stuff I read

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

43261190Summary from Goodreads:
“If I know why he is the way he is then maybe I can learn why I am the way I am,” says Alex Tuchman, strong-headed lawyer, loving mother, and daughter of Victor Tuchman—a power-hungry real estate developer and, by all accounts, a bad man. Now that Victor is on his deathbed, Alex feels she can finally unearth the secrets of who he is and what he did over the course of his life and career. She travels to New Orleans to be with her family, but mostly to interrogate her tightlipped mother, Barbra.

As Barbra fends of Alex’s unrelenting questions, she reflects on her tumultuous life with Victor. Meanwhile Gary, Alex’s brother, is incommunicado, trying to get his movie career off the ground in Los Angeles. And Gary’s wife, Twyla, is having a nervous breakdown, buying up all the lipstick in drug stores around New Orleans and bursting into crying fits. Dysfunction is at its peak. As each family member grapples with Victor’s history, they must figure out a way to move forward—with one another, for themselves, and for the sake of their children.

All This Could Be Yours is a timely, piercing exploration of what it means to be caught in the web of a toxic man who abused his power; it shows how those webs can tangle a family for generations and what it takes to—maybe, hopefully—break free.

All This Could Be Yours is composed of the most dysfunctional of dysfunctional people. Victor (the father) is terrible and even though he is comatose in his hospital bed he is everywhere in this narrative, Barbra (the mother) is emotionally withdrawn and obsessed with her appearance, Alex (the daughter) is angry at her mother and can be vindictive, Greg (the son) deals with the situation by refusing to show up, and Twyla (the daughter-in-law), as it turns out, is having a breakdown because of something she has done. Now, there is nuance to each of these stories, of course – except Victor, there is no nuance to a guy who is the Jewish version of a Mafia property developer and who idolizes The Sopranos. The trick is that Jami Attenberg is such a good writer she can take a book that is stocked with particularly unlikeable characters and make the story compelling. I kept on reading because a) I wanted know if Victor was going to get it in the end and b) to see if the other characters straighten themselves out (maybe? I think by the end of the book most of them have managed to shake Victor’s grip). The granddaughters, Sadie and Avery, are excellent and I wished they had made more appearances in the book.

This is also an excellent book to read if you like fiction where the setting feels like a character. New Orleans as a location plays a huge part in the story as several characters wander around the city, or escape it. The weather, specifically the humidity and heat of the Mississippi River delta, plays into this.

The only thing I really didn’t like was that it was a bit hard to follow as the narrative shifted from present to past and between characters. There was a long chapter in Barbra’s point-of-view that gave us a long chunk of backstory but it jumped around as she power-walked around the nursing unit.

I do have to give a trigger warning for domestic violence on the page. I also have to note that one character (and two others to a lesser degree) has internalized fatphobia and feminine beauty standards to an extreme and so there are a number of comments about women’s appearances that feel quite a bit squicky.

All This Could Be Yours published on October 22.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

42188604._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A startling, moving, and innovative memoir from the National Book Award Finalist for Fiction.

For years Carmen Maria Machado has struggled to articulate her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. In this extraordinarily candid and radically inventive memoir, Machado tackles a dark and difficult subject with wit, inventiveness and an inquiring spirit, as she uses a series of narrative tropes—including classic horror themes—to create an entirely unique piece of work which is destined to become an instant classic.

In the Dream House is a phenomenal work of memoir, both in its unique construction and determination to shatter cultural myths about domestic violence in queer relationships. Machado chose to use second person as a point of view to show how her relationship with her “dream woman” slowly devolved into terror, a choice that both allowed space between herself and the incidents and also invited the reader to make those horrible situations personal, make them universal. In between these short vignettes/chapters are small essays about the recognition of domestic abuse in queer relationships and how, legally and culturally, it is still very hard to contemplate from a cis-het-patriarchal worldview.

