Readathon · stuff I read

A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan

35004372Summary from Goodreads:
When hordes of people descend on the picturesque village of Nasely for the annual celebration of its most famous resident, murder mystery writer Agnes Crabbe, events take a dark turn as the festival opens with a shocking death.

Each year the residents are outnumbered by crowds dressed as Crabbe’s best-known character, the lady detective Millicent Cutter. The weekend is never a mild-mannered affair as fan club rivalries bubble below the surface, but tensions reach new heights when a second Crabbe devotee is found murdered. Though the police are quick to arrive on the scene, the facts are tricky to ascertain as the witnesses, suspects and victim are all dressed as Miss Cutter. And they all want to solve that crime too . . .

I picked up A Murder to Die For after John (@johnnie_cakes) recommended it on Instagram. It is a delightful, madcap murder mystery set at a fan-con for a fictional English crime writer with a Phrynne Fisher-esque 1920s amateur detective. Colgan gleefully breaks all the “rules” of crime writing and name drops all sorts of mystery-related Easter eggs, including Midsomer Murders (and you’ll find the retired DS Shunter a bit of an analog to Tom Barnaby, my favorite dad-detective, although with less of John Nettles’s TV panache). Not a cosy, since the amateur detectives are quite useless and it’s a bit more violent than a cosy, so I can’t use it for the Read Harder task, but a good, zany whodunnit. The sum-up at the end is a bit awkward, imo.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wrong Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highland Brides #7)

37868552Summary from Goodreads:
A laird’s daughter kidnaps a Highlander—and loses her heart… in New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands’ new historical romance…

Lady Evina Maclean has heard much about Rory Buchanan’s skill as a healer. What she hasn’t heard is how good the brawny Highlander looks bathing in a waterfall. But Evina can’t afford the distraction, for her ailing father urgently needs care. Only when she’s rendered Buchanan unconscious and dragged him back to her family’s castle does the truth emerge—it’s not Rory she’s kidnapped but his brother Conran.

Other ladies try to ensnare Conran with flattery. Evina hits him over the head with the hilt of her sword to save her kin—and Conran likes the spirited redhead all the more for it. He’s learned enough from his brother to heal Evina’s father, but there are other dangers swirling around the Maclean clan. And while the beautiful, independent lady has sworn not to marry, this wrong Highlander may be just the right man for her.

I cannot quit this series. It’s ridiculous, historically off-the-rails, full of moments of questionable consent, a high number of attempted murders (to the point that the characters joke about them), and some of my least favorite tropes. This one has a virgin widow (at least it’s not another amnesia book).

So Evina needs Rory Buchanan and his legendary skills to come and heal her father. Except…rather than invite Rory to come to MacLean she sees a Highlander wearing Buchanan plaid gathering herbs then bathing, clobbers him on the head and drags him off to MacLean. Which is how she winds up with Conran instead.

Cool, cool. Kidnap wrong dude. Luckily, Conran isn’t a dummy and has absorbed some of Rory’s knowledge over the years and gets the MacLean on the mend. Only to find that he’s attracted to Evina – like, VERY attracted – and they wind up having to have a hasty marriage because they got way too into the sexytimes and Evina’s still a virgin. Oh, and come clean about not being Rory. So all the Buchanans and their spouses show up at MacLean in time to help Conran foil a murderer. Standard Sands fare.

But the series is ridiculous and fun and OF COURSE I’ll line up to read the next one. I can’t quit before all the brothers have been paired off. Especially Rory – poor guy is the only one who wants to fall in love and get married and at this point I’m sure that Sands is going to leave him for last.

The Wrong Highlander was released yesterday, January 29, in the US.

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

stuff I read · Reading Graphically

Marvel Rising (Marvel Rising #0-4) by Devin Grayson, Ryan North, and G. Willow Wilson with illustration by Helen Chen, Marco Failla, Gurihiru, and Georges Duarte

39324060Summary from Goodreads:
SQUIRREL GIRL meets MS. MARVEL – for the very first time! When Doreen Green (also known as the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) volunteers as head counselor for an extracurricular computer programming class, little does she know that junior counselor Kamala Khan moonlights as crime fighting super hero Ms. Marvel! But this coding configuration is more than just ones and zeros when a mysterious new super villain shows her face! Will our heroes be able to save the day without blowing their secret identities? Join Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl (with some special guest appearances) as they learn what it truly takes to become the next generation of Marvel heroes!
Collects Marvel Rising #0, Marvel Rising: Alpha, Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl/Ms. Marvel, Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel/Squirrel Girl And Marvel Rising: Omega.

