The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #1)

11639032While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their household was strangled to death. — The quiet and young Inspector Pitt investigates the scene and finds no one above suspicion. As his intense questioning causes many a composed facade to crumble, Pitt finds himself curiously drawn to pretty Charlotte Ellison. Yet, a romance between a society girl and so unsuitable a suitor was impossible in the midst of a murder.

Review:

I’ve been on the lookout for a series I can dig my teeth into and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries may be it.

The good:

  • I have a thing for historical mysteries, and is there any better time or place for them than Jack the Ripper’s London?
  • Perry doesn’t assume that the reader knows all the history and social mores of the time and weaves in explanations unobtrusively. We learn about Victorian gender roles, class, marriage, crime, and more.
  • All of the characters, from our heroine on down to the maid, are well developed. Everyone has strengths and flaws without being too over the top. This allows the narrative to be carried by the polite conversations of the time without bogging down or getting boring.
  • Feminism, we haz it. Charlotte questions of the ways of the world and tries to point out flaws and contradictions to the people around her. It feels good. But…

The so-so:

  • Holy crap, there’s a lot of gaslighting. It’s for the most part women being told their wrong, they didn’t see what they thought they saw, they overreacted, that things aren’t really that bad. It’s true to the time period, I’m sure, and Inspector Pitt balances it out a tad, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.

The not-so-good:

  • The book does take some time to get into. It doesn’t bother me so much, especially at the beginning of a long series like this one, but if you like to be gripped from the first page you may want to look elsewhere.
  • The romance is slight but still feels rushed, especially considering how little time the two characters spend together.

I’m looking forward to continuing Charlotte and Pitt’s adventures and watching them develop over, lessee… ~searches~ …30+ books. Woah.

I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi

29513537Luvvie Ajayi is a go-to source for smart takes on pop culture, and I’m Judging You is her debut book of humorous essays that dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives. It passes on lessons and side-eyes on life, social media, culture, and fame, from addressing those terrible friends we all have to serious discussions of race and media representation to what to do about your fool cousin sharing casket pictures from Grandma’s wake on Facebook.

With a lighthearted, razor sharp wit and a unique perspective, I’m Judging You is the handbook the world needs, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some “act right” into our lives, social media, and popular culture. It is the Do-Better Manual.

Review:

Someone recommended that I read I’m Judging You as an audiobook and I’m really glad I did.  Ajayi, while not a trained narrator or actor, is engaging to listen to and provides a full experience.  The shade that comes through the speakers is real, y’all.

I enjoyed most of the book but found it highly uneven.  The sections on Life and Fame are okay, and the section covering Culture is excellent.  The chapter The Privilege Principle is my personal favorite and should be required listening for people everywhere.  Racism, rape culture, and homophobia are also covered.  The best part about this culture section is that even if you know what Ajayi is going to talk about the essays are engaging and fun.

The social media section, on the other hand, covers entry-level digital etiquette (one chapter: #Hashtag # I #Hate #Your #Hashtag #Abuse) and is boring and obvious to anyone born after 1982.  My listening slowed down at this point because yes, I get it, and no, it’s not funny listening about it.

The religion section struck me as a little contradictory.  Ajayi says that she doesn’t push faith or religion or anyone, then segues into how to be a good Christian two sentences later.  I’m agnostic so I found it annoying but (sadly) in line with my experience – people are usually understanding of other religions, but when you say you don’t have one it short circuits their brain.  Ah, well.

All in all I’m Judging You is a good read but I’m hoping that Ajayi comes out with another book that’s more solid beginning to end.

Love and Gravity by Samantha Sotto

31564042Andrea Louviere is seven years old the first time he appears. While she’s alone in her bedroom, practicing her beloved cello, the light shivers and a crack forms in the wall. Through the crack, she sees a candle, a window, a desk—and a boy. Though no sound travels through the wall, the boy clearly sees Andrea, too. And then, just as quickly as it opened, the crack closes, and he vanishes.

Over the years, summoning the bright, magnetic boy becomes something of an obsession for Andrea. Then, on her seventeenth birthday, she receives a three-hundred-year-old love letter from Isaac Newton. Andrea knows that Isaac will change the world with his groundbreaking discoveries; the letter tells Andrea that she will change him.

As Isaac’s letters intensify in passion and intimacy, Andrea grows determined to follow his clues to their shared destiny—despite a burgeoning romance in the present. Only when she discovers the way into Isaac’s time does Andrea realize that she faces a heartbreaking decision: between what was . . . and what might be.

