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.

 

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sisters #1)

43884209Summary from Goodreads:
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Do you want a mad-sexy romance between a sarcastic programmer/web designer with chronic pain syndromes and a motorcycle-riding, secret artist building superintendent set in Nottingham? Where both main characters have some emotional garbage in their pasts they have to deal with in very real-world, adult ways? Plus a very sweet cat?

You do. You so do. Get a Life, Chloe Brown starts when the titular Chloe is almost run-over by a drunk driver. Like, the car misses her by three feet. In the life-flashing-past-her-eyes moment she imagines the eulogy at her funeral, which boils down to she never did anything and possibly might have a more exciting life as a dead person. Ouch. So she decides to make some changes. First off: get her own place (family is great, but they might be contributing to the problem). Second: make a list of exciting tasks.

So Chloe moves into an apartment complex managed by Red Morgan who is sexy and fit, with gorgeous ginger hair, and Chloe is immediately attracted to him (he paints at night without his shirt on, not that Chloe is spying on him or anything….she totally isn’t! Ok, fine. She is.). But he apparently doesn’t like her. (Incorrect: he is very attracted to her, too, but his ex-girlfriend was a moneyed, emotionally abusive piece of trash and Chloe sounds like money, therefore, he thinks Chloe is not for him.) When Chloe tries to rescue a cat stuck in a tree – overexerting herself, which sets off her fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue – Red comes to her rescue. And they slowly start to learn about each other. Soon Red is helping Chloe with her list.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a wonderful one-sitting read!!!! I hadn’t got around to reading my galley when it came out in November but it was Valentine’s Day and Dani’s book comes out this summer so I plopped myself down and DEVOURED Chloe’s book. (It’s Red’s book, too, but you know.) It’s such a rom-com, with a great “meet-cute” and funny sisters and scenes that just make you smile with joy, but Hibbert makes her characters very real. Chloe has a “real” body, rather than an imagined ideal figure, with a physical illness that isn’t often represented in fiction and one that has contributed to the walls she has built around her heart. Red is an absolute sweetheart but he has been the victim of an abusive manipulator; his confidence and ability to trust has to be rebuilt and he starts figuring out how to do this as a result of his relationship with Chloe. They both make mistakes that require considerable acts of trust to overcome. That makes the resolution of their story that much sweeter.

Chloe and Red are funny and sexy and sweet and very honest and if someone doesn’t option this book to adapt it as a movie and fill it with sexy British people (and a cat) this timeline has no soul. I personally vote for Tom Hardy – sexy man who can play a bit of rough – and, although this wouldn’t work IRL because Chloe is in her late 20s (I think), Marianne Jean-Baptiste can deliver perfect sarcasm that would be spot-on for that character. Although I think Tom is too old, too, given Red’s age in the book so WHO KNOWS! DREAM CASTING FOR EVERYONE! (Also putting forward a vote for Letitia Wright to play Chloe’s youngest sister Eve, because she can totally pull that character off and then get her own love story in book/movie three.)

CW: description of mental abuse of a character in the past and its aftermath, but very well-handled

Dear FTC: I read my copy of this book on my Nook because I didn’t get to my galley before it expired.

mini-review · stuff I read

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

50621280._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
After losing everything, a young boy discovers there are still reasons for hope in this luminous, life-affirming novel, perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett.

In the face of tragedy, what does it take to find joy?

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery–one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

Dear Edward is a very moving and well-crafted novel about the trauma of loss. Napolitano balanced the alternating storylines – the narrative of the flight itself and Edward’s life after the crash – very well. It’s one of those few novels where the two storylines are fighting one another. We know that the end of the “flight narrative” will end in a crash, there will be few surprises so it serves to fill out Edward’s narrative moving forward. The descriptions of how grief feels, how one carries around trauma like that are spot on. I’d never read Napolitano’s books before but this one makes me think about picking up the others some day.

I think this might be a hard book to read for someone who has experienced a sudden loss like Edward’s or has PTSD but Napolitano doesn’t use the story of the crash as spectacle. There are no gory descriptions and only 3-4 pages of description of the crash itself near the end.

Dear FTC: I read a galley of this book provided to the book club leader (me) at my store.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Headliners by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #5)

47826382Summary from Goodreads:
Sparks fly when two feuding TV presenters are thrown together to host a live morning show in Lucy Parker’s latest enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance.

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Now, if you haven’t read London Celebrities book 4, The Austen Playbook, you can read Headliners without it but I suggest you just go read it (and the rest of the series) because it’s really flipping good. And the big climax of that book leads directly into Sabs’ and Nick’s story here (you are hereby warned about spoilers…). 

Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have been professional rivals and competitors for years with competing evening news shows. Their separate networks have recently combined in a merger – so there’s only one spot at the top. But Nick displayed questionable ethics and broke a massive story about Sabs’ family that ruined one of his closest friendships and almost cost her sister Freddy her career (The Austen Playbook), not to mention tanking Sabrina’s credit with the network. On top of that, Nick got caught on camera in a dressing room rant about the network’s shady new boss. So he’s doubly in the doghouse and what was going to be a professional dogfight is now a knives-out grudge-match. But they’re each given one more chance: work together to rehab the network’s flagging morning chat show in one month and maybe they won’t be out on their asses in the New Year. Nick and Sabrina have to make nice for the camera but then doing it for the camera leads to perhaps making nice IRL…and then something more (knitting is involved, it’s adorable). And when a saboteur starts causing strange accidents – a misprogrammed child’s toy, salt in the sugar in a baking segment, a rogue boom mike – Nick and Sabs are in a race against time to save their careers and find time to come together (SPARKS DO SOME FLYING, OH YEAH). 

Headliners is an absolutely smashing enemies-to-lovers contemporary. This is an excellent addition to books that rehab the “bad guy” (Devil in Winter, Duke of Sin, Loving Rose) except rather than a rakish nobleman who kidnapped the previous book’s heroine or tried to kill the hero the stakes are much more realistic. Nick is a reporter who made a very ill-considered decision with professional and personal consequences. The fallout cost him friendships and integrity. The incident was also connected to Sabs discovering her boyfriend had been cheating on her (again) while on air which contributed to her bad press. Parker really gets into how one has to adult up after making a such a huge mistake, how trust has to be rebuilt. 

It’s also another in a recent string of contemporaries where everyone refreshingly is an adult and has adult problems. Nick and Sabs, despite their seemingly glamorous television presenter jobs, get up every morning – too damn early for normal humans, in my opinion – and do the daily grind. They have family to deal with, former lovers, surprise job opportunities. They are eventually able to talk about what happened, about all the hurt that Nick’s decision caused. And, to top it off, when Sabs gets her period and rotten cramps and the whole nine yards, and needs supplies, Nick goes out and gets them for her from the store, no whining, no acting like an nincompoop about it. Seeing characters on the page who aren’t jerks about menstrual cycles is such a great step forward. (If you were wondering if the infamous Sadie Foster, instigator of all the problems in The Austen Playbook, is still around, you best read this book.)

The Austen Playbook is out today, January 20, in ebook formats! (Paperbacks are out next week.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and I bought a copy on my Nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

44792512Summary from Goodreads:
In this warm and witty romance from acclaimed author Kate Clayborn, one little word puts one woman’s business—and her heart—in jeopardy . . .

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .

So, do you like planners and bullet journals and pens and paper? And food and nerdy games? And romance and longing and fantastic hand-written love letters? I have a book for youuuuuu.

The Planner of Park Slope – Meg Mackworth, whose hand-lettering business has taken off after a Buzzfeed profile – is having a creative block. She has deadlines and planner clients and a (huge) secret project for a life-changing opportunity and she just can’t get the design juices flowing. So she’s is helping out a friend in her stationery shop when an old client comes in. Meg hasn’t seen Reid Sutherland since the meeting a year before – a whole 45 minutes – when he came with his fiancee Avery to approve the final designs for his wedding stationery. Reid found a code hidden in the wedding program – he’s a mathematician – and has returned to ask Meg how she knew his marriage would fail (actually, he and Avery called off the wedding in a very amicable way since the discovery of this code gave him the impetus to do so, so don’t worry about evil ex-fiancees coming back to ruin things, this is not one of those books).

Meg is slightly panicked when stern, triple-take handsome Reid confronts her about the program. The code is a tic she has. Sometimes she sees words in specific fonts or forms, sometimes her impression of a client slips out in a tiny way, like specific letters will fall a hair lower than others in a word when she draws them. So she explains this to Reid over a coffee (and tea, Reid is a tea guy). He accepts her explanation and then admits that he only sought her out because he’s probably leaving New York City soon. He doesn’t like the city.

Meg, however, loves New York City and Brooklyn, where she lives. She came to love the city by exploring it on foot, taking notice of signs. How they talk to her, how they use color and design and font to convey information. So when she hits on an idea to break through her creative block she emails Reid and invites him on an adventure – they’ll walk around an area of the city and find signs for inspiration. Reid suggests that they make it a game and use the signs to spell out words of their own.

