The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald

31021280When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall—through chaos and catastrophe—this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humor.

A beloved literary treasure for more than half a century, Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I is a heartwarming and uproarious account of adventure and survival on an American frontier.

Review:

I was excited to find that the author of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books wrote a memoir about chicken farming in the Pacific Midwest, complete with “The Enduring Classic” blazed on the cover.  But this doesn’t feel like a classic at all, with MacDonald’s sharp wit aimed at people who least deserve the jabs.

She moved to the wilds of Washington with her husband, determined to be the best wife she can by doing whatever makes her husband happy, no questions asked.  Let’s count that as Anger Runneth Over #1 – woman with zero agency.  She hates the chicken farming her husband loves and seems to find no joy in life on the mountain. Sometimes the barbs are funny and telling of how awful she found things.

In my little Death and Food Record book, I, in my prankish way, wrote opposite the date and number of deaths; “Chickenpox-Eggzema and Suicide.” When he checked the records, Bob noted this fun-in-our-work, and unsmiling erased it and neatly wrote, “Not determined.” Men are quite humorless about their own business.

But these moments are few and far between. More often MacDonald lights into her neighbors and people in town, judging them by her city standards of culture and erudition.  Whole passages are written phonetically to exaggerate their manner of speaking and, apparently, the humor.

Charlie wath butchering and I athk him for the thpare ribth becauthe they kilt two pigth and I knowed that the two of them couldn’t eat all them thpare ribth, but that thtingy thkunk thaid, “The reathon I’M BUTCHERING, MR. KETTLE, is becauthe I need the meat,” and I wath tho mad I forgot the egg math I had borried.

Instead of poking fun at a situation she’s grinding people into the dirt, holding them at fault for being different or not being given the same opportunities she has enjoyed.  This closed mindedness and snobbery is Anger Runneth Over #2.

It’s not that MacDonald is incapable of nuance – if she gave other people the consideration she reserved for her grandmother the book would be much more readable.

Gammy was patient, impatient, kind, caustic, witty, sad, wise, foolish, superstitious, religious, prejudiced, and dear.  She was, in short, a grandmother who is, after all, a woman whose inconsistencies have sharpened with use.

Instead we run into Anger Runneth #3, her view and treatment of the Native Americans of the area.  I went into the book knowing that racism of this sort would be an issue and prepared to see the book as of its time, but it’s hateful and awful even for the 1940s.

Little red brothers or not, I didn’t like Indians, and the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them.

It hurts me so much to even type that.

There are a couple of chapters that are funny if separated from all the rage-inducing passages but I doubt it’s worth the effort.  Consider The Egg and I a classic you can safely skip.

Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy (Walker Papers #1)

6545916Joanne Walker has three days to learn to use her shamanic powers and save the world from the unleashed Wild Hunt.

No worries. No pressure. Never mind the lack of sleep, the perplexing new talent for healing herself from fatal wounds, or the cryptic, talking coyote who appears in her dreams.

And if all that’s not bad enough, in the three years Joanne’s been a cop, she’s never seen a dead body—but she’s just come across her second in three days.

It’s been a bitch of a week.

And it isn’t over yet.

Review:

I love urban fantasy but have gotten away from it, so I thought this book would be a great reintroduction. Sadly, not so much.

The good:

  • I like Joanne as a heroine. She’s a bit out of the ordinary – tall and imposing, a combination of Irish and Native American blood. She’s strong and has a point of view and doesn’t apologize for doing what she thinks is right.
  • The fantasy framework is a mix of Celtic and indigenous influences that I haven’t seen put together before.
  • Representation is good all around, with the first cross-dressing cop I’ve run across in fiction. Neat.

The not-so-good:

  • The secondary characters are underdeveloped and sometimes defy common sense. A random cabbie that gives her a ride from the airport quickly becomes her sidekick. Other people rotate in and out of the story so quickly you’re not sure if they’re important or plot enablers.
  • While our protagonist is a woman I had to sit here for several minutes before I could think of another woman who wasn’t a victim or dead. Eep.
  • The action goes off into dream land or spiritual space a lot. Nothing wrong with that in general, but it’s a space without apparent rules, rhyme, or reason. It’s hard to convince me of stakes or danger when a deus ex machina could literally pop out of the sky to save our heroine.
  • The writing isn’t the best and I found myself skimming more and more as the book went on.

So while my love for urban fantasy has been rekindled I don’t think I’ll be exploring it with this series.