Review:

I loved and was flummoxed by this book in turns but it always, always kept me reading.  I finished it in less than 24 hours so while I have Things to say know that Love and Gravity is hard to put down.

Also be rest assured that I’m not going to spoil anything… here.  If you’d like to read a more detailed, spoiler-filled version of this review head over to the goodreads version where I give those spoiler tags a run for their money.

Now that that’s out of the way…

~takes a deep breath~

Wow.  What a book.

The good:

  • Time travel and time slip plots can get hairy as far as sequence of events go, but Sotto keeps events mostly on the rails. (Caveats below.)  Each chapter starts by telling us which character we’re following, Andrea or Issac, and places them in time by date and/or age.  In the narrative we’re reminded which years are important, so even when the chronology jumps around we can keep things basically straight.
  • The cast is small so there aren’t too many people to keep track of.  We watch them all grow over time in strikingly realistic ways.
  • Yea for epistolary (ish) novels!
  • If you don’t know much about Issac Newton’s life you’ll find yourself going down delightful wikipedia rabbit holes out of curiosity.
  • Even when things are crazy, even when you’re yelling “What?” and “How?!” at the pages, you will be compelled to read on.
  • Do you need a cathartic cry?  I hope you need a cathartic cry.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • This is a novel with a romance, not a romance novel.  If you know what that means then you know what I mean.

The not-so-good:

  • Anachronisms, we haz them.  Spoken British English in 1666 sounds a bit too close to modern American speech for my liking.  There are others but they have to go in the spoiler-ful review.
  • The curse of working in medicine is finding medical goofs in novels.  Won’t bother everyone, I’m sure, but I had to put down the book and vent to my partner before continuing.
  • Events and sequencing get more complicated by the end and I have the feeling that if I looked I would find something that doesn’t check out.  Sotto earned just enough of my trust for me to gloss over inconsistencies, and man there are a lot of balls in the air, but the nagging feeling that something is wrong won’t go away.
  • The whole book stemmed from a plot bunny in a chest, and at times it feels like revisionist history. Andrea is can be seen as a wish-fulfillment Mary Sue – Newton was a great guy and never got married, so let’s go back and put a woman in his life!
  • An apple or gravity reference is cute once or twice but there are so. many. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

In sum my reading experience went like this:

Beginning – Ooo, interesting!  Tell me more.
Third of the way through – I’m not sure I’m on board but I want to see how you manage this…
Halfway point – Hello, anachronism.
Middle-ish – I saw this coming but what the hell was that?!
Last few chapters – ~sob~ No, I’m fine, it’s just that… ~sob~
End – ~runs to write review posthaste~

Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System by Sonya Huber

32815566Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. What about on a scale of spicy to citrus? Is it more like a lava lamp or a mosaic? Pain, though a universal element of human experience, is dimly understood and sometimes barely managed. Sonya Huber moves away from a linear narrative to step through the doorway into pain itself, into that strange, unbounded reality. Although the essays are personal in nature, this collection is not a record of the author’s specific condition but an exploration that transcends pain’s airless and constraining world and focuses on its edges from wild and widely ranging angles.

Huber addresses the nature and experience of invisible disability, including the challenges of gender bias in our health care system, the search for effective treatment options, and the difficulty of articulating chronic pain. She makes pain a lens of inquiry and lyricism, finds its humor and complexity, describes its irascible character, and explores its temperature, taste, and even its beauty.

Review:

I knew from the opening lines of the first essay, Pain Bows in Greeting, that I would like this collection.

Pain wants you to put in earplugs because sounds are grating.  Pain has something urgent to tell you but forgets over and over again what it was.
Pain tells you to put your laptop in the refrigerator.
Pain runs into walls at forty-five-degree angels and ricochets back into the center of the room.

The essays range widely from the near poetry of the above to magazine-type explorations of what it means to live with pain.  Some spin out metaphors.

Pain twists me like the ends of a Halls cough drop wrapper.  A few cunning turns transform a flat square of wax paper into a neat home for a lozenge.  If I do not unroll pain, I carry it.

All are fascinating.  Huber tells us what it’s like to watch your body slowly decline, to mourn the healthy body you’ve left behind, to try and explain and quantify your pain in just the right way to doctors and specialists.  You’re frustrated in reducing your pain to a number on a ten point scale.  You underestimate it so you’re not labeled as a drug seeker.  When yet another person suggests that doing yoga would help, you read “the implication: if you tried harder, you could fix it.”

It’s a window into life with pain that I’m grateful to have.  As a medical interpreter I feel better armed to assist patients who are in chronic pain themselves.  I also feel like I have the tools to be a better human.  A theme that has come up in my reading this year is that when someone tells you their story, listen.  Believe them.  Huber gives you no other choice.

