Shelf Control #344: The Book of V. by Anna Solomon

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

***Question for Shelf Control participants: I currently go ahead and add the links for participants’ posts as they’re shared in the comments or via pingbacks. Does this work for you, or would you prefer a system where you add your own links (such as via InLinkz or similar)? Please let me know!**

Title: The Book of V.
Author: Anna Solomon
Published: 2020
Length: 320 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Anna Solomon’s kaleidoscopic novel intertwines the lives of a Brooklyn mother in 2016, a senator’s wife in 1970s Washington, D.C., and the Bible’s Queen Esther, whose stories of sex, power and desire overlap and ultimately converge—showing how women’s roles have and have not changed over thousands of years.

Lily is a mother and a daughter. And a second wife. And a writer, maybe? Or she was going to be, before she had children. Now, in her rented Brooklyn apartment, she’s grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife.

Vivian Barr seems to be the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic and ambitious husband find success in Watergate-era Washington D.C. But one night he demands a humiliating favor, and her refusal to obey changes the course of her life—along with the lives of others.

Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. When an innocent mistake results in devastating consequences for her people, she is offered up as a sacrifice to please the king, in the hopes that she will save them all.

Following in the tradition of The Hours and The Red TentThe Book of V. is a bold and contemporary investigation into the enduring expectations and restraints placed on women’s lives.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition of this book late in 2020.

Why I want to read it:

This is my second week in a row with a historical fiction pick for Shelf Control! So why this particular book?

Dual timeline narratives seem to be everywhere when it comes to historical fiction, particularly novels that focus on women’s lives and societal roles. I can’t say I’ve ever come across a split timeline combining modern women’s lives with Queen Esther before now!

I’ve always loved the story of Queen Esther — as a child, we learned the simplistic version about a good and beautiful queen saving her people. We never did give much thought to the previous queen, Vashti, except to consider her the “bad” queen who came before Esther. Of course, as an adult, I’ve enjoyed more nuanced views of the tale, and especially learning about Vashti as a feminist icon!

The idea of Esther/Vashti as ancient counterparts to contemporary women’s experiences sounds… weird??? But also potentially fascinating. On the surface, it seems like a stretch to me — but I remain interested in seeing how the author balances and contrasts the two stories, and wonder whether it works well or feels forced.

I do think I’ll read this one — maybe I’ll time it just right and read it in time for the holiday of Purim!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

The Monday Check-In ~ 11/28/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

What a week. My husband made a fairly quick recovery from his bout of COVID, but meanwhile, we cancelled our family plans for Thanksgiving, and I worked from home all week to avoid any possibility of exposing my coworkers. I didn’t get sick at all (can’t quite believe it, considering our close quarters), which I’m thankful for, and we seem to be getting back to what passes for normal around here!

What did I read during the last week?

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison: Loved this werewolf tale! My review is here.

The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale by Stephanie Eding: Light, positive contemporary read about friends banding together to improve their lives. Just the sort of upbeat distraction I needed! My review is here.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Complicated science fiction that left me mostly puzzled, but still interested enought to want to read the next book in the series at some point. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

Anyone else watching 1899 on Netflix? I’ve only had time to watch a couple of episodes so far, but it’s weird and fascinating… definitely giving off some Lost vibes.

Puzzle of the week:

For the first time in months, I did a jigsaw puzzle — so much fun!

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week! (Okay, yes, I grabbed a few Kindle daily deals… but no physical books added to my tottering book piles)

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Husband Material by Alexis Hall: The sequel to the delightful Boyfriend Material. After struggling through Gideon the Ninth, I needed something cute and funny for a change of pace.

The Diaries of Adam & Eve by Mark Twain: I borrowed this from the library on a whim, after my last Classics Club read. It’s short (about 100 pages), so I’m picking it up in between other reads. Fun so far!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: A book I’ve been meaning to get to for years! The audiobook is really entertaining (although I haven’t made a ton of progress just yet), and I just hope to have time this week to get through it all.

