A Wish Upon Jasmine (CBR10 #13)

Last fall I picked up the first book in the La Vie en Roses series, Once Upon a Rose. Due to some ridiculous writing by the New York Times at about the same time, my review of that book is mostly subsumed by my rage about the way genre writing is discussed by major reviewers. However, I found much to be enjoyed in Laura Florand’s writing, and was excited to return to the South of France for a little refueling between One of Us is Lying, The Hate U Give, and Missoula.

Image result for a wish upon jasmine

In A Wish Upon Jasmine Florand continues playing with tropes and deconstructing classic story structure, but this one is a quite a bit less light and frothy. In A Wish Upon Jasmine the trope Florand is tweaking is the “Big Misunderstanding” that usually takes place much later in standard Romance fare. The “Big Misunderstanding” is what keeps the main couple apart, some occurrence which they have come to opposite conclusions. For this book the “Big Misunderstanding” happens before the beginning of the book and in much the same way that Loretta Chase’s A Duke in Shining Armor the reader is dropped into action already in progress. Unfortunately, Florand did not do it as well as Chase, but that is a very high standard indeed.

In the second book in the series we are following the relationship of Damien Rosier, the self-appointed “mean one” in this generation of his family, following the lead of his father and grandfather. He is really the glue that holds his family’s (and hometown’s) perfume business together. It falls to Damien to take care of the money that finances his family’s dreams and to that end he has created around himself a steel shell, but it protects his soft heart. Six months ago he met Jess and fell head over heels following a one night stand, but she ghosted him based on several factors in her life. Neither has really recovered.

Enter Tante Colette, our story engine. She gifts Jess the Rosier’s family perfume shop in Grasse where she can get back to the nuts and bolts of her profession and put together the pieces of her family history. We then spend the next two thirds of the book watching Damien turn himself inside out to repair the relationship with Jess while she is naïve to the point of emotional blindness. It made for a slog of a read both in the beginning while trying to figure out what happened before the book began and piecing together the timeline, and then in the back half watching the main characters slam together like rocks falling off a cliff.

And these two things are what keep me from wanting to rate this anything above 2.5 stars. But, Florand wrote dynamic, fully fleshed out characters in an evocative settings with an emotionally vulnerable hero and she also portrays the intensity of emotional and sexual attraction with a deft hand, and it makes me want to rate this 3 stars or slightly higher. I am at an impasse with myself.

Looking over the book descriptions of this series and her L’Amour et Chocolate series I think I am going to go back to those books and start again. While I am interested in seeing what comes to pass with the other Rosier cousins (official and otherwise) I think I want to go back and lay in more groundwork with the work of a contemporary writer whose craft I appreciate.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.


The Hate U Give (CBR10 #12)

Quick Review: This is a very good YA debut by Angie Thomas and it is important reading to be done in this cultural climate in the United States. Thomas clearly, and evocatively, brings the reader into the layered life of a black teen in today’s United States with its systemic racism. It reminded me of of my own history, and my lived experience, and grew it out. But it isn’t a primer in the way that Between the World and Me is, it is a story, a beautiful narrative of coming to terms with things that are impossible to come to terms with all while living your life the best that you can. I highly suggest this and will be on the lookout for more of what Ms. Thomas writes.

Image result for the hate you give

Longer thoughts:

This book is made of lovely, delicate moments that add up to a complex whole. Thomas, with her first novel, y takes on racism and police shootings through the eyes of her 16-year-old narrator, Starr Carter. Starr is an engaging narrator who straddles different worlds and in unpacking the kind of code switching life Starr leads, Thomas creates a sympathetic and complex protagonist.

There’s so much to notice in this book, so many layers to peel back. The Hate U Give masterfully covers dozens of topics, and with care. Through Starr’s narration we are exposed to what’s it like to be one of the only Black students in a private white high school, life with rival gangs in your neighborhood, code switching and curating your persona based on where you are and who you are with, interracial dating, seeing your friend shot and killed, protests and discovering what purpose they serve and where the line is between protest and riot.

This is an outstanding novel for teens and adults to begin reckoning with what it might be like to witness, and be the victim, of injustice and violence. The nuanced way Thomas treats the shooting of Starr’s friend Khalil, and all the people involved provides any number of entry points for the reader. Thomas even gives nuance to the characters who express racist ideas, imbuing them with the reality of how their individual worldviews would be shaped.

