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Warning: I spent an inordinate amount of time reading Anne Perry books in this sextile as well. But let’s get on with it, shall we?

Exhume by Danielle Girard
I think I got this book free from Kindle First, which is good because I didn’t end up finishing it. Ordinarily I don’t bother reviewing books I haven’t finished reading, but I just have to tell you about this one because, well, here’s my Goodreads review:

I had a hard time buying the premise of this book, which is that an overachieving third-year med student went on a date with an older man who then raped her, and so of course she somehow got roped into marrying him because I guess rapists are just that controlling; anyway, she’s in this abusive marriage for several years before she finally escapes, moves across the country to finish medical school and eventually becomes a coroner, all the while her ex (to whom she’s technically still married) is stalking her. Okay. I don’t think so, but okay, let’s say that happened. So as coroner, she’s called to a crime scene where she finds a corpse that looks just like her and blah blah reasons, it looks like her ex might be trying to send her a message or something (…with murder!) and she’s in danger. Fine. Meanwhile, in her home town, unbeknownst to her, old ladies start getting murdered for mysterious reasons.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and the story gets narrated from several points of view, including (eventually) the ex, who is apparently posing as an incarcerated convict so he can lure a prison-groupie type into doing criminal activity on his behalf. Or something. I don’t know, that part was a little confusing. Meanwhile again, the coroner-in-danger randomly meets up with a police officer she knows casually and they have an impromptu dinner date. The next thing she knows, said police officer is incriminated by some crime scene evidence and the *next* thing she knows, she wakes up one morning with him next to her in bed; they’ve both been drugged and he’s been stabbed in the chest. Because she’s a doctor, she manages to a) stop him from dying and b) draw blood from both of them to be tested before the paramedics arrive and she passes out again.

The NEXT thing she knows, she’s waking up in the hospital, realizing that she must be the primary suspect in this dude’s stabbing, and so she decides to leave town. Because despite the fact that the lead detective is her friend and willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, considering that she’s the coroner and obviously being stalked and crap, running away like she’s totally guilty is the only reasonable thing for her to do at this point. I have by no means given away the whole story. This is about half the story, and this is where I gave up because this woman is so stupid, I’d like to make up my own ending to the story where she ends up being killed. No stars/DNF

The Shifting Tide by Anne Perry
Monk #14. A shipping magnate hires Monk to investigate the theft of some ivory off his ship. This puts Monk undercover on the riverfront, not his usual haunts. Meanwhile, said shipping magnate has dropped off a very ill woman at Hester’s clinic. Why doesn’t the shipping magnate want to involve the River Police, and who is this woman? His secrets will lead to a crisis of epic proportions! (Just trust me on this.) It was interesting to see Monk in a new setting, where he’s a bit out of his depth. This book also introduces some new characters. 4/5 stars

Dark Assassin by Anne Perry
Monk #15. Monk’s first big case for the River Police is a double drowning that may have been an accident or a suicide or murder or all of the above. What he does know is that one of the drown-ees was convinced that her father, an apparent suicide, was murdered because of what he knew about the company that was making the new sewer system for the city. This is an opportunity for Perry to dazzle us with disgusting factoids about nineteenth century hygiene, but this felt to me like a River Police Re-mix of an earlier Monk book. Perhaps I’ve read too many because I can’t remember which one specifically. I found the ending unsatisfying, but the journey was not bad. 3/5 stars

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
This story opens with Karen and her 10-year-old daughter picking up Rex from a 10-year stint in prison for murder. And that’s where the fun begins. Actually, most of the story is told in flashback when Karen was a uni student hanging out with Rex and his flamboyant sister, Biba. Something really messed up happened, and Rex went to prison for it, but was Rex really guilty? If not, who was? What is the Deep, Dark Secret Karen is keeping from Rex and from her daughter? From everyone, actually? This book has a twist ending, and it’s been long enough that I can’t remember if I saw it coming or not. I mean, there were a couple of twists, actually, and I may have seen one of them coming, but I definitely did not see the other one coming, so despite the fact that no one in this book is particularly likeable—with the possible exception of Rex, who I at least felt sorry for—the story held my interest up until the end. Because I am a sucker for Deep, Dark Secrets, but you know my philosophy on Deep, Dark Secrets as literary devices: the longer you hold off revealing it, the Deeper and Darker it must be to avoid making your reader feel cheated. I did not feel cheated. 4/5 stars

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
I picked up this book because it was on a best-of/recommended YA novel list, and as many times as lists of this type have disappointed, you’d think I’d be warier. But this was truly an exceptional YA novel. The main character, Alex, is a murderer. (Not a spoiler.) She killed the guy who murdered her sister and got away with it. Similarly, Alex got away with his murder, but now Alex knows the violence she is capable of and that she can’t trust herself with other people, not even the ones who want to be her friends. Obviously, the subject matter isn’t for everyone’s taste, but I found this story fascinating, and much more morally complex than your average YA novel gets. It was also reasonably disturbing. Content warning: sexual assault, teen sexual activity, and moderately graphic violence. 4.5/5 stars

Playing for the Ashes by Elizabeth George
Lynley #7. Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers investigate the murder of a famous cricket player. Was it his ex-wife? His lover? The woman he lives with who’s old enough to be his mother but might actually also be his lover? It’s a very confusing situation. The book switches between the story of the cops’ investigation–which involves leaking information to the press in an effort to smoke out the killer–and a narrative written by the estranged daughter of one of the suspects, and her story gradually sheds light on the case. Includes an ending fraught with moral ambiguity! Content warning: Some fairly graphic sexual stuff, gross enough for me to remember, but isolated to one part of the book. 4/5 stars

Execution Dock by Anne Perry
Monk #16. Monk and the River Police catch the ringleader of a child prostitution/pornography ring and arrest him for the murder of a young boy. Oliver Rathbone’s father-in-law asks him to defend the accused at trial; he won’t say why, but Oliver feels obligated to trust him, for his (Oliver’s) wife’s sake. What happens thereafter is a freaking mess, which is about as much detail as I can give you without giving the whole plot away. Suffice it to say, Monk has to work overtime—with the help of Hester and his new Riverside homies—to make sure justice is done. Content warning: child sexual abuse, not graphic but nonetheless disturbing. 5/5 stars

Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry
Monk #17. This book builds on the events of Execution Dock. Another scumbag is murdered on the river; he turns out to have been involved with the same child pornography business, the head of which is still at large. Monk wants this business killed for good, but in order to kill the head of the snake, he must first find out who killed the scumbag and why. Another page-turning police procedural and courtroom drama involving blackmail and corruption and unfortunate relatives. Same CW as before. 5/5 stars

A Sunless Sea by Anne Perry
Monk #18. Opens with the discovery of a brutal murder. (Quelle surprise.) The victim is a poor woman with no apparent connections—except for the gentleman who visited her in her humble rooms once a month, and he committed suicide a month earlier. Suspicion rests on the man’s widow, who has no alibi, and Monk is forced to arrest her, though he believes her claims of innocence. So who killed and mutilated the poor dead woman, if not the jealous wife? This book focuses more on Rathbone than usual, but it’s pretty interesting, so I didn’t mind. Involves some plot threads from Acceptable Loss. 4/5 stars

Blind Justice by Anne Perry
Monk #19. Hester works to get a minster/con-man prosecuted for fraud. Oliver Rathbone, now a judge, presides over the case. The minister appears to be guilty and his case isn’t looking good, until the defense produces a witness who undermines the charge. But Rathbone has information no one else has, which puts him in a moral/ethical dilemma. There’s a gaping plot hole in this book that Perry never fills in. I think she became bored with the character of Margaret around book #16 and decided to turn her into a villain, but the transformation was never believable for me. The other villains in this story–the minister and his henchman–were enigmas. I kept hoping it would all make sense in the end, but…no. Rathbone’s struggles with right/wrong and law/justice, however, were very real and interesting. 3/5 stars

