mini-review · stuff I read

The Golden Goblet: Selected Poems of Goethe by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zsuzsanna Ozsváth (Translator), Frederick Turner (Translator)

45361728._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The Golden Goblet traces Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poetry from the idealism of youth to the liberation of maturity. In contrast to his rococo contemporaries, Goethe’s poetry draws on the graceful simplicity of German folk rhythms to develop complex, transcendent themes. This robust selection, artfully translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner, explores transformation, revolution, and illumination in Goethe’s lush lyrical style that forever altered the course of German literature.

The notes on the translators’ work and the introduction explaining how Goethe’s language changed over time and influenced art and literature were very interesting.

The poems? Eh, maybe not. The translators of The Golden Goblet were very careful to preserve the rhyme scheme and meter of the poems, but in doing so the poems felt very cold. Not inspiring or passionate, which are the first things one thinks of with Goethe. It may have been better had the publishers chose to do a facing-page style presentation, with the original German on one page and the new English translation facing the other. Because it was hard to judge how much Goethe was changing since he didn’t write in English. Since I read German, that would have been fun.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Rebel by Beverly Jenkins (Women Who Dare #1)

38135735Summary from Goodreads:
The first novel in USA Today Bestselling Author Beverly Jenkins’ compelling new series follows a Northern woman south in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War…

Valinda Lacey’s mission in the steamy heart of New Orleans is to help the newly emancipated community survive and flourish. But soon she discovers that here, freedom can also mean danger. When thugs destroy the school she has set up and then target her, Valinda runs for her life—and straight into the arms of Captain Drake LeVeq.

As an architect from an old New Orleans family, Drake has a deeply personal interest in rebuilding the city. Raised by strong women, he recognizes Valinda’s determination. And he can’t stop admiring—or wanting—her. But when Valinda’s father demands she return home to marry a man she doesn’t love, her daring rebellion draws Drake into an irresistible intrigue.

Sometimes you pick up a book thinking you’re going to get just a good romance but then the author presents you with a book that moves beyond genre, to give you a history lesson and a social kick in the pants as well. Ms. Bev’s new book Rebel does just that in a romance set in Reconstruction-era New Orleans between a New York City schoolteacher escaping a suffocating father and a man from a prominent Free Black family working to help those recently freed rebuild their lives. The romance between Val and Drake is sweet and sexy but this doesn’t make the book easy. Nothing was easy for free and freed people of color after the Civil War, from getting a job, to an education, to a fair wage, to even being able to seek justice because the systems were all still rigged in favor of Whites. Jenkins lays that all out on the page and includes names and dates of real (shitty) racist legislation passed by Congress and states and real activists working in the era. An absolutely outstanding novel to kick off the summer.

For those who have read other historicals from Jenkins, Raimond and Sable make an extended appearance here and you may also recognize a few names mentioned in passing.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #4)

40957180

Summary from Goodreads:
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.

*if those people were being nice

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

The Austen Playbook is a super-cute contemporary romance between a frosty, Jason Isaacs-as-Lucius Malfoy look-alike theatre critic (who, due to descriptions of his nose, actually resembles a blonde Richard Armitage in my head #sorrynotsorry) and a bubbly, musical-theatre actress at a career crossroads. I really liked how Griff and Freddy worked out the mystery, worked toward each other (Freddy needling Griff about how much of a feared theatre critic he is is hilarious), and that what looked vaguely like a love-triangle in the making did NOT go there. However, the resolution of the novel is a bit overstuffed with extra side-plots, especially the one about the sister and her hideous boyfriend. It was one too many layers and not necessary to the set-up for the next book, in my opinion.

Now, I had been hoping that we would see more of this actual “Jane Austen characters smashed together in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure whodunnit” but wound up disappointed (although I’d fire the casting director of that fictional TV production because holy cats was those were some bad choices). The whole idea sounded really genius, though, and I’m surprised some TV showrunner hasn’t actually done something like this. (Jasper Fforde toyed with it at the end of First Among Sequels.)

Even though this is book four in the London Celebrities series, you can read it without having read the previous three. I hadn’t. But I’m definitely going to check them out now.

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

Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (The Rajes #1)

41154302Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:
· Never trust an outsider
· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
· And never, ever, defy your family
Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…
A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.

‘Tis a year of Austen re-tellings – Unmarriageable was out a little earlier this year (that I haven’t got to, yet, because I didn’t have a galley), Ayesha at Last is finally publishing States-side in June, an adaptation of Emma coming in August, and this month we have Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors.

