03 January 2023

Reading List, October - December 2022

 Ali Hazelwood, Below Zero. NY: Jove, 2022.

It’s a new structure, alternating between present crisis and backstory, but the same plot -- and the same two meter / 90kg brilliant leading man, who is in this case working for NASA -- since he was nineteen -- who is awkward in a way that allows Hannah, like her friend Mara in the last book (and doubtless her other grad school friend Sadie in one yet to come) to confuse serious interest for dislike, just like Pride and Prejudice.

Danielle Dresser, Accidental Pinup. NY: Jove, 2022.

Cassie is so excited about designing her friend’s upcoming plus-size lingerie line advertising campaign, until she goes from behind the camera to a starring role. Can Cassandra get comfortable working, in her undies, with the rival photographer they hire instead?

Frank Miller et al, Batman: Year One. Burbank, CA: Detective Comics, 2017.

Collecting the story arc of Batman #404 - 407, this Delux Edition also includes an introduction by Miller and tons of extras, like character sketches and storyboards. The story itself codifies the legend for a new generation by showing, in stages, how Bruce Wayne becomes The Batman.

Alexis Hall, Boyfriend Material. Napersville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2020.

I cried when Hall broke the fourth wall. I’ve been reading conversational contemporary romance for three years, and this is the first time an author has addressed me directly. Of course an author knows we’re here -- the entire reason for the enterprise, after all -- I simply hadn’t realized how much I wanted acknowledgement in addition to the emotional manipulation that fiction inflicts. Thank you. When a voice is clearly conversing, even monologuing, the other party has to be identified to the reader (as the reader); otherwise, the narrator is talking to themself and this (like the fiction author, see the problem?) is insane.

Or maybe I’m just nuts myself, the fourth wall is an archaic convention that even I ignore, and the standards of 19th Century fiction never did apply. Or maybe the gay romance is already edgy enough that other things are let slide. No matter. It made me happy. Reward Alexis Hall for making me happy and read the damn book.

Alexis Hall, Husband Material. Napersville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2022.

The sequel, in which Luc and Oliver navigate individual insecurities along their rout from fake-dating to the alter. Or, Four Weddings and a Funeral, if you prefer the movie version.

Margarita Montimore, Acts of Violet. NY: Flatiron, 2022.

Like The Ghost Network, this features a brilliant artist gone missing. In this case, Violet Volk is a stage magician, and neither her fans nor family can, even ten years later, accept her disappearance.

Emily Henry, Beach Read. NY: Jove, 2020.

The Beach Read is a genre of fluffy, cotton-candy fiction that one picks up in the airport and leaves on the plane, the sort of meaningless fun anyone can enjoy or ignore (or write, supposedly). This book isn’t one of those -- but one of the characters writes them. Or wrote them, before her life fell apart and she moved into her dead father’s West Michigan lake house. Now she has a deadline and no book.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. NY: Modern Library, undated.

Austen is always a delight. The plot is simple but sufficient; the prose is clean and crisp; the dialogue, sharp; the humor, understated but biting; the characters, exquisitely drawn and believable. There’s good reason it seems that every year finds another adaptation of her work.

Kwana Jackson, Knot Again. NY: Jove, 2022.

The men of Harlem’s Strong Knits return in the second of (probably) four as Lucas, NYFD’s Mr. November, responds to an old flame.

Sarah Morgenthaller, Mistletow and Mr. Right. Napersville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2020.

Return to Moose Springs, Alaska, where Lana’s condo development is threatened by a moose that hates Christmas and a town that hates tourists. But the local pool hall owner might help her with both problems...

Sarah Morgenthaller, Enjoy the View. Napersville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2021.

Now in Moose Springs, it’s Easton’s turn to fall for an outsider: the rock-climbing actress hired to make a tourism promo for the town that hates tourists.

Emily Henry, People You Meet on Vacation. NY: Jove 2021.

It sounds like a Mitch Album title, but don’t worry. The people she meets on vacation eventually help Poppy realize that what she really wants isn’t the escape of travel, but the home her annual Summer Trip companion represents.

Jasmine Guillory, Drunk on Love. NY: Berkley, 2022.

Once again, the only things keeping Guillory’s characters apart are their own insecurities and miscommunications.

Ali Hazelwood, Stuck with You. NY: Jove, 2022.

Sade, the third grad-school roommate in Hazelton’s series, is an environmental engineer. Stuck in an elevator with the head of a rival firm. Who, immediately after she slept with him, poached a client. Awkward.

Tessa Bailey, Fix Her Up. NY: Avon, 2019.

Another fake dating scheme gone awry, with the man-slut ex-ballplayer ending up declaring love for his best friend’s kid sister on-air in his new broadcasting gig.

Farrah Rochon, The Hookup Plan. NY: Grand Central, 2022.

