BOOK REVIEW: Rouge, by Richard Kirshenbaum

BOOK REVIEW: Rouge, by Richard KirshenbaumTitle: Rouge by Richard Kirshenbaum
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: June 25th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Like Swans of Fifth Avenue and Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, Richard Kirshenbaum's Rouge gives readers a rare front row seat into the world of high society and business through the rivalry of two beauty industry icons (think Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden), by the master marketer and chronicler of the over-moneyed. Rouge is a sexy, glamorous journey into the rivalry of the pioneers of powder, mascara and rouge.

This fast-paced novel examines the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the visionaries who invented the modern cosmetics industry: Josiah Herzenstein, born in a Polish Jewish Shtlel, the entrepreneur who transforms herself into a global style icon and the richest woman in the world, Josephine Herz; Constance Gardiner, her rival, the ultimate society woman who invents the door-to-door business and its female workforce but whose deepest secret threatens everything; CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial beauty and founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business, who overcomes prejudice and heartbreak to become her community’s first female millionaire. The cast of characters is rounded out by Mickey Heron, a dashing, sexy ladies' man whose cosmetics business is founded in a Hollywood brothel. All are bound in a struggle to be number one, doing anything to get there…including murder.

Kirshenbaum’s Rouge follows the fictional lives of Josiah Herzenstein, who reinvents herself as Josephine Herz, and Constance Gardiner who are vying for the limelight in the booming cosmetics industry in the 1920s,1930s, and beyond. In chapters of alternating perspectives, we get glimpses into the lives of Herz, Gardiner, Cee Cee, and Mickey. Kirshenbaum’s knowledge of business and the ruthless behind-the-scenes behavior between Herz and Gardiner are spot on and engaging. I liked the history woven into the story, illuminating the financial and personal struggles of the women and their businesses and showing how they persevered through the ups and downs of life.

Rouge is a fast-paced read that carries you along from start to finish. I read it in a single day, and lately it’s been rare that I’ve been compelled to start and finish something within the same day. The novel covers a lot of ground and manages to tie the lives of these two rivals together in a breezy narrative perfect for a summer beach read.

Because the novel covered so much history of the women and the business empires they created, I felt like I wanted more of the women’s personal spheres: how they felt wearing their creations, how they felt when they noticed other women wearing their creations, their private moments, and something a bit more grounded in the day-to-day. I think having more of those personal, intimate moments of some gravity would have added a lot more enjoyable weight to the story.

If you are interested in the intersection of business and creativity, especially in the beauty industry, definitely look into this book!

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane

BOOK REVIEW: Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth KeaneTitle: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Published by Scribner
Published: May 28th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come.

Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.

But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

Sometimes when I go into a book I just know it’s going to be one of those hit books of the summer. Ask Again, Yes is such a compelling character portrait of what happens when the lives of two families are entwined and changed from the beginnings of their children’s lives until the end.

Aside from the synopsis on the back and a little bit of early buzz from people I follow on social media, I didn’t know what to expect when I started this, and there’s a pivotal scene in the book that had me left in a little shock. I mean, I kind of knew it was coming, but the pacing of that scene was absolute perfection. The novel mostly follows what happened after in each of the character’s lives, after the Gleesons and Stanhopes recover; through the rest of high school, college, and beyond for their children, Kate and Peter; and how one reconciles the past with the present and future.

Keane handles mental illness, everyday violence, and love, forgiveness, and hope found within these characters with profound tenderness and empathy. This isn’t a sentimental novel, but it will certainly make you feel things throughout it all. Especially at the end.

Once I dug into this, I read it in about a day and a half. I had to know how things resolved, what happened to the characters, and to bask in the clear, fresh prose. If you enjoyed the tone of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, consider this your next read.

Many thanks to Scribner for sending me a copy of this to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. Johnston

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. JohnstonTitle: Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston
Published by Disney Lucasfilm Press
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 345
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The end of her reign is just the beginning...

When Padmé Amidala steps down from her position as Queen of Naboo, she is ready to set aside her title and return to life outside of the spotlight. But to her surprise, the new queen asks Padmé to continue serving their people—this time in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about the new role but cannot turn down the request, especially since, thanks to her dearest friend—and decoy—Sabé, she can be in two places at once. So while Padmé plunges into politics, Sabé sets off on a mission dear to Padmé's heart.