Blood on the Water by Anne Perry
Monk #20. Opens with a horrible explosion on a pleasure boat that kills almost 200 people. Monk begins the investigation, but in short order the government hands over the case to the Metropolitan Police, for reasons that make no sense to anyone. A man is arrested and sentenced to death, but then there are questions about his guilt. Monk is put back on the case, but by now it’s been several months and the trail is cold. This book had a slow beginning, and despite the scale of the tragedy that opens the story, I found it difficult to become invested in the outcome. Lots of government corruption and whatnot, but it all seemed a lot less consequential for the characters than usual. At least there was no Margaret in this one. 3/5 stars

Corridors of the Night by Anne Perry
Monk #21. Hester is working at a hospital where a talented doctor and his brilliant scientist brother are doing experimental treatments. Unfortunately, she learns that they are secretly imprisoning poor children so they can use their blood! (These are the days before blood transfusions were a thing, so this is quite extraordinary for several reasons.) The first half of this story is very exciting and involves Monk and some other regulars doing badass stuff. The second half is the trial, and it’s kind of annoying. Two quibbles: 1) At one point the defense attorney pushes Hester into admitting that something that actually happened didn’t happen; another witness had already testified to it, and moreover, we read it happening just a few pages ago. It made no difference to the outcome, but it also made no sense that she would say that. 2) An important character who appeared in Books #19 and #20 as Rufus Brancaster has another important role in this book, but for some reason Perry changes his name to Ardal Juster. (???) Not sure if Ardal is an improvement over Rufus or not, but that’s not the point. Obviously, Perry writes a lot of books and can be forgiven for forgetting a character’s name, but isn’t this what editors are for? And where the crap did “Ardal Justice” come from, anyway? That said, it’s still a good story. 4/5 stars

In the Presence of the Enemy by Elizabeth George
Lynley #8. Tabloid editor Dennis Luxford is being blackmailed by someone who has kidnapped his 10-year-old daughter and threatened to kill her if he doesn’t print the “true story” about his oldest child. Complicating matters is that Luxford is only the girl’s biological father; he’s never met the girl and hasn’t had any contact with the mother, now a high-profile junior minister in the government, in a decade. The mother thinks this is all an elaborate plot on Dennis’s part so he can print the sordid story of their long-ago affair. She forbids him to involve the police because that will mean revealing her secret, so Dennis asks forensic specialist Sebastian St. James (who in turn involves his wife, Deborah, and his assistant, Lady Helen) to figure out who the kidnapper is. Bad things ensue. This is an exciting story because the stakes are high—children in danger and whatnot—and there’s the continuing drama of Lynley’s benighted relationship with Lady Helen, plus some good stuff with Sergeant Havers. But the way the child characters were used seemed vaguely exploitive to me; they felt expendable, which isn’t how you want to see children in a murder/kidnapping situation. 3.5/5 stars

Romance

Not a lot of time for romance this sextile—too much William Monk! But here’s what I read.

Irresistible by Mary Balogh
This is Book #3 in the Four Horsemen trilogy. I liked it much better than Book #2, even if it wasn’t quite up to the level I’ve come to expect from Balogh. (These are earlier Balogh works that have recently been re-released.) Sophia Armitage is an old friend the Four Horsemen knew in their army days; she followed the drum with her husband, who has been dead a couple years now. Nathaniel Gascoigne is in London to find a husband for his niece and short-term love affair for himself. Sophie agrees to help him with both of these things, wink wink nudge nudge. But things always get complicated when friends start sleeping together, especially when one of the friends is being blackmailed and is afraid to tell anyone about it. There is a subplot involving the Fourth Horseman, Eden, and his lady love, the tension with whom has been building since at least Book #2. (I haven’t read Book #1.) Two quibbles: 1) I really thought Eden deserved his own book and 2) this book felt like it should have ended earlier than it did. (I suppose it went on so long in part to provide more time for the Eden subplot resolution, but…come on. Whose idea was it to have a Four Horsemen Trilogy, anyway? That doesn’t even make sense.) Content warning: friends have explicit benefits, wink wink nudge nudge. 3.5/5 stars

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Another contemporary romance I talked myself into reading, but this time I had no regrets. Lucy and Joshua work at the same publishing company. Technically, they have the same job, as their company is the product of a recent merger and they are assistants to their respective co-equal bosses. (It’s hard to explain succinctly.) So there’s a deep rivalry going on here; also, they are complete opposites and just don’t get along. Actually, they hate each other. That’s what they say, anyway. And also what they act like. That’s what everyone thinks because a) they say it and b) they act like it. But you know where this is headed, right? Yes, they are secretly in love—so secretly that not even they know it yet. Elements of the plot are pure science fiction, but I found this book very smart and funny. I may be feeling overgenerous with the stars because when I read it, I was sick in bed and it was a great escape under those circumstances; plus, the heroine wasn’t neurotic, and in a contemporary romance, a non-neurotic heroine is always worth an extra star, IMO. Content warning: Some non-graphic sex. 4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

Wow, can’t believe it took me two months to finish this edition. Actually, I can. I’d just forget the whole thing, but I hate being incomplete! (Though not so much that I can’t stand a couple of months being incomplete. But I know that when I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be desperate to catch up on my blogging. That’s who I am.)

Romance

Apparently I didn’t read a lot of romance novels during this sextile, which is good because this won’t take long.

My Fair Princess by Vanessa Kelly
I don’t usually care for the “foreign princess allowed to run wild all her life agrees to be tamed by proper English lord” trope, but this was a pretty cute story. Gillian Dryden was raised free-range-style by her scandalous mother in Italy, but now that her beloved royal Italian step-father has been murdered by bandits, Mom insists on returning to England so Gillian can get a proper British husband, as befits her station, and also to keep her safe. Is Gillian really a princess in this scenario, or are we just defining “princess” loosely for the sake of a gimmick? (This is #1 in the Improper Princesses series.) Whatever. Anyway, Charles Penley, the Duke of something or other, is charged with turning her into a proper debutante. I don’t remember why. Maybe they’re cousins? Something like that. It’s a big challenge because Gillian picked up some pretty bad habits in Italy, such as riding astride and punching people (and sometimes shooting them). Charles really doesn’t think he can handle it, especially since he’s inexplicably attracted to the minx.

The story is actually better than it ought to be. The only annoying thing  is that the author had a habit of ending each chapter on a mini-cliffhnger and then beginning the next chapter several hours or days later, resolving the previous mini-cliffhanger in a mini-flashback, like “oh, by the way, in case you were wondering about that cliff, it was actually NBD”–an odd narrative strategy, but in her defense, I did keep reading. Well, there were also those couple of times when the supposedly-smart heroine made pretty dumb choices for the convenience of moving the plot forward, but I guess we’re supposed to expect no better of a girl raised by Sicilians. (Do Sicilians ever read these stories?) 3/5 stars

It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
I don’t usually go for contemporary romances, as you know–well, you know, anyway, that whenever I review a contemporary romance, I always begin by saying that I don’t usually go for contemporary romances. But I liked this one, mainly because the heroine was not neurotic. I always appreciate a career girl who doesn’t think she’s Bridget Jones. Sidney Sinclair has sworn off commitment-phobic men. Unfortunately, she finds herself thrust into the company of a very hot commitment-phobic man, FBI agent Vaughn Roberts, who is the best man in her sister’s wedding; since Sidney is the maid of honor, this means she and Vaughn are forced to spend a lot of time together, and you know how it is when two very hot people are forced to spend time together. I know! It’s totally unavoidable. So Sidney takes her BFF’s advice (not great advice, IMO, for real life, but this isn’t real life, so whatever) to not let her search for Mr. Right keep her from enjoying Mr. Right Now. Yeah, it sounds sleazy when you put it like that.

