31 March 2011

Stoner (John Williams)

I've been surrounded by raves for Stoner since someone (I do not remember who, sorry) recommended it to the lovely, lovely Bookavore sometime last year and she became a relentless evangelist for it. Yes: it is simple and tender, and unique in its being a sympathetic portrait of an ordinary Midwesterner. (Whereas your average "flyover"-set book is all about the Canker at the Core of America and whatnot...*cough* Sinclair Lewis *cough* Franzen...with no representation of the world I grew up in or the virtues thereof.)

Here is what happens in this book: In 1910, William Stoner leaves his father's farm for the University of Missouri, ostensibly to study agriculture; but he falls in love with English literature and steadily pursues a Ph.D., going on to teach at his alma mater until his death. He is never more than an assistant professor. His marriage is an immediate failure, his academic career thwarted by vicious intradepartmental politics, and he admits to only sometimes being a good teacher. He has a love affair that dissolves under threat of scandal. His wife sabotages his relationship with his daughter, who eventually escapes through unwed pregnancy and alcoholism. It's all very sad...but in an everyday way, meaning so little in the grand scheme. At his daughter's hurried, defeated wedding in December 1941, he
was gripped by what he could think of only as a numbness, though he knew it was a feeling compounded of emotions so deep and intense that they could not be acknowledged because they could not be lived with. It was the force of a public tragedy he felt, a horror and a woe so all-pervasive that private tragedies and personal misfortunes were removed to another state of being, yet were intensified by the very vastness in which they took place, as the poignancy of a lone grave might be intensified by a great desert surrounding it.
And yet, while you won't put down the book humming the theme song (to borrow a phrase of my father's), there is so much love in its pages--not between Stoner and his wife, or even his lover, but between the author and the man whose quiet life he chronicles. Williams communicates the pain and small triumphs of his character plainly and with little intrusion, but with infinite tenderness, communicated powerfully to the reader. Let's make it a classic, shall we? (It can replace Main Street. God, I loathed that book--never read an author with such contempt for his characters.)

30 March 2011

Reading in the Brain (Stanislas Dehaene)

The boyfriend's brother and sister-in-law got me Reading in the Brain for Christmas, theorizing that since they didn't know my favorite authors but knew I loved books, a meta-book would work. And they were so right, because this book was awesome.

Studies into the neuroscience of reading, says Dehaene, have identified a particular part of the brain that handles word forms: the "brain's letterbox," in the left occipito-temporal region; one of his central questions is how this is even possible...reading is too recent an invention for the human brain to have actually evolved the ability to do so, and yet the brains of readers the world over show that this "letterbox" is where written words are processed before being semantically understood. He hypothesizes a process called "neuronal recycling," in which the incredible plasticity of the primate brain repurposes "old" neurons for novel uses.

The real strength of this book is that it manages to be accessible without seeming at all dumbed down. Dehaene lays out the case for the brain's letterbox in exhaustive detail, starting with its discovery in the 19th century in the autopsy of a man who--after a stroke--lost the ability to read, though he could still write, still understand letters traced out on his hand, and even read out strings of digits: but letters were lost to him. This condition is called pure alexia, and it's beaten out alien hand syndrome on the list of incredibly rare malfunctions I am petrified of getting. Through ever more sophisticated imaging technology (PET, MRI, electrodes implanted in the brains of epileptics), neurologists have stacked up loads of evidence for the existence of this specialized brain area. There's repetition in this section, but that's science, you know? Confirming and reconfirming.

Dehaene also goes into the invention of writing and the development of alphabets, the process of learning to read and how it literally changes the brain, and what dyslexia can tell us about how reading works. It's all fascinating stuff: like how children often confuse letters with left-right symmetry (p & q, d & b) or mirror-write easily, because our brains are so used to generalizing from that kind of symmetry (that's why we can see a person in right profile and still recognize them in left profile, even if we haven't seen them from that angle before) that we actually have to unlearn this incredibly useful skill to understand the alphabet. It's a book that just makes you want to buttonhole people on the subway and share facts with them, and a great, great gift for anyone bookish in your life.

