ARC review–The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker

4/5*

Publication date–October 11, 2018

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I am cross posting this review from my review blog as it’s a romance title.

Do you like sweet romance? Sexy lawmen? A Cajun accent? I have a book you’ll love.

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols is a lovely sweet romance. Sasha is tired of being that poor widow after her husband was killed in the line of duty, so she moves to Rose Creek, Texas. Remy is the town’s sheriff, and a single father. Evie is his daughter and Sasha’s student–who knows what she wants. Evie orchestrates a meeting between Sasha and Remy, without knowing that Remy was the stranger Sasha had been dared into kissing on a girl’s trip to New Orleans. When Remy sees the mysterious woman who disappeared after a blazing kiss in his daughter’s classroom, he’s thrown. Sasha is torn between shock and embarassment–things like torrid kisses were supposed to stay on vacation where they belong. Sasha and Remy can’t really stay away from each other. Sasha determinedly holds the line of “I’m your daughter’s teacher, I can’t date a parent,” although it’s a losing battle. But step by step, the sexy sheriff breaks down her walls. Which leaves the question of whether Sasha can bear to give her heart to another lawman, and if Remy wants more than just a mother for his daughter.

The sexual chemistry between Sasha and Remy is electric. There is a steady build, and in any other book they would’ve fallen into bed within the first quarter of the book given that chemistry. I kept rooting for sex, and (spoiler) there is one sex scene, but it’s all off page, which is a bit of a disappointment. The way the sex scene is handled is a bit disappointing because it’s quite rushed, and not just because they’re lusting for each other and the sex happens off stage. There could’ve been a longer scene there to rebuild the tension that had deflated in the time since their last encounter.

We get to see the events through both Sasha and Remy’s points of view. Unfortunately there were time when I got a bit confused who’s point of view we were in.

The judicious use of Evie, Remy’s daughter/Sasha’s student is well done. Too often kids speak in inauthentic ways, but I think Evie is just about right (I have a daughter who is older than Evie and one who’s a bit younger). She’s obsessed with Sasha’s cat, loves Eloise, and is very interested in Sasha becoming her new mom. (Remy and her mom divorced when she was young.)

My only real complaint is that Sasha keeps saying she won’t let a dominant personality dictate her actions, but that isn’t quite what happens. Remy is very much an alpha/in charge kind of character and for the most part Sasha gives in. I would have liked a little more spine.

ARC review–If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker

4/5* for fans of Emma by Jane Austen

3/5* for those who are not familiar with Emma

If I Loved You Less is a modern retelling of Emma, by Jane Austen. I have never read the Austen novel, but of course I’m familiar with the most famous modern take on it–Clueless. This review contains SPOILERS because I couldn’t figure how to *not* make it contain spoilers. I won’t reveal anything that the flap copy doesn’t. Plus the original Austen has been around for more than a hundred years, and Clueless has been out for more than twenty.

I looked Emma up on Wikipedia to see how the plots compare. Parker has written a faithful adaptation set in a small town in Hawaii.

Theodosia, Theo to everyone, believes she deserves credit for the wedding between her former nanny, Charlotte, and her new husband at the start of the book. She decides this makes her a successful matchmaker. So when newcomer Laurel moves to Hanalei, Theo decides that she’s just the right person to connect Laurel to her inevitable Mr. Right. Laurel’s choice is a cashier at the local bakery, and Theo thinks she should set her expectations higher, which of course is an unmitigated disaster. Theo is charming, but human to the point of making you actively dislike her a few times.

I like that the setting has been changed to Hawaii and that Theo is a surf instructor. I like that with only a few exceptions, it is a majority minority cast of characters. Touches of authentic Hawaii are found throughout the book from food (and wow does most of what Kini cooks sounds delicious) to the culture. I also like that Theo identifies as queer–she’s never been with or wanted to be with a man, but she’s not a fan of closing doors.

