mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Loose Ends #1)

42900442._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
All Dr. Sloan Copeland needed was someone to watch her kids. What she found was the man of her dreams…

After a nasty divorce and a thousand mile move, Dr. Sloan Copeland and her twin daughters are finally getting the hang of their new life in Los Angeles. When their live-in nanny bails with no warning, Sloan is left scrambling to find a competent caretaker to wrangle her smart, sensitive girls. Nothing less will do.

Enter Rafe Whitcomb. He’s all of those things, not to mention good-natured and one heck of a whiz in the kitchen. He’s also tall, and handsome, and bearded, and ripped, and tatted, wrist to neck.

It doesn’t take long for the Copelands to invite Rafe into their home. Just as quickly, both Sloan and Rafe find themselves succumbing to a heady mutual attraction, neither of them wants to deny. With every minute they spend under the same roof, this working mom can’t help but wonder if Rafe can handle all her needs…

Rafe is a solid “what if Chris Hemsworth was a ginger with way more tattoos and also real good with kids” fantasy where a genius cardiac surgeon (single mom with twins) needs a nanny in an emergency and this real tall hot bearded dude with excellent references happens to be available. And then they realize very quickly that they’re attracted to each other, like attracted to each other. Then have amazing sex when neither of them have kid duty. Loved it. Plus Rafe’s family is so awesome.

Picked up my copy at The Ripped Bodice almost exactly one year ago and had Rebekah sign it for me because she just happened to be working 💖

Dear FTC: This copy is fucking mine.

stuff I read

Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby

49960031Summary from Goodreads:
A new essay collection from Samantha Irby about aging, marriage, settling down with step-children in white, small-town America.

Irby is turning forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and is courted by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife and two step-children in a small white, Republican town in Michigan where she now hosts book clubs. This is the bourgeois life of dreams. She goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “skinny, luminous peoples” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” and hides Entenmann’s cookies under her bed and unopened bills under her pillow.

New Samantha Irby essays! Wow, No Thank You. is a group of personal essays that are much more “current” as opposed to some of her previous collections. And what I mean by that is that more of the topics appear to stem from events that happen now – working in LA as a writer on Shrill, learning to step-parent (a little bit), moving from Chicago to Michigan with her wife. That’s not to say she’s done with using her childhood experiences as topics, it’s just that they’ve shifted, less autobiographical and more “this is how growing up poor and Black impacts how I manage money now as a forty-something pretend-adult” and “I haven’t had a lot of breaks and all of a sudden I’m writing for Lindy West’s TV show and WTF is happening.” All in that signature Sam Irby, dry-as-the-Midwest-in-week-12-of-a-drought, self-deprecating style. I loved the mix-tape essay.

I read this essays one or two at a time at night before bed, once the book was out (and once I had obtained it from my store since we had just closed to in-store shopping due to COVID-19 and hadn’t quite worked out curbside or anything). Because I wasn’t fancy enough to get a galley.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because duh.

stuff I read

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

46263943Summary from Goodreads:
Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, BuzzFeed, and more.

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.

Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.

About four or five (six? what is time?) years ago, someone RT’d a reaction gif of Pride and Prejudice (from the miniseries) into my Twitter feed. It was clever and spot on, from a guy named Brandon who was a biochem grad student. He had a whole string of gifs from a live-Tweet of the miniseries so I hit the follow button. I have never regretted it as Brandon shared more and more of his writing, beautiful short stories and personal essays, and his quietly sarcastic humor with us on Twitter and in various literary publications. After he moved to my town for the MFA program in writing, our paths crossed often on campus and at literary events. And I’m absolutely floored by Brandon’s debut novel Real Life. (I’m not surprised, since he’s so damn talented and has a heck of a work ethic, but the book is still a stunner.)

Real Life is a campus novel about a character who is always on the periphery of campus novels – a gay, black, and broke young man named Wallace in a prestigious biochemistry program at a very (very) white Midwestern university. This is not funny like Lucky Jim or navel-gaze-y like The Marriage Plot or Stoner. This is about one weekend in Wallace’s career in graduate school. Three days. One choice (accepting an invitation to hang at the lake with friends after his summer project goes wrong and he just doesn’t have the spoons to restart it that evening) that is the first domino in a chain of many to fall and lead him to the ultimate decision: should he stay in his graduate program and endure all manners of microaggressions and macroaggressions and continue to work doggedly toward his PhD or should he leave and take a chance on the unknown? Underlying all of Wallace’s actions is the knowledge that his estranged father died several weeks ago; no matter how much Wallace might try to keep the past buried safely in the past it bubbles up to confront him.

Wallace’s story is lovely, quiet, and so very, very real (Brandon always says he writes domestic realism and he isn’t wrong). Wallace is the kind of character who feels conditioned to keep an even keel and keep himself to himself, no matter how angry or happy or sad he might feel on the inside, because if he does drop the facade and express emotion he’s immediately smacked down for it. He’s picked on for his “deficiencies” – an absolutely maddening term and one I’ve heard used by faculty in the past to describe students from less-privileged (i.e. often code for “black”) backgrounds – and snidely dismissed by his adviser. His keep-your-head-down-and-work-hard ethic is thrown back at him as arrogant. Even though these events might seem like high drama, Brandon’s prose has such a calm beauty in his description. Even a description of breeding and plating nematodes has such beauty that we are hit with dismay when it’s revealed the plates are colonized by fungi, ruining the project. But it all feels so intimate, so quiet, particularly an extraordinary stream-of-consciousness chapter where Wallace narrates his childhood history to a lover (hook-up? lover? Booty-call isn’t right, either). Such a beautiful character study.

