How to Bang a Billionaire by Alexis Hall (Arden St. Ives #1)

31445002If England had yearbooks, I’d probably be “Arden St. Ives: Man Least Likely to Set the World on Fire.” So far, I haven’t. I’ve no idea what I’m doing at Oxford, no idea what I’m going to do next and, until a week ago, I had no idea who Caspian Hart was. Turns out, he’s brilliant, beautiful . . . oh yeah, and a billionaire.

It’s impossible not to be captivated by someone like that. But Caspian Hart makes his own rules. And he has a lot of them. About when I can be with him. What I can do with him. And when he’ll be through with me.

I’m good at doing what I’m told in the bedroom. The rest of the time, not so much. And now that Caspian’s shown me glimpses of the man behind the billionaire I know it’s him I want. Not his wealth, not his status. Him. Except that might be the one thing he doesn’t have the power to give me.

Review:

This is the second Hall book I’ve read and man, I like the way he writes romance.  The characters are well-formed, situations and feelings ring true, and any silly or crazy is enjoyed in the spirit it’s given.  I read How to Bang a Billionaire in a day during a readathon and put it down happy, excited to read the next book in the series.

Then I looked at the reviews.

It turns out it’s a retelling of Fifty Shades!  I have stayed away from any and all Gray so I had no idea.

I’m happy to report it’s an improvement of a retelling – gay as hell, written by a bi author, and not problematic (as far as I can see).  But learning the Fifty Shades connection was like a dunk in ice water – I needed to towel off and reevaluate.

The verdict:  I’m glad I read Hall’s retelling instead of the real thing.  I still want to see how these two get to an HEA, and I’m excited to keep digging into Hall’s backlist.

Advertisements

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

18726080The United States government is given a warning by the pre-eminent biophysicists in the country: current sterilization procedures applied to returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere. Two years later, seventeen satellites are sent into the outer fringes of space to collect organisms and dust for study. One of them falls to earth, landing in a desolate area of Arizona. Twelve miles from the landing site, in the town of Piedmont, a shocking discovery is made: the streets are littered with the dead bodies of the town’s inhabitants, as if they dropped dead in their tracks.

Review:

While I’ve watched Crichton before (ER, Jurassic Park) I hadn’t read any of his novels.  The Andromeda Strain is a natural entry point for me – medicine! science fiction! – and I ended up really liking it. The story is easy to sum up: the US government searches for organisms in space… and finds them.

The good:

  • The plot starts coming and it just keeps coming.
  • Medicine and doctors are important in figuring out what the Andromeda strain is and I got a kick out of thinking about diagnoses along with the doctors.  In that sense it’s puzzle mystery, and we get much of the info needed to reason things out as the story moves along, often in primary source format.  Huzzah for MDs writing fiction!
  • The book was written almost 50 years ago and it’s interesting to see what aged well and what didn’t.  Many of the medical gadgets still feel high tech while the computer references come off as quaint.  I don’t hold this against Crichton, quite the opposite, it strikes my fancy.
  • Andromeda StrainWhile the writing isn’t amazing it fits the mold aimed for, namely narrative nonfiction of a past event many people may have forgotten or never known about.  In that sense it reminded me of Command and Control.
  • Despite that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There are a couple of moments I said “Oh.” along with a character, and there are some laugh out loud funny lines as well.  And the “References” listed at the end are a fun touch.
  • Crichton respects the reader.  He hints and points at things obliquely for us to figure out… and lets them be.  No knocking facts over our heads, no “did ya see that there, hmmmm?”  When a writer respects the reader I’m much more likely to respect them.

The not-so-good:

  • Not a lot of time is spent on characterization.  The space given is used well, but I’d like to see more.
  • Major Bechdel test fail, and I don’t remember a single character of color.  The 1971 movie took steps to correct this, making one of the scientists female and casting several people of color.
  • The “Odd-Man Hypothesis” is stupid idea and needs to die like now.
  • The ending is abrupt and bound to annoy some people.

All in all an engrossing read, perfect for a lazy summer day, a plane ride, or breaking a reading slump.  Especially recommended if you’re into medicine, or science fiction with a side of thriller.

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard

25111005A former paramedic’s visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta’s mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Kevin Hazzard felt that something was missing from his life—his days were too safe, too routine. He signed up for emergency medical training and became, at age twenty-six, a newly minted EMT running calls in the worst sections of Atlanta.

