Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

36470806._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Set in the eighteenth century London underworld, this bawdy, genre-bending novel reimagines the life of thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard to tell a profound story about gender, love, and liberation.

Recently jilted and increasingly unhinged, Dr. Voth throws himself into his work, obsessively researching the life of Jack Sheppard, a legendary eighteenth century thief. No one knows Jack’s true story—his confessions have never been found. That is, until Dr. Voth discovers a mysterious stack of papers titled Confessions of the Fox.

Dated 1724, the manuscript tells the story of an orphan named P. Sold into servitude at twelve, P struggles for years with her desire to live as “Jack.” When P falls dizzyingly in love with Bess, a sex worker looking for freedom of her own, P begins to imagine a different life. Bess brings P into the London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with London’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of an oncoming plague abound. At last, P becomes Jack Sheppard, one of the most notorious—and most wanted—thieves in history.

Back in the present, Dr. Voth works feverishly day and night to authenticate the manuscript. But he’s not the only one who wants Jack’s story—and some people will do whatever it takes to get it. As both Jack and Voth are drawn into corruption and conspiracy, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined—and only a miracle will save them both.

An imaginative retelling of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, Confessions of the Fox blends high-spirited adventure, subversive history, and provocative wit to animate forgotten histories and the extraordinary characters hidden within.

Confessions of the Fox snagged my attention in catalogs last year and I started trying to read it as a digital galley. However, the structure of Confessions of the Fox is such that it makes digital reading very hard – there are MANY footnotes – so I waited to pick up a hardcover to try and read it. And then I realized that it required some involved reading time given the nature of how the story is told. So I started this book several times before I finally parked my butt on the couch during 24 in 48 and read the entire thing in one sitting.

This. Book. Is. Wild. 

The book opens with Dr. Voth, ostensibly telling the reader that the manuscript we are about to read was discovered as the university he works for emptied the stacks to make way for fancy administrative offices and that it is a ground-breaking work. The manuscript is purported to be the memoirs of one Jack Sheppard, a legendary outlaw in eighteenth-century London who serves as the inspiration for The Threepenny Opera and Mack the Knife. As “Jack” tells his story, the details of his life twist away from known sources. In this source Jack is a transman and his girlfriend Bess refers to herself as “lascar,” making her a woman of South Asian descent. As the narrative shifts and twists it seems to grow beyond the page…but is it real? Is Jack a narrator we can trust? Or Bess?

In between Jack’s story we get two sets of footnotes: 1) the annotations made by Dr. Voth noting deviations in the text from known facts about Jack Sheppard and explanations of seventeenth-century slang and 2) Dr. Voth begins to narrate the absurd twists his life takes after his discovery of the manuscript. As a transman, Dr. Voth is deeply invested in a manuscript that, if authenticated, would bring a significant contribution to trans and queer literature and history. And it is this emotional connection to the manuscript that opens Dr. Voth to manipulation by less-than-savory sources. It creates a second narrative within a frame around the Jack Sheppard narrative.

Jordy Rosenberg has given us a novel that is at once a purported eighteenth-century memoir and a narrative that morphs into a rallying cry against the commoditization of bodies, of prison abolition, of anti-colonialism, of anti-racism, of trans self-determination. Surrounding this is a framing narrative in footnotes of the professor annotating this tale and his fight against a university increasingly beholden to shady corporate and pharmaceutical interests, veering from Sterne-ean to Vonnegut-like levels of absurdity. Confessions of the Fox is a very complex book but well-worth the read.

I will give a trigger warning for this book. There are several instances where cis characters express an intrusive (and in one instance, gross) interest in a transman’s genitalia. There is also a scene of a surgery that is very appropriate to the historical setting in its details. Given that Rosenberg is a professor of queer and gender theory as well as eighteenth-century literature, I think the subject matter and situations in this book were handled very well. 

Dear FTC: I started reading a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but wound up having to buy a copy because of the formatting.

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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.

Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin

33503495Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, and with an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, a collection of thoughts—always adroit, often acerbic—on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation.

Ursula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades. Now she’s in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice—sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical—shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula’s blog, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her wonder at it.

On the absurdity of denying your age, she says, If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub. On cultural perceptions of fantasy: The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of? On her new cat: He still won’t sit on a lap…I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis. On breakfast: Eating an egg from the shell takes not only practice, but resolution, even courage, possibly willingness to commit crime. And on all that is unknown, all that we discover as we muddle through life: How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.