I like some essays more than others, but it’s still an easy recommend to anyone who works with or knows someone in chronic pain, or just wants a beautifully written peek into that world.

Thanks to University of Nebraska Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden (The Truth About the Duke #0.5)

12025403Margaret de Lacey has accepted her unmarried state with dignity, if not delight. She had no suitors when she was young and starry-eyed, though regrettably poor, and it’s unlikely any man will court her now that she’s older, wiser, and still just as penniless. Until, that is, her brother unexpectedly inherits the dukedom of Durham and settles an enormous dowry on her, making her the most eligible heiress in town.

No gentleman in London is more in need of a wealthy bride than Rhys Corwen, Earl of Dowling. He contrives an introduction to Margaret because of her dowry, but she swiftly sets him right: no fortune hunter will win her heart or her hand. Far from put off, Rhys is intrigued. Interested. Entranced. And soon the only thing he needs more than Margaret’s fortune…is her love.

Review:

I’m not a huge novella person.  They often feel rushed, and if they’re any good I want more pages, darn it.

I Love the Earl somehow hits a sweet spot.  It’s the perfect length for the story it covers, and I didn’t find myself wishing for a subplot.  Would I enjoy it expanded out to a full-length novel?  You bet.  But it’s not necessary.

Let’s call that the first thing good.  Here’s the rest:

  • There’s no Big Misunderstanding, and all the characters respect each other.  The plot doesn’t hinge on someone being stupid or doing something rash.  It’s refreshing.
  • The hero and heroine have a couple of conversations that boil down to, “Hey, this is what it would mean to be married to me.  Are you okay with that?”  Positive relationship modeling, yea!
  • It’s a comfort read.  I read a good chunk while enjoying a lazy morning in bed – heaven.

The not-so-good:

  •  Being so short the character development is a little lacking, but it’s still a nice setup for the series.

I’m finding Linden to be a go-to author when I need a warm literary hug… with the way the world has been going lately I may be running back into her arms soon.  ~sweatdrop~

The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma by Ratika Kapur

27293160Renuka Sharma is a dutiful wife, mother, and daughter-in-law holding the fort in a modest rental in Delhi while her husband tries to rack up savings in Dubai. Working as a receptionist and committed to finding a place for her family in the New Indian Dream of air-conditioned malls and high paid jobs at multi-nationals, life is going as planned until the day she strikes up a conversation with an uncommonly self-possessed stranger at a Metro station. Because while Mrs. Sharma may espouse traditional values, India is changing all around her, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she came out of her shell a little, would it?

Review:

The good:

  • We spend the entire book in Renuka’s head and it stays interesting.  Events are related after the fact, as if we’re a best friends and we’re discussing her life over tea.  The plot itself, character development, and short chapters make for a quick read.
  • The story is a look at what life is like in India today with context for those not familiar.  (~raises her hand~)  No info dumps, just helpful details perfectly placed.
  • I love that Kapur didn’t sanitize the English into something more British or American.  The Indian-ness (I’m inventing that word right now) of the language makes it sing.
  • A major theme is what it means to be a woman in a modernizing society and boy does it resonate.  Over the years Renuka has taken care of her own father, her husband, and her son, making her wonder:

But who will need me next? Who will I have to worry about next? Who else is standing in line waiting for my attention? I sometimes think that the head and heart that God gave me don’t actually belong to me, that even though they live inside me, I don’t actually own them.  Sometimes I just want to shout.  Give me back my head!  I want to say.  Give me back my heart!

The not-so-good:

  • I’m only barely on board with the ending.  The last line makes it and saves it.
  • A big theme is what it means to be a mother, which is something that doesn’t interest me personally.  That’s just me, though, so don’t let it keep you away if you like exploring motherhood in fiction.

All in all a solid enjoyable read, but it lacks the oomph to make it unforgettable.

Breathless by Beverly Jenkins (Old West #2)

30166205As manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory, Portia Carmichael has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize that by hitching herself to the wrong man. Suitors are plentiful, but none of them has ever looked quite as tempting as the family friend who just rode into town…and none has looked at her with such intensity and heat.