However, the biggest weakness is Kini, Theo’s eventual love interest. Kini is 39 to Theo’s 25, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that Kini was Theo’s more or less maternal figure. Or at least like a beloved aunt. So when Theo realizes she’s in love with Kini, it’s rushed and I didn’t buy it. Moreover I didn’t buy that Kini would be attracted in return. Not because I think a May/December romance is unrealistic–I’ve written several. Rather, my problem is that Parker develops the maternal/aunt vibe to the point where them falling in love actually squicked me a bit. However, it’s true to Emma, sort of, except in Emma it’s her sister’s brother in law, which implies an age gap but not that deep familiarity. (Fan of Emma, set me straight on this.) I do think that anyone not familiar with Emma’s story may also stumble over this.

Perhaps if we’d also seen inside of Kini’s head, the story would work more? I’m not sure. But I didn’t feel like there was a romantic build…just boom out of nowhere.

Personally, I’d give it the 3/5 stars from me, but when I post reviews, I’ll go with the 4/5 stars because I think that fans of Emma will genuinely like this.

Currently If I Loved You Less is scheduled for release on September 20th, but there are currently no pre-order links.

 

Seven Books I Love–Honorable Mentions

When I did my Seven Books I Love series, I talked about how hard it was to pick favorite books/series. So here are seven contenders that could have made the list depending on the day I made a decision. These are seven fast plugs

The Tortall books by Tamora Pierce were my entry point to fantasy with strong female protagonists. My fourth grade teacher had read The Hobbit to us, and I’d liked it, but had definitely noticed the lack of women. I might have moved onto The Lord of the Rings like some classmates who liked fantasy, but instead either I stumbled across The Lioness Quartet or, more likely, a teacher/librarian/bookstore employee introduced me to it. While these are YA books, I strongly encourage anyone who likes strong female representation in fantasy to read the series. Start with Alanna: The First Adventure, in which Alanna and her brother Thom switch places–he goes to the convent where as a boy he’ll learn magic and she pretends to be “Alan” and goes to court to learn to be a knight. There are roughly 15 books in the series, with more coming. As a side note, I read this with Athena (9) and she was able to get her copy signed when Tamora Pierce made an appearance at Borderlands Books (a great indie SF/F/Horror bookstore in San Francisco–they ship nationwide if you want to support them).

The Newsflesh series is set in the not too distant future of the US, where a cure for the common cold interacted with the cure for cancer, and while the upside is that no one gets colds or cancer anymore, the downside is that now we have zombies. Georgia (George) and her brother Shawn run a website of “Newsies” (those who report the news), “Irwins” (those who go out and get action videos of themselves fighting or taunting zombies), and “Fictionals” (people who write fiction, like epic love stories). At the start of Feed, the first book in the series, George and Shawn get the news that their website has been selected to cover the Republican nominee for President. Then, as the campaign progresses, it becomes clear that there are powerful people pulling the strings, and George is determined to get to the bottom of it. This is the first book in the original trilogy, which has spawned tons of novellas (The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell makes me full on sob), and a novel written from the pov of the team covering the Democrat in the race. Feed can also be ordered from Borderlands Books. Mira Grant is the YA pen name for Seanan McGuire, whose October Daye books made the Seven Books meme, and it was a toss up between Newsflesh and Toby, tbh.

The Hate U Give has been on the top of the Children’s/YA Bestseller’s list for a year and a half, and if you read it (and you should) you’ll understand why. Starr grapples with being torn between the world she lives in–a majority black urban neighborhood–and the world she goes to school in–a private, majority white school. When her childhood friend is shot by a police officer in front of her, she has to decide if she wants to be the anonymous witness, or to find her voice and tell the truth. The story is timely, grappling with systemic white privilege, and the strained/toxic relationship between the police and communities of color that spawned Black Lives Matter. I’m going to start reading it with Athena in anticipation of the movie this fall (see the excellent trailer here.) If you want to support an indie bookstore, I suggest Bookasaurus.

