Tag Archive: 6

Dec 31

Book Review: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

24602886 I haven’t read much of Sarah Vowell’s stuff in the past. I picked up Assassination Vacation over the summer when I was in a really heavy essay phase, and I enjoyed it well enough. But it wasn’t enough to get me to go hear her talk at ALA Annual this past summer, and I didn’t exactly rush out to read this the moment it came out. I guess I thought I mostly just didn’t care about the subject and that it wouldn’t have anything to say to me.

Well, this was before I like a good chunk of the country became obsessed with the Hamilton cast album. But since we have and since we did, my interest in the Marquis de Lafayette has increased by a large margin. So I picked up this book from the new shelf at the library where I work as I was headed out the door for Christmas vacation. And because I thought it would be a humorous light read like Assassination Vacation, I went ahead and picked up as a nonfiction palette cleanser after finishing the phenomenal Vicious. 

First off, this book isn’t essays, and it doesn’t have chapters. How am I supposed to deal with this? I never quite knew when I could put it down. Second, because I picked up the book just because it was Sarah Vowell, I didn’t realize it was a biography. Which is fine. I just don’t read a lot of biographies.

Where this book shines is in giving a much-overlooked French perspective to the American Revolution. First off, however bad off you think the Continental Army was, they were way worse off. They perennially did not have enough shoes, clothes, or food to go around. It reminded me how close the American Revolution and the Seven Years War were to each other in time and how, geopolitically speaking, the American Revolution was really a skirmish between two superpowers that had actively hated each other for centuries. The birth of America was practically collateral damage.

Then there are tidbits about how we Americans were not quite the masters of our fate that we always suppose ourselves to be. At the fall of Yorktown (which I’ve always assumed was in New York because it has York but is totally in Virginia), there were twice as many French soldiers there as Americans. And that made it especially classy when the British tried to surrender to the French and the French made them surrender to the Americans because while it was America’s war, the French totally ruled the day. But even before Yorktown happened, there was the naval Battle of the Chesapeake that paved the way for the Yorktown victory. And who was fighting? France and Britain. Because Lord knows we didn’t have a navy. When Vowell is exploring these sorts of things, the book has a compelling interest that keeps things moving.

The Marquis does not have time for your shenanigans. He has Washington’s butt to kiss.

Now, my favorite parts of the book are when she fast-forwards to the present and talks about exploring for Lafayette related monuments or sightseeing and talking to re-enactors and seeing how things are remembered in the present day. But these instances have a bit of distance between them in the book, and I was always left wishing that they were a bit longer and that I could learn more about that quest rather than the young Lafayette’s hunt for glory. Oh, and it struck me as odd that even though this was America-centric look at Lafayette, it barely touched on his life post-Revolution, only painting it in the broadest of strokes. He lived to a ripe old age, but it seems that he had a lot more adventures that potentially could have been included. But maybe it’s outside the scope of the book. What do I know.

But the principal problem with this book doesn’t really have anything to do with this book. It more has to do with the fact that I am just not that interested in American history. I never have been. Maybe it’s because I have uniquely bad classes in the subject. Maybe it’s because I like my history like I like my cheese: with a little bit of depth and age. Maybe it’s just because I find other countries more exciting. But the subject has never done a lot for me, and this remains true with Vowell’s book. While it certainly added to my store of knowledge and gave me a new perspective on the war, it hasn’t inspired me to delve any deeper into the subject.

JMF Rating: 6/10

’til next time,

-JMF

Feb 28

Review: God Save the Queen by Kate Locke

God Save the QueenI read God Save the Queen in as close to a single sitting as it gets. I mean, I moved around the house, but I read it until I was through. It’s been too long since I’ve done that, and I like it when I get the chance.

The story is set in a steampunk Victorian England that has stretched into the modern day. There are three big alternate races: werewolves, vampires, and goblins. Each is caused by a mutation of the Black Plague. Victoria is a vampire, and she’s been ruling for 175 years. In Europe, those with the full plague rule everyone else. There are some half-breeds that are associated with the fully plagued, but the halvies serve as protectors, soldiers, and other functionaries.

Enter our hero Xandra who knows something is afoot when her sister is admitted to Bedlam Asylum. The sister immediately burns herself to death.

buffyfirepretty

But Xandra knows it’s not her! She was scared of fire! Everyone is being shifty about the death and there are a lot of almost imperceptible stress signals and moments of relief! And the diamond in her tooth was missing! This leads Xandra on a massive hunt to figure out where her sister is. And that revelation ends up putting her on a path where she can trust no one and where she finds that the things she has believed her entire life might just be a lie.

Okay, no might: they are a lie. This is one of those urban fantasy stories where the heroine has to learn a lot of things quickly, and everyone who should have been good is bad and everyone she meets since the beginning is pretty much an ally. Also, we indulge in the “most special girl in the world” trope that’s pretty common to urban fantasy/dystopia style literature. And I’m of two minds about it: on the one hand, does every story in these settings have to be about the person who can absolutely fix it because they’re special? On the other hand: why write a story if the main character isn’t at least a little special. It’s a balancing act, and for the most part, Locke succeeds. I liked Xandra.

And while Xandra figured out what she is and the person that was an immediate threat is neutralized by the end of the novel, the entire story (ESPECIALLY the ending) feels like a set-up for a series. Which it is. Obviously. I’m a little torn about whether to keep pursuing it because the problem with knowing you’ve got 4 or 5 books more is that I have a hard time getting into the hero’s plight: I know they’re going to make it out alive. Once again: not Locke’s issue, but just something I as a reader have to contend with.

Oh, and the very special Xandra has stolen the heart of the Scottish alpha werewolf. So mix in two ounces of paranormal romance into our steampunk-y cocktail.

JMF Rating: 6/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Mar 21

Review: Spark by Brigid Kemmerer

Spark

You may recall that when I reviewed Storm, the first book in the Elemental Series, I was a so-so fan. And don’t be fooled by this review of the second book coming so quickly after the first.  I’ve read many things in between, and I am just crazily far behind on reviewing things (and crazily busy with all the other things). But I keep reading because in the third book, one of the twins ends up coming out. And so LGBT business and contemporary fantasy being my sweet spot, I’m giving this series a chance to pull me in.

This book follows one of the twins, Gabriel. He can control fire, and is consequently, a hot head. He’s quick to anger, he overreacts to thing, he always sparks conflict, and he’s terribly moody. and temperamental. In other words, a normal 16 year old, but now with control of fire. And this athlete is having trouble because not only is an arsonist going around burning down houses and framing him, but he’s also failing math. Seriously, sometimes the counterpoint of problems in YA books makes me lol.

And because this is paranormal romance, there’s a girl. Layne is the nerdy girl in math who offers to help Gabriel get back on track. Come to find out, Layne comes from a broken home and lives with her dad who is uber wealthy but uber distant. She also has a deaf younger brother named Simon who ends up on the same sportsball team as Gabriel, and Gabriel ends up looking after him and getting him out of scrapes. Because all the villains are kinda one-sided brutes who live to make people’s lives worse. They do terrible things so they must be terrible people, right?

tonepointed

Maybe my tone is pointed, but the bad guys in the Elemental series aren’t nuanced; their high school Bond villains.

And because of the hotheaded nature of Gabriel and the distance of the father, the two end up getting in a fight, making the burgeoning love affair illicit and hidden.

I know from my scoffing at some of the tropes used, it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book. And that’s not true; I did enjoy it. I just found parts of it to be terribly cliche, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. Hell, lots of the LGBT fiction that I read is cliche, but I eat like cotton candy. It’s not doing anything for me nutrition wise, but I like the taste in my mouth. And this book didn’t suffer from some of the problems that the first one did. First and foremost, no problematic rape storyline (although their intimate moment does end up kinda setting a barn on fire and healing Layne of her childhood burn scars [what?]). Also, Kemmerer isn’t trying to do so much series exposition all at once. I didn’t notice this about the first book until I had finished the second one, but Kemmerer put a lot of exposition on the table: all four brothers, romantic female lead, best friend character, new kid in town character, bad guys, teachers, and building a world for this magic type paranormal activity to exist. No wonder the narrative suffered a bit. With a bit less to do at once, this story is strengthened due to its more singular focus.

Oh, and I love a good deaf character. Way under-represented in literature, and there should be tons more.

JMF Rating: 6/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Jan 10

Review: Start by Jon Acuff

Start.

I don’t know. I just don’t know. Start should have been a book that was right up my alley. It’s business-oriented, very aspirational, easy to read, has actionable items…everything I look for in my own personal brand of self help. But…I don’t think it did it for me.

This is the followup to Acuff’s book Quitter. In this book, he basically advocates a five stage approach to moving away from average towards being awesome. While he doesn’t advocate that there is a shortcut along the way, he does say that it doesn’t have to take the traditional 50 years. The other central conceit of the book is that you’re never too late to get started, and that anyone can be “in their 20’s” whenever they want to get started. Even if, in my case, you’re literally in your 20’s. He covers not listening to voices of despair and working hard to get where you want and not being afraid about not knowing where you’re going. And maybe I’ve heard it before, and that’s why it didn’t do it for me, but I had the hardest time getting into it.

The kicker is, Acuff has some great advice. The idea of really measuring what you spend your time on in a week and then figuring out where you can salvage time to devote to your dreams is great and has made me a lot more cognizant of when I’m just dicking around. And he advocates getting up at 5 AM because you’ll be fresh and that time isn’t devoted to anything, so you can use it for whatever you want. I really want to adopt that strategy (I’m already getting up at 6:15 pretty consistently).

But there are other parts of the story that just didn’t do it for me. Often, Acuff would tell a story that illustrated his point, but he’d stop the story before the conclusion because the part that illustrated his point was done. While this led to a much more streamlined book, I prefer a more Malcolm Gladwell-style looking at a story from beginning to end from multiple angles. Another bit is that Acuff works for used to work for Dave Ramsey, who is a Christian financial guru (thanks to Pearson for the updated info). Whenever people want to mix business and religion, I am instantly suspicious and on my guard. Wariness is probably not the best attitude to approach books like this, but that’s just the way it is sometimes.

Belle eybrow

What are you hiding?

And it so bums me out that I didn’t get more out of this for two reasons. First, Acuff seems like a really nice guy. He’s charming, he is funny (or at least tries to be), he seems sincere, he’s very complimentary towards his family, he seems very grounded, and he seems passionate about what he says. Second, tons of other people LOVED this book. The reviews glow. And I just don’t see it, and I wish I did.

JMF Rating: 6/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Jan 02

Review: A Knitter in His Natural Habitat by Amy Lane

Knitter in His Natural Habitat

Okay, so this book has put me into a bit of a dilemma. I’m not sure if it is a better example of the fact that the vast majority of m/m romance readers are women, or if it is a better example of the fact that there is literally a book for all tastes. So, let’s split the difference and call it a tie. Because A Knitter In His Natural Habitat is a m/m romance story about Stanley, a yarn buyer/jack-of-all-trades who grows up into a real gay man by learning to knit.

Okay, it’s not quite that easy, but almost. Stanley has his fling with benefits in the backroom cut short because the other guy, Craw, decides to settle down with a nice guy, all proper-like. And Stanley, man whore of all Boulder, gets dropped hard. And instead of whoring himself back to health like he usually does, he decides, at Thanksgiving, to learn to knit and learn to love himself and stop putting out in the back rooms of clubs. All at the same time.

And I know that sounds a bit sex negative, but I’m really not. I’m a big do what you want fan, so long as it makes you happy. And it’s not as if his past passes lightly in the book. We are told numerous times and repeatedly and again and again that:

Boy is a Bottom - Willam

But since Stanley isn’t happy with his all-the-dudes lifestyle, maybe the romance genre has a monogamous solution to this problem.

Indeed it does. So, after three months of no sex, Stanley meets Johnny, sexy Italian delivery guy. Cue incredibly fast ramp up to relationship built on love and secrets. Not that it’s bad; it’s sweet. Just fast. Because we’re about to take a turn from sweet knitting story into…

…A MOB STORY!

Yes, I didn’t see that coming either. Turns out, Johnny is in Witness Protection because he saw a mobster kill a prostitute. And the mobster’s son is after him now. So we have running and hiding and fights and shootings and scenes in hospitals. It gets a little heavy for your lighthearted romance, but anything to get the blood flowing in any direction. And, in great Oscar Wilde fashion, the good end happily and the bad unhappily. You know, with cookies and knitted goods and a baby. Like you do.

I mean, this book is popcorn literature, but I enjoyed it well enough for what it is. And if this is the sort of thing that really twists your knobs, you should know this is the fourth in a series.  So you can get all your fabric craft gay love on.

JMF Rating: 6/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

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