But I found it an amusing read anyway. Again, I can’t stress how much credit I give contemporary authors for creating non-neurotic female characters. Worth a whole extra star in my book, frankly. The hot playboy magically converted to monogamy because he falls in love  is pure science fiction, of course, but then again, maybe a non-neurotic woman in 2017 is too. 3.5/5 stars

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer
In addition to “I don’t usually go for contemporary romances,” something I always say is “I freaking love Georgette Heyer.” This book is not an exception to that rule. It’s not my favorite Georgette Heyer, but even fair-to-middling Georgette Heyer is better than 90% of what’s out there, kids. Judith Tavener and her younger brother have come to London to enjoy the season, but they have to deal with the constraints of the guardian their late father appointed in his will, Lord Worth–a gentleman previously unknown to them but with whom they get off to an awkward start. Lord Worth is a typical Heyer hero–charming and roguish and invariably smarter than everyone surrounding him–but Judith thinks he’s an imperious jerk and doesn’t appreciate him having veto power over all of her suitors, nor his disdain for her long-lost cousins, whose names I can’t remember, but one of them clearly has the hots for her. (The younger one, thank goodness.) As does Lord Worth, but you probably could have guessed that.

Lord Worth is pretty high-handed, as it happens, and not super-forthcoming about his motivations, but Judith is also stubborn and kind of dim when it comes to other people’s motivations, so it’s a wash, IMO. I don’t read Heyer for the politics. I enjoyed the characters and the dialogue, and the Beau Brummel cameo was a nice touch. 4/5 stars

Truly by Ruthie Knox
Another contemporary romance, better than it ought to have been. May Fredericks hates New York. She only moved there to be with her (famous) football-player boyfriend, and after she has a very public falling out with him, she decides to run away to Wisconsin (I think) and not look back. Unfortunately, being the innocent Midwestern hick she is, she totes forgets to take, like, her purse or her wallet or any cash with her, and since she doesn’t want to risk running into any press or her boyfriend’s handlers or publicists or whatever by going back to her apartment, she decides to just sit in a bar and depend on the kindness of strangers. Yeah, it sounds stupid when you put it that way.

Actually, it is stupid, and the sort of thing that would usually turn me off, so I don’t even remember why I finished reading this book, except I must have been bored, and aside from the totally asinine premise, it wasn’t badly written. Plus there was a hot and grumpy New Yorker named Ben who takes pity on poor May because he’s trying to make an effort to be nicer to people (long story–too long for this review, anyway) and also because he might secretly actually be nice, and he made a nice foil for dumbass May, who really wasn’t quite as annoying as I make her sound, but in retrospect, seriously, what an idiot. And while I wouldn’t call this heroine neurotic, exactly, she does have a couple of hangups, body image being one of them. I always have mixed feelings about heroines with body image problems. On the one hand, I get it, all women have body image problems, unless they’re like Wonder Woman or something, and this is a legit issue, blah blah, and some men legit prefer women with meat on their bones, obviously, but only in romance novels are these dudes invariably super-hot and super-fit themselves. I get that it’s science fiction, but come on. DOUBLE STANDARD MUCH? Anyway, it still kind of a cute story about fishes out of water and country mice-city mice relationships and not annoying all the time. 3/5 stars

 

Welcome, gentle readers. I know you’re all just burning with curiosity to know what I’ve been reading this year as opposed to last year. Well, let’s start with the beginning. Start with January and February, anyway. First, the sublime. Later, the ridiculous.

Non-fiction

Saving Alex by Alex Cooper with Joanna Brooks
The subtitle to this book is “When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began.” Which is a very informative subtitle. I may not even need to tell you what the rest of the book is about, but I will anyway. She starts her story by describing her Mormon upbringing; she was the youngest of several children, with several years separating her and her older siblings, so she was sort of like an only child. She got into the usual sort of teenage trouble–a little pot-smoking here and there, skipping school and whatnot–but her parents, basically decent people, really freaked out when they discovered that she was lying to them and staying out all night to be with her girlfriend. They felt Alex was out of control, so in desperation they sent her to an unlicensed “residential treatment program” in Utah, where she was held captive against her will and abused physically and psychologically. This is not a long book, and it’s not a super-profound book. It is documentation of the kind of rejection and abuse suffered by many gay and lesbian teens, and Alex’s personal story is compelling. 3/5 stars

They Shall Not Have Me by Jean Helion
French artist Jean Helion’s memoir of his two years in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp paints (figuratively!) vivid pictures of life in captivity, of the prisoners and their Nazi captors. There are poignant and humorous anecdotes, and some harrowing ones as well. Since Helion spoke German, he was able to work as a translator for the camp and enjoyed some relative privilege as a prisoner; from his position he got to know his Nazi guards as men. It is a very interesting read, and the story of his escape had me very nervous right up to the end, even though I knew how it turned out–which is the mark of a good storyteller. 4/5 stars

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
If you’ve seen the movie or the movie trailers, you know that this book is about the African-American women who worked as computers for NASA, starting in the 1940s (when it was still NACA and they were just building planes and jets) and up through the height of the space program. It focuses on four women particularly: Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Gobel Johnson, and Christine Darden. I saw the movie after reading the book; I would have seen the movie in any case because it has Janelle Monae in it, and come on. I did think the movie was great, but I recommend reading the book because it goes into much more detail about the women’s work and their lives. 4/5 stars

Highbrow fiction

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt
Ruth and Nat are teenage orphans, raised in a group home by a religious fanatic. Nat, apparently, can talk to the dead, and when an enterprising stranger talks them into monetizing his gift, Ruth joins the act. That’s one storyline in this book. The other takes place about 20 years later and is about Ruth’s niece, Cora, who finds herself dealing with an unplanned pregnancy when Aunt Ruth (whom she hasn’t seen in years) shows up out of nowhere; Ruth is mysteriously mute, but she obviously wants Cora to follow her, wherever she’s going. Together they embark on a long journey by foot. Where? That’s for Ruth to know and Cora to find out.

The Cora-walking story is interspersed with the Ruth-and-Nat-when-Ruth-could-talk flashbacks, and it’s hard to tell where any of it is going. It’s basically one freak show after another, and that was my main problem with the book. I don’t mind a good freak show, but I felt very removed from all the characters, who never seemed quite real to me. It’s not a bad story, though, and I liked the handling of the supernatural elements. It was the mundanity of the freak show that got to me. 3/5 stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman
Backman wrote A Man Called Ove, which was one of my favorite books I read last year. This book is told from the perspective of a highly precocious seven-year-old, Elsa, whose grandmother dies, leaving Elsa with the task of delivering some mysterious letters. In the process of delivering these various apologies to people her grandmother has wronged, Elsa figures out that the fairy-tale stories her grandmother used to tell her correspond to real-life events in people in her grandmother’s and Elsa’s own life.

There are quirky characters galore, and I did enjoy the story, though not as much as I did A Man Called Ove. I liked how everything came together in the end, although it was a bit neat, but you know what, who cares? 3.5/5 stars

Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell
As a Shirley Jackson fan, I couldn’t resist this (fictional) story about a young married couple who live with Jackson and her husband, literary critic and Bennington professor Stanley Edgar Hyman, for a term and get swept up in the older couple’s marital drama plus an old scandal involving a Bennington coed who mysteriously disappeared 20 years previous. It’s pretty creepy, in a Shirley Jackson-esque way. Despite the fact that it’s not a terribly flattering portrait of her persona, I think Jackson would be flattered by Merrell’s homage to her oeuvre. It’s a fairly quick read, too, so bonus. 4/5 stars

And that concludes part one of this installment of Mad’s Book Club. Part two is Psycho Killers!

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, wherein I finish reviewing the books I read in 2016 before I start reviewing the books I’ve read so far in 2017.