21 March 2011

Animal Magnetism (Jill Shalvis)

At Eloisa James' book launch, there were not only cupcakes and champagne, there was swag: a ferociously pink little tote full of bookmarks and such, and free books: the previously mentioned paranormal Captive Heart, which continues to entertain Chris & me as he reads it out loud; and my first contemporary romance, Jill Shalvis' Animal Magnetism (you should click through for the cover, as it is hilarious--sleek buff boy back and adorbs puppy giving eponymous eyes). I kind of saved this one for last since the synopsis wasn't that appealing: lady with a duck and piglets in her car rear-ends parked car of pilot/photographer/ex-Army/Ramblin' Man, passion and lack of suspense about whether he'll leave town ensues. As I expected, it didn't do much for me. (Yeah, the sex scenes were good, but if you only like the sex scenes it's porn, right?) Here are some reasons. They are not all admirable, or even consistent.

1. I am completely over the Love of a Good Woman Makes Peripatetic Dude Settle Down trope. Yes, even though it's one of the cornerstones of romantic fiction (including film). And even though I have enjoyed some books with this essential plot (I contain multitudes blah blah). I fundamentally don't believe love changes people, is the thing. I believe that people change themselves, and that makes them more able to find or keep or deepen relationships--but in this book, Brady's eventual putting down of roots happens despite himself, he's helpless before it, all "what is happening OMG." It's maturity externally imposed rather than blossoming within, as if his attraction to Lilah is literally a magic spell. It's unreal, and hence not satisfying.

2. Hero and heroine spend the whole damn book misinterpreting each other when all they had to do was have an adult conversation. Yes, I'm aware this happens. It's a difficult conversation to have. And yup, the same mutual misunderstanding drives many historicals. But it's easier to take in stories set in previous centuries: gaps in education between men and women and societal taboo often made these discussions unfeasible or even impossible--Anna Karenina, for example. We're supposed to have moved beyond this, though. Be good role models, romance protagonists!!

3. Too many cute animals. I'm aware this may be the most ridiculous thing I have ever written: I've watched that video where the corgi goes nuts when her owner talks like the Beatles half a dozen times. I'm currently watching season 2 of a BBC doc called "Big Cat Diary," which follows leopards and cheetahs and lions AND THEIR BABIES about in Kenya. And I try to get my cat to watch it with me. My "birthday present" to my sister was a link to a friend's photostream of a kitten he & his wife found on the street. I AM A SUCKER FOR TEH CUTE. In Animal Magnetism, though, the animal characters--three-legged cat! rescue puppy named Twinkles who cries at night unless you snuggle with him! duck on a leash!--just felt like manipulation. Like pandering to the stereotyped single cat lady romance reader. Like reading a Cathy collection. Almost.

4. This is the shameful one: I'm really skeptical about dudes who have been in the military. Which pretty much means I hate America, I know, and indeed the few gentlemen I know personally who've been in the Army or Navy are perfectly nice guys...but my first impulse upon finding out a guy I'm interested in was an ex-soldier would be to assume that we don't have much in common. This totally idiosyncratic and unfounded and embarrassing prejudice meant I had absolutely zero investment in the hero. This is death to enjoyment of a romance.

19 March 2011


Finished Anna K. ten days ago--I've read six books since then. Several of them in 24 hours (A Visit from the Goon  Squad, Other People We Married, Antonya Nelson's Bound, of which more below). Twin forces of unemployment-induced free time and relief at making it through that Russian brick, I suppose.

