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.

Ecstasy by Nicole Jordan (Notorious #4)

2095417Having watched her mother languish away for a lost love, Raven Kendrick vows never to surrender her heart. But when her life erupts in scandal, she is forced to accept a marriage proposal from the wickedly sensuous owner of London’s most notorious gaming hell. Though fiercely drawn to her enigmatic rescuer, Raven battles to resist her husband, whose sensuous caresses promise ecstasy beyond her wildest fantasies.

To save the reputation of an innocent girl nearly ruined by his brother, Kell Lasseter sacrifices his freedom to wed the dazzling debutante. Long scorned for his Irish blood and dark past, Kell cannot deny that this enchanting spitfire is unlike other society misses . . . anymore than he can quell his smoldering desire for her. Torn between loyalty to his brother and his growing feelings for his rebellious bride, Kell must somehow free Raven’s reluctant heart before they can know the ecstasy of true love.

Review:

This book was decent all around, but there were a few things that bothered me.

The good:

  • The writing and characterization in general are solid. The plot also gets going right from the start, which was perfect because my brain was itching for some action.
  • I love me a marriage of convenience, and I don’t think I’ve seen a set up quite like this one before.
  • The hero and heroine’s emotional baggage is a matched set but it doesn’t grate or feel too contrived.
  • There’s more romantic suspense than I was expecting, but it doesn’t take over the whole storyline. The action is compartmentalized into certain sections and it worked well.
  • The steamy parts are indeed steamy. Ooo.

The not-so-good:

  • While there isn’t a Big Misunderstanding, as it were, the hero and heroine are awful at communicating. They just refuse to talk to each other, sometimes for days or weeks at a time. ‘I’m just doing what the other person wants’, they each think, which isn’t wrong… but isn’t right, either. It’s amazing what lengths they each self-sacrificed without being sure it was a fruitful thing to do.
  • Because they don’t talk we don’t get to watch the couple’s love grow very much.
  • The heroine gets kidnapped. Several times. And the way people cover for her first kidnapping makes no sense to me. Why would the family say ‘she’s taken ill’ instead of screaming, ‘she’s been kidnapped!’ and running to the police? I mean, what were they doing the whole time she was gone, just hoping she would turn up safe and sound? My brain does not compute.
  • While I can’t pin it on any one thing in particular, I never quite connected with the time period.

A somewhat enjoyable enh, and it did read fast, but an enh all the same.

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~

The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

Translated by Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush

32988669How do you clothe a book?

In this deeply personal reflection, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jhumpa Lahiri explores the art of the book jacket from the perspectives of both reader and writer. Probing the complex relationships between text and image, author and designer, and art and commerce, Lahiri delves into the role of the uniform; explains what book jackets and design have come to mean to her; and how, sometimes, “the covers become a part of me.”

Review:

While this book, an essay really, is only 80 pages long there isn’t much here here. Lahiri likes some of her covers and doesn’t like others. We learn that she has little say in what clothes her book… but that’s it. I think it would be compelling at a shorter length, maybe as an article in the New Yorker, but it doesn’t grab me here.

Lahiri would like it if more English-language books were dressed up in uniforms. I wanted to ask if she’s ever strolled down a genre aisle.  Harlequin Presents fits her ideal perfectly – similar look to the series, go together on a shelf, each different but part of a larger editorial whole. Or look at the first nine books of the Mercy Thompson series, where the head to knees three quarter pose of the heroine gives the line a unified feel. Avon designs a cover font for each author so the books hang together, as well as give them striking spines. Literary fiction may be letting her down but the rest of the book store has her covered and she doesn’t realize it. Sigh.

I was hoping to learn something or be enlightened but no dice.

The Angel by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #2)

Synopsis:

13548075Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Søren—whose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruin—is under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora’s lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.

