So there’s this article on Fusion titled “Nameplate Necklaces: This s*** is for us” (alternate title: “White Girls: Stop wearing nameplate necklaces”). Obviously, I came across this article because I read Fusion all the time. Just kidding. Obviously, I came across this article because some other white person I follow on Twitter was drawing attention to how crazy it is to add nameplate necklaces to the list of things that are considered cultural appropriation. I’m not actually sure if there is a limit to what “should” be considered cultural appropriation. Being white, I can’t really understand what it’s like to have one’s culture appropriated. I suppose, as a woman who was born female, I can imagine it’s sort of like when Caitlyn Jenner wins Woman of the Year when she’s only been a woman for about 15 minutes. Actually, it’s probably even more like Bono being Woman of the Year when he’s never been a woman for any minutes. Then again, who am I to judge? I don’t know Bono’s life! So I’m back to not really understanding how horrible it is when a white girl wears s*** that’s for women of color.

For the record, I’ve never owned nor worn a nameplate necklace. On the other hand, I don’t know how many things I have worn inappropriately–things I thought I was only wearing but was actually appropriating. I’m suspecting the number is low because I’m pretty white, culturally speaking, and have very little in the way of personal style. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool enough to appropriate something. The only thing I can think of is when I attended my brother-in-law’s wedding in Japan and I wore a kimono for the traditional Shinto ceremony–but that was at the invitation of the Japanese bride. It’s not a thing I would have thought to do on my own, but when someone invites you to her traditional Shinto wedding in Japan and offers you, as a soon-to-be family member, a kimono, it seems like it would be rude to say, “No thanks.” On the other hand, if I just up and decided on my own to wear a kimono someplace, that would probably be considered cultural appropriation.

On our first trip to Japan, my husband and I were visiting a shrine, and a (Japanese) man approached us and pointed out that a nearby tree was known as the “marriage tree.” He brought us over there and showed us how to pay our respects to the tree, or how to bless our marriage via this tree ritual; I’m sorry to say that between the language barrier and my faulty memory, I can’t tell you the precise nature of what he was showing us how to do, and it’s not my intention to sound disrespectful. (Maybe the guy was just messing with us. But he seemed sincere.) To be honest, bowing to the tree felt a little weird to me—not in the sense of “this is foreign and I don’t like it” but in the sense of “I’m not Japanese and I don’t know crap about Shintoism and I feel like a fraud.” But to the man, he was just sharing his culture and inviting us to appreciate it.

So maybe that’s the “get out of jail free” card. If someone invites you to participate in their culture, that’s okay. Maybe if one of my black or Latina girlfriends gave me a nameplate necklace for my birthday, that would also be okay. (Or she could just be messing with me. But friends don’t do that to each other, do they?) The problem is that if I wear my nameplate necklace out in public, no one’s going to know that my friend of color gave it to me. They will probably assume that I am appropriating WOC’s culture, and knowing this, how can I in good conscience wear such a thing? I mean, I could say, “Actually, my friend, who happens to be a WOC, gave it to me for my birthday,” but even I know that’s just what a clueless white person would say. If I were the offended person, I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, I’m sure some of your best friends are black!”

Actually, I don’t think I have any friends of color who would give me a nameplate necklace for my birthday. This is all just hypothetical. It’s something that theoretically could happen. I mean, I never expected to be wearing a kimono to someone’s wedding either.

For the record, the kimono was very beautiful. I’m not sure I pulled it off, what with my red hair and big feet. [1] (Those shoes are the worst. I’m sorry if that’s racist, but at least I won’t be appropriating that part of the culture again if I can help it.) I can understand why someone would want to wear something from another culture because it is beautiful. I guess I can also understand why it gets on a WOC’s nerves when Carrie Bradshaw starts wearing a nameplate necklace and suddenly nameplate necklaces are cool because a popular white girl wore one, even though WOC have been wearing nameplate necklaces for years. But I also can’t help thinking it’s kind of like when hipsters sniff that they liked something before it was cool, and now that it’s cool, it’s been ruined. WOC were enjoying their nameplate necklaces before white girls ruined it for them. I hate to lump anyone in the same category as hipsters, but I just can’t think of a more pertinent example offhand. I understand why it’s different: hipsters are not historically people who have been marginalized by the larger society; they marginalize themselves, on purpose. So of course it’s not the same thing. I get that.

Here’s the thing: I enjoyed reading that Fusion piece, for the most part. I appreciated the author explaining the significance of nameplate necklaces to her and other WOC. It would never have occurred to me that nameplates were a black/WOC thing. I was unaware. I’m glad to be aware of her experience and feelings. What I don’t get is the same thing I don’t get about hipsters being miffed that their favorite band now has thousands of fans who weren’t there from the very beginning: why does it bother you that other people like what you like, even if it’s for different reasons?

I’m sure some people would say that question proves I absolutely don’t get any of the stuff I previously claimed to get, if I don’t get that last part. But I’m trying, I really am. As I said, I’m white—I’ve got the white privilege, I’m lousy with white privilege, along with tons of other privilege. I have zero experience with someone taking an aspect of my culture that is dear to me and cheapening it or whatever else one does when one culturally-appropriates. I can’t even think of a single thing on earth that I think of as belonging exclusively to my demographic group’s “culture.” My husband comes from Scandinavian stock; I can’t decide if this makes him more or less “white” than I am. I have no particular interest in genealogy—it doesn’t do anything for me—but I can trace my ancestors on both sides back about 200 years to…England. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this, as it was an accident of birth I had nothing to do with. (It is kind of a bummer when they have those celebrate-our-diverse-cultural-heritage potlucks. You can’t eat the Magna Carta, amirite?) But to me, everything that’s great about English culture is part of the cultural heritage of every American. It’s not like I own it, as a person of English ancestry; I share it with a host of people who are not of English ancestry, racially speaking. I don’t even think of myself as a person of English ancestry, i.e. that my ancestors lived in England is not a conscious part of my identity. As a white person, I have the luxury of not thinking about my race unless I start writing crap like this.

But like I said, I’m trying. I’m trying to empathize by drawing whatever parallels or hypothetical parallels I can to my own experience. I suppose that as a woman, I am part of a historically marginalized group. Unfortunately, the closest I can get to imagining something like cultural appropriation in that context is my above Caitlyn Jenner remark, which veers uncomfortably close to anti-trans sentiment. I admit that I get a little bent out of shape when Caitlyn Jenner is named Woman of the Year for publicly wearing a dress and painting her nails. Women have been wearing dresses and painting their nails for years, but someone who used to be called Bruce does it and suddenly it’s Woman of the Year stuff. I don’t care if someone who is biologically male wants to live as a woman, regardless of whether she wears a dress or not (women can do anything!)—it’s no skin off my nose, after all. But when someone who lived as a man and enjoyed the privileges of man-living for 60 years claims she’s “just as much a woman” as I am, please forgive me for saying, “Oh, honey.” I mean, what else can I say? I’m happy you’re happy, Caitlyn Jenner, but a newly-transitioned woman winning Woman of the Year is like Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize immediately upon his inauguration: you just haven’t earned it yet, baby. (Alluding to Smiths songs: just what a white girl of a certain age would do.

I say that, and I own it, but I also realize it sounds pretty mean—I reckon it sounds really mean to any trans woman (or person) who has had to suffer through things that I will never understand because I haven’t experienced them. Yet I also notice that this means 45 years of living as a woman, having experiences that a trans woman has never had, qualifies me for exactly zero pronouncements on the nature of womanhood. So trying to relate to the whole “appropriation” issue via my womanhood is a fail.

As a Mormon, I guess I qualify as a religious minority. Historically, Mormons have been marginalized. Some would argue we still are (though I would not, not really). And Mormons are definitely a culture as well as a religion. I’m not sure how one would go about appropriating our culture.[2] It’s kind of hard to nail down in the first place, not unlike our theology. But as long as we’re imagining something super-unlikely, let’s suppose that some not-Mormon person took something that was sacred to us and cheapened or commercialized it. Let’s say some non-Mormon celebrity (famous and therefore influential, sadly) started wearing Mormon temple clothes in public because they thought it looked cool. No one would ever do that, but let’s say they did. Most Mormons would instinctively call that disrespectful and gross, but that’s because it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it for reasons other than mockery. One has to imagine someone wearing Mormon temple clothes because they actually thought it did look cool. It takes a lot of imagination. (You could strain something and hurt yourself, probably.) I can only imagine that my reaction to this sort of thing would be to think a) they look as ridiculous as I do, and b) we appropriated all that temple stuff from the Masons, so they probably have first dibs on being offended.

Anyway, they already made The Book of Mormon musical, which wasn’t appropriation but satire, and plenty of Mormons got their noses out of joint over that because a) Mormons generally don’t appreciate satire and b) Mormons don’t like to be made fun of, especially not with F-words. I did not see The BofM musical, nor do I care to—I have a reasonably high tolerance for irreverent humor, but a fairly low tolerance for scatological humor, which is the same reason I don’t like to watch South Park—but I thought (and still think) that righteous indignation/outrage was a foolish response. It makes us look small, and frankly, insecure. I’m pretty sure Jesus said if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you’re going to trash or mock my religion, maybe you’re a jerk (or maybe you’re just misunderstood—I don’t know your life!), but that’s on you, not me. If you want to have a real conversation about my religion, I’m happy to converse with you; if you’re going to be a jerk, go be a jerk without me.

I can say these things about Mormons because I am one and I understand the Mormon experience, but I can’t say to a woman of color, “Your thing about nameplate necklaces makes you look small and insecure,” because I’m not one and I don’t know her experience. I don’t understand her feelings. Is it even possible for me to understand her feelings to the extent that I can understand why she would get bent out of shape over white girls wearing nameplate necklaces? Is there any point in trying to understand, or do I just accept that as a white girl, I have no business wearing a nameplate necklace?

So I’m back where I started, a middle-aged white lady with a free blog and no clue. Where does one draw the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? Is there a line between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation? [3] If so, where does one draw that? How do you know when you’re appropriating something? I’m not really looking for someone to tell me this whole “cultural appropriation” thing is ridiculous. I know some not-(completely)-ridiculous people who have very strong feelings about it, but can’t really articulate the difference between appreciation/exchange and appropriation. I’m not invested in the idea that I should be able to wear a nameplate necklace or a kimono. I’m not even a fan of any sports teams with Native American mascots. On occasion, I enjoy Vietnamese food, but then I read an essay by a Vietnamese-American who was upset that Vietnamese food was trendy now, but white people used to make fun of her lunches when she was young. My instinct is to think that person might need therapy to deal with her issues, but I’m open to the idea of that not being fair. When I was a kid, I thought bologna sandwiches were delicious. I think bologna is gross now. I still like Spam, though. Hawaiians also like Spam. Who liked it first? What does it all mean? I don’t know.