Wicked Beat by Olivia Cunning (Sinners on Tour #4)

Synopsis:

12710096From the moment he lays eyes on Sinners’ new front of house soundboard operator, drummer Eric Sticks knows he has to make Rebekah his. Unfortunately, she’s too busy trying to seduce guitarist Trey Mills to pay him much attention.

Rebekah never planned to fall for the tall, goofy drummer with the weird sense of humor and a heart the size of the galaxy. But Eric makes her laugh and his constant attention makes her feel sexy and irresistible–exactly what she needs after the things her last lover said to her.

A woman who gives as much as she takes, Rebekah makes Eric feel like a total stud–exactly what he needs after surviving a decade of watching the incredibly talented members of Sinners from the wings.

Review:

Opening this book I knew what I was getting into – lots of sex with some plot to hold things together. So that instalove in the beginning? Mostly forgiven. The predictable monkey business? Overlooked.

Like in the other book in this series I’ve read a woman finds a way to get close to the band via a tour-related gig, she drools, he’s cool, and they get it on.  Okay.  Eric has an… issue… that they need to get over as a couple that adds some interest and conflict.

But in the middle there’s heaps of angst, piled on in layers. Someone’s in the closet, someone else is dealing with mental illness, somebody else has family issues, yet someone else is recovering from nearly dying… hmmm, I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh, the arranged marriage neither party wants! It was way too much for me, and almost convenient in its utter wrongness.  That situation that looks like it’s going to go badly?  It’s even worse than you feared. Grah.

Recurring characters have several books’ worth of characterization behind them but the secondary characters were unsatisfying and poorly developed, almost caricatures of archetypes – the kind dad, the coworker looking for revenge, the overbearing mother.  There’s a description of a medical condition that I’m not happy with but don’t know enough about to rail at properly. Grah.

There is also a hint of a menage that never really happens. It looks like it got put in book five instead so I’ll give that one a go, but Wicked Beat was too ARGH to be enjoyable.

Exotica by Eden Bradley

Synopsis:

17614972Welcome to Exotica. Leave your inhibitions at the door

Lilli DeForrest is hoping for a week of pampering and relaxation, but when the beautiful Rajan steps into her suite, the attraction is immediate. Rajan is her ideal lover: tender, commanding and intensely erotic.
But, as Lilli is about to discover, his masterful touch is just the beginning.

Review:

The two linked novellas in this book have a split personality that threw me for a loop.

First, the Kama Sutra half. Exotica is a luxury resort where your room is more like a castle (or pirate ship, or Casablanca) and comes complete with a man to pleasure you in every which way. You stay for a week while he makes your erotic fantasies – both those you know of and those you don’t – into reality. Lilli is set up with a week’s stay by her college friend Caroline, the manager of the resort. After a nasty divorce Lilli needs some cheering up (and opening up) and Rajan, one of the Kama Sutra lovers, is at her service.

There are little bits of genius in here. Setting the resort in Palm Springs’ heat means it’s reasonable to be naked all the time. The men work on generous rotations with two months off at a time, allowing for thorough health checks. “Condoms break the fantasy far too easily,” Caroline says, and we’re freed of STD/birth control guilt in one fell swoop.

Lilli heads to the private Kama Sutra area and gets it on with Rajan who, of course, falls in love with her. Instalove usually bothers me but I can forgive it here because A) novellas are short and B) holy cow the sex is hot. A week of fantasy leads to an unpleasant reentry into real life, and Rajan has to decide if he’d rather chase his dream or his girl.

This is the happy awesome half – I could read fifteen stories in this vein and be totally happy.

But then.

Caroline, the manager of the club, needs some opening up of her own. She also has a troubled romantic past but it’s left her scarred and reluctant to jump into bed. What better than telling the new guy, Kian, that she auditions all the hires personally?

Troublesome in the extreme, but Kian doesn’t believe a word of it (and is at the resort on false pretenses himself) so more guilt absolved. He agrees to the arrangement because he loves women and Caroline looks like an interesting nut to crack. Not as great as the first story, but I’m mostly okay with this.

Until they get into bed. Caroline is obviously fighting demons, turned on but still flinching from Kian’s touch. So what’s his solution? To bind her spread eagle to the bed. WHAT.

I was seeing red from all the danger flags flying in my brain. He is taking someone with issues and instead of talking through them or even figuring out what’s going on he makes her as vulnerable as possible. That could almost break someone. It’s domination without power exchange, which basically equals being an asshole. BDSM is never brought up, but Caroline finds that she likes having her agency and personality and choice taken away… I mean, being “dominated”.