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. We’re past the halfway point!
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen: My book group’s current classic read. I’ve read this several times already, but I’m always up for another go! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, and will finish by mid-December.
  • Paper Girls: The Complete Story by Briana K. Vaughan: I’ve already read the first few volumes in the Paper Girls series, but I’m not sure where I left off… and now that I have this BIG (800 pages!) edition of the entire series, I thought I’d start again from the beginning and read it in bits and pieces. This week’s update: I’m about halfway done.
  • Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell: I never do well with reading story collections, so I figured I’d keep this one on my nightstand and read stories here and there until I finish. Progress so far: 2 out of 9 stories read.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1) by Tamsyn Muir

Title: Gideon the Ninth
Series: The Locked Tomb, #1
Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: September 10, 2019
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

I’ve been hearing about Gideon the Ninth since its release three years ago, and I’ve owned a copy for over two years now… and I can finally say that I’ve read it!.

I have to admit that I’d been feeling rather intimidated about starting Gideon. It’s a big chunky book, and the first few pages are devoted to a guide to characters, their houses, and roles. And when books start that way, I’m immediately wary. Why do I need all this information up front? Just how complicated is this book going to be anyway?

In the case of Gideon the Ninth, the answer is — very complicated. In fact, the word that kept coming to my mind while reading was “inpenetrable” (and that’s not a word I use often in my daily life). Gideon is dense, complicated, and somewhat opaque. I’ll explain, as best I can.

The world of Gideon the Ninth appears to be a dead world, resurrected by the Emperor (also referred to as a god) some ten thousand years ago, powered by necromancy and seemingly built upon the ashes and discards of an earlier civilization that had technology and scientific exploration — perhaps a world like our own? Gideon herself is a resident of the Ninth House (the Houses are all different planets with different powers, from what I understand), and the Ninth House is grim, dark and gloomy and peopled by ancient nuns and servants made of animated bones. The Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House is Harrowhark, a powerful necromancer who can perform amazing and dangerous feats with bones, and who seems to live to torment and dominate Gideon.

When a communication is received summoning the necromancer and cavalier of each house to the First House for a chance to become immortal, Harrow forces Gideon into the role of her cavalier, even though Gideon had been plotting to escape the Ninth House for good to become a soldier. But Gideon has no choice, and soon finds herself on another world, where they and other necromancer/cavalier combos must solve unspecified riddles in order to unlock the mystery of even greater powers.

Look, this book is a lot. I have to admire the author’s creativity and skill at inventing such a complicated, strange world — but at the same time, this book was difficult to get through, and I’m not convinced it was worth the effort. Keeping the many, many necromancers, cavaliers, their powers, and their houses straight was a huge chore, and at some point I just shrugged and stopped trying. The challenges and tests didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and I had (and have) so many questions about this world.

That said, I liked many of the characters (or at least found them interesting), and Gideon herself is profane and disrespectful enough to make her someone to root for, even when I had no clue what was actually going on.

I’m glad I finally read Gideon the Ninth, but at some point along the way I lacked the energy and commitment to really try to make sense of it all, so I’m sure there’s a bunch that just went right over my head. Some big, complicated books are worth the painstaking attention it takes to get through them. I’m not sure I’d put Gideon in that category.

Still, there are some great sequences mixed in amongst all the more puzzling scenarios, and the ending seems to set up a fascinating next step for the series. If I didn’t already own the next two books, I’m not sure that I’d rush to seek them out — but since I do, I expect that I will continue the series… eventually. I think I need a break at this point, but before too long, I’ll likely dive back in with Harrow the Ninth.

Book Review: The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale by Stephanie Eding

Title: The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale
Author: Stephanie Eding
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for:
Found family who always look out for you

A second chance romance with your high school crush

All the fried food that’ll take your mind off your troubles

A chance to start over and do things your own way
Then The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale is exactly what you need!

