mini-review · stuff I read

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

46265702._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes, comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history—and herstory—as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

I liked Mrs. Everything, especially the relationship between Jo and Bethie and how women’s roles have changed (or not changed, see also: #metoo) over the latter half of the 20th century. But it felt very draggy to me, with some parts rendered so beautifully early in the book and then others very slapdash later. She could have used some balance in the narrative pacing.

It’s definitely an ambitious book, based on events in her mother’s life. The author’s note in the back of the Barnes and Noble Book Club edition was very informative. I haven’t read any of Weiner’s previous books so I don’t know how this compares to Good in Bed or In Her Shoes.

Read for BN Book Club. A trigger warning for a brief description of sexual assault and abortion on the page and several depictions of unwanted groping.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book provided by the publisher to the Book Club leader.

Advertisements
Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Feminine Pursuits #1)

42117380._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

Look at that pretty, pretty cover. The story for The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is pretty rad, too.

Our astronomer-heroine Lucy – who performed all the mathematical calculations for her astronomer father – is at the end of her rope. Her lover has just married, her artist-brother is being a hypocritical jerk, and she’s running out of money. She jumps on the opportunity to translate a critical work of astronomy from French to English and presents herself to the widowed Countess of Moth.

Our embroiderer-heroine Catherine would like to get this business finished so she can wash her hands of her late adventurer-husband’s affairs. He had been volatile and unappreciative but Catherine is in need of something to do. So the young woman who turns up on her doorstep for the position of translator is an intriguing – although somewhat dismaying, Catherine has had enough of scientific ambition – surprise. After a few missteps and one scathingly patriarchal Society meeting later, Catherine determines that she will fund Lucy’s translation of the book herself in opposition to the Society translation (by a male translator, naturally).

Over the course of the months that Lucy lives with Catherine, diligently working away at the translation, the two women grow closer to one another. Lucy never makes it a secret that she is attracted to Catherine, but for Catherine – who defined herself sexually in terms of, well, she was married to a man and had an affair with a man so she likes only men, yes? – becoming entangled with Lucy in a non-professional sense means that she will have to re-examine past relationships to see herself in a new light. There is a beautiful scene where she examines some of her embroidery work – Catherine is a gifted fiber-artist who can create a portrait with her needle and silks – in light of the realization that she is also attracted to women.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was a wonderful summer romance filled with lady scientists and artists taking down the patriarchy. Waite sort-of signals the Big Reveal plot-twist at a Royal Society debate ahead of time, so I did catch it, but it was a delicious piece of “eat crow, dudes” nonetheless. Lucy’s and Catherine’s relationship was so lovely to see develop and also to see them have growing pains related to class, wealth, and jealousy. There are even small side plots where Catherine and Lucy help lift up other women scientists and artists.

(Note: I read my galley while waiting on an Amtrak train that was supposed to arrive at 830pm but didn’t arrive until almost 11pm and I was stuck in the crappy train station starting around 5:30pm. This book kept me from murdering people. High praise, I’m sure, lol.)

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is out today in ebook! Mass market paperbacks are expected July 23.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my Nook OF COURSE.

mini-review · stuff I read

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Karina Longworth

38647394Summary from Goodreads:
In this riveting popular history, the creator of You Must Remember This probes the inner workings of Hollywood’s glamorous golden age through the stories of some of the dozens of actresses pursued by Howard Hughes, to reveal how the millionaire mogul’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity trapped, abused, or benefitted women who dreamt of screen stardom.

In recent months, the media has reported on scores of entertainment figures who used their power and money in Hollywood to sexually harass and coerce some of the most talented women in cinema and television. But as Karina Longworth reminds us, long before the Harvey Weinsteins there was Howard Hughes—the Texas millionaire, pilot, and filmmaker whose reputation as a cinematic provocateur was matched only by that as a prolific womanizer.

