Review: Promises, Promises

Promises, Promises
Promises, Promises by L-J Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #17 for 2017; #1 for Humor Challenge; #7 for Mt TBR Challenge
PopSugar Challenge Prompts (3 max):
– A book involving travel
– A book involving a mythical creature
– A book with an eccentric character
Read Harder Challenge Prompts:
– A fantasy novel
– An LGBTQ+ romance novel
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A Book with an LGBTQA Character
– A Book with a Female Heroine
No Book Left Behind Challenge Task: A book club selection
Better World Books Challenge Prompts:
– A romance that takes place during travel
– A fantasy novel
– A book by a female writer
Personal Challenge Prompts:
– A book with a woman on the cover
– A book about a road trip
Habitica Challenge Task: A book involving a mythical creature

I did have a hard time getting into this book at first. It’s very tongue-in-cheek humor, extremely self-aware, much like in Heroics for Beginners, which requires a certain reading mindset to appreciate. Based on some other reviews, I think the first few chapters were also a little rougher than the rest of the book, perhaps due to the cramped introduction of so many characters. I had to force myself through the first 50 pages, and then I put it down for a long while.

But during that break from the book, I joined an all-female D&D group, and when I picked it back up, it was suddenly friggin’ hilarious. There may or may not be a connection between those two things. The humor was still reminiscent of Heroics, but Baker’s approach was far more consistent, even going so far as to poke fun at her own continuity notes, and her feminist slant provided a nice focus.

You do still need to approach this with a silly sense of humor, and if you aren’t familiar with fantasy and gaming tropes, you aren’t likely to get most of the jokes. But if that doesn’t faze you, I’d encourage you to give this book a try. There is no explicit sex, so this is a great read for somebody who wants to explore lesbian fiction without going straight to erotica.

My only real gripe is the font. All the way through the book, the characters were all lisping in my head, all due to that silly font.

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Review: Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women

Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women
Boudoirs to Brothels: The Intimate World of Wild West Women by Michael Rutter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #16 for 2017
GenreLand Challenge: Biography & Memoir
Personal Challenge Prompt: A book with a woman on the cover
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book with a subtitle
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book with a subtitle
– A book with career advice (prostitution)

This book is an interesting and often unsettling look at the roles women were often forced into in the Old West. It examines a wide range of experiences and backgrounds and attitudes and also provides vivid descriptions of life in the Wild West at various socioeconomic levels. It really gave me a lot to think about for building characters as well as the world for my steampunk/weird west stories.

I purposely read this book slowly, trying to permit myself days between each profile, but some of them still ran together a bit in my head. This might be in part due to some of the women being friends and/or rivals. Many of the stories did stand apart, though, like those of Polly Bemis (the Chinese poker bride) and Dora B. Topham (Madam Belle London, who ran the Stockade in Salt Lake City).

I appreciated how clear Rutter was about his research and which aspects of the tales were documented (and how reliably so) as well as his willingness to repeat (with appropriate caveats) popular legends and even ghost stories. I did, however, find the structure of the book more textbookish than I like, with sidebars interrupting the flow of the women’s personal stories. And this certainly isn’t Rutter’s fault, but I was disturbed by how often the stories kept referring back to their famous menfolk. I’d love to see a female film director use this as the basis of a series of films that focus on the women in these histories.

I would recommend this book to anybody who is interested in learning more about life in the Western US in the 19th and early 20th centuries or who is interested in sex work, human trafficking, and/or intimate partner violence. It contains many insights that apply yet today.

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Review: Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities by Chris Kluwe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #15 for 2017
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book of any genre that addresses current events
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– An Audiobook
– A Book Written by a Celebrity
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– An audiobook
– A book with a subtitle

I really, really wanted to like this book. The title made it sound like so much fun. And it seems that I do agree with the author about lots of things. However, this presentation left a lot to be desired. I felt like most of the book was stuff I could have written myself, just with far less swearing. I’m not exactly against swearing, mind you, but his claim that the swearing is necessary to reach the “on the fence” people just sounds lame and not particularly well thought out. It was like he was trying to preach to the choir, but instead he just yelled at the choir. That sort of thing mostly just pisses off the choir.

