TBR Challenge: The Wrong Man, by Delaney Diamond

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is contemporary romance. I figured it was time for a diverse read. I’m pretty sure Delaney Diamond’s The Wrong Man, which is both cross-class and inter-racial romance, was in my TBR because Ridley recommended it. Plus, it’s fairly short and I’m in the middle of end-of-term grading.

I really liked the premise of: Talia is African-American, an upper-middle-class, career-focused, recently divorced woman, raised by a grandmother who insisted on perfection and whose ex describes her as cold. She wears heels to Home Depot. Tomas is a construction foreman, Cuban immigrant, and–well, if this were a Regency, he’d be a rake. He’s The Wrong Man for Talia. Sure, this is a cliché, like so many romance set-ups (earthy man rocks uptight woman’s world and shows her how to live, or vice versa), but when it’s done well it’s one I enjoy. This set-up reminded me a bit of the movie Something New.

The Wrong Man is about 150 pages and my feelings were: first 50 pages, pretty good!; second 50, too much sex in proportion to everything else; final 50, big conflicts resolved too quickly, and with a plot twist I hate. (I will spoil it later). Talia and Tomas know each other through mutual friends; they’ve always liked sparring with each other, now she’s single, and you know what comes next, despite their initial resistance. The middle used sex as a short-cut for their growing intimacy. The sex scenes were well-written and I enjoyed reading them. But what about the rest of their lives? Talia is supposedly dedicated to her career, yet she and Tomas never talk about it. The main scene set at her work is when Tomas lures her into stairwell sex, making her late for a meeting with her boss. This made me a) see Talia’s character as inconsistent and b) see her as a fool. Then in the last third all the looming tensions over their class differences and different life goals (country boy who wants a family, city girl who chose career ahead of kids), not to mention the way Talia can’t stand up to her grandmother, blow up big and are resolved too quickly. (I did like that race and culture differences were never seen as problems, except maybe by Talia’s grandmother.)

OK, about that spoiler. Stop here if you don’t want to read it.

Continue reading

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Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf

“I just want to live simply and pay attention to what’s happening each day.”

These words, spoken by Louis Rivers in Kent Haruf’s final novel, could be the book’s epigraph. Although it starts with kind of a wild premise (like, romance-novel fake-engagement level of wild) this is a quiet book that pays attention to daily life. On the surface nothing much happens, and yet everything that matters happens. Our Souls at Night is one of the most moving books I’ve read in ages. I can’t really explain how such a short, simple book achieved such profound effects. Continue reading

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My Year in Reading: First Quarter

The Biggest Difference in 2016 So Far:

Podcasts have replaced a lot of my audiobook time, which is likely to substantially decrease the total number of books I “read.” So far in 2016, I’ve finished one audiobook (Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary). While I’ve also listened to about 30 hours of Robert Caro’s massive Lyndon Johnson bio, that’s still way down from last year. I’m likely to read a lot less non-fiction, in particular, at this rate, so I’m kind of hoping my podcast obsession will taper off soon.

Results of My TBR-Only Experiment:

At the start of the year, I decided to read only from my TBR and library books I already had on hold for January, and then when I realized how early Lent started this year, I extended it until Easter. The upshot? Continue reading

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Recent Reading: Sheep, Goats, and Water Buffalo

I’ve been having good reading luck lately. Each of these books deserves a longer post, but short takes are all I’ve got in me.

Voyage of the Sable Venus, by Robin Coste Lewis

If you loved/admired/were gut punched by Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, check out this 2015 National Book Award poetry winner, which also takes as a central theme the cultural attitudes to and experience of living in black female bodies. If you found the unusual form of Rankine’s work off-putting, Lewis’ more conventional poetic structures might be easier to get on with. Not that these are easy poems. One of the things I’ve appreciated about my project of reading more poetry is the way poetry frustrates my drive to master the text and forces me to live with “not getting it.” That might be particularly appropriate with this collection. What would it mean for a white reader to “master” poems on this subject? Continue reading

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TBR Challenge: Good Time Bad Boy, by Sonya Clark

The March TBR Challenge theme is “Recommended Read,” and since I’d just had good luck with a contemporary romance, I chose another. Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark was recommended both to me and in general by some of my most trusted genre recommenders. And my trust is not misplaced: I loved this book! I’m tempted to just say “go read Sunita’s review, I totally agree,” but the book deserves more than that.

The titular Good Time Bad Boy is Wade Sheppard, a washed up country music star. Returning to his hometown after being fired from yet another crappy casino gig because he was drunk on stage, Wade meets Daisy McNeil, a college student 15 years his junior (she’s 26, he’s 41) who waitresses at the bar where he got his start.

They don’t meet cute. He’s drunk and makes a pass at her. When she turns him down, he smacks her ass; she calls him out for sexual harassment and gets fired by her boss’s idiot grandson. How can a guy come back from that to be a romance hero? I loved that Wade’s behavior is named for what it is by the heroine, and by Wade himself when he sobers up. We, and he, understand how he became a person who behaves that way, but we aren’t asked to excuse him because he’s a romance hero: “[S]he damn sure wasn’t going to let the guy harass her just because he happened to be good looking,” Daisy thinks. Wade gets Daisy her job back by agreeing to play weekends at the Rocky Top all summer while he tries to figure out what to do with his life. Continue reading

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