Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #3)

38622940Summary from Goodreads:
The Reluctant Royals series returns with a good girl searching for the life that’s not too big, and not too small, and the bad boy prince who might be just right for her…

Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.

For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.

Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.

We were first introduced to Nya in A Princess in Theory as a chronically ill-seeming, fragile young woman under her domineering father’s thumb. She came out of her shell a little in A Duke by Default via group chat – and we get our first good look at Johan in that book, too, as an attention-grabbing, rich playboy (iirc, he pops up in A Princess on Theory but isn’t quite as memorable). Alyssa Cole puts them together as our heroine and hero in A Prince on Paper and, come to find out, these two characters aren’t so very different from one another.

Both have spent most of their lives without their mothers. Both have had to hide their authentic selves for reasons (Nya because her father was gaslighting her, Johan because he wanted to let his younger sibling grow up with less of a spotlight on them). And both really wish to share their lives with someone and put some good back into the world.

Nya and Johan provided us (via Alyssa’s brain) with a lovely ending to the Reluctant Royals Trilogy. I very much liked that the “villain” of the book wasn’t someone out to do physical harm, etc., but instead our own human fears and prejudices – of having our softer bits exposed for others to see and perhaps ridicule. Johan is so used to being the naughty, crass Jo-Jo that it becomes his default persona and hurts Nya without meaning to but he is also an incredibly decent person underneath it; his genuine ability to take care of people is written into the very bedrock of his character. Nya has spent her whole life being put down – and now feels reviled as the daughter of a traitor – and she hasn’t quite determined who she wants to be as a whole person.

I could have done without the ongoing subplot of Nya’s dating game (it got weird/overlong after a while) but the subplot of Johan’s sibling, step-dad, and the referendum on whether a hereditary, patriarchal system like a monarchy even has a place in modern democracy was stellar. Alyssa has also used her books in this series to hit back hard at racism, classism, ableism, and post-colonialism. So well-done. A Prince on Paper also delves into the dangers of our obsession with celebrity culture and the pressure it puts on individuals to conform or act out.

For anyone wondering, yes, we get to see Portia+Tav and Likotski+Fab during Ledi+Thabiso’s wedding but no, not nearly enough 😉 (omg, they’re all so adorable here but good goddamn I so want a longer epilogue or something for Portia and Tav! (unfortunately, no Reggie+Gus on the page)

A Prince on Paper is available today!

mini-review · stuff I read

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence by Michele Filgate

42201997Summary from Goodreads:
Fifteen brilliant writers explore what we don’t talk to our mothers about, and how it affects us, for better or for worse.

As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize what she was actually trying to write: how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral, shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, and many others. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers.

While some of the writers in this book are estranged from their mothers, others are extremely close. Leslie Jamison writes about trying to discover who her seemingly perfect mother was before ever becoming a mom. In Cathi Hanauer’s hilarious piece, she finally gets a chance to have a conversation with her mother that isn’t interrupted by her domineering (but lovable) father. André Aciman writes about what it was like to have a deaf mother. Melissa Febos uses mythology as a lens to look at her close-knit relationship with her psychotherapist mother. And Julianna Baggott talks about having a mom who tells her everything.

As Filgate writes, “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.” There’s relief in breaking the silence. Acknowledging what we couldn’t say for so long is one way to heal our relationships with others and, perhaps most important, with ourselves.

Contributors include Cathi Hanauer, Melissa Febos, Alexander Chee, Dylan Landis, Bernice L. McFadden, Julianna Baggott, Lynn Steger Strong, Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, André Aciman, Sari Botton, Nayomi Munaweera, Brandon Taylor, and Leslie Jamison.

I was so excited to read this essay anthology, filled with pieces from so many writers I admire. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About is a very solid collection of essays from a diverse selection of writers about the things they don’t talk to their mothers about: family history, abuse, love, protection, secrets, first husbands, expectations. Particularly poignant essays are from Alexander Chee and Brandon Taylor (the last few pages of Brandon’s gutted me, not because it’s graphic or horrible, but because it’s a wish to have understood his mom and who he knew her to be).

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #2)

37584991._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn’t turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own…

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

I had a galley for The Proposal but it expired early (booo technology) and didn’t get back to until now. (Weekend of finishing half-read books, yay!) I loved The Wedding Date, and was entirely charmed by pediatrician Carlos and his love of food, so I was happy to see him get his own story. Nik was a great introduction to the series as the heroine – a freelance writer with a squad of awesome besties who is also into good food (prepare to be hungry most of this book, I am not kidding). The only hitch with this book, for me, was the conflict. I get that both Carlos and Nik had baggage (Nik with both the shitty actor ex-boyfriend and a shitty doctor ex-boyfriend and Carlos with his father dying young) but the length of time both characters protested about not wanted a serious relationship…the lady doth protest too much. The late-book “conflict” between Nik and Carlos needed more teeth, some of the lines juvenile as if they were two kids in their first relationship instead of successful adults in their late twenties-early thirties. But aside from that, so much of Carlos and Nik getting together was how good they were as friends. I’m coming to find that I love romances where the central couple enjoys just hanging out together and being with each other, it’s so fun to read on the page (yes, I like the sexy-times, too, but it’s so cozy when the characters are getting pizza and watching a movie on the couch).