In this version of Pride and Prejudice, we don’t have strict analogues for each original Austen character. Fitzwilliam Darcy is now Dr. Trisha Raje, a brilliant neurosurgeon and the younger child in a privileged Indian-American family. In undergrad she met and befriended Julia Wickham, who later almost destroyed the life and political career of Trisha’s brother Yash; Trisha has been on the outskirts of her family ever since. Feisty Lizzie is now DJ Caine (Darcy James, just to be tricky), a talented French-trained chef who moves to the Bay Area to support his sister Emma as she seeks treatment for a brain tumor that can only be removed by Trisha Raje. But removing the tumor will destroy Emma’s sight, the worst result for a visual artist. Trisha and DJ get off on the wrong foot at a Raje family ‘do he’s hired to cater and then Julia Wickham (in full hippie-white-lady-with-dreds mode) returns to town and lends an ear to Emma and DJ….

I had a little trouble getting into this book, which annoyed me as an Austen fan. I think it’s because Dev introduces SO MANY characters at once, so we’re trying to sort out who’s who and what they do and who has history, etc because it’s very expansive instead of insular. There are a lot of B-plots (Yash, older sister Nisha and her husband, Emma’s decision regarding surgery and her art, the cousin with visions who is the obvious Mary stand-in) that create a lot of extra stuff Trisha and DJ have to work around aside from the obvious “pride” and “prejudice” themes imported from the Austen original. But once I got past the first 40 pages (i.e. I put on my giant headphones in the airport terminal) and got a basic handle on who-was-who, I was able to sink right in. I really liked how Dev did a “remix” of the characters and shook everything up a bit (Julia Wickham is the only character who performs exactly the same function in this book as George Wickham does in the original).

There are two things I have issues with in this book. First, many characters in this book – Trisha first among them – violate HIPAA repeatedly and cavalierly. This is plainly irresponsible. Tangential to this is a lack of support from social work or patient advocacy for Emma (although this is what allows the Wickham character to get close to Emma and DJ, so plot bunny). Second, there is an explanation of what Julia Wickham did to Yash that draws from #metoo and gets part of it very wrong. [I’m going to do some minor spoiling – it’s not a secret that Original Wickham is a sexual predator and has a thing for teenagers so it stands to reason that Julia Wickham is a predator, too – but skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to stay un-spoiled.] Julia roofies Yash, among other things, and assaults him (this is the “incident” Trisha feels she is being punished for). When this is finally revealed to the reader, we are given the scene between Trisha and Yash talking it over from Trisha’s point-of-view – and Trisha thinks that if this came to light, that even if Yash was the victim it would set back progress women were making with #metoo (I’m paraphrasing). This is a misreading of #metoo – we don’t fight that fight just for women who are assaulted by men, but also for men assaulted by women, and so on. It’s a very tone-deaf couple of paragraphs.  Which is unfortunate because Sonali Dev gets so much of the classism, racism (DJ is biracial – Anglo-Indian and Rwandan – and he experiences racism from both his paternal family in London and from the police in the US), privilege, and misogyny right in setting her Pride and Prejudice in 2019 California.

But those things aside, I did like it a lot. An excellent vacation book to read in the airport/on the plane.

Appetite warning: This book will make you VERY hungry because DJ is an amazing chef. All food described in this book is drool-inducing.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I also bought a paper copy after I came back from vacation.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan (Game On #3)

27412436._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A beard-related dare and one hot-as-hell kiss changes everything.

NFL center Ethan Dexter’s focus has always been on playing football and little else. Except when it comes to one particular woman. The lovely Fiona Mackenzie might not care about his fame, but she’s also never looked at him as anything more than one of her brother-in-law’s best friend. That ends now.

Fi doesn’t know what to make of Dex. The bearded, tattooed, mountain of man-muscle looks more like a biker than a football player. Rumor has it he’s a virgin, but she finds that hard to believe. Because from the moment he decides to turn his quiet intensity on her she’s left weak at the knees and aching to see his famous control fully unleashed.

Dex is looking for a forever girl, but they live vastly different lives in separate cities. Fi ought to guard her heart and walk away. But Dex has upped his game and is using all his considerable charm to convince Fi he’s her forever man.

Y’all. Sarah MacLean’s romance recommendations are like weaponized book fumes. She did a series of stories where people told her what tropes, etc. they loved and she did a rec based off them. And someone asked for an alpha virgin hero. So Sarah recommended Kristen Callihan’s The Game Plan – a virgin NFL center (who has his junk pierced) and a more-experienced younger sister of a friend.

