Killers of the Flower Moon (CBR12 #51)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

American History is chock full of tales of terrible people doing terrible things protected by terrible governmental structures or terrible public servants. One of the benefits (drawbacks?) of my History degree and work in History museums is that I am not often surprised anymore with how terrible it truly all is, and I’ve got at least a passing familiarity with many of the darker chapters in our history. A few years ago when reviews of Killers of the Flower Moon started showing up on Cannonball Read I realized that it covered a corner of history I knew nothing about, something that had seemingly been completely erased from our national history based on whose story it was, so I added it to my to read list.

Killers of the Flower Moon chronicles the story of the murders that stunned the Osage nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s, right as the oil boom led to the discovery of vast oil fields under the Osage reservation. While the Osage were forced onto land parcels it in turn allowed them to lease rights for mining which made the Osage people extraordinarily rich. But, the Osage were under the maddening policies of the Dawes Act which forced assimilation tactics and custodianships that complicated the story further and made them targets of those that would abuse the system.

And then the murders started. Grann tracks the murders starting within one family and expanding into the community. Almost anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage (and possibly over a hundred before all is said and done), the newly created F.B.I. took over the case, one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually former Texas Ranger Tom White puts together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

It’s a heavy topic and David Grann does a good job of giving the facts and the narrative context to keep the events from being sensationalized but it never stops being an engaging read.

The Trouble with Hating You (CBR12 #50)

The Trouble with Hating You

The Trouble with Hating You is not your typical Romance read, even though Patel is working within and against established tropes, and I liked it better for it. This is definitely an enemies to lovers romance (the title pretty much announces it) and in it we have Liya Thakkar,  a happily single successful biochemical engineer, who has a very strained relationship with her parents and has been very clear that she is not interested in being set up with a potential spouse. The moment she realizes her parents’ most recent invitation to dinner is a setup with the man they want her to marry, she runs away and manages to run right into said man in the front yard. Said man is Jay Shah, the new lawyer hired to save her struggling company. Neither is too thrilled to see the other after that humiliating fiasco. But in order to succeed at work – her in her recent promotion, him in building his portfolio of successful cases – they are going to have interact with each other, and hopefully at least be friendly towards each other. As they spend more and more time together, and get glimpses of the other’s true selves, a deepening relationship forms. But falling for each other means exposing their painful pasts and trusting the other not to leave.

This book isn’t afraid of depth and drama, and of the dark and terrible things that many would prefer not to see on their Romance pages. There is a lot of patriarchal and misogynistic trauma in this book, experienced to different degrees by both leads. There is off-page past sexual assault of a minor, an on-page sexual encounter which becomes an assault, an off-page death of a parent, traumatic injuries, and misogyny based shunning. As the characters work through all of this there is also a lot of self-doubt and guilt, and verbal arguments that run the range from playful to hurtful. Their story does explore the idea that falling in love does not erase past traumas, but it can help you face and work through them. There is an overarching message that tragedy shouldn’t be a burden we undertake on our own, that it’s important to have a support network when you can’t fight alone, and that you don’t have to.

The Trouble with Hating You features two very lovable and complicated protagonists with satisfying characters arcs. The main characters hold off on getting into bed together until late in the narrative and then it also fades to black quickly, but there are important plot elements that make that the right choice. Liyah, in particular, is likely to rub some readers the wrong way – she is decidedly a difficult woman when we meet her. In some ways it’s a persona she has built over trauma, in other ways its honestly who she is. She’s strong and forceful and successful and it all took work and determination to make happen, but it doesn’t leave much softness. Although, we the reader see that softness in her friendships with other women. But I like difficult women, I like books that deal with realistic representations of what being a modern woman often looks like, and for those reasons (and others) this book works for me.

Rebecca (CBR12 #49)


Rebecca has been on my literary radar for over 20 years and on my to read list for 6. It has felt like a big, important work that I needed to read, if only to more easily understand some of the references that are out and about: Mrs. Danvers, the opening line of “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again”, and so on. Rebecca joined the list of books I categorized as White Whales (Daughter of Fortune, The House of the Spirits, The Lottery, and Jane Eyre also find themselves on that list).

And the mental link to Jane Eyre is important to the expectations I brought to my reading experience – some of the details of the two book had interwoven themselves in my mind and the Jane Eyre ones seemingly took precedence, as I was mighty surprised to be reading a book set in the 1930s as opposed to the 1830s. So, immediately, I was having to put aside anything I thought I knew because my own memory couldn’t be trusted as regarded this book.