Took me a couple of days to read Margaret Atwood's latest, The Year of the Flood, a woman-centered dystopian novel (for Freebird's Post-Apocalyptic Book Club next week, though I'll actually miss the meeting) which I quite liked--although the last fourth was haunted by my friend Noah's comment that he threw Oryx and Crake (set in the same world, shortly previous to Flood) across the room, because he hates the anti-humanist tone of contemporary dystopia. He's got a point--there are aspects of the modern environmental movement that resemble a secular apocalypse cult (which in Flood becomes a quasi-Christian sect, the homesteading, recycling God's Gardeners), in that the upcoming doom is about humanity's errant behavior--the sins are different, but the disapproval of the elect feels the same, doesn't it? I'm fascinated to know whether the current future visions of a climate-changed wasteland will seem as dated in fifty years as nuclear-winter novels do now.

I liked Year of the Flood a lot, though, and Noah's irritation helped me clarify my own thinking about dystopian fiction: I don't really care what brought about the catastrophe. Human action, unforeseeable act of nature, magic, fine--what interests me is the aftermath, the scrabble for survival and cobbling together of new societies with the detritus of the old. Improvised lives and operatic emotions. I've ordered Oryx and Crake from the library as well--see how the pandemic whose survivors populate Flood came about!

Next I read Bound, which was only OK. Antonya Nelson is a fellow Wichitan, and Sarah Bagby, who owns Watermark Books where I used to work, was a big fan--and most of this novel takes place there, during the surreal period when BTK, a serial killer active in the city during the 70s (right after my parents moved to Kansas from Wisconsin, so my dad could go to grad school), resurfaced, sending taunting notes to the media as he'd done 25 years before, and linking himself to two previously unsolved murders. As it turned out, he hadn't died, or been incarcerated--he actually went dormant, throwing a lot of serial-killer psychology out the window. There's a line a few pages in about a character "feeling a prickling pride in being from the city where he'd killed people, the curious emotion of by-proxy notoriety."

By-proxy pride is all I could really get from the novel, though, just the "Hey, I went to East High too!" experience that must happen to New Yorkers all the time. The story was all right (two-sentence summary? A woman's high school best friend dies in a car accident, and after years of silence, she discovers the woman had long ago named her as guardian to her now 15-year-old daughter. Also, her much-older husband is cheating on her with a much-younger-than-her woman, because he is just a total asshole), but I couldn't stand the paragraphs...the complicated, list-heavy, often verbless sentences were quite lovely on their own, but then the next sentence would also be complicated, list-heavy, and verbless--and the next one too. Just too much--nowhere to breathe, no rhythm. Or maybe too much of a rhythm, so little variation? It just did not taste good. Example? OK:
"He was attracted to the old-fashioned sign, the black and white tipped top hat, the unrenovated sleazy aspect that said the motel proprietor would rent by the hour, would take cash, would understand the idea of parking in the back. Like Joyland [hey, I've been to Joyland!!! awesome amusement park, now sadly closed and increasingly like a horror-movie set], the motel was a fading piece of the former city. For Oliver, this imagined seedy locale was part and parcel of his second life, that simultaneous existence that was a lurid undercurrent beneath the one on top, the nocturnal answer to the broad and reputable daylight."
Do you see? Three sentences, three lists, all simply repeating the same idea without adding to it or deepening it. Don't they teach you not to do that in MFA programs? Am I taking crazy pills?!?!

17 March 2011

Invitation to Sin (thanks, Theresa!)

I don't know how I won things before the Internet--in addition to my awesome Twitter scores, my needlessly snarky comment on Theresa's February contest post got selected for signed-swag goodness from Sally MacKenzie, who writes a "Naked Nobles" series. Invitation to Sin is a four-novella anthology (Romance: Preserving the Novella Form since Whenever): MacKenzie's entry, "The Naked Prince," is definitely the best--funny and naughty and we're-in-love-cause-we-both-love-translating-Latin. Awwww--Regency nerds are the best.