“I’m going to fuck you so hard, Caroline. And you will never be able to deny me anything. Do you understand?”

O.o

This bothers me so much. The underlying assumption is “if she likes it despite herself and gets off it’s fine” but it’s not. It’s really not.

Then there are passages that just made no sense. While looking out at a sunset Kian says,

“‘Even the boats on the water remind me of the Impressionists. That white against the blue, the way the sun lights the ocean with pink and gold.’

She’d never met another man who talked to her in terms of art, someone who understood her on that level.”

What the hell does that mean?

I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the book because I was worried for Caroline’s safety – there’s a scene with Kian yelling at her while rattling the gate to her house that had me thinking, call the police! Get a restraining order! You don’t need him! Downright scary.

The second story was a big disappointment after loving the first one so much. Looking back as a whole there’s also some sheik-esque issues I could dive into (white woman seeks exotic lover, which equals a rich, foreign, darker skinned, and dominating man) but I need to wrap my brain around it first. Read the first half of the book for some hot erotica but do yourself a favor and stay the hell away from Kian. ~shivers~

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Synopsis:

12384157Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she’s had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic’s doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes.

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic.

Review:

This novel has to do with the Titanic and from the description I thought a large chunk of the action would take place on ship, both before and after the crash. When the ship went down and our main characters were rescued by chapter three I knew I was in for a very different novel.

Most of the story is about the Congressional hearings following the disaster and how they affected a small cast of characters. If you don’t know much about the Titanic you may find this interesting. However, if you’re like me and have read the full hearing transcripts and newspaper reports of the time (it was a phase, I tell you) you’ll be bored.

Add in cardboard cutout characters and a stereotypical love triangle (shall she fall in love with the rich but sketchy man or the poor but awesome sailor?) and you get an unremarkable tale.

The Dare and the Doctor by Kate Noble (Winner Takes All #3)

Synopsis:

30103788Dr. Rhys Gray and Miss Margaret Babcock are friends—strictly friends. But over the course of the year, as they exchange dozens of letters, they share personal details that put them on the path to something more. When Dr. Gray helps Margaret realize her dearest dream and she comes to his defense in the uproar that follows, it seems that their connection cannot be denied. But will their relationship stand the scruples of society and jealous intendeds, or are they destined to be only friends, and nothing more?

Review:

It should have been the perfect time for me to read this novel – I just finished a spate of heavy non-fiction and dearly needed some romance in my reading life.  But try as I might, I kept getting pulled out of the story.

First, the good:

  • The plot has some nice twists and turns to it.
  • The book starts off with letters, yea!  Not enough to call it epistolary, but I like it all the same.
  • The heroine is unconventional (super tall, not super pretty) but the hero loves her just the way she is.
  • The pose on the cover is from a scene in the book and is fitting.  Even the fact that she’s not wearing a corset is explained, woah.

And now, the not-so-good:

  • I never felt like I was in the Regency.  The language is a little too modern, societal customs and expectations are bent a little too much, and I found a medical tidbit that, while not wrong, is unlikely.  It felt like a wallpaper romance when I prefer something more of the period.  (For more about wallpaper romances check out this article at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, where I totally agree with Candy.)
  • Noble made her chops as a TV writer and it shows.  There were a ton of scenes that are meant to be seen, not read.  We meet Rhys’ large extended family in a whirlwind, with each person passing through the foyer of the home.  It would be perfect on TV – you could see the trouble making 12-year old bounding up the stairs, the sister too engrossed in her book to noticed Rhys has arrived, and so on. But on the page it’s a tangled lump of spaghetti, with no means or end.  Here’s another example: Margaret’s friend is with her on the second floor, telling her about the suitors that are being turned away at the door.

“Oh!  There’s one!” Sylvia cried.  “He’s wearing a gray coat and hat.  And . . . he’s knocking . . . and the butler is telling him you are not receiving today.”  She pushed closer to the window, her nose almost touching.  “He’s taking off the hat . . . decently good looking, although his chin in a little weak.”

If I make a rectangle with my fingers all director-like I can see it – how the shot would be framed, how good it would look.  But it wasn’t satisfying on the page.

  • Because of the above I started skimming parts, and I didn’t feel like I missed anything.  Eep.
  • While there were seeds of conflict it didn’t drive the story until the very very end.

So despite having the outward appearance of being just what I needed, The Dare and the Doctor… wasn’t.