This installment is devoted exclusively to romances. So sue me.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare
Now that we’ve got that song from Frozen stuck in your mind for the rest of the day, let’s commence with the review. This book is technically part of two series–two of my favorite series, as it happens–Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After. But you don’t have to have read either series to appreciate this book, which features Charlotte Highwood, who was but a child in the Spindle Cove series, and Piers Brandon, Lord Granville, who only showed up for about five minutes in Say Yes to the Marquess (CEA #2). Piers has spent the last several years on the continent in service to the crown–ostensibly as a diplomat, BUT ACTUALLY as a spy. He doesn’t have time for love! Charlotte is a spirited girl with a penchant for getting in trouble, and all she really wants is to keep her nose clean long enough so her BFF’s parents will approve of her accompanying their daughter on a European tour. Unfortunately, Charlotte and Piers find themselves forced into an engagement when everyone at the Parkhurst ball assumes they were the couple who had a scandalous tryst in the library–but they weren’t! (It’s a long story.) So Charlotte has to find out who the real trysting culprits are so she can clear her name and not be forced to marry Lord Granville, who is decidedly sexy but also has major trust issues. (Which I can tell you is true of pretty much every nineteenth-century British peer who secretly works as a spy.)

As a confirmed Tessa Dare fan, I found this book delightful in the usual ways–the characters are likeable, the dialogue is witty, the story is fun, even if the whodunnit-in-the-library mystery is a bit thin. If I had a quibble, it is that at a crucial turning point in the story, the ostensibly-sane hero does something that only a crazy person would do. In fairness, I suppose that if I had spent the last decade living a secret life as a spy, I might have moments of crazy-person behavior in addition to the usual trust issues. So I let it go..THIS TIME. (And now that you have that other song from Frozen stuck in your brain, it’s time for the content warning: there is sex.) 4/5 stars

Luck Is No Lady by Amy Sandas
Isn’t it a shame when a gently-bred young lady is forced to use her mathematical talents to procure a paid position as a bookkeeper in a notorious gambling hell in order to pay off her late father’s debts? And yet it is such a common story. I wish I could remember more about this book. That I gave it three stars on Goodreads indicates a reasonable entertainment value. Yet this is what I wrote there: “I enjoyed this story initially, but something I don’t enjoy in romance is when women put themselves and their loved ones in peril for reasons that only make sense to heroines in romance novels. This is especially annoying when the women are supposed to be smart and sensible. Also, there are subplots that serve to set up the next two books in the series but don’t enhance this particular book at all. I’m not against authors setting up their next book(s), except when the events are extremely dramatic and treated as though they were incidental because they have nothing to do with the main plot of the current book. ‘Oh, so and so was kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, but she’s okay now? Phew!’ Come on, people.” Indeed. Come on, people. For that I am retroactively downgrading you a half star. Content warning: I don’t really remember, but I’m pretty sure there was probably sex. 2.5/5 stars

A Bride in the Bargain by Deanne Gist
I remember this book a lot better. The hero is a logger in 1860s Seattle who has built a prosperous business by taking advantage of a government deal that offered 640 acres of free timberland to a married man. Joe (our lumberjack hero) was a married man, but his wife died before she could join him out west, and now a dastardly judge is threatening to take away his claim unless he can produce another bride. Given that time is of the essence, it seems he has no choice but to buy himself one (as one does–or did, back in the 1860s on the frontier). Unfortunately, Anna, the woman he’s paid for, was brought out west under false pretenses: she was told she’d be someone’s cook, not someone’s wife. It’s hard to imagine that a dude who makes his living selling women would employ such underhanded tactics, but anyway, that’s the sitch. Anna is much obliged to Joe for her passage out west, and she’s happy to work as his cook until his debt is paid off, but she does NOT want to marry him, even if he is a very nice man who also happens to be totally hot (as nice men who have to buy women so often are). So Joe is left with no choice but to make Anna fall in love with him before he runs out of time and loses everything.

Does this story sound silly? It is. It’s also kind of cute. (You know, in a mail-order bride sort of way.) I don’t often go for the American frontier romances, especially those featuring lumberjacks, but I found this one sweet and diverting, even if the heroine was at times kind of annoying. I mean, really, lady: it’s 1860-something, you’ve got no family and no money, and here’s a perfectly nice and wealthy and hot lumberjack ready to marry you. What else do you have going on? Well, it’s a good thing some ladies are stubborn, I guess, or otherwise there would be no romance novels. Content warning: no actual sex that I can recall, just sexual tension and descriptions of lumberjack hotness. Actually, there is a religious theme woven into the plot, but it isn’t heavy-handed or weird. I wouldn’t sort this under “inspirational” romance, but I guess inspiration is there if you like that sort of thing (with a side of hot lumberjack). (Actually, I just like saying “hot lumberjack.”) 3/5 stars

The Escape by Mary Balogh
This is book 3 in the Survivors series, which I have read all out of order, so I don’t think it matters much where you start. This story is about Sir Benedict Harper, who survived the Napoleonic Wars, but his body and spirit are both pretty messed up. (I can’t remember if he’s disabled or disfigured, but suffice it to say, he doesn’t think he has anything to offer to any woman. Oh, these silly, sexy war veterans.) Samantha McKay is a widow at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws; she decides to escape to a seaside cottage she’s inherited, and Sir Ben agrees to accompany her–for her safety, naturally. I’m sure you can see where this is going. I’m generally a fan of Mary Balogh and of the Survivors series particularly, but this one didn’t do much for me. I never got that invested in the characters’ fates. And frankly, I don’t remember much else besides that. Content warning: I’m sure there was sex in there somewhere, but it would have been tasteful, Balogh-style sex. (I wonder how Mary Balogh feels about me naming a style of sex after her.) 2.5/5 stars

Three Nights with a Scoundrel by Tessa Dare
As I said earlier, I’m a huge Tessa Dare fan, though I believe she did not come into her full powers until the Spindle Cove series. This book is pre-Spindle Cove and is #3 in the Stud Club Trilogy. Get your minds out of the gutter! We’re just talking about a group of dudes who like horses. Not in that way! Just breeding them and crap. You know what I mean! Anyway, this series should probably not be read out of order, as there’s a big mystery involving the Stud Club founder’s murder that spans the trilogy. The heroine of this book is Lily Chatwick, aforementioned murdered-founder’s sister. (Are you following this?) The hero is Julian Bellamy, who has loved Lily for years, but he considers himself beneath her because she is a lady and he is but the bastard son of a nobleman. Julian’s always been sort of a scoundrel but he is determined to get justice for Lily’s brother and also to protect Lily and see that she gets a suitable husband of her own class. You can probably see where this is going too. I wrote on Goodreads that the story starts a little slow but gets more interesting toward the middle/end, as the murder is finally solved and justice starts prevailing and crap. Content warning: I also wrote on Goodreads that “the sex scenes are RI.DI.CU.LOUS.” And by “RI.DI.CU.LOUS” I don’t mean that they are ridiculously hot or something; I mean that they are literally ridiculous. If you like to read ridiculous sex scenes, this is the book for you. Not one of Tessa Dare’s better offerings, but not the worst either. 3/5 stars

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble
Apparently Kate Noble is the author of YouTube sensation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I’ve never watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but if you have and you like(d) it, maybe you would enjoy Noble’s historical romances. This is the first of hers that I’ve read, and I did so because it was on sale for Kindle. The blurb described it as Trading Places meets Pride and Prejudice. This book is the first in a trilogy about three men who became friends while serving in the army during wartime: “Lucky” Ned Ashby, an earl; John Turner, a miller who takes a position as the earl’s secretary after the war is over; Rhys Gray, a doctor. Ned is a happy-go-lucky type who is well liked by everyone; Turner, his secretary, is the moody type, and in a fit of pique he tells Ned that people only like him because he’s the earl, and if he had to be a secretary like Turner, he’d be in a crappy mood all the time too. So on a jaunt to the country to conduct some earl-ish business, they agree to trade places so each can prove the other wrong. Turner’s bet is that Ned-as-secretary won’t be able to get a gently-bred lady to fall in love with him; Ned bets this will be child’s play. I bet you can guess what happens next!

