She Said (CBR12 #22)

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

I was telling a friend when I sat down to write this review that I was having a tough time finding my way in. When I reviewed Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill, I was able to talk about him as part of the review, since he put himself on the page as part of the writing, and that was my way in to getting my thoughts down. That book was about both the harassment and abuse of women by men in power and the efforts undertaken to stop Farrow’s reporting and the women who were speaking out. In She Said Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey document the events leading up to their reporting of the same issues, but they leave themselves off the page. I found myself struggling to find a place to start my draft.

Which, while I enjoyed the reading of Catch and Kill more, it is a strength of She Said that Twohey and Kantor are off the page. In this book we are laser-focused on the journalistic process surrounding the ways staff at the New York Times had broken down how to find the hidden proof of sexual harassment. Building off the work of other teams at the paper Kantor and Twohey focus on uncovering the paper trail of non-disclosure agreements as a way to tell the victims stories when they are under legal orders not to. What I found most impactful in this one was the exploration of the kinds of requirements that these NDAs have, how there is little to no oversight of them, and just how broken our system is when it comes to providing information that would keep people safe from harassment and abuse. It was one of those things that I knew in my bones, but not one whose details were clear to me.

Like Catch and Kill this book extends past Weinstein – this time into the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh (I was dumbfounded honestly that this was 18 months ago already) and the fight to get McDonalds to provide employees with methods to report harassment. But unlike in Farrow’s book, Twohey and Kantor bring it back around in a more holistic way, ending their book with a group meeting with many of their sources throughout the investigative work. The women share amongst themselves; they are able in perhaps previously unavailable ways to know they aren’t alone, and we are included in that conversation, and in that mindset – we aren’t alone, but there’s a hell of a long way to go.

The Ultimate Pi Day Party (CBR12 #21)

The Ultimate Pi Day Party (Baldwin Village, #1)

Apparently incoming global pandemics make concentrating on reading tough for your friendly book club maven. Other than Station Eleven I didn’t finish another book for three weeks. But now that we’re in the “ordered to stay home by my governor” phase I’ve apparently settled in and am ready to return to a semi-normal schedule. So, as the anxiety fog begins to thin, I remembered that I had intended to read and review The Ultimate Pi Day Party by Jackie Lau for Pi Day on the 14th. I missed that goal, but its still March so I’m claiming the win.

This is my first full length Lau, having previously read her novella series Holidays with the Wongs. This one reminds me most of A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas which while really good was my least favorite of the four novellas. Lau sets up her leads with emotional baggage that is relatable to the reader and also matched to each other.

Sarah has defied her mother’s hopes and moved to the big city of Toronto (it was strange to read another book namedropping the same streets as Station Eleven so soon) and opened her own pie shop, Happy as Pie, in the Baldwin Street neighborhood. The store is doing well, and she’s hoping to expand into catering and possibly a second location down the line. Into her store walks Josh, CEO of a tech company his father sees no value in and number 19 on a list of Toronto’s 35 most eligible bachelors under 35. There are sparks which must be navigated with the fact that Josh has hired Sarah to cater a party at his house. Lau handles this all so well, Sarah and Josh each have a history of not dating, each has professional goals and focuses, each has a parent they are struggling with. The parts of Pi Day that worked best for me were the parts where Sarah and Josh were being dumb about their feelings, figuring out how to maneuver wanting to be in a relationship with no practical skills other than kindness.

As I’ve mentioned before I am often dumb about my emotions, so those plots and characterizations almost always ring true for me. I enjoyed reading along as two people were dumb about their feelings, got less dumb about those feelings but at different rates, and then finally stopped being completely dumb about their feelings for each other.But that isn’t all that’s happening in this book as Lau unpacks some bigger emotional problems. In Pi Day its parental issues, specifically parents who have either intentionally or unintentionally withheld approval to their kids. Josh’s dad is the one intentionally withholding from his son following a mistake in his teenage years and its damaged him emotionally in ways he is only just beginning to reckon with. Josh’s personal history opens the book up to important conversations about consent, safe sex, and abortion. Unfortunately, I had trouble with Lau’s pacing around Josh’s backstory – I wish she had given herself some additional real estate in the time immediately before and after the titular Pi Party. Or that literally anyone had mentioned Josh’s mom to him as a counterpoint to his father. But this is still a good book, and you should be reading Lau.

Station Eleven (CBR12 #20)

This is my third reading of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It is one off my favorite books of the past few years, a book that I find to be nearly perfect. This reread was for Cannonball Read’s Book Club where we’re revisiting our first even book. It is also an extremely prescient time to be reading a book about a global pandemic, but I’m glad that Covid-19 isn’t nearly as devastating as the Georgian Flu.