I didn’t read Le Guin’s blog when she was actually writing it, so it was with a bit of chagrin that I picked up this volume of posts collected from her site. This is a really good selection of posts ranging from the life of a writer, aging, a little lit theory, and a number of posts about her cat, Pard (as befits the writer of Catwings).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book a while back.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

1232Summary from Goodreads:
The international literary sensation, about a boy’s quest through the secrets and shadows of postwar Barcelona for a mysterious author whose book has proved as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget.

Barcelona, 1945 – just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

As with all astounding novels, The Shadow of the Wind sends the mind groping for comparisons—The Crimson Petal and the White? The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte? Of Victor Hugo? Love in the Time of Cholera?—but in the end, as with all astounding novels, no comparison can suffice. As one leading Spanish reviewer wrote, “The originality of Ruiz Zafón’s voice is bombproof and displays a diabolical talent. The Shadow of the Wind announces a phenomenon in Spanish literature.” An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.

I’ve been trying to finish The Shadow of the Wind for years. It was one of the first books to end up on my “Read My Own Damn Books” list. For some reason, I just couldn’t get any steam going to actually make headway in the book beyond the first few chapters.

Thanks to a combination of paper and audio book, I finally finished! Once I go into the meat of the study I really liked the labyrinthine plotting – even if it did slow the reading down. The recreation of the Spain and Barcelona of the Spanish Civil War and Franco was very atmospheric. The ending was both climactic (action!) and anti-climactic (because I’d guessed all the reveals since those bits were all very Victorian-Gothic-ish). And now I can read the rest of the books in the series.

Or at least try to – I may have three more entries in my list.

Dear FTC: I read my own trade paper copy and borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive site.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir

835832Summary from Goodreads:
On the night of 10 February 1567 an explosion devastated the Edinburgh residence of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The noise was heard as far away as Holyrood Palace, where Queen Mary was attending a wedding masque. Those arriving at the scene of devastation found, in the garden, the naked corpses of Darnley and his valet. Neither had died in the explosion, but both bodies bore marks of strangulation.

It was clear that they had been murdered and the house destroyed in an attempt to obliterate the evidence. Darnley was not a popular king-consort, but he was regarded by many as having a valid claim to the English throne. For this reason Elizabeth I had opposed his family’s longstanding wish to marry him to Mary Stuart, who herself claimed to be the rightful queen of England.

Alison Weir’s investigation of Darnley’s murder is set against one of the most dramatic periods in British history. Her conclusions shed a brilliant new light on the actions and motives of the conspirators and, in particular, the extent of Mary’s own involvement.

Having finished Jenny Wormald’s analysis of Mary’s personal rule, I jumped right into Alison Weir’s exhaustive analysis of the murder of Lord Darnley, one of the only Weir biographies I hadn’t yet read. And it’s pretty safe to conclude that Weir has turned over all the stones currently available to turn over and we can conclude that:

  1. Mary did not collude in the murder of her worthless husband, though if the pox had carried him off she would have been perfectly happy about it because he was a complete douche.
  2. She made some really terrible choices, starting with marrying Darnley in the first place, that just laid her open for others to take advantage of her misfortune such that she never regained her footing.

Although one would think that Darnley’s murderers could have come up with a more subtle plan than “blow up the house and if that fails smother him.” The guy was known to party a little too hard – couldn’t he have fallen out a window of Edinburgh Castle or drowned in the Loch or Firth or something?

Dear FTC: I’ve owned my copy of this book for a number of years.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bound to Be a Groom by Megan Mulry (Regency Reimagined #1)

20418278Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes our wildest dreams come true.

In the tumultuous summer of 1808, Spain and England are close to war and four young lovers are close to ecstasy.

To carve out an independent life with the woman she loves, Anna knows she must leave her quiet Spanish convent to become a courtesan. To gain experience, she sets her sights on . . .

Sebastian, whose powerful, aristocratic confidence suits Anna’s mercenary goals. But his arrogance masks a craving for submission that Anna instinctively satisfies. Sebastian soon begs for her hand in marriage, even if it means sharing her with . . .

Pia, who trusts Anna completely—with her body and her future—until she learns of Anna’s hasty marriage. Pia questions their commitment to each other as they leave for London to meet . . .

Farleigh, the seemingly feckless duke who thinks he’s over Sebastian, the potent Spanish soldier he bedded two years ago.

What begins as a series of erotic escapades soon evolves into a deep, unbreakable bond. Two men and two women who yearn to explore are about to make their wildest dreams come true.