The heroine is a gently-bred lady who was forced to seek work as a governess for the usual financial reasons. I liked a lot of things about this book. The writing was good, the characters were good, but it sort of fell apart for me near the climax. As I said on Goodreads, “I’ve never been a fan of dramatic exits followed by waiting around for two weeks before someone decides they weren’t that mad after all.” Apparently that happened. But I enjoyed it enough that I would certainly read Kate Noble again. Content warning: I guess there is sex, as the blurb describes the book as “sexy,” so take that for what it’s worth. 3/5 stars

Three Weeks to Wed by Ella Quinn
Lady Grace Carpenter has guardianship of her seven younger siblings, which makes her virtually ineligible for marriage, as no sane gentleman would willingly take on such a burden. She figures, however, that if she’s not going to get married, she at least deserves to have one night of (anonymous) romance with the handsome Mattheus, Earl of Worthington. Make that “romance,” nudge nudge wink wink. It’s a long story; suffice it to say, the opportunity presents itself, she takes advantage of it, and then she bolts before Mattheus can propose. The rest of the story is Mattheus a) trying to figure out who this mysterious lady is so he can b) convince her to marry him. On Goodreads I described this book as “Cheaper by the Dozen imagined as a bodice-ripper,” which is not as much fun as it sounds. Grace is one of those ladies who can’t be persuaded to marry a man who can solve all of her problems because she’s convinced he’s only proposing out of a misguided sense of honor. AS IF THAT MATTERS WHEN YOU HAVE SEVEN KIDS TO LOOK AFTER. This is even more annoying than if he had been a lumberjack trying to save her from a lifetime of poverty. And to be honest, I’m not a fan of stories where people fall instantly in love (even if one of them doesn’t believe it’s love, AS IF IT MATTERS). Where the “three weeks” comes into play, I don’t remember, but SPOILER ALERT, they meet the deadline. Content warning: one night of anonymous “romance” leads to more “romance.” 2/5 stars

And that brings us to the end of my 2016 books. Stay tuned for the next installment of Mad’s Book Club, in which I begin on 2017.

 

Welcome to the second portion of this edition of Mad’s Book Club. The first portion, in which we (i.e. I) discussed highbrow literature is here. In this portion we shall be discussing literary offerings of a more modest type, i.e. the type you wouldn’t brag about reading (but I do).

Psycho-killer books

Technically, this should be psycho-killer book, since I only read one of this genre during the March-April period. I know, right? What the heck happened in March-April? Well, mostly I was reading Don Quixote, but I discussed that in part one. Let’s just move along, shall we?

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark
Part of me knew that Marcia Clark had become a novelist, but I didn’t have any particular interest in reading her stuff. Probably this can be chalked up to mere envy on my part. Seriously, it’s not enough to have one successful career (successful, you know, despite that one magnificent failure)? Now you have to be a famous novelist too? Whatevs. Anyway, Blood Defense was a Kindle First offering in either March or April, and heck, it was free, so why wouldn’t I? Okay, I also read somewhere that Marcia Clark was a pretty good writer. Which, it turns out, she is. Not like Ray Bradbury good, but as far as psycho-killer books go, pretty darn good. Her tone is conversational and humorous, and there’s not a lot of extemporaneous info. I like that in a writer of any genre. Apparently her previous books were all about a lady prosecutor. (Go figure.)

In Blood Defense, the protagonist is a lady defense attorney, who manages to be both cynical and idealistic at the same time. Samantha Brinkman knows all her clients are guilty, but everyone deserves a robust defense, and plus, prosecutors and cops can be pretty scummy. So imagine her surprise when a cop accused of murder asks her to defend him. She’s not sure she wants to, even though it is a high-profile case that could make her career (also, he can pay her–score!), because a) she’s not so fond of cops and b) there’s something fishy going on here. Indeed there is something fishy. Suffice it to say, it’s personal. AND it makes the matter of her client’s guilt or innocence that much more consequential (to her, personally). There is a twist ending, and then there is another twist. Part of me was like, “Seriously, Marcia Clark?” And the other part of me was like, “That was pretty awesome, Marcia Clark.” I will definitely read more of Clark’s books. 4/5 stars

Romance

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
This is the first Georgette Heyer regency romance I have not loved. It is not bad, really. Heyer always writes very witty dialogue, and there is witty dialogue in this book. The story is kind of silly, but that’s neither here nor there. The main problem I had was with the main character, a young woman who has chosen to become a governess rather than live in genteel poverty, and by a wacky Three’s Company-worthy misunderstanding, she winds up in the wrong house with the wrong prospective employer, a gentleman who doesn’t want her to be a governess but to marry his dissolute cousin, who (he’s convinced) is bound to kill himself with drink or some other debauchery any day now. The deal is that she marries the awful cousin and once the awful cousin has kicked the bucket, she gets all his stuff and becomes an independent woman. Why would this gentleman (whom we shall call Carlyon because that is his name) need or want someone to marry his odious cousin? Gosh, I’d tell you, but it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a mere book review, so let’s just say it’s as good a reason as you’re likely to find in any madcap regency romance. Anyway, The heroine (whom we shall call Elinor, also her name) does not want to marry the odious cousin because, hello, that’s nuts, and not at all the done thing, but somehow she ends up marrying the cousin on his (conveniently timed) deathbed anyway, thereby becoming his heir.

What happens from there is not terribly important. Suffice it to say there is some intrigue involving Napoleon and whatnot, but Elinor really got on my nerves because she kept blaming Carlyon for forcing her into marriage with his odious (now dead) cousin, when the truth was that she was just too taken aback and indecisive not to go along with everything. And anyway, she only had to be married to him for, like, two seconds, and what’s the point of going on and on about it now? I mean, now that I write it down, it seems like she had a right to be upset, but at the time she was just whiny and annoying. Not always, but occasionally. As usual, though, the hero was perfect. 3/5 stars (but there are so many better Heyers to choose from)

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Julia Quinn is probably single-handedly responsible for my obsession with Regency romance. Her eight-book Bridgerton series (featuring a family with eight children, each of whom finds love, hence, eight books) was my gateway drug. This book is not technically part of that series; this Miss Bridgerton is the Bridgerton patriarch’s elder sister, whom we have never met before, but Julia Quinn likes all her books to be in the same world (and also to capitalize on the Bridgerton name, probably–not that there’s anything wrong with that). Miss Billie Bridgerton has grown up with the Rokesby brothers as her neighbors and considers them her dearest friends–except for the eldest Rokesby brother, George, the heir to the earldom. She thinks he is stuffy and judgmental, and he thinks she is a hoyden, which, technically, she is–always running wild with his younger brothers, getting into scrapes and whatnot–NOT AT ALL WHAT A PROSPECTIVE COUNTESS SHOULD BE. Foreshadowing! I know you know where this headed. By a strange twist of fate (and also an ankle), Billie and George get to know each other better and, quelle horreur, start to develop inconvenient feelings for one another (though of course they don’t admit this to each other because that would be too sensible, which love seldom is). This is typically delightful Quinn fare, humorous and sweet, and a worthy successor to the Bridgerton series. I look forward to reading the rest of the Rokesby clan’s stories. (Content warning: there is sex.) 4/5 stars

A Novella Collection by Courtney Milan
Courtney Milan is hit or miss for me. When she hits, she’s fantastic. When she misses, meh. (It’s not awful, just not my bag.) The first two novellas in this collection are quite good. They are both part of the Brothers Sinister series, which you don’t need to have read to appreciate these stories. The other two were just okay. All stories are set in nineteenth century England. Milan doesn’t use a lot of humor, but she writes good characters (who don’t want for wit, even if they aren’t comedians), and she tends to eschew the usual artifices of romances (namely, characters acting like crazy people in order to keep the plot going). Content warning: There is sex. 3/5 stars

Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins
As I said in the last edition of Mad’s Book Club (January-February), Kristan Higgins pretty much has one book that she writes over and over again, but she writes it so well that I don’t mind. The last book of hers I reviewed was something of a departure. This is more her usual book, about a girl hung up on a dude she fell in love with a long time ago but who doesn’t feel the same way about her OR SO SHE THINKS. This girl is tall, sporty, and the only daughter in a family chock full of sons; as the title might have already informed you, she has difficulty getting men to see her as a potential romantic partner. In fact, our story opens on her getting dumped by yet another dude who can’t handle dating a woman who can pick him up (literally). But soon she meets a dude–a doctor, yet–who finds her robust athleticism irresistible. But wait! What about the dude she’s been hung up on forever? Can she bring herself to move on? Can she??? The story is actually more entertaining than it sounds, although I do wonder about the life choices of some of these people. Fortunately, I don’t have to live with them. I will say that although this is pretty much Kristan Higgins’ usual book, it does have a somewhat different ending. I enjoyed it. 3.5/4 stars

Heir to the Duke by Jane Ashford
This is an arranged-marriage historical romance. The wedding takes place early in the story. Nathaniel Gresham, aka heir to the duke, is good-natured but duty-bound control freak. He thinks his marriage to the very proper Violet Devere satisfactory and sensible. What he doesn’t know is that Violet has been repressing her adventurous spirit for years because her grandmother what raised her kept her on such a short leash, but now that she is married, she is ready to let her freak flag fly. Don’t be alarmed–it’s not that kind of freak flag. She just wants to wear fashionable clothes and go to the theatre and junk. But then she learns a deep, dark secret about herself, and she’s afraid that if she tells her good-natured but very proper husband, he will be DISGUSTED. Don’t worry–it’s not that kind of deep, dark secret. Suffice it to say, Nathaniel learns how to relax and have a good time, secrets are revealed, and really, not all that much happens, but it’s a light-hearted romp, fun while it lasts. Content warning: I think there is sex, although I don’t really remember. It seems like it wasn’t terribly explicit, though. YMMV. 3/5 stars

A Duke of Her Own by Lorraine Heath
Here is another story about a gently-bred lady (sister to an earl, in fact) facing genteel poverty who decides to strike out on her own by hiring herself out as a chaperone for American heiresses in London. What she’s really doing is less chaperoning and more husband-vetting. Her brother and his pals–all of them broke and needing wealthy wives–want her to set them up with some American sugar mamas, but she is too conscientious to recommend these dissolute rakes to her charges. Unfortunately, the Duke of Hawkhurst, her brother’s BFF, whom she has always held in disdain despite him being really hot, is determined to win the hand of this season’s loveliest and richest American girl, no matter what it takes, because only a vast influx of cash will allow him to restore his estates and bring out his illegitimate half-sister into society. So he’s ruthless, but for noble reasons. And unfortunately, as Lady Louisa comes to realize this, she finds she is no longer immune to his hotness. ALSO unfortunate: the duke is not nearly as attracted to the rich American beauty as he is to her most provoking chaperone. HIGHJINKS ENSUE.

Actually, this is quite a well-done story. Often in these must-marry-for-money tales, someone turns out to be a secret millionaire or something. In this case there is no deus ex machine. The hero and heroine really are facing genteel poverty. The stakes are high. No one acts like only a crazy person would (well, except when they’re addled by lust, but that’s to be expected). BUT DOES LOVE PREVAIL? You must read to find out. (Or, you know, you could guess.) Content warning: There is sex. (I remember that much.) 3.5/5 stars

I meant to make this a monthly thing, but I keep going with the bimonthly thing. Maybe next month.

Once again, we shall divide and conquer by genre, starting with the highbrow books.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Can you believe I had never read The Martian Chronicles before? Not even one chronicle had I read of it. I’m afraid I am a late-adopting Ray Bradbury reader. I read that one story of his about Picasso–at least I think that was Ray Bradbury. I’m pretty sure. That was in college, and I always meant to read more Ray Bradbury after that, but, well, you know me. Anyway, I read The Illustrated Man last year–that was awesome, by the way–and I quite enjoyed these Martian Chronicles. I don’t know what else to say except that Ray Bradbury is an awesome writer, which you probably already knew because who else besides me would wait 44 years to read The Martian Chronicles? And if, by some chance, you haven’t read Ray Bradbury yet–say, maybe you’re only eleven years old and just stumbled onto this blog by chance and have read this far only because you are filled with ennui and nothing really matters anymore, so why not read about what some middle-aged housewife is reading–you must go read some Ray Bradbury today. I promise your ennui will be significantly diminished, if not wiped out entirely, like some Martians I know. (NOT A SPOILER.) 5/5 stars

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
This is one of Princess Zurg’s favorite movies–she thinks Howl is hot (you know, for an animated character)–but I have never seen the movie. I’ve been meaning to watch the movie, but when I saw that it was a book, I felt obligated to read the book first because that is how I am. For those of you who have neither read the book nor seen the movie, it’s about this young woman, Sophie, who gets cursed by a witch and turns into an old woman (because that’s the curse), but never one to be kept down, she takes control of her own destiny and sets out to get the curse removed, and that’s how she meets the wizard named Howl–who is legendary for stealing young girls, who are never heard from again, and he lives in a moving castle. That last part is pretty hard to explain. Suffice it to say, it’s pretty wild. Sophie ingratiates herself with Howl’s household and gradually grows attached to Howl himself (in the metaphorical sense–just saying, because you never know with these magical books), and I can see why PZ is attracted to Howl because a) he’s a young, attractive wizard and b) he has Secrets and A Past and is Conflicted and Emotionally Unavailable, and what woman can resist that? This is a delightful fairy tale of a book and pretty weird. You can see why the Japanese would make a movie out of it. 5/5 stars

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Generally speaking, I am not such a fan of epistolary novels. I don’t even like the idea of epistolary novels. But the description of this book said it put the “pissed” in “epistolary,” so naturally that piqued my interest. It is indeed a novel about a middle-aged professor of English who spends an inordinate amount of time writing letters of recommendation for various students and also pretty much anyone else who asks them. He also writes letters of complaint (quelle surprise). He is pissed because he has been disappointed in his professional life–not only as an undervalued English professor, but mainly as a writer–and also in love, but he’s mainly pissed about being frustrated professionally and feeling like no one listens to or cares about him.

I have to say, his story may have hit a little too close to home–which bothered me mainly because this character is kind of a douchebag, and I thought his protégé (on whose behalf he wrote the most letters) was probably a douchebag too, which makes one (i.e. me) wonder, “Am I a douchebag?” How much you enjoy this book will depend on how much you enjoy reading a bunch of sardonic letters. I found them very funny. (The story does get more serious as it goes on.) I also found myself wishing I could see this story from some other character’s point of view–but that’s the problem Professor Douchebag knows all too well: no one writes letters anymore. 3.5/5 stars

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
I read a very lengthy excerpt from Don Quixote when I was in college. I don’t remember what I thought of it then. Much of college is a blur, to tell you the truth. I can tell you that I always meant to revisit Don Quixote and read the whole thing, but, well, do you know how long the whole thing of Don Quixote is? It’s over 1,000 pages–which oughtn’t to be such a big deal, but not all 1,000 pages are created equal. I quite enjoyed much of Don Quixote, even the parts that seemed pointless. There were times, however, when I felt like this story would just never end. Like, ever. Don Quixote is an old man who’s gone crazy and thinks he’s a knight like in those old tales of knights errant who fight monsters and evil-doers and defend ladies. (If you’ve seen Man of La Mancha, you know the basic premise. If you haven’t seen Man of La Mancha, I recommend it, but only on the stage; the movie is terrible.) So some of the novel is the adventures of Don Quixote, but some of it is just an excuse for Miguel Cervantes to tell an amusing story that has nothing to do with Don Quixote but it may as well go here as anywhere because that is how tales of knight errantry go.

