Readathon · stuff I read

24in48 Readathon July 2019: Wrapping up!

Heyo! 24in48 is over for another six months (womp womp) but it was a great Readathon for me. I didn’t read for 24 hours due to schedule (and sleep, rats) but I did read for just over 18 hours, finished five books, and read 1294 pages. Whee!

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The next 24in48 Readathon is scheduled for January 18-19, 2020! Follow their page for details and signups! Much love to unicorn-hosts Rachel, Kerry, and Kristen and their social media good fairies Sarah and Amanda!

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.

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.

Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

35259631Summary from Goodreads:
A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking about Jasmine Guillory’s debut romance novel. And when Roxane Gay starts tweeting about an excellent, smart, and sexy romance novel she’s reading you put it on your TBR. During the 24in48 Readathon this weekend a needed a much lighter book to balance some unexpected heaviness (Kent Haruf, I was not planning to read your book but I needed a short audiobook and whyyyyyyy did you do that to me?) so I pulled up my galley of The Wedding Date and dove right in.

Cue all the squealing. Guillory has provided us with a super-cute contemporary romance about a smart woman who gets stuck in an elevator with a hot guy who turns out to need a date for a wedding that weekend. Which turns into a one night stand. And then turns into something else entirely unlike what Alexa and Drew expected. I was hooked almost immediately by the meet-cute. Super-hot dude gets stuck in an elevator with you and makes jokes about needing snacks? Yes, please. And then he asks you to be his hot date for a wedding? I’d be willing to over-look the “oops I panicked and said you were my girlfriend” thing, too. The plot kept me turning pages until late into the night (good thing it was Saturday). 

I loved Alexa. Sharp, decisive, and with a love of doughnuts (yes, girl, always with the sprinkles). Guillory gave her a great job and purpose that just leap right off the page; Alexa doesn’t exist within the confines of this book, she could be a real person who is a mayor’s chief of staff trying to start a program for troubled kids. I liked Drew as a character, but I had trouble finding reasons for his commitment problems outside of being a busy doctor.  He didn’t come across as a Player player, no one accused him of cheating or two-timing or anything, so I couldn’t quite figure him out.

Holding up Alexa and Drew’s relationship was whip-smart multi-layered writing, infusing the book with discussions about body positivity, race, and privilege.  When Alexa arrives at the rehearsal dinner, she asks if she’s going to be the only Black person there, letting the reader know that not only will Alexa stick out as a new face attached to Drew (who has some history with the bridal party), she will be unable to blend in with the guests at any point; later, the discussions about which parts of Berkeley are supportive of her diversion program are similarly revealing. Alexa also has some thoughts about places she wished wouldn’t jiggle quite so much while having sex, which I’m sure most women have had, but Guillory makes it clear that Drew finds Alexa’s curves very sexy (every once in a while I’ll read a romance where there’s a “hero-loves-heroine-despite-her-chubbiness” vibe and that’s a definite “ew” but totally not a thing here). Ordering food and enjoying a meal are also big parts of this story, whether the main characters are alone, together, or in a group; there’s no food-shaming. Guillory also gets a Gold Star for condom usage EVERY time one was called for in addition to writing very consent-positive sex scenes.

The Wedding Date is on sale today! Pick it up at your favorite bookstore. (And apparently there’s going to be a sequel, with Drew’s buddy Carlos.)

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

mini-review · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (transl. Elizabeth Bryer)

29633622Summary from Goodreads:
Blood of the Dawn follows three women whose lives intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as “the time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. The novel rewrites the conflict through the voice of women, activating memory through a mixture of politics, desire, and pain in a lucid and brutal prose.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez (b. 1975, Lima, Peru), critic, scholar, and author, founded PERUFEST, the first Peruvian film festival in New York, where she lives, and won the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize for her debut novel, Blood of the Dawn.

Blood of the Dawn came across my radar when Amanda recommended it on a recent episode of All the Books.  So I picked it up at the library and put it in my readathon stack. And it is an absolutely heartbreaking and stunning short novel set during the time of the Shining Path insurgency told through the voices of three women: a revolutionary true-believer, a Quechua villager, and an upper-class reporter/photographer. Brutal, pain-soaked, and surreal.

TW for rape, which is an unavoidable event during this period in Peru and used against women on both sides of the conflict, and other brutality.