When 30-year-old Josie discovers that she’s unexpectedly pregnant with her ex-husband’s baby (darn that last attempt to save their marriage), she seeks comfort in deep-fried food at the county fair. There she runs into her two old friends, Ben and Kevin. While sharing their own disappointments with adult life, they devise a plan to move in together and turn their lives around. Soon Ben and Kevin make it their mission to prepare for Josie’s baby, not least by making sure Josie always has the food she’s craving. Maybe all together they can discover the true meaning of family and second chances in life…

What a cute story… with so much junk food!

Josie moves back to her small suburban home town after discovering her husband is cheating. After spending the summer living with her parents (who inform her that they’re about to downsize and really won’t have room for her in their new condo) and working at a smoothie shop (having left her home, husband, and steady teaching job back in Chicago), she’s broke, without a place to live, and oh yeah, just took a home pregnancy test and found out that yes, she’s pregnant with her soon-to-be ex’s baby.

Craving fried food, she stops at the county fair, where she runs into her high school friends Ben and Kevin. Over corn dogs, they catch up and share everything that’s gone wrong in their lives — Kevin works at a job he hates, and Ben dropped out of college when his girlfriend got pregnant and now works a dead-end job and has a daughter who can’t stand him. As Josie breaks down in tears over her mess of a life, a plan is formed: Ben and Kevin are roommates, and there’s room for a third. Josie needs a place to live, they could use the help with the rent, and hey, maybe together they can all turn their lives around. And thus, the Corn Dog Pact is formed.

The Corn Dog Pact is actually Kevin’s idea — written down and tacked up on their refrigerator. They each commit to improving their finances, their work lives, and finding love by the time the last of their 31st birthdays roll around. With a signed pact to keep them on track, Josie moves in — noting that she may have just moved into a frat house. Living room furniture consists of beanbag chairs and a gaming console, and she’s hard-pressed to find even a mug in the empty kitchen.

The three friends are good for one another, and little by little, they do actually start making progress on their lives. The guys are supportive — Kevin is a goofball with a heart of gold and Ben, Josie’s secret crush in high school, is a sweetheart who yearns for a better relationship with his 11-year-old and who would seemingly do anything to help Josie.

As Josie’s pregnancy progresses, we see the trio’s homelife (so much pizza and nachos!!), Josie’s advancing pregnancy, and her quest for teaching work. We also see how the three encourage little steps for each other. With Josie present, Ben is able to start connecting better with his daughter, and seeing Ben with Izzy helps Josie find a way to allow her ex to plan to be in her baby’s life.

I really enjoyed the storylines overall, although I did get a little tired of the horrifying food the characters eat ALL THE TIME. When Josie brings home a salad one day, they’re all aghast! Healthy food? What?? (Still, it is rather cute that each chapter title has a food in it — the author really sticks to the theme!)

At times, the story feels a little laggy. There are perhaps too many scenes of shopping, home decorating, and other elements of domestic life. It’s nice to see the characters working on themselves and on creating a home, but it gets to be a bit much after a while.

I will say that some of the scenes related to the pregnancy, and particularly to Josie’s labor and delivery, were especially well done. Josie’s experiences during delivery felt very real to me, perhaps because I had a similar experience to the character myself. It’s not the comedic or over-the-top kind of scene you sometimes see in fiction (or especially on TV shows) — I could absolutely relate to what Josie goes through, and loved how Ben and Kevin are by her side.

Overall, this is a sweet, engaging story, not particularly deep, but with enough personal growth to make it satisfying. The characters are funny and likable, and you can’t help but cheer them along every step of the way. There’s a romantic subplot too, but it doesn’t dominate or define the book. Really and truly, this is a book about friendship and how loving friends can help each other turn their lives around.

Worth checking out!

