Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Reading Challenge: Reading Women 2021

I've never done the Reading Women challenge although I've been aware of it for years. 

Now that I'm doing more free-range reading, challenges like this interest me -- especially as I am trying to broaden my reading horizons. 

Here's hoping I can double up some of these reads with Read Harder 2021 as I"m not confident these days that I can do all the requirements of both challenges. I haven't been very good at making myself read in 2020 so this is very much me being ambitious and optimistic!

 Will you be participating?

2021 Reading Women Challenge

  1.  A Book Longlisted for the JCB Prize
    • A Burning by Megha Majumdar  
    • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
  2.  An Author from Eastern Europe
    • The Door by Magda Szabó
    • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
    • Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
    • Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
    • Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin

  3.  A Book About Incarceration
    •  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
    • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 
    • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
    • The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

  4.  A Cookbook by a Woman of Color
    • The Edna Lewis Cookbook by Edna Lewis (completed 1/18/2021)

  5.  A Book with a Protagonist Older than 50
    • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  6.  A Book by a South American Author in Translation
    •  Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor
    • Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

  7.  Reread a Favorite Book
    •  Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

  8.  A Memoir by an Indigenous, First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal Woman
    •  Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo 
    • A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
    • Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen
    • Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
    • Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir by Ernestine Hayes

  9.  A Book by a Neurodivergent Author
    • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    • Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

  10.  A Crime Novel or Thriller in Translation
    • The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (finished 3/13/2021)

  11.  A Book About the Natural World
    • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  12.  A Young Adult Novel by a Latinx Author
    •  Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore (finished 2/20/21)

  13.  A Poetry Collection by a Black Woman
    •  Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove
  14.  A Book with a Biracial Protagonist
    • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
    • Don't Ask Me Where I'm From by Jennifer De Leon
    • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

  15.  A Muslim Middle Grade Novel
    •  Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
    • A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi 
    • The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

  16.  A Book Featuring a Queer Love Story
    • Bring Her On by Chelsea M. Cameron
    • The Craft of Love by EE Ottoman
    • The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite
    • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
    • The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar 
  17.  About a Woman in Politics
  18.  A Book with a Rural Setting
    • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld 
    • O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
    • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey 
    • Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

  19.  A Book with a Cover Designed by a Woman
    • Writers & Lovers by Lily King 
    • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
    • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow 
    • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
    • A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

  20.  A Book by an Arab Author in Translation
    • One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan Al-Shaykh 
    • Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
    • Minor Detail by Adania Shibli
    • The Proof of the Honey by Salwa Al Neimi
    • The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

  21.  A Book by a Trans Author
    •  Bring Her On by Chelsea M. Cameron
    • The Craft of Love by EE Ottoman
    • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
    • She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya 
    • One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston 
    • Little Fish by Casey Plett
  22.  A Fantasy Novel by an Asian Author
    • The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
    • Ash by Malinda Lo 
    • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho 
    • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

  23.  A Nonfiction Book Focused on Social Justice
    •  Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
  24.  A Short Story Collection by a Caribbean Author
    • Where There Are Monsters by Breanne Mc Ivor
    • Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
    • How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs


  •     A Book by Alexis Wright
  •     A Book by Tsitsi Dangarembga
  •     A Book by Leila Aboulela
  •     A Book by Yoko Ogawa
    • Revenge (finished 2/16/2021)

Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I can't wait to reread this one. 

This book was incredible. It has the vibe of I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House meets Lovecraft Country (the book, not the show) with a dash of Grace Kelly-in-a-Hitchcock-thriller. 

Our flesh-and-blood heroine Noemí takes on a family errand that turns into something very, very else; and it's this character who completely anchors the story for me and makes it so beautiful, compelling, and moving.

Moreno-Garcia is heavy with the capital G Gothic-vibe, and every page is saturated with the elements that made me shiver with delight. It's a creepy, cold, creaky story that thumps with life and stretches the exaggerated elements of the Gothic to encompass more than its roots. Noemí is fighting not only the mist, a malevolent presence, her own doubts, but also racism, and sexism, and colonialism (never named so plainly, because Moreno-Garcia is great, but it's there, unable to be ignored). There's so much real in the growing horror we empathize with Noemí when she resists the supernatural possibilities because there are enough real things to be scared about.

A perfect read.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Reading Challenge: Willa Cather Short Story Project, Phase II

Having spent some of my formative years in the prairie states (Nebraska and South Dakota), I'm sentimental about writers like Willa Cather. 