I’ve mentioned in the past how much I love Alisha Rai. Glutton for Pleasure is my favorite book by Alisha. Chef Devi Malik and not one, but two sexy twins in the hottest menage love story I’ve ever read. I’m shocked my kindle didn’t melt when I reached the sex scenes. The sex scenes are worth revisiting over and over. It’s not just sex, though–can Devi find more than just kinky sex with Jace and Marcus? (And what will her family think?) Even without the hot, kinky sex, the story has emotional pull, and kept my interest. You can buy it from The Ripped Bodice, the only all-romance bookstore.

The series that really turned me into a reader was The Baby-Sitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin. I even went by Kristy (a reasonable nickname to my IRL name) for a good eight years in school. These books sucked me into their world and I loved them. I snark them on my book review blog, Be Quiet Mommy’s Reading, along with other 80’s books I read in my series called Snarking Nostalgic. Yes, they are flawed, but they are awesome. There is an attempt to bring them back in graphic novel form, which Athena reads and I think suck. The original series is out of print for the most part, but you can find them at used bookstores and indies like Powell’s Books.

This was so close to making my list. I am a hardcore Phantom of the Opera fan. I used to work for a Broadway ticket concierge service and every time they did a $25 matinee, I’d go see it. I’ve seen it easily twenty times, and that’s before we get into things like the 25th anniversary live concert shot at the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, I will even defend Love Never Dies. But the perfect accompaniment to the musical is Phantom by Susan Kay. It tells the story of Erik (the canonical name for the Phantom) from birth to death from various points of view. It shows how he learned all those skills he employs in the show, and his love for Christine. I used to use part of this book as my audition piece when I did theater. If you like Phantom the musical you will love Phantom, the book. If you want to support an indie, why not Powell’s?

I’ve blogged before about how Forbidden was the first book I ever read by Beverly Jenkins. Romance Twitter kept talking about a drop everything and read Beverly Jenkins day, so I had to go see what they were talking about. Rhine is a black man passing as white in the post-Civil War west, and Eddy is the black woman he falls for. He has to decide if he’d risk losing everything he’d gained for the woman he falls for. It’s such a good book–I was actively upset that I had to stop reading to go get my children at school, for one. I ran out to read everything else of hers that I could get my hands on–and I’m still working my way through her backlist book by book. If you want to shop indie, order it from The Ripped Bodice.

ARC Review–Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire

***I am choosing to bring my old book review blog, Be Quiet, Mommy’s Reading, back to life. This is a cross post, one week after it was originally posted there. If you want more book reviews, come follow me over there as well. My kids will book vlog, and I’ll cover more genres than romance***

I received this arc (advance reader’s copy) from Seanan at Worldcon.

Warning–this is the 12th book in the October Daye series. There are spoilers for the previous 11 books/the world after the image of the cover. My recommendation to read the series is in my seven favorite books posts here.

Click here to buy Night and Silence

 

After the events of book 11, The Brightest Fell, things aren’t going great. Tybalt and Jazz have PTSD–Tybalt isn’t even coming to see Toby. Are they even together anymore? No one is coping well. Then Gillian’s father shows up at Toby’s house and tells her Gilly has been kidnapped–again–nearly accusing her of it. She has to go and find her daughter, and it’s clear that someone/s Fae were involved.

When I first read the flap copy for Night and Silence, I was concerned. We’d already done a Gillian was kidnapped plotline in One Salt Sea (book 5). However, Seanan McGuire is brilliant and manages to turn what could so easily have been a recycled plot point into an exciting new story that draws us further into Faerie–not just today but the history and mythology of the world. I would never spoil a plot point, but I will say there are a number of twists and turns, one actually eliciting an audible gasp.

In terms of character development, the way Tybalt’s PTSD plays out is respectful to those who suffer from it. He doesn’t just “get over it.” He is struggling to be who he was, and failing miserably. We don’t see Jazz in this book–she’s referenced but is physically absent–but we know she can’t sleep. Both of them are haunted by Amandine’s actions. Toby isn’t doing so well either–she’s plagued by doubt and recrimination and Gilly’s abduction hits her like a ton of bricks, and she has to pull her shit together, at least on the surface, until she can get Gilly back.