Shelf Control #343: The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Heretic’s Daughter
Author: Kathleen Kent
Published: 2008
Length: 332 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha’s courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family’s deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

How and when I got it:

I have no idea! I’ve had a paperback edition on my shelf for many years now, but I’m not sure how I ended up with a copy. (Library sale is a likely suspect!)

Why I want to read it:

The subject of the Salem witch trials is an endlessly fascinating (and terribly tragic) topic to read about. Until I sat down to write this post, I didn’t realize that the author of this book is a descendant of the real-life person this historical novel is about.

While I’ve read several novels focused on the Puritan era and witch trials, this one sounds like it has a different perspective from what I’ve read so far, and I’m interested to see how the author presents this mother-daughter story.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

Title: Such Sharp Teeth
Author: Rachel Harrison
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: October 4, 2022
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Paranormal/contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young woman in need of a transformation finds herself in touch with the animal inside in this gripping, incisive novel from the author of Cackle and The Return.

Rory Morris isn’t thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby’s father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she’d put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she’s attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She’s unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver—and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She’s changing into someone else—something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she’s putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.

After really enjoying last year’s Cackle, I knew I needed to read more by Rachel Harrison. And maybe this would have been a more natural fit for a Halloween read, but no matter the timing, I had a blast reading Such Sharp Teeth.

In this fast, biting (yes, I said it!) tale, Rory moves back to her hometown after many years away to be with her twin sister Scarlett during her last months of pregnancy. Rory has had a seemingly great life in Manhattan — a successful corporate career, a partying, free-wheeling lifestyle, great clothes, uninhibited and uncommitted sex, and the best of New York’s dining and nightlife at her fingertips.

Back in their small town, Rory stumbles into an old flame from her high school days, someone she never hooked up with at the time, but always felt a spark with. But moments after meeting Ian again, Rory gets into a car accident and its attacked by something fierce and horrible in the woods. She distinctly remembers the horror and pain of the attack, yet by the next day her wounds have barely left a scar.

Over the next few weeks, Rory notices scary changes in her body, a non-stop craving for meat, enhanced senses, and other weirdness even more frightening (and disgusting). At the same time, she finally connects with Ian and enjoys their explosive chemistry together. As the next full moon looms closer and closer, Rory is more and more certain about what’s happened to her — but what does this loss of control really mean for her and for the people she cares about?

Honestly, I just loved this book. Rory is a fantastic character, full of bravado and guts and intelligence, a very caring and devoted sister, but also carrying the burden of an earlier trauma that affects her ability to trust and to forgive. This is a woman who has earned her rage, and her werewolf transformation finally gives full power to the anger and need for destruction that she’s been burdened with for so many years.

While the descriptions of Rory’s experiences are often pretty icky and/or violent, there’s also humor and sass in her conversations and outlook. I love her relationship with Scarlett, and this conversation (with a very pregnant Scarlett) captures so much:

“What’s it like?” she asks. “Being a werewolf?”

I swallow. “You really want to know?”

“Yeah.”

“The bite was excruciating. And after, it leaked this silvery goo. My new blood, I guess. It was weird and gross, but honestly, it was also kind of fascinating that my body was doing this weird, gross thing.”

“Relate,” she says.

There’s so much subtext here about women and pain, women and bodily autonomy, women and rage. The author doesn’t hit us over the head with a hammer — instead, all of this informs Rory’s experiences as she emerges from the attack’s aftermath into a new version of herself.

When you’re sad, you cry. When you’re happy, you smile, you laugh. But what do you do when you’re angry? Not just mad, but filled with this ugly, consuming rage?

And the thing is, women aren’t allowed to be angry. Nobody likes a mad woman. They’re crazy, irrational, obnoxious, shrill.

In Such Sharp Teeth, a young woman who was instructed to ignore or control her anger gets actual claws and fangs as an adult, and finally is literally forced into giving vent to all the pent-up rage and frustration and power she’s hidden away and or shunted into self-destructive behaviors.