Combining indelible scenes that remind us of life’s fragile beauty with laugh-out-loud moments that keep us smiling through the worst, A Thousand Naked Strangers is an absorbing read about one man’s journey of self-discovery—a trip that also teaches us about ourselves.

Review:

Being an EMT is a crazy job.  It’s your duty to keep people alive long enough to get to the hospital.  Sometimes they’re dead before you arrive at the scene.  Other times it’s a spry-looking man complaining about a toothache.  And sometimes you drive past the address you were given because the shooting hasn’t stopped yet.

Hazzard joined this world for ten years and takes us along for the ride.  A word of warning for the squeamish – there’s a fair share of gore and gallows humor, and know that the nature of the job doesn’t lend itself to overflowing empathy.  I didn’t bother me but I work in medicine so your mileage may vary.

The writing is good and the crazy stories are indeed batshit crazy.  Hazzard gets at the soul of the job when he writes,

Medics don’t have to be heroic or tough or even good people.  They simply have to enjoy the madness…. [It’s] a willingness to walk in unprotected when we clearly should walk away.  A desire to take part but just as often to bear witness.

But mainly he does it

Because it’s fun.

I listened on audio and am so glad I did – Hazzard is a natural storyteller and George Newbern does an amazing job with the narration.  He gets all the jokes, the pauses and nuances right on, to the point that I thought the author was reading his own work.

A Thousand Naked Strangers may not be for everyone but I really enjoyed it – a nice addition to my first responder memoir shelf.

The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert (Dirty British Romance #1)

40785611Prince Ruben of Helgmøre knows exactly what he wants—and his current obsession is Cherry Neita. Everything from her rollercoaster curves to her fearsome attitude commands his attention. And best of all? She has no idea who Ruben is.

Until the paparazzi catch them in a dark alley, her scarlet lipstick smudged, and his hands somewhere naughty…

All Cherry wanted was a night or two with the hottest man she’d ever seen. Turns out, that man is actually a prince, and now he needs her to play princess. Well, princess-to-be. One year as his fake fiancée, and he’ll make all her problems disappear. Easy. Right?

Wrong.

Review:

Trigger warning for child abuse and domestic abuse as well as some racist remarks.

At one point I was reading five books, none of them romance. (I don’t know how it happened, either.)  So as soon as I finished one I dove into my digital to-be-read pile and came up with The Princess Trap.

The last Hibbert book I tried to read opens with scenes of abuse and I had to put it down.  I’m okay with mentions, especially when they’re of past events, but extended scenes told in the present tense are hard for me to read.  Luckily the opening of this book is fine – heroine working at a job she doesn’t care for meets a “hidden royalty” hero, sparks fly, etc.  Being discovered in a compromising pose leads to an engagement of convenience, jetting to an island kingdom, and some steamy scenes as they fall in love.

So lots of good stuff.  The author is a woman of color, the relationship is interracial, the hero is bisexual, and side characters indentify as LGBTQIA+ in slick, ‘this is totally normal’ ways.

She’d never brought a boy home.  Her sister had never brought a girl home.  They had no point of reference for [how their parents would react].

Love it.

the-princess-trap.jpgFurther on in the book, though, we flashback to child abuse (present tense), domestic violence is insinuated, and we see the aftereffects of more child abuse to a different character.  As a result I struggled.  I love that the author has hotline numbers and encouraging words in the acknowledgements, and the whole situation is handled incredibly well, but still.  I had a hard time getting through.

The only other thing that bothered me was the hero’s convenient BDSM-lite.  It allowed him to show an alpha side early on and hint at delicious wickedness, but it wasn’t revisited after the first sex scene.

Despite the personal minuses I still started and finished The Princess Trap within 24 hours, so… ~shrug~.  I learned my lesson though – I’ll be checking reviews for trigger warnings before I pick up another book by this author, as much as I like her work.

Butabuta’s Bookstore by Arimi Yazaki (Butabuta #19)

40647997While I was in the middle of Doctor Butabuta I bought this book, #19 in the long-running series.  Here our stuffed pig of a protagonist is the owner of a bookshop – huzzah for bookish stuff in novels!  He’s even surrounded by previous installments of his own series on the cover.

There is some publishing talk and handselling to customers but most of the action revolves around a community radio show.  Every week a listener writes in with their real life worries and Butabuta recommends a book to help them through their problems, a la The Novel Cure.

Overall I found the four short stories that make up this volume to be quite uneven.  While it has my favorite Butabuta story so far, about a student who is having difficulty transitioning to university life, it also has two stories I struggled to get through.  One follows an angsty teenager (ugh) and the other is an oversimplified look at the hikikomori phenomenon.  The ending makes light of what can be a symptom of a serious psychiatric disorder – not cool.

