All That Man Is, by David Szalay

Another Man Booker shortlist read. I may not get the whole longlist read, but I should be able to read the other half of the shortlist before the winner is announced. I need to start finishing books further ahead of the library deadline so that I can review them properly with quotes and everything! This is an improper review, then. Continue reading

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TBR Challenge: In Milady’s Chamber by Sheri Cobb South

I am really distinguishing myself for this month’s TBR Challenge. First I thought I wouldn’t make it at all, what with piles of library books to stay on top of. But I accidentally backed into reading an Insomnia Relief Aid (the theme was open this month) and then remembered at the last minute to write it up, so here we go.

“Insomnia Relief Aid” sounds much meaner than my assessment of Sheri Cobb South’s In Milady’s Chamber actually is. I don’t mean it bored me to sleep. One night recently I had that kind of insomnia where my mind wouldn’t get off a hamster wheel of anxiety and overwrought feelings. Finally I gave up and got out of bed, and I was looking for a book that would engage me enough to distract me from my troubles but not grip me so much that I resisted going back to sleep once I felt better. And this book was perfect for that. It helped me calm down and after an hour or so of reading I successfully went to sleep. Eventually I picked it up again to finish but I didn’t feel compelled to do so.  Continue reading

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The Hating Game, by Sally Thorne

Needing a break from my struggles with the Man Booker longlist–profitable and sometimes pleasurable struggles, yes, but struggles nonetheless–I picked up the much buzzed about romance début by Sally Thorne, The Hating Game. (The publisher labels it a “workplace comedy” but it’s 100% trope-tastic enemies-to-lovers workplace romance, as the blurbers on their site confirm).

The plot is really simple: Lucy and Josh are the assistants for the duelling co-CEOs of Bexley and Gamin, a publisher that resulted from the merger of two very different firms. Lucy and Josh hate each other, until they don’t. But they’re up for the same promotion, so how can they fall in love? It’s all quite predictable, but who cares, because the familiar story is told with verve and great charm.

I enjoyed Lucy’s chick-lit inflected first-person narration and though the humor stayed on the right side of the line of heroine (or hero) humiliation, something that’s often a problem for me with this kind of book. Lucy gives Josh as good as she gets, and that equality is part of why they fall for each other. There’s great sexual tension (and eventually some pretty hot sex). Aside from that last bit, The Hating Game reminded me, in tone and sensibility, or some of my favorite Harlequin authors like Jessica Hart and Mira Lyn Kelly. I think part of the reason books like this get so much buzz is that people want more humor and charm; there’s not a lot like this in single-title, in my experience, but there are plenty of category romances along these lines.

But (it’s me, you knew there was a but, didn’t you?). I did have some quibbles. And since the book has gotten so much love, that’s what I’m going to focus on. Keep in mind, though, that I mostly found this delightful and if this sounds like the kind of thing you like, I recommend it. With reservations: Continue reading

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Story-telling and Trauma

I got bogged down in my Man Booker reading thanks to a back-to-school season that included delivering our son to his first year of university. Still, I have now read 6 of the 13 longlisted books so can have some opinion of the shortlist announced on Tuesday. And I should have read more before the winner is announced.

My latest Booker book was Hystopia by David Means. I struggled to get in to this one, and I’m not entirely sure if it was the book or me–or perhaps a combination; it’s an alternate history, and it was hard to read in the short bursts I had available, because I never felt oriented in its world. But it is also kind of messy; this review pretty much reflects my assessment. It’s a book with a lot of interesting ideas and good qualities that never really drew me in.

It’s tempting to call Hystopia “experimental” but actually, it uses one of the oldest tricks in the novel’s book: the main story is a found manuscript, a novel by a Vietnam vet named Eugene Allen, and it’s framed by an apparatus of editor’s notes explaining how the novel differs from reality and interviews with the fictional author’s friends and family. What’s weird about this is that both the frame and the main story are alternate histories–Allen’s real world is not our world any more than the world of his novel is. (I use “weird” loosely. I was reading this while following US election news and listening to Jane Mayer’s Dark Moneyand really, truth is almost as strange as Means’ or Allen’s fiction). Continue reading

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Summer Reading List

I’m going to stop pretending I’ll find make time to catch up on my blogging and try to reboot for fall instead. Here’s a bunch of stuff I read and listened to this summer, which I’d be happy to chat about in the comments.

I finally finished Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings, the first of the Lymond chronicles. I think I would have loved it if I’d read it earlier. Instead, I really liked it but felt Lymond was a little too designed to be fallen in love with. Many other characters were more interesting, including lots of women. My tweet about trying to make it through this vacation–this was my third try–got picked up by the Dunnett society and I got advice from several strangers on how I “just had to make it to X point.” This made me laugh, because I had previously passed all those points (except the guy who told me it really takes off in Book 2!) and still didn’t finish. What I decided is that a) print helped because I could easily flip back and forth if I got confused/to look at the character list, and b) my problem in the past was not finishing while I was on vacation. It’s a dense book that I needed time to get immersed in, not one you can pick up and read for 15 minute stretches; when I got home, I stalled out until I consciously set aside longer chunks of reading time.  Continue reading

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