I need to make a dent in my comics backlog so I picked up my Marvel Rising issues during the 24in48 Readathon. Now, this is a really cute comic, and we finally got to see a Ms. Marvel/Squirrel Girl team-up (with additional guest appearances from some of Squirrel Girl’s regulars) but it just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. First of all, the way Marvel marketed this as a bunch of #1s made it almost impossible for my LCS to get it on my pull list (the freebie #0 wasn’t even in their assortment for FCBD) and second, the storyline was too much, almost like they tried to compress an entire Moon Girl-like new Inhuman story into this run PLUS the team-up. It didn’t do justice to either story. Cute, but it could have been better. Especially since the best part was when Kamala/Ms. Marvel and Dorren/Squirrel Girl each determined that the other was a superhero and then worried if the other girl had figured it out, too! I do hope they give this team-up another try.

Dear FTC: I bought all my issues from my LCS or Midtown Comics.

Readathon · stuff I read

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

40063024Summary from Goodreads:
A witty, informative guide to writing “good English” from Random House’s longtime copy chief and one of Twitter’s leading enforcers of proper grammar–a twenty-first-century Elements of Style.

As authoritative as it is amusing, this book distills everything Benjamin Dreyer has learned from the hundreds of books he has copyedited, including works by Elizabeth Strout, E. L. Doctorow, and Frank Rich, into a useful guide not just for writers but for everyone who wants to put their best foot forward in writing prose. Dreyer offers lessons on the ins and outs of punctuation and grammar, including how to navigate the words he calls “the confusables,” like tricky homophones; the myriad ways to use (and misuse) a comma; and how to recognize–though not necessarily do away with–the passive voice. (Hint: If you can plausibly add “by zombies” to the end of a sentence, it’s passive.) People are sharing their writing more than ever–on blogs, on Twitter–and this book lays out, clearly and comprehensibly, everything writers can do to keep readers focused on the real reason writers write: to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively. Chock-full of advice, insider wisdom, and fun facts on the rules (and nonrules) of the English language, this book will prove invaluable to everyone who wants to shore up their writing skills, mandatory for people who spend their time editing and shaping other people’s prose, and–perhaps best of all–an utter treat for anyone who simply revels in language.

Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English had the honor of being the first book I finished for the 24in48 Readathon!

As my staff rec card says: Do you need a new style guide? YES. Dreyer is the chief copyeditor at Random House and knows his business. He’s also sly and droll and has a way with a footnote or a turn-of-phrase. (He’s also a proponent of the Oxford comma, meaning I didn’t have to break up with either this book or his Twitter, and he’s got an adorable doggo on his Twitter.)

If you want to read an entertaining book about something useful – like learning to write well – that is not even remotely like our school nemesis, the wretched Strunk & White, then you need this book. Grammar nerd bookyes! Copy-editing nerd book, yes! Book with many funny footnotes, yes!

Dreyer’s English is out tomorrow wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a ditigal galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. And I have a copy on pre-order, too.

Readathon · stuff I read

At the End of the Century: The Stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, with an Introduction by Anita Desai

42595346Summary from Goodreads:
Multilayered, subtle, insightful short stories from the inimitable Booker Prize-winning author, with an introduction by Anita Desai

Nobody has written so powerfully of the relationship between and within India and the Western middle classes than Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. In this selection of stories, chosen by her surviving family, her ability to tenderly and humorously view the situations faced by three (sometimes interacting) cultures—European, post-Independence Indian, and American—is never more acute.

In “A Course of English Studies,” a young woman arrives at Oxford from India and struggles to adapt, not only to the sad, stoic object of her infatuation, but also to a country that seems so resistant to passion and color. In the wrenching “Expiation,” the blind, unconditional love of a cloth shop owner for his wastrel younger brother exposes the tragic beauty and foolishness of human compassion and faith. The wry and triumphant “Pagans” brings us middle-aged sisters Brigitte and Frankie in Los Angeles, who discover a youthful sexuality in the company of the languid and handsome young Indian, Shoki. This collection also includes Jhabvala’s last story, “The Judge’s Will,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 2013 after her death.

The profound inner experience of both men and women is at the center of Jhabvala’s writing: she rivals Jane Austen with her impeccable powers of observation. With an introduction by her friend, the writer Anita Desai, At the End of the Century celebrates a writer’s astonishing lifetime gift for language, and leaves us with no doubt of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s unique place in modern literature.

I sat down to read a few more stories in At the End of the Century during the 24in48 Readathon only to find that my galley had expired!!! Qu’elle horreur!! (Please forgive my terrible French.) I had only read the Introduction by Anita Desai and the first three stories, so not enough to really give an truly informed review of the book, but I did love what I had read. Jhabvala was the writer behind the famed “Merchant-Ivory” production company that produced films like A Room With a View (winner of the Academy Award for Adapted Script), Howard’s End (also won the Academy Award for Adapted Script), The Remains of the Day (nominated for the Academy Award), and adaptations of her own short stories and novels including The Householder and Heat and Dust (winner of the 1975 Booker Prize). So I had already loved her writing and requested access to the digital galley. Now, these are not short stories you can just rush though and hop from one to the other. I found that I needed a bit of time between the stories to process to I wouldn’t mix up the characters. In the handful of stories I read, I could see why Jhabvala is often compared to Jane Austen. There was an eye for the minutia of middle class life in India, with a bit of ironic distance, that compares with Austen’s eye for detail among the landed gentry in late Georgian England. I just failed to outrun the expiration date on the galley. This is a collection that I would like to pick up and finish – she has a unique perspective as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, who married an Indian man in London and moved with him back to India in the 1950s, raised her children and began writing in the 1950s and 1960s, then also lived in the United States near the end of her career.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but it expired before I could finish reading.

 

Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · stuff I read

Meaty by Samantha Irby

35952943Summary from Goodreads:
The widely beloved, uproarious, first essay collection and the basis for the upcoming FX Studios series from smart, edgy, hilarious, and unabashedly raunchy Samantha Irby.

Samantha Irby exploded onto the printed page with this debut collection of essays about trying to laugh her way through failed relationships, taco feasts, bouts with Crohn’s disease, and more. Every essay is crafted with the same scathing wit and poignant candor thousands of loyal readers have come to expect from visiting her notoriously hilarious blog.

Read for 24in48 Readathon!

I do love me a Samantha Irby essay collection (see: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life). She is so funny and dry. After the success of WANMiRL Vintage reissued her first collection, Meaty (originally pubbed by Curbside Splendor). This collection is so well-balanced, with laugh-out-loud lines about hanging out with moms, a spec she wrote for a TV show, and crusty garbage that guys pull out to get in your pants, but then she’ll hit you with a gorgeous piece like “My Mother, My Daughter” about taking care of her mom when she was really sick. Definitely pick this up before you check out Sam’s upcoming writing for TV!

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book when it came out last year.

stuff I read

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

34966859Summary from Goodreads:
To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

This is the first Rick Riordan Presents book I’ve read and I would have loved to read a book like this when I was a kid. I was solidly a Trekkie (TNG 5eva) and this space opera would have scratched all the right itches. Dragon Pearl has so many great things smashed into it: Korean fox -magic, terraforming, space opera, politics, secrets, a dragon (!), a gender-neutral foodie cadet, an emo ghost, and a plucky main character who disguises herself as a deceased crew member (because shape-shifting fox-magic!) to infiltrate her brother’s starship. It’s also a great introduction to Yoon Ha Lee’s world-building style – his Machineries of Empire trilogy builds its galaxy in similar ways. I loved how he didn’t “softball” the SF elements just because the audience is middle grade. Lots of fast-paced plot and a compelling main character. I couldn’t put it down. I hope there are more books planned for this series.

For serious: I got into the hot bath expecting to read a few chapters (starting on p76) while having my tea but got to the last page of the book to find that both the bath and my tea had grown cold! 🙀

Dear FTC: I had to buy my copy of this book because I am not cool enough to get an advance galley.

stuff I read

Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

34626370Summary from Goodreads:
The stories in Five-Carat Soul–none of them ever published before–spring from the place where identity, humanity, and history converge. McBride explores the ways we learn from the world and the people around us. An antiques dealer discovers that a legendary toy commissioned by Civil War General Robert E. Lee now sits in the home of a black minister in Queens. Five strangers find themselves thrown together and face unexpected judgment. An American president draws inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable. And members of The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band recount stories from their own messy and hilarious lives.

I had a galley, but only finished the “Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band” section before it expired. Womp womp.

So I finally caught back up with this wild ride of a story collection via Libby. Each story is so unexpected – a few are set during the Civil War period, a few in the 1970s, and the last novella-length piece is so amazingly inventive and set in a zoo (you have got to read it!). I had never read James McBride before (The Good Lord Bird is on Mt TBR I promise!) and his writing style is so wonderful to read. The way he manages to evoke a setting in just a few sentences is fantastic.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book but it expired so I finished it (over a year later) via the library’s Libby service.