It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) (CBR12 #6)

It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)

Other than knowing I had initially picked this book out to be my Far and Away CBR Bingo square I have no idea how this book got on my radar. I didn’t read this before Bingo ended, so this book has been hanging around my house since late October (thanks library extensions!) waiting for me to get to it. Its due back in two days, so now is the time.

Since this was my Far and Away square it was picked because its so different from my own life experience. Nora McInerny and I are the same age and are both Irish Catholic but that is where the similarities end. It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) is McInerny’s memoir about the worst imaginable six weeks where she lost a pregnancy and both her father and husband died after battling cancers. Its an unimaginable amount of grief, compounded by the fact that Aaron Purmort’s brain tumor haunted their entire marriage.

The book is a series of essays brought together under the umbrella of McInerny’s beginning to process her losses. She tells the story of her childhood, of deciding to marry and have a family with Aaron knowing that they were doing it against a clock, and what the first few months after November 2014 looked and felt like. I’ve never been married, I don’t have children nor have I ever been pregnant, but I have lost loved ones and battled grief and there were passages in this book that resonated as true deep in me, ones that brought me to tears, and also ones that made me laugh – the contents live up to the title.

A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year (CBR12 #5)

A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year (Holidays with the Wongs, #3)

I continue to love the conceit of these novellas; there are four Wong children, all unattached, and their parents and grandparents hatch a plan to set them up with potential partners at Canadian Thanksgiving based on the tropes in the romance novels that their mother and grandmother read. The initial matches go terribly, but as the holidays progress each Wong sibling finds love in different romantic tropey ways. For A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year Lau combined the friends to lovers and fake relationship tropes for the third Wong sibling Zach’s book.

In A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year Zach is afraid of a repeat performance from Thanksgiving and now that his two brothers are in relationships he knows he is the likely target for a second try at blind date setups (I appreciate how Lau makes this his fear, not the plans his mom and grandmother have). To keep that from happening he approaches his friend Jo with a favor – would she be willing to pretend to be his girlfriend for a few weeks to keep the pressure off from his family. The both live in Mosquito Bay and have a friendship built on broken engagements and hobbies, so Zach thinks this is safe for both of them. What he doesn’t know if that Jo has secretly been falling for him for the past two years of their four-year friendship and that he has some feelings for her that he is being dumb about.

As emmalita said in her review of the ARC people “will be dumb about their feelings” and as someone who is often dumb about her feelings 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. Like in Second Chance the obstacle is resolved much closer to the ending, which makes sense for a novella clocking it at 90 pages, but still left me a smidge unsatisfied so I’m rating this one 3.5. That said, this still had what I’m looking for in a romance at the end of the day – to care about the characters and enjoy spending time with them which I’m continuing to discover is Lau’s gift.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing (CBR11 #64)

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

I don’t read all that much alternative history, so it took a bit of digging through my to read list in order to find something to read for Read Harder’s Task 2. But, sure enough I had one and while I let it sit to very late (although not the latest on my to read list for this year’s challenges) it was an enjoyable, if slightly unexpected, read.

For plot summary purposes I’m going to borrow from Goodreads, since I’m not sure I could do it more succinctly:

“Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world. Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.”

For the first 65 pages of this one confused as to some of the mechanics of Johnston’s story. The chapters are broken up with interstitial tidbits that after that mark do a great job expanding the universe of the story and layering in details that help build the narrative but up to that point are hinting at a hidden plot point but instead confuses matters. Once Johnston gets out of her own way there (really, if she had saved the text message chats for slightly later or broken them up with the more world building stuff it would have been better) things progress well. The next 200 pages go great, characters are well developed, the world continues to solidify, and Johnston very deliberately plots out an incredibly diverse and inclusive world. And then… the final 60 or so pages wrap up too quickly. It’s a bit of a spoiler to discuss what about the ending didn’t work for me so if you keep reading it’s on you…

…. seriously…

… I am on board with the polyamorous relationship as the solution to these characters wants and responsibilities. What I wanted to hit my head against the table about was the combined choice of not laying in more track for August’s attraction to Margaret or giving August more hesitation about the proposal being made to him by Helena and Margaret. We see on page why this marriage and court position work for the women, and why they would concoct it, but we aren’t given enough of August’s inner choice about becoming the prince consort.