I haven't done a deep dive into her work, so I'm especially excited to participate in the Willa Cather Short Story Project, a reading challenge to read all of Cather's short stories, one a month. 

Most excitingly, all the stories are available for free online, so there's basically no impediment for my participation.

You can find the entire schedule here. I will put the 2021 reading plan here so I can track my reading and, hopefully, my reflections. Let me know if you're going to participate so we can gush together!

2021 Cather Stories

  1. January 2021 “Lou, the Prophet”
  2. February 2021 “Peter”
  3. March 2021 “A Tale of the White Pyramid”
  4. April 2021 “The Son of the Celestial”
  5. May 2021 “The Elopement of Allen Poole”
  6. June 2021 “The Clemency of the Court”
  7. July 2021 “The Fear that Walks by Noonday”
  8. August 2021 “On the Divide”
  9. September 2021 “A Night at Greenway Court”
  10. October 2021 “The Princess Baladina—Her Adventure”
  11. November 2021 “Tommy, the Unsentimental”
  12. December 2021 “The Count of Crow’s Nest” (Parts I and II)

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Reading Challenge: Read Harder 2021

Book Riot's Read Harder challenge rocked my world when I did it in 2019, and it lead to some of the most interesting reads for my 2020 (although I didn't come close to completing). Really excited to try to crush the challenge this year!

Read Harder 2021

Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read

  •  The Sword Went Out to Sea by H.D.
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism 

  • Me and White Supremacy : Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

Read a non-European novel in translation 

  • The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (finished 3/13/2021)

Read an LGBTQ+ history book 

  •  Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves 

Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author

  • Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Read a fanfic
  • a murder-free Hannigram???

Read a fat-positive romance

  • Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade (finished 2/2/2021)

Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author

  • Bring Her On by Chelsea M. Cameron
  • The Craft of Love by EE Ottoman

Read a middle grade mystery

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg 
  • Pepper's Rules for Secret Sleuthing by Briana McDonald 
  • Chirp by Kate Messner
  • Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison

Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color

  • She Walks in Shadows by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, ed.
  • A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers by Victor LaValle (Editor)

Read a food memoir by an author of color

Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color

  •  Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
  • Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias by Pragya Agarwal
  • The Golden Thread: The Cold War Mystery Surrounding the Death of Dag Hammarskjöld by Ravi Somaiya
  • The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-lynching Crusader by Ida B. Wells-Barnett
  • Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston

Read a book with a cover you don’t like

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  • The Gift by H.D.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  • Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada

  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
  • Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins
  • The Silence of Bones by June Hur
  • The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf 
  • The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf 
  • Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
  • If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
  • A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

Read a memoir by a Latinx author

  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Read an own voices book about disability

  • Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc 
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell
  • Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann
  • Disability Visibility 

Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain

Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader

Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
  • She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore 
  • Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah
  • Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore (finished 2/20/21)

Read a book of nature poems

  • Bestiary: Poems by Donika Kelly
  • Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon
  • The Wild Iris by Louise Glück
  • Passing Through Humansville by Karen Craigo
  • Follow by Amy Wright Vollmar

Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability

  • Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari (finished 1/30/2021)

Read a book set in the Midwest

  •  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley 
  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson (finished 3/30/2021)

Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness

  •  Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
  • A Biography of Mrs Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous by Sally Brown
  • Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney
  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Books Read in 2020


Tessa Bailey, Fix Her Up
Tessa Bailey, Protecting What's His
Tessa Bailey, Too Hard to Forget
Tessa Bailey, Too Hot to Handle
Tessa Bailey, Too Wild to Tame
Andrea Beaty, Sofia Valdez, Future Prez
Maria Grace, Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc


Tessa Bailey, Baiting the Maid of Honor
Tessa Bailey, Disorderly Conduct
Tessa Bailey, Love Her or Lose Her
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Body in Griffith Park
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
Diana Lloyd, About an Earl
Olivia Waite, The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics
Rebekah Weatherspoon, Rafe


Tessa Bailey, Asking for Trouble
Mari Coates, The Pelton Papers
Cat Sebastian, Unmasked by the Marquess
Rivers Solomon, The Deep


Annabeth Albert, Burn Zone
Tessa Dare, A Night to Surrender
Tessa Dare, Once Upon a Winter's Eve
Eva Leigh, My Fake Rake
Cat Sebastian, A Delicate Deception
Cat Sebastian, A Duke in Disguise
Meryl Wilsner, Something to Talk About