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley but it expired so I bought a paper copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient #1)

36577586._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice–with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan–from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

I started The Kiss Quotient last year right after it came out but managed to misplace the book. (Oh noes.) Well, I found it again and restarted it and finished today. Yay!

This was a fun read. Reverse Pretty Woman plot = yes! I particularly loved Michael’s interactions with his mom and sisters. Stella was an interesting character, I really liked how she decided to attack her “relationship problem” with logic, particularly since she also has to attack the problem of internalized ableism regarding her autism spectrum disorder. Disorder? Tendencies? It isn’t quite labeled in the book but it’s also pretty clear that Stella’s facility with numbers, her particular preference for how clothes feel, etc. that she is on the spectrum. The author has also been diagnosed with ASD as an adult so I think there are many parts of Stella that come from her experience.

(Tiny spoiler: Michael’s rotten dad NEVER shows up so if returning Prodigal parents are not a thing you like then you are spared.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova

41745837Summary from Goodreads:
In poems rich with sensuality and discord, Mukomolova explores her complex identity―Russian, Jewish, refugee, New Yorker, lesbian― through the Russian tale of Vasilyssa, a young girl left to fend for herself against the witch Baba Yaga. Heavy with family and fable, these poems are a beautiful articulation of difference under duress.

I saw the cover for Without Protection in the Coffee House Press catalog and decided to give it a go. These poems are raw and spare, in some cases autobiographical (there are Notes, which I can’t decide were necessary or not). It was a hard collection to read; it didn’t flow well. I think this is a case where the arrangement of the poems in the collection did a disservice – it felt jumbled and confusing.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess

40611197Summary from Goodreads:
Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States—an alternate timeline—she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram’s copy of The Pyronauts—a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback—and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.

But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel’s efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. And when the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost.

I came across Famous Men Who Never Lived through the Tin House Book Club (you put your name in the hate for advances every once in a while). I didn’t get lucky this time, though, but I liked the premise of the book enough that I requested the galley on Edelweiss.

And it’s a really, really good premise – using the idea of two divergent Earths and their histories to explore the idea of forced migration and Otherness, “belonging” to a group, grief, and mourning. It has some interesting parallels to the plight of migrants from the Middle East and Central America. Where I struggled with the book was when the sections of the fictional book “The Pyronauts” from Hel and Vikram’s world were included in the narrative – the technique was distracting here and didn’t work as well as it did in a book like Station Eleven.

Famous Men Who Never Lived was published last month.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison

41735103Summary from Goodreads:
Novelist and writing teacher Jane Alison illuminates the many shapes other than the usual wavelike “narrative arc” that can move fiction forward. The stories she loves most follow other organic patterns found in nature―spirals, meanders, and explosions, among others. Alison’s manifesto for new modes of narrative will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

As Jane Alison writes in the introduction to her insightful and appealing book about the craft of writing: “For centuries there’s been one path through fiction we’re most likely to travel―one we’re actually told to follow―and that’s the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides. . . . But: something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculo-sexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?”

W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc―or, in nature, wave. Other writers of nonlinear prose considered in her “museum of specimens” include Nicholson Baker, Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, Gabriel García Márquez, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Caryl Phillips, and Mary Robison.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies that also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says, Let’s leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a thoughtful, unique literature studies book about different types of narrative patterns (waves, cells, fractals, meanders, spirals, explosions, etc) rather than the standard arc or linear plot. This was a really fun way to challenge how we look at these non-linear plots although a number of the examples she cites were pieces I had not read. Alison also had an emphasis on shorter works (short stories, novellas, short novels) with the longest book cited (Cloud Atlas) being used only once as an example of tsunami.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

40983137Summary from Goodreads:
The bestselling author of American Housewife is back with a fiercely funny collection of essays on marriage and manners, thank-you notes and three-ways, ghosts, gunshots, gynecology, and the Calgon-scented, onion-dipped, monogrammed art of living as a Southern Lady.

Helen Ellis has a mantra: “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way.” Say “weathered” instead of “she looks like a cake left out in the rain.” Say “early-developed” instead of “brace face and B cups.” And for the love of Coke Salad, always say “Sorry you saw something that offended you” instead of “Get that stick out of your butt, Miss Prissy Pants.” In these twenty-three raucous essays Ellis transforms herself into a dominatrix Donna Reed to save her marriage, inadvertently steals a $795 Burberry trench coat, witnesses a man fake his own death at a party, avoids a neck lift, and finds a black-tie gown that gives her the confidence of a drag queen. While she may have left her home in Alabama, married a New Yorker, forgotten how to drive, and abandoned the puffy headbands of her youth, Helen Ellis is clinging to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread, and offering readers a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

Southern Lady Code is a memoir in short essays that are the funniest, driest, Bless-Your-Heart *pat pat* pieces of writing that I’ve ever read (I’m a little behind on the Helen Ellis party – I’ve got the audio of American Housewife out from the library to try and rectify that). Even when the subject is serious – in one she attends a rather grisly murder trial as support for her friend who is the prosecutor – she just takes it out at the knees. The first essay is about being a recovering slob and oh lordt, it me. (Also, her mom sounds HILARIOUS).

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