With all that I’m still rounding this up to four stars, because what Johnston gets right, she gets very right. I would love more books in this universe, and I’m even more interested in her other works than I was before.

The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories (CBR11 #63)

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

While I like to think of myself as generally well-read there are definite gaps in the more classic authors of certain genres. Authors I enjoy, including Neil Gaiman, have pointed to Angela Carter as an immense influence on their own work. Thankfully someone had gifted The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories to me a few years ago. The stories in the collection share a theme of being closely based upon fairytales or folk tales and Carter toys with Gothic fiction and gender, utilizing classic Gothic symbolism to push the narrative forward. These short stories emphasize terror and the gruesome, in order to build an atmosphere, while also working to flip certain gendered tropes on their heads. My quick assessment is: sometimes it worked too well and I didn’t care to continue.

A bit of digging around tells me that Carter’s fairy tale retellings are well known for being feminist. And I have to admit that while the stories didn’t always feel modern forty years after their initial publication, that doesn’t mean that Carter wasn’t doing important work that pushes us to work like Her Body & Other Parties. Carter’s feminism is tinged with wanting women to seize what they needed—power, freedom, sex—and seeing no fundamental difference between the sexes that could prevent that. In The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories Carter examines the traditional stories we tell through that lens, but it can mean that her female characters fall flat, or feel a bit one dimensional – she doesn’t allow her heroines much softness or weakness.

I find myself simultaneously running hot and cold with this collection. I appreciate the duality of Carter’s Beauty and the Beast retellings, “The Tiger’s Bride”  and “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon”, wherein she gives us the original ending where the beast transforms and also a reversal as the heroine transforms into a glorious tiger who is the proper mate to the Beast, who will from now on be true to his own nature and not disguise himself as a human. I can also trace the Gothic symbolism latent in “The Bloody Chamber,” as emphasis is placed on images of the ominous castle, the blood on the key, or a blood-red choker awarded the heroine as a wedding gift foreshadowing the story to come. However, I found the story itself dreadfully boring.

Carter doesn’t seem to have cared much about character development or plot, and instead focuses on emotion and creating images in the reader’s mind. Her technique and craft support her ability to do just that, leave sentences burned on the mind, so while this isn’t for me at the end of the day I was happy to pass it along to another friend whom I think might enjoy it much more.  

A Match Made for Thanksgiving & A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas (CBR11 #61-62)

A Match Made for Thanksgiving (Holidays with the Wongs, #1)

We’ve reached the time of year where I usually plow through a couple holiday romance novellas while traveling and wind up my Cannonball year. I’ve read two such novellas (and have emmalita to thank for getting them on my radar) and I couldn’t be happier about it. It has also added a new to me author to my buy list so thank goodness I just got a gift card for books in my work Secret Santa!

A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas (Holidays with the Wongs, #2)

A Match Made for Thanksgiving and A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas are the first two books in Jackie Lau’s Holidays with the Wongs series. I love the conceit of these novellas; there are four Wong children, all unattached, and their parents and grandparents hatch a plan to set them up with potential partners at (Canadian) Thanksgiving. Lau is writing the types of books she (and I) wants to see – holiday romances featuring people of color. I’ve read several romances featuring people of color this year and was happy to add two more to the list, specifically to check off my unofficial holiday tradition.

