stuff I read

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb #2)

Summary from Goodreads: Harrow the Ninth, the sequel to the sensational, USA today best-selling novel Gideon the Ninth, turns a galaxy inside out as one necromancer struggles to survive the wreckage of herself aboard the Emperor’s haunted space station.

She answered the Emperor’s call. She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend. In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

If you haven’t read Gideon the Ninth yet,

stop,

backup,

go do that because this book will make absolutely ZERO sense without it.

Also MEGA spoilers.

You are warned.

Now, for the rest of you who have read Gideon, Harrow the Ninth is a VERY VERY different book. Harrow is what it is like to have a brain that has undergone major trauma and what we do to ourselves because of that trauma (you have to have read the end of Gideon to understand this, it is so hard to explain). The narrative fractures in at least two, possibly three narrative lines, all of which may or may not be unreliable. So rather than a plot-driven, Gideon’s-gonna-kick-some-ass-and-take-names story we have a character-focused, Harrow-is-trying-her-hardest-but-failing-for-reasons-she-hid-from-herself story. What new information we are given about this world makes Harrow a very Empire Strikes Back type of book – it’s the middle of the trilogy, we’ve had the set-up in Gideon, now we have the explanation, and we’ll get the resolution in Alecto the Ninth (no publication date yet as far as I know). For these reasons, this will be a hard read for some people because the tonal shift is so much. It’s a lot. But be patient because at about the 75% mark, this story pays fucking DIVIDENDS y’all.

Muir still gives us amazing scenes of necromancy and revolting body horror. We’re introduced to new characters in the form of the surviving Lyctors and Ianthe is still around, working her own agenda. Also, to me, God appears to look like David Tennant in his Broadchurch phase. I’m down with it.

Harrow the Ninth is out tomorrow!!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I had a copy on pre-order at the store but it turns out to not have the black-sprayed edges like Gideon so I’m going to have to do some sleuthing to find one, boo.

stuff I read

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt: A Memoir by Duchess Goldblatt

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Summary from Goodreads:
Part memoir and part joyful romp through the fields of imagination, the story behind a beloved pseudonymous Twitter account reveals how a writer deep in grief rebuilt a life worth living.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is two stories: that of the reclusive real-life writer who created a fictional character out of loneliness and thin air, and that of the magical Duchess Goldblatt herself, a bright light in the darkness of social media. Fans around the world are drawn to Her Grace’s voice, her wit, her life-affirming love for all humanity, and the fun and friendship of the community that’s sprung up around her.

@DuchessGoldblat (81 year-old literary icon, author of An Axe to Grind) brought people together in her name: in bookstores, museums, concerts, and coffee shops, and along the way, brought real friends home—foremost among them, Lyle Lovett.

“The only way to be reliably sure that the hero gets the girl at the end of the story is to be both the hero and the girl yourself.” — Duchess Goldblatt

How to describe Duchess Goldblatt? You either know who/what she is because you’re a Twitter follower or you don’t.

So, if you need an introduction, Duchess Goldblatt is a semi-fictional character, a social media profile created by an anonymous woman that appears to be an elderly woman, represented by a 17th century portrait, who dispenses sage, silly, and lovely bon mots and advice on Twitter.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, by Duchess’s still-anonymous creator, details how Duchess came to be, at a time when her creator was spiraling after a number of personal crises: the breakup of her marriage, shared custody of her only child, the loss of a job. She also details the death of her father during her college years, her fraught relationship with her mother, and her only sibling’s self-destructive mental illness. If family troubles like these are triggering for you, there are a couple chapters you might need to skip through; CW also for talk of suicide.

But in between the creator’s memoir, we get the memoir of Duchess Goldblatt, the matriarch of Crooked Path, as she grew in Twitter visibility and gained ever more famous followers (Lyle Lovett has become a friend to both Duchess and her creator). Her creator has maintained her anonymity – with few exceptions – and, you know what? It doesn’t really matter if we know everything about Duchess’s creator or not. We don’t need to know who thought up Secular Pie Thursday on Thanksgiving, as a way to stave off loneliness, only that Secular Pie Thursday exists as a bright spot on a holiday that might be rough for some people. I think that’s the greatest gift of Duchess’s creation – that even in her creator’s darkest moment, she found a way to give light to others and bring light into herself.