So Jenn on Get Booked recommended Bound to be a Groom in response to a listener who wanted to expand their romance sub-genre reading and I was like, “huh, well, I will check this out” (plus it’s only like $3 on ebook, so even if it was a dud it was fine). This is a pretty ok book, though I found the story a bit too thin in places for my taste and the characters flat outside of their bedroom activities. So it falls more on the erotica side (plot serves the sex scenes) verses romance (sex scenes serve the plot). I think ménage romances/erotica are not for me? There are too many moving parts (haha, #sorrynotsorry) to keep track of, especially once three expanded to four. Not ruling the whole sub-genre out completely, but probably not moving up the preference ladder. Mulry does write the sex scenes well, so that is a plus if this is your thing.

Dear FTC: I read the copy I bought for my nook.

mini-review · Read Harder · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Ladycastle, written by Delilah S. Dawon, illustrated by Ashley A. Woods and Becca Farrow

34466854Summary from Goodreads:
When the King and all the men of the castle die, it’s time for the women to knight up.

When King Mancastle and his mighty vassals ride off on a crusade, the women left behind are not at all put out—that’s a lot less armor polishing to do. Of course, when the men get themselves eaten by a dragon and leave a curse that attracts monsters to the castle . . . well, the women take umbrage with that.

Now, Merinor, the blacksmith’s wife is King, Princess Aeve is the Captain, and the only remaining (and least capable) knight, Sir Riddick, is tasked with teaching the ladies of the castle how to fight, defend, build, and do all manner of noisy things the men had done while the women assumed they were just drunk.

Novelist Delilah S. Dawson (Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon, As Wicked as She Wants) brings her first original series to the graphic novel world, and is joined by breakthrough illustrator Ashley A. Woods (Niobe: She Is Life) for a rollicking fantasy adventure in Ladycastle.

What do all the women of Mancastle do when all the terrible dudes they are married to/related to go off and get themselves eaten by a dragon and the castle cursed by a wizard? They do all the stuff the men were doing – but better, with more cooperation and much less violence. (The only dude left is the most inept knight who looks like the Santa Claus version of King Pellinore.) They take advice from a Lady in the Pond who dispenses swords, the Well-Hag Hagatha, and a badass castle librarian in a wheelchair to fight off salamanders, werewolves, harpies, and a surprising Big Bad. And they re-name the castle Ladycastle.

I really enjoyed this funny, rompy take on Arthurian legend-ish tales. There were a lot of riffs on Disney movies, musicals, and Monty Python jokes. The writing does hit you over the head with very obvious criticisms of gender norms/stereotypes, compulsory heterosexuality (maybe?, no one seemed to be in a happy heterosexual marriage but no one was in a non-hetero relationship, either, and no one was exactly bemoaning having no dudes around for sexytimes; it wouldn’t have hurt to put an explicitly non-heterosexual partnership or actual genderqueer character on the page rather than some implied coding), and toxic masculinity (all the dudes these women were related to or married to were the actual worst). But sometimes we need the blindingly obvious, though. I very much enjoyed reading Ladycastle and the art was excellent, very straightforward. This is an all-ages comic, not a whole lot of violence, no language or sex.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book to read for the Graphic Novel Book Group at my store. It fulfilled the “read a comic from a publisher other than DC, Marvel, or Image” task for Read Harder.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Cairo by G. Willow Wilson

4907450Summary from Goodreads:
The original graphic novel by breakout talent G. Willow Wilson, a Cairo-based journalist, with art by renowned illustrator M.K. Perker, is now available in trade paperback! The creative team behind the new monthly series AIR brings together ancient and modern Middle East with a Vertigo twist. A stolen hookah, a spiritual underworld and a genie on the run change the lives of five strangers forever in this modern fable set on the streets of the Middle East’s largest metropolis.

This magical-realism thriller interweaves the fates of a drug runner, a down-on-his-luck journalist, an American expatriate, a young activist and an Israeli soldier as they race through bustling present-day Cairo to find an artifact of unimaginable power, one protected by a dignified jinn and sought by a wrathful gangster-magician. But the vastness of Africa’s legendary City of Victory extends into a spiritual realm – the Undernile – and even darker powers lurk there…

Don’t miss the incredible graphic novel Publishers Weekly called “lush and energetic…a beautiful book,” and The Los Angeles Times Book Review praised as “lyrically beautiful.”

What do you get when you mix a hash smuggler, a lost Israeli soldier, a Cairene journalist, a Lebanese-American man with secrets, an idealistic California Girl, and a jinn? A bananas graphic novel about choice and sacrifice. I was a little worried going in that I wouldn’t like it because I love Ms Marvel so much, but this has the same quippy, dry humor. It’s definitely for adults – there’s a lot more violence and magic than Ms. Marvel. Good art, but I wish it had been in color.

I picked this up during Willow’s signing when she was in town this year and got it signed.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn copy.