Ms. Thomas also delivers readers a chance to engage in self-examination when it comes to racism and our response to the increase in police shootings of unarmed people of color. In the nearly 450 pages of this novel Thomas gives plenty of examples, but the one that stuck with me the most was the brewing, and then finally exploding, argument between Starr and her white friend Hailey. We have a problem in the United States with the use of the indefinite article in front of the word racist. For my generation of white folks (Oregon Trail Gen X/Millennials) we were raised with the notion that a person was “racist” if they were so demonstratively. What many of us have learned since is that this educational paradigm was wrong. It is possible, and staggeringly LIKELY, that we will all say and do racist things without being the bogeyman that we imagine “a racist” to be. Privilege makes us push back against it, we think to ourselves “I’m not the bad actor here, I’m just saying/thinking what other people are saying/thinking”. Angie Thomas pulls that string and unravels how indoctrinated our society is with the idea that “bad” kids who are acting like “thugs” somehow don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt while the “good” guys who are using “necessary force” must be presumed to be acting correctly. It is shameful, and it is unfortunately nothing new, but we do need to be talking about it and this book is an important component of the conversation, because as a reader you see Thomas call bullshit as she tears apart the idea of the “thug” by introducing us to Starr, and Khalil, and Seven, and Kenya, and Devante, and all of the other characters living in Garden Heights.

Structurally the book has several sections which jump forward in time, some small jumps, some larger. The pacing is built around how Starr must deal with the fallout of being the witness to Khalil’s murder. In this way Thomas gives a primer on the process of how extrajudicial killings by police officers are dealt with in the criminal justice system. It also shows in unmistakable light how the rage of watching unjust things happen turns into flat-out rage at the world around you, and how “thug” behavior of riots and looting occur.

The tension, the twists, the pauses, the resolutions, all of these left me content, but my world wasn’t shattered. Thanks to the #weneeddiversebooks crew, of which Ms. Thomas is a part, we are getting the diverse books we need in our hands. You do need to read this one, even if YA isn’t your genre.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

The Holy or the Broken (CBR10 #11)

Image result for the holy or the broken

In much the same way that my brother’s visit inspired me to pick up Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry the Winter Olympics pushed me to move The Holy or the Broken up my to read pile. There were several figure skaters who performed to some version of “Hallelujah” and I’ve always had an interest in this iconoclast of a song, so the book was already on its way to me by happenstance (it was however delayed by over 20 days in arriving thanks to some unforeseen issues in the library transit system. The snail was epically slow.)

But the delay meant that I had the book ready to go after watching these performers interpret the song in a physical setting, making me all the more ready to read what amounts to an oral history of the path of this unlikely success story.

First, my bona fides: I’m not entirely sure when I first heard this song, but it was probably the Jeff Buckley version, and most likely sometime between 1998 and 2000. That however was no less than the third iteration of the song and it would have been about fifteen years old, and at least five since that specific rendition was recorded. But, I got on the “Hallelujahtrain before Rufus Wainwright and Shrek.

In The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, & the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, Alan Light traces the history of the song’s creation, its reinventions, and its turn as a pop standard of the American Songbook. Since its debut on Cohen’s Various Positions album in 1984 “Hallelujah” has never held still. Light chronicles Cohen’s career leading up to and moving to what amounts to the present day as this book was published in 2012, as well as highlighting the other major recordings of the song. He unpacks the differences in each version, and how the song sustains such a diversity of interpretation. This book  looks at the personalities, and the situations that led to different renditions while engaging in a discussion of how the listening public has seemingly moved beyond listening to the meaning of the lyrics and how “Hallelujah” has become an emotional touchstone which cues us to emote, or allows us the space to do so.

Light also lets in the conversation about whether or not there is too much “Hallelujah” in pop culture these days, and what the effects of Jeff Buckley’s untimely death had on the legend of his iteration of the song. In some ways this is a slim work, by tracing two artists, one with a tragically short career and the other who stepped away from the limelight for years at a time and zoning in on their one shared song Light gives himself tight parameters. It doesn’t stop him from discussing other interpreters of the song including Bono, or Paramore, but it does mean that in some chapters he is retreading the same ground. There is only so much to say, or so much insight to be gained, from the ubiquity of the song on singing contest show circuit in the early to mid-2000s. But at 231 pages, those times are blissfully brief.

