The Lawrence Brown Affair (CBR10 #19)

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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.

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No Matter the Wreckage (CBR10 #18)

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I struggle with poetry. Reading it never has the same effect as listening to it, even when I read it aloud to myself. But, since April is National Poetry Month I thought I’d give it another shot. In an example of past me having current me’s back, one of the books I picked out for last year’s Read Harder challenge that I never got to was No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay and it is a book of poems. I don’t know how I either a) hadn’t noticed or b) forgot that it was, because I was downright surprised when I was going through my shelves prepping April’s reading list to discover that I could knock off two birds with one slim volume.

The other bit of good fortune? I was already familiar with Sarah Kay’s work and didn’t know. I had seen her spoken word performances over the years and loved them. Spoken word is really much more my speed, so reading a collection based out of that practice made these poems so much more accessible to me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. There’s something to the freeform nature of her work, of the way in which it is subject driven, a lot like Neruda’s Odes to Opposites, which helped my brain hold on.

Not that every poem in the collection is a knockout for me. I did dog ear (it’s my copy I purchased from an independent publisher, I can do what I want!) a few poems to come back to because they hit me in my feels. I don’t know that I’m doing a great job of selling you on this book, but in his pre-Hamilton days Lin-Manuel Miranda gave her a pull quote for the back cover (!) which reads in part “In this collection she will give you moments so intimate and beautifully rendered you will come to know them as your own.”

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Not bad at all for a fellow I.B. kid.

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.

Missoula (CBR10 #17)

Rape culture is real.

But that doesn’t make me want to face it any more than I already have to in my life. I have had this book on my to read list since it was published in 2015.However I didn’t read it then, instead I picked up Into Thin Air to get a taste of Krakauer’s style before jumping into the deep end so to speak.  I have comments across many Cannonball Read reviews of this book saying that I’m going to tackle it in the coming months, and each time I found an excuse to put if off a few more months, until three years elapsed and I could no longer justify to myself not picking up Missoula.

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Research shows that the vast majority of rapes will be committed by someone who is known to the victim, and likely someone they trust. On top of that, the person will be trusted because there is no single, reliable way to identify a rapist until they have committed an act of sexual violence. Rapists generally have no sense that their actions do in fact qualify them as a rapist and imagine some other, larger, scarier boogeyman – some “other”- as the true danger without realizing that the behavior they accept as “normal” based on our culture is in fact, not. Our society raises sexually aggressive men and shrouds them in the cover of “boys will be boys”.

In Missoula, Jon Krakauer follows several rape victims and recounts their stories from rape to prosecution in order to illustrate how our justice and educational systems are broken, and how it is affecting rape victims, their families, and ultimately, perpetuating a culture that shelters the rapists, who statistically will almost all go on to assault again. It is upsetting*, rage-inducing stuff. It is also important reading.

*I do not suggest this book for someone who has experienced sexual trauma or is suffering from PTSD. I do suggest it for absolutely everyone else.

Krakauer is an astounding writer; he brings a non-biased accounting that leaves no doubt as to the severe, life-altering consequences for the victims as they pursue their quests for justice. Meticulous research serves as the backbone of this book and Krakauer’s forthright style is the perfect fit for examining the testimony and transcripts that make up the evidence in the highlighted cases. Krakauer does very little editorializing, because the documents speak for themselves. Importantly he chose Missoula because there was a paper trail he could base the book on and held himself to a three person corroboration threshold for including things in the book. There is so much more that didn’t make the book because he didn’t have the third person, and didn’t feel comfortable reporting without it.

Here is the new thing I learned, the thing I did not properly understand and that leaves me infuriated (not that most of the information in this book didn’t leave me infuriated and necessitate that I take a step away from the book every so often) is that across this country prosecutors are declining to prosecute cases referred to them by police departments in staggering numbers. In Missoula during the window in which they were being investigated by the Department of Justice, January 2008 to April 2012, 114 reports of sexual assault of adult women were referred by the Missoula Police Department to the Missoula County Attorney’s office. Of those only 14 were filed by the County Attorney for prosecution. FOURTEEN. The police found probable cause to pursue a case following an investigation for 114 cases and the County Attorney’s office agreed approximately 12% of the time. Twelve percent. The DOJ found 350 reported sexual assaults from January 2008 to May 2012, and the 236 were not referred not because they were found to be false or specious, but rather the vast, vast majority were not pursued because there was too little evidence for the police to determine probable cause. Taken at that level only 4% of all sexual assaults even made it to court.

The story of Missoula is in many ways the story of the average American city, its stats line up with the national average, and all of that should upset us greatly. I don’t know exactly how to end this review, as I am well and truly in my emotions about this book. Perhaps that is the best response I can give it at this time.

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.

A Week to be Wicked (CBR10 #16)

Another week, another Tessa Dare book review.

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As I mentioned last review of The Duchess Deal, I love Tessa Dare books so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that I went ahead and picked up where I left off with A Week to be Wicked once I retrieved it. My quick review of this one is another five star Dare outing, these two back to back really highlight the parts of Dare’s craft that make these the fun, enjoyable, and downright witty reads I’ve come to hope for from her.

To me, Dare’s writing breaks down into a pretty clear set of standards:

  1. Independent lady making her way in the world
  2. More often than not a Marriage of Convenience plot
  3. Smolder and steamy sexy times
  4. Sincere emotion on display
  5. Wounded Hero, either physically or emotionally, who is smitten with the heroine.
  6. Interesting, but not overtaking, side characters
  7. Comedy/quirkiness/whimsy in some regard. Dare is not afraid of humor.