[1] Even my red hair is, technically, appropriated. I was born a brunette, but I think red hair is beautiful and I like the way I look with red hair, so I dye it red, even if it’s wrong. I have extremely fair skin and burn easily, so I almost feel as though I’ve earned it, but that’s just what a clueless fake-ginger would say.

[2] I was reading some non-Mormon person’s Twitter feed and they were saying how their son wanted to ask someone to Homecoming, but apparently, expectations have changed such that it’s no longer okay to say, “Will you come to Homecoming with me?” You have to do something creative, like with balloons or baked goods or whatever. I was, frankly, astonished. I thought only Mormons did this. (We love theatre! And arts & crafts!) Now it’s what everyone’s supposed to do? Is this the Pinterest-ization of our culture, or has Pinterest simply facilitated the widespread appropriation of Mormon culture? In either case, I don’t actually care. Do what you feel, kids.

[3] I went to a recipe exchange a million years ago, and a friend of mine, who was from Idaho, shared this recipe called “Hong Kong Chicken.” It was a dish her mother made all the time when she was growing up. It consisted of rice, chicken, and cream of mushroom soup (basically). So…where did the Hong Kong part come in, exactly? My friend said, sheepishly, “Oh. Well. You see, most of what we ate was made with potatoes. But this was made with rice. Hence—Hong Kong.” I thought this was adorable (and hilarious). I shared this story with someone recently, and they thought it was offensive, maybe borderline racist. Well, goodness—uneducated about Chinese cuisine, sure, but racist? Can’t we just be glad that we live in a world where more people are eating rice? Maybe Idahoans should be offended when other people belittle their attempts to try new things!


So tomorrow we’re going to the pumpkin patch to buy pumpkins so we can carve jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. I’m looking forward to the day when my children are so old that we no longer feel obligated to make an annual trip to the pumpkin patch and pretend like it’s something meaningful. It’s always such an ordeal. I mean, driving out there is fine. But then you’re there, and if it’s not raining, it’s muddy, and everyone has to walk around searching for the perfect pumpkin, and then we have to take all the pumpkins to be weighed and bought and I always think, “I do not enjoy Halloween this many dollars’ worth.” And then we have to stand around and have a conversation about whether or not we’re going to pay more dollars so the kids can do a frigging corn maze or whatever, or we have to look at decorative gourds and homemade jam and whatnot, and it just seems to take forever. Why do we have to do these things? I DO NOT KNOW. Except that I do know why we have to do it. We have to do it because we’ve always done it and so it’s tradition and as soon as we stop doing it, the kids will know their childhoods are officially over and that will just depress everyone. Except possibly me because I really don’t want to go to the pumpkin patch tomorrow. At all.

So I’ve put on a couple pounds since I got back from Japan. I’m becoming aware of my stomach, which is never a good thing. I mean, is anyone ever strictly unaware of her stomach? I suppose I’m always some baseline-level aware of my stomach, but lately I’ve been hyperaware of my stomach, and that is what troubles me. I haven’t been exercising as much since we got home, and part of that is because I’m lazy, and part of it is because now that Princess Zurg has started college and I have to deal with her schedule, my free time has become more fragmented and it’s easier to let the day get away from me. Last year I had a good 5-6 hours a day when no one was at home. This year it’s like having a kid in pre-school again. PZ is in class 9 a.m. to noon, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. (She has an evening class on Tuesday and Thursday.) Since she doesn’t drive, I have to drop her off and pick her up, and it really cuts into my alone time. It’s cramping my style, I don’t mind telling you.

But back to what I was talking about–I’m having trouble getting over the exercise hurdle, so I thought I would try to modify my eating habits. I don’t know why I thought I would try that. I guess I really, really didn’t feel like exercising. Anyway, I thought it wouldn’t be such a big deal to have a salad for lunch a few times a week, cut down on the carbs, etc. I mean, it’s not like I would be dieting, exactly. Except that I had a salad for lunch on Wednesday, and it immediately brought back all of the negative feelings associated with my horrible experience with low-carb dieting in March. Like, the whole time I was eating that salad, I was having PTSD symptoms. And afterward I was like, “Life is no longer worth living unless I can eat half a bag of Fritos right now,” and so that’s what I did.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but Fritos have a lot of carbs.

That’s the problem with low-carb eating. It’s easy to feel full if you shove a bunch of protein in you. But you can never feel satisfied. You can never feel joy.

So that’s my short-lived experiment with modifying my eating habits. Apparently I need to have a peanut butter sandwich more or less every day or I become suicidal. That’s what science has taught me.

What else can I tell you? I was gone a long time. Before I came back, I mean. For a while I was in Japan, but before that, I was just lazy. And depressed. I’m still lazy and depressed, but now I’m lazy, depressed, and blogging, even if it’s wrong. I’m trying to get back in the habit of writing, and it’s just really hard. I’d rather be eating Fritos right now. Or sleeping. I keep meaning to do other things, but I just don’t. My husband asked me the other day if I needed to be doing some mental health upkeep things, e.g. I dunno, therapy, and I was like, “Meh.” I mean, I could see my psychiatrist, who is also my therapist, but I don’t know that it would make any difference. I don’t think I have issues that I need to work through. I think I just need to start doing stuff instead of not doing it. Unfortunately, it’s so hard to do stuff and so easy not to. I use all of my “do stuff” energy to do the absolute minimum.

I keep hoping it’s just a phase. I mean, historically, I go through these periods of extreme sloth, interrupted by periods of productivity. That is, eventually, at some point, I become so disgusted with myself and the way I’m living that I just have to clean the house or whatever, because I just can’t stand it anymore. I keep thinking, “Any day now, that self-loathing will kick in and spur me to action.” I’ve been thinking that for most of 2016. Not panicking just yet, but historically speaking, this is the longest uninterrupted period of extreme sloth that I’ve experienced since…I dunno. Maybe ever. The worst part is that I no longer respond to nagging. Maybe I’m just too old and don’t care anymore.

But you didn’t come here to read my sob story. Or maybe you did. Well, in any case, I’m done for now. Is there anything else I can tell you? I could tell you about Japan, except I’m so sick of re-hashing my trip to Japan. I enjoyed our time in Japan, but I’m just done talking about it. Mainly because it was such a chore sifting through all the pictures we took and uploading them to our family blog, and I’m still not done with it yet. I keep thinking I’ll just power through it–power through a la Hillary with pneumonia–and get it over with, but whenever I get on a roll, I eventually have to quit because it’s time to make dinner or pick up a kid from school or put someone to bed or whatever, and it takes soooooooo much effort to take the job back up again. I think, “I have earned a break from this tedious task,” and I probably have earned a break, but maybe only a few hours, not a couple weeks, which is becoming my average length of break-taking.

Guilt just doesn’t motivate me like it used to. That is also never a good sign.

Yesterday, against my better judgment, I answered a phone call that turned out to be someone from the Trump campaign soliciting a donation. (In my defense, I’ve been expecting a rather important call from someone whose number I don’t know, which is the only reason I picked up the phone.) This gentleman thanked me for my support of the Republican candidate and asked if I would be willing to offer additional support during the home stretch to ensure that Hillary Clinton is defeated. I told him I’d never donated to Donald Trump and had no intention of starting. He then tried to tell me how awful it will be if Hillary becomes president. I interrupted him to say I couldn’t possibly care less, because I was too tired and annoyed to say what I was really feeling, which was “Tell your boss that he can enjoy my donation IN HELL.” Still, when I hung up, Mister Bubby said, “Mom, you totally dissed that guy.” No, not really, son, but am I ever sick and tired of hearing how I have to vote for Trump or America is doomed.

First of all, America is probably not doomed. I mean, not yet. Well, it might be doomed. It very well could be doomed, but America has survived quite a lot in its short history. I see no reason to think it can be brought down entirely by the likes of Hillary. I remember when her husband was elected in 1992. I was at college, and the morning after Election Day, someone had written on the wall, “We’re doomed.” And yet here we still are. We survived eight years of Bill Clinton, eight years of George W. Bush, and (almost) eight years of Barack Obama. Will Hillary be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? I suppose it’s possible, but pardon me if I’m skeptical. It’s not that I think that things can’t get worse, that a president can’t do real damage. I just think the damage Hillary will allegedly cause has been greatly exaggerated. America may get battered a great deal over the next few years, but she will probably survive.

Instead of worrying so much about America, these Republicans should worry more about themselves— because it’s the Republican party that’s really in trouble. So many alleged conservatives say that while Trump is surely not an ideal candidate (an understatement if there ever was one), he is nevertheless the only thing standing between us and the apocalypse Hillary Clinton is guaranteed to bring about. I’ve already talked about why this argument is illogical and crazy, but I guess I’m going to talk about it again because it keeps being it.

Trump is not a conservative. He is not even really a Republican. Not in the sense that he has any loyalty to the Republican party or to any of the ideals the Republican party has historically claimed to represent. To him the Republican party is a vehicle to satisfy his ego and his narcissism. He doesn’t care what other Republicans want. He cares only about himself and his own aggrandizement. If this wasn’t painfully obvious from the beginning—as it should have been—it should be excruciatingly obvious now that he is actively trying to sabotage the re-election campaigns of individual Republicans who have been insufficiently deferential to him personally. If he had any intention of enacting a conservative agenda—particularly those hypothetical Supreme Court appointments Republicans are selling their souls over–sabotaging other Republicans is the last thing he would be doing, because enacting a conservative agenda requires a Republican congress. But Trump clearly doesn’t care if he has a Republican congress or not. What are some reasons he might not care? Well, he might plan on junking the constitution and becoming a dictator. Or maybe he doesn’t think it matters what he does, as long as he can be president while he does it. Neither of these things bodes well for Republicans or conservatism.

If Trump is elected, he will not govern as a conservative. He will not. Unless you define “conservative” as “acting like a jerk.” For the sake of this blog post, we will not be defining conservatism in this fashion. So if Trump is elected, who will save America from the dire consequences of not having a conservative president? Not Congress, because if Trump is president and Republicans manage to keep control of the House and the Senate, Republicans will be doing whatever Trump wants to do, not the other way around. And we’ve already established that Trump himself has no commitment to a conservative agenda.

The way Democrats usually fight a Republican presidential candidate is to tell everyone he’s going to outlaw birth control and throw Grandma off a cliff. But it is very difficult this year to argue that Donald Trump is going to do something like defund Planned Parenthood or reform Social Security—because he’s said he’s not going to do those things. All the Democrats have on him is that he’s a repugnant piece of human garbage. It must be tough. For some reason, Republicans want to get this repugnant piece of human garbage elected in exchange for absolutely nothing. Hillary will probably be a bad president. I don’t dispute that. She will certainly not be the kind of president I, as a limited-government conservative, want. But neither will Donald Trump. Donald Trump will also be a bad president because he is so much like Hillary Clinton, only more racist and more misogynist. If he is president, the Republicans will own his racist, misogynist, big-government authoritarian administration, and while that may not mean the end of America, it will mean the end of the GOP as a vehicle for limited-government conservatism, and it will be the beginning of the end of the GOP as a viable party in the long term.

Republicans will be better off with a bad president they can openly oppose than with a bad president they have to support—and they will have to support him because they already feel obligated to support him now and he’s not even elected yet. If Republicans spend the next four years supporting a racist and misogynist authoritarian, they will demonstrate that they have no intention of appealing to any constituents who are not white males. White males are certainly an important demographic; they have served Republicans well over the years. But they are not as important as they were when no one else could vote. And as a percentage of the electorate, their numbers are shrinking. If the Republican party wants to win elections in the future, they have to start persuading people who are not white males to vote Republican. They can only do that by showing how their governing philosophy serves the interest of all Americans. They can only do that by addressing the concerns of people who are not white males. You do not address the concerns of people who are not white males by supporting a racist, misogynist, authoritarian jerkface. The Republican party was already in trouble before this election. For the last 30 years support for Republicans has gone down among all demographic groups except for white men, and Republicans have done little to nothing to reverse these trends. In this election cycle they have done everything they can to make things worse. They’ve decided they don’t even need women anymore. This is not the behavior of a political party that is destined to survive.

Frankly, I am no longer invested in the Republican party surviving. I think it has shown itself to be rotten at the core, and it probably deserves to die. But I assume Republicans do want to survive. I assume they want to win elections in the future. If so, they have to start caring about something besides winning elections. They have to stand for something that isn’t big government lite with a side of racism and misogyny. They have to repudiate Donald Trump and Trumpism. They have to be willing to exchange a handful of angry white male voters for a broader coalition of other voters. This election is lost. It’s too late to do anything about it. But if Republicans ever want to win another election, they must stop hoping against hope that a miracle will occur this year and Donald Trump will be elected because Donald Trump getting elected is the worst possible thing that could happen to Republicans. Republicans need to face that reality and move on dot org. They’re going to be in the doghouse for at least the next four years. Hopefully they use that time constructively and learn something from their mistakes. But I for one am not holding my breath.

I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for this installment. (Just a couple days ago I was reading a romance novel where the heroine’s breath was said to be bated, in quite a different context. Or maybe not so different. I don’t know your life!) I realized that I neglected to do content warnings for the previous May-October installments, but so many of the books were read so long ago, I couldn’t remember warn-worthy content if I tried. For this installment, I’ll just tell you that each of these books has sexual content of some kind, except for the Georgette Heyer, but I couldn’t tell you how graphic the sexual content gets because a) I don’t remember and b) half the time I skim that stuff anyway, so maybe I never knew. At any rate, on with the book club!


Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
A young widow and her even-younger sisters-in-law are at the mercy of the new earl, who wants these ladies married off ASAP so he can start selling his newly-acquired properties in order to pay off the bankrupted estate. He didn’t ask his cousin to die in a freak accident and leave him with all the debts. He certainly didn’t sign up to take care of three penniless females. (Four, technically, as there’s an aunt in there somewhere, but that’s beside the point.) It’s not his fault they’re penniless (and female)! It’s not like he’s got any money either (at least not enough to support four dependents)! SPOILER ALERT: He turns out not to be so cold-hearted after all.

Kleypas is one of my favorite romance writers, and I did like this book, but I had a couple of quibbles.  First, despite how engaging the writing is (as Kleypas’s writing almost always is), I found the hero’s change of heart (which happens early on) rather precipitous. Of course, it is a romance novel, and the heroine, while something of a PITA, is very attractive and Has Spirit, and one can never underestimate the effects of such a combination on a red-blooded 19th century Englishman. (I suppose technically he is a blue-blooded 19th century Englishman, but in any case, I decided to just go with it.) Second, am I really supposed to believe that the hero, blood color aside, would really take the heroine in a passionate embrace after just coming from a train wreck where he broke a few ribs and is also suffering from hypothermia? I suppose I am, and I suppose I do–but it was not a seamless process of disbelief-suspension. At any rate, this book, while genuinely diverting, seemed mostly like an elaborate set-up for the continuing series–but at that it excels thoroughly. In fact, it took all of my willpower, upon finishing our story at 11 pm, not to immediately purchase and begin reading Marrying Winterbourne. I hesitated only to savor the experience of being so expertly manipulated. Well played, Lisa Kleypas. Well played. 3.5/5 stars

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare
Clio has been engaged to the Marquess of Granville for the last eight years, but the marquess has been too busy with his diplomatic work on the continent to come back and marry her. Frustrated (and frankly somewhat humiliated), Clio finally decides to break the engagement, but marriage contracts already being drawn up, it is not so simple to (free free) set them free. She appeals to the marquess’s brother, Rafe, who is serving as the marquess’s agent of affairs. Incidentally, Rafe happens to be a retired champion prize fighter who wants to come out of retirement, but first he has to make sure Clio marries his brother. Why? Because reasons.

Tessa Dare is another of my favorite romance writers, and this book did not fail to entertain. (Dare rarely fails at entertaining.) But I had quibbles here, too. I liked the characters in this book a lot, particularly the heroine. There was much to like in the hero as well–a gently-born pugilist? say no more!–but the dynamic between him and his brother was too much of a mystery for too much of the story. It made it difficult to understand the hero’s motivations. Plus, I felt a little bit cheated on the pugilism front. When there’s a gentleman pugilist at the center of your novel, it seems like having a Big Fight at some point would not be too much to ask. But whatever. It was still a good time, despite being light on the fisticuffs. 4/5 stars

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan
Let me try to explain this conspiracy as succinctly as possible: the countess is a secret geneticist, and she’s been using her BFF Sebastian as her scientific beard, i.e. she does the science and he pretends to be the scientist, since that’s the only way she can get people to take her theories seriously (and not end up a social outcast). The problem is that Sebastian is in love with Violet, and Violet is determined that she Must Not Love. (I don’t remember why not.) Milan is good at putting new twists on old tropes, and this was a pretty good story, but I got a little impatient with the heroine, whose absent-minded professor routine got old fairly quickly. Also, there was a lot going on, what with all the Deep Dark Secret of the present and the Deep Dark Secret of the past and the Family Scandal, plus the OTHER Family Scandal, plus the old familial resentments, plus a major scientific discovery that I’m pretty sure is not historically accurate, but that may be quibbling, all things considered. This book is part of the Brothers Sinister series, and while I have read the other books, it wasn’t recent enough for me to appreciate all the interwoven storylines. 3/5 stars.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
I probably don’t need to say this again, but I will: Georgette Heyer is pretty much the best. This is another story about a family who are forced to accept a complete stranger as the new heir to the estate. Major Hugo Darracott is the offspring of some black-sheep uncle or something, and everyone expects him to be a complete rube because he’s not of their class. Of course, he is a lot smarter (and better) than any of these snobs are, with the exception of the delightfully sensible Anthea, with whom he quickly falls in love. He spends the rest of the novel solving the family’s problems–the most pressing of which has to do with smugglers–and winning Anthea’s heart. This book became more and more hilarious as it went on. It’s only a little bit a romance and mostly a comedy, but it was delightful all the same. 5/5 stars

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean
Lady Sophie has a humiliating experience in London, so she decides to escape by stowing away in the carriage of the Marquess of Eversley, who’s headed for the Scottish border. (She’s a bit impulsive.) When he discovers her, he (naturally) assumes she’s trying to trap him into marriage. But she wouldn’t marry that notorious rake if he were the last man on earth! Harumph! I found this book disappointing by MacLean standards. I give the writing four stars, the plot 2.5 stars (a fair amount of adventure, but everything revolves around people doing stupid things for indiscernible reasons), and the characters 2 stars. The heroine was…fine, but the hero was emotionally immature to the point of embarrassment. I was rather hoping the sexy-and-scientifically-ahead-of-his-time doctor they met in Act II was being set up for his own future story, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. (One can always hope). Also, I know how fond romance writers are of puns, but the title takes punny for pun’s sake to the HNL. It’s not as though the rogue isn’t, in very deed, taken. Taking the rogue is the whole point of this story. Other suggestions: “Rocky Rogue,” “On the Rogue Again,” “Hit the Rogue, Jack,” “Rogue Hog,” “Where the Rubber Meets the Rogue,” “The Rogue to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions.” 2.5/5 stars

Undressed by the Earl by Michelle Willingham
The Earl of Castledon is a very proper, reserved guy, still mourning the death of his late wife and trying to raise his ten-year-old daughter without a mother. Amelia Andrews is a vivacious young lady who thinks the earl is far too stuffy for her but would make a good husband for her prim older sister. But when Amelia is faced with ruin, the earl comes to her rescue by offering marriage. Don’t worry, that’s just the beginning! Despite what the title would suggest, this is actually a very sweet story, marred only by a surfeit of subplots–one of which is an obvious setup for the next book in the series (UbtE is “Secrets in Silk #3”) and therefore forgivable, but the others seemed gratuitous and therefore annoying. The main story, if you can tease it out of the many plot threads, is worth four stars. I enjoyed the characters, and Willingham writes good dialogue. There’s just entirely too much else going on. (None of which has to do with anyone getting undressed, by aristocracy or otherwise.) 3/5 stars

To Charm a Naughty Countess by Theresa Romain
Before anyone gets too excited, you should know that the countess isn’t all that naughty. She is the one giving charm lessons to a socially inept duke (he suffers from social anxiety, but he exhibits some autism spectrum behaviors as well) who needs to find a wealthy wife to save his estate from ruin. As luck would have it, the not-so-naughty countess is herself wealthy, and she is in love with the duke, but unfortunately she believes he is incapable of love and only wants her for her money. (That is unlucky, and the reason this book is a novel and not a short story.) I’ve read Romain in the past, and this was a step above what I’d read before, but the “I love her but she doesn’t love me”/”I love him but he doesn’t love me” got old at times. The characters are nicely drawn, though. 3/5 stars

Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh
I do love a good Mary Balogh story, and this is one. Book #6 in her Survivors series, it stands fine on its own, and it is probably my favorite. Imogen, Lady Barclay, was deeply traumatized when she witnessed her husband’s death in the war, and she lives mostly in seclusion in their Cornwall home. The new owner, who inherited the estate upon the death of Imogen’s father-in-law, finally shows up to check out his properties, and he is immediately attracted to the previous heir’s beautiful widow, but of course she is determined not to love again. She cannot love again because of her Deep Dark Secret, which she refuses to talk about. Can Percival (yes, his name is Percival) break down the walls Imogen has built around her heart? I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll just say that when Balogh gives a character a Deep Dark Secret, she doesn’t mess around, and she is very good at this angst and redemption crap. And at making dudes named Percival seem sexy. 4/5 stars

Undone by the Duke by Michelle Willingham
I enjoyed Undressed by the Earl enough that I decided to give the rest of the series a whirl, if only to make sense of all the plot threads that were woven therein. So UbtD is Secrets in Silk #1, and it’s about an agoraphobic heroine, Victoria Andrews, who secretly designs and sews scandalous lingerie in her Scotland home and sells them to a dress shop in London. (Her family needs the money because her dad inherited a bankrupted estate but has been too busy fighting in the wars on the continent to come home and pay the damn bills himself. Is this information really important? I dunno, but it’s the basis of the whole “Secrets in Silk” gimmick. Get it? Her name is VICTORIA, and she has a SECRET.)

Victoria’s mom decides to take Victoria’s younger sisters to London to find them some rich husbands, but Victoria stays home because that’s how agoraphobia works. Long story short, the Duke of Worthingstone shows up (in disguise) to check out a property he won in a card game, gets shot by someone who thinks he’s the wicked earl who just burned the crofters out of their homes, and he’s forced to convalesce in Victoria’s house, sans chaperone. You can probably tell where this is going. It’s not so simple, though. If they get married, she’ll be a duchess, but she’s agoraphobic. Duchesses can’t be agoraphobic! Naturally, there’s a crapton of subplots setting up the other books, but it’s not a bad beginning. 3/5 stars

Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly
James Trevenen was stranded alone on a deserted island for five years. Now he’s back in England and about to receive an award for the treatise he wrote on a new species of crab that he discovered on said island (well, he had to do something to occupy himself), but he is still haunted by his experiences from that time. Haunted figuratively AND literally–he has a ghost! But this isn’t a supernatural tale. It’s a tale of a broken man who finds love with a charming young widow who has a young son. The book deals with some serious issues, but there is also a fair amount of humor sprinkled throughout. Cannibalism aside, it’s a pretty delightful story. 4/5 stars

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
Madeline Gracechurch (what a delightful name, I wish I had a name like that) is a lovely young woman with a gift for drawing, but she also has hardcore social anxiety; being in a roomful of strangers gives her panic attacks. The prospect of a London season has her so terrified that she makes up an imaginary fiance (a soldier she supposedly met while staying with her aunt in Bath or something) so she won’t have to go on the marriage mart. I don’t remember how she convinces her family he’s real, but she writes letters to him and sends them as part of the ruse, and she does this for, I dunno, a few years, until finally the lying is too much of a burden and she has to pretend he’s died in battle and she’s too brokenhearted to ever love again. (Also, at 21 or whatever, much too old to marry.) Yes, it’s an incredibly far-fetched story, but wait ’til you hear the rest: Years later, she’s inherited a castle in Scotland, where she lives happily and supports herself as a freelance illustrator, BUT wouldn’t you know it, that imaginary soldier, Captain Logan Mackenzie, turns out to be a real dude. A real dude who got all her letters, and now he’s come to claim his bride AND her inheritance because he and his men were screwed over by the Brits after the war and by golly, this English miss who had the audacity to insert herself into his life only to KILL HIM OFF is going to make good on her government’s broken promises.

Yes, it’s a completely ridiculous premise for a story, but you just have to roll with it because it’s Tessa Dare and it’s hilarious. Plus, the hero wears a kilt and murmurs unpronounceable endearments. Irresistible. 4/5 stars

Marrying Winterbourne by Lisa Kleypas
I told you I wanted to read this book as soon as I finished Cold-Hearted Rake. Well, I held out a whole, I dunno, month. I was not disappointed. Lady Helen Ravenel is shy and sheltered. Rhys Winterbourne is a Welsh merchant who has become one of the richest men in England via his successful department store. She needed a wealthy husband; he was wealthy and wanted an aristocratic bride to raise his social status. So they’re engaged, but Helen has a Deep Dark Secret, and it involves Rhys’s sworn enemy, so CAN THEY EVER BE TOGETHER? I don’t think this book can be fully appreciated without having read Cold-Hearted Rake first because CHR provides so much backstory for this book’s couple and a fat helping of character development for Rhys in particular. But I would say both were totally worth it, if only for the sake of this book alone. I mean, if you like romantic stories with brash Welshmen who murmur unpronounceable endearments. (No kilts, but you can’t have everything.) 4/5 stars

Unraveled by the Rebel by Michelle Willingham
Secrets in Silk #2. The plotting is off in this one. We find out in the first couple chapters that Paul is the son of a poor crofter who is also the secret heir to a viscountcy. He has sworn revenge against the wicked earl responsible for Paul’s father’s death; he has also sworn he will marry Juliette, a baron’s daughter he has loved for years, even though she swears she will never marry any man. Juliette was raped by the aforementioned wicked earl and had a secret baby who is being raised by her aunt and uncle–all of this, oddly enough, she has been able to keep from her immediate family, who are apparently the most incurious people who ever lived. No matter–Juliette is so traumatized and shamed by her experience that she feels unworthy to be Paul’s wife, even though she loves him.

The next several chapters are just different versions of “I must have my revenge on that wicked earl and also marry Juliette” and “I love Paul but I cannot marry him, I cannot!” and nothing to move the plot forward. Stuff eventually happens, but by then the reader’s patience has worn thin. And by “reader,” I mean me. YMMV. Threads of other stories from the series show up here and there but come off as extraneous and annoying, even if you understand what they’re about. It’s not bad, but it’s like the writer tried to cram in too much backstory and not enough actual story. And I know from having read book 3 that there are HUGE gaps between this book and that one, which is kind of an odd choice for an author who is trying to weave an epic story through multiple books. 2/5 stars

Unlaced by the Outlaw by Michelle Willingham
Secrets in Silk #4: The Final Battle. Prim Margaret Andrews enlists the help of Cain Sinclair, the sinfully dangerous Highlander who has been the go-between for the Andrews sisters’ successful (and secret) lingerie line, in searching for her younger sister, who has been abducted by a wicked viscount (I think–I don’t recall exactly). They get lost in the moors, sans chaperone. What’s the problem here? Aside from Cain Sinclair being of a different, i.e. lower, class than Margaret and having a younger brother who gets in deep trouble involving the same wicked earl from the previous three books? Nothing, really. A rather disappointing conclusion to the Andrews sisters saga. The romantic storyline is more or less resolved 2/3 of the way in, and the business with Cain’s brother feels tacked on, like the book should have ended ages ago. 2/5 stars

Beauty and the Blacksmith by Tessa Dare
This is a novella in the Spindle Cove series, which I adore, but it marks the first time Tessa Dare has disappointed me. Our heroine, Diana Highwood (whom we know from previous SC books), is a gorgeous young lady who has been living in Spindle Cove (nicknamed “Spinster Cove” for reasons you can probably guess at) for the last few years because the sea air is good for her previously life-threatening asthma. (I don’t know if sea air is really good for asthma, but this is the story.) Her mother has been desperate for the last three or four books to marry her off to a wealthy man with a title, but Diana isn’t interested in a society marriage; she’s secretly in love with the local blacksmith, Aaron, who is conveniently secretly in love with her. I almost hate to say it because I love Tessa Dare so much and her writing is so good, but there just isn’t much of a story here. It’s basically, “So Diana ends up with the blacksmith. Oh, and here’s some sex.” For Spindle Cove completists only. 2/5 stars

Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Remember how I said To Charm a Naughty Countess was the best Romain I’d read so far? That was before I read this book. The Royal Mint is offering a substantial reward for the return of a large cache of stolen gold. Our heroine, Charlotte, is a former courtesan who has left the fast life in London and returned to her family’s home in the country; she needs the reward money to build a new life for herself. Our hero, Benedict, is a former naval officer whose career was ended by an accident that blinded him; he needs the reward money to provide an inheritance for his orphaned sister. So they’re rivals at first, but then they decide to work together, and I bet you can guess what happens next. The problem is that Benedict can’t marry or he’ll lose his measly pension, which he wouldn’t be able to support a wife on anyway. The other problem is that Charlotte’s former lover/”protector” is a raging psycho and he’s after her. Two very substantial problems! This book had great characters and great dialogue, though the ending was just a tad Scooby-Doo for my tastes. (At least it was happy.) 4/5 stars

And that, my friends, concludes the May-October edition of Mad’s Book Club. Tune in sometime in (hopefully) November to read the Here’s-the-Rest-of-October-I-Hadn’t-Gotten-To-Yet edition. Gentle readers, adieu.

These are all the psycho killer books I read in the last four and a half months.

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
Inspector Ian Rutledge has returned from the war (World War I, that is) with his body intact, but his mind not so much. For one thing, he has a ghost accompanying him everywhere he goes. It gets to a guy. He’s afraid he’s losing his touch as a detective. A beautiful woman’s fiancé has been murdered, possibly by her guardian, a decorated military officer and respected local gentleman-farmer. It’s a political nightmare, and Rutledge suspects he’s being set up to fail, which makes it all the more imperative that he solve the case. The mystery was pretty well plotted, if a bit complicated, but more importantly, I really enjoyed Rutledge as a character and wanted to read more about him—which is convenient, since Todd has written about 27 more books about him. (Okay, maybe not 27, but somewhere in the double digits—high teens, at least.) 4/5 stars

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Kills by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Confession: I have not read any original Sherlock Holmes stories. I know, I’m a disgrace to mystery lovers everywhere, I’m not fit to wear the uniform, etc. I keep meaning to, but somehow I never do. I am a big fan of BBC’s Sherlock, if that counts for anything. (No, I realize it does not. In fact, it may even make it worse.) Perhaps I would have appreciated this book more if I’d had a strong background in Sherlock Holmes, but I couldn’t have appreciated it much more because I loved this book. I loved the interchanges between Holmes and Watson, and how the mystery gradually unfolded, and how Holmes was affected by his failure to catch the murderer. I quite enjoy these psycho killer books set in the times before modern forensic techniques. This is a particularly great read. 5/5 stars

The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo
This is a Kate Burkholder mystery. Kate Burkholder was born into the Amish community but left the fold as a young adult, became a police officer, and eventually returned to her hometown to serve as the chief of the (“English”) police. This gives her an “in” with the Amish because she understands their ways, but they don’t quite trust her. Plus, emotional baggage, blah blah. I read the first three books a few years ago, but didn’t keep up with the series until I found this book in my local digital library. It’s #6, and it stands on its own. It begins with an apparent suicide that is soon revealed to be a homicide. This incident is followed by another suspicious “suicide” that leads Kate to a 30-year-old unsolved crime involving the death of an Amish farmer and four of his children, plus the disappearance of his wife. It’s pretty good. Development of the relationship between Kate and her love interest, John Tomasetti, will probably not resonate with anyone who hasn’t read the previous books, but it probably won’t distract from the story either. (It just made me want to fill in the blanks, as you will see below.) 4/5 stars

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo
I had to go to the actual real-life library and borrow actual real-life books in order to find out what happened with Kate Burkholder and the Amish in books 4 and 5. This will give you some idea of my dedication to this series! Here Kate is trying to find an Amish teen who has gone missing during her Rumspringa, the time when young Amish are allowed to break the rules and experience the outside world before deciding whether or not they want to be baptized. Has the missing girl decided to leave the Amish life, or has a more sinister fate befallen her? During the course of the investigation, Kate discovers links to other missing-teens cold cases. There’s some pretty messed up stuff here—as there usually is, when the Amish are involved. (At least that’s how it is in psycho killer books.) And Kate has to deal with more baggage from her own dark past as an Amish teen; this subplot will probably not be appreciated if you have not read the previous books. It’s a pretty exciting read, though. 4/5 stars

Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo
Yes, this is Kate Burkholder #5, and I had mixed feelings about it. This story involves a friend from Kate’s past—her Amish past, that is. An Amish man and his three children are riding in their horse-and-carriage one night when they are hit by a speeding pickup truck; father and two children die on the scene, while one son survives (but only barely). The grieving wife and mother is Kate’s childhood friend. There is something super-weird about this case. This was no buggy accident! Someone wanted this family dead, but who? Kate thinks her friend knows more than she’s letting on, but what is she hiding, and why? There are a lot of flashbacks to Kate’s teen years and her (Amish-style) adventures with her friend. This added a layer of poignancy to the story. You can see the plot twists coming a mile away, but there is a lot of action. Maybe a little too much action, in the Jason-springing-up-out-of-the-lake sense. One does begin to wonder one Amish community could have so much dark side. But that’s the nature of the small-town-sheriff-psycho-killer genre. Willing suspension of disbelief and such. I seem to recall liking this book somewhat less than the others, but according to my Goodreads records, I still gave it 4 stars, so what do I know? 4/5 stars (possibly 3.5, but I’m not going to re-read the book to tell you for sure)

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
I could not get my hands on Inspector Rutledge #2, so I settled for Todd’s Bess Crawford #1, which this is. The setting is England during World War I. Bess Crawford is a nurse aboard the Britannica when it is attacked and sunk by the enemy; she survives, but she has a broken arm and is sent home to convalesce. A dying patient has charged her with taking a cryptic message to his brother. She feels obligated to fulfill his request, so she does, but she can’t leave well enough alone because she can see there’s something fishy going on with this family. Something that involves…MURDER. The mystery is well-crafted, and Bess is a great character—smart and nosy, but not in an annoying way. (That is more difficult to pull off than it sounds.) She’s no Ian Rutledge—she doesn’t see ghosts, for one thing—but she’ll do. 4/5 stars

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
This is the first book of another series about English detectives solving murders, only this one is real vintage: it was written in the 1980s. Inspector Thomas Lynley isn’t your average police detective; in addition to being talented and incredibly handsome, he’s also an earl. A freaking earl! He doesn’t like to flaunt his aristocratic ties—he only wants to be treated the same as any other talented and handsome police detective—but Sergeant Barbara Havers doesn’t buy his modest act. She’s working class, with an entirely deserved reputation for being difficult. In fact, this is her last chance to make it as a detective because she’s blown all the other ones by being such a pill (even though she’s very smart). She suspects she’s only been paired with his lordship because she’s the only female in the squad unattractive enough for him not to sleep with. She does not think much of Inspector Lynley. Their case is pretty gruesome: a fat, simple country lass is found in a barn with an axe in her lap, sitting next to her dead dog and decapitated father. Circumstances clearly point to her as the murderer, but the forensic evidence doesn’t add up. Lynley and Havers learn to work together as they uncover the dark, seedy mysteries of country life. It was the ‘80s, kids, so the secrets are pretty messed up. The story is a tad…seamy, to tell you the truth, but I enjoyed the interplay between Lynley and Havers; each character is like an onion, or an ogre—they have layers! 4/5 stars

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen
This is #11 in the Rizzoli & Isles series. I read the first two or three R&I books several years ago. I liked them—good psycho killer stuff—but I didn’t feel compelled to read any more and only picked up this particular book because it was cheap on Kindle and I was loading up for my trip to Japan (specifically the plane ride). It opens with a deadly camping safari in Botswana, which never bodes well. I don’t usually like to read murder mysteries where the weapon is a large cat, but this one intrigued me. Most of the book takes place in Boston, six years later, where large cats do not usually go around being the inadvertent facilitators of homicide. Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case with Dr. Maura Isles, M.E. I saw the twist coming, but I still liked the story. It put me in the mood to read more of the R&I back catalogue. These broads are hardcore! 3.5/5 stars

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Tessa Cartwright is the lone survivor of a serial killer who murdered several teenage girls about 20 years ago. The man arrested for the crime is (finally) about to be executed, but she has become convinced that he is innocent and the real killer is still out there. Don’t ask how she knows—just some freaky unexplained stuff that makes her think he might have been stalking her all these years. So she goes digging into her past, hoping to discover the truth. There are flashbacks to the period following the failed attempt on her life, her visits with the shrink and the rap sessions with her best friend, who was her rock until she betrayed her. What the heck happened there? And who is the real killer? It takes the whole book to find out—which I guess is how it should be. I will say this much: this book was a page-turner. However, I found the ending to be a bit of a mess. A whole lot of crazy revealed at the last minute. I didn’t quite buy it, so it was a bit disappointing. I’d give this author another shot, though. 3/5 stars

In the Woods by Tana French
I don’t remember how I heard about the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it took me forever to get to the top of the waiting list for this book, which is the first. Detective Rob Ryan has a dark secret from his past: when he was 12, he and his best friends disappeared one summer afternoon. A few days later he was found in the woods, considerably scuffed up and his shoes full of blood, but otherwise unharmed. His friends were never found. No one knows about his past except his parents and his best friend and partner, Cassie Maddox, but it comes back to haunt him when he and Maddox are assigned to a case involving a young girl who was murdered and left in the same woods where Ryan was found as a child. There’s no evidence that the two cases are connected, and yet the coincidences are too hard to ignore.

Based on the reviews I read, this is another one of those books you either hate or love, and whether or not you hate it has largely to do with your expectations regarding the two mysteries. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I’ll just say this: the same thing that disappointed many readers also disappointed me, but it didn’t spoil the book for me. To me the book was as much about the characters as about the case(s)—perhaps more so—which is why I found it so compelling. It wasn’t just about solving a mystery, but about understanding the characters and their motivations. I saw the end coming, and it still broke my heart. And that’s how I got hooked. 5/5 stars

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #2! Lynley and Havers are back, this time investigating the murder of a playwright on an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands, where they have virtually no authority, but they’ve been assigned the case on the basis of Lynley’s aristocratic connections, since one of the suspects is another aristocrat. This is pretty un-comfy for Lynley, especially since the case also involves his dear friend Lady Helen, who has become romantically entangled with yet another suspect. Lynley is forced to confront his own prejudices; Havers is forced to work behind his back in order to discover the truth. It’s a page turner, and there are quite a few plot twists, but again it’s the characters that make it worthwhile. 4/5 stars

Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #3! Lynley and Havers investigate a murder at a boarding school at the request of an old school chum of Lynley’s, who is now a house master at aforementioned boarding school where murder took place. I should rewrite that sentence, but I won’t. You get the picture. There are bullies, there are plot twists, there are repressed homosexuals. It’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. 3.5/5 stars

The Likeness by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #2, this time narrated by Detective Cassie Maddox, shortly after the events of In the Woods. The cops find a body that looks exactly like Maddox—like, they could be twins. It’s super weird, and it affords an excellent opportunity for some super-weird detective work. Maddox’s old boss from her undercover days convinces her to go undercover posing as the murder victim to see if she can figure out who killed her, since they’re pretty sure it’s one of the friends she lives with. I know, it’s crazy. How would that even work? It’s too long of a story. Just trust me, it’s slightly less crazy than it sounds (but only slightly). Again, this is partly about solving a mystery and partly about exploring a character’s motivations and vulnerabilities. This one didn’t gut me like In the Woods did, but it still kept me intrigued through the end. 4.5/5 stars

Faithful Place by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #3, this time narrated by Frank Mackey, who is technically Dublin Undercover Squad, but we met him in the previous book (Cassie Maddox’s old boss, the manipulative bastard). Faithful Place is the name of the crummy Dublin neighborhood where Frank grew up; as a teenager, he planned to escape his dead-end world by eloping with his girlfriend Rosie to London, but on the night they were to leave together, Rosie never showed up. He spent the next 22 years believing she’d stood him up and gone to London on her own. For his part, he’s spent the last 22 years trying to forget Faithful Place and his crummy family, but one day Rosie’s suitcase is found in an abandoned house on Faithful Place, prompting a new investigation into her disappearance. Officially, Frank is not supposed to be working this case (too close, you know), but being Frank, he can’t help himself. Cans of worms are opened. Confronting the truth of his past sheds a light on his present that he’d rather not see. One of the things I appreciate about this series is how the characters will make morally questionable decisions and aren’t always likeable, but I understand and feel for them nonetheless. Another sad story, but like The Likeness, it ends on a slightly hopeful note. 5/5 stars

Broken Harbor by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #4. Yes, I did inhale this series. Once I started, I couldn’t stop! This book features Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the a-hole murder detective from Faithful Place. Yeah, I didn’t mention him in my review, but he was there and now he’s here, investigating a huge multiple murder case. A man has been knifed to death; his two children were smothered in their sleep, and his wife is also an apparent victim of a knife-wielding maniac, only she’s managed to survive and is in intensive care. Kennedy is of the opinion that most murder victims are the architects of their own demise; dig under the surface and eventually you’ll find whatever shady business they were into that got them killed. He and his rookie partner think this will be another open-and-shut case—prolly drugs or something—but they can’t find a motive anywhere. Could these victims be completely innocent? Meanwhile, Kennedy is dealing with his mentally ill sister and the specter of a family tragedy in his past. The combined stress threatens to send him off the deep end. I found the resolution of the murder case a little far-fetched and therefore a little unsatisfying; however, the real story was Kennedy’s evolution from by-the-book cop to a more complicated, emotionally damaged and morally compromised human being. He sort of broke my heart. 4.5/5 stars

The Secret Place by Tana French
Don’t worry, #5 is the last one I’m going to review for now because I’m still on the waiting list for #6 (although I’m still thinking of buying it, even though it’s still full price, being relatively new—I’m cheap, but I feel guilty about it). Holly Mackey, Frank Mackey’s daughter (who was introduced as a 9-year-old in Faithful Place but is now a savvy 16-year-old) comes to the police with evidence that someone at her boarding school may know something about a murder that happened on their campus the previous year. The other DMS books are told from first person. This one alternates between third-person narration (told from the point of view of Holly and her friends) and first person narration by the detective Holly initially approaches (Stephen Moran, a relatively minor character who played a pivotal role in Faithful Place). I didn’t think this book was quite as successful as the other ones, as I didn’t feel quite as invested in the characters. I couldn’t quite relate to Holly and her friends enough to find their story compelling. I liked the detective characters, but there wasn’t as much character development there; it was more of a buddy/partner story. It was still absorbing, even if it was less emotionally satisfying. 4/5 stars

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
Back to Rizzoli & Isles. This is #4, so ancient history. A woman is found murdered in Dr. Maura Isles’ driveway. Here’s the weird part: she looks just like Maura. No, Maura is not asked to go undercover as her doppleganger. It’s not that weird. Turns out, it’s her twin sister. Maura was adopted as an infant, so heretofore she’s been ignorant of her family of origin. Unfortunately, solving this case means learning some unpleasant facts about her genetic background and the human beings associated with it. What does it all mean? Well, that isn’t delved into too deeply. This story is more plot- than character-driven, but it’s a pretty good plot nonetheless, if you enjoy police procedurals. 3.5/5 stars

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I’ve been on the waiting list for this sucker for ages, so maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a tad disappointed. The main character is a pathetic drunk who was dumped by her ex-husband for another woman (partly because she became a pathetic drunk); every day she rides on the train and passes by her old house. She avoids looking at it and instead focuses her attention on her ex-husband’s new neighbors, an attractive young couple she has decided to live vicariously through via her fantasies she concocts about them. One day the wife is reported missing; her husband is the chief suspect, but our pathetic drunk heroine is convinced he must be innocent. She knows that she was in the neighborhood the night the wife disappeared, but she doesn’t remember much of what happened. She is desperate to recover her memories and solve the mystery, but she’s such a pathetic drunk that she keeps screwing up and making the police think she’s a kook, and her ex and his new wife think she’s stalking them, and she’s just a mess. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. I felt sorry for our pathetic drunk heroine, but I also found the story a bit tedious. It started out page-turny, but by the time the mystery got around to being solved, I’d sort of lost patience with it. 3/5 stars

Still to come: Romances!

I remember how excited I was when I posted the March-April edition back in May, and I thought, “Cool, now when May is over, I can just start posting these monthly.” Ha ha ha ha ha! I’m so funny.

As usual, we will start with the highbrow stuff. Let’s do non-fiction, since that’s my shortest list.


The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes
This was a book I’d been meaning to read for years but never got around to. I think it finally went on sale on Kindle or something, which is how I finally forced myself to read it. I read Shlaes’s biography of Calvin Coolidge, which was pretty good as far as biographies go. I really don’t like biographies because they tend to start with the dawn of time and take at least four chapters before the subject has even been born, and then they tell you what the subject ate for breakfast during their formative years and yada yada yada. I think I will never read another biography as long as I live (except for Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography, which I intend to read but may not because my husband bought the hard copy and I find it so hard to read actual physical books anymore…but I digress).

This book is not a biography, thank goodness, but a quite interesting history of the Great Depression and the expansion of federal power. It’s a favorite of political conservatives because it’s critical of FDR’s New Deal, but it’s not a simplistic criticism. For example, the government takeover of utilities allowed more people to have access to electricity faster than it would have otherwise. And nobody is a straight-up villain in this tale, but most of the political figures have ulterior motives. Quelle surprise! Anyway, well-done if you like that sort of thing. 4/5 stars

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
I might not have read this book except it was for a book club, and someone mentioned there was polyamory. Nothing with polyamory in it could be totally boring! Anyway, this book explores the feminist origins of Wonder Woman. Interestingly enough, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, who was a feminist but also kind of a jerk in real life. Lepore mercifully spares us most of the years covering the time when Marston’s and his female friends’ ancestors were crawling out of the primordial ooze, but gives a pretty decent sketch of early twentieth century feminism and the issues it was concerned with. Marston lived with two women (well, mainly two women), with whom he had children, and…let’s just say it was a very interesting family arrangement. I guess everyone was cool with it because they were all consenting adults and whatnot, but they failed to record a lot of sleazy details, so posterity will never know for sure. Anyway, the book is as much about the women in his life–Sadie Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne–as it is about him. Margaret Sanger shows up a lot. I think, technically, the story might have made an excellent long article and makes a slightly less excellent full-length book, but that’s mainly because I’m a big picture kind of gal. Fortunately, it’s not a long read, and the less-interesting parts are easily skimmed. The interesting parts are interesting enough. 3.5/5 stars

Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainwright
If you’re like me, you’ve never expected to want to know how to run a drug cartel. But I heard the author of this book interviewed on a podcast and suddenly became very interested in how drug cartels work. As it turns out, the rules of economics apply to the drug trade as much as they do to other industries. This is a very accessible book for the layperson, filled with anecdotes as much as statistics. It covers human resources, infrastructure, competition, supply, demand–everything you need to know if you’re thinking about becoming a drug lord! Be forewarned that the author is pro-legalization, a position I am largely sympathetic to, but not always completely sold on. (Confession: I am mostly sold on it most of the time, particularly after reading this book.) 5/5 stars

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer
This is another book I’d been meaning to read for years, mostly because I was fascinated by the personal story of Hoffer, who wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while working as a stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s. (For real!) I finally broke down and bought the book when someone mentioned it again in the context of Trump voters. Hoffer starts by discussing the appeal of mass movements and their potential converts, then goes on to describe the life cycle of the mass movement. His thesis is that the motivations behind mass movements are interchangeable, regardless of goals or values. It’s a relatively short, accessible tome, philosophical rather than scientific in nature. However, judging by current events, it appears to be scarily accurate. 5/5 stars


Father Melancholy’s Daughter by Gail Godwin
A character-driven novel about a woman’s relationship with her Episcopalian priest father, who is prone to long episodes of depression. Much of the story is told in flashback, as Margaret (the daughter) recalls the effect of her mother’s abandonment on both her and her father’s lives. You might appreciate it more if you have a religious background. Or, if you like books about religious people despite not having a religious background, you will probably appreciate it just fine (unless you only like books about nuns solving mysteries and whatnot). I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never not had a religious background myself. I loved it. 5/5 stars

The Collected Stories by Conrad Aiken
The only Conrad Aiken story I’d ever read before this was “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” which is probably one of the best short stories ever written. If you’ve never read it, you must. (Unless you hate short stories, in which case, don’t bother.) And yes, I read this mainly because I got it on the cheap on Kindle. I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, but I’m glad I did, because Aiken actually wrote several other excellent short stories. There are a lot of them in this collection. I didn’t like all of them, but many were on par with “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” in my opinion. Perhaps you might like one of them even better! 4/5 stars

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I was never interested in seeing the movie based on this book, and I must say that it never occurred to me to read the book the movie was based on until one day, I just got a wild hair and said, “Why the heck not?” Fair warning: Don’t read this book looking for something uplifting. It’s pretty much the opposite. This is a big fat downer of a book, narrated by the mother of a teenage boy who executes a mass murder at his high school. It answers the question “what do you do when your kid is a sociopath?” (SPOILER ALERT: You don’t do anything. You’re pretty much screwed.) It alternates between flashbacks and current time as more of the story is revealed, but you know from the beginning that nothing would end well. As I said on Goodreads, “This book was horrifying. I could not look away.” You’re either into that sort of thing, or you’re not. 4/5 stars

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
I’d heard this book was a feminist classic, and it always shows up on lists like “50 books every woman must read” or “50 books by female authors everyone must read.” So when it showed up on my Kindle sale list, I said, “Sure! Sold.” What can I say? I think I will just copy and paste my Goodreads review:

The chapters are hundreds of pages long with no natural breaks; you either have to read for hours at a time or randomly pick a place to stop and then come back later and think, “Now what was she talking about? Oh yeah, right. She’s using an awful lot of words here. Are they really all necessary? I feel like we’ve covered this.” Which is probably the point, or whatever, but man alive, it was tiring. Which is not to say there’s nothing interesting here. There’s lots of interesting stuff here–it’s a very long book, or at least it seems that way. Am I glad I read it? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve finished, and what I feel most is relief.

I had to read a few romance novels afterward to recover. 3/5 stars

Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
William Styron’s big claim to fame in our house is that he wrote Set This House on Fire, a book I checked out of the library about 10 or 12 years ago and ended up buying because Mister Bubby spilled water on it. I’ve never read it. Correction: I’ve never read more than about 20 pages of it. I’ve always meant to, especially since I paid $14.99 for it. For some reason, I have not. If only it were on Kindle, like Lie Down in Darkness was. (But if my kid had spilled water on my Kindle, that would have been a lot more expensive.)

I read Sophie’s Choice (also by Styron) a few months ago. If you’ve read Sophie’s Choice, you will recognize the story of this book: A Southern family deals with the aftermath of a daughter’s suicide. It’s told in a series of flashbacks. Styron has a knack for writing some poignant stuff. He also has a knack for putting compelling pieces of writing in the middle of a lot of crap I couldn’t care less about. I guess one either loves Styron or thinks he’s overrated. I’m starting to think he might be overrated, which is a shame because $14.99 for an overrated book I’m never going to read is kind of galling. 3/5 stars

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I tried to read this book a couple years ago and couldn’t get past the 20% mark. So many H names–Heathcliff, Hareton, Hindley–it was hard to keep track. And the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere. A lot of people love Wuthering Heights, and it was bugging me that I hadn’t finished it because isn’t that long, and I felt that I should just power through it and see what all the fuss is about. I’m glad I did because now I can make an informed statement on Wuthering Heights, which is this: Wuthering Heights sucks. Every single person in this book sucks. It’s not interesting. I don’t understand why people like it unless people are possessed of an imagination that allows them to imagine that they’ve read a different book than I did. Or as I said on Goodreads: You’d be better off listening to the Kate Bush song. It will take a fraction of the time, and you will enjoy it 100x more, even if you hate Kate Bush. 2/5 stars

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I put off reading this book because it sounded like a downer to me: a boy’s mother is killed by a freak accident caused by his best friend. (I’m spoiling nothing here. You find this out very early.) That’s just too sad. On the other hand, it was supposed to be a great book–or so I’d heard. Judging by the Goodreads reviews, I’d say this is the kind of book you either love or hate. I ended up loving it. I loved the character of Owen Meany. The narrator I could take or leave, but Owen was the best. It’s a long book, but it didn’t feel as long to me as, say, The Golden Notebook (or Wuthering Heights, for that matter). Which is not to say that it’s a riveting page-turner that I couldn’t put down. It’s a long story that the narrator takes his time telling, but I found the story-telling entertaining and compelling enough that I enjoyed the long read. I guess you will know after reading 100 pages or so whether this book is for you. Don’t bother reading the whole thing just to find out how Owen Meany got John Wheelwright to believe in God. Long story short: life is horrible, and also miraculous. 5/5 stars

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I read this novel while I was in Japan this summer. I’d been meaning to read some Murakami for some time but couldn’t decide which book to choose first. Murakami is always showing up on lists like “50 really cool books everyone should read” or whatever, and I guess The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of his more popular ones, so I checked it out. I found it enjoyable enough. It’s pretty weird, but let’s face it, a lot of Japanese stuff is weird. (To us American rubes, I mean. I’m sure the Japanese take it all in stride.) The narrator’s wife goes missing suddenly–just doesn’t come home after work. The simplest explanation is the one he gets–she was having an affair and has left him for another man–but for some reason, he just doesn’t quite buy it. Too many people show up giving him the idea that there’s a lot more going on. I became emotionally invested in solving the mystery. Or rather, not solving it, but discovering the solution. (This is not the sort of literary mystery that can be solved by deductive reasoning. It’s just too weird.) I was somewhat disappointed. As I said on Goodreads: “Intriguing, but in the end, I wasn’t sure what the crap I’d read.” If anyone’s read better Murakami, I’d be happy to give him another shot. 3.5/5 stars

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
This one is about the Salem witch trials. The narrator’s mother is a devoutly religious woman, but she’s also a fiercely independent thinker, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. As you can imagine, this does not go over so well with 17th century Puritans. I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would. The setting is vivid, and the characters are compelling. It would make for a good book group discussion (and undoubtedly has, many times over): When is your integrity worth your life, and when is your life worth your integrity? 4/5 stars

Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre-Ambroise Choderlos deLaclos
I really liked the film Dangerous Liaisons with John Malkovitch and Glenn Close, which I saw a million years ago. It’s not edifying, but it’s certainly entertaining, and it’s even a compelling story. I can’t say the book is edifying either, and it’s less compelling than the movie, which alters the ending considerably. The novel is epistolary, not my favorite form, but it’s pretty good reading up to the end, which has nothing in the way of redemption. It’s pretty dark. I felt like I’d just read a tale of two sociopaths, and I didn’t know what to make of it. 3.5/5 stars

Grendel by John Gardner
Another book I’ve been meaning to read since college, which was when I read Beowulf for the first time. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d really read Beowulf in college, or if I’d just skimmed it and relied on the professor’s lecture to fill in the gaps. I thought I should re-read Beowulf, in any case, in order to better appreciate Grendel. I don’t know if it helped, actually, but I did come away with a new appreciation of Beowulf. I found Grendel a bit…what’s the word? At the risk of sounding like (or actually being) an unsophisticated rube, I found it a bit pretentious. It was interesting enough, off and on. The idea that Grendel is fighting against his nature and destiny–to be a monster–is compelling, but while I was reading it, I kept thinking, “Oh, give it a rest, Grendel.” I thought it would be impossible for me to dislike a 174-page novel, but this one just didn’t do much for me. 3/5 stars

NW by Zadie Smith
I read this for a book group. It’s about four young Londoners who grew up in the same neighborhood–or went to the same school, or something–and have grown apart, but are still tangentially in each other’s lives. The writing is James Joyce-ish, particularly the first section. I liked the writing, but I didn’t like the characters, and the story felt inconsequential, despite a number of dramatic events. It was enough to interest me in reading something else by the same author, but I don’t know what I should choose. Do you have an opinion? 3/5 stars

Consenting Adult by Laura Z. Hobson
Hobson wrote Gentleman’s Agreement, the classic novel about anti-Semitism, which I’ve never read but have always meant to. I probably wouldn’t have picked this novel up except that it was cheap on the Kindle, and you know what a sucker I am for the cheap Kindle book. It is based on Hobson’s own experience as the mother of a gay son, who comes out to her during a time when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. The narrator and her husband are secular, liberally-minded people who know homosexuals and are totally cool with people being homosexuals, but are nonetheless devastated to learn that their son is gay. It’s very interesting, from a historical perspective–it was published about 40 years ago–given that societal attitudes were so different, and even the scientific perspective was only starting to change at that point. Anyway, the story is primarily the mother’s, but also the son’s. Definitely worth reading. 4/5 stars

The Room by Jonas Karlsson
This is like Kafka meets The Office. Bjorn is an ambitious bureaucrat looking to make a name for himself at his new job. On his first day he discovers a mysterious room–actually a very ordinary room, but for some reason it intrigues him and becomes his favorite place. It turns out he’s the only one who can see it. As far as his co-workers are concerned, it doesn’t exist, and they think he’s crazy. But he knows he’s not crazy. He begins to suspect there’s an elaborate conspiracy against him. How high up the organization does this conspiracy go? This is a short novel. I thought it was very funny. It also has the distinction of being the second Scandinavian novel I’ve read that is not thoroughly depressing. (The first was A Man Called Ove, which I reviewed in an earlier edition of MBC–Jan-Feb, maybe?) 4/5 stars

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
This is a book I actually didn’t intend to read because I’d heard mixed reviews, and, you know, as a Mormon there’s only so much polygamy crap I can deal with. But you guessed it, it was cheap on Kindle, so I figured what the hey. There are actually two books here. One is set in modern times, narrated by a young man who was kicked out of his polygamist community (one of the “lost boys” who are abandoned because the religious leaders don’t like the competition for young wives) but returns when his mother (a 19th wife) is arrested for his father’s murder. This story alternates with the story of the “original” 19th wife, i.e. Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young’s infamous nineteenth wife who sued him for divorce and went on a national speaking tour against polygamy. The historical story is told via a series of “historical documents” such as journal entries, letters, academic papers, etc. (The documents are fabricated; it’s just a story-telling conceit. I mention this because so many reviewers seemed miffed about it.)

I found the historical story more compelling than the murder mystery, which was funny because I thought it would be the other way around. As a Mormon woman, I’ve read more than my fill of books and articles about church history and polygamy; if I never read another word, I’d probably be better off. But the “historical documents” really get inside the heads of the people who practiced polygamy and examine things like faith and doubt. The narrator of the murder mystery is not given to introspection, so there wasn’t much in the way of insights into modern polygamy. The mystery itself seemed to resolve rather abruptly, just because it was time for the book to end. There was also a romantic subplot that I didn’t find particularly compelling. 3/5 stars

Well, that will do it for the highbrow stuff. Stay tuned for the next installment, where I review the lowerbrow stuff.

I’ve been catching up on my political podcasts while doing dishes and laundry (and catching up on neither of those). It’s been easy to fall behind lately, for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s cute to listen to a couple of conservative pundits talking a few weeks ago about how there’s still hope for the Republicans this year, and sometimes it’s too painful. Yesterday I was listening to Thomas Sowell give the case for voting for Trump, even though he’s patently unqualified. Thomas Sowell is undoubtedly smarter than I am, in more ways than one, but he has a giant blind spot when it comes to the lesser-of-two-evils saga that is Clinton vs. Trump.

Sowell’s argument (at least at this particular time) was that this election is like being in an airplane that’s about to crash. If you jump out of the plane, any number of things could happen: your parachute could fail to open, you could land in the middle of the ocean and drown, you could land in the middle of an inhospitable landscape and die of exposure or wild animal attack or whatever, etc., etc. None of it looks good. Your chance of survival is slim. But if you stay in the plane, you’re definitely going to die. According to Sowell, voting for Hillary is staying in the plane, whereas voting for Trump is jumping out and hoping for the best.

This argument has a certain logical appeal, if you’re a conservative (or if you just think Hillary is really, really horrible). It’s similar to the argument I hear most often from people who claim to find Trump distasteful but feel they have no choice but to vote for him because Hillary would be worse. But this argument disregards the following:

a) Donald Trump lies.

b) Donald Trump reneges on his promises.

c) Donald Trump has no particular loyalty to conservative principles or to the Republican party.

Those three things are facts. They’re as certain as death by plane crash. They have been amply demonstrated over his many years in business and public life. They aren’t worth trying to dispute. Most reluctant Trump-supporters will admit that voting for him is purely a gamble–it’s jumping out of an airplane–but no matter how dire the possibilities, the gamble still beats what they (claim to) know will happen if Hillary becomes president.

The problem, though, is that we’re not electing a dictator (regardless of what Trump would like to believe). We still have three branches of government, with the accompanying checks and balances and whatnot, and Congress still a) makes the laws, b) confirms Supreme Court appointments, and c) overrides presidential vetoes. (They do some other stuff too, but you get the picture.) No president–not even a President Trump–can just do away with Congress.

Not that no one has ever tried, of course, but Congress remains stubbornly with us nonetheless. At least for the time being.

So what are we sure would happen if Hillary became president? Well, it would depend a lot on which party controlled Congress. If the Democrats take back the Senate (which seems plausible) and the House (which doesn’t), perhaps she’ll be able to do quite a bit of damage, as far as conservative Republicans are concerned. But as long as there are Republicans in both houses of Congress, and certainly if there is a Republican majority in either house, she will face significant opposition. She’ll probably be as ham-strung as Pres. Obama has been the last seven years. No, Pres. Obama hasn’t been nearly ham-strung enough for some people’s tastes, but he’s certainly accomplished less than he wanted to, and less than his supporters wanted him to. Most importantly, Republicans in Congress have provided arguments against his agenda. Pretty crap arguments in a lot of cases, but still–there was opposition, opportunities to articulate conservative principles as an alternative (even if they were sometimes–and spectacularly–squandered).

There’s no reason to think things would be different with President Hillary Clinton, unless you think Hillary is magic. (Most Republicans don’t believe Hillary to be magic.)

On the other hand, let’s say Donald Trump becomes president. Unlikely and gross, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say he does. If Republicans don’t control both houses of Congress, Trump is going to have a tough time enacting a conservative agenda, even if he’s inclined to do so. And there’s no indication that he is so inclined. Quite the opposite, in fact. Without Republican majorities to worry about, Trump will be free to cut whatever deals he wants with Democrats, and there’s no reason to think those deals would be anything close to what Republicans would want. (Obamacare, after all, was nothing close to what Democrats wanted. Chew on that for a bit.)

Trump is not himself a conservative. He doesn’t care about what conservatives want. He doesn’t care if the Supreme Court tilts right or left. Why would he? The argument that he would surround himself with “good” advisers is pretty weak, considering that Trump repeatedly ignores the advice of people working on his campaign. He’s too arrogant and narcissistic to take advice as a candidate. Why would he suddenly humble himself if he became leader of the free world?

And here’s the clincher: there’s also no indication that Trump wants a Republican-controlled Congress. He’s pissed beyond reason that Republicans are pulling their support in the wake of these proliferating sex scandals. To him, party loyalty is a game that he plays to make people dance for him. He toyed with supporting Paul Ryan’s and John McCain’s primary challengers, even after Ryan and McCain had endorsed him, just because he liked feeling powerful. And now that Ryan has (sort of) abandoned him (without actually rescinding his endorsement), Trump wants to punish him. He wants to punish everyone who’s been insufficiently enthusiastic about supporting a sexual predator for president. He wants Ryan to lose, and he wants other Republicans to lose. He’s happy to encourage his supporters to vote for him and against Republicans down ballot. He doesn’t care about a conservative agenda. He doesn’t care about a Republican agenda. The only agenda he cares about is his own, and if you think that will change once he becomes president, well, as Sarah Palin once said, you’re living on a unicorn ranch in fantasy land.

There’s a worse-case scenario, though, in my opinion. Let’s say Trump becomes president and the Republicans retain majorities in the House and the Senate. This seems the unlikeliest of all scenarios, but it’s the scenario Thomas Sowell and other Republicans are pulling the ripcord for. Republicans have not stood up to Trump as their presidential candidate. Why would they stand up to Trump as their president? Paul Ryan felt he had no choice but to support his party’s candidate if he wanted to remain Speaker of the House. Is he suddenly going to stop wanting to be Speaker of the House when Trump is the Republican president? I mean, I know he initially said he didn’t want the job, but apparently he’s gotten pretty attached to it. The time to give it up would have been July, not January 2017 or later.

Republicans will be expected to support their president (just as Democrats were expected to support President Obama), and it won’t matter that Trump’s agenda bears no resemblance to theirs, any more than it matters now. Once Trump is elected, he’ll have no reason to even pretend to care about what conservatives think. (And I don’t think he’s doing such a hot job of pretending now.) Conservatives will have to pretend to care about what he wants and support whatever crap thing he wants to do because, apparently, what these guys care about the most is preserving their own power, and if Trump helps them do that, they’re not going to go against him. (No matter how many women he gropes.)

What this means is that what would be present in a Hillary Clinton presidency–conservative opposition to the president’s scary, scary agenda–would not be present in a Trump presidency. And there is zero reason to believe that Trump’s agenda would be less scary or authoritarian than Clinton’s. (In fact, it could be worse, for all we know. Worse than burning alive in a plane crash? Maybe!) The GOP as a vehicle of conservative policy is already more or less dead, as far as I’m concerned, but with a Trump victory, it would not be just merely dead, but really, most sincerely dead.

So in other words, stay in the plane or don’t stay in the plane, but don’t kid yourself about what’s possible versus what’s probable.

About a year ago, Mona Charen said something like, “If we end up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as our nominees for president, we will have proved that we are not a serious country and probably unfit for self-government.” This was back before anyone had cast a vote, when conservative commentators were still under the illusion that Trump’s campaign would eventually fizzle out (because…come on), allowing for an actual statesperson to win the GOP nomination. Unfortunately, we all know how that turned out. But I think Mona Charen had it right.

A few weeks before the Republicans officially nominated Trump at their convention, but after it was clear that there was no political will to block his nomination, I took the relatively meaningless action to change my party registration to “none.” I’m not a Democrat, and if Republicans care more about not pissing off some white supremacists than they do about limited government, personal liberty, and (at the risk of sounding corny) character, then I’m definitely not one of those either. (I mean, obviously the Republicans were always less committed to limited government and personal liberty than they claimed to be, but when you’re not even willing to pay lip service to those things anymore, I  guess that’s where we part ways.) So I’ve become one of those insufferable people who can’t bring themselves to vote for the lesser of two evils. Believe me, I’m not proud of it. But it’s who I am.

So I’ve been watching the Republican implosion with some detachment. I am not emotionally invested in the GOP’s survival. As far as I’m concerned, they can all go to hell.*

*Except for Senators Ben Sasse (NE), Jeff Flake (AZ), Mike Lee (UT), Mark Kirk (IL), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Representatives Mike Coffman (CO), Barbara Comstock (VA), Charlie Dent (PA), Frank Upton (MI), Carlos Curbelo (FL), Bob Dold (IL), Mia Love (UT), and Governor Brian Sandoval (NV), who have never endorsed Trump. (I am only counting elected officials here. Republicans not currently holding elective office who opposed Trump before it was cool can also stay out of hell, FWIW. But the rest of them–dead to me. IN HELL.)

To me it has never been much of a silver lining to know that one day Trump supporters were going to rue the day they endorsed him. I don’t believe Trump true-believers will ever rue anything; they’ll just blame his downfall on the unfaithful “cucks” (of which, I guess, I am one). As I’ve said before–maybe elsewhere, but maybe also in this space, before I became so disgusted with life that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it), this election has accomplished the thing I thought was impossible: I have become more cynical about my fellow human beings. It’s hard enough to accept that a significant fraction of the people in this country a) are straight up racist and/or b) just want to watch the world burn. It’s much harder to watch previously-decent-seeming people, including friends and relatives, argue that the only thing standing between us and total annihilation is a corrupt, race-baiting dirtbag, because at least he’s not Hillary Clinton.

I know it drives Democrats crazy when people say Trump and Clinton are equally poor choices. Frankly, I’m loath to say that myself. I tend to agree with P.J. O’Rourke, who said that they’re both unacceptable, but Clinton is unacceptable within normal parameters. I tend to agree with that, and yet I still can’t bring myself to vote for her. If I lived in a swing state, I might be tempted, but since I do not, and since Hillary Clinton is destined to take Oregon in any case, I feel free to choose an even lesser evil than she.

It must be very frustrating for Democrats to have a candidate who is so poorly situated to attack Donald Trump on so many fronts. Hillary has this going for her: she’s probably not a racist, and she’s probably not mentally ill. That’s not nothing, of course–in any other election year, it would be, but not this one. Her temperament is fine (that’s a winning slogan), and she’s not a racist, but by every other measure, she and Trump are a bit pot and kettle. The main difference is that she’s used her career in public service to enrich herself, increase her own personal power, and bully others, whereas Trump has done all those things without being elected (or his spouse being elected) first. (And if you think he’s going to stop once he’s elected, you’re an idiot.)

This latest news about Trump being caught on tape boasting about sexually assaulting women is gross, of course. Hillary would never do that. Bill would probably never do that–boast about it, I mean. He’s certainly sexually assaulted women. Hillary stood by him, for reasons none of us can know and, in my opinion, aren’t our business. But as a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend put it, whatever peace she made with his infidelities, she only made peace with Bill; she made sure the women paid. No one forced her to participate in personal attacks against his accusers. She says now that “women should be believed,” but the unspoken asterisk is “unless you’re saying my husband is the one who groped you, in which case you’re a lying whore colluding with our political enemies.”*

*To be sure, Bill Clinton had political enemies dead set on ruining him. I would never dispute that. But if you don’t want to get impeached, maybe try not breaking the law, see how that goes.

So I think Hillary would be better off not bringing this issue up. I mean, it’s not like she needs to. She’s already not-racist and not-crazy, and that seems to be enough this year.

Unlike a lot of conservatives, I have never disliked Hillary on a personal level. I don’t find her “shrill” or “annoying.” No, she doesn’t have her husband’s charisma. Few people do. Actually, I find her relative awkwardness somewhat charming. (Speaking as the awkward spouse of a charismatic person, I guess I relate to her.) I remember during the impeachment crisis, Larry Elder said, “I think Hillary has the heart of a lion.” Yes, she does. Unfortunately, that in itself does not make her a good role model in general.

I think that at least some of the animosity toward Hillary can be fairly attributed to old-fashioned sexism or misogyny. It isn’t that there aren’t things about Hillary to dislike, but the intensity of the dislike that has always been there, even before we had such detailed evidence of her personal flaws, has never seemed reasonable to me. It’s unfortunate that she’s the first female presidential candidate (and will probably be the first female president) because so many people will be out to get her not only because they hate her politics but because they hate her. Her supporters will inevitably characterize opposition to her in terms of sexism and misogyny, which will not be untrue, but it will hardly be the whole truth. (It would have been much better if the first woman president had been a conservative, because then we’d know that people were only opposing her because she was a heartless bitch, and not because she had the wrong set of chromosomes.)

A fair number of Republicans are calling for Trump to drop out of the race, which would be hilarious if it weren’t so infuriating. As though Trump has just now crossed the un-crossable line. Give me a break. You knew he was a dirtbag when you decided to support him. You gambled on more disgusting evidence not coming forward, which was stupid. I hope you feel very stupid. I hope you feel like punching yourself in the face, and I hope you actually do it because it would save me the trouble. There’s no replacing Trump at this point, and even if there were, there are so few Republicans who haven’t tainted themselves by their association with him. You’ve demonstrated that you value your personal power more than any conservative principles you may claim. You don’t deserve to lead this country because you’re not leaders. You’re cowards. Cynical cowards, which is the worst kind.

But I truly don’t understand Democrats calling for Trump to drop out. They should just accept the gift Republicans have given them this year (and will probably keep giving, for years to come). Maybe they think it’s just too easy. They like having to work a little on their negative campaigning. I don’t know. What I do know is that if it had been any other Republican running against Hillary, they would still be claiming that she was far preferable to that horrible person who wants to take away Grandma’s Social Security and make birth control illegal, so I wish they’d spare me their indignation.


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


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


May 2017
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