Of the others, I most like Jo Beverly's "Forbidden Affections" for its Gothic-novel props, and kudos to Vanessa Kelly for an older-woman (OK, 32, but in 1813 that was superannuated) tale called "The Pleasure of a Younger Lover." Kaitlin O'Riley's "A Summer Love Affair" was pretty standard, but I do like it when the hero is inspired by the heroine to become a responsible adult.

And thanks to Gothamist's awesome "Ten Best Indie Bookstore of NYC" post, I was introduced to TWO Brooklyn bookstores I hadn't heard of: Book Thug Nation in Williamsburg and Unnameable Books in...uh...Park Slope or something? Welp, nope, Prospect Heights, I guess. Anyway: neither is hiring, more's the pity--but both had charming, friendly staff and awesome selection of used (both) and new (Unnameable). Definitely on the list for future purchases! Book Thug had a first American edition of Brideshead Revisited I've got my eye on.

16 March 2011

Other People We Married (Emma Straub)

I am writing around my own head today--sleep, elusive at the best of times, has been a particularly harsh mistress this past week, and last night I managed to both spill Benadryl all over myself AND take twice as much as I meant to, so I feel like death warmed over, a non-bloggish state of mind. I believe this is what they call a "first world problem."

Still, I can't let my case of ick (used as a metaphor and not the yes-it's-really-called-that fish disease) keep me from putting a forth a happy, purring, sunshiny endorsement of Emma Straub's short story collection Other People We Married. And I am not just saying this because she has been impossibly sweet on the few occasions we have met, or because she makes the BEST brownies (and you can, too!)--these are just the sprinkles on the icing of the writerly cake. (Yum.)

Because she's one of those writers who makes me want to use the word "formidable," but then reconsider because that is far too forceful a word for the slyly humorous ease with which she writes. Like many of my favorite short stories, these do not have earthshaking stakes, and that's how I like it: ordinary moments, Aristotelian unities, crystalline ending sentences that mean you have to put the book down and look at something else for a while before you start the next piece, just to let them settle into your brain, make some hot tea, and put their feet up. Where it's not all Benadryl-hangover up there, it is Emma-sentence-tiffin-town, believe me.

Some of my favorite details reminded me of myself (not sure if this means I'm an egomaniac or that the characters are relatable? likely six-a-one-half-dozen-of-tother)--the TA in "Some People Must Really Fall In Love" with a hopeless and embarrassing crush on a freshman in her intro to creative writing class (oh, Scott, high school guest student of mine six years back, 17 at the most but a better flirt than I was); the woman in "Rosemary" who points out to her husband that she's been sleeping with the eponymous cat for ten years longer than she'd been sleeping with him (15 years for me, one reason it's so distressing Julie has taken to wandering the apartment yowling at night rather than curling up next to me like she used to); the bird-watching widow in "Marjorie and the Birds" who "send[s] her check in the mail with a slip of paper wrapped around it. It was the sort of thing her children made fun of her for, but Marjorie liked to do things properly"--oh yeah, I absolutely do that, as I learned from my own mother, and the older I get, the more things I mocked her for in my callow youth that I find myself espousing as Sensible and Meticulous.

The collection also gives me a chance to stump for a weensy indie press, which I theoretically love to do but often fail in the follow-through. It's one of the first two books published by FiveChapters, whose website features a short story in five parts every week (the other is Nobody Ever Gets Lost by Jess Row, who read with Emma at McNally-Jackson the night I bought the book and ate the brownies). Buy them both and the shipping is free! Because indie press folks are sweet like that.

14 March 2011

You all already knew this, but...

...Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad is ZOMGawesome.

I am approximately the gazillionth person to say so--partial list of honors and best-ofs etc. here--and among the least influential, but what I can say? Hardcovers are expensive, and I think I was hold 75 or something at the Brooklyn Public Library, so I didn't get to read it till this weekend. Or rather, in two bursts Saturday afternoon and last night--it is an OM NOM NOM of a book. Less a traditional one-narrative novel than thirteen interlocking, interdependent, inter-informing short stories, Goon Squad is about (in an oversimplified way, natch) the power of music and the power of time, to inspire and wound. The chapters--many of which previously appeared as stand-alone stories--are carefully ordered to shed light on characters, events, motivations backwards & forwards through the book, so that something mentioned in passing becomes a sudden lurch of heartbreak and/or beauty later on.