There are things beyond our control. My body. My body is beyond my control. This is the truth. The truth of me. What if I can’t control myself in this form because this is what I really am? What if this is what I really want?

Gotta say, I pretty much straight-up loved Rory, and I had such fun reading this book. Yes, it’s a werewolf book, but it’s also a sharp, spiky take on women’s lives, and I just couldn’t put it down. There are some scenes of violence and ickiness that make me want to offer a caution for the squeamish — it’s not gory on every page, but it’s enough that I wouldn’t recommend it if you can’t stomach some blood, guts, and body parts.

But if gore doesn’t bother you in your reading, then absolutely check out Such Sharp Teeth! Rachel Harrison is a terrific writer, and I can’t wait to read the other book of hers in my Kindle library, The Return.

The Monday Check-In ~ 11/21/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

A family situation came up that required a sudden trip back east, so I was mainly offline and away from blogging for about two weeks. Then we returned home, only to have a household member test positive for COVID — recovering quickly, thank goodness, but yet another obstacle to getting back to routine.

Looking forward to a return to something that passes for normal in the near future…

What did I read during the last week?

It’s been two weeks, actually, since my last Monday Check-In… so I did manage to get through quite a lot!

Ocean’s Echo by Everine Maxwell: Terrific follow-up to Winter’s Orbit. My review is here.

Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk: Emotionally satisfying novella that’s noir detective story mixed with paranormal elements and a moving love story. My review is here.

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger: I didn’t write a review, but I really loved this magical story (via audiobook). So worth checking out!

Ship Wrecked (Spoiler Alert, #3) by Olivia Dade: More steamy romance set in the world of a fictional TV blockbuster series. Lots of fun. My review is here.

He Gets That From Me by Jacqueline Friedland: Interesting premise about a botched surrogacy arrangement and a custody battle, but certain elements just didn’t work that well for me. My review is here.

Rizzio by Denise Mina: Fascinating novella about the real-life historical murder of a key ally to Mary, Queen of Scots. I originally read this book last year (review), and did a quick re-read on the plane home to prepare for a book group discussion.

The Date From Hell by Gwenda Bond: This sequel to Not Your Average Hot Guy is just pure silly fun, with a hunt for the Holy Grail and relationship drama between a human woman and the son of Lucifer. If that sounds ridiculous… well, it is, but also highly entertaining if you’re looking for a fluffy read.

Pop culture & TV:

Yellowstone is back! I just watched the two-hour season premiere over the weekend. So happy to be back in this world. And I can’t wait for the next spin-off, 1923, coming in mid-December. Have you seen the trailer yet? I mean… Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren??? Yes, please!

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to a stack of books! One I’ve already read (Last Night at the Telegraph Club) and wanted my own copy of, and the rest are new to me.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Between my print read and audiobook listen, I’m involved in two stories about 30-ish women returning to their hometowns after years away. It’s a little confusing… except one has werewolves!

Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison: I’m loving this! Hope to finish later today.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale by Stephanie Eding: This popped up when I went looking for audiobook inspiration on Hoopla — it seems like a light, engaging listen. Just what I needed!

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. We’re past the halfway point!
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen: My book group’s current classic read. I’ve read this several times already, but I’m always up for another go! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, and will finish by mid-December.
  • Paper Girls: The Complete Story by Briana K. Vaughan: I’ve already read the first few volumes in the Paper Girls series, but I’m not sure where I left off… and now that I have this BIG (800 pages!) edition of the entire series, I thought I’d start again from the beginning and read it in bits and pieces.
  • Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell: I never do well with reading story collections, so I figured I’d keep this one on my nightstand and read stories here and there until I finish.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: He Gets That From Me by Jacqueline Friedland

Title: He Gets That From Me
Author: Jacqueline Friedland
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Length: 295 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

As a young mother with a toddler and a live-in boyfriend, Maggie Fisher’s job at a checkout counter in downtown Phoenix doesn’t afford her much financial flexibility. She dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher, options she squandered when she fled her family home as a teenager. When Maggie stumbles onto an ad offering thousands of dollars to women who are willing to gestate other people’s babies, she at first finds the concept laughable. Before long, however, she’s been seduced by all the ways the extra money could improve her life. Once she decides to go for it, it’s only a matter of months before she’s chosen as a gestational carrier by Chip and Donovan Rigsdale, a married couple from New York.