Which was probably good. I was able to let myself sink into this story on its own merits and sink in really does feel like the correct descriptor. Our unnamed narrator (although her name has importance it is referenced often and deemed unique and fitting, but it is not shared with the reader, instead subsumed by the titular Rebecca who overshadows our narrator’s sense of self) is young, naïve, and more often in her own head than she is in the world around her. Through the use of the narrator, and her first-person narration specifically, du Maurier builds an emotional landscape where difficult desires run rampant, and people and even houses are mysterious and not as they seem.

The book is through and through a melodrama – there are two sunken ships, a murder, a fire, a costume party and multiple complex betrayals, if not for the quality of du Maurier’s writing style it would very easily fit in with the scripts of modern soap operas. But it is decidedly not a romantic story, Rebecca is instead about jealousy and what that emotion brings to the surface. It also has a circular structure, a closed loop, it ends with Manderley in flames, but the first two chapters are also the conclusion as our narrator paints a picture of the future awaiting the characters after the final chapters. I actually went back and read them again when I was done.

Rebecca was a bestseller when it was published in 1938 and remains popular over 80 years later. Reading this had pushed to the front of my to read list because one of the book clubs I’m in reads things as they are getting adaptations (it read Normal People in the spring) and Netflix just released their own version of this in movie form with Lily James and Armie Hammer. I was trying to get done in time and missed by a few days. I watched the movie this morning before writing this review and it was… not good, empty in a way that the book is not.

Solutions and Other Problems (CBR #48)

Solutions and Other Problems

Back when I reviewed Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half in 2014 I asserted then that she was one of the most honest writers and humorists that you were likely to come across on your bookstore shelves. Her follow up, Solutions and Other Problems supports my earlier claim and is so much better, more thoughtful than its predecessor. Each chapter contains the kind of introspection that will make you think “yup, I know that feeling”. This one isn’t as funny as Hyperbole but that matches what Brosh’s lived experience was. Although, there’s a chapter about an argument that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe. I hope I’m not the only one who reacted that way, because my god was it incisive and hysterical at the same time.

Brosh has famously been absent from the internet (at least publicly) since 2013. Solutions and Other Problems chronicles the whys and hows of that, without feeling as though we’ve been given too much access. We do get a view into her life, and more specifically her worldview, and all that’s changed and evolved since last we saw her. In some ways reading this felt like sitting down with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time and just having an in-depth rambly conversation for a few hours to get caught up, to hear their best stories, and to get back on the same page once more. And it was a lovely to do so. When I first sat to write this review I thought I’d talk more in depth about it, but as I’ve been writing I’ve decided in fact to not – to let you experience the surprises and turns and insights of this conversation for yourself. Because you absolutely should, at your earliest convenience.

The Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs (CBR12 #47)

Without regular access to interlibrary loan, the Music square on the Bingo board caused me great strife… none of the music related books I wanted to read were available at my local branches and therefore were off limits to me. Then, I stared at my bookshelf and realized I had a book about music sitting right there, in fact, it’s been living on my bookshelves for over 25 years.

I’m a Disney fan, and I find the history surrounding the company interesting (why else would I have read Disney War earlier this year?). But, my love goes back to my youth. Disney World was one of the places my family often visited on vacation, we lived in Florida anyway (which helped with ticket prices since they’ve always been high and FL residents get discounted rates) and one set of my grandparents lived within an hour of the Orlando theme park, so we were able to make stops on the trip back and forth. I also played piano.

At some point I was gifted an enormous hardcover copy of the first edition of The Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs. As the title describes it’s a songbook with over 70 song’s sheet music included. For much of my life owning this book, I used it for the sheet music and didn’t pay much attention to the frontwork. If I had, I would have been able to read up on the history of music within the Disney empire, although it is definitely written with a “company line” policy in place – never a bad word uttered about Walt or anyone else who went through the doors. The book was published in 1993, and is therefore missing some more modern classics, but what its missing is more than made up for with what it has, a stroll down musical history, lithographs of animation cells, and music.

Tikka Chance on Me (CBR12 #46)

Tikka Chance on Me

The Pandemic has stolen my ability to focus on long form works, so I went trolling through my digital library to see what I had available in the novella length, thankfully for me at some point I had downloaded Suleikha Snyder’s Tikka Chance on Me. Perfect.