I also did not find that Kluwe had much of anything new or compelling to say about any of the topics. I kept thinking, “Well, yes, you have a point, but it is a point that has been made numerous times already.” And then some of his rants amounted to little more than, “Get off my lawn!” It was like listening to a younger, less experienced, more profane Andy Rooney. And I liked Andy Rooney, but he didn’t take himself quite so seriously.

Also, Kluwe can’t pronounce “nuclear” correctly.

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Review: Persona

Persona
Persona by Genevieve Valentine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #14 for 2017
Follow the Clues Challenge: Trail 1, Clue 4
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– An espionage thriller
– A book with career advice (diplomacy, celebrity photography, espionage, ecoterrorism)
– A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
– The first book in a series you haven’t read before
– A book with an eccentric character
Read Harder Challenge Task: A book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color
Book Bingo Possible Squares:
– A Book with Multiple Perspectives
– A Book with an LGBTQA Character
Better World Books Challenge Task: A book set in a place you want to visit (Paris)
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color

I enjoyed this political thriller and liked both of the POV characters, Suyana and Daniel. It’s good, though, that this was a character-driven story, because it seemed like so much of the eco-thriller plot was merely incidental. I never got a good feel for how this near-future political reality came about or what the UARC’s and Chordata’s issues really were. I did get the impression that Valentine had built a vastly detailed world for this novel but wound up putting only a small fraction of it on the page. Here’s hoping that the follow-up, Icon, delves more into the world’s backstory.

In the meantime, I think this would make an awesome movie, and I plan to read Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti for something a little different from this author.

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Review: Giants’ Bread

Giants' Bread
Giants’ Bread by Mary Westmacott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #13 for 2017/#6 for the Mt TBR Challenge
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book published before you were born
PopSugar’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Prompts:
– A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
– A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
– A book written by someone you admire
– A book with an eccentric character
– A book that’s been mentioned in another book
Personal Reading Challenge Task: A book with a woman on the cover
Better World Books Challenge Prompt: A book by a female writer
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge Prompt: A book published between 1900 and 1950

I must say that I am not pleased with Dell’s production quality for this book. For starters, the correct title is Giant’s Bread — singular possessive. All other editions got it right, and it’s the only usage that makes any sense at all, as it is lifted straight from the prologue. And then the text itself is full of typos. “Titantic,” really? And “lesé majestè”?? And those are just the interesting ones. There’s a garden-variety oops on every other page, practically. FFS, Dell, were you all stoned when you slapped this thing together? Oh, wait, with that ugly-ass Binger cover, I don’t even have to look to know this volume is a product of the sixties, so of course you were all stoned.

The story itself is a little harder to rate and review. I’ve been a fan of Christie’s mysteries and nonfiction since I was a kid, and I have read many of her books at least twice. But I had no idea what to expect from her “romance” fiction. I’m not sure this qualifies as a romantic story, but I’m also not the right person to ask for that determination. I will just say it was an interesting departure from her mysteries. It opens with a prologue featuring a stunning new operatic composition, a work of musical genius, and then the rest of the book shows us how it came to be and what sacrifices were involved.

It’s really quite a rambling soap opera at times, and it’s not at all a quick, easy read. I got the distinct impression that Christie was working through a lot of her personal issues on the page, so while the insights were fascinating, there was also a weight of catharsis that made it slow going in spots. Actually, what I would love to see is the Downton Abbey crew tackle this and make a mini-series of it. They could easily even out the pacing, like where Christie spends way too long detouring into Nell’s life as a nurse in WWI. (Like I said, interesting stuff, but dude, Nell’s not the main character. Get back to Vernon!) And given how they handled the whole Aldridge wedding storyline, with some of Lady Sinderby’s pointed comments not terribly unlike Mrs Levinne’s, I think they could even deal with the story’s potentially anti-Semitic tones.

The Levinne storyline is another thing that makes this book a bit of a puzzle. The anti-Semitism that runs rampant throughout Golden Age mysteries gets talked about a lot, but so far in my (re-)reading of the Christie oeuvre, I’m seeing a very different take on how she treats Jewish characters. The Levinnes, for example, are written as very sympathetic characters. Sebastian is Vernon’s stalwart friend, whom Vernon’s beloved cousin Josephine accepts readily. It’s clear that Christie likes the Levinnes and is unhappy about the discrimination they are forced to suffer at the hands of less progressive characters. Yet Christie uses some really offensive stereotypes in describing the Levinnes and other Jewish characters. Some of them don’t even make any sense. Like the lisping — where did that come from? For now, I think I’m going to put down her seemingly anti-Semitic passages to a combination of naïveté and a too-subtle sense of irony.