What I was struck with this time through was how Mandel structured the pass-offs between characters. On my first read through I remember being thrown off by how Mandel wove the story so that she pump-faked me time and again, catching me off balance by where or when the story was going next. I loved it then, but it wasn’t the experience I had this time. Mandel doesn’t equally balance our time with characters or settings in Station Eleven, and it creates a beautiful eerie quality to the book. But its skillfully done, this time through I could see the details of each pass-off, each time she sent us down a new road, each careful construction to open the story even further, to dig in just a little deeper. The story is full of tension because you never know when you’re going to see a character again and if perhaps their storyline has reached the end, and while the last two times through that made me sad, this time it made me cherish the moments with each character just a little more.

The book is full of visual cues and references, from the items from Arthur’s (and Miranda’s) life that make their way out into the post-flu world, to the art described in the book-within-the-book Station Eleven that Miranda creates, to the beautiful descriptions of the world the characters are in, how nature takes back over, what true devastation and collapse look like, to the world that they lost, that we are very much still in.

I really love this book, and I hope you’ve read it and love it to. Don’t be afraid to read it now, but maybe check in with yourself first, just to be sure.

Ten Days a Madwoman (CBR12 #19)

Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original "Girl" Reporter, Nellie Bly

We’ve reached the first book of the year that I read expressly because it fit a Read Harder Challenge. Task number one is to read a YA non-fiction. I did not have any juvenile non-fiction on my 650 books deep to read list, so I had to go looking. Nellie Bly had recently come up at work and I realized I knew very little about the famous reporter beyond her time in Blackwell or her around the world trip so onto my library request list Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes went.

Its probably been over twenty years since I have read any YA non-fiction, but as soon as I opened the book sense memories of Reading and History classes in my middle school years came flooding back. Its somehow nice to know that the form and structure I had experienced as a youth still existed in a book published within the past four years. Noyes does as promised and tracks Nellie Bly’s life and times, using the standard interstitial asides to build out the larger world surrounding Bly at the turn of the last century. The book is also littered with primary source images and quotes, rooting the reader in the narrative.

I learned things as well, I hadn’t known that Bly spent World War I as a war reporter in Europe or that she had married a millionaire forty years her senior and took over his business after his death, or that she had done an in depth interview with Susan B. Anthony. Bly’s early life was also a mystery to me, but now I know, and knowing is a nice feeling, which is probably why I choose to do history as my profession. This one is a good one for the young readers in your life with questions about any number of things, including journalism and women’s rights.

Hearts on Hold (CBR12 #18)

Hearts on Hold: A Librarian Romance

In my many years of reading and reviewing I have paid little to no attention to Publishers. I pre-ordered Charish Reid’s newest book Hearts on Hold based on emmalita’s review of the ARC. I knew nothing else about the book, its author, or the publishing house. When I opened my nook and found that this was a Carina Press book, home of Cannonball favorite Lucy Parker, I was downright delighted.

Hearts on Hold is the story of Dr. Victoria Reese, English professor at Pembroke University and John Donovan, Children’s Librarian of the town ibrary. Their meet cute is John attending a meeting set up by his boss with Dr. Reese in order to work out an internship program for her University. There are sparks, and when Victoria starts shadowing John at the Library in order to get a handle on what would be entailed in the internship program they also decide to have themselves a sordid affair, except that they each have different definitions and expectations of that phrase.

Victoria and John are great characters existing in an interesting world. Victoria is one of a handful of black professors at her University and is constantly fighting with her Department Head for respect for herself, her female coworkers, and their courses which are not the stodgy courses preferred by the Department Head. She is also wound tighter than a top and in constant battle with her mother’s expectations and interferences in her life and dealing with hinted at but not named Anxiety. John is the sexy, long-haired, tattooed Children’s Librarian who is used to a certain amount of lowered expectations but knows the importance of his work and how to cope with his ADD. He is temporarily in custody of his niece while his sister travels to Sweden for work for two months and is having to adjust from being the fun uncle to the guardian. They each have their own network of friends and family who know them well and engage in the kinds and types of conversations that feel real, and often made me laugh along. I seriously loved John’s Moms (biological and step), their friendship, and their co-parenting of the very much adult John. They handled his broken heart the way that any adult in their late thirties would hope to be treated.  

The ways in which each carry their baggage into their burgeoning relationship shows Reid’s writing strengths. Victoria is using strict rules, schedules, and tamping down her emotions to get through the difficulties in life and as she and John become closer she is slowly letting the masks fall – partly because he recognizes that they are in fact just that. John struggles with feelings of inadequacy as he must work twice as hard often to accomplish basic, expected tasks due to his mental wiring. He is also naturally open and warm, quick with honest terms of endearment and finds himself wanting Victoria to meet him halfway, to be the mask-less version he sees when they are alone and simply be with him, no planned affair. Victoria has things she hasn’t dealt with yet and ends up hurting him, but as this is a Romance, we know that they’ll piece it back together.