Tessa Dare, Any Duchess Will Do
Tessa Dare, The Duchess Deal
Tessa Dare, A Lady By Midnight
Tessa Dare, A Week to Be Wicked
Laura Lam, Goldilocks
Eva Leigh, My Fake Rake [reread]
Courtney Milan, The Duchess War
Courtney Milan, The Governess Affair
Richard Powers, The Overstory
Lee Winter, Breaking Character


Tessa Dare, Beauty and the Blacksmith
Tessa Dare, Do You Want to Start a Scandal
Tessa Dare, Lord Dashwood Missed Out
Courtney Milan, The Countess Conspiracy
Courtney Milan, The Heiress Effect
Marcie R. Rendon, SongCatcher
Rhonda Riley, The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope


Tessa Dare, The Governess Game
Tessa Dare, The Wallflower Wager
Scarlett Peckham, The Rakess


Tessa Dare, Romancing the Duke
Tessa Dare, The Wallflower Wager [reread]
Tessa Dare, A Week to Be Wicked [reread]
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States 
Joanna Shupe, Magnate
Tessa Dare, Say Yes to the Marquess 
Tessa Dare, When a Scot Ties the Knot 
Olivia Dade, Teach Me
Eva Leigh, Would I Lie to the Duke?
Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic


Tessa Dare, When a Scot Ties the Knot [reread]
Shana Galen, How the Lady Was Won


Sylvia Day, Seven Years to Sin
Carlos Hernandez, Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Monday, December 21, 2020

Dipping my toe back in ...

I've missed this space! 

While I enjoyed having one less thing to feel guilty about not doing well during this crap year, I absolutely missed being even lightly connected with the book blog world, and so I'm going to try to get back into this without stressing myself out.

I'll share more reflections on 2020 but what I lacked in reading and blogging, I made up with knitting (achieved my goal of 8 completed projects!) and gardening slash homesteading.

Looking forward to connecting with everyone again and talking about the reads of the year and my plans for next year (because even failing at goals this year doesn't mean I won't attempt ambitiously for next year!).

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

On Hiatus

I've basically been on an informal hiatus, given my infrequent updates.

I'm really struggling with whether to continue this blog or not.

I love reading but find writing reviews a chore -- and haven't been able to find a way to write about the books I'm reading in a way that doesn't feel like a chore. Worse, I never read other blogs anymore and am really feeling the lack of connection. I'm so grateful for those who still swing by to comment and I'm really aware that I'm not reciprocating!

I'm also trying to figure out what my place is in the book blogging world, as a white, cishet woman. (Same with the historical fiction sphere, especially as romance and sci-fi/fantasy have their own reckoning.) (If there are anti-racist white bloggers out there interested in getting together to think about how to leverage our privilege for change and check ourselves, let me know!)

I've been back-and-forth-ing about whether to continue on social media; I feel like I have so little interaction with people on Twitter or Instagram, I'm again struck by the feeling that maybe shouting random stuff into the ether isn't quite what's needed.

If you're on social media, I'd love to connect so I can shift from shouting stuff to interacting more. I'm on Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads the most.

I admit I'm feeling a little sad, especially as I just hit my 10 year anniversary here, but I think I want to be intentional about things rather than to just let something fizzle out. If you've done any bloggish rebooting or transformation, I'd love to hear about it. I'm always available at unabridgedchick at gmail.com.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


I took too long to say something here.

Black lives matter.

I'm participating in the Movement for Black Lives Week of Action: In Defense of Black Life and I hope you'll join me.

There's so much great content out there already I hardly know what to share; but for now, here's a wonderful thread of mutual aid funds that could use donations.

Grateful to everyone out there witnessing, protesting, and fighting for Black lives.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

She said her goodbyes, one by one. She spoke out loud to them, her voice soft but unwavering. Sharing her memories, thanking them for what they had learned, what they had taught her. If they could speak, would they accept their fate? Or would they beg, plead, fight for the same chance at life?

If you've seen anything about this book, you've likely seen the formula that it's The Handmaid's Tale meets The Martian, and that's a pretty apt pitch. US society has turned so conservative that women have been pushed from their jobs. Earth has been so destroyed that there's urgent need to move to a new planet and one has been found in a "Goldilocks"-zone: not too hot, not too cold.