Despite it being somewhat problematic and often depressing, I did enjoy Vernon’s journey of self-discovery and fulfillment of his artistic vision. It’s always a treat when Christie indulges her more artsy tendencies, and I often wonder what amazing works we would have if she’d never taken up writing and had instead unleashed her talent at a piano or an easel.

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Review: New Beginnings

New Beginnings
New Beginnings by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #12 for 2017; #5 for the Mt TBR Challenge
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: The first book in a series that you haven’t read before
Better World Books Prompts:
– A book under 200 pages
– A fantasy novel
– A book by a female writer
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge Prompts:
– A fantasy novel
– A YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A book with a female heroine
– A book with multiple perspectives
PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Prompts:
– A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
– A book involving a mythical creature
– A book written by someone you admire
– The first book in a series you haven’t read before
– A book with an eccentric character

I am clearly not in the target demographic for this book, and I’ve never been really into the whole angel thing, but I quite enjoyed this middle-grades fantasy novel. Probably because Schwab presented the angel narrative as pretty straightforward fantasy and didn’t go in for a bunch of religious crap. (So if you’re a huge fan of Touched by an Angel, you will likely be disappointed by the lack of condescension and proselytizing.)

I thought it was interesting that Aria (our “everyday angel”) seemed to be not just new to angeling but also new to existing in general, at least on any human plane. So it was fun to watch her adjust to her own humanity as she was learning how to be an angel and also how to help her assignment, Gabby, find her sense of self. Not to mention, just a little bit ironic.

I’m glad Schwab didn’t portray the adult characters as enemy combatants. Gabby’s mother was just overwhelmed and in need of a break herself, and she and Henry’s parents were simply doing what they felt was most supportive of their sick children. Even the teacher who caught Gabby in her lies was reasonable and compassionate.

This is a sweet and very well written tale of self-discovery during a phase of childhood that is difficult under even the best circumstances. I intend to pass my copy along to a friend who has a 9-year-old daughter.

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Review: Planetfall

Planetfall
Planetfall by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #11 for 2017
The Legendary Book Club of Habitica’s Ultimate Reading Challenge Task: A book recommended by a librarian or bookseller
Personal Reading Challenge Tasks:
– A book with a woman on the cover
– A book set on another planet
Better World Books Challenge Task: A book by a female writer
Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge Prompts:
– A book set more than 5000 miles from my location
– A book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
Possible Book Bingo Squares:
– A Book About Mental Illness
– A Book with an LGBTQA Character
PopSugar Challenge Prompts:
– A book with one of the four seasons in the title
– A book with an unreliable narrator
– A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
– A book with an eccentric character

(view spoiler)

Much of the time when I finish a book and can’t quite decide how I feel about it, my feelings tend to get more negative as I mull it over. This book seems to have me doing the opposite. There’s still a lot about the book — especially the ending! — that I don’t understand, but I am beginning to think that that is part of Newman’s point. I don’t think we’re supposed to fully understand why Renata did half the stuff she did, and especially the stuff at the very end, but the more I let it all just kind of stew together in my brain, the more it feels like it makes a weird kind of fucked-up sense. Newman uses the metaphor of mosaic in the story, and much like the cover image of a woman’s face made up of tiny little objects, everything eventually coalesces into meaning.

This would be an interesting book to re-read. As an audience, we get only Renata’s perspective, and she’s pretty clear from the get-go that she’s not exactly a reliable narrator. But despite her best efforts to hide things from us as well as herself, she is constantly telling us almost everything we need to know. Newman is just that good at tilting our perspective so that we’re disoriented enough to not catch on as quickly as we might normally. Newman is also having so much fun showing us this new world she created that we get caught up in that as well and get distracted.

I think this book would have something for lots of different readers, not just science fiction fans. There is a great deal of futuristic tech and exobiology involved, yes, but there are many layers to this story. At its core, its about the human experience and what it means. It doesn’t get much broader than that. Just know that it also means that the ending will be pretty dang ambiguous.

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