The pacing is tight, and as always McGuire’s characters all have distinct voices and personalities. The tenor is slightly different from the books because Toby is so stretched so thin, emotionally, at this point in time. The way McGuire shifts Toby’s voice leaves it authentic–achingly so because you get drawn into the mire of her grief, terror and fragility. This is not to say there is no humor or that it’s a depressing book–it’s neither of those–merely that the stakes are raised on any number of fronts. There’s still the characteristic McGuire touch of snarky humor–too many character’s voices would be inauthentic if that were missing.

I highly recommend this book. 4.5/5 stars from me.

In the print copy (I’m not sure about digital, sorry) there is also a novella told from Gillian’s point of view that you won’t want to miss. If it’s not in the e-book, you’re going to want to go and buy the physical book so you can read it.

ARC review Wild Flower by Gemma Snow

Wild Flowers by Gemma Snow

Pub 9/4/18

4/5 stars

 

While this is book two in the Triple Diamond, I read it as a standalone title and never felt lost. That said, I saw just enough hints at the contents of the first book that I am putting it on my want to read list on Goodreads, and that I understood how Maddy (and hence Lily) got to this point in their lives.

Lily Hollis’s lover died five years ago, and she has been trapped by grief and sorrow. But on the fifth anniversary of Daniel’s death, she makes the decision to return to her master’s program and finish her research. Her sister Maddy has a ranch in Montana, and it’s the perfect location to do research on how different conditions affect tansy to make it either helpful or toxic.

Dec and Micah are best friends and a search and rescue team. They share a cabin on the border of the Triple Diamond land where they train search and rescue dogs and train more people to have those S&R skills. There’s also a ton of tansy growing all over their property. So they invite Lily to come stay with them, to be closer to her research.

There is instant chemistry between Lily and Dec and Lily and Micah. But can she choose? Does she want to?

When Lily confesses that she’s attracted to both of them, they decide to try her dating both of them.

Snow does a good job of setting up the story–why would Lily ever even consider dating two guys, what about her draws both men, and why is she there. The reader also understands the limitations and stakes–with Lily’s two week research window, why make her decide?

Lily is a well-developed, three dimensional character. It’s disappointing that the men aren’t as well fleshed out–there are tantalizing hints at their pasts, but while I have some idea of how Dec came to be who he is, I know almost nothing about Micah. However, all three character’s voices are distinct, so I never lost track of whose point of view we were in. The dialog is well-done. I’ve never been to Montana, but Snow paints a picture that makes me wish I had been.

The climax of the story (pun intented) is satisfying, and believable within the constraints of the world that Snow has created.

If you like m/m/f stories, this is a satisfying one. As a heads up, though, it’s not a triad where the men interact and there’s a bit of mild homophobia from the men when setting up the ground rules.

Book Review–Untouchable by Talia Hibbert

I received an ARC of Untouchable in exchange for an honest review.

What happens when a bad boy becomes a man?

Nate Davis didn’t plan on returning to his hateful hometown. But then, he didn’t plan on being widowed in his twenties, or on his mother getting sick, either. Turns out, life doesn’t give a f$*k about plans.

Hannah Kabbah thought her career in childcare was over. After all, no-one wants a woman with a criminal damage conviction watching their kids. But when her high school crush returns to Ravenswood with two kids in tow, she gets the second chance she never dreamed of.

She also gets to know Nate – the real Nate. The one whose stony exterior hides aching vulnerability. Who makes her smile when she wants to fall apart. Who is way, way more than the bad boy persona he earned so long ago, and way too noble to ever sleep with the nanny.

So it’s a good thing she’s completely over that teenage crush, right?

Untouchable is the third book in the Ravenswood series, following A Girl Like Her (2.99 on Kindle to buy) and Damaged Goods (1.99 on Kindle to buy), both of which are also on Kindle Unlimited. You don’t need to read the previous two to read and enjoy Untouchable–it is a self contained story, but I do recommend them as I did really enjoy them.