I was privileged to hear Machado read over the weekend (and in conversation with Garth Greenwell) and she’s such a wonderful speaker and thinker. In the Dream House is both a quick (lots of white space) and slow (there are some incidents with her “dream woman” that are truly terrifying and give you pause) read but very much worth the time you spend on it.

Dear FTC: I read a galley that I requested from Graywolf Press. Thank you so much, Graywolf, for sending it.

stuff I read

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Alex Stern #1)

48431439Summary from Goodreads:
The mesmerizing adult debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Nipped out the last few pages last night before Book Club.

Ninth House is a compulsively readable fantasy novel that smashes together The Secret History, the Rivers of London series, and a whodunnit. I’ve read reviews comparing Alex to Lisbeth Salander, however, she strikes me as more in the vein of Thursday Next, but less principled. The first 100 pages felt a little boggy to me with the back-and-forth between time periods and narrators and backstory but about midpoint the plot really kicked into high gear. I really liked Bardugo’s not-subtle commentary about the systems of power, magical and otherwise, relied on by these societies at Yale (and elsewhere, since alums keep coming back to have the “tombs” help them achieve success) and how everything functions to prop them up even to the point of covering up rape and murder.

I will give a trigger warning for descriptions of rape and sexual abuse (not incredibly graphic or used to give another character motivation but they do happen on the page) and drug use.

Dear FTC: I read an advance galley provided by the publisher for the discussion leader at my store.

stuff I read

Inland by Téa Obreht

47878222Summary from Goodreads:
In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life–her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Meanwhile, Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek at last intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely–and unforgettably–her own.

I finally finished Inland, which I had to since I’m the book club leader tonight, but oof. Bit of a slog.

Téa Obreht’s lovely sentences saved this “novel” – which was comprised of two drastically different, cheaply foreshadowed, novellas that converged (finally) at the end of the book. In my opinion, she should have chosen either Nora’s story or Lurie’s story and developed an emotionally compelling, complete story. As it is, I found neither compelling. I would like to talk to her editor.

Content warning for racism toward non-white people on the page, particularly Native Americans (extremely to-period but it isn’t easy to read).

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

stuff I read

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb #1)

42036538Summary from Goodreads:
Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.

So, the Bookternet started screaming about Gideon the Ninth back in, oh, February? and Tor was nice enough to hook a girl up with a digital galley which I inhaled immediately. The hook for this book was “lesbian necromancers in space” so I was like “YES PLEASE NOW HOW DOES THIS WORK.”

Caveat: they are in actual space for about 5 pages (going from one planet to the other) and I wasn’t quite sure about Gideon’s or Harrow’s sexual orientation until about two-thirds through the book (I was sure Gideon would have shagged anything not wearing Ninth House-Goth robes if it meant getting off that planet and Harrow I had down as asexual, since sexual desire is more of a fleshly (read: human) thing and not within her exalted purview as an exemplary bone witch and the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House) but yes, so many necromancers. And is necromancy an art, or magic, or a science? Depending on the House specialty in this world, it could be any of those three.

My review: WHAAAAAAAATTTT IS THIS ENDING AND WHEEEEEEEEEERE CAN I FIND THE NEXT BOOK *cries in Why Are Trilogies*

I mean, Gideon is now my favorite snarky, ginger, trashweasel and I loved how Muir played Gideon and Harrow off each other. They take strips off each other for fun – Harrow is better at this than Gideon – but at the end of the day they really have only each other. The supporting characters were so fun (my heart, the Pents). I loved Muir’s world-building with all the many different types of necromancy. Also: swordfighting. I wouldn’t want to live in this world (ew, so many reanimated skeletons) but it was so much fun to read.

I do have a trigger warning for a discussion of suicide in the past. And it goes without saying that a necromancer’s world is full of all the ways one can die violently and be brought back to life, so this is a violent book at times.

And now I must wait until Muir finished the next book. *plots*

Gideon the Ninth is out today!! Go, go, go! Pick one up from your favorite bookstore.

Dear FTC: I inhaled this galley twice – thanks Tor – and then preordered a copy because BLACK-SPRAYED EDGES.