I can only suggest this book to people who have a sincere fondness for the song, or one of its nearly two dozen covers. I enjoyed my reading during the recent nor’easter, but I cannot say that the experience would necessarily be shared by many others.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, race to 52, review how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.


One of Us is Lying (CBR10 #10)

Image result for one of us is lying

Five students walk into detention, they have little in common, other than that they were all caught with phones in class, and all five claim that they were framed and that the phones weren’t theirs. But only four walk out of that detention alive. Number five is dead and the other four all have motive and opportunity. Who is guilty? What really happened? That is the story which unfolds in One of Us is Lying.

However, it isn’t the only story that Karen McManus is telling. The book is told from the four perspectives of the suspects and the plot naturally expands from dealing exclusively with the murder to each character’s personal lives.  Here, instead of providing differing perspectives of the same scene, as many contemporary whodunits do the story lines simply separate as each character deals with the notoriety as well as the pressures after their deepest secrets are revealed.

We begin with each character in their stereotype: a princess, a jock, a brain, a criminal, and the self-described omniscient narrator.  But they don’t stay there, McManus builds these stereotypes out and deals with the pressure to succeed, having to survive on your own too young, coming to terms with your sexuality, dealing with unhealthy relationships, notoriety, mental illness, and addiction all get dealt with on the page, which makes it for an even more believable jaunt into a high school setting. It had its faults, but as a debut I can already see what McManus’s potential looks like and I’m cautiously excited in that regard.

I was able to piece together what really happened without too much difficulty, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable. In fact I read this book in big gulps, it reads fast. I found myself absorbed in the goings on, interested in the various perspectives, and waiting (impatiently) for the next shoe to drop. The way that this book is structured it could translate to visual media quite easily, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it on the big screen or small screens via a streaming service limited series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.


Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (CBR10 #9)

I’m not really in a hurry so much as I am overscheduled. I am also the lone non-science person in my family. I love science, but my brain doesn’t always hold onto the salient details of science. Say, for example, the difference between astrophysics and cosmology (Astrophysics is a sub-branch of astronomy to deal with physics of celestial objects and phenomena. Cosmology talks about universe as a whole which includes origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.). But, I really like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s conversational style and my brother just came to visit for a week and he made his third pilgrimage to the Hayden Planetarium so I felt inspired to bump this audio book up the to read list when he left.

billy colleen amnh

My Siblings at the Museum. Notice the shirt. 

I think the best encapsulation of this book I could offer you is that it is basically one super extended planetarium show, or a long form podcast, or a sober Drunk History marathon.

Not enough information? Okay. In fourteen chapters Tyson talks the reader through the basics of his field and its related sciences. You get a taste of how the universe formed, what it is made of, and the near constant search to quantify and understand just what the heck is going on out there beyond our atmosphere. But also within it because we’re all star stuff. Some of this I already knew, because I am related to several space science geeks. Some of it was new to me, the biggest being that sometime in the future the observable universe won’t be observable anymore and it is up to scientists now to figure out how to leave an appropriate record of what they are seeing/have found for the future generations. My museum heart felt their pain.

This is a perfectly pleasant way to spend just shy of four hours, so pick it up if you feel like it, but don’t expect anything earth shattering.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.


The Wedding Date (CBR10 #8)

Image result for the wedding date book

I accrued some library fines on this book and I’m sending my apology out to the universe for the person behind me in the holds list who is delayed in getting this copy in their hands. That’s what happens when you get six books on interlibrary loan over three days (after none arriving for three weeks), your social calendar gets very full, and you can’t renew this new book (published January 30, 2018 y’all). But I’m also quite glad that I embraced the fines and kept the book.

I try to be more mindful in my reading, and one area that I still don’t give enough attention to is making sure I’m reading book written by people of color and those featuring them. This book is both, and for that reason is a slam dunk for me as it is in a favorite genre – romance – and is perfect for the Read Harder Challenge task 10: read a romance novel by or about a person of color. Done and done. And it is good to boot.

This book has been on my radar for a few months, ever since Roxane Gay gave it a rave review on Twitter back in September. If Roxane is about it, and it is diverse Romance? I’m on it.

She’s spot on, it is charming and its characters are great. However, our opinion diverges on star rating. I’m rounding up to a 4 from a 3.5 because this is Guillory’s debut and the craft of her writing is there, but there’s some first go hiccups (over-reliance on certain phrases for example).

The Wedding Date is the story of Alexa and Drew who meet in an elevator during a quick blackout and each experience a bit of well placed lust. Drew jumps on instinct and asks Alexa to be his date to a wedding he is in that weekend, his ex’s wedding (oh yes, good old Romancelandia drama). Alexa says yes and we are off to the races of these two flirting and eventually getting together. A single weekend turns into trading weekends back and forth as they live in opposite ends of California, which leads to misunderstandings and emotions developing that neither is ready for or really expecting.

Guillory built herself some very believable and nuanced characters. Each has their strengths, each has their weaknesses, and they don’t necessarily solve the others, they have to work on whatever this relationship is at any given time. The secondary characters serve to fill in the yelling of the reader at the main pair (why are you saying that? Why AREN’T you saying that?!), and are well drawn and interesting on their own (Carlos follow up! Please!!). We also don’t suffer instalove, the relationship builds over several months and they talk about issues that exist in our contemporary world, the gross men, the legitimate concern Alexa would feel about not knowing if she will be the only black person at a given social event, the bureaucratic layers associated with getting social aid if our public servants have managed to get it provided in the first place.

This is a good one folks; it has meat on its bone and sexy bassline. Get on it!

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.


A Duke in Shining Armor (CBR10 #7)

Image result for a duke in shining armor

The Romance genre is a trope filled place. Like any other genre, its readers are trained for what to look for, and what to expect. I am a well-trained reader, so much so in fact that I went back to Goodreads early on in reading A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase to make sure that the book in my hand was in fact the first in the series. I am apparently not the only one with this thought: Ms. Chase dedicated a blog post to assuring us, yes, this is the first. My trope instincts went off because Ms. Chase dumps us into action already in progress: the characters know each other, one of the pairs is already married* (but estranged), and a wedding is supposed to be taking place but the bride and groom are both drunk, and the bride is making a run for it out the nearest library window and the best man is setting off to bring her back, if only he can convince her (and himself) that it’s the best plan.

* I am very, very excited and interested in what will be the third book in this series as it will focus on reuniting a married couple (I presume).

I was immediately intrigued. Add into that a heroine who has been overlooked, is a nerdy book girl (Loretta Chase is writing herself and all of us into the story here, I swear), and a steadfastly loyal to his friends male lead and I knew exactly why so many of my romance reading friends were so happy with this book after a relatively lackluster 2017 in Romancelandia. The year was so lackluster in fact that I read only two romances published in 2017 last year (Pretty Face  – which everyone should read after they read Act Like It in time for book three in that series to come out later this year and When Life Happened at PattyKates’ request.)

Ms. Chase does much well in this book, and it’s nice to see her back towards Lord of Scoundrels territory after an enjoyable but not great Dukes Prefer Blondes. In A Duke in Shining Armor Chase deploys a well-paced timeline to keep a short time period from turning into instalove. Chase lays out the historical precedent of how little times affianced couples could expect to spend together in the upper echelons of society in England during the 1830s, and fills a week with more one on one time and varied experiences than many couples featured in romance novels, let alone the real world, would experience, and simultaneously uses the idea of putting a pair together that had spent the better part of a decade keeping each other in their sights we are dealing with people who don’t know each other but would not be considered social strangers. It is just one of many historically accurate details that Chase is known for adding to her writing, and features so prominently on her other blog Two Nerdy History Girls (also a great follow on Twitter for those inclined).  

It was also a bit of a cozy read: there was zero sturm und drang until right at the end. We simply have a bit of an adventure, a bit of a misunderstanding, and some work against social expectations and needs. Olympia and Ripley are well matched, even if we get a little less of who Ripley is on the page, but I expect his character will become clearer as we learn more about his compatriots, the Disgraces.  Oh, and one of my favorite components: a road trip.

I know I’ve told you very little about the book itself, but there are some great reviews to give you more detail there, I’m just going to sit here in my happy feels about a solidly 4 star (creeping towards 4.5 star) book.


This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.