On the glistening capital planet Coruscant, Padmé's new Senate colleagues regard her with curiosity—and with suspicion for her role in ousting the previous chancellor. Posing as a merchant on Tatooine, Sabé has fewer resources than she thought and fewer options than she needs.

Together with Padmé's loyal handmaidens, Padmé and Sabé must navigate treacherous politics, adapt to constantly changing landscapes, and forge a new identity beyond the queen's shadow.

I’ve fought evil, and it was easy: I shot it. It’s apathy I can’t stand.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out twenty years ago this month. That blows my mind, because I still remember when the promotional material started appearing everywhere and then finally seeing the movie and falling head over heels in love with Queen Amidala/Padmé Naberrie. I loved her character, her gowns, her handmaidens, and the way she was able to navigate her day to day life disguised as a handmaiden while her decoy Sabé assumed the persona of Queen Amidala.

Back then, I wanted to know more about Padmé, where she came from, and who she was behind the scenes. Over the years, there were a few things that were sprinkled into the Star Wars novels but not enough to fully satiate what I was wanting to see. Then comes E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow and it’s everything I’ve wanted for twenty years. And I only want more.

Queen’s Shadow is a quiet Star Wars novel, going behind the scenes and to the front lines of Padmé’s reign as queen and her time as senator. We’re able to see the connections between Episode I to Episode III from her perspective in a quietly tense, masterful way. You won’t see big battles on planets or in space, but you will get to see the heart and soul behind one of Star Wars’ most interesting characters. We also get to know Padmé’s handmaidens, and I was especially happy to see Sabé in this book.

I can’t really describe how I felt while reading this book, except that it was a good feeling and full of nostalgia. I was twelve when Episode I came out, and I was obsessed with Padmé’s costuming and character. I doodled her everywhere, I bought the dolls so I could marvel at the costumes in person and display them on my shelves (I still have them, too!). All I wanted was more of her from the movies and the extended universe, and it wasn’t until twenty years later that this wish was fulfilled. Queen’s Shadow is easily one of my favorite Star Wars novels of all time.

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Brigade, by Kameron HurleyTitle: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Published by Saga Press
Published: March 19th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 356
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

From the Hugo Award­­–winning author of The Stars Are Legion comes a brand-new science fiction thriller about a futuristic war during which soldiers are broken down into light in order to get them to the front lines on Mars.

They said the war would turn us into light. I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world.

The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief—no matter what actually happens during combat.

Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think is going on.

Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero—or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.

A worthy successor to classic stories like Downbelow Station, Starship Troopers, and The Forever War, The Light Brigade is award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s gritty time-bending take on the future of war.

When Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion came out in 2017, I devoured it and recommended it to everyone who ever asked me for a recommendation. I since then have bought everything Hurley has written (a lot of it is still on the TBR) and preordered The Light Brigade as soon as I could.

Dietz is a non-citizen in a corporate-driven future in which citizenship is highly valued. When her home city is destroyed by a separatist Mars, Dietz signs up to join the military in order to have her revenge. Dietz discovers that the military has designed their own tech for travel — it involves breaking oneself down into particles of light and beaming from one zone to another. Of course the process isn’t perfect, and results in a lot of body horror and what it means to be contained in a physical body. Sometimes military sci-fi seems inaccessible to me because I’m not entirely too familiar with weapons and a whole lot of military protocol, but Hurley makes it easy, and that’s a difficult job to do. I felt like I could imagine myself being in Dietz’s place the whole time, struggling through her decisions and actions and rejoicing when she found shreds of hope.

The Light Brigade is everything I hoped for and more. It seriously exceeded my expectations and has already landed on my top ten reads of the year. Hurley harkens back to classic military sci-fi flavors while making it simultaneously, terrifically modern. Hurley doesn’t hold back on her examinations of capitalism, what would happen if corporations went beyond “being human” in the eyes of the law, war, sanity, time; and Hurley does this with so much passion and emotion that made it difficult to put the book down. I had to keep reading because I wanted to see where she’d take this.

It’s a sharp, dazzling sci-fi masterpiece that deserves a place on your shelf. It’s a little bit Haldeman, a little bit PKD, and a little bit Heinlein, but Hurley takes it to the next level. So pick it up, and The Stars Are Legion if you haven’t read that yet either.

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.