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.

Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

36470806._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Set in the eighteenth century London underworld, this bawdy, genre-bending novel reimagines the life of thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard to tell a profound story about gender, love, and liberation.

Recently jilted and increasingly unhinged, Dr. Voth throws himself into his work, obsessively researching the life of Jack Sheppard, a legendary eighteenth century thief. No one knows Jack’s true story—his confessions have never been found. That is, until Dr. Voth discovers a mysterious stack of papers titled Confessions of the Fox.

Dated 1724, the manuscript tells the story of an orphan named P. Sold into servitude at twelve, P struggles for years with her desire to live as “Jack.” When P falls dizzyingly in love with Bess, a sex worker looking for freedom of her own, P begins to imagine a different life. Bess brings P into the London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with London’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of an oncoming plague abound. At last, P becomes Jack Sheppard, one of the most notorious—and most wanted—thieves in history.

Back in the present, Dr. Voth works feverishly day and night to authenticate the manuscript. But he’s not the only one who wants Jack’s story—and some people will do whatever it takes to get it. As both Jack and Voth are drawn into corruption and conspiracy, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined—and only a miracle will save them both.

An imaginative retelling of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, Confessions of the Fox blends high-spirited adventure, subversive history, and provocative wit to animate forgotten histories and the extraordinary characters hidden within.

Confessions of the Fox snagged my attention in catalogs last year and I started trying to read it as a digital galley. However, the structure of Confessions of the Fox is such that it makes digital reading very hard – there are MANY footnotes – so I waited to pick up a hardcover to try and read it. And then I realized that it required some involved reading time given the nature of how the story is told. So I started this book several times before I finally parked my butt on the couch during 24 in 48 and read the entire thing in one sitting.

This. Book. Is. Wild. 

The book opens with Dr. Voth, ostensibly telling the reader that the manuscript we are about to read was discovered as the university he works for emptied the stacks to make way for fancy administrative offices and that it is a ground-breaking work. The manuscript is purported to be the memoirs of one Jack Sheppard, a legendary outlaw in eighteenth-century London who serves as the inspiration for The Threepenny Opera and Mack the Knife. As “Jack” tells his story, the details of his life twist away from known sources. In this source Jack is a transman and his girlfriend Bess refers to herself as “lascar,” making her a woman of South Asian descent. As the narrative shifts and twists it seems to grow beyond the page…but is it real? Is Jack a narrator we can trust? Or Bess?

In between Jack’s story we get two sets of footnotes: 1) the annotations made by Dr. Voth noting deviations in the text from known facts about Jack Sheppard and explanations of seventeenth-century slang and 2) Dr. Voth begins to narrate the absurd twists his life takes after his discovery of the manuscript. As a transman, Dr. Voth is deeply invested in a manuscript that, if authenticated, would bring a significant contribution to trans and queer literature and history. And it is this emotional connection to the manuscript that opens Dr. Voth to manipulation by less-than-savory sources. It creates a second narrative within a frame around the Jack Sheppard narrative.

Jordy Rosenberg has given us a novel that is at once a purported eighteenth-century memoir and a narrative that morphs into a rallying cry against the commoditization of bodies, of prison abolition, of anti-colonialism, of anti-racism, of trans self-determination. Surrounding this is a framing narrative in footnotes of the professor annotating this tale and his fight against a university increasingly beholden to shady corporate and pharmaceutical interests, veering from Sterne-ean to Vonnegut-like levels of absurdity. Confessions of the Fox is a very complex book but well-worth the read.

I will give a trigger warning for this book. There are several instances where cis characters express an intrusive (and in one instance, gross) interest in a transman’s genitalia. There is also a scene of a surgery that is very appropriate to the historical setting in its details. Given that Rosenberg is a professor of queer and gender theory as well as eighteenth-century literature, I think the subject matter and situations in this book were handled very well. 

Dear FTC: I started reading a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but wound up having to buy a copy because of the formatting.

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.