His supposed conquests between his first divorce in the late 1920s and his marriage to actress Jean Peters in 1957 included many of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, among them Billie Dove, Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Lana Turner. From promoting bombshells like Jean Harlow and Jane Russell to his contentious battles with the censors, Hughes—perhaps more than any other filmmaker of his era—commoditized male desire as he objectified and sexualized women. Yet there were also numerous women pulled into Hughes’s grasp who never made it to the screen, sometimes virtually imprisoned by an increasingly paranoid and disturbed Hughes, who retained multitudes of private investigators, security personnel, and informers to make certain these actresses would not escape his clutches.

Vivid, perceptive, timely, and ridiculously entertaining, Seduction is a landmark work that examines women, sex, and male power in Hollywood during its golden age—a legacy that endures nearly a century later.

I’ve been a fan of Karina Longworth’s work on her podcast You Must Remember This for a while so I was really excited to see that she had a book coming out about Howard Hughes. Not because of Howard Hughes, because ew, gross, but because she was going to shine a light on the women he treated like garbage. Seduction is the story of how Hughes had this weirdly charming personality, convinced a lot of people that he knew what he was doing in the movie business, and ultimately became a person suffering from untreated mental illness.

One of the major themes in Seduction is how Hughes controlled women’s careers in the movie industry, to the extent that some of them didn’t even work during the time they lived in Hollywood. Women like Jane Russell, Faith Domergue, and Billie Dove who were poised for Betty Davis-levels of stardom, and who were good actresses, were reduced to their noticeable physical assets and made far fewer movies than contemporaries at other studios. Myraid other young women, some of them young enough to require their mothers to come with them, were lured to Hollywood with the promise of stardom and then kept under constant surveillance and prevented from working.

While I was not shocked that he was a completely gross, creepy, controlling predator, particularly toward very young women of a certain physical type, I was surprised that he was a really bad businessman and filmmaker (I should have known about the filmmaker stuff, I have seen The Conqueror, do not recommend). He tinkered with movies so long that they went over budget, or no longer made sense. RKO died under his leadership. The only reason he had money to blow in Hollywood was because he inherited an extremely prosperous manufacturing company from this father and then picked up lucrative defense contracts during World War II.

Hughes was not the only gross dude running around Hollywood between the 1920s and 1960s. There were a lot, trust me. For all the glitz and glamour, “classic” Hollywood had a lot of garbage hiding under rocks and Karina shines a very strong light on one particular corner. Now, if you have listened to some of the podcast episodes that were produced as part of the publicity for Seduction don’t worry that the same information is re-hashed in both places – the episodes and the book complement each other, so I highly recommend both.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps

39939598Summary from Goodreads:
A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougartown who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru” (The New Yorker).

Busy Philipps’s autobiographical book offers the same unfiltered and candid storytelling that her Instagram followers have come to know and love, from growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona and her painful and painfully funny teen years, to her life as a working actress, mother, and famous best friend.

Busy is the rare entertainer whose impressive arsenal of talents as an actress is equally matched by her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and sharp observations about life, love, and motherhood. Her conversational writing reminds us what we love about her on screens large and small. From film to television to Instagram, Busy delightfully showcases her wry humor and her willingness to bare it all.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to write this book. I’m just so grateful someone asked. Otherwise, what was the point of any of it??”

This Will Only Hurt a Little is a “celebrity memoir” in the vein of Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr You. However, Busy names names when she needs to rather than give everyone pseudonyms and she’s basically done with a lot of the bullshit of Hollywood “stardom” or whatever. But what this book really turns into is the story of how Busy got to BE Busy, warts and all. How she was a kid who might have been a little messed up, choices that she made, how she bought into the misogyny of the acting business, how she learned to be a good friend when her besties went through terrible things, how to be a mom and partner in a relationship. (I did kind of want to kick her husband in the shins at times, because dude he doesn’t come off really well at times – this is addressed later, just an FYI, and they seem to be doing better.)