I *loved* the first part of this novella. Pinky Grover is a fantastic lead – she’s a feisty, sex-positive Desi heroine that could carry a much larger work on her character’s shoulders. Snyder introduces us via Pinky to Trucker Carrigan, a regular at her parent’s restaurant where she works and the attraction is instant and a lot. Are there problems? Sure. Pinky knows he’s part of the local MC and that should disqualify him from her attractions but there’s just something about him, something under the surface, that has her jumping headlong into bed with him.

Its just a fun time watching these two flirt about Marvel comics and good food and then having steamy sex in the back of Trucker’s truck. And because we also get Trucker’s POV we know right away that Pinky is right, he’s not really in the MC, he’s undercover ATF. And that’s actually what brings this novella’s fun to a screeching halt and dropped my star rating. Pinky puts it all together for herself during their second time together, and he doesn’t deny it (and those scenes are very hot and quite well written) but the final third of the novella deals with the fallout of Trucker’s job and the separation of the pair. There’s still a bit of book left when they separate and we do get a typically happy romance ending eventually but there’s more angst here than I was hoping for based on the beginning of the novella.

All that said – still something I recommend!

The Glass Hotel (CBR12 #45)

The Glass Hotel

I don’t know, really, what I was expecting from this book and I’m also not sure that whatever those expectations were that they were met. I was able to watch an author discussion between Mandel and Isaac Fitzgerals hosted by the Greenlight bookstore in the spring when this book was released and I left that experience knowing that the book featured a Ponzi scheme and focused around the 2008 economic collapse, and that a main character died and also that estrangement of many types was a key theme. The synopsis from Goodreads also isn’t much help, check this out: Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.

Confused, right?

And that was my overall reaction to the book, I was confused about what I was reading and how I was reacting to it, and there felt like an artificial distance had been placed between the reader and the characters. I can and do appreciate that Mandel is exploring something that is not beautiful, and that the characters are often emotionally empty inside, not able to create meaning in their lives. There are characters reckoning with the reality of having the structure of their lives ripped away by a single event they could not have imagined before it occurred, and in that way it reminded me of Station Eleven as well as Mandel’s style of switching between characters.

Mandel is unpacking what wealth does, what we allow it to mean. This is also a book about accountability and personal morality, and the ways in which our guilt manifests itself. It’s a great character study, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me right now. I’m pretty sure that’s COVID’s fault, I’ve had trouble sinking into anything deeper than romance and fanfic lately, and I hope in future I’ll be able to revisit this and see if it doesn’t improve in my estimation, because the writing to be stellar, but I never really found my footing.

Spoiler Alert (CBR12 #44)

Spoiler Alert

I have been waiting for this book for months and am extremely happy to report that it does not disappoint.

This is only my second Dade book (Teach Me was also highly enjoyable), but I can already say my favorite thing about her writing is how relatable and human her characters are. The two leads in Spoiler Alert are at a point of change in their lives – and actively seeking it – and the layers of their lives that push them towards, and in some cases make them afraid of change (and to a small extent each other) are baked into the story from its inception.

Our leads are Marcus Caster-Rupp, the star of the biggest show on TV, Gods of the Gates, he’s known to fanfiction readers as Book!AeneasWouldNever.  Marcus uses his writing to vent his frustrations with his character, especially the ones that feature the internet’s favorite couple to ship, Aeneas and Lavinia. But his online alter ego is dangerous to his real life, if anyone ever made the connection he’d be fired immediately for breach of contract. April Whittier is a hardcore Lavinia fan, but she’s hidden her fanfiction and cosplay hobby for years. From the safety of a new job she decides to post her latest Lavinia creation on Twitter, her photo goes viral – and of course attracts lovely positive support and also trolls out to judge her and her appearance. One such troll tags Marcus in the thread and he decides to ask April out, both to shut up the troll but also because he finds April very attractive. Even though their first date is a disaster, Marcus quickly realizes that he wants much more from April than a one-time publicity stunt. And when he discovers she’s actually Unapologetic Lavinia Stan, his closest fandom friend, he is even more convinced of his initial reaction, and has a huge secret he needs to hide.