Long live Duchess Goldblatt.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is available today!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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Summary from Goodreads:
Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I’m not sure what I was expecting for Alexis Hall’s new Sourcebooks Casablanca release, Boyfriend Material, but it definitely wasn’t a hilarious rom-com narrated by Luc, a neurotic, paparazzi-averse twenty-something. His parents are rock-star famous but his dad walked out when he was three. Luc accidentally gets some (more) bad tabloid press, which affects his fund-raising job at a coleoptera charity – hilariously acronymed CRAPP – and must acquire a respectable, “proper” boyfriend ASAP. He gets set-up with Oliver, a very, very respectable, upstanding barrister with a stable, very staid, acceptable, non-paparazzi-bait lifestyle (incidentally, Oliver is also incredibly hot in his three-piece suits). So they agree to fake date – Oliver will appear in some “good” paparazzi photos and attend the Beetle Drive as Luc’s plus-one and Luc will come to Oliver’s parents’ ruby wedding anniversary do. (FAKE DATING, WHEE!!!!) So when does fake dating – involving sweet dinners at vegan pop-up restaurants, glass sculpture exhibits, quick lunches by the Gladstone statue, and meeting Luc’s batty-but-sweet mom Odile and her “special” curry and her mad-as-pants bestie Judy – become real dating with vulnerability and feelings and OMG PANIC??

Much of Boyfriend Material is Luc freaking out about feelings and learning to have feelings and be an adult and then maybe learning that Oliver isn’t quite as put-together as he thought. The entirety of the book is narrated from Luc’s perspective which makes his journey from panicked, emotionally-fraught bellend back to functional-ish adult feel very intimate and personal. You are 100% in Luc’s corner as the reader even if you want to bonk him over the head for being such a twerp on occasion. It also helps some of the tension in the plot, since it keeps Oliver’s point-of-view off the table throughout the book. When you hit the point-of-no return in this plot, when Oliver also to meet Luc halfway emotionally, it is delicious in the resolution.

Luc has a turn-of-phrase that had me snort-laughing in many places. For serious. On Luc’s and Oliver’s first “date” Oliver, who is a criminal defense attorney, says Luc can ask him that question that people always ask. Luc panics and asks if Oliver ever has sex in the wig….I died. Because that definitely isn’t the question Oliver is thinking of. Hall also absolutely shreds upper-class posh manners. One of his work colleagues is a posh twit, with an even posher, twittier girlfriend, who is a walking punchline about the declining mental acuity of the British landed aristocracy. There is a running joke about “dick pics” that includes the deepest deep cut from The Slipper and the Rose, a Cinderella musical from the 1970s (I screamed in delight, I love that movie). There’s a birthday party with Oliver’s friends that is delightful and then there is Luc’s friend group who are the absolute best, loveable friends who are there for him throughout the book despite said bellend-ness (and they’re hilarious).

I’m going to give a content warning, delightful though this book is. Both Luc and Oliver experience some really garbage casual homophobia – that very casual upper-class British kind that approves of being a Good Gay and not a Bad Gay. There is also an instance of really, really shitty casual homophobia (look, three out of four of Luc’s and Oliver’s parents are garbage, two of them because of said homophobia among other things). Given that this is an #ownvoices novel from Alexis Hall, I think this experience is probably fairly true to life, unfortunate as it is. I trust how Hall has shown how these situations play out. But it doesn’t make it any easier to read especially since Luc and Oliver are so likeable.

The steam level is low-boil/fade-to-black but definitely not G-rated. It definitely fits with this couple. Oliver is a character who doesn’t have casual sex and Luc is trying to turn his relationship-status around. A more descriptive type of sex scene would feel intrusive in this book. (For reference, the only other Alexis Hall book I’ve read is For Real which is SO HOT that I was sure my face was going to catch on fire during one scene, the pie scene. You know the one.)

I would love to see this adapted for a movie. My brain has already cast Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys as Oliver and Luc (look, Matt Rhys always looks vaguely nervous about something IRL and I shipped them hard in Death Comes to Pemberley) although they’re twenty years too old. I would also accept as Luc the guy who plays Jaskier in The Witcher, Joey Batey, who is both closer to the right age and can handle Luc’s humor but I’m not sure who would match him for Oliver then.

Boyfriend Material is out tomorrow, July 7!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – but our finished copies arrived at the store on Friday while I was finishing this review so OF COURSE I have already purchased one.

mini-review · stuff I read

Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge

Why is there no Native woman David Sedaris? Or Native Anne Lamott? Humor categories in publishing are packed with books by funny women and humorous sociocultural-political commentary—but no Native women. There are presumably more important concerns in Indian Country. More important than humor? Among the Diné/Navajo, a ceremony is held in honor of a baby’s first laugh. While the context is different, it nonetheless reminds us that laughter is precious, even sacred.

Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s is a powerful and compelling collection of Tiffany Midge’s musings on life, politics, and identity as a Native woman in America. Artfully blending sly humor, social commentary, and meditations on love and loss, Midge weaves short, stand-alone musings into a memoir that stares down colonialism while chastising hipsters for abusing pumpkin spice. She explains why she does not like pussy hats, mercilessly dismantles pretendians, and confesses her own struggles with white-bread privilege.  

Midge goes on to ponder Standing Rock, feminism, and a tweeting president, all while exploring her own complex identity and the loss of her mother. Employing humor as an act of resistance, these slices of life and matchless takes on urban-Indigenous identity disrupt the colonial narrative and provide commentary on popular culture, media, feminism, and the complications of identity, race, and politics.

I honestly can’t remember how I found Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s – I know it wasn’t pitched to me and it wasn’t on any of the Millions’ lists that I put together on Goodreads. It must have gone by on Twitter one day and I went “Oh hey, that title looks interesting!” and then I read the blurb and ordered it.

Excellent choice.

Tiffany Midge may have served as poet laureate of Moscow, Idaho, but she is wickedly funny. I’ll have to check out her previous books. Because Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s is a great collection of short essays and bitingly humorous parodies (such as “Trump Pardons Zombie Apocalypse”). Midge’s topics cover No DAPL protestors (she is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe), police and institutional violence against Native/Indigenous Americans, representations in media, “pretendians”, performative feminism lacking intersectionality, and the election of Trump And that’s just for starters. Some of her essays also talk about her relationships with her parents, with her mom’s irreverent humor in the face of terminal illness and her dad’s racism living cheaply as a white man in Thailand. If you like Samantha Irby‘s brand of humor, you’ll like this humor.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.
stuff I read

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Summary from Goodreads:

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

I read the plot description for Beach Read in the catalog several months ago and was just YES, I CAN HAZ GALLEY? Blocked romance writer and “srs bsns” lit fic writer make a bet about who can write and sell a novel written in the other person’s genre PLUS a rom-com? As Jen Prokop would say, “PUT IT IN MY VEINS!!”

I loved it. This is the melding of what seems like MANY discussions I’ve heard or seen of taken part in about literary fiction vs. romance fiction combined with an actual Romance Story. When January and Gus spar over assumptions of each others’ work those are literal conversations I have witnessed, then they start to break down the barriers. Which is great. Because for those of us who read both types (and all types) of fiction there is no “better” genre. Each genre does different things and sometimes they overlap and sometimes they have really eye-watering tropes. And I think Emily Henry does a good job giving us two characters who have to work through some prejudices toward each others’ work.

Along the way we are treated to a wonderful second-chance, enemies-to-lovers, forced-proximity (those two houses are REAL close to each other) with a bet – and there’s a road trip with what seems like only one sleeping bag, so it hits about sixteen versions of romance catnip for me – romance between January and Gus (and I just realized there’s a matchmaking auntie couple in this book, ALL MY CATNIP, I love it). But these two writers aren’t just having garden-variety adorable writers’ block. They’re each dealing with some very hard real-life issues. January’s father has died and left her the beach house – but it also seems like this is the house where he was having an affair while January’s mother was battling cancer. This revelation has blind-slided January who thought that her parents had an ideal in-it-forever marriage. Gus is working through the dissolution of his marriage (which is a teensy spoiler, but I don’t do cheating romances so I consider this a public service to let you know that his wife has left him prior to the start of the book) and underlying issues left from parental abuse. January and Gus work through all of this in their writing and through their relationship with each other.

Beach Read released last week, so you should be able to pick up a copy wherever you buy your books.

TW: death of a parent (off page, but January’s very much processing her grief/revelations about her father’s life in this book), past abuse by a parent (off page, but alluded to), cheating by a spouse/partner.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I’m gonna buy a copy because I love it that much.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

8880488Summary from Goodreads:
This is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Crusie’s novel about long shots, risk management, true love, and great shoes. . . .

Minerva Dobbs knows how to work the odds.
Calvin Morrisey always plays to win.

But when they face off, neither one is prepared.
Because when real life meets true love, all bets are off. . . .

Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet, even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs, even if she does wear great shoes and keep him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon they’re dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all—true love.

Bet Me has been on my very long Romance TBR forever but Sarah and Jen at Fated Mates finally tipped me over the edge. I loved it. Cal and Min are fantastic and their surrounding group of friends are just a hoot. It’s basically a fairy-tale disguised as a rom-com so that’s a solid intersection of my interests – plus many, many little tidbits in this book have direct correlations to 90s rom-com movies starting with the Julia Roberts Movie Playlist for Diana’s wedding. Even the ending to “the bet” turns out in an extremely screwball rom-com fashion.