Thus begins an incredibly charming and cozy romance novel about an artist who creates custom stationery and journals and a Wall Street mathematician. There are so many things I loved about this book. Competence pr0n your thing? YES. Actual adults with jobs and adult stuff who handle their emotional mess through self-reflection and talking about it with others. But they are also in transition, which is what happens when everyone gets into their mid-to-late twenties. People grow and change, their goals change, intended careers don’t pan out, friends develop other relationships. This is where Meg is when the book opens and Reid comes in to ask her about the hidden message in his never-used wedding program. I loved their games, wandering around Brooklyn taking pictures of signs; this is very much a “setting-as-character” kind of novel. There is a hand-written love letter that comes into play late in this book and I may have turned into a puddle on the floor (exhibit A: one of my favorite books on this Earth is Persuasion, which also has a letter at a pivotal point in the plot, and I love this so much).

The book is written in first person present POV, which in general I do not like in my romance novels, but this one is in Meg’s perspective for the entire book. It is so skillfully done. The reader definitely doesn’t lose anything by not having Reid’s perspective alternating with Meg’s. If anything, it helps the story along because we also wonder along with Meg about this mysterious job Reid has and will not talk about.

I loved this book so much I read it twice in a row.

Love Lettering is out today, December 31! Get it and curl up for the New Year! (The cover is so pretty!)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – twice – and I preordered a copy at my store.

Addendum: this book will make you want to sit down and draw all the prettiest journal pages (spoiler: I have zero drawing capability but I have stickers, washi tape, and all sorts of colored pens. I can fake it 😂).

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Act Like It, Pretty Face, and Making Up by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #1-3)

28208878._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A sharp-witted heroine and an infuriating-but-swoon-worthy leading man bring down the house in this utterly charming contemporary romance debut from Lucy Parker

This just in: romance takes center stage as West End theatre’s Richard Troy steps out with none other than castmate Elaine Graham

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard’s antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

After starting with book 4 in the London Celebrities series (oops) I hopped back to the beginning to start with Act Like It. I really enjoyed this fake relationship plot between a good-natured, publicly-minded actress (Lainie) and a grouchy, patrician, git of an actor (Richard) who have to start appearing to be an item so ticket sales for the play they’re in won’t tank. So much good banter and a look inside the theatre world of West End London. I really liked how Richard softens, but doesn’t entirely lose his “people are insufferable” vibe while Lainie gets a little bit of an edge to her. Also, bro actors are the worst. (I kept imagining Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as the main characters. 😻)

30631124._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Highly acclaimed, award-winning author of Act Like It Lucy Parker returns readers to the London stage with laugh-out-loud wit and plenty of drama

The play’s the fling

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

I polished off Pretty Face as my second book in the July 2019 24in48 readathon!

I really loved this second book in the London Celebrities series. Lucy Parker takes aim at the shit actresses have to deal in the acting profession. Lily Lamprey, because she plays a sexy, sultry, somewhat loosely-moraled star of a Raging Twenties television show, is almost summarily dismissed out of hand by demanding theatre director Luc Savage for his groundbreaking new play about the Tudor queens. Breathy floozies (which is a kind paraphrase) should not portray Queen Elizabeth I. Lily can hold her own, though, and she nails her audition – and Luc’s attraction. Which is a problem when you are the much-older boss. And then you have to hire your recently-married ex-girlfriend to play Bloody Mary due to a casting change. Cue headaches.

Luc and Lily are great characters. I’ll admit to being a bit nervous about the age difference – Luc is in his early forties and Lily her mid-twenties – but it is handled so well on the page. Lucy Parker writes such wonderful adults in her books, who have jobs and careers and stakes but who also learn to deal with their emotional crap in very real ways. Pretty Face is probably my favorite in this series and I would love to see the actual play described in this book as a real production. Great to see an early version of Freddy from The Austen Playbook and Lainie and Richard back in a short scene (Richard gives great advice when he remembers to not be an actual git).

36533218._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved… difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is… different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London — and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

I had a weirdly hard time getting into Making Up. I think I was initially put off by the animosity between Leo and Trix at the beginning of the book, since we met them both in the previous book Pretty Face and they were both likeable characters. It’s uncomfortable for a bit plus Trix’s boss (and Leo’s, since he joins the makeup team) at The Festival of Masks is such a shit that it’s very grimace-inducing. I put the book aside for a while. But once Leo and Trix clear the air (that was a hot scene by the end *fans self*) the plot loosened up and I really came to like this couple. Plus, this is a very different aspect of stagecraft, with an aerial Cirque du Soleil-like show compared to the other three books in the series that are more oriented around playacting.