Duchess. That’s the nickname Kent Randolph gave Portia when she was a young girl. Now she’s a stunning, intelligent woman—and Kent has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…

Review:

After reading five of her books I’m realizing that Beverly Jenkins is a hit or meh author for me.  I don’t think I’ve rated anything below three stars but some leave me disappointed.  Sadly, this is one of them.  But first,

The good:

  • Historical romance with protagonists of color (here African American) is always always a good thing.  Love.
  • Portia doesn’t need a man.  In fact, due to her rough childhood, she thinks she’d be better without.  Ken respects her past and proves that he’s the right person for her.
  • Jenkins is well known for her history chops and she’s true to form here.  And how many books set in the Arizona territory can you name?  It’s interesting stuff.

The not-so-good:

  • Like in Night Hawk there isn’t a big bad or an overarching plot.  Events happen but don’t feel exciting as they should – this book has a body count, for goodness sake!  There should be some kind of tension.  But…
  • Problems are wrapped up quickly so incidents feel self-contained.  Okay, that’s over, next.  Wow, that was a problem for five pages, but it’s fixed now.  Next.  There’s not much of a middle or building anything to the narrative.
  • The characters aren’t nuanced and many are typecast.  Oh hey, the guy that sounds and dresses like an arse?  Turns out he’s an arse!  And the perfect lady that keeps things running like clockwork?  Well she knows exactly what she’s doing and her only imperfection is being so perfect. ~sigh~
  • Checkered pasts are put forth as faults and character development but they’re not, not really.  ‘He had sex with a married woman!’ Yes, but we learn that her husband was cheating on her and she was actually better off after the affair.  ‘He’s had sex with lots of women, gasp!’  And now he has mad skillz to pleasure the heroine, my dear.  ‘She is way too forward!’  So she may get exactly what she wants, what a shock.
  • I feel like Jenkins doesn’t trust the reader to remember what happened a few chapters before so she retells it laboriously.

    Kent told him what he thought to be Parnell’s motive. “When Rhine introduced me as the new foreman, Parnell said Mr. Blanchard had promised him the job.  Rhine told him his mind was made up, so Parnell spit tobacco juice at Rhine’s boots.  I had to teach some manners, then made him pack up and leave.”

    All that hearsay for an event I remember as clear as day.  It makes for tedious reading.

  • Similarly,

    He kissed Eddy on her forehead, which Portia found endearing, and they left.

    I find it endearing too, even if it’s not pointed out to me. Gah.

  • Finally, I never really believed in the romance.  Kent is nice, Portia is nice, and they have a couple of nice times together.  Lust is there, for sure, but love?  I don’t buy it.

That’s a lot of griping, I know, but Breathless is still a decent read. I like the heroine for the next book of the series so I’ll be looking forward to that despite ~waves hand around~ this.

Idol by Kristen Callihan (VIP #1)

30288788I found Killian drunk and sprawled out on my lawn like some lost prince. With the face of a god and the arrogance to match, the pest won’t leave. Sexy, charming, and just a little bit dirty, he’s slowly wearing me down, making me crave more.

He could be mine if I dare to claim him. Problem is, the world thinks he’s theirs. How do you keep an idol when everyone is intent on taking him away?

As lead singer for the biggest rock band in the world, I lived a life of dreams. It all fell apart with one fateful decision. Now everything is in shambles.

Until Liberty. She’s grouchy, a recluse —and kind of cute. Scratch that. When I get my hands on her, she is scorching hot and more addictive than all the fans who’ve screamed my name.

The world is clamoring for me to get back on stage, but I’m not willing to leave her. I’ve got to find a way to coax the hermit from her shell and keep her with me. Because, with Libby, everything has changed. Everything.

Review:

Just what I needed, right when I needed it.

The good:

  • This novel is comforting, which I wasn’t expecting from a rock star novel.  Both leads are getting over something that happened earlier in the novel and they help each other through it with friendship and a healthy dose of comfort food.
  • I love the characters as people.  The cast list is small so we really get to know the minor characters, and every now and then a nugget of casually dropped information hints at awesomeness in future books.

    Suddenly I remember that the press has called Jax a devil in an angel’s body, and Killian an angel disguised as the devil.

  • There are some nice insights, too.

    I’m comfortable, but I don’t feel sexy.  That’s the thing no one ever tells you.  Sexy can be both a weapon and a wall of defense.

  • Liberty is unabashedly feminist and calls people on their bullshit – it’s glorious.
  • The sexual tension starts right away but is kept in check for a long time.  Feel the slow burn.  Love the slow burn.
  • We see what Killian’s celebrity means to Liberty, and how it could totally derail the relationship if they let it.  It may be a “fantasy” romance but reality still checks in.
  • The band is getting back together and the changes this time around are explored and embraced.
  • …which is a long-winded way to say awesome characterization all around.

