This year has brought a lot of good and necessary changes to my reading life. Prior to this year, I approached reading like an endurance athlete, with ever-increasing expectations of how much I was reading, how new or important the books I was reading were, and how quickly I could move on to the next one. I felt compelled to write lengthy reviews about every book I found even remotely adequate. I chose my next book based on publication dates, not what grabbed my interest in the moment.
I slowly realized that all that striving was creating an unsatisfying reading life. So this year has been a gradual relaxing of all those restrictions and rules I was putting on myself. I allow myself to read all the romance I want (which turns out to be a lot!) because knowing I can count on a happy ending is soothing to my highly anxious mind. I stopped requesting advance copies because I didn’t want to feel beholden to publishers or the publication cycle. If I finish a book that’s just mediocre, I don’t bother writing anything about it.
All these changes have been great for me--I’ve read a TON of books this year because I’m reading what I want, when I want. But they’ve resulted in a major slowdown in my presence here on the blog. However, in the end it’s been good for the blog too, because now when I take the time to feature a book, you’ll know I REALLY like it. :) And just know that there’s more in the works--I’ve been making an effort in recent weeks to put down my credit card and pick up my library card, so a library haul post is coming your way soon. Oh--and we went to Ireland (!) and you know your girl had to read some Irish books for the occasion, so that post is also in the offing.
In the meantime, and in the spirit of keeping things simple, here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed lately, with no unifying theme beyond just that. I hope your reading life is low on pressure and high on satisfaction!
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
I’d had this book on my shelf since my birthday two summers ago. Part of me feels guilty for waiting so long to read it, but a bigger part of me knows I have to be in the right headspace for dystopian lit or it will drag me right down to Bummersville. Ory and Max live in a world stricken by a strange phenomenon--victims lose their shadows, and then they lose their memories. When Max loses her shadow, their careful existence collapses around them. This book has the feel of a quest, with a long, perilous journey and no guarantee of success at the end of the road, but it’s also a testament to love and an exploration of its limits. And I’m still thinking about that ending.
When I Was White by Sarah Valentine
At age 27, Sarah Valentine discovered that her biological father was not the white man who had raised her, but was actually a black man, and her mother had been keeping the secret of Valentine’s racial identity her entire life. While fascinating, this book might be frustrating if you don’t go into it with the right expectations. Right off the bat, you should know Valentine doesn't meet or even conclusively identify her biological father, so if you’re looking for a solve to that mystery, you’ll be disappointed.
This memoir is at its best when the author is recounting and analyzing the many conversations she had with her mother over the years, trying to get at the truth of how she was conceived. Her mother is a deeply flawed but totally fascinating person--I was analyzing every word out of her mouth right along with Valentine, putting on my deerstalker cap and going all armchair detective. Valentine has clearly done a lot of emotional work to process her own feelings, and while she can't forgive or excuse her mother's actions, she also seems to understand her mother surprisingly well. Valentine also reflects meaningfully on her experience of "coming out as black," growing to understand her biracial identity, and the privilege inherent in white people's ignoring race or pretending it doesn't matter.
Super Fun Sexy Times by Meredith McClaren
I don’t have a ton to offer about this one because I’m still a graphic novel noob, but I had never seen a graphic novel + romance mashup and I could not pass it up. And it’s delightful! The volume is made up of several short-ish vignettes with various diverse romantic pairings...of superheroes (and supervillains)! Warm, sweet, inclusive--and very aptly titled.
In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish
This was my first read by Roan Parrish, and omg I am in luhrve. This is my favorite kind of romance, where two people who have been knocked around by life meet, fall in love, and are just...good to each other. Daniel is a professor, a bookworm who muscled his way into intellectual circles from a blue collar upbringing, raised with a houseful of brothers by a single dad. His new job is at a college in a small town in Michigan, and it’s a far cry from the busy city life he’s used to. He’s not sure how long he’ll want to stay until he meets Rex, and I can’t blame him for the change of heart because Rex is THE BEST. He lives in a cabin he built himself. He’s a woodworker who makes custom furniture. He is a self-taught gourmet cook. He is a big tender-hearted softie who just wants to take care of Daniel and I am so here for it. Can’t wait to read more of Parrish’s work!
Playing House by Ruby Lang
A short and sweet novella about two urban planners who pretend to be a married couple while attending open houses in Harlem. So cute! And so many closets and balconies for sexy shenanigans!
Trashed by Mia Hopkins
I absolutely loved Thirsty, the first book in the Eastside Brewery series, and Trashed was a worthy follow-up. I really recommend the audio versions of both books because the narrators each do a fabulous job with the different accents and Spanish pronunciations. This book is about Eddie, the brother of Sal from the first book. Eddie has recently been released from prison and gets a job as a dishwasher in a fancy restaurant, where he meets Carmen, the chef. Except they already know each other from a steamy one night stand they had back when Eddie was first released. Dun dun DUN! How will they handle their new boss/subordinate relationship, and how will they resist the simmering tension between them? And beyond all those complications, Eddie is trying to find his father, who they thought was dead but now he believes is alive. What?! It’s more drama than you can shake a stick at, and it’s so good! And Chancla the evil wiener dog makes an appearance!
A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian
I love Cat Sebastian’s historicals because they don’t abide by the usual strictures of the genre. The characters aren’t all straight, rich, or members of the nobility, and the women aren’t all virgins who have to be taught everything by men. (I am SO OVER quivering virgins.) It’s just so refreshing to read a historical romance that doesn’t erase queer people, working class people, and women who lived full lives outside of ballrooms and drawing rooms. Verity is a radical bookseller and publisher, and Ash is her longtime childhood friend who discovers he may (surprise!) be the heir to a dukedom. Verity is used to taking care of her own shit, doesn’t think she’s cut out for love, and never planned to marry. Ash is a beautiful principled cinnamon roll who doesn’t want Verity to compromise anything about herself to be with him. But...they also reach a point where they can’t deny their attraction to each other, REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” plays in the background, and things move apace. That might be an anachronism, but that’s the way I remember it anyway.