DQ was originally published in two volumes, ten years apart. Some people prefer Part One to Part Two. Some prefer Part Two to Part One. I don’t know which group is bigger, or what the critical or academic consensus is, but for my part, I felt like I had gotten my fill with Part One, and Part Two was like a second helping I didn’t particularly need. It wasn’t that it was inferior in quality. I mean, I couldn’t tell you if it was or not because at a certain point I was just done. It’s like when you eat too much of a good thing–does the food really become less delicious, or do you just not want it anymore? That was Don Quixote for me. I enjoyed the majority of it, and would I say it was worth the effort it took? Yes. But I was also so, so relieved when I was finished. 4/5 stars

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman
This book has the distinction of being the only novel with a Scandinavian setting that I have not found utterly depressing. (I don’t know what it is about those countries, but their books just make me feel empty inside.) Ove is a grumpy old man, recently widowed, whose neighbors are constantly imposing on him. He is not given to warmth. He is, however, a man of principles and integrity, often to the point of being exasperating to those around him. He doesn’t want anything to do with other people, but he keeps getting involved in their lives against his will, and in the process–you can see where this is headed, yes? He forges meaningful relationships! The story is told half in flashback, half in the present. It is funny and heartbreaking and wonderful. (I did think the ending was a little on the neat side–just the tiniest bit, but totally forgivable because the story is so well told, with both humor and restraint.) This is typical Oprah’s Book Club-style fangirling, but I just loved this book. I would give it six out of five stars, but Ove wouldn’t approve. 5/5 stars

The Trial by Franz Kafka
This is another book I had always meant to read and never got around to, despite the fact that people kept making references to it and I always thought, “I should read that so I know what they’re talking about.” Well! Now I know. I have to say, I found it a bit frustrating at one point. It was like reading someone’s really weird dream. I kind of like reading people’s weird dreams. Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled is like that, and I loved that book. Sometimes, though, dreams can be a little tiresome, and one wonders, “Is this profound, or is the author just trying to be difficult?” I’m not one to give an author a pass on being difficult just because he’s a genius or whatever. So I went back and forth between thinking, “This is cool,” and “This is just effing weird.” It is an unfinished novel, and it reads like an unfinished novel–a bit unrefined.  I had to read all of it before I really knew how I felt about it. (Despite being unfinished, it does have an ending.)

Once I’d digested the whole thing, I found it compelling. In case you’ve never read anything about Kafka’s The Trial, it’s about a dude (Josef K.) who wakes up one morning to find he’s been arrested, but he doesn’t know why or what crime he’s supposedly committed, and no one will tell him anything, and no one seems to know who’s in charge, either. SOUND FAMILIAR? (This is what they mean by “Kafkaesque”!) Things only get more confusing from there. The only thing that’s clear is that Josef K. is powerless. Yet he continues to fight in his own defense because, you know, that’s what we humans do. It is a weird, disturbing book, and significantly shorter than Don Quixote (by about 600 pages). 4/5 stars

Thus endeth the highbrow portion of this edition of Mad’s Book Club. Stay tuned for Part Deux, when we discuss the lowbrow portion. (I know you can hardly wait!)

 

Well, I missed blogging on Tuesday, but I posted something at BCC and I’ve decided that counts. But guess what I did today. Actually, not much. I didn’t do much yesterday either, but I suppose if I’m going to blog every day no matter what, it doesn’t matter what I did when.

Actually, I’m trying to remember what I did yesterday. It seems so long ago. I can tell you what I meant to do but didn’t: clean the house. I mean, I never meant to clean the whole house, but some of it, sure. But I didn’t clean any of it. I barely unloaded the dishwasher and washed a load of towels. And yet I managed to kill six hours while my kids were in school. Well, some of that I spent writing the BCC post, but surely not all of it. Surely not! (If I can’t knock out a mediocre blog post in less than six hours, I may as well give it up right now.) Hm. There appears to be more than eighteen missing minutes on this tape. Maybe I should redirect your attention somewhere else.

Something I absolutely do remember from yesterday, for I still bear the scars, is that in the morning I went out to fetch something from the trunk of my husband’s car before he drove off to work with it (again), and I slipped and scraped my knee on the driveway. It sounds minor when I put it that way, but I assure you, it hurt like a melon farmer. Still does, actually. It looks gnarly. Fortunately, I don’t have to look at it as much as I have to feel it. Unfortunately, it has made me even less inclined to get down on my hands and knees and sort through the many layers of debris that have accumulated on my downstairs floors. I can’t vacuum or sweep again until I clear the debris! I would actually prefer to clear the debris with a backhoe, but that’s probably not the right attitude. I should have an attitude of realism. What that would involve, I don’t know. Aside from getting on my hands and knees and sorting through it systematically, which of course I can’t do because I am such a delicate flower right now. (Seriously, you should see the size of this bandage. It’s hardcore.)

Today Sugar Daddy took me to lunch and I ate too much and then I did some dishes and folded some laundry and washed some more laundry and I took Mister Bubby to Taco Bell before taking him to his four-hour band practice (really) and then I made dinner, of which I ate very little, and then I went to the Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe and had a milkshake because I wanted to and I wrote some crap that may or may not be any good and then I came home and I’m writing this.

SD and I might go watch Hannibal now. I’m tired.

I have friends all over the political spectrum. There are people I like very much whose political beliefs I think are just crap, and I’m sure they think the same about mine. As I’ve told my children many a time, politics is a stupid thing to lose a friendship over. No matter how much I may disagree with a friend politically, I can always say to myself, “Well, they understand that issue differently,” or “They have a different view of the world than I have.” I don’t get bent out of shape over it. I mean, what’s it to me? It’s not personal. So I say, whoever you’re planning to vote for in 2016, knock yourself out. Metaphorically, of course.

Unless you’re planning to vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States, in which case I want you to literally knock yourself out. LITERALLY, knock yourself out, like, unconscious, before you can vote for Donald Trump for President because you have a serious problem, my friend. A VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM, and you need to be subdued before it gets out of control.

It’s still in the correct location. I am still getting used to it. A couple weeks ago I got the okay to start chewing (a little bit) again. At next week’s check-up I will probably get the okay to do all manner of chewing (at least the kinds I feel like doing). So that’s the state of my jaw. It only hurts sometimes now. Most of the time I am just experiencing the mild discomfort of (what I’ve been assured is temporary) nerve damage. It feels different at different times of day. Sometimes it just feels numb. Other times it feels like when your face starts to wake up after a mega-dose of Novacaine. (That’s not a good feeling, by the way.) Sometimes it just itches. (Which is horrible because scratching does no good because I don’t have actual feeling there.) There is a small area on my chin that feels like someone pressing on a bruise (especially when someone is actually applying pressure to my chin, which is not visibly bruised but maybe is still invisibly bruised, who knows), or sometimes like there’s a huge zit living under my skin. (There could be, but after five weeks it hasn’t shown up yet.)

My lower lip and everything below that (on my face, not my whole body) is starting to be able to sense when something is touching it. Sometimes. Sometimes not. I’ve been told that this can take anywhere from two months to a year to heal. I hope it’s not a year because it’s super annoying. For one thing, it makes drinking from water fountains problematic. How often do I drink from water fountains? Well, before losing feeling in my lower lip, I would have said, “Not very often.” But it turns out that’s not true. Oh, well. There are worse things. Like not being able to eat anything! I can now eat many things, but still not as many as I’d like.

Except last night I got to eat all the things. It was the first time since the surgery that I actually felt overindulged. Sugar Daddy and I went to see Rush at the Moda Center, but before that we got dinner at Tilt, where I had the best hamburger I’ve had since getting the okay to eat hamburgers (I’ve eaten several since then, believe me) and possibly the best hamburger I’ve ever had, I don’t know. It was really good. And they had these awesome tater tots that were probably 1,600 calories each, but don’t worry, I only had, like, four. Plus pie. I’ve missed pie. A la mode. Plus a Coke Zero because I have to watch this girlish figure.

Just kidding. Well, I did lose weight while I was on my no-chewing diet, just as I’d hoped I would. And do you know what I discovered? I discovered that I’d rather be fat. Well, not fat, but ten, fifteen extra pounds? Sure, why not? IT’S SO MUCH BETTER THAN STARVING. I shouldn’t say I was starving because I had ample nutrients, unlike the people in the world who are actually starving. One shouldn’t make light of starvation. That’s another thing I learn while I was going without food.

I don’t really want to talk about my jaw or food anymore, at least not right now. I could tell you about the Rush concert. I must confess that I am but a Rush dilettante, not a connoisseur. But I thought it would be fun to go to their concert with SD, and I was not wrong because THEY WERE AWWWESOOOOME. It was one of the best concerts I’ve been to. It was also my first concert featuring pyrotechnics, so I’m probably officially middle-aged now. I don’t think I’d ever been to a concert that was in a big stadium like that, either. That was pretty crazy. Fortunately, we were close to a bathroom. Also fortunately, the audience was about 80% male, so the line for the ladies’ room wasn’t that long.

UNLIKE the line for the ladies’ room that I waited in (waited in line, not in the ladies’ room, though I suppose part of the time the line was in the actual ladies’ room, so I was waiting there too) at the county courthouse when I had jury duty yesterday. This was my first summons for jury duty since moving to Portland twelve years ago. I haven’t done jury duty since I started having kids because every time I got summoned I was breastfeeding someone. The last time I served was in Los Angeles county, shortly after I was married. I served another time before that, I think when I was 18 or 19. That time I actually served on a jury, which was interesting at the same time that it was boring. I was a little disappointed because the case was so stupid. Not even a drunk driving case, which was most of what went on in that courthouse at the time (probably still is). The defendant was accused of “challenge to fight in public.” Not actually fighting in public, mind you, but challenging someone to fight in public. How does a person come to be arrested for such a thing, you might ask? Well, it’s a long story, but suffice it to say we all agreed that it was lame and we ended up acquitting him because a) it was his word against another dude’s, and b) who cared?

I actually wouldn’t mind serving on a jury again, provided I could do so at my convenience. That’s the problem with jury duty. It never comes up when you have nothing better to do. It’s too bad you can’t volunteer for jury duty, like, “Hey, I’m free this week, howzabout I help you out with one of these trials you’ve got going?” It would certainly liven up my day. Which I think says a lot about my day. The day I’m usually having, that is. The day when I don’t absolutely need to be home by 4:30 so we can drive downtown and eat hamburgers and tater tots and pie a la mode before seeing Rush. As it turned out, I only had to be at the courthouse until 11 a.m. because they ran out of trials for us to be empaneled for. So that was a bonus. The bad news is I have nothing else to do this week but housework, of which there is a lot. I’d rather be at the courthouse. Doing courthouse work. Or not doing it and just reading a book, which was what I did.

I must say that I was impressed by the friendliness of the people working at the courthouse. Even the security people were friendly. It was not at all like being at the DMV. Of course, it is probably a different experience if you’re going to the courthouse to stand trial for something. But whatever. I was thinking yesterday that as poor as my social skills are, I could probably pass as friendly enough to work at the courthouse calling juror numbers and crap. But it’s probably a little late for me to get on that career track.

Just as it’s a little late for me to get on top of the housework again after a month off. I didn’t really take a month off, exactly. I took a couple weeks off, and then I started doing housework again, only I didn’t really start doing it in earnest because I was so tired and depressed all the time because of pain and hunger. I am still not back where I used to be in terms of housekeeping conscientiousness. I am in less pain and am less hungry, but I still get tired easily and also depressed because here is my life: housework. Yes, it is an existential crisis! See, this is what happens when you stop having real problems; you just go back to the stupid #FirstWorldProblems you had before the experience that should have permanently altered your attitude toward life but unfortunately didn’t. I guess this giraffe doesn’t change its spots.

Still too early to tell, technically, but I’m hopeful.

The surgery itself went well. The doctor had to put in a few more screws on one side because my bones are old and brittle. Old bones means it will also take me longer to heal, but that’s to be expected. In what ways does your body not work against you as you get older? Presently it is 4:23 a.m., and I am writing this blog post because it will distract me from the searing pain that cannot be alleviated by narcotics. It’s not always like this. Just during the night, when I’m trying to sleep. During the day, pain comes and goes. Discomfort, on the other hand, is always with me. It’s not debilitating, just demoralizing. Like, now that it’s been a week and I’m allowed to bend at the waist and am not constantly on narcotics, there’s no particular reason why I can’t do the laundry and the dishes and other household chores, except that I don’t feel like it. I don’t know all the “medical” crap that’s going on, but there’s some temporary nerve damage that will take some time to repair. Probably more time because my nerves are old and frayed. Ha ha. That might be a joke, or it might be totally accurate. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. What I do know is that my entire lower jaw feels like it’s asleep. I can’t feel my lower lip, which actually presents a few daily challenges. Perhaps you can imagine what those are.

That’s uncomfortable. And there’s intermittent pain of varying degrees. It’s unpleasant, but manageable. Until I try to go to sleep, at which point it is extremely distracting. If I’m lucky, I manage to fall asleep before the horrible searing pain starts in. Well, the horrible searing pain wakes me up, but at least I’ve slept a little first. It’s very similar to the pain of an ear infection. Heck, it could be an ear infection for all I know. I really can’t tell. But it’s the horrible searing ear-infection pain plus the horrible dull ache of a jaw that’s been broken and put back together and was exercised too much during the day by doing things like talking, swallowing, opening and closing in order to brush teeth and spit out toothpaste, etc. Nothing touches it. It lasts for a couple, three hours, and then it eventually goes away and all that’s left is my sweet Percocet haze. That’s when I go to sleep. Until then, I just watch Law & Order: SVU and play Spider Solitaire to distract me from the pain. Unfortunately, I can’t read through the pain. Think of all the reading I could get done by not sleeping. But alas.

In other news, I have lost the will to eat. This was what I expected. I didn’t expect to be quite so demoralized by it. I don’t want to eat. I am not tempted to eat anything I ought not because the thought of using my jaw to do anything makes me want to cry. But I didn’t quite realize how not eating would make my life seem so empty. I’m not hungry. Not at all. I have to make myself eat things I don’t want to be eating. But without food, my existence really is quite barren. It’s funny. I’ve joked about these things in the past, but it turns out to be actually true. I would cry, but that would take away the one immediate benefit this surgery has given me: I can breathe much easier now. That’s to be expected, I guess, when you increase your airway by a centimeter. But it’s really quite remarkable. I never realized how compromised my airway was before because that was all I knew. For 44 years I was merely breathing, but now I am BREATHING.

This is why I paid someone to break my jaw and put it back together. Among other things, but those are to be fully realized in the future. For now it’s mainly breathing.

I see the doctor again tomorrow. The swelling has gone down considerably in the last week. I went from looking like Jabba the Hutt to looking like Marlon Brando in the Godfather, but as of now I basically look like Fat Batman. So no, the cosmetic benefits, if there are any, have not yet been realized. But we shall see, gentle readers. We shall see.

Now my pain has gone away and I’m going to fall asleep, if I can possibly ignore whatever stupid bird is chirping outside my window.

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