Thanks to Pocket Books and NetGalley for providing a review copy.


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8150083  What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #2)

Synopsis:

26242354Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better…

Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable… the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss. And it all begins with… marrying Mr. Winterborne.

Review:

I’ve read and loved Kleypas’ work in the past but this book fell flat for me.  Soggy pancake flat.

First, though, the good:

  • The writing is on par with the rest of her work, and I can’t find any fault with the words themselves.
  • There was enough information to jog my memory about the couple, who had a lot of goings on in the first book of the series.  It could probably even be read alone.
  • Rhys is romantic, the sex scenes are hot, and if you’re into period detail it’s here (“each glove is so delicate, it can be enclosed in the shell of a walnut”).
  • The secondary characters are fleshed out wonderfully, especially the women working for Winterborne.  I want them to get their own books, too.

The not-so-good:

  • The whole plot revolves around a secret Helen has, one she finds out maybe a quarter of the way through the novel.  Everyone says not to tell Rhys – he would never forgive her!  Don’t throw away your chance at marriage!  But the reader knows he will forgive her on the spot.  And he does.  So angst yes, conflict not so much.
  • Likewise there’s a plot twist near the end that was meant to raise the stakes but only raised my hackles instead.
  • Rhys has no faults as far as I can see.  Yes, he’s common born, but that lets him be progressive and alpha and endearing to modern readers.  He’s rich so Helen’s family is happy about the marriage.  Winterborne is also loving and protective, hates the people you would expect him to hate, and takes care of the people he loves.  He’s perfect… and pretty boring.
  • There isn’t anything wrong with Helen, either.  She’s dreadfully shy to start but it’s more of a feature than a bug.

So while the beginning was enjoyable I had to force myself to finish the last half of the book.  Weak conflict, a flawless hero and heroine… not much reason to read.  Le sigh.  I’ll still read the next book at some point, though, because Pandora.

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent (Menagerie #1)

Synopsis:

27277167When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus big-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Review:

When I read the cover copy I was like, woo-hoo!  Carnivals are basically circuses, and I like circuses.  Fantasy, otherworldly creatures? I’m there.

But holy cow the first half of this book was hard to get through. Looking back this was probably the most telling thing – I should have finished two or three books in the week plus it took me to read Menagerie.  I had trouble bringing myself to the page.

Delilah is deemed to be a cryptid and therefore not a person.  For over two hundred pages she deals with this.  Vincent is trying to drive home the horror of slavery by having it happen to a white middle class woman but it’s way too heavy and obvious.  At one point she even has a water hose turned on her.

And for these two hundred pages there’s basically no plot other than, “Argh, the injustice!”  At the midpoint the book turns into a more run of the mill fantasy with a story and some action.  Delilah gets a purpose but stinks at planning.  She has plan A, talks with one person and goes, “wait wait, we should do this other plan!”  Then halfway through that plan she goes, “no no no, we should really do this much more dangerous thing that would take a lot of forethought that we don’t have time to do right now!”  So much side eye.

And the ending wasn’t even satisfying.  It’s not a cliffhanger, thank goodness, but I was left thinking, “Oh, that’s one long, boring road you’re headed down”.  I’m afraid I won’t be following.

Thanks to MIRA and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner

Synopsis:

29496568The heart of Generation Chef is the story of Jonah Miller, who at age twenty-four attempts to fulfill a lifelong dream by opening the Basque restaurant Huertas in New York City, still the high-stakes center of the restaurant business for an ambitious young chef. Miller, a rising star who has been named to the 30-Under-30 list of both Forbes and Zagat, quits his job as a sous chef, creates a business plan, lines up investors, leases a space, hires a staff, and gets ready to put his reputation and his future on the line.

Journalist and food writer Karen Stabiner takes us inside Huertas’s roller-coaster first year, but also provides insight into the challenging world a young chef faces today—the intense financial pressures, the overcrowded field of aspiring cooks, and the impact of reviews and social media, which can dictate who survives.

Review:

I dived in hoping for a business-leaning chef book written by a journalist, and I enjoyed watching Jonah’s dream about his restaurant and work to get it off the ground.  There was a lot of talk about location and start-up costs, but I was sure the narrative would turn to food once things got rolling.