And here’s the thing: I hope Busy writes more. I want her to write more. Write some more scripts or does more directing or gets into producing if she doesn’t want to deal with casting anymore because she’s tired of getting burned. She has a good eye for a turn of phrase and clearly has comedy timing. The book could have used a bit tighter editing at times, but she tells a good story. She’s got her talk-show now (which looks excellent, but since I don’t have cable I haven’t been able to watch it) but I’d love to see her push forward outside of acting.

I listened to this on audiobook, read by Busy, and I really can’t conceive of it any other way now. The way she “does” her mom’s voice (it’s like the mom on That 70s Show), how you can hear her getting choked up at times. I got choked up. Definite recommend on the audio.

Dear FTC: I borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive system.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duchess by Design by Maya Rodale (The Guilded Age Girls Club #1)

38388578Summary from Goodreads:
In the first novel of Maya Rodale’s enthralling new series, an English duke vows to make an American seamstress his duchess…

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker—not a duchess—and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan—as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all do not lose their hearts.

I have agonized over my thoughts on Maya Rodale’s new book, Duchess by Design. Because it isn’t BAD, this was a fun read. I loved all the amazing historical details and lady-positive plot points (and consent-positive sexytimes). But I just didn’t believe that, beyond the Instalust, Kingston and Adeline deserved their HEA. They didn’t spend very much time together aside from a walk in the park and a meeting or two and a few nights out on the town; their social statuses were so different they didn’t spend much time together except for strategic points in the plot. We don’t really get to know them as a couple. So while this is a really great start to a new series I know Maya can do better. (As my friend Karena pointed out to me – this is really a love story between a woman and her awesome dresses with pockets.)

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

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.

Best American · mini-review · stuff I read

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2017 edited by Hope Jahren

33503528Summary from Goodreads:
“Undeniably exquisite . . . Reveal[s] not only how science actually happens but also who or what propels its immutable humanity.” —Maria Popova

“An excellent introduction to the key issues in science today.” —P. D. Smith, Guardian

“[A] stellar compendium . . . Delightful to read.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

A renowned scientist and the best-selling author of Lab Girl, Hope Jahren selects the year’s top science and nature writing from writers who balance research with humanity and in the process uncover riveting stories of discovery across disciplines.

When October rolls around each year, I eagerly snatch up my stack of HMH’s Best American Series titles (Essays, Short Stories, Non-required Reading, Science Fiction and Fantasy; RIP Infographics) but the collection I read first is always The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

The 2017 edition is an excellent collection of science writing selected by Hope Jahren. Jahren chose articles not only about advances in science but about the lives and events behind the scientists’ discoveries. Of particular importance are two essays about the sexual harassment that women suffer in the sciences (apparently it is hard to conduct one’s self in an appropriate professional manner ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, which is completely not hard at all, ugh #whyaremen. Don’t bother @ing me). Highly recommend.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

33932361Summary from Goodreads:
Twenty-Three Leading Feminist Writers on Protest and Solidarity

When 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.

Featuring essays by REBECCA SOLNIT on Trump and his “misogyny army,” CHERYL STRAYED on grappling with the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s loss, SARAH HEPOLA on resisting the urge to drink after the election, NICOLE CHUNG on family and friends who support Trump, KATHA POLLITT on the state of reproductive rights and what we do next, JILL FILIPOVIC on Trump’s policies and the life of a young woman in West Africa, SAMANTHA IRBY on racism and living as a queer black woman in rural America, RANDA JARRAR on traveling across the country as a queer Muslim American, SARAH HOLLENBECK on Trump’s cruelty toward the disabled, MEREDITH TALUSAN on feminism and the transgender community, and SARAH JAFFE on the labor movement and active and effective resistance, among others.

And almost immediately after reading We Were Eight Years in Power I tore through the essay anthology Nasty Women.

Fill up the well. If you read one essay from this book, read Mary Kathryn Nagle’s “Nasty Native Women” – that is a history lesson and a sermon in one.

And once you’ve read that, read the rest of the book. The contributors are diverse, the subjects and responses are diverse, and the ideas for what to do next are myriad.

Dear FTC: I read the SHIT out of the digital galley.