After delivering twin babies and proudly handing them off to the Rigsdales, Maggie finally gets her life on a positive trajectory: she earns her degree, lands a great job, and builds a family of her own. She can’t fathom why, ten years after the fact, the fertility clinic is calling to ask for a follow-up DNA test.

I bought this e-book on a whim (it was 99 cents!), interested to see where the story would go. And while it definitely held my attention, I would describe He Gets That From Me as only partially successful.

As the story opens, we meet Maggie, who loves her baby Wyatt and her boyfriend Nick, but struggles to make ends meet. She regrets walking away from the college education her well-off parents were providing, a decision made after a teen-age trauma that made her flee parental control and judgment. When she sees an ad for gestational carriers, i.e., women to act as surrogates for those who cannot have children on their own, she doesn’t take it particularly seriously… but she can’t stop thinking about it, especially how the money could get her life back on track and allow her to finally pursue the education she gave up on.

We also meet Donovan, a New York real estate broker in a happy marriage with his husband Chip. They’re well-off and well-established, but desperately want a family together. As they enter the surrogacy process, they’re oh-so-careful at every step, making sure they’ll be legally protected and being very cautious in choosing their potential gestational carriers.

In the early chapters of the book, we jump backward and forward in time, and so we learn that Donovan has had himself, Chip, and their twin 10-year-old boys tested through an at-home DNA testing kit to help the boys with a class genealogy project. Donovan and Chip each provided sperm to use with their egg donor’s eggs, and based on the boys’ physical traits, they’ve long assume that Teddy is biologically Chip’s and Kai is biologically Donovan’s. Until the test results come back — and show that Kai isn’t biologically related to either of his dads.

As Donovan essentially freaks out and looks for answers, the couple assume a screw-up at the fertility lab. Perhaps their embryos were switched with someone else’s? Donovan even investigates whether babies could have been switched at birth. But no — all options are a dead-end until Maggie’s DNA testing confirms the obvious answer. Kai is biologically her son. How is this even possible?

Superfetation. Per healthline.com, “Superfetation is when a second, new pregnancy occurs during an initial pregnancy. Another ovum (egg) is fertilized by sperm and implanted in the womb days or weeks later than the first one. ” Oh, dear. So while two embryos from the donor eggs and Chip and Donovan’s sperm were transferred to Maggie, only one took… and then she and Nick conceived another fetus naturally, ending up pregnant with two unrelated fetuses.

Maggie, of course, is horrified. She and Nick tried for years to have more children, but whether from carrying twins or from a subsequent car accident, she ended up with uterine scarring that affected her fertility. She’s wracked by guilt: She agreed to carry someone else’s children, not to give away her own child.

An inevitable showdown between the two families quickly comes into play. After meeting Kai briefly, Maggie is convinced that he belongs with his biological family, and she and Nick sue for custody. Meanwhile, Chip and Donovan are desperate to keep their family intact and to protect Kai from being uprooted from the only life he’s ever know.

While the set-up is really engaging, I had some issues with the execution. For starters, I don’t truly believe that Maggie could think for one moment that removing Kai from his home would be in his best interest. They got from zero to one hundred in the blink of an eye. What about visiting and getting to know one another? What about simply spending some time together, finding a way to be in each others’ lives? Nope, it’s full custody as the first and only option.