One of my favorite things about Hibbert’s work is that she creates three dimensional characters, which is a must for me. Hannah is bi and has anxiety and depression. Hannah is also a social pariah, having smashed the beloved town son’s Porsche with a bat in the prologue to A Girl Like Her. Nate is stressed out about his mother’s illness and related depression as well. The kids are not perfect angels–they have their quirks, like the little boy’s allergy to pants (which I can relate to as one of mine was like that at that age).

Nate hires Hannah to be his nanny. He soon begins to fight an attraction, and Hannah goes through the same thing. It’s more than halfway through the book before they give in, while Hibbert ratchets up the tension piece by piece.

Then he crushed the image ruthlessly and with no little self-disgust. He was back in the real world, where his utterly untouchable nanny was staring at him as though his head had fallen off his shoulders. He wondered if she was about to ask him why the fuck he was still holding her. Hopefully not, because he didn’t think his answer–“Sorry, you just feel really good” — would cut it.

I’m a sucker for a relationship where there is a power dynamic. The nanny/employer dynamic is a real problem that Nate and Hannah must deal with and overcome.

Something I wish had been developed further was Hannah’s blog. There’s a few quotes from it. There’s talk about her writing it, but we never see enough of it to get really invested, and I got the feeling I was supposed to be.

Overall it’s a fast enjoyable read and I look forward to visiting Ravenswood again.

Pre-order Untouchable here (2.99 on kindle, free on unlimited)

Seven Books I Love, part seven–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book seven–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

“‘You are sharing the Dark Lord’s thoughts and emotions. The Headmaster thinks it inadvisable for this to continue. He wishes me to teach you how to close your mind to the Dark Lord.'”

Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the Dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time…

I know in general I’ve been doing the entire series (In Death, Jewels), with the exception of Magic’s Pawn. But besides the fact that I’m currently reading it with Athena, it has always been my favorite of the Harry Potter books. Big spoilers ahead, but it’s been long enough–the books have been out for over a decade and the movies have also been out for ages.

The reasons I love Order of the Phoenix include that it’s the point where the books really grow darker, we have our first truly traumatic death (I’d argue that Cedric Diggory wasn’t all that traumatic because we barely knew him), and that the big evil of this specific book is both political (the Ministry’s efforts to discredit Harry via the media of the state) and banal (Umbridge is both a political tool and that totally evil teacher we’ve all had who hates children).

This is where all of the world building and character driven plot really pays off with regards to the darkening tone. Many of the adults we’ve come to know and love turn out to be in the Order. The way that the children are cut out of the Order’s business both makes sense as a mom of almost 40, but is also an injustice given that we know exactly how capable these children are. I have to wonder how things would have been different had they just not have tried to keep Harry etc at arm’s length. This is especially a problem because of how it negatively impacts Harry and Dumbledore’s relationship. On the other hand, we see Sirius fighting to allow Harry a seat at the table.

Which leads me to Sirius’s death. We went from hating him to discovering he was Harry’s godfather and was set up–he didn’t betray the Potters. His and Harry’s relationship has deepened ever since. Sirius even wants Harry to stay with him rather than return to the Dursley’s. But then comes the scene in the Ministry vault–and Bellatrix kills Sirius. I sobbed, feeling Harry’s grief. This is also a scene where the movie did a good job showing the tragedy of Sirius’s death.

We see a Voldemort with real power. We see a corrupt Ministry that would rather pretend that Harry has cracked than the truth and one that is willing to discredit someone they see as a threat. The Ministry installs Umbridge as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to be their tool and to further divide the student body.

Umbridge is a great example of what an intentional tool of the state can do in terms of creating an authoritarian state. From the punishment of I must not tell lies to teaching DAtDA as a philosophical rather than practical class to her usurpation of Headmistress of Hogwarts and the dictates she passes as the leader of the school. At the same time she is banal evil–she’s that teacher who had it out for you. She’s that teacher who hates children and everyone knows it. She’s that teacher who looks harmless but is really sadistic. We’ve all had that teacher or that boss–we can all recognize the type of evil that she is. As a side note, while I don’t really approve of how the movies changed plot lines at times, when Umbridge begs Harry for mercy that she’s really a kind person or whatever, Harry responds with “Sorry, Professor, but I must not tell lies”? That’s fucking great and I loved that change.