The not-so-good:

  • The plot is highly predictable. There’s also some time jumps in the last quarter that feel too short for all the stuff that happens.
  • The sense of place is lacking, with Callihan leaning on famous locales so we fill in the details ourselves.

Idol is a big, warm hug of a romance when I needed exactly that.  Brava.

What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri

32820244Despite modern medicine’s infatuation with high-tech gadgetry, the single most powerful diagnostic tool is the doctor-patient conversation, which can uncover the lion’s share of illnesses. However, what patients say and what doctors hear are often two vastly different things.

Patients, anxious to convey their symptoms, feel an urgency to “make their case” to their doctors. Doctors, under pressure to be efficient, multitask while patients speak and often miss the key elements. Add in stereotypes, unconscious bias, conflicting agendas, and the fear of lawsuits and the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors multiplies dangerously.

Though the gulf between what patients say and what doctors hear is often wide, Dr. Danielle Ofri proves that it doesn’t have to be. Through the powerfully resonant human stories that Ofri is celebrated for, she explores the high-stakes world of doctor-patient communication that we all must navigate. Reporting on the latest research studies and interviewing scholars, doctors, and patients, Ofri reveals how better communication can lead to better health for all of us.

Review:

I’m a Japanese⇔English medical interpreter so when I saw the title of Ofri’s latest book I cheered.  Doctor-patient communication – she’s talking about my life!

Medical conversations are examined from all sides.  Is it better to let a complaining patient get their whole litany out at once, or should each point be addressed as it comes up?  Can the placebo affect be utilized in conversation?  How can stereotypes be overcome?  Is it ever okay to lie to a patient?

Each topic is covered with both anecdotes based on Ofri’s patients (vignettes!) and research studies.  All kinds of strategies to improve communication are covered, from how to listen actively to when disclosing personal details is a good idea. I especially like how the studies are dissected journal club style, with weaknesses pointed out along with the strengths.  For example, one study found that doctors that scored low on an empathy test had patients with worse outcomes, but:

Maybe the low-empathy doctors had dismal hygiene and the resulting BO was too distracting for the patients to pay attention to their diabetes.  Maybe the offices of the high-empathy doctors offered cloth gowns rather than paper gowns, so their patients weren’t experiencing frostbite and thus better able to hear what the doctor was saying.  You never know what the confounding factors might be…

As an interpreter I enjoyed the stories and insight but didn’t come away with many pearls I can use myself.  It’s part of the job – I speak other people’s words and can’t outright change the direction of the conversation.  I did pick up some tips, though, particularly how using different wording can change how information is received.

What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear is a trove of information for healthcare professionals, who can expect to learn practice-changing pearls, and frequent patients will appreciate the peek into their doctor’s head. If you are not one of those two groups, though, you may want to start with a different Ofri book.

Thanks to Beacon Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker

Synopsis:

30304222There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé uses political and pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood and its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity, and politics. The poems weave between personal narrative and pop-cultural criticism, examining and confronting modern media, consumption, feminism, and Blackness. This collection explores femininity and race in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, and Hip Hop. The voice of this book is a multifarious one: writing and rewriting bodies, stories, and histories of the past, as well as uttering and bearing witness to the truth of the present, and actively probing toward a new self, an actualized self. This is a book at the intersections of mythology and sorrow, of vulnerability and posturing, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence.

Review:

While I imagined myself a poet in high school (didn’t we all?) I haven’t spent much time with the form since.  Reading Why God Is a Woman reminded me that yes, poetry is awesome!  I picked up There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé to help understand an experience outside my own, that of an African-American woman today.

There are some political poems (“The President Has Never Said the Word Black“) but the thrust of the work is rooted in pop culture, especially music.  The Beyoncé poems are especially wonderful – here’s the beginning of “Beyoncé On The Line for Gaga”:

Girl you know you ain’t that busy.
Without me            you’re just two earsstuffed with glitter.

Parker manages to be funny and skewering at the same time.  In “Afro” she lists what she’s hiding in her hair, including “buttermilk pancake cardboard… 40 yards of cheap wax prints… blueprints for building ergonomically perfect dancers & athletes”.  And when Parker goes for the jugular she doesn’t miss, like in the first lines of “The Gospel According to Her”:

What to a slave is the fourth of july.
What to a woman is a vote.

Being newly returned to the world of poetry there are some pieces I had a hard time wrapping my mind around.  Maybe it’s a lack or perspective or the wrong mindset, maybe I’m just out of practice.  So if you’re looking for instant clarity you may be disappointed but I’m sure these poems will gain meaning the more time I spend with them.  Good stuff.

Thanks to Tin House Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.