I did feel that the last chapter, "Pure Language," set in a social-network-global-warming near-future dystopia that's pure Super Sad True Love Story territory, was by far the least compelling--kind of an meh note to go out on. But right before that is the Powerpoint chapter, which can only be called brilliant. The book really is as good as everyone says, you guys.

Would I have picked it over Skippy Dies in the Morning News Tournament of Books? Nah. But Anthony Doerr, who did, admits that "because I’m in the absurd position of saying one very good book is better than another very good book—I’ll say that A Visit From the Goon Squad was a slightly more relevant book for this particular reader at this particular moment." As another particular reader, I simply leaned an inch or two the other way.

[P.S. Hey, you see those book title links that go to IndieBound? It's the trade organization for U.S. independent bookstores, and makes it super simple to buy from awesome stores all over the country and strike a blow for local, loving, bricks-and-mortar booksellers. If you spend a little extra to get the best produce at the farmers market, why not spend a little extra buying your books from someone who cares? Also, I think I get a couple cents. WOOOOO]

12 March 2011

The Eight (Katherine Neville)

Gosh, I wanted to like this book. Despite the Code-that-shall-not-be-named-or-linked-to, the quasi-historical Earth-Shattering Secret thriller is not an illegitimate genre--Foucault's Pendulum is the exemplar, of course, and Borges can do labyrinthine mind-boggling in short-story form with books and languages that don't exist. So The Eight--a double narrative between the 1790s and 1970s, following the battle for control over a cursed chess set that somehow encodes the mysteries of the universe--could have been fantastic.

Sadly, it wasn't. The writing wasn't great--authors, you are just not allowed to use sentences that start with "Little did I know..." more than once in a novel, OK? And the conspiracy surrounding the chess set just got kitchen-sinkier as time wore on, cycling through music and math and physics and oh also alchemy and the Freemasons and maybe becoming a god or something? The E-SS similarly seemed to be about half a dozen different things, and ended up being the least interesting. Oh, and there was this romance that just came outta nowhere--irritated me no end.

Props are at least due for writing this kind of book with women as the main characters. But it would have been nice if they were main characters in a better book.

11 March 2011

I'm a failure as a classicist, I guess.

I just didn't like Anna Karenina, you guys.

I did like the writing. Many of the similes were striking--I remember particularly Stiva's "almond-butter smile," just a perfect fit for his jovial smarm. And I loved Levin's saying in regard to his upcoming wedding that "he was as happy as a dog that has been taught to jump through a hoop and, having finally understood and done what was demanded of it, squeals, wags its tail, and leaps in rapture on to the tables and windowsills." And I liked Levin's dog Laska a lot.

But I didn't like any of the people--OK, not quite "didn't like" even, I felt little for them at all. (I just learned the word cathexis, "mental or emotional investment in a person, object, or idea," and that's exactly what I didn't have.) When I felt (almost universally negative) things towards the characters--irritation with Anna, contempt for Vronsky, disgust towards Stiva--there was always the knowledge that I was rather feeling these emotions towards Tolstoy himself, thinking, "Really, dude?" And while I can intellectually appreciate the novel as a snapshot of its time--politically, economically, philosophically--I was hopelessly bored every single time the conversation turned to 1870s Russian issues. And that happens a lot, so I was hopelessly bored for most of the book.

Reading a Classic Novel and not liking it can feel like a personal failure, can't it? That the book must be good, that it's me, that I'm missing something. Then my St.-John's-primary-source-bred tendencies kick back and say, "No, each individual must evaluate each work from themselves, on their own terms. One must never be intimidated by authority into acknowledging value you don't find." Then my mom-instilled-politesse counters: "True, but don't be the grouch in the corner at the book club meeting tomorrow, OK? If everybody else loved it, let them love it."