*Edit to add: at Brandon’s reading at Prairie Lights on Wednesday, he mentioned that some white reviewers see this novel as “raw” (or various similar descriptors) which…definitely not Wallace. I might concede rawness when it comes to showing the racist and homophobic micro and macroaggressions from his friends and colleagues, including one really awful scene where a fellow graduate student (and I absolutely despise this character) uses the n- and f- words before accusing him of misogyny. Brandon isn’t interested in coating their treatment of Wallace in politeness, to make white people feel better. There’s no window-dressing or walking-back to soften these characters. It feels raw because the “nice” and “who mean well” has been removed from the Nice White People Who Mean Well. They’re presented in all their ickiness.

I’m a bit worried I am not doing Real Life justice in my review. Sometimes, you finish a book and just sit in wonder. This book speaks to me on many levels and on other levels I know I have missed nuances. As a nice, white, straight, middle-aged lady, there are corners and layers in Wallace’s story that I will never uncover, no matter how hard I try because I just don’t have the experience or background to see them. To make up for this, allow me to link to three incredible reviews of Real Life, all by men who are both black and queer: Michael Arceneaux in Time, Jeremy O. Harris in The New York Times, and MJ Franklin also in the Times.

Real Life is an early contender for one of my best books of 2020 (and 2020 publishing is bananas, y’all). Please, please buy it, read it, recommend it for your library to purchase. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting on pins and needles for Brandon’s short story collection, Filthy Animals. Real Life is available everywhere in the US today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and will be buying a copy at Brandon’s reading tomorrow. Also, he’s a friend, so take that as you will.

 

stuff I read

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

43682552Summary from Goodreads:
From award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

I have followed Saeed Jones on social media and read his articles for a long time so I was so excited when his memoir was announced. And then How We Fight For Our Lives got picked as a Barnes and Noble Fall 2019 Discover title.

Wow. Simply, wow. Not a word wasted, not a word out of place. How We Fight For Our Lives is a beautiful, spare, rich memoir about being black and gay and how little space is given to those men as they grow from childhood to adulthood, especially when they grow up in a very conservative town. Internalized self-loathing is so common among these pages that I can’t even imagine the work Saeed must have done to be able to bare those emotions for the reader. The book is also a love letter to his late mother, those last few chapters cut me to the quick. A must-read, one of the best books of 2019.

How We Fight For Our Lives is out today.

Dear FTC: I read an advance copy of this book provided to my store for the Discover program.

stuff I read

The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me by Keah Brown

39297013Summary from Goodreads:
From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America.

Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.

In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

By “smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself” (Teen Vogue), Brown and The Pretty One aims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds.

The Pretty One is a very well-written essay collection about living as a disabled woman of color – how these intersections affect personal relationships, self-worth, internalized ableism, seeing one’s self (or not, as is the case) in books, film, and TV, and mental health. She writes so bravely about self-destructive thoughts and the plan to end her own life in a way that I think we don’t often “allow” in disability literature and she credits books by Sarah Dessen and Toni Morrison to helping her. Brown has a refreshing, direct but conversational style. A writer to watch.

The Pretty One is out now!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #3)

42599067Summary from Goodreads:
Maddie and Theo have two things in common:

1. Alexa is their best friend
2. They hate each other

After an “oops, we made a mistake” night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa’s wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they’re comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won’t fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn’t looking.

But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.

Now you know why I had to get The Proposal finished ASAP – The Wedding Party galleys went live! LOL.

We met Maddie (Alexa’s best friend) and Theo (Alexa’s work husband) in The Wedding Date and they don’t like each other, even though they’re Alexa’s attendants at her wedding. It’s bit Pride and Prejudice – Theo thinks being a stylist is a waste, Maddie thinks Theo is a stuck-up snob. They have a little one-night stand at the beginning of The Wedding Party – and intend to never speak of it again – but since they have to interact because of “bridal party” duties they keep finding themselves alone together. Soon, Maddie and Theo are hanging out (I had a really bad pun here but I am going to spare you) outside of wedding duties.

4 stars overall: The beginning of the book felt rushed but I liked how Theo and Maddie found themselves caught in the trap of “we said this was a fling but how do we admit this is more” because God forbid you show anyone your softer bits or give ground first. I loved Maddie’s idea of creating a way to help low income women with style tips was aces and how she remembered what her mother went through as a single parent without a large income or support. I read this book while I was on vacation in San Francisco – it was really neat to be able to put the geography from the book together with the real streets and neighborhoods (and the climate – even though it was late May it sure as heck wasn’t very warm at night!).

5 great big stars for Alexa: She makes a big appearance here as Maddie and Theo’s bestie (and sets up the “I love you” scene SO WELL) and I ❤️ her.

Now, if having a great story for Maddie isn’t enough, Maddie’s awesome mom Vivian is going to get her own HEA in November! Christmas romance! In England! Royals!

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 · 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.