It did, but only tangentially.  The importance of keeping food costs down is discussed, as well as the benefit of fixed-price menus, raising the average ticket, and making “cocktails” when you can only serve wine and beer. But cooking itself isn’t celebrated.  I had a hard time picturing any of the dishes, and knew more about their price than how they tasted.  Food descriptions rarely go over one sentence:

The pintxo list led off with the gilda, named for Rita Hayworth’s character in the 1946 film Gilda, a skewered white anchovy curved around a manzanilla green olive at one end and a guindilla pepper at the other.

…that’s it.  I was disappointed.

Everything is looked at through a business and career-focused lens.  We learn about several cooks on the line – not what kind of food they like to make or why they became a chef, but how much debt cooking school put them in.  How they anticipate moving up the brigade ladder.  Where they’d like to be in five years.  Exactly how much they make, and how and why raises and promotions are doled out.  People become a collection of numbers.

The writing style didn’t agree with me, either.  The whole book feels like a long newspaper article complete with quotes, reactions, and lots of figures.  There were sections that went: ‘Person A was thinking this.  Person B was thinking that.  Person A was really worried about what person B was thinking.  So they had a meeting.  After discussing X and Y, they decided on Z.  But then Q happened, so they decided to go back to the drawing board.’  It was a lot of narrative work for nothing.

I would have loved it if Stabiner pulled the story together around more cohesive themes.  Instead of following a strict timeline the scope could have been widened out between major events, talking about how Jonah’s leadership style evolved over time, say, or consolidating young Alberto’s story into bigger blocks.  That way there could be deep look at how Jonah’s ethos compares to and evolved from his previous jobs, and Alberto’s rise could be more effectively linked to that of his boss.  While these themes are touched on they’re split up to avoid muddying the timeline, losing any insight that may have been there.

Also, Stabiner’s daughter worked at Huertas during the reporting that led to this book.  The daughter was working front of house while Stabiner was observing the back so she claims no conflict of interest.  I’m very glad it’s mentioned in the acknowledgements but find it sketchy at best, and even if there was no conflict it does deprive us of any server or bartender stories that may have added to the narrative.

If you’re interested in the money behind restaurants and the investing/business side of the industry you’ll find Generation Chef informative.  But if you’re a foodie like me and prefer cooking in restaurant books you will be let down.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for providing a review copy.


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Dark Prince by Christine Feehan (Dark #1)

Synopsis:

10417569Carpathians are an immortal race of beings with animal instincts. Every Carpathian male is drawn to his life mate: a Carpathian or human female able to provide the light to his darkness. Without her, the beast within slowly consumes the man until turning vampire is the only option.

Raven Whitney is a psychic who has used her gift to help the police track down a serial killer. Now she is determined to escape the glare of recent publicity for the peace and quiet of the Carpathian Mountains. Prince Mikhail Dubrinsky is the leader of his people but, as his ancient Carpathian race grows ever closer to extinction, he is close to giving in to the heavy weight of loneliness and despair. From the moment their minds touch, Raven and Mikhail form a connection. But there are those who incorrectly view all Carpathians as vampires, and are determined to give their extinction a helping hand.

Review:

I really looked forward to getting this book – I was on a long wait list at the library for it, and if the series is 30 volumes strong it must be good. Right?

…well.

Some parts were good. I like that the vampires are more “traditional”, needing earth and blood and not daring to go out in the sun. The plot is okay. The characters are okay.

But Feehan keeps taking things up to the stratosphere. Instead of talking about the here and now the story goes on about Love and Loyalty and Duty and Honor and other words that feel like they should be capitalized. Here’s the hero while he has his heroine in bed:

He could feel his body relaxing, and peace stole into him, edging out the terrible tension. The beauty of her inner soul washed over him. How could he fault her need to reach out to someone in pain, when it was her very compassion that had drawn him out of the dark shadows and into a world of joy and light?

Looking at the big picture is okay now and then, but it’s constant. ‘That guy was totally trying to kill us. Let’s talk about how Loyal you are and how we consider ourselves Family while we also recognize our own Needs as we plan how to get back at him.’ Grah.

It’s not only that, though. The excess examination of Feelings makes the story suffer. The plot is fine but it’s stretched out over way more pages than necessary – 300-ish pages would have been ideal, but my “author’s cut” edition was over 500. Even the original edition was 450 pages. In the beginning I read every word in good faith that it would get better (ha) but ended up skimming more and more.

I looked ahead at book two to see if Gregori, the heir apparent, would get his mate but no. They apparently stretch his angst out until book four. Sigh.  I was hoping to find a long series to dig into, but instead I found a corner of paranormal that I can safely ignore.  Onward!