I’m going to give a brief trigger warning for this book – Trix has experienced psychlogical abuse in a previous relationship and that manifests on the page in vivid panic attacks.

And now I’m all caught up and ready for Headliners (book 5, due out January 2020, I lucked into a digital galley approval on Netgalley, but I am contemplating a re-read of The Austen Playbook to get ready for Sabs and Nick).

Dear FTC: I bought all my copies of this series on my Nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Three Part Harmony by Holley Trent (Plot Twist #2)

44662240._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes three is deliciously better than two.Raleigh McKean has borne witness to every conceivable way one person can take advantage of another. He sees it all the time in his job as a book publicist, especially working alongside his boss’s daughter. Everley Shannon would be amazing if she wasn’t such a pain in his ass.

All Raleigh wants is something real. But when the captivating stranger he agrees to go home with turns out to be Bruce Engle, the elusive rock star, it’s a harsh reminder that users are everywhere. Raleigh’s his route to a book deal, nothing more. What Raleigh doesn’t realize is that the brooding musician is also searching for something real—and it’s possible he’s already found it in Everley’s arms. But is there room in those arms for one more?

With Everley’s own dream of getting out from under her father’s shadow crumbling into chaos, it feels like the perfect time to embrace something new. But when Raleigh’s insatiable attraction to both Everley and Bruce makes it impossible to keep his distance, there’s only one obvious solution…assuming they can learn how to share.

This book is approximately 75,000 words. One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise : all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Poly/ménage romances are still one of the romance corners I don’t get into much (y’all, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of in some of them, pun intended) but I do keep trying to find ones I like. I had heard Holley Trent, who I hadn’t read before, was looking for reviewers for her new novel, Three-Part Harmony, and other readers said her books were good. OK, I’ll try it out.

It took me a bit to get into the story. Since I hadn’t read the first book I wasn’t sure what was going on with the whole scene at the beginning (which I guess follows directly off of book one) and Raleigh, one of those characters’ editor and a main character here, is a bit of an acquired taste. Plus, I wasn’t quite on board with Raleigh being territorial about his job where Everley was concerned since he was being a total prat (see also: things that can be cleared up with a real conversation). But after about 40 pages, once the three main characters were squared, the plot chugged right along. Interestingly, this is a rather medium-steamy ménage romance; there are some sex scenes but they’re not intimately described and definitely won’t blow your hair back (if you’re looking for HAWT threesomes by Chapter 2 this book is not for you). It’s mostly three people who manage to figure out by the end of the book that they love each other and function best as a unit. And boy, do they need each other because their families are all garbage (Everley’s dad is kind of sleazy and forcing nepotism on her, Raleigh’s family are career Conservative politicians who don’t agree with his “lifestyle,” and Bruce’s high-society parents don’t know what to do with autism spectrum disorder; I would add a mild CW for references to past trouble with families who are not supportive of queer or neurodiverse people.) Trent’s writing was quite good so I think I’ll seek out book one in this series at minimum.

Three Part Harmony is out today!

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

stuff I read

When You Read This by Mary Adkins

40220899._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:

For fans of Maria Semple and Rainbow Rowell, a comedy-drama for the digital age: an epistolary debut novel about the ties that bind and break our hearts.

Iris Massey is gone.
But she’s left something behind.

For four years, Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. But Iris has died, taken by terminal illness at only thirty-three. Adrift without his friend and colleague, Smith is surprised to discover that in her last six months, Iris created a blog filled with sharp and often funny musings on the end of a life not quite fulfilled. She also made one final request: for Smith to get her posts published as a book. With the help of his charmingly eager, if overbearingly forthright, new intern Carl, Smith tackles the task of fulfilling Iris’s last wish.

Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris’ big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who’s been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.

Told in a series of e-mails, blog posts, online therapy submissions, text messages, legal correspondence, home-rental bookings, and other snippets of our virtual lives, When You Read This is a deft, captivating romantic comedy—funny, tragic, surprising, and bittersweet—that candidly reveals how we find new beginnings after loss.

I had a paper galley of When You Read This but didn’t get to it back when the book published. However, I saw this in the overdrive audio lists at the library, so why not give it a try? The narrator handled reading of all the email/text technical stuff well, although she was a very slow reader (sounded normal sped up to 1.5x). The portions of the book from Iris’s blog had the best writing and character development – there are “posts” that are breathtakingly beautiful – which had the effect of making the other characters extremely two dimensional until Jade and Smith really started “talking” to one another. Carl, the intern, was very much an over-the-top parody of the white millennial intern until late in the book.

Dear FTC: Thanks to Harper for sending the paper galley waaaay back in January.