Getting back to the series as a whole, in each book Butabuta leads a different life so I expected massive changes, but I’m still surprised that he’s married in this installment.  Both his wife and daughter are human even though he’s a living stuffed pig… I don’t get it, either.  One character shared my confusion but frustratingly the question was left to lie.

Enough negatives – there are props to be given, too.  I love that the radio show recommends and reads excerpts from actual books.  One is even an English book in translation, much appreciated, and Yazaki touches on the reasons for her selections in the afterward.

With a bookish theme I had high hopes but Butabuta’s Bookstore fell a bit flat for me.  I’ll continue on with the series, but maybe not right away – an entire world of Japanese language literature awaits!

Making Things Right: The Simple Philosophy of a Working Life by Ole Thorstensen

Translated by Sean Kinsella

35787524Making Things Right is the simple yet captivating story of a loft renovation, from the moment master carpenter and contractor Ole Thorstensen submits an estimate for the job to when the space is ready for occupation. As the project unfolds, we see the construction through Ole’s eyes: the meticulous detail, the pesky splinters, the problem solving, patience, and teamwork required for its completion. Yet Ole’s narrative encompasses more than just the fine mechanics of his craft. His labor and passion drive him toward deeper reflections on the nature of work, the academy versus the trades, identity, and life itself.

Review:

I am always here for non-fiction in translation so when I saw this title as an audiobook I scooped it up.  Using the framework (ha) of a loft renovation Thorstensen shows what it’s like to be an independent contractor in Norway.

Most of the book is process – how bids are calculated, how materials are ordered and brought into the loft via a crane, how you make sure the floor of a bathroom is water-tight.  It’s fine and good, but this electrician’s daughter was slightly bored by the details.

My favorite bits were the ones between – talking about how people from different places and backgrounds enter the trades, what gets played on the radio, how people in different parts of Norway opt for different kinds of construction.  I was cuted out when he gave to small kids, who were going to live in the loft once it was done, free rein to draw in pencil all over the drywall.  They marked out the rooms, still only plans, and drew airplanes as they saw fit.  Adorable and heartwarming.

27427788I ran into a few issues, though.  Unfortunately the translation and audiobook narration do not mesh well.  It sounds like a British English translation read by someone who knows Norwegian and speaks with an American accent.  On top of that it sounds like some terms were slapdash “translated” into American without much thought.

For example, at one point the text reads “6.25 feet”.  This strikes me as poor translation from metric – I’d call that “six feet three inches”.  But 6.25 feet stands, and it’s read aloud as “six point twenty five feet”, which sounds even worse.  Six and a quarter feet, six point two five feet… why “point twenty five”?

There are also some terms that seem common in European discourse that I’ve never heard before.  I found myself googling “social dumping” and “passive housing”, terms that make no sense unless you’re familiar.  I may just be ignorant but a gloss in the text would have been appreciated.

Likewise, at one point Thorstensen lists radio programs he listens to while working.  “[so-and-so] does a great radio show”, he says, with no further info.  I desperately wanted one more word in there – a great music show, a great interview show, a great comedy show… something.  I don’t think you have to explain every unfamiliar reference (there are many more) but some could use this minimal, additional info.

All in all Making Things Right is an okay book, but if you’re looking for great carpentry memoirs go for Nina MacLaughlin’s Hammer Head instead.

Glutton for Pleasure by Alisha Rai

22929829Devi Malik knows how to heat things up. She does it every night as head chef in her family’s Indian restaurant. Her love life, though, is stuck in the subzero freezer. Now, with a chance to fulfill a secret fantasy with her crush and his brother, it’s time to put her desire on the front two burners.

For Marcus Callahan, a love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude isn’t only a necessary evil of their kink. It’s a protective device. Jace’s dissatisfaction with their lifestyle grows with every glimpse of sweet little Devi.

Despite their reputation for vanishing with the dawn, they discover one night with Devi isn’t nearly enough. And Devi finds herself falling in love with two very different men.

Review:

I love Rai when she’s in erotica mode and that’s what we have here.  Glutton for Pleasure is her first novel and I’m happy to say it holds up quite well.

