

38469986Summary from Goodreads:
Multi-award-winning cartoonist Carolyn Nowak (Lumberjanes) finds powerful truths in fantasy worlds. Her stunning solo debut collection celebrates the ascent of a rising star in comics.

Diana got hurt—a lot—and she’s decided to deal with this fact by purchasing a life-sized robot boyfriend. Mary and La-La host a podcast about a movie no one’s ever seen. Kelly has dragged her friend Beth out of her comfort zone—and into a day at the fantasy market that neither of them will forget.

Carolyn Nowak’s Girl Town collects the Ignatz Award-winning stories “Radishes” and “Diana’s Electric Tongue” together with several other tales of young adulthood and the search for connection. Here are her most acclaimed mini-comics and anthology contributions, enhanced with new colors and joined by brand-new work.

Bold, infatuated, wounded, or lost, Nowak’s girls shine with life and longing. Their stories—depicted with remarkable charm and insight—capture the spirit of our time.

Girl Town came across my radar as part of my second round of TBR (aka Pigeon) recommendations. (Thanks, Mya!) So I was reeeeeealy smart and got the Graphic Novel Book Group at my store to pick Girl Town for our December selection.

Ultimately, I liked this collection. I think Carolyn Nowak does great work with Lumberjanes, so I’m glad I read her own work in Girl Town. I really liked the two center stories, “Radishes” (about two young women at a fantasy-ish boardwalk market) and “Diana’s Electric Tongue” (about a woman who is fed up with dating and purchases a robot boyfriend). The other stories felt a bit unfinished in places, not necessarily because they all end abruptly, and one is a transfictional piece that incorporated multimedia-like panels surrounded by a lot of dialogue ballons and it was very hard to read. This is definitely a collection that fits in with Kelly Link, Sofia Samatar, Carmen Maria Machado, and Anjali Sachdeva, only sequential art instead of prose. If you’re a fan of those authors, I think you’ll like Nowak’s work.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book after receiving the recommendation in my Pigeon.