Goldilocks by Laura Lam
Orbit, 2020
Review copy via publisher
Read Harder reading challenge

Valerie Black, genius inventor, has been building toward this momentous event -- with technology, money, and skilled crew. Her ward, Naomi Lovelace, is to be the crew's biologist. The rest of the crew, all women, are as talented and dedicated, and their launch to start work on their new home planet goes without a hitch. Except for the fact that they've stolen this shuttle.

Told from Naomi's viewpoint, the story slips between the past and present, providing hints and clues toward the variety of mysteries Lam creates: how Earth got to be the way it is; Valerie's meteoric rise and Naomi's painful history. And finally, what happened once they stole the shuttle.

It's an incredible premise and one that just captivated me. If I had a complaint, it's that I wish this book could have been double the length, to give us more time to breathe into the characters and their lives in this increasingly challenging world.

Despite being a very speedy read there are surprisingly deep ethical quandaries presented (although I confess I personally hated how things shook out). Lam grounds the twists and decisions in the personalities of her characters so I can't complain about why things went the way they did -- I just wanted something else. (I suspect the decisions and whatnot will make this a really great book club read -- lots of juicy choices to argue over!)

Lam includes something like five pages of acknowledgments and notes at the end of this book, including details of all the science and law that shaped the story. It stood out to me especially as I finished The Overstory at the same time, another novel loaded with references that ought to have been named -- but weren't. It frustrated me that Powers wasn't asked or expected to prove his inspiration while Lam was/is. That has nothing to do with the content of this novel, but something that stood out to me, especially given this book's focus on unequal treatment of female-identified people.

Apropos of nothing, I am so struck by the book's cover, which I haven't seen in person; my e-reader isn't in color, so I sort of tuned it out, but in finding the color version for this blog post, I can see how perfect it is for this story. I won't say anything else.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The best arguments in the world won't change a person's mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.

A book club pick I was pretty unenthusiastic about: prize winners always disappoint me, and I am impatient with fiction by white men. Intellectually I understand the dangers of climate change but find myself unable to connect with stories about it. This book felt like it would be a slog.

The opening vignettes intrigued me -- they were great! -- but I just could not fathom how they would encompass 502 pages when each one was such a brief, and seemingly complete, sliver.

I should be less judgy, I know.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
W.W. Norton & Company, 2019
Personal copy

Powers pulled together these small slivers into a book that hit me with surprising impact, a story that left me breathless and a little teary. As a tween who was obsessed with the radical environmental activists of the 1980s and 1990s who grew into an organizer whose work with Greenpeace was monitored when Ashcroft added them to the terrorist watch list post-9/11, the central plotline of this book resonated (with minor irritations I'll share later).

While I found the arboreal voice lacking -- the blurbs on the book made me think that trees would be actual characters, a la Delicious Foods making cocaine a POV -- I still enjoyed the intimate connection between characters and trees. It was reminded of the kind of popular nonfiction about nature I read in college -- Barry Lopez for example -- and writers like Wendell Barry. Not my favorite, but with enough poetry in description to sate me.

And I loved the characters. I was genuinely surprised and how some of their stories turned out, and it was a delight. The range of passion and pain anchored this and made it far more pleasurable and less preachy than Flight Behavior.

I read this alongside Laura Lam's Goldilocks and noted that Lam has a nearly five-page acknowledgement and sources section for all the people and things that inspired her book. Powers has none. The unfairness of that irritates me because I spotted so much in Powers' book that was clearly drawn from real life -- someone else's research and imagination -- and the co-opting of it for his book, for another reader to possibly mistake as his own original idea -- well, it feels ... not right. Elements I noticed:

The character of Olivia was clearly inspired by Julia Butterfly Hill's actual life -- right down to her experience with death and spiritual rebirth (even Hill's wiki notes that, although flagged for needing a citation since Powers hasn't acknowledged it).

The character of Adam felt strongly shaped by the life and experiences of Bill Ayers. This one I'm less angry about since it didn't feel like Powers took wholesale from Ayers, was just inspired by. Olivia's character and the lack of acknowledgement that she was inspired by Hill is more upsetting to me.

Mimi's therapeutic practice of deep looking is literally Marina Abramović's performance piece 'The Artist Is Present' from 2010. The passage of the experience of the client read to me like one of the reflections from someone who sat across from Abramović.

Neelay's Mastery game seemed very much like Sid Meier's Civilization series, mashed up with World of Warcraft; the expansive, consuming crawlers of Neelay's readers like early go-no-evil Google. As with Adam's character, this was a little more forgivable to me as it feels more general, but still.