This story unpacks self-worth in a few ways, but one of those is not Marcus falling for April despite her size. Her body is immediately attractive to him and that point doesn’t change during the book. In fact, his steadfastness in that regard plays a crucial role in helping April to continue to unpack her dysfunctional relationship with her parents. Marcus has his own issues relating back to his dyslexia and lack of diagnosis as a kid (honestly this part made me hate his parents very, very much) and his own fraught relationship with his parents. They each also find validation and worth in their hobby of writing and during this Adjective year of 2020 I have become fanfic reader (and burgeoning writer) and in that way I was able to relate to both the characters of April and Marcus even more.

There’s so much in this story that I feel like I’m never going to be adequately able to touch on all of it. I should mention that this book is obviously inspired by the Braime ship from Game of Thrones (and there are plenty of plot points that nod if not outright stare at the HBO show) but Dade doesn’t leave it on the surface, she digs down into the details and finds meaning. The interstitials don’t all work, but the ones that are scripts from Marcus’s worst jobs often made me laugh out loud. There are portions of the back part of the book that aren’t my favorite on paper (things that could be cleared with a discussion, hidden identities, public gestures) but the way Dade approaches them, and the easy way they fall into narrative made me happy to read them.

Stacked (CBR12 #43)

Stacked (Devil's Bastards MC, #1)

There’s a special joy when your friends write and publish their first book. Last year when Aviva published Stacked and its sequel Say My Name I scooped them up and then in typical me form saved them for when I needed a boost. I should have read this one sooner, if only to join the chorus of positive reviews, but either way I’m glad to have read it now because it was just what I was looking for.

(As a note, I’m thanked in the Acknowledgements of Say My Name as I was an early reader of chapters while these works were in draft form, it has not affected my review.)

Stacked is the story of Imogene Saunders, a passionate librarian dedicated to making the small town library she’s now in charge of accessible to everyone. Whether her coworker likes it or not, and she’s decidedly against Imogene. Our meet cute takes place in sticky book bin situation, which is delightful, and Imogene’s rescuer is a very sexy biker. Imogene and Mags, her sexy biker, run into each other a few times, both when he brings his niece to the library and when he runs into Imogene at the bar, and he falls for her almost despite himself. Imogene for her part wasn’t expecting to grow closer to her leather-clad knight while fighting to turn her library renovation dream into reality.

Imogene is a fucking delight. She’s unabashedly herself, and Aviva layers in the kind of details that make her feel real, but don’t push too far into caricature. We’re also given details of some of Mags angst, specifically relating to his sister and niece, and Imogene gets him to think more critically about his opinions and assumptions, but are left with questions about his role in the MC. Which, for me, was perfectly fine.

Aviva published two books in this series last year, and this year announced  she would not be continuing with it, the way the MC made its money had painted her into a corner – there was no way to authentically write badass feminist characters falling for these men in future works, and it was proving difficult to justify redemption arcs or HEAs. I deeply respect her choice to walk away from this, acknowledge the errors that made that the best decision (her latest book Hot Rabbi is already out and I am VERY excited about it). All that said, you can read this book without the black cloud of what the MC is up to ruining it, its enough on the periphery of this book, and I suggest you do.

The Governess Affair (CBR12 #42)

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan

For my Bingo Gateway Square, I decided on a personal Gateway and one that I would recommend to others. The Governess Affair was my on ramp into the writing of Courtney Milan (and her near perfect Brothers Sinister series) and it’s been a love affair for the past six years. As for others, this lovely little novella is good for a general introduction to romance and romance novellas specifically.

I struggle often with reading novellas or short stories – too often for my liking the story feels like it ends before the narrative should, or worse, is left thin. Neither of those things happen in The Governess Affair. In this crisp hundred-page novella we get the story of Serena Barton, the titular governess who finds herself put out from her job after a run-in with the Duke of Clermont. She decides to take her revenge by quietly sitting in front of his residence until her demands are met… the problem being that it falls to the Duke’s man of business, one Mr. Hugo Marshall, to see that she is on her way so that the Duke can win back his bride, her fortune, and Mr. Marshall’s wages to boot.

It’s not an uncommon historical romance set up, but what makes this one stand out in my memory over the years is the depth to which the characters are developed. The best books I read feature the most well drawn characters and Milan crafts three dimensional characters who exist in a world you are easily able to understand over and over again in her oeuvre. As a bonus her protagonists are beautifully self-aware, which is just down right refreshing.