Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 17th, 2013 09:46 am
oyceter: Stack of books with text "mmm... books!" (mmm books)
OMG I read stuff! I suspect this is largely because I am out of playable content on Here Be Monsters and have run out of suitably addicting puzzles on my phone.

What I've read: I finished the new Cecilia Grant, A Woman Entangled, and even managed to write it up. Overall, it has a lot of the things I've been liking about Grant's books so far: lack of noblepeople, believable conflict, an awareness of money, and things that aren't resolved too neatly. I think my favorite of hers so far is still her second book, but I do like this one for the hero and heroine's desire to climb up socially, which isn't condemned.

I also finished (two books! I finished two books yay!) Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald's Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, which I will hopefully write up in more depth. Anyway, Greenwald was the person who developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), and since then, he and Banaji have conducted many experiments on unconscious prejudice and biases. As the subtitle indicates, Banaji and Greenwald are very careful to not assign blame or motive, which would probably make this very good for 101 stuff. Anyway, it's a quick read in plain and simple language, and after taking (and retaking) some IATs, it's interesting to see what's changed with me since 2006.

AND I finished Courtney Milan's novella, The Lady Always Wins. Like most of Milan's books, the hero and heroine actually talk to each other instead of the hero going through with his planned deception, but it felt like the denouement of one of her novels rather than a complete work in itself. There's not quite enough in the beginning to make the bulk of the payoff worth it, imo. Then again, that's how I feel about most romance novellas—there's either not enough set up or not enough payoff.

What I'm reading: I, er, of course haven't continued anything I was in the middle of last week. Instead, I started Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, which is exactly what the title says, if by "we" the author actually means "people like her and not me." In other words, it's the standard "A History of Everything!" that follows a (primarily Western) European history through to the US, with bits and pieces of other cultures thrown in every so often to look diverse. I sound more bitter than I am; I am mostly used to this and pretty much expected it going in, given the title.

I'm also in the middle of Meljean Brook's Iron Seas novella Salvage. Unfortunately, the Iron Seas novellas overall have not been very satisfactory, and this one is no exception. At least there's no eyebrow-raising consent scenarios, unlike some of the others, but the central conflict is a Big Misunderstanding that could have been cleared up if the hero and heroine had actually bothered to sit down and talk for five minutes instead of running off on an assumption based off a single sentence. My eyes roll forever. Spoilers? For the assumption at least )

What I'm reading next: Uh. Hopefully a book.
oyceter: Stack of books with text "mmm... books!" (mmm books)
Yay, I finished a book! Boo, I stayed up way to late to do it!

Kate Westbrook is relying on her stunning beauty to marry someone titled to lift her family and herself into the class they should have been in all along, had her father not married her actress mother and gotten disowned.

Meanwhile, in other family scandals, Nick Blackshear's brother ran off and married a Cyprian in A Gentleman Undone, and since then, Nick the barrister has seen a drop in clients and a similar decline of his social ambitions to become a politician.

When Kate manages to secure a few party invitations, she's sure she finally has the chance to achieve all her dreams. Her father asks his protege and family friend Nick to keep an eye on her, and naturally, the two are drawn to each other, despite both knowing that they are completely wrong for each other.

I like Grant for giving her characters dilemmas that aren't easily resolved by the end of the book: Will and Lydia's happy ending in book 2 doesn't magically make everyone accept them, and here, both Nick and Kate have to make a hard decision about how far they are willing to go to achieve their dreams and ambitions. The parts I like best are actually the ones in which Kate and Nick are talking (often to each other) about their ambitions, or watching how much they will bend their ethics for their goals.

I wasn't entirely convinced by the sudden onslaught of sexy times, particularly near the end, and I think the denouement was too fast. That said, I very much liked that the two were believable as friends. I also appreciate Grant including several female characters, and for the gentle poking at Kate's sister Viola and her strident feminist ways without making her into a Straw Feminist.

Enjoyable, if not as gripping as the second Blackshear book.
oyceter: Stack of books with text "mmm... books!" (mmm books)
I am definitely keeping an eye out for this author, because she seems to be doing interesting things with genre tropes, particularly for historicals.

A Lady Awakened

In order to secure her household's maids from her rapey brother-in-law's management, Martha Russell decides to conceive a fake heir to keep the property. Theophilius Mirkwood is the guy she chooses. The pairing is fairly typical for romances: Martha is uptight, very moral, and doesn't think much of sex, while Theo is the rake who's been exiled to the country. Normally, Theo would seduce Martha into enjoying her own sexuality while she imparts a greater sense of responsibility on him. The latter happens, but though Theo has his mind set on the former, Martha has other ideas.

The sex in this book is remarkably unsexy. Martha rolls her eyes at Theo's compliments and his attempts to please her, and... he really never manages to seduce her. Instead, after the chore of trying to conceive is over, they gradually get to know each other by talking about dairies, treatment of tenants, and various agricultural things.

I don't have the best impression of the book, since I basically would read one chapter, put it down for a few weeks, and then read a bit more. That said, I like that Grant lets Martha be unaffectionate and practical and cold and that the sex never really becomes the Most! Best! Thing! Ever!, as it usually does when uptight widows and pleasure-loving rakes are involved. I also enjoyed the prose a lot.

A Gentleman Undone

I can't tell if I liked this more because it pinged my buttons more, or if it's partly due to reading it in a single chunk.

Will Blackshear (brother of the previous book's heroine) has returned home from the Napoleonic Wars with PTSD and a lot of obligations he feels he should meet. Lydia Slaughter is someone else's mistress who is extremely good at counting cards. Together, they decide to go gambling together so Will can meet his obligations and Lydia can set herself up as an independent woman.

The book is actually much darker than the summary sounds; Lydia and Will both have dark things in their pasts. I particularly love Lydia, who detests feelings and tenderness and likes sex very, very much. Throughout most of the book, Lydia remains with her protector while Will deals with the guilt of wanting another man's mistress, and thankfully, the book doesn't do the usual "courtesan finds sex with the hero to be the Best! Sex! Ever!"

The book is paced oddly, and though Lydia's card-counting skills are emphasized a lot in the first few chapters, that thread is dropped for a bit for a drama-filled house party and then taken up on the last page of the book, where it felt atonal and out of place.

Other things I like: Lydia isn't punished for enjoying sex and gets a lot of agency in the sex scenes (though at some points, I was a bit concerned about consent issues in terms of her pressuring Will). No miracle baby + couple being okay with not having kids. Will's family is clearly not evil, but the majority of his siblings disapprove of him and Lydia and there doesn't seem to be an overall reconciliation by the end of the book. (I also like that Martha's marriage from the previous book still isn't completely okay by the family as well.)

Read if you like a lot of angst re: PTSD, honor, and trust.

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