I would have been forced to poison all the parents tho, YIKES. Min’s mom is EXTREMELY fatphobic and the heroine has internalized a lot of negative body image so if those things are triggering for you this may be one to skip. But Cal is basically “you’re attractive as fuck just as you are also we should eat good food because eating is pleasure” so I’m down with him. (I also read a review that was really critical about how much chicken marsala is eaten by the characters, especially Min, and clearly that person has never found their absolute favorite food or had their favorite dish at a favorite restaurant ever.)

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this on my Nook because the library is closed to the public and they didn’t have a copy on Overdrive. (Which, by the way, WHAT ARE YOU DOING ST. MARTIN’S – the ebook is $11.99 and the paperback is $25.99, for a book first published in 2004. This is how you price a book out of circulation. I’m a bookseller – if I get a trade paperback (and the current cover is awful, yo) into the store to sell and it’s priced $25.99 and NOT 1500 pages long or an academic title it won’t sell. Because a romance reader can buy 2-4 books for that price.)

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston (Honey Badger Chronicles #1)

35603257._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
It’s not every day that a beautiful naked woman falls out of the sky and lands face-first on grizzly shifter Berg Dunn’s hotel balcony. Definitely they don’t usually hop up and demand his best gun. Berg gives the lady a grizzly-sized t-shirt and his cell phone, too, just on style points. And then she’s gone, taking his XXXL heart with her. By the time he figures out she’s a honey badger shifter, it’s too late.

Honey badgers are survivors. Brutal, vicious, ill-tempered survivors. Or maybe Charlie Taylor-MacKilligan is just pissed that her useless father is trying to get them all killed again, and won’t even tell her how. Protecting her little sisters has always been her job, and she’s not about to let some pesky giant grizzly protection specialist with a network of every shifter in Manhattan get in her way. Wait. He’s trying to help? Why would he want to do that? He’s cute enough that she just might let him tag along—that is, if he can keep up . . .

I started Hot and Badgered back in January and had a hard time getting into the book. The plot is very over-the-top (VERY) and just kept adding more characters and more and more different types of shifters (so. many. shifters, good lord.). I really needed multiple family trees to keep it all straight. But the plot didn’t really seem to be going anywhere for a long time. Plus, the sexytimes do not appear until very late in the book. I don’t require banging on the first page, but for a “sexy shifter romance” this was very much a family novel about two sets of siblings caught in a revenge plot and far less a paranormal romantic suspense, imo.

All that said, Hot and Badgered was a very funny book in places (there is a scene where the two older sisters use the youngest’s shifter ability to get them out of a tight spot and it is both weird/icky and an absolute HOOT). Laurenston can write a humdinger of a one-liner. Also, stress baking which becomes a minor plot point in its own right. I might try one of Laurenston’s Crow novels next.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

38592954Summary from Goodreads:
From the writer of Slate’s “Dear Prudence” column comes a witty and clever collection of essays and cultural observations spanning pop culture—from the endearingly popular to the staggeringly obscure.

Sometimes you just have to yell. New York Times bestselling author of Texts from Jane Eyre Daniel M. Lavery publishing as Daniel Mallory Ortberg has mastered the art of “poetic yelling,” a genre surely familiar to fans of his cult-favorite website The Toast.

In this irreverent essay collection, Ortberg expands on this concept with in-depth and hilarious studies of all things pop culture, from the high to low brow. From a thoughtful analysis on the beauty of William Shatner to a sinister reimagining of HGTV’s House Hunters, Something That May Shock and Discredit You is a laugh-out-loud funny and whip-smart collection for those who don’t take anything—including themselves—much too seriously.

Daniel Mallory Ortberg (or Lavery, since he recently got married, so may have another official name transition soon) is well-known as an essayist both sincere (“Dear Prudence“) and tongue-in-cheek (Texts from Jane Eyre). Something That May Shock and Discredit You is a compact essay/memoir/humor collection that focuses on Ortberg’s philosophy of transition – many essays touch on the physical and mental aspects of transitioning from one gender to another, with commentary from Ortberg’s religious upbringing that often references Jacob wrestling with the Angel (apt, since Jacob is physically changed and renamed by the Angel at the end of their match). Interspersed among them are “interludes” that range from rejected chapter titles for this book to rewritten pieces of classical philosophy and poetry (a few of these got a bit over my head at times, particularly the Marcus Aurelius one).

Something That May Shock and Discredit You was released on Tuesday, February 11.

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