I'm sure there were other small nods or characters based on real life that I missed; these jumped at me for their familiarity and it disappointed me to see that Powers doesn't honor them as a source.

In the end, almost no one from book club came to the discussion, but I enjoyed this enough that I'm not betrayed. It did remind me of my yard, to look at the trees a little more closely, and it reminded me of my resistance to considering climate change (despite my passion for justice and societal change) and what I could do to right that.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Weekend reads, or quaran-weekend

How are you doing? I think this is my sixth week of pretty serious social distancing and as an extrovert, I Am Dying. I mean, there's been an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Zoom meetings, but I'm also experiencing serious Zoom fatigue. Unabridged Kid is a wicked extrovert to and while he's loving being home with me all the time, he's also missing his farm community.

Our coronahobby has been gardening, in that we're checking daily on the bulbs I planted last fall and buying already established flowers and putting them into the yard. We're addicted. We've also started seeds but that's not going as well and is vastly less satisfying.

Other than mock gardening, I haven't indulged in my hobbies as much as I'd like; I've been too tired and stressed to do more than watch tv. But I'm finally adjusting: I'm dressing up for work, which has actually helped me keep Work Time to work hours, and doing non-work the rest of the time. This weekend I'm starting Laura Lam's Goldilocks, a sci-fi-dystopia-maybe where an all-female space crew steals a shuttle when denied the mission. I feel like it's going to fit my mood of constant low-grade outrage.

What are you reading this weekend? Adopted any new hobbies or brushed off old ones? Hoping all of you are safe and healthy and your loved ones are, too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Something to Talk about by Meryl Wilsner

Today, Jo made her feel safe and warm and cared for, and that was how Jo had made her feel for months now. Emma was finally read to admit it, was finally able to see it. She wondered what her life would be like without the rumors.

Jo is a former child star, now a successful writer and producer. Emma is her competent, empathetic assistant. When the tabloids declare them a couple, both Emma and Jo find themselves microscopically analyzing everything they do around each other and in the process, realize they'd had/have massive crushes on each other. It's a serious slow burn workplace romance. 

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner
Berkley Books, 2020
Digital ARC from publisher

Sadly, I didn't love this debut as much as I wanted to; I thought it wouldn't be an issue but I actually ended up being really squicked out by the supervisor-employee relationship with the two leads. Even though Wilsner is conscientious to address that element multiple times in the book, I really couldn't overcome that hurdle. (Totally a personal thing; Wilsner really works hard to address that and make sure that Emma, as the employee, has a lot of agency and doesn't have her work compromised because Jo's feelings toward her.)

Frustratingly, despite the slow pace, I actually didn't feel like I got to know either Jo or Emma very well. There's a sexual harassment plot thread (separate from what might or not have happened with Jo and Emma) that takes up a good deal of story space as well as a rather mundane conflict that felt a little overdrawn to me. When Emma and Jo finally do get together, I was grinning and really loving it, and I wished that connection had happened sooner. Despite flipping between Jo's and Emma's POVs, I still found there was some distance between me and them that made it hard to get all swoony about their eventually getting together.

I suppose there's some realism in how the relationship shakes out: it's inelegant at times, if not downright awkward. I don't mind some awkward in my romances but the awkwardness combined with a few situations in which Jo, as the supervisor, leverages her greater prestige/power in cruel and hurtful ways, left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Other readers are less bothered by it, so this is definitely a case of being the wrong reader for this book.

There is a sex scene, and it's sweet and hot. I get why it happened when it did, and it couldn't have happened earlier, but Jo and Emma openly together was really enjoyable and I would have liked it sooner. I know, it's impossible to please me!

Refreshingly, there's some diversity in the story that isn't simple window-dressing: Jo is Chinese-American; Emma is Jewish and suffers from asthma. How they interact with the world is impacted by their backgrounds and circumstances, exacerbated by the imbalance of power and money.

Enough in this book was good that even though I wasn't in love with this story, I'm going to be watching for Wilsner's future releases. And more lesbian romances, please and thank you!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Weekend reads, or social distancing...

One million library holds arrived this week. Which is nice because my community, like so many, has requested people exercise "social distancing" to help prevent a wider spread of COVID19.

I plan to participate in next weekend's #StayHome24in48, a little readathon for all of us who need some bookish time alone/together. Are you going to?