Her totalitarian state creates the resistance in the form of Dumbledore’s Army. Even Hermione, the consummate rule follower knows that sometimes you have to break the rules. When a rule is unjust and evil is being perpetrated in your midst you fight back.

These two points seem especially relevant in Trump’s America. You have the state media of Fox News, and even supposedly liberal papers like the New York Times and Washington Post can’t seem to stop running articles about the poor white voters that have been left behind. Today WaPo ran an editorial that said even if you hate Trump you have to vote Republican to save our country. We also have a very active resistance led by women, particularly women of color. Women are running for office at a never before seen rate. There are constant protests and speaking truth to power. There is an active resistance. In some ways, it’s a good thing to be reading this with Athena at this moment in time because it’s giving me that language to talk about current events with her.

The prophecy is revealed and we learn that Neville could also have been the Chosen One, but that Harry really only is because Voldemort focused on him, which subverts the Chosen One trope. But Voldemort is also prevented from hearing the prophecy.

And of course, Order of the Phoenix introduces Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite characters and not just because I’m a Ravenclaw.

Order of the Phoenix is free on Kindle Unlimited, 8.99 to purchase, or one audible credit to listen to it in the car.

 

So that’s my seven…or seven of my favorites. I’ll be doing a post (or several) with some Honorable Mentions although we’ll never get to all of my favorite books because then we’d be here forever.

Seven Books I Love, part six–Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book six…Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff

A bitingly funny grand tour of our culture of excess from an award-winning humorist.

Whether David Rakoff is contrasting the elegance of one of the last flights of the supersonic Concorde with the good-times-and-chicken-wings populism of Hooters Air; working as a cabana boy at a South Beach hotel; or traveling to a private island off the coast of Belize to watch a soft-core video shoot—where he is provided with his very own personal manservant—rarely have greed, vanity, selfishness, and vapidity been so mercilessly skewered. Somewhere along the line, our healthy self-regard has exploded into obliterating narcissism; our manic getting and spending have now become celebrated as moral virtues. Simultaneously a Wildean satire and a plea for a little human decency, Don’t Get Too Comfortable shows that far from being bobos in paradise, we’re in a special circle of gilded-age hell.

My first acquaintance with David Rakoff wasn’t on paper, it was through the NPR show “This American Life,” to which he regularly contributed.  I loved the stories he told there so much, I went out and bought Fraud (and eventually his other books).  Rakoff is a masterful storyteller and his essays, whether on the page or the radio often made me think as well as laugh.  Listening to him tell his stories and reading his work has made me a better storyteller.

I almost picked Fraud instead of Don’t Get Too Comfortable. “I used to bank here, but that was long, long ago” is about Rakoff’s early battle with Hodgkin’s disease which, when it came back years later, killed him.  You can here him tell that story here, or read a transcript of that episode of TAL, including the essay here.  I strongly encourage you to listen to him tell it rather than just read it.

I actually have all of Rakoff’s work as audiobooks as well as ebooks because he narrates them, and the way he tells a story is just…priceless.

Rakoff is the kind of storyteller who makes you want to sit at their feet and beg for another story, and another, and another. I try to savor each story, but find myself instead bingeing because his prose is so gorgeous. He’s also unashamedly cynical, but not cruel. Bring your dictionary–Rakoff doesn’t scrimp on the big words.

In the end, I chose Don’t Get Too Comfortable because it opens with his essay about becoming an American citizen (Rakoff was originally Canadian), and has several other gems that just barely beat out Fraud. In Love It or Leave It, Rakoff explores his ambivalence about US citizenship and why the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 and the suspicions leveled at foreigners have led him to bite the bullet and apply for citizenship instead of contenting himself, as he had for a few decades, with his green card.

Question 87 of the citizenship test is “What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens?’ The answer formulated by the government itself, is “the right to vote.” As we file out of the room, I ask someone who works there where the voter registration forms are. I am met with a shrug. “A church group used to hand them out but they ran out of money, I think.”

