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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Private Politics, by Emma Barry

It’s been a while since I posted, and that’s because for a couple of weeks most of my reading was student papers. But now, I have finished a book! A romance novel, even. I liked the first book in Emma Barry’s Washington, D.C.-set “Easy Part” series, Special Interests, but I’m reading so little romance these days that it took me a year or so to get around to book 2, Private Politics. [ETA: I am friendly with Emma Barry on Twitter. I forgot my disclosure!]

I’m lazy and I have a cold, so here’s the blurb from the author’s website and some bullet points:

New York socialite Alyse Philips is not the airhead people take her for-she’s great at convincing D.C.’s rich and powerful to open their wallets. Never one to coast on her family’s connections, her real dream is to help charities in a bigger way. Before she can pursue her ambitions, she discovers a money-laundering scandal that’s got her signature all over it. If Alyse can’t clear her name, she’ll never work in nonprofits again.

Political blogger Liam Nussbaum has been pining after Alyse for six months, certain she’d never go for a quiet guy like him. Helping her with the investigation is a no-brainer. But going up against a seedy network of money and influence isn’t just a romantic opportunity or a chance to grab the headline that will take him into the big time-it’s a gamble that could destroy his blog’s reputation.

As Liam and Alyse dig deeper, their hearts collide alongside their ambition. Will they choose love or politics? Because in Washington, everything comes at a price.

  • Barry recently wrote a blog post about work in romance novels, and one of the things enjoy about this series is how seriously her characters take their work. In their late 20s (I think? maybe early 30s for some), her characters are at the point of settling into adult identities, deciding–or finally admitting to themselves–what they really want, and asking if the roles they started adulthood in, both professional and romantic, are the ones they really desire. It seems to me like a more mature stage of the coming of age of new adult romance: they’ve negotiated independence, but now they must make longer term choices. That’s an interesting life stage, and I like the fact that work is as big a part of the choices and changes they make as is love, and the way Barry connects the two. That certainly reflects my own experience.

Continue reading

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