Of the two I preferred A Match Made for Thanksgiving over A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas, but both were very solid novellas. In Match we are with Nick Wong, fancypants advertising executive and Lily Tseng who is looking to try new things coming out of a period of complacency in her life. One of those new things is a one-night stand with Nick, whom she runs into the next weekend at his family’s Thanksgiving as the blind date of his older brother Greg.  In what is really a masterstroke of plotting Lau has Mrs. Wong and Ah Ma set up the blind dates based on romance novel tropes and then goes ahead and unpacks different tropes then what the “match” had been. I hooted with laughter when Ah Ma explained their reasoning to the table of Wongs and their blind dates.

What I liked best about Match is that the “obstacle” in the way of this relationship was hurdled early which gave us a chance to see the pair grow past it and into a functional relationship which showed growth for both parties.  Which is probably why I liked Second Chance a little less, as the obstacle is resolved much closer to the ending. We get Lau playing with the second chance (its right there in the title) and one bed tropes in this one and those also aren’t really my favorites but Lau did manage to make me care if Greg managed to rekindle in Tasha the feelings they had for each other fifteen years ago and possibly try again, and that’s what I’m looking for in a romance at the end of the day – to care.

Up next is A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year which is being published in two weeks (and already on my CBR12 list) and a novella set for Valentines Day featuring the sole Wong sister. I’m looking forward to both immensely.

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia (CBR11 #60)

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

I definitely only picked this up because I was a recommended selection for Read Women challenge task 4 – read a book about or set in Appalachia. I was hoping to find something fictional, but here we are. Elizabeth Catte’s What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is written as a rebuttal to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a book I have not read and have no intention of reading. Watching from the cheap seats I’ve seen Elegy get pulled apart as Vance’s inconsistencies and frankly racist sources get exposed. While it is certainly a memoir, it isn’t a reliable history.

Which brings me to my only major detraction when it comes to What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Catte wrote this riled up in the immediate aftermath of her home territory getting labelled “Trump Country”. Catte refutes Vance and his warped picture of Appalachia (which it should be noted is not a new warped view, it’s the same old same old that was used to get affluent whites to care about poverty in the 1930s and later and edges into eugenics) by bringing in a more well rounded account of modern Appalachia. But that doesn’t prevent her from running over to polemic instead of social history on occasion. Catte doesn’t pretend that the negative parts of Appalachia don’t exist, she instead unpacks all the ways that those negative aspects have been oversold and used to erase the other more multicultural and middle-class stories that exist.

This is a good, dense, read and the bibliography alone is worth a look. The U.S. is a big, complex place and the overarching narratives of our regions need to be unpacked and this book certainly does that.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One (CBR11 #59)

The Princess Saves Herself in This One (Women Are Some Kind of Magic, #1)

In my review of Crimes of the Heart I took a potshot at Poetry as a genre, mostly because it has had a high barrier of entry to me in the past (graphic novels/comics has been my other major hurdle) but in fairness I have gotten better at finding poetry that works for me in at least part due to all the reading challenges I do that require poetry. In 2018 I read two collections I quite enjoyed, No Matter the Wreckage and Depression & Other Magic Tricks. I’m happy to add Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in This One to the list of contemporary poetry collections that really work for me.

Lovelace’s work shares being subject driven with Kay’s No Matter the Wreckage, this is Lovelace’s personal history writ large in a slim volume. It is also quite like Benaim’s Depression & Other Magic Tricks I felt seen, I felt that the person writing these poems experienced the world in a way recognizable to me.  I’m finding that poetry that shows the author processing themselves and putting what they find back out into the universe so we can know that we aren’t alone is the stuff that really works for me.

The biggest things structurally that work for me in her work is the way she plays with mechanics. Like Katsings said in her review, Lovelace’s work is sometimes reminiscent of e .e. cummings, another favorite of mine. The writing is often sparse, but in a beautiful way that helps you sink into your own mental reactions. There were so many lines and phrases that I loved as I went through that I had trouble keeping track to decide which to include. This collection also contains my favorite poem that I’ve found in the wild over the past couple years and I had no idea. This book and I were meant to cross paths.

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