Reid deftly handles this complicated web of emotions, at no point does any of the action feel ill-timed or misplaced. Character motivations are crystal clear. With any new to me romance author I had to get used to how Reid writes her sexy scenes, certain vocabulary caught me off-guard and pulled me out, but that’s just because I don’t use that terminology, but I quickly caught on to Reid’s style and enjoyed it greatly.  I hope very much that she has books planned for the side characters whose potential relationships are hinted at (Chris and Jessi especially) but whatever she writes next I’m in, and planning on going back and reading her first novel The Write Escape.

I’ll leave you with Reid discussing her own writing, “I think I said something self-deprecating about finding joy in writing stuff that wasn’t considered “high-brow.” Looking back on it, I regret being so sheepish and insecure. Love stories, if told right, can be magical and transcendent. There’s nothing “low-brow” about falling in love.”

Glass Houses (CBR12 #17)

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #13)

There is, at least for me, somewhat of a struggle on deciding how to review a book deep into a series. Glass Houses is Louise Penny’s thirteenth Inspector Gamache book, and as she publishes a new one each year the sixteenth in the series will publish in September. There is so much backstory that feeds each new novel that I can’t rightly tell you to read this one if you haven’t read its predecessors, but I can emphatically tell you that if you like murder mysteries (and sometimes other kinds of mysteries) that ruminate on the human spirit than these books are for you and go pick up Still Life at your earliest convenience.

As for Glass Houses, Penny picks up a few months after the events of A Great Reckoning with Gamache now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Quebec. The book flips back and forward in time between events in November in Three Pines and a murder trial in July. Penny continues on of my favorite components of her writing – we are treated to a glimpse into some perhaps little-known history (this time the cobrador del frac), but this time she embellishes it and creates a fictional backstory. When a cobrador comes to Three Pines it unsettles the small community and eventually a body is found. The finding itself, the location, the who, and the how, all lead Isabelle Lacoste and her team to dig a little deeper into a murder in Chief Superintendent Gamache’s town.

Penny tries on new structural elements in her writing with each book, and this time the jumping back and forth between fixed points in the timeline in order to create suspense left me feeling flat. We don’t know who died for nearly a third of the book, and we don’t know who is on trial until nearly the end. We also don’t know until the very final chapters who the larger big bad is, lurking in the background. Because, this book is also about uncovering and taking down the largest drug trafficker in Quebec who happens to be using Three Pines as one of his depots. Gamache and his Superintendents (including Beauvoir as his second in command) are playing an all out war – they have burned their ships and have one chance to succeed, but it may very well cost them their jobs, and possibly their lives.

Even though the mechanical components of the work didn’t suit me, and kept the pacing uneven I still enjoyed this book and was pulled into the story. I care very much about the inhabitants of Three Pines and the members of the Sûreté and Penny delivers on that front. I’m rounding this 3.5 book up to 4 stars.

Teach Me (CBR12 #16)

Teach Me (There's Something About Marysburg, #1)

In the gift that keeps on giving, my moving romance authors who were vocal during the RWA’s (continuing) implosion to the top of my TBR has led to some solidly stellar reading. Its always nice to remember that smart, bitchy ladies who get mouthy at oppression and racism just write better books. Olivia Dade has been coming after the gatekeepers vocally since at least early 2019 (probably longer, but I’ve only been following her on Twitter about that long) and is just seriously funny. I was sold on her as an author before ever picking up one of her books.

Teach Me seemed the perfect book to dive in with. It’s a romance about two high school history teachers in their 40s who are each carrying some deep emotional scars and are also falling for each other against at least one of their better judgement (they trade off who is thinking it is or isn’t a good idea). This book gave me the warm feeling inside of seeing yourself (or a close enough version of yourself) on page. Representation of all kinds matters and seeing a positive representation of an overweight heroine appreciated for her curves, fashion sense, and strength lit up several happy receptors in my brain.

The book sets up many places for conflict between the characters, but it also focuses heavily on the kindness each of our incredibly competent leads brings. Rose is not nice to Martin, and she isn’t expected to be. She is however considerate and kind, and he is in return. They fall for each other based on their professional abilities and the depths of their care for their students, and the fact that they find each other irresistibly attractive. This book could play Rose’s closed off way of dealing with the world for laughs, or done it with Martin’s being devalued by those who should have loved him in the past, instead it infuses those areas with a sense of honesty that makes the characters ring true. Dade instead brings the funny in other areas, in other ways, and it is all wonderfully executed. I was so very glad to have read this book when I was done.