So that's the plan: unusual levels of self-effacement in tomorrow's discussion, then Ms. K goes back to the library. And now? I can say I've read it.

**POST-BOOK-CLUB UPDATE** OK, that was an amazing discussion. And it turns out my feelings about the book were in keeping with everyone else's, so I feel absolved of all guilt!

04 March 2011

An experiment.

As I'm pressing on through Anna Karenina (I'm on page 217, and so far I don't like anybody. But I am assured it gets better) and so don't have new review-ish ramblings, I'm instead gonna once again take inspiration from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: specifically a feature entitled "Help a Bitch Out," in which readers share memories of a plot and commenters try to come up with the title of a book.

There is a horror novel I read in elementary school, possibly middle school (late 80s, early 90s). I remember almost nothing about the plot, but it featured one image I've never forgotten: there was some kind of magical maze(?), at the heart of which lurked a huge, vaguely demonic, white big cat (cougar-type, no mane). It had a name, which I've forgotten, and it killed people. GRAPHICALLY.

I'd thought for a while it was a Peter Straub novel, but looking through his bibliography didn't jog my memory (his website has a nice little display of all the covers). I don't think this is something I'd want to read again--but DRAT, I want to know what it is? Little help?

02 March 2011

Blessed (Cynthia Leitich Smith)

Since this book's third in a trilogy, whyncha read my reviews of the first two? Meet you below.

Tantalize (Tantalize, #1)Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A funny, sexy read for older Twilight fans, Tantalize is the story of high school senior Quincie Morris (named after Texan Quincey P. Morris, one of Lucy's suitors-turned-hunters in Dracula) and the two things she cares about: her hybrid-werewolf almost-boyfriend, Kieren, and her family's Italian restaurant, about to reopen as Austin's first vampire-themed eatery, Sanguini's. Both are suddenly threatened by the brutal murder of beloved chef Vaggio in what looks like an animal attack. Quincie's in charge of whipping their mysterious new chef into culinary and wardrobe shape before the grand opening. But he keeps pouring her wine and warning her away from Kieren, and the local body count keeps rising.

Smith creates a world at once familiar and bizarre - for instance, werewolves aren't the only "shifters" who can take human form: there are werebears, werecats, werevultures, even a werearmadillo. And vampires aren't just a gimmick, though Quincie tells us "the last reported sighting of one was around the time of the Kennedy assassination." Bloody awful puns, social injustice (werefolk don't have the same legal rights as humans, and they're commonly lynched), mouthwatering cuisine (mozzarella, Gorgonzola, and parmesan ravioli in wild mushroom sauce? yes, please) - and a startling twist - make Tantalize a treat.

Eternal (Tantalize, #2)Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize was my favorite young-adult vampire tale of last summer (yeah, I’m coming out: totally not Team Edward), so I was pretty Beatlemania’d to hear she’d written a sequel (and eventually, a trilogy! Squee!). While Eternal doesn’t share an overarching narrative with Tantalize (nor, sadly, the mouthwatering Italian menu—though we are treated to an unorthodox dip for fresh-baked pumpkin bread), it’s set in the same world, where both vampires and all manner of werefolk exist (though the former keep a low profile, while the latter struggle for civil rights).

Here, Smith also introduces a new supernatural angle, in the form of guardian angel Zachary, who’s watched his charge Miranda grow into a sweet but awkward teenager with dreams of dramatic greatness. She ends up on a larger stage than she’s meant for one night when Zachary’s unauthorized interference keeps her from her destined death: he’s stripped of his wings, while she awakens as not only a vampire, but the adopted daughter/bride of the latest Dracula himself, royal head of the entire undead—sorry, “eternal” is the preferred nomenclature—population. Suddenly, Miranda is clumsily navigating the political machinations of the bloodsucking elite, desperately trying to stay on the unstable monarch’s good side, and oh yeah, drinking human blood. The fallen-but-still-immortal Zachary, on the other hand, is recruited from a slough of despond to accomplish a divine mission that remains unclear: but soon he’s Miranda’s new personal assistant, trying to balance his disgust for her lifestyle—and that of the other human servants, who somehow reconcile their duty to their masters with the presence of cell-bound “bleeding stock” in the basement—with his love for the girl she used to be, and maybe still is.