The good:

  • An Indian-American heroine written by an Indian-American author – huzzah own voices!
  • Rai doesn’t take herself too seriously, as you can tell from the opening lines:
    20180725_210500.jpg
    Bwahaha.
  • Devi is bothered by her weight but grows more comfortable in her body over the course of the novel.
  • Marcus and Jace may be identical twins but you would never confuse them on the page.  Their physical differences are even explained with a real medical syndrome, which I appreciate.Glutton for Pleasure
  • After the train wreck of Colters’ Woman I’m wary of siblings that enter a poly relationship but Marcus and Jace have their reasons.  I may not fully be on board but it does work, especially with the suggestion that Devi throws out near the end.
  • Even in her first full-length work we can see that Rai loves complicated and fraught family relationships.  Devi is one of three sisters and ooo boy, they have some history.
  • I would be remiss if I did not mention the smoking hot sex scenes. ~fans herself~

The not-so-good:

  • It reads like a first novel, lacking Rai’s current level of polish and cohesiveness.  It needs a little something – a subplot, more chances to develop the relationship outside of the bedroom… something.

A solid read overall but not the ideal starting place for Rai’s work – if you like family angst in your romance pick up Hate to Want You, and if you want something steamy go for Play With Me.

Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter (Caroline Mabry #1)

18918083Spokane, Washington: a bustling city split by hurtling white-water falls. During a routine drug bust, Detective Caroline Mabry finds herself on a narrow bridge over the falls, face-to-face with a brutal murderer named Lenny Ryan. Within hours, the body of a young prostitute is found nearby, dumped along the riverbank. Then another. And another. Soon Caroline and her cynical mentor Alan Dupree are thrown headlong into the search for a serial murderer police have nicknamed the Southbank Strangler. But while Caroline hunts a killer, he may also be hunting her.

Review:

This is the perfect book for someone that has read a ton of police procedurals and gripes that they’re too “same-y”.  Walter starts down that road but by the halfway point he’s subverting some tropes and dissecting others, exposing them to the light.  I haven’t read enough murder mysteries to do it justice in this review, but I’ll try.

Caroline Mabry is a new-ish detective that finds herself in the middle of a serial murder case.  Along with her philosophical mentor and a technologically savvy greenhorn, they hunt down a killer who is offing prostitutes and hiding their bodies after rubber banding some money to their hand.

When the body count starts to rise Mabry is sent to consult with Blanton, an expert profiler of legend.  He reminded me in some ways of Robert Ressler in that he’s known for getting into the minds of men who commit these heinous acts over and over again.

Blanton is not too happy that a woman has been sent, as:

I’ve never met a woman who contributed much to these kinds of cases. Fortunately for them, they don’t have the capacity for understanding this type of killer, for understanding the fantasy.

In other words, something about raping and killing people is inherently male, a fantasy that every guy harbors in some part of his (hopefully subconscious) brain.

Disturbing, no?

Maybe there were no monsters. Maybe every man who looked at a Penthouse was essentially embarking on the same path that ended with some guy beating a woman to death and violating her with a lug wrench. No wonder Blanton was dubious of Caroline’s role in the investigation. If she couldn’t imagine the violent fantasy, what could she imagine? The victim. The fear. And what good were those?

Over Tumbled GravesBlanton continues in this vein, echoing stuff that I’ve read in nonfic about profilers and remaining very disturbing.  By framing the book from a female detective’s perspective the unease settles in our bones, and I may never look at serial killer cases the same way again.

It bothers Mabry that the victims are seen as a collection of clues and not people – the number dead matters more than who they were.  She concentrates on those killed in stead of blindly following the profilers on her way to solving the case.

Walter made me think about serial killer literature in a new way.  If you’re well read in the genre I’m sure you’ll find more flipped and subverted tropes than I did.  On top of that the writing is a cut above and Spokane, or more accurately its waterways, is a character itself.

Eventually, the water prevails, even in cities of the dead. Eventually, the water comes for us all, washes over the statues and through the crypts, topples the headstones and tumbles the graves.

Plotty with well-characterized protagonists and much to mull over, Over Tumbled Graves is a heckuva book and is perfect for my Serial Killer Summer.  I’m looking forward to returning to it once I have more murder mysteries under my literary belt.

Chi’s Sweet Home (#1) by Kanata Konami

Di18Y8mU4AEq278Chi is a michievous newborn kitten who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, finds herself lost. Seperated from the warmth and protection of her mother, feels distraught. Overcome with loneliness she breaks into tears in a large urban park meadow., when she is suddenly rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The kitty is then quickly and quietly whisked away into the warm and inviting Yamada family apartment…where pets are strictly not permitted.