I have one million reviews to write for Historical Novel Review but I still plan to read something. I'm leaning toward Sarah Gailey's Upright Women Wanted. What are you reading this weekend?

Monday, March 9, 2020

On cleaning up the blog roll...

I'm so terrible at checking through my blog roll, even on days when I post here. I'm slightly better at responding on Instagram or Twitter. But I added some blogs to my blog roll, in another fit of hopefulness that I'll be better at nurturing community; and wondered if I ought to clean up my blog roll.

There are blogs that haven't been updated in years -- many years -- that I still don't have the heart to remove because I feel like they're the last connection I have with said blogger. In one case, the blogger has died, and I just can't let go of her. Seeing her blog name always makes me smile. The others are bloggers who have moved on, but I would wait forever for an update from them. Is that weird?

How do you handle your blog roll? Are there bloggers you keep on your blog roll for some reason -- sentimental or otherwise?

Friday, February 28, 2020

Weekend reads, or life in the sugar shack

I really hate February as a rule: it's so gray, and cold, and snowy, but not in a pretty way; there aren't enough warm days to make it feel springy, and the rain is still wintry cold and makes me feel achy.

Farm life has made February more bearable in the last few years: we get baby animals, including some hilarious kids most recently; and sugar season starts.

Our second home the last few weeks has been the sugar shack, where my wife and other staff boil the maple sap for 12 hours a day. The small wood shack gets steamy and smells of maple, and is warm and cozy with children and dogs.

My weekend read this weekend is the audiobook of The Deep by Rivers Solomon, read by Daveed Diggs. It's an incredible listen but I'm not surprised, given how amazing Solomon's previous novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts, was.

What are you doing this weekend? Will you be reading anything?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe

As a teen, Anna had indeed broken in to drink the communion wine, because she needed the extra holiness.

I've not been so madly in love with a heroine in a long time as I am with Anna Blanc. I gushed about her in my review of Kincheloe's first book, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, and this second historical mystery featuring our plucky, daring, poised, naive, sweet, reckless girl was so satisfying and exciting.

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe
Seventh Street Books, 2017
Copy from my public library & audiobook review copy from the author
Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I tend to drop serial historical mysteries because at a certain point it feels like the interpersonal stuff with the main characters gets frozen at a certain point to ensure that readers can drop into new releases without wondering what they missed. Possibly this could happen with Kincheloe's series if it goes on for ten more books but so far, I'm really impressed with how much had changed for Anna in this book.

The events of the first book are deeply reflected in Anna's life in this book, and I loved it. The book blurb gives a little away, so I won't recap, but I will say that Anna's decisions aren't waved off in favor of keeping her a socialite-with-a-secret. Her secret came out in a big way in the first book, and Anna is now disowned and struggling to make ends meet on her police matron's salary.

The historical detail in this book was as rich and detailed as The Secret Life of Anna Blanc; with Anna's sheltered life, there's much she doesn't know, and it allows the reader to learn with her. Kincheloe does it deftly, too, so it's not one painful info dump after another; it feels more organic and natural. The setting for this book is Chinatown, with the discovery of a dead woman stuffed in a trunk. It's a horrifying murder that threatens to unleash greater violence, from the criminal gangs that run opium and gambling dens to white mobs motivated by racist fears, and Anna and the police are frantic to quietly solve things without setting off any riots.

What was most interesting slash torturous for me in this read was Kincheloe's handling of Anna's romance with Detective Joe Singer. I don't think it gives anything away to say that Anna is firm -- as she was in the previous book -- that she doesn't want to be under the thumb of any man, even one she's wildly fond of; and as a result, she rebuffs Joe. While I hated this, I also admire it, because Anna is so consistent (even when she's not), and it made for an interesting secondary thread throughout the story. (I've been so deep in romance novels, it was painful for me when things didn't resolve with a neat HEA but when I took a breath, I appreciated that, too!)

I alternated between reading this book and listening to the audiobook. As with the first book, this one is read by Moira Quirk and it is marvelous. Quirk just is Anna but she also does the other characters -- including love interest Joe -- beautifully. Now that I'm listening to more audiobooks, I can appreciate what Quirk does well: her pacing is great (no need to speed up the book), her accents and male voices aren't cringe-y, and she's consistent in her characterizations. She just perfectly captures Anna's naivete and compassion.