And with all of that we have a sincerely winning combination of components.

In this, the second book in the Spindle Cove series, Dare gives us one of my favorite of her leading ladies, Minerva Highwood. Minerva is the intelligent catch as an early geologist who is determined to make it to a Geological Symposium in Edinburgh to present her findings. Colin is the middling good at everything one, and obviously not as intelligent as Minerva (and the best part is that he knows it, and relishes in her brilliant mind). It’s energizing to read a romance where the man is not some infallible savior come into rescue the heroine- Colin gives it his best, but as he brings up time and again his best intentions go to hell and he doesn’t always manage to do what he says he will. As the reader, we watch a relationship grow, not just a physical attraction (not that it is lacking) and it feels much more realistic and emotionally satisfying than other romances often are.

I’m all about Tessa Dare lately, and for good reason. One word of caution though, Dare writes what I lovingly refer to as Historical Fantasy Romance. There is *some* historically accurate threads that Dare uses to weave her tapestry, but they are very thin and often bent to suit her wants.

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 Duchess Deal (CBR10 #15)

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I did some traveling over the Easter holiday weekend and left the Tessa Dare book I was reading the week before at Ale’s house post snow storm. Not a problem – I have a nook full of other books in need of reading so I went ahead and pulled up another Dare, The Duchess Deal.

I had this one lined up and ready to go for two reasons: 1. I really love Tessa Dare books, and 2. this was nearly universally claimed as one of the few highlights of the 2017 publishing year for Romance by our Cannonball Romance Readers. So of course I purchased it immediately. The only drawback? I have a few months to wait until the next in the series, this terrible waiting is why I normally don’t start a series until later in the publishing order.

So what makes this one so good? Dare’s cleverness in wordplay and character development without some of her worst over the top tropes (no strange pets, just a regular old cat named Britches), a truly sardonic wit, and a bit of poking at modern social commentary right down to the use of the “she was warned…” speech which has inspired so many of us to adopt “nevertheless, she persisted” as our own battle cry.

The elevator pitch of this book is right in line with classic Dare: a disfigured Duke (literally half of his body covered in terrible scars from an explosion) needs an heir so he proposes marriage to the first convenient woman to meet his requirements (which are quite low), and the seamstress who was to have sewn his former fiancé’s wedding gown and is demanding payment marches in and takes his money but refuses his proposal. We are off to the races for a marriage of convenience plot (with ridiculous rules!) with a truly forbidding hero and plucky heroine.

I know I haven’t said much, but if Dare has ever done it for you, this book will probably hit all the right notes for you. Only four more months until the next one is published…

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.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (CBR10 #14)

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I was floored by this book. I’m glad that I was able to sit and read it over the course of one day, to really sink into it and give it my full attention. Yesterday my region was hit by our fourth nor’easter of the month (seriously, I’m ready for second winter and March to find the exit) and since my job often makes us come into work in terrible weather conditions, and I live in a pretty inaccessible place, I spend most snow days staying in the guest room of the lovely Ale and her husband. Bonus for me was that I had a true crime book to read about a serial rapist and murderer who has not been caught and I was going to spend daylight hours with people, one of whom is a police officer. Huzzah!

I like true crime, but I usually get my fix via television or podcasts. I did a quick search of my books for the past few years and it looks like I’ve only read one since I started Cannonball Read – The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse. That book, and my enjoyment of it, has a lot in common with I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Michelle McNamara took her obsession with the Golden State Killer and made it accessible to the rest of us, in beautifully crisp chapters built on her exquisite prose. Her writing is chock full of detail, but it never feels overwhelming . McNamara crafts the world of the Golden State Killer, and finds the balance between the facts of the case and making meaning from them. The writing is never lurid, but it doesn’t flinch from the truth of the crimes committed. But most of all the entire book I infused with a sense of curiosity, of wanting to know the truth, the answer.

I imagine that Ms. McNamara would have been a great conversationalist, but not necessarily in the way we generally use that term. We usually mean that someone is great at talking about anything, but my favorite kind of conversationalist is someone who is able to weave together several topics to elucidate a larger concept. The raconteurs.  Michelle McNamara was one of those people, and her posthumously published book introduces us to a fantastic writer with an enormous gift for research who was taken from us too soon.

I’m not the most likely candidate for this book: I never read Ms. McNamara’s website, True Crime Diary, and I’m not overly familiar with the Golden State Killer or any other monikered killers.  I did read Ms. McNamara’s article “In the Footsteps of a Killer” for L.A. Magazine, but my memory of it is vague.  I was concerned before I started this book that the unsolved nature of the crimes would leave me feeling empty, or depressed, and while the very nature of GSK’s crimes (over 50 rapes and 10 rather gruesome murders) did affect me greatly McNamara structured her narrative in a way where the not knowing isn’t a detractor it is instead just another facet of the story.

My big take aways from this one? People don’t call the police enough for legitimate issues and we are living during the great changing of the tide for cold cases. May the officers on the case and the amateur sleuths aiding them be successful, and may the victims have healing.

Five unapologetic stars for a book that made me feel why introducing me to a lovely person and a truly terrible one, and all the ones in between.

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

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.

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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.