stuff I read

Teaser: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Ninth House #1)

42036538Summary from Goodreads:
Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.

Just a little teaser to tell you to mark your calendars for September 10, 2019, fans of totally weird shit from Tor. Gideon the Ninth is the first book in what promises to be an amazing trilogy about necromancers, magic (maybe?), science (also maybe?), politics, sword-fighting, queer ladies, weird morbid death cults, and animated skeletons all narrated by the snarkiest, most obnoxious teenage ginger ever aka Gideon, of the Ninth House. What’s not to like? And if you need more encouragement, Gideon was referred to as a hot buff trashweasel on Twitter. You need this book. Call your local bookstore, order it on your ebook retailer of choice, make a post-it for a carrier pigeon.

(CW for discussion of suicide)

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

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mini-review · stuff I read

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

40652123Summary from Goodreads:
From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America

For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in America is enough to induce a ceaseless state of angst where questions such as “How should I react here, as a professional black person?” and “Will this white person’s potato salad kill me?” are forever relevant.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him.

It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits, provoking the angst that made him question if he was any good at the “being straight” thing, as if his sexual orientation was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble move or knitting; creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; and generating the surreality of watching gentrification transform his Pittsburgh neighborhood from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.”

And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.

From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is one of the new Discover titles at the store. Young uses the form of the essay to both tell his own story of growing up black in Pittsburgh AND write about the culture around him. He has a sharp turn of phrase and a dry humor that I really enjoyed. There is a lot to think about here, from ripping culture, to masculinity, to use of the N word in black culture, to his lack of an driver’s license and how that impacts employment, to his new identity as a parent. I really appreciated how he constructed the chapter about his mother’s illness and death then commented on how the white medical establishment views black women’s pain and bodies; very well-crafted.

What Doesn’t Kill You Doesn’t Make You Blacker is out now in the US.

Dear FTC:

mini-review · stuff I read

Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London by Claire Harman

40909430Summary from Goodreads:
From the acclaimed biographer–the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: Can a novel kill?

In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London’s highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talking. The police suspected Russell’s valet, Courvoisier, but the evidence was weak. The missing clue, it turned out, lay in the unlikeliest place: what Courvoisier had been reading. In the years just before the murder, new printing methods had made books cheap and abundant, the novel form was on the rise, and suddenly everyone was reading. The best-selling titles were the most sensational true-crime stories. Even Dickens and Thackeray, both at the beginning of their careers, fell under the spell of these tales–Dickens publicly admiring them, Thackeray rejecting them. One such phenomenon was William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, the story of an unrepentant criminal who escaped the gallows time and again. When Lord William’s murderer finally confessed his guilt, he would cite this novel in his defense. Murder By the Book combines this thrilling true-crime story with an illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul among the most famous writers of the time. It is superbly researched, vividly written, and captivating from first to last.

I enjoyed Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Brontë so I was tickled to see Murder by the Book come up in the catalogs. It is a delightful mashup of true crime and my favorite genre, books about books. Harman gets at the class worries of upper class early-Victorian London with the grisly murder of a harmless old man (in the ways of British aristocracy, Lord William Russell was pretty innocuous) by his valet (GASP). In among the description of the crime and investigation is a discussion of the unbelievably popular Newgate novels romanticizing criminals’ exploits, particularly that of Jack Sheppard, which has many echoes today in the fraught discussion of the effect of violent and/or radicalized media on consumers. Harman perhaps should have left off the “I shall try to suss out what really happened” epilogue since it’s pretty thin and doesn’t add much to the book.

Murder by the Book is out today in the US.

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

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

“Muslim”: A Novel by Zahia Rahmani

39831356

Summary from Goodreads:
Muslim: A Novel is a genre-bending, poetic reflection on what it means to be Muslim from one of France’s leading writers. In this novel, the second in a trilogy, Rahmani’s narrator contemplates the loss of her native language and her imprisonment and exile for being Muslim, woven together in an exploration of the political and personal relationship of language within the fraught history of Islam. Drawing inspiration from the oral histories of her native Berber language, the Koran, and French children’s tales, Rahmani combines fiction and lyric essay in to tell an important story, both powerful and visionary, of identity, persecution, and violence.

“Muslim” is a book that I ran across by accident while curating a selection of Muslim writers for a display at the bookstore. Which, in the most ironic way, plays into the central tenet of Rahmani’s novel: that “Muslim” is used as a monolith, a label that erases all nuance. The narrator of “Muslim” weaves back and forth between exploring her childhood as an immigrant from Algeria in France, losing and then finding her childhood Berber language, ruminating on the development of Islam, and contemplating the bleakness of an unnamed camp, in an unnamed location of the world, where the narrator has been taken captive because she is a “Muslim” and is therefore suspect of all manner of unnamable things.