Her host, the wealthy and uninhibited Griffin Fiske, is thrilled to have Nora stay at his country estate, especially once he meets her traveling companion. Young, inexperienced and angelically beautiful, Michael has become Nora’s protégé, and this summer with Griffin is going to be his training, where the hazing never ends.

But while her flesh is willing, Nora’s mind is wandering. To thoughts of Søren, her master, under investigation by a journalist with an ax to grind. And to another man from Nora’s past, whose hold on her is less bruising, but whose secrets are no less painful. It’s a summer that will prove the old adage: love hurts.

Review:

Very good, but not as amazing as the first.

Continue reading “The Angel by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #2)”

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell #1)

Synopsis:

91661Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes’ pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.

Review:

There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be an apprentice.

While studying abroad I studied language and culture, of course, but I also took a ceramics class. The studio quickly became the center of my world. I would come in during free periods to trim pots and spent most Saturdays alongside Sensei, learning how to make bigger and more intricate things while talking about every subject under the sun.

Watching Sensei at the wheel was both inspiring and utterly humbling. He made bowls rise out clay as easily as he breathed, then thoughtfully added an imperfection that only accentuated the flawlessness of his craft. The two of us spent many an hour debating, musing, laughing, and working silently side by side.

When the end of my year arrived I may have begged the University to let Sensei hire an assistant. Someone to help him do all the menial work around the studio in exchange for a bed in the dorm and a chance to be close to his mastery. “Assistant” as far as the school was concerned, but “apprentice” to me. Needless to say the University would have none of it and after a tearful goodbye (on my part, not Sensei’s) I returned to my normal life, albeit with a sense of longing for what could have been.

…but what does that have to do with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice? Continue reading “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell #1)”

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.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

29633797In a timely follow-up to her national bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit offers indispensable commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more.

In characteristic style, Solnit mixes humor, keen analysis, and powerful insight in these essays.

Review:

I read Men Explain Things to Me a month ago and I’m happy I was able to follow up so quickly with The Mother of All Questions.  It’s a continuation of Solnit’s previous essay collection with a thankfully more inclusive lens.

The standout essay is A Short History of Silence, about how women are forbidden or prevented from speaking and not heard when they do.  It’s a truth we hold in our hearts but avoid looking at too closely because man, it hurts.

Being unable to tell your story is a living death and sometimes a literal one.  If no one listens when you say your ex-husband is trying to kill you, if no one believes you when you say you are in pain, if no one hears you when when you say ‘help’, if you don’t dare say ‘help’, if you have been trained not to bother people by saying ‘help’.

My heart aches because I know this.  I’ve seen it, not only with myself and women but other marginalized groups.  Others say the stories are ‘unbelievable’, which as Solnit points out, “means those with power did not want to know, to hear, to believe, did not want them to have voices.”  I’m happy to see that she recognizes the different and varied challenges faced by people of color, those who are LGBTQ*, and others who were often overlooked in Men Explain Things to Me.  Solnit also explores what this hyper-masculine culture means for guys, punishing them for showing “soft” feelings and effectively blunting their emotional range as humans.

Jaw dropping and rage inducing facts abound – rape is the most common form of trauma, but PTSD research is directed at male veterans.  “Fight or flight” was largely studied in male rats and humans and women often employ a third, until now unrecognized, option.  One reason the gun homicide rate hasn’t risen is not because fewer people are getting shot, but because medicine is getting better at saving those who are.  In fact more people are getting shot.  And on and on.

Luckily Solnit also points out things we can all do.  Tell your story if you can, and listen and believe those who are telling you theirs.  If someone lobs a sexist inquiry your way reply, “Would you ask a man that question?”  Do the intellectual work to not see groups (Muslims, women, poor people, etc.) as monolith entities, for that is the road to believing you can attack any member for the entire group’s perceived sins.

Overall The Mother of All Questions is more nuanced and inclusive than its predecessor while still packing an eye opening gut punch.  Necessary for the times we live in and a hearty recommend.

Thanks to Haymarket Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.