I knew I was a fan after the first book; I'm now an Anna Blanc devotee after this one. (I've already finished the third book so now I am a slavish fangirl and can't wait for the fourth book to come out!)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Review: Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

Was this a sign that she was ready to shed him like a layer of old skin and move on?

At this point, I think this is my seventh Tessa Bailey romance and I'm sad to say I really think I'm just not the right reader for her books. This book is the second in her newest series, Hot & Hammered, set in Port Jefferson, Long Island, centered around the Castle family and their home renovation business.

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey
Avon, 2020
Copy from the public library

Dominic works on the construction crew and is married to his high school sweetheart. But after a decade together -- including the time he served in the Marines in Afghanistan -- things with his beloved Rosie are stilted and tense. They never talk, his wife's emotional life is a complete mystery to him, and he firmly believes that acts of care, done in secret, is the only way for a husband to behave. For Rosie, she feels like a shadow in her own life, her dream of own a restaurant drifting further and further from sight with each day. Despite the insane sexual chemistry between her and Dominic, they seem like strangers, and one day, Rosie demands they make a change: seeing a marriage counselor.

I was so intrigued by this premise and in many ways, Bailey delivered: she really nailed a marriage that wasn't working but in really tame, boring ways. There was no huge sin or betrayal that caused things to suddenly be cold between Rosie and Dominic; they just stopped being friends. (They were weekly fuck buddies which I guess is realistic but their sexual chemistry was so over-the-top it was almost gross. Like, no one who has sex weekly really needs to be getting panty-sopping horny from her husband's voice.) The things Rosie and Dominic had to do to repair their marriage was realistic and normal and quite touching.

But this was actually a small kernel of the story and the rest of it was just, I don't know... At this point, I think Bailey's narrative style just doesn't work for me. It just feels like she's so fond of her characters she's too precious with them, or too indulgent, and it feels like she assumes the reader is as in love with them as she is. And I'm not, so most of what they do just makes me roll my eyes rather than cheer.

And the "alpha" hero element ... UGH. To each their own but it's 2020 and I really don't think it is at all appropriate, cute, funny, sexy, or appealing for one romantic partner to chase down the other partner when they're having a night out with their friends. Rosie asks for a girls night and they all dress up and go to Manhattan and it's Wes -- the outsider and apparently romantic lead in the next book! -- who suggests all the guys chase down the women, which is pretty horrifying, but especially so since he isn't actually in a romantic relationship with any of these women; and in fact has only insulted the woman whose night he plans to ruin.

Our hero's endearment of 'honey girl' really just made me cringe. Bailey has her heroes use 'baby girl' a lot (which I loathe) and/but the use of 'honey' here felt a little like exoticising Rosie since she's biracial (Black and Latinx). Like, why not just keep using 'baby girl'?

Unlike Bailey's other series I've read, I do think reading Fix Her Up is needed before reading this one; there's actual character development from that book that happens here, and I think it would be meaningless without having read Fix Her Up; there's also a decent amount of groundwork being laid for the forthcoming novel featuring Bethany (like, it's a tertiary thread that has gotten multiple page treatment!).

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Audiobook Review: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

Anna didn't like children. Her greatest fear was that her prayers would get crossed with some other Catholics. Anna would get pregnant without even asking and some other woman would get a motorcycle or permission to play flag football.

I've got a new heroine addiction in the form of one Anna Blanc -- socialite, heiress, adventurer, crime fighter.

Set in 1907 Los Angeles, our heroine Anna is the daughter of a French banker and is known for being a charming, beautiful socialite. But she wants more than all that. She wants to be a police detective. Her reputation is already borderline ruined from an impetuous decision she makes in the first chapter, but she manages to juggle a handsome, wealthy suitor and a position as a police matron -- the closest thing to being a police detective she can manage. But wrangling orphans into orphanages isn't the work she wants to do, and with guts, moxie, and obliviousness, she gets to work solving murders and other crimes.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe; audiobook narrated by Moira Quirk
Jennifer Kincheloe, 2016
Review copy for blog tour
Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

With an intriguing mix of naivete and grit, Kincheloe presents a young woman who will do anything to achieve her goal; but things aren't easy as there are lumps and bumps along the way. Somehow both slightly fantastical and incredibly realistic, I hung on every word of this story because I was/am infatuated with Anna and would follow her to the ends of the earth. (Imagine a less sexually experienced Tahani from The Good Place, all good intentions, societal connections, and lack of real world skills. See? Impossible to resist.) She's a genuinely imperfect woman both swimming in privilege and bound by society and station, and Kincheloe articulates both worlds vividly and sympathetically.

