Making Up (CBR10 #23)

Making Up (London Celebrities, #3)

CBR10 is my seventh year participating in Cannonball Read, and in that time I feel comfortable saying that I’ve made a space for myself as a reviewer of romance books. I review all the romance I read because I believe firmly that everyone should read what they want, read what they like, and have someone pointing the way for them. We have our lead dogs of this pack (#BlameMalin) and we have the “hobbyists” (me). One of the greatest gifts of Cannonball Read is finding new authors whom you love, and whose work you find consistently enjoyable. For me those are absolutely Rainbow Rowell, Courtney Milan, and Lucy Parker (which doesn’t even begin to cover the backlog of other authors that have been sent my way – my love for all things Tessa Dare only grows).

It is hard to believe that it was only two years ago that Lucy Parker blasted onto the Cannonball scene with Act Like It which was universally well received and then followed up the next year with Pretty Face which secured that the first book was not an anomaly, Lucy Parker can write. Having avoided the sophomore slump, I was still worried – could she maintain the high quality contemporary romances set in London’s theatre scene to complete the trilogy? Mostly yes is the good news here.

Making Up is two parts second chance romance and one part enemies to lovers. As in her previous books Lucy Parker handles the circumstance with a deft touch, tweaking the tropes to suit a relatable and believable history (even if it’s a bit of a retcon from what we saw in Pretty Face). Our main couple of Trix and Leo are adults and are (blessedly) capable of having adult conversations of substance with one another even in the early part of the book where they are still in the enemies phase. Parker wisely sets Trix and Leo’s Great Misunderstanding with their teenaged selves, a decade in their past, where it feels appropriate. The pair overcomes the misunderstanding between them fairly early in the novel which leads to a lot of funky baseline, but also a good deal of time for the characters to unpack the actual emotional baggage still on the table. Trix is still dealing with the fallout from her emotionally abusive ex, and is experiencing anxiety attacks  about everything, but especially a new, intense relationship. While Trix is the main thrust, Leo is also dealing with putting his relationship with his sister back on an even footing and repairing his professional standing, which is how he ends up working on Trix’s show in the first place.

Parker uses her setting, the West End theater scene, to provide her a fruitful backdrop for her romances – theatre is geared up to offer drama in many forms. One of the best features of each of her books so far is the banter between the leads; Parker’s distinct skill in this arena seems to be that she knows the line for each character that cannot be crossed for the relationship she is portraying but also for her reader’s compassion for those characters. Parker is shedding light on various aspects of her characters, which layers our understanding of them, as well as the character’s understandings of each other.  Making Up has all of Parker’s trademark wit, plus empathy and incisiveness, so it automatically has a lot going for it.

Thematically Parker is working in the arena of abusive relationships. Trix is healing from an emotionally abusive relationship tht stripped her down and made her less sure of herself and less likely to pursue her dreams. The other component of the theme resides in the B plot with Leo’s sister who is a complete Pain in the Ass, to the point that I hope not to see her again in future Parker novels. It would be easy to say the book would be better without her, because the drama she brings isn’t necessary. That would be wrong.  Cat is another facet of Parker’s theme, that people can fuck up, be damaged by their relationships and their choices, not be healed, and still be worthy of love and happiness.

Once more for the people in the back: even with mistakes, even after we survive abuse, even while we struggle with our mental illnesses, or our terrible choices we are worthy and deserving of happiness, but it may not come easily and that is okay. That is what Parker is working with in this novel. She doesn’t always completely hit the nail on the head, and this book isn’t as spectacularly excellent as its predecessors, but it is quietly very, very good.

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.

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Ghostland (CBR10 #22)

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

One of the ways books find their way to me is via podcast. I listen to a few pop culture and history podcasts and usually the lovely hosts have book recommendations. This particular one comes via Dave Gonzales of Storm of Spoilers and Fighting in the War Room. His description of the book both sold me and really is a fantastic encapsulation of what the book does; “GHOSTLAND … tracks other American ‘hauntings’ and reveals how those stories are the product of racism and sexism a good 80% of the time” caught my interest immediately and went directly onto my to read list for the year.

Ghostland hovers around several interest areas of mine, and for a few years I was an active part of the dark tourism that he covers in this book (ghost tours and paranormal programming at historic sites and buildings). So, why not unpack the culture that leads to these things in the first place now that I’m safely on the other side (I had many reservations about doing these programs). There is a social undercurrent that feeds the stories we tell, and choose not to tell, and it extends as far as our ghost stories.

This book tells the story of the dead by focusing on the problems of the living; how do we deal with stories about ghosts and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed to be haunted? Colin Dickey pays attention to what can be known about the stories of a haunting story, but then also tracks the ways in which changes to the story, and sometimes even the “facts” themselves are changed. Dickey uses his personal experiences and research to tell a version of American history you may not be familiar with. Or, you might actually be familiar with it as the major weakness of Dickey’s work is that he is often telling his reader the story of some of the most famous hauntings around the states (Winchester Mystery House, anyone?), which can make for an occasional slog of a read. But, for me, it was all made worth it by Dickey unpacking the inherent racism and misogyny of the ghost stories that populate our collective conscious.

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

#stickingittocancer #onebookatatime

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (CBR10 #21)

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1)

This book is another Read Harder Challenge twofer. I don’t read a lot of comics; it’s a style of book that isn’t as natural for me as it so obviously is for others. While I was reading through this year’s tasks I saw there were two that related to comics and I knew that I would have to step out of my comfort zone (which is the entire point) to get them done.

But… it was much easier than anticipated. Either my tastes are broader than I give myself credit for or my sleuthing skills have improved over the years. I’m leaning towards the second of those. Task 18 was to read a book published by a house other than Marvel, DC, or Image. I used to listen to Thought Bubble, I know about Dark Horse, AND that they publish Star Wars books. One problem solved. Next, Task 8 was all about diversity (because really and truly #weneeddiversebooks) I needed to find a book written or illustrated by a person of color. A quick skim of the Star Wars offerings from Dark Horse Comics and a cross check of my library’s holdings, and voila I was off on my first visit to the Old Republic .

Here’s the thing I learned about myself and my Star Wars fandom while reading this: I really and truly do love the world of Star Wars, not just the characters of the original trilogy. Could this book have been improved by adding a Wookie? Of course, Chewbacca is the literal best (but he wasn’t alive yet). What I got here though, was a story of a padawan (or apprentice as his favorite antagonizer is so fond of misremembering) who was betrayed by people who were trying to take too much control of what the visions of the future might have shown them, and he must run to save his life, or perhaps stay and fight for what is right. I am always on the lookout for those who stay and fight for what is right.

The art was a bit dark for me, but it reminded me in all the best ways of the animation on Star Wars Rebels. I wish I had more substantive thoughts on this book, but perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that I am thinking about putting the next book in the series onto my stupid long to read list even though my library doesn’t have it in its holdings. Pretty high praise from me, if we’re being honest.

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.

Kindred (CBR10 #20)

Kindred

I’ve finally made my way to reviewing the #CannonBookClub selection, Kindred.  I was ecstatic that this was the one we chose. Not that I wouldn’t have happily read any of our options for this first of two anniversary reads, but Kindred has been lurking on my to read list a long time and it fulfills two of this year’s Read Harder Challenge tasks (read a genre fiction classic, read a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author).

My review is probably going to be a bit disjointed, as I wander through my thoughts and our book club discussion questions.  As I mention above, the fact that this book is categorized as science fiction works in my favor, but it never *felt* like science fiction to me. Sometimes I wonder if I have a firm grasp on the definition of the genre itself, or if Octavia Butler’s very obvious care at historical accuracy kept the science fiction of it all out of my main view. But I do know that I am not alone, Kindred gets name dropped in a Tor.com article from last year discussing whether or not time travel stories are science fiction or fantasy.

I was won over by this novel almost immediately. Dana had such a unique voice, that even before the time travelling really got underway I was invested in her. Butler also does great things with emotions in the book. Dana and Rufus’s connection, Kevin being trapped in the past without Dana created dread that pushed my reading along. I read the book in two sittings. But perhaps the most important emotional cores of the book is Alice and Dana’s tumultuous, intertwined relationship but the simplicity and clarity of the understanding that Carrie brought to her world and her relationships pulled at me the most. Carrie’s appraisal of those around her, and her ability to communicate it (especially with Nigel) brought the later chapters of the novel home for me in a way I don’t know that I can describe. So much is happening so quickly, Alice is suffering so greatly, and Carrie has become in her own way the center of the storm.

But if Carrie is the calm center, then Alice is the raging storm front. I always took it on face value that because Dana’s time travel was sparked by grave danger (her own or Rufus’s) that she was being yanked through time to maintain a timeline, as she saw it to make sure her ancestor was born. What we witness is the destruction of one soul, in order to birth another, to preserve a third. Every single choice, experience, and sacrifice carries the weight of each of them. It is heady, and causes the reader to have to side with what we know will be the destruction of Alice at Rufus’s hands. We know, implicitly, that there is no happy ending for her, but we don’t necessarily know just what her end will be, or for that matter, Rufus’s own. Butler asks her reader to consider: was it worth it? Was their suffering worth Dana’s life? Or is it simply what was?

I still don’t know, 10 days after our book club, the answers to my own queries about Octavia Butler’s work. But I do know that it’s the sign of a five star book for me when I am continuing to chew on the book days and weeks later.

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 for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

The Lawrence Brown Affair (CBR10 #19)

Image result for the lawrence browne affair

The Lawrence Browne Affair is the second in a series by Cat Sebastian. Like The Soldier’s Scoundrel, it is a historical m/m romance set in Regency England. This time around we’re following Georgie Turner, brother of Jack from The Soldier’s Scoundrel, as he is on the run from his underworld boss after having double crossed him. Jack sets him up with a job in the country as the titular Lawrence Browne’s secretary.

Georgie however finds himself a little over his head. He’s planning to hide out for a while, take something of value from the Earl, and be on his way. What he discovers is that the Earl isn’t as mad as he might appear on first glance, the neighborhood is full of eccentric characters, and a truly fascinating scientific endeavor underway. Georgie can’t help but accurately play the role of secretary, organizing the Earl’s correspondence and getting ever more involved in the research. Georgie is also ever more interested in the Earl himself.  Lawrence is, for his part, highly interested in Georgie – but also convinced that it is just one more symptom of his oncoming madness.

Things get complicated as life shows up (including Lawrence’s son – like I said: complicated), and a deep connection is built and nurtured between Lawrence and Georgie. I continue to really like how Cat Sebastian builds her stories: they are steamy, upbeat historical romances where the worlds of each character are brought to light and the characters help heal or fill in the weaknesses in their partners.

Things get much more dramatic before a final resolution, but as a return to reading after a slump this book was perfect. I laughed, I cried, I was entertained. What more can we ask for from a trip to Romancelandia?

 

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.