The original French edition was published in 2005, so several later references in the book are very directly pointing to the US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq at that time. I wonder how the book would be similar or different had Rahmani written the book in 2015.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Dead Now of Course by Phyllida Law

34732486Summary from Goodreads:
‘My future mother-in-law burst into tears when she heard her son was to marry an actress. There’s still something disturbing, I grant you, about the word “actress”. If an MP or some other outstanding person plays fast and loose with an actress the world is unsurprised. She is certainly no better than she should be, and probably French…’

As well as being a mother (to the actresses Sophie and Emma Thompson) and a devoted carer to her own mother and mother-in-law, Phyllida Law is also a distinguished actress, and Dead Now Of Course is the tale of her early acting career.

As a young member of a travelling company, Phyllida learned to cope with whatever was thrown at her, from making her own false eyelashes to battling flammable costumes and rogue cockroaches. We find her in Mrs Miller’s digs, which were shared with a boozy monkey bought from Harrods, an Afghan hound known as the ‘the flying duster’, several hens and various children.

Filled with funny, charming anecdotes, Dead Now Of Course paints a fascinating picture of life in the theatre – and at the heart of the story is an enchanting account of Phyllida’s courtship with her future husband, the actor and writer Eric Thompson.

I saw the entry for Dead Now of Course in a catalog on Edelweiss as I was just randomly digging around – I had to have it immediately. Alas, no US galleys available so I had to wait until my order came in at work. Because I find Phyllida Law a delightful actress who pops up in all sorts of supporting roles.

This is a delightful small volume of reminisces from Phyllida Law’s early career in the theatre up to the beginning of her marriage to Eric Thompson (I believe there are a few books she previously published about other periods in her life? I will have to investigate). So many stingers at the ends of paragraphs. For those who don’t know, Phyllida Law is Emma Thompson’s mum. You can tell where she gets the no-nonsense humor.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown

28117939Summary from Goodreads:
Do you know what hearing loss sounds like? I do.
All my life I’ve tried to be like you. I’ve failed.
So I keep it hidden.
But on the day my world crashed down around me, Reed was there.
He showed me just how loud and vibrant silence can be, even when I struggled to understand.
He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever known. His soulful eyes and strong hands pulled me in before I knew what was happening.
And as I saw those hands sign, felt them sparking on me, I knew: imperfect could be perfect.
Reed makes me feel things I’ve never felt. It’s exciting…and terrifying.
Because he sees me like no one else has, and I’m afraid of what he’ll find if he looks too closely.
The only thing that scares me more than being with him? Letting him go.

I read Laura Brown’s Friend (With Benefits) Zone and liked it so I decided to seek out the first book in the series (series? I can’t find an official name but Reed and Carli make a very brief appearance at Dev’s mom’s school in F(WB)Z). I’m really torn about Signs of Attraction. On the one hand, this is an excellent #ownvoices romance between a Deaf man and a Hard of Hearing woman who each have a lot of emotional baggage they have to deal with to get to a happy ending. Reed has some guilt about his father’s death and Carli has been raised in an abusive household. On the other, there are a few plot tropes (mostly) unrelated to the above representation – an evil old girlfriend with a very complicated level of shittiness (some of which has to do with the Deaf/HoH community), perhaps not the best ways of describing race, and at least one instance where I was surprised the police were not called – that I did not like. Also, it’s written in alternating first-person POV, which grated on me. I keep trying with that narrative style and I very rarely feel like it has been done well; a close-third POV would be clearer. But overall it was a good romance with good on-page representation, in my opinion.

A brief CW for discussion of suicide and depiction of physical and verbal abuse on the page.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2.6)

42117382Summary from Goodreads:
Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She’s finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.

Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?

Can’t Escape Love is a very cute “meanwhile” romance for Reggie that takes place during the denouement of her sister Portia’s story in A Duke by Default. We get to see the story from Reggie’s side, which is important given the history we’ve had from Portia. Definitely an important romance story to tell, about a nerdy WOC who uses a wheelchair (which is depicted on the cover!) and a Vietnamese neurodiverse man and it’s lovely and sweet but DAMN I wish it was a full-length novel instead of a novella. The short length really causes Instalust here (along with a bit of overload on the nerd cred information).

But everyone should pick this up – Can’t Escape Love is out today in ebook (mass market paperback coming April 30)! And don’t miss the last book in the series, A Prince on Paper, coming out April 30.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

40390714Summary from Goodreads:
The New York Times bestselling author of The House Girl explores the lives of four siblings in this ambitious and absorbing novel in the vein of Commonwealth and The Interestings.

“The greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them.”

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.

It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected. Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.

Well, I liked it. Or, I at least like it better than last month’s Book Club selection. The women of the family were all interesting and Joe, well, Joe I wanted to kick down the nearest flight of stairs. I’m not quite sure the author delivered on her premise, that when we fall in love with the right person everything works out. Also, she finked on Fiona’s poetry, giving us only a hint about her work (for a book that pulls off the narrative plus the invented poetical works, see AS Byatt’s Possession).

What I really could have done without was the frame narrative, which was jarring whenever I would come back to it. We had enough of the omniscient narrator from the future, the frame narrative could have been easily cut.

Read for the BN Book Club (and this time finished more than 2 hrs ahead of the meeting 😂).

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher provided for the BN Book Club discussion leader.