Told in Zachary’s and Miranda’s alternating voices, Eternal is a great addition to the ever-expanding vamp canon, switching up the usual outside-looking-in viewpoint and creating realms of Whedonesque moral ambiguity within the paranormal framework. Apparently Smith’s forthcoming title Blessed will feature crossovers between the casts of both Tantalize and Eternal. Here’s hoping the mozzarella, parmesan, and gorgonzola ravioli makes an appearance.

AND WE'RE BACK!! Unavoidable spoilers featured below.

Blessed returns to Austin and brings back the food (yes, I'm obsessed with that ravioli. WHAT OF IT), as Quincie deals with her new forced-undead status and struggles to find a way to save others once she realizes her former chef, Brad, dosed dozens of Sanguini's patrons with his own blood in an attempt to raise a vampire army. And not just any vampire army--turns out Bram Stoker's Drac was not only real but a bit of a visionary, creating his own race of uber-powerful vamps, and his own formidable powers are stored between the knives used to kill him the end of the original (non-fiction) novel. She's aided by GA Zachary, who hopes he can do for her what he could not for Miranda--save her soul. It's a fun, fast-moving Macguffin race of a book, returning to much of the humor of the first installment, and there ain't nothin' more than kissing, so you can give it to a 10-year-old when she asks for Twilight. Just pretend you heard her wrong.

01 March 2011

Adieu to romance (in book form).

Eight books later, I've brought Romance February to a close with Sarah MacLean's Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake--which I liked but didn't love. It is perhaps the inevitable weariness of immersion in a single genre? I will say that this had the BEST sex scenes of what I've read. In a omigoodness-I-hope-the-person-next-to-me-on-the-subway-isn't-reading-over-my-shoulder kind of way. Howevs, I found the premise--spinster decides to throw caution to the winds and indulge in the harmless vices the men around her take for granted (fence, drink Scotch, smoke a cheroot), winning the heart of a hopeless libertine along the way--historically implausible. I know, I know, the anachronistically feminist heroine is a tried-and-true romance trope, but I felt like Callie would have suffered some kind of consequences risking her reputation, whether major or minor; I mean, she goes alone to a public house and no one hits on her but the hero?!? And again, the reformed-rake hero is par for the course, but I didn't really like this guy, and I don't think that, even today, most gentlemen are attracted to uppity women. (Except for my boyfriend, of course--but it took ages to find him.) I'm also kinda tired of the lady-virgin dude-slut pairing: I liked that in Proof by Seduction and Delicious the women had some experience. I get that in historicals it's more accurate to have an unmarried man have slept around, but it's still infuriating. Are there romances, I wonder, where the heroine has been around the block a few times, and the hero is the blushing man-maiden? Contemporaries, maybe? Or, ooh, like a medieval one where he's a former monk? That would be hot.

Meanwhile, the bf, who loves reading aloud, has taken up a paranormal thriller romance called Captive Heart, about the world's only water Sybil and a tough no-nonsense cop. It is goofy shit, I have to say--every sentence sounds like a tagline, which lends itself well to Chris's reading style. It's not good, but it's fun to share.

I'm now moving on to some other TBRs, but will leave romance in the mix. Next up is Cynthia Leitich Smith's Blessed, third in the trilogy that started with Tantalize--YA vamp fic with just an edge of sexiness and malice. Then I start Anna Karenina! And finish it in a week! I have total faith in myself.
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