Some ugliness comes into play that seems out of character for Maggie. While Nick expressed some hesitation about becoming a surrogate for a gay couple when the option first was under discussion, Maggie was adamantly opposed to Nick’s homophobia and in fact broke up with him for a while over it. She cared deeply for Chip and Donovan and was committed to helping them create their family. Yet in the court filings, one of the arguments for claiming custody of Kai was that it would be in his best interest to be raised by a “traditional” family. Where did this come from? That was never Maggie’s belief.

I was left very unsatisfied by the end of the book. Certain twists are revealed in the epilogue that I found hard to believe, and the outcome of the custody case (trying to avoid spoilers here) was again a very black and white, all or nothing situation. I couldn’t help feeling that in real life, good lawyers and therapists would have encourage compromise and exploration of the true best interests of the child, rather than moving forward with a winner-takes-all lawsuit as the only possible answer.

At under 300 pages, He Gets That From Me is a quick read. While the premise is certainly interesting, I was too often frustrated by inconsistent or illogical actions and decisions to give this more than a 3-star rating. I could see this book generating good book club arguments for sure!

Book Review: Ship Wrecked (Spoiler Alert, #3) by Olivia Dade

Title: Ship Wrecked
Series: Spoiler Alert, #3
Author: Olivia Dade
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: November 15, 2020
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After All the Feels and Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade once again delivers a warm and wonderful romantic comedy about two co-stars who once had an incredible one-night stand—and after years of filming on the same remote island, are finally ready to yield to temptation again…

Maria’s one-night-stand—the thick-thighed, sexy Viking of a man she left without a word or a note—just reappeared. Apparently, Peter’s her surly Gods of the Gates co-star, and they’re about to spend the next six years filming on a desolate Irish island together. She still wants him…but he now wants nothing to do with her.

Peter knows this role could finally transform him from a forgettable character actor into a leading man. He also knows a failed relationship with Maria could poison the set, and he won’t sabotage his career for a woman who’s already walked away from him once. Given time, maybe they can be cooperative colleagues or friends—possibly even best friends—but not lovers again. No matter how much he aches for her.

For years, they don’t touch off-camera. But on their last night of filming, their mutual restraint finally shatters, and all their pent-up desire explodes into renewed passion. Too bad they still don’t have a future together, since Peter’s going back to Hollywood, while Maria’s returning to her native Sweden. She thinks she needs more than he can give her, but he’s determined to change her mind, and he’s spent the last six years waiting. Watching. Wanting.

His shipwrecked Swede doesn’t stand a chance.

Ship Wrecked is the 3rd book in Olivia Dade’s romance series centered around the fictional TV series Gods of the Gates, a not-at-all-veiled reference to Game of Thrones. Gods of the Gates is one of the biggest television phenomena ever, but once the show moves past its book source material, the showrunners manage to complete derail the storylines and character arcs.

Ship Wrecked‘s story overlaps time-wise with the first two books in the series. Here, we meet new characters who join the show for its second season — Cyprian and Cassia, shipwrecked enemies who spend years learning to work together in order to survive on a deserted, treacherous island, and who naturally fall madly in love.

Peter Reedton, a character actor with a respected but not-flashy career up to this point, knows that his shot at Cyprian could finally show that he has what it takes to be a lead actor. But when he auditions against an unknown, inexperienced Swedish actress, he worries that she may drag him down and ruin his chances.

But that’s not really why he’s upset… The night before the audition, Peter has an amazing one-night stand with an incredible woman named Maria, who then disappears in the morning without leaving a note, contact information, or even her full name. And of course, the Swedish actress he meets the next day turns out to be Maria, and Peter’s anger is really all about his feelings of abandonment.

Still, the two have amazing chemistry on camera, and before they know it, they’re off to a remote Irish island to start what will be years of filming together. They soon discover that they like each other and work well together, but Peter is determined that, for the sake of the production, they should not get romantically involved.