I don’t go to the post office to them have to buy my stamps from a bunch of Girl Scouts outside, and if the Girl Scouts are sick that day, then I’m shit out of luck. A church group? Why isn’t there a form clipped to my naturalization certificate? It is difficult not to see something insidious in this oversight while standing in this sea of humanity, the majority of whom are visible minorities.

I haven’t voted since I was eighteen, when I cast a ballot in Canada during my first summer back from college. It’s not that I take voting lightly. Quite the opposite. Living down in the United States where the coverage of Canadian politics is pretty well nonexistent, I have never felt well-enough informed to have an opinion. But even if I had made it my business to stay abreast of things–going to the library to read the foreign papers in those pre-Internet years–after a certain point, I no longer felt entitled to have a say in Canada’s affairs, having essentially abandoned the place. I suspect this is going to happen for the next little while every time I have to do something unmistakably American, like cast a ballot in a non-parliamentary election or go through customs on my U.S. passport, but standing here on line, I am stricken with such guilt and buyer’s remorse, overcome with a feeling of such nostalgia for where I came from, with its socialized medicine and gun control, that it is all I can do not to break ranks and start walking uptown and not stop until I reach the 49th parallel.

This feels appropriately prescient as we endure an immigration crackdown under another, worse, president.

There is also a story about the last flight of the Concorde versus Hooters Air, an essay that starts off by discussing Martha Stewart’s arrest that really explores Rakoff’s own love of DIY and his visit to Martha Stewart Living, and in Whatsizface Rakoff asks two plastic surgeons to tell him what is needed to fix his normal face. He is underwhelmed by an all night scavenger hunt. He is consistently dry and honest as he shares his stories.

I believe, but am not 100% sure that these essays all appeared in other media before being collected together. I certainly heard several on This American Life before I read them.

There are four Rakoff books, and Don’t Get Too Comfortable is my favorite, followed by Fraud. If you too have a sardonic, dry wit, I can’t recommend him enough. Worth noting that a curious thing keeps popping up in reviews–if you like David Sedaris, you may not like Rakoff, while I am the other way around where I find Sedaris occasionally witty but have a strong preference for Rakoff’s work.

One caveat–some of Rakoff’s offhand comments, particularly about women have not necessarily aged well in the intervening 15-18 years since their writing and are somewhat offensive in the era of #metoo

Don’t Get Too Comfortable is 11.99 on kindle, but I’d almost encourage you more to buy the audiobook if you’re only going to consume it using one form of media.

 

Seven Books I Love, part five–The Blessings Series by Beverly Jenkins

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book (series) five…The Blessings Series by Beverly Jenkins

On Bernadine Brown’s fifty-second birthday she received an unexpected gift—she caught her husband, Leo, cheating with his secretary. She was hurt—angry, too—but she didn’t cry woe is me. Nope, she hired herself a top-notch lawyer and ended up with a cool $275 million. Having been raised in the church, she knew that when much is given much is expected, so she asked God to send her a purpose.

The purpose turned out to be a town: Henry Adams, Kansas, one of the last surviving townships founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. The failing town had put itself up for sale on the Internet, so Bernadine bought it.

Trent July is the mayor, and watching the town of his birth slide into debt and foreclosure is about the hardest thing he’s ever done. When the buyer comes to town, he’s impressed by her vision, strength, and the hope she wants to offer not only to the town and its few remaining residents, but to a handful of kids in desperate need of a second chance.

Not everyone in town wants to get on board though; they don’t want change. But Bernadine and Trent, along with his first love, Lily Fontaine, are determined to preserve the town’s legacy while ushering in a new era with ties to its unique past and its promising future.

summary of Bring on the Blessings, Blessings #1

Readers of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances will perk up at the name “Henry Adams” because it’s the setting for a number of historical books. This is indeed the same town, which has become a run down dying town that put itself up for sale.