This was not on my vacation TBR but SIGN ME UP.

Well-plotted and very steamy. I liked the sports star/virgin + experienced woman/friend’s younger sister combo really fun. The author also did good work on the toxic nature of celebrity media and how it just tears apart lives. It was also interesting seeing how Ethan and Fi work out a long-distance relationship. A few things didn’t work for me. I didn’t quite buy how spectacular he was in the sack from the word go or the MAJOR decision Fi makes late in the book (plot spoiler, sorry, so I won’t be specific here) was made without even considering how it would screw Ethan up and maybe she should talk to him first? I, uh, also have question about how a dude with piercings plays professional sports where the pads would rub on said piercings and no one appeared to say anything about them, even at a nude calendar shoot.

But very fun and a quick vacation read.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook and read it immediately.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

42129087Summary from Goodreads:
Stories provide portals into other worlds, both real and imagined. The promise of escape draws people from all backgrounds to speculative fiction, but when people of color seek passageways into the fantastic, the doors are often barred. This problem lies not only with children’s publishing, but also with the television and film executives tasked with adapting these stories into a visual world. When characters of color do appear, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter.

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. Grounded in her experiences as YA novelist, fanfiction writer, and scholar of education, Thomas considers four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC’s Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against black and brown people in our own world.

In response, Thomas uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities. Through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling, young people of color have reinvisioned fantastic worlds that reflect their own experiences, their own lives. As Thomas powerfully asserts, “we dark girls deserve more, because we are more.”

The Dark Fantastic is a very thought-provoking examination of race in media and young adult speculative fiction through the lens of the “Dark Fantastic” (spectacle, hesitation, violence, haunting, and emancipation). Thomas uses four key Black characters – Rue from The Hunger Games, Gwen from BBC’s Merlin, Bonnie from CW’s The Vampire Diaries, and Angelina Johnson from Harry Potter – to explore this cycle and how fan-fiction and counter-storytelling are changing these characters in the fandom. This monograph sits between popular lit-crit and academic theory so be ready for a more formal argument.

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

mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien (A Noodle Shop Mystery #1)

37535130Summary from Goodreads:
Welcome to the Ho-Lee Noodle House, where the Chinese food is to die for. . .

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead—after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy—to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out—it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.

I was building up a TBR of books to read on vacation and I was interested in a cozy mystery. Vivien Chen’s new series was recommended by a friend, so I picked up book 1 on my Nook.

Death by Dumpling is a sweet and funny cozy mystery set in a Chinese-American shopping center in central Ohio with a nosy protagonist (Lana Lee) who works at her family’s Chinese restaurant and inadvertently ends up delivering the murder weapon: shrimp dumplings (the victim had a known shellfish allergy, which the whole restaurant knew about, gasp!). There’s also a spunky roommate (this gal had grown up Harriet the Spy written all over her), a pushy mom, a lovable dad, way too many plausible suspects (I do love me a good Murder She Wrote or Midsomer Murders episode), and a cute pug named Kikko. And a cute, gruff detective who really wants Lana to mind her own business and tell him the truth. A little predictable and some of the characterizations were thin but a really fun read. I’ll probably check out book two to at least see where the relationship with the detective goes.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly (Lilac Girls #2)

40988979Summary from Goodreads:
The runaway bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. This sweeping new novel, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.

It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorkers treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov’s. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre’s who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.

I liked much of the story in Lost Roses and it was compelling – the violence of the Russian Revolution, how the emigres were treated like vermin abroad even though they would previously have been catered to as rich, white women, the comparative time period in the US, etc.

However, the actual construction of the book left me cold. The author uses a rotating cast of three narrators, which ordinarily would be fine, but in this case each narrative has a different pace broken up by unnecessary cliff-hangers and the other narratives. Two chapters from Sofya’s point-of-view that should flow directly from one to the other are broken up by a different narrator at what feels like a different time with a cheap cliff-hanger thrown in for good measure. This was more of a problem at the beginning of the book than at the end when the three narrating characters’ timelines had converged. Some of the plotting was revealed to be overly convoluted in the climax of the plot.

Read for the BN Book Club. Note: I have not read Lilac Girls, and understood everything fine, so don’t worry about reading in series-order, especially since this is a prequel.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book provided by the publisher for the book club leader.