Ship Wrecked continues the entertaining behind-the-scenes look at a huge TV production introduced in the first two books, and introduces two compelling new characters, Peter and Maria, who are easy to love and to root for. Their personality and culture clashes are funny, and I really liked their dynamic together.

The overall plot is perhaps a bit less engaging than the other books, as we see less of the rest of the cast — but when we do get snippets of the cast text threads or quick appearances, they’re always good for a laugh.

Maria and Peter’s relationship, when they finally get there, is steamy as well as rooted in true caring and affection. I didn’t quite buy the tropey breakup required in all romances before the big reunion and romantic finish — their relationship troubles didn’t seem as dire as they presented them to be, and reasonable adults should have been able to work through their issues without torpedoing the relationship.

In terms of steam factor, this book definitely falls on the graphic end of the scale. Sex scenes are explicit, no filmy curtains or fade to black. In fact, the very first paragraph of the very first chapter should give you a good idea about the content of the rest of the book:

When Maria’s hazy brown eyes blinked back open after her orgasm, Peter held her gaze for another dozen thrusts. Then, braced on his forearms, fingers tangled in her hair, he pushed deep one last time and groaned into her mouth.

If you find that completely off-putting, then this may not be a great reading choice for you. I don’t usually go for graphic in my romance reading, but these books are just so much fun that I didn’t mind the occasional cringing brought on by the more detailed scenes.

Ship Wrecked has great characters, plenty of laughs, and is decidedly fat-positive and body-positive, which is refreshing and (sadly) still not all that common. Peter and Maria are both great characters, and I love how the author depicts them as both fat and sexy.

I’ve seen other readers refer to Ship Wrecked as the final book in the series, and I don’t actually know if that’s correct or not. The world of Gods of the Gates is just so much fun — I’d gladly read more about these and other characters.

If you’re interested in Ship Wrecked, I’d really recommend starting from the beginning and reading Spoiler Alert and All the Feels first. Ship Wrecked could work on its own, I suppose, but then you’d miss out on the deliciously ridiculous bigger picture of Gods of the Gates, and really, that would be a shame.

Book Review: Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk

Title: Even Though I Knew the End
Author: C. L. Polk
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: November 8, 2022
Length: 136 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

An exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother’s life is offered one last job before serving an eternity in hell. When she turns it down, her client sweetens the pot by offering up the one payment she can’t resist―the chance to have a future where she grows old with the woman she loves.

To succeed, she is given three days to track down the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. If she fails, only hell and heartbreak await.

In this noir-ish novella, Helen Brandt is a private investigator who specializes in occult-related crime scenes. She’s also a woman who, years earlier, sold her soul in exchange for her mortally-wounded brother’s life.

With only days left before her bargain comes due, all Helen wants is private time with the woman she loves. But when a particularly gruesome murder takes place, she’s pulled into a battle between demonic forces, powerful magicians, and fallen angels.

As a novella, the action by necessity is fast-paced, and the storytelling moves quickly from one set-piece to another. I’m not that big a fan of stories about bargains with the devil or battles between angels and demons, but what really sucked me in was the love story and the desperate need for just a bit more time.

The title comes from Helen’s thoughts about The Great Gatsby, and the essence of love and hope:

Jay Gatsby knew a lot about hope. Hope felt a little painful, on account of it not being a sure thing. In fact, there was almost no hope for him, which made that tiny flashing light all the more precious. I’d read this book a dozen times, two dozen. I always held my breath, waiting for Daisy to come to him. Jay hoped every single time, and I hoped right along with him, even though I knew the end.

A week after finishing this short but powerful story, I couldn’t tell you the specifics about the outcome of the murder plot… but I absolutely remember how Helen and Edith’s love story made me feel. Even when the end is inevitable, even when a deal with the devil is coming due, Helen will savor every moment, because every moment with the woman she loves is worth much more than the pain of thinking about losing it.

They love, even though they know the end.