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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Some Booker Books

Inspired by Rosario and the bloggers of the Shadow (Wo)Man Booker Panel, I decided to read some of this year’s Man Booker longlist. Rebecca, one of the shadow panelists, has a good overview of the list at Book Riot.

I’d only read one book on the list–The Sellout, by Paul Beatty–so I don’t expect to be able to read them all before the shortlist is announced September 13. But once I started, I got a little obsessed. I requested whatever my library had available and bought several others. At least there is nothing quite as chunky as last year’s winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings, or A Little Life. The book I am most likely to take a pass on is Coetzee’s Schooldays of Jesus, which is both a sequel and post-apocalyptic.

There were intriguing connections among my first picks (totally on the basis of what came in first at the library) that came out of seeing them as elements of a single list. No proper reviews here, just reflections. Continue reading

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At Hawthorn Time, by Melissa Harrison

I read and listened to a lot in July and August, especially on my vacation, and in the next couple of weeks I’m going to try to catch up on my blogging. In between getting myself ready for the start of fall semester and my son ready to go off for his first year of university, neither of which is causing me any anxiety. These posts may be disorganized and unedited, but I’ll try to say something interesting.

I’m reading way less romance now than I did when I first discovered the genre. But my time as a nearly exclusive romance-reader, and my ongoing conversations with romance readers, have colored my other reading in a way that may be permanent. So when I was thinking about how to summarize Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn Time, I was thinking about the ways that it conforms to criticism of literary fiction offered by genre readers: there isn’t a whole lot of plot; two of the central figures are a middle-aged, middle-class couple whose marriage is falling apart in totally predictable ways; a lot of sad stuff happens and the ending is both downbeat and unresolved. I didn’t love all those features, but I liked the book a lot, and I’ll try to explain how it won me over.

The prologue of At Hawthorn Time is its final scene, so we know from the start that some of the book’s characters will come together in a car crash at the end–though we’re not sure at the start which ones, and we never know for sure which ones survive. The four central characters are Howard and Kitty, the above-mentioned couple who are drifting apart after retirement and a move to the country village of Lodeshill; Jamie, a rather aimless twenty-something born in Lodeshill who both belongs to it and dreams of escape; and Jack, a drifter who has skipped out of his halfway house (he was arrested for trespassing) in London because he can’t bear being shut in, and is looking for temporary farm work. I found Jack by far the most interesting and uncommon characters; the others did feel like clichés of literary fiction. Continue reading

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