Review:

I love my neighborhood used book store.  It’s kinda dingy on the outside but climbing up to the second floor lifts you into paradise – shelves of books that reach ten feet high, with bins on the floor to hold the overflow.  Novels, non-fiction, manga – any book that’s had a tiny bit of popularity (and many that haven’t) are guaranteed to be here.

So when Meonicorn recommended Chi’s Sweet Home it was the perfect excuse… er, reason to make a trip.  It doesn’t hurt that the bookstore is close to my favorite breakfast place, either.

20180726_113604.jpg
I was good and didn’t get the fancy toast.

The manga is originally written in Japanese, which I read, and has been translated into English.  Chi is a kitten that becomes separated from her mother and is taken in by the Yamadas.  They’ve never had a cat before – and their apartment doesn’t allow pets – so they try to take care of Chi on the downlow.  If you’ve ever had a cat, especially a rescue, you’ll identify with what they go through.  Will Chi know how to use the litter box?  Will she try to run away?  And how can I buy back my kitty’s love after traumatizing her at the vet? 😉

The manga is in full color and is completely adorable.  Chi looks just like my cat when encountering a new toy:

20180726_111801.jpg

And I’m tickled by this depiction of a cat nightmare:

20180726_111836.jpg

It’s a quick read and not taxing in any way, but that’s kind of the point. If you like cats and need a pick-me-up Chi’s Sweet Home is just the thing.

Women in Translation Month 2018: Suggestions and Reading List

WiTmonth2018Huzzah for August, Women in Translation Month!  This is the month to read works in translation by women, trans, and non-binary folk.  Precious few books in English are translations, and only a quarter or so of those are by women.  Summer is the perfect time to highlight these amazing books and let the world know how awesome women authors (and translators!) are.

Looking for a place to start?  Here are some #womenintranslation books I’ve read over the past year:

30186905The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

A dystopia set in modern day Egypt where a new centralized authority demands that all citizens line up at The Gate to ask permission for even everyday affairs.  The line grows longer and longer… but will The Gate ever open?

39737311Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations ed. by Sarah Cleave, translated by various

Short stories, some by women, commissioned after Trump’s discriminatory ban of immigration from Muslim-majority nations.  The pieces range from realistic to fantastical and explore themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement.

35049393The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, translated by Ida H. Washington

Translated non-fiction, huzzah!  Alice and her family came to the US as refugees, fleeing the Nazis during World War II.  By chance they end up in Vermont and fall in love with the place despite the hard winters, relative isolation, and less-than-smart livestock.  It’s everything I wanted The Egg and I to be – funny and heartwarming, you’ll fall in love with the Green Mountains just as much as Alice does.

6845839Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami (I can’t find the translator, gah)

This one is a cheat – it’s my first review for #WITmonth, posting Friday!  Chi is a lost kitten that finds a home and is everything cute and adorable.  A perfect pick-me-up for cat lovers, which, judging from twitter, is everyone.

And here’s my reading list for this month.  It tends heavily Japanese because… I’m me. 🙂  I doubt I’ll finish off everything but I’m looking forward to getting to as many as I can.

36481157The Master Key by Masako Togawa, translated by Simon Grove

A puzzle mystery by an LGBTQIA+ author who has been called the Japanese P.D. James.  I know many people like curling up with mysteries in the fall but I like tackling them during the summer – I’ll take any shiver I can get, even if it’s from fear!

31203000Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

A very buzzy book at the moment!  I’m using the Japanese cover because holy cow, lookit that.

Keiko is anything but normal, working at a convenience store for 18 years where most people leave after one or two.  But what is normal, anyway?  I’ve already started reading this one in Japanese and I’m loving it so far.

20484692Ten Women by Marcela Serrano, translated by Beth Fowler

Nine women who share a therapist, but little else, meet and tell their stories.  In the process they form bonds and transform their lives, and we get insight into many corners of Chilean society.

38643164The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda

Forthcoming from Soft Skull Press.  Motoya has won all kinds of awards here in Japan, including the Akutagawa Prize for a piece featured in this collection of stories.  It’s billed as inventive, with reality slipping into the fantastic, which is just my kind of thing.

40932752False Calm: A Journey Through the Ghost Towns of Patagonia by María Sonia Cristoff, translated by Katherine Silver

Another upcoming release, this one from Transit Books.  The jacket copy says it’s part reportage, part personal essay, and part travelogue… which is all non-fiction, yea!  A look at the towns lost after the oil boom in Patagonia.

It’s going to be a great month!  Do you have any books lined up for Women in Translation Month?  How about some recommendations? Let’s have a chat in the comments 🙂