Bernadine is a no nonsense woman who takes her divorce settlement and buys Henry Adams. She wants to revitalize the town, and one of her projects is to create homes for foster kids who need a home and love because she’s a former social worker. The first few books deal with each of the families with a foster child, and then it begins to widen out. Family is always at the center of the books, though, and they qualify as sweet rather than steamy romance (read her historicals for steamy).

On paper this is not something I should love–sweet romance isn’t usually my style, nor do I read a lot of mainstream fiction. But Jenkins’ writing along with her as always well populated cast of characters draws you in. I bought the first book to read on vacation last December, and in two weeks I’d read all of the books and the novellas.

What I love best about the book are the characters. Each of the children has the sort of history that makes them suspicious but hopeful when it comes to their new parents. The different ages of the children also affects the way they interact with their new parents and the community. Their past also marks each child differently. The parents are also very different and each book addresses the relationship of the parents–one has a couple that is struggling with how to deal with the distance that has grown between them.

Bernadine is fabulously wealthy, so she has the magical deep pockets that allow her to buy a town, build a school, etc. But unlike your typical billionaire, she’s not white and she’s not a man. She also has a collection of equally fabulously wealthy female friends who have each other’s backs, share a private plane, and more. It’s a cool take on the billionaire trope.

These books are the kind of balm your soul might need in these trying times. A community that actually comes together and embraces these children feels alien at this point in time, and is the kind of place I aspire to live in.

The ninth books in the series–Second Time Sweeter comes out Aug 28th, so you have time to read them and catch up. Book one, Bring on the Blessings is 3.49 on Kindle.

Seven Books I Love, part four–The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book (series) four…The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

The world of Faerie never disappeared; it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born.

Outsiders from birth, these half-human, half-fae children spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.

–summary of Rosemary and Rue, book 1 in the series

Rosemary and Rue is the first book in the October Daye series. It opens with October “Toby” Daye, a half human/half Fae knight, tracking the man who has kidnapped her liege lord’s wife and daughter…and she fails, horribly. So horribly that the kidnapper turns her into a koi. She spends fourteen years in the pond, only to change back by some unknown exercise of her powers. By this time her ex and her daughter have moved on, and want nothing to do with her. She, in turn, turns her back on Faerie.

I think starting a series with a failure is a brave move. Everything that happens, and is still happening in the upcoming book twelve of the series, comes back to this failure and how it changed Toby. That said, books one and two are a little slow–I think in part to doing the heavy lifting in world building and introducing characters–but good. Book three, though, was when the series took off for me.

McGuire’s Faerie world borrows heavily from Celtic tradition with a twist all her own, as the Faerie Hills open into our world. Most of the Toby books are urban fantasy, largely taking part in San Francisco and the Faerie Hills near it. Living near San Francisco, part of me is always a little delighted to come across a setting from one of the book and is half hoping to see a Fae creature because I’m a bit whimsical.

Toby becomes a private investigator in her “real” life as well as picking up her sword again (more or less). This means the books tend to fall into a procedural or an investigation theme. Each book expands the world as we know it, adding characters, and deepening relationships and motivations. Some of my favorite characters are Tybalt, the King of the Cats and the Ludaeig, the sea witch.

McGuire’s books always have snappy dialog and pop culture references. Toby’s books are a bit less so because she’s fourteen years out of date–her relationship with cell phones is entertaining for one, and there’s a teenage character who thinks her taste in music sucks. Toby’s universe is also peppered with incredibly snarky characters as well as incredibly earnest ones as well as the baddies. There’s a lot of nuanced characters–the Ludaeig always demands a price, but as the books unfold you understand why she is the way she is. The man who turned her into a fish–Simon Torquill–is also an unexpectedly gray character, as we find out in either the most recent book or the second to most recent book.

I loved McGuire’s work as YA author Mira Grant (Feed will show up in my honorable mentions), so I started reading her adult work. The Incryptid series could easily have taken this spot as well. I sat down to start reading the Toby books in February and with a short break to read the new Anne Bishop, I devoured them all in under a month.

Urban fantasy your thing? Read the October Daye series.

Buy Rosemary and Rue (book one in the series) for 1.99 on kindle.