Kincheloe also does a brilliant job of evoking 1907 Los Angeles and the small tidbits of life at the time (vibrators as treatments for hysteria, for example); the era and setting were as real as Anna. The mysteries were interesting, the side characters compelling, and the will-they-won't-they romance heart flutter-y. (I'm actually wolfing down the rest of the books in the series mostly for Anna and her romantic life; love that she's professionally satisfied but I am enamored of her beau!)

I don't know how I missed this debut back in 2016 but I am soooo glad I was able to join the blog tour for the audiobook as the narrator, Moira Quirk, is smashing.  I'm a total fangirl now and will be searching for other books she reads although I am a little nervous she will forever be Anna Blanc for me. Quirk manages accents and different voices beautifully. Her men sound different from women without any awkward throat straining that makes you want to cough in sympathy; she manages to be Anna in all her ridiculous, competent glory. Having finished this listen, I already "miss" both Anna and Quirk's rendering of her, and I can't wait to listen to the other audiobooks.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Audiobook Review: Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon by Maria Grace

Elizabeth's stomach churned. To be so ambushed, first thing in the day.

Austen's classic novel of manners, marriage, obligation, misunderstandings, poor judgments and well-founded ones is well-served by Maria Grace's imaginings of how society would respond to a world with dragons. It is not merely a retelling with lizards thrown in but a story with new threads of tension and complications that make Lizzie and Darcy's dislike of each other novel and real -- and something that must be urgently overcome.

Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (Jane Austen's Dragons, Book 1) by Maria Grace; Narrated by Benjamin Fife
Self-published, 2019
Review copy for Audiobookworm Promotions
Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Pride and Prejudice isn't my favorite Austen novel which means I seriously love P&P re-tellings and variations.  (Ayesha at Last is one of the best bestest, btw, so if you haven't read it, read it now!) I found myself instantly smitten with this version, which I thought captured that unspoken pressure

In this Britain, dragons were discovered in the time of King Arthur: massive ones associated with estates, smaller ones that roam like wildlife, and tiny ones that seem like hummingbirds. Some humans can hear dragons and others can't, so a delicate accord was struck that allowed humans and dragons to live in harmony. But centuries of rules, rituals, that's-just-how-it's-dones means that Lizzie Bennett -- the eldest dragon keeper in her family -- is expected to remain with Longbourn, the estate's cranky dragon, and wed Mr. Collins, the heir.

With that stress weighing on her, as well as her mother's ongoing machinations to marry Jane off to the handsome and sweet Mr Bingley, Lizzie is swept into a dangerous search for a dragon's egg that was stolen from the Pemberley estate. That requires her to work with the rude and standoffish Mr Darcy, and readers who love P&P can imagine what happens next.

Only things don't unfold so predictably, and this is where I think Grace handles the beloved story and new elements so well. The emotional notes of P&P that are so beloved are there, but reached in slightly different ways, and they buoy the new elements introduced by this dragon-centered society.

Audiobook narrator Benjamin Fife does a wonderful job with the story; he manages the various voices well, including numerous female characters, without sounding cartoony or winded. Between his read and Grace's writing, I couldn't stop listening to this read and I will warn readers it ends right in the middle of the action -- this is a trilogy that encompasses the arc of P&P -- so be prepared to eagerly pick up the rest of the series (as I have).

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Reading Challenge: 2020 Historical Fiction

I can't believe I'd forgotten to sign up for my favorite reading challenge! (Although, to be honest, it's hardly a "challenge" because it's my favorite genre, so basically, it's like that easy thing one can cross off their to do list!)

Hosted by Passages to the Past, the 2020 Historical Fiction challenge encourages readers to dig into more historical novels. Like last year, I'm going for Ancient History - 25 books.

Books Read

Mari Coates, The Pelton Papers
Tessa Dare, The Duchess Deal
Tessa Dare, A Night to Surrender
Tessa Dare, Once Upon a Winter's Eve
Tessa Dare, A Week to Be Wicked 
Maria Grace, Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Body in Griffith Park
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
Eva Leigh, My Fake Rake
Diana Lloyd, About an Earl
Cat Sebastian, A Delicate Deception
Cat Sebastian, A Duke in Disguise
Cat Sebastian, Unmasked by the Marquess
Olivia Waite, The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics