BOOK REVIEW: Stay Up with Hugo Best, by Erin Somers

BOOK REVIEW: Stay Up with Hugo Best, by Erin SomersTitle: Stay Up with Hugo Best by Erin Somers
Published by Scribner
Published: April 2nd 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

An incredibly timely, terrifically witty and moving debut about a young writer's assistant on a late night comedy show and what transpires when she accepts an invitation from its enigmatic host to spend a long weekend at his mansion in Connecticut.

June Bloom is a broke, cynical twenty-nine-year-old writer's assistant on the late-night comedy show, Stay Up with Hugo Best. Hugo Best is in his sixties, a beloved icon of TV and humor, and a notorious womanizer. After he unexpectedly retires and a party is held for his now unemployed staff, June ends up at a dive bar for an open-mic night and prepares for the sad return to the anonymous comedian lifestyle. What she’s not prepared for is a run-in with Hugo at that dive bar. Nor for the invitation that swiftly follows: Hugo asks June to come to his mansion in Greenwich for the long Memorial Day weekend. “No funny business,” he insists.

June, in need of a job and money, confident she can handle herself, but secretly harboring the remains of a childhood crush on the charming older comedian and former role model, accepts. The exact terms of the visit are never spelled out, but June is realistic and clear-eyed enough to guess. Even so, as the weekend unfolds and the enigmatic Hugo gradually reveals himself, their dynamic proves to be much more complicated and less predictable than she expected.

At once hilarious and poignant, brilliantly incisive and terrifically propulsive, Stay Up with Hugo Best is an incredibly timely exploration of sexual politics in the #MeToo age, and the unforgettable story of one young woman’s poignant stumbling into adulthood.

June Bloom, a twenty-nine year old writing assistant for a late night comedy show called “Stay Up with Hugo Best,” finds herself unemployed after Hugo Best suddenly announces his retirement from late-night television. Stay Up with Hugo Best is a wry look into late night television that is a little reminiscent of NBC’s 30 Rock’s flavor in the sense that it gives you that behind-the-scenes glimpse into the aftermath of what happens once a popular late-night comedy show ends.

As a suddenly-unemployed almost thirty year old, June has to figure out what she wants to do and where she’s going now that her current career trajectory has come to a halt. Hugo Best has to reconcile his past, present, and future, scandals and all. Their two lines entangle more once Hugo invites June to spend some time with him at his mansion.

The lines entangle more the closer Hugo and June become, and it’s a timely look at the #metoo movement as June struggles to balance what she wants and she believes in while observing the men in her life and Hugo’s life take what they want with essentially no consequences.

Over the four days she spends with him, June realizes the realities behind the fame she had obsessed over and the costs of such extravagance, and once she leaves, she’s neither fully satisfied or sure where her life will go next, but the weekend at Hugo Best’s mansion certainly signaled a shift in her perception.

Although all of the characters were unlikable at times, Somers’ debut novel is a sly look into our obsessions with fame, television, and the sordid details behind the scenes. I felt June was a little too passive for the career she wanted to be in, but in a way it works for this sort of novel. Overall, Last Night with Hugo Best is a solid debut novel and worth checking out if you enjoy late-night television and behind-the-scenes glimpses into famous lives.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own.

On Changes and Letting Go; a personal reflection on my reading life, and otherwise

I miss blogging? It’s weird to say. I’ve been blogging on and off since 2001, but I miss the feeling of being able to sit down, think, and write about something just for me. After undergraduate and graduate experience, I fell into the sort of mindset of “omg I must be productive and only produce stuff for people to consume” rather than like… writing for myself for fun. My reading shifted a lot between all levels of my education and beyond, and I feel like my reading has shifted the most from the time I started bookstagram in 2016 until now. After being unhappy with social media a lot in the latter half of 2018, I came to the conclusion that I need to return to my roots in a way, change, and start letting go.

I used to have a lot of trouble setting aside a book. I can read fast, I don’t like leaving things unfinished, and I like the small accomplishment that comes with having finished reading a book. But within the last year or so, I’ve become better and more ruthless about setting books aside that aren’t grabbing me in any way. I’m thinking about it more this year because

  • I have some changes coming up in the future and I want to pare down so that the transition happens as smoothly as possible.
  • I have a lot of unread books thanks to my poor spending habits and the graciousness of publishers.
  • There are so many books I want to read, so I’ve made the executive decision to not waste time on something that’s middling, mediocre, boring, or just bad.

It still feels a little weird and I still feel a little guilty when I decide to set a book aside, but all I need to do is remind myself of all those other books, look at my TBR and reviewing obligations, and move forward. I have to remind myself not to think of money spent because of the sunk cost fallacy. I spent that money, and I learned a lesson that I need to remember in the future.

It’s hard sometimes trying to maintain a blogging and Instagram presence when so much is focused on the new, new, new. It’s fun reading new books, don’t get me wrong, but what happens when all those new books I bought suddenly turn into last week’s, last month’s, or last year’s backlist? I can’t read as fast as I want to, even though I consistently read 8-11 books a month. … but when you start doing the math, and I’m bringing in fifteen or more books a month, I’m going to fall behind incredibly fast.

I know I can manage this with more discipline. I’ve proven it to myself that if I read 150-200 pages a day, I can read an average of four books a week. My reading goals are always 100 books a year, but if I read four books a week? That’s 208 books a year. That’s double my goal. Telling myself to read that many pages a day can be difficult with the distractions of work, life, and the internet. It’s difficult to rearrange your strategies for time management, but I think it’s coming time that I really need to shift some focuses. Doing Whole30 this month has helped immensely with not only feeling great but forcing me to deal with stuff head on rather than hide from it.

Every weekend, I’ve been going through my books bit by bit and doing some weeding. I’ve made one trip to the used bookstore already, and I think I’m going to go next time. I brought four Trader Joe’s bags full of books last time, and I’m probably going to do the same this weekend. Of course I come back with books, but I come back with fewer and more thought-out choices (usually classics [Penguin Classics or NYRB Classics] or mass market sff I’ve missed out on that I know I wanted to read). I’ve noticed that once the first purge happened and I let those books go, it felt cathartic and great, like a weight lifting from my shoulders. The books I said goodbye to had a lot of weird memories and expectations attached, and letting go of that was so freeing.

I want my shelves, wherever I end up, to be curated and reflect me rather than just be a hodgepodge mess of things I only half like. I want my Instagram feed to be a better reflection and curation of what I am actually interested in talking about and not worry so much about engagement levels. Instagram started as a fun project for me to engage with other like-minded readers. The algorithm changes seemed to affect me and everyone else, and I think returning back to that feeling of it’s for fun and not for obligations will help. I want everything I have to reflect my best self, rather than the halfhearted attempts at being someone different and someone I’m not.

Hi, I’m Meg; and I like reading science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction with a little historical romance thrown in, history, and science (especially astrophysics and cosmology space stuff even though some of it’s really hard to understand and I’m not good at math). It’s time for some changes, and it’s good to remember to let go every once in a while. Let’s boldly go.

BOOK REVIEW: Magic For Liars, Sarah Gailey

BOOK REVIEW: Magic For Liars, Sarah GaileyTitle: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor Books
Published: June 4th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir in this fantasy debut by rising star Sarah Gailey.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

What do you get when you mix the styles of Agatha Christie, throwbacks to magical boarding schools à la Harry Potter, but set in California? You get Sarah Gailey’s Magic For Liars, a murder mystery set in and around a magical boarding school in central California! I really enjoyed this one, and I knew I would because I enjoyed Gailey’s River of Teeth novella duology released by tor.com in the last few years.

Magic For Liars weaves its way in and out of Ivy Gamble’s involvement in solving a murder at the school at which her twin sister Tabitha teaches. In the process of solving the whodunnit, Ivy has to face and come to terms with her own nonmagical abilities, something she’s been struggling with her entire life. She finds herself imagining the person she is to the person she could have been with magical abilities, and she has the opportunity to see who might have been had she been born with magical abilities.

Tie in this self-discovery and murder with other magical students, rumors of a chosen one, and familial relationship struggles, and Magic For Liars becomes a fully-fledged novel that has lingered with me since I finished it. I really enjoyed the fresh-noir feeling of the writing, the magic system and how gruesome and cruel magic could be, and all of the little references and throwbacks to popular mystery series and Harry Potter.

Like magic, mystery, murder, relationships between sisters, magical theories and conspiracies? Read this delight of a novel. It’s out June 4.

Many thanks to Tor for a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How To Do, by Pete Fromm

BOOK REVIEW: A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How To Do, by Pete FrommTitle: A Job You Mostly Won't Know How to Do by Pete Fromm
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: May 7th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award Pete Fromm joins Counterpoint with his big-hearted new novel, a love story about family full of hope and resiliency and second chances

A taciturn carpenter has been too busy putting the final details on others' homes to pay much attention to his own fixer-upper. But when his wife becomes pregnant with their first child, he realizes he'll need to apply his art closer to home. For Taz and Marnie, their dreams are coming into focus, sustained by their deep sense of love and now family.

The blueprint for the perfect life eludes Taz, plummeting him head first in the new strange world of fatherhood, of responsibility and late nights and unexpected joy and sorrow. It is a deceptively small novel with a very big heart.

Over eleven books and over twenty years, Pete Fromm has become one of the west's literary legends. A Job You Mostly Won't Know How To Do beautifully captures people who, isolated by land and by their actions, end up building a life that is both expected and brave.

Pete Fromm’s A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How To Do examines the aftermath of a man’s experience with fatherhood after his wife dies in childbirth. It’s a quiet yet emotionally wrought novel that wavers between fiction and a dream. Taz must now learn how to navigate being a father and regaining his sense of self once his plans have suddenly been shattered.

Taz is understandably overwhelmed with parenthood, a job mostly nobody knows how to do, and Fromm weaves the ins and outs and ups and downs of Taz’s new life with his daughter. We see first hand the ways in which Taz makes it through the day, simply and sometimes only with his wife’s voice in his head to keep him going.

Throughout the novel, imagery of rebuilding a house ties in with Taz rebuilding his life in a way that feels fresh and engaging. I didn’t want to stop reading it once I picked it up. It’s unflinchingly honest in its revelations of Taz’s journey, but it’s full of heart and understanding, and you seem to grow right along with Taz.

Read this if you want some quiet fiction with a lot of depth and enjoy stories of what it means to be a parent.

Thank you to Counterpoint LLC for sending me a complimentary copy for review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Park Avenue Summer, by Renée Rosen

BOOK REVIEW: Park Avenue Summer, by Renée RosenTitle: Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen
Published by Berkley
Published: April 30th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada as Renée Rosen draws readers into the glamour of 1965 New York City and Cosmopolitan Magazine, where a brazen new Editor-in-Chief--Helen Gurley Brown--shocks America by daring to talk to women about all things off limits...

New York City is filled with opportunities for single girls like Alice Weiss who leaves her small Midwestern town to chase her big city dreams and unexpectedly lands the job of a lifetime working for Helen Gurley Brown, the first female Editor-in-Chief of a then failing Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Nothing could have prepared Alice for the world she enters as editors and writers resign on the spot, refusing to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. While confidential memos, article ideas, and cover designs keep finding their way into the wrong hands, someone tries to pull Alice into this scheme to sabotage her boss. But Alice remains loyal and becomes all the more determined to help Helen succeed. As pressure mounts at the magazine and Alice struggles to make her way in New York, she quickly learns that in Helen Gurley Brown's world, a woman can demand to have it all.

Any description about a book that begins with Mad Men and The Devil Wears Prada immediately grabs my attention. Renée Rosen’s Park Avenue Summer lived up to all of my expectations and more. Set in 1965, Park Avenue Summer follows the summer of Alice Weiss, a young woman headed to New York City to do good to her mother’s memory and to have a fresh start. Alice lands a job at Cosmopolitan with the help of her aunt on her mother’s side, and working for Helen Gurley Brown, who wrote Sex and the Single Girl, opens a lot of doors personally and professionally.

One of the things I liked most about this was the attention to detail, Rosen’s ability to bring the past to life and make it fresh and modern, and Alice’s growth from a relatively naive Midwestern girl to a confident woman. Helen Gurley Brown’s take-no-shit attitude helped launch Cosmopolitan from the society magazine it was before to the vibrant, in-your-face magazine we still recognize today. I always tend to forget how much the 1960s shifted public perception of a lot of ideas and behaviors we take for granted today, and Rosen’s story of the fictional Alice Weiss and the very real Helen Gurley Brown makes me want to read more about the history of Cosmopolitan and the publishing industry of New York in the 1960s. Rosen thankfully gives a list of recommended reading at the end of this book that will be incredibly helpful in starting my own research.

I also loved the portrait of New York City Rosen painted in her novel. Rosen captures the cutthroat reality of the city while also maintaining that the city is full of dreams just within your reach if you’re willing to make the effort. NYC is a magical place for me, and I love seeing that balance portrayed so well in fiction. I love stories about women coming into their own, stories about the publishing industry in all its forms, and, of course, stories about New York City, and Renée Rosen’s Park Avenue Summer was the perfect blend of all three. Be sure to check this one out at the end of the month!

Thank you Berkley for sending me an advance digital copy to read and review! All opinions are my own.