Hookup plan? It backfired. Well, not for Drew. He’d been dreaming of it for fifteen years when his co-valedictorian propositioned him after their reunion -- and he wants it to last. But London? Doesn’t know WHAT she wants.

Tessa Bailey, Too Hot to Handle. NH: Hachette, 2016.

Four siblings driving cross-country to fulfill their mother’s final wish gives Bailey four stories to tell. The first is Rita, who is running from Mother’s expectations, but may be first to abandon the trip she originally proposed.

Sarah Adams, When in Rome. NY: Dell, 2022.

I had to watch Roman Holiday, the Audrey Hepburn/ Gregory Peck film, because it plays a central role: it inspires the whole plot, as a burned-out pop star tries to take a vacation.

Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone, Merry Little Meet Cute. NY: Avon, 2022.

When the Girl-Next-Door star of an upcoming Christmas movie suffers an ayahuasca-induced accident, the director unwittingly casts a minor porn star in her place. One that the image-rehabbing former boy-band bad boy playing the lead recognizes, even if no one else does. They’ve both got to make the movie work, but it won’t unless they can keep their hands off each other off-set.

Kerry Winfrey, Just Another Love Song. NY: Jove, 2022.

Growing up in a small midwestern town is very confining, and both Sandy and Hank drempt of getting out after graduation. Hank did, becoming a big enough alt-country star to tour with Chris Stapleton (hey, someone has to open all those shows; half those bands sound fictional anyway). Sandy didn’t. And now Hank’s back in town.

Susan Coll, Bookish People. Nashville: HarperMuse, 2022.

Sophie Bernstein is a 54-year old widowed bookstore owner in Washington, DC during the early Trump administration, and the pending solar eclipse seems a perfect metaphor to her: darkness is coming. She just doesn’t expect it will fall in the middle of a controversial poetry reading.

Peter Morris, Baseball Fever. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2003.

The first in a shelf full of history from Morris, it already exhibits his detailed use of primary text, especially local newspapers, to tell a story, making the past, through little moments, more real, as he details the game’s spread and growth in Michigan up to 1876 formation of the National League.

KW Jeter, Fiendish Schemes. NY: TOR, 2013.

In the stand-alone sequel to the original steampunk story, Dower returns from exile to see the Victorian world his father’s inventions inspired, including FEX, where Jeter finally names his obsession: ferrous sex, the mechanical augmentation of humans and the imitations of intimacy that allows. The tale ends with a titanic clash that closes this bubble of alternative history.

Amy Elliot Bragg, Hidden History of Detroit. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

This short, conversational history focuses on the eccentrics who built and populated the city and important aspects of early life, like liquor, cemeteries, and traffic. Features many of the same characters as Wicked Detroit.

Nathanael West, A Cool Million & Dream Life of Balso Snell. NY: Avon, 1965.

A Cool Million is the antidote for so many ills: hunger, perhaps, or medical debt. Or, in West’s case, holiday cheer, optimism, Ayn Rand... All hail, the American Boy!
Balso Snell, learning from example of the first novella, wisely never leaves his bed.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Coney Island of the Mind. NY: New Directions, 1958.

As an exploration of American Absurdity, this documents a moment that, in retrospect, seems to have been our peak. With the president at his prayers on the 19th green, jazz wailing in a visual background, and constantly risking death, Ferlinghetti’s fever dream shows that the end has just begun.

JD Salinger, Catcher in the Rye. NY: Modern Library, no date.

I will always be seventeen going on twelve. It had been at least twenty years since last reminding myself how that feels, which was too long.

Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America. NY: Delta, 1967.

I lent my copy to a high-school English teacher in Omaha. Since I’m in Detroit, that made it difficult. Brautigan is worth the effort, though the book is only tangentially about trout or their capture.

Erin Sterling, Kiss Curse. NY: Avon, 2022.

In this sequel to The Ex Hex, misadventures continue as Wells, the eldest Penhallow son, comes to Graves Glen to see why Rhys stayed. Where he meets, but doesn’t recognize, his sister-in-law. Since there’s another brother, look for another book soon.

America (the Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. NY: Warner, 2004.

Ah, a simpler time, when our worries about the chief executive were idiocy, rather than mendacity and sedition. This faux high-school civics text covers the development of our governmental system and its components in nine highly entertaining and thought-provoking chapters.

Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts & Day of the Locus. NY: New Directions, 1962.

Miss Lonelyhearts, the disillusioned author of an advice column, becomes inappropriately involved with his corespondents. Day of the Locust also features a love triangle, between a Hollywood set designer, aspiring actress, her sponsor, the cowboy she invites to stay in her sponsor’s garage, and the cowboy’s Mexican friend. It’s a lot of angles and not much love.

Micky Lyons, Wicked Detroit. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2018.

The Dead White Men who got famous instead of hung, Motor City edition, features the names of streets, cars, and buildings, but not a lot of likable fellows.