Today’s Little List of Reviews features three reads from Netgalley that I’ve had on my Kindle for a long time and have needed to review for a while. Thank you to Netgalley
Title: The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher
Published by Berkley
Published: February 25th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
A life in snapshots…
Grace knows what people see. She’s the Cinderella story. An icon of glamor and elegance frozen in dazzling Technicolor. The picture of perfection. The girl in white gloves.
A woman in living color…
But behind the lens, beyond the panoramic views of glistening Mediterranean azure, she knows the truth. The sacrifices it takes for an unappreciated girl from Philadelphia to defy her family and become the reigning queen of the screen. The heartbreaking reasons she trades Hollywood for a crown. The loneliness of being a princess in a fairy tale kingdom that is all too real. Hardest of all for her adoring fans and loyal subjects to comprehend, is the harsh reality that to be the most envied woman in the world does not mean she is the happiest. Starved for affection and purpose, facing a labyrinth of romantic and social expectations with more twists and turns than Monaco’s infamous winding roads, Grace must find her own way to fulfillment. But what she risks--her art, her family, her marriage—she may never get back.
The first half of this was so good, nuanced and detailed with a lot of sparking humor. I love fiction about Hollywood and the behind the scenes glimpses it gives, but this book fell apart halfway through for me. The characterization of Grace Kelly did a complete turnaround and felt unrecognizable from the character introduced to us in the beginning. Tonally, the book felt like a completely separate title halfway through, and it left me a little disappointed.
Title: Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: November 12 2019
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
“A brilliant bastard.” —Cory Doctorow“Comfort, of course, is the last thing that Watts wants to give.” —New York Review of Science Fiction
Which of the following is true?
-Peter Watts is banned from the U.S.-Watts almost died from flesh-eating bacteria.-A schizophrenic man living in Watts's backyard almost set his house on fire. -Watts was raised by Baptists who really sucked at giving presents.-Peter Watts said to read this book. Or else.
“Watts, undoubtedly, is a genius.” ―Medium
In more than fifty unpredictable essays and revenge fantasies, Peter Watts — Hugo Award-winning author, former marine biologist, and angry sentient tumor — is the savage dystopian optimist whom you can’t look away from. Even when you probably should.
I didn’t really know anything about Peter Watts before reading this collection of his writing/blog posts, and the resulting collection in an acerbic, entertaining look into a myriad of subjects. It was a lot to take in all at once, so I picked at this over the course of several months. I loved his perspective on a lot of things, so if you like essays about literally anything, definitely take a look at this.
Title: Show Them a Good Time by Nicole Flattery
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: January 28th 2020
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
A blisteringly original and wickedly funny collection of stories about the strange worlds that women inhabit and the parts that they must play.
A sense of otherworldly menace is at work in the fiction of Nicole Flattery, but the threats are all too familiar. SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME tells the stories of women slotted away into restrictive roles: the celebrity's girlfriend, the widower's second wife, the lecherous professor's student, the corporate employee. And yet, the genius of Flattery's characters is to blithely demolish the boundaries of these limited and limiting social types with immense complexity and caustic intelligence. Nicole Flattery's women are too ferociously mordant, too painfully funny to remain in their places.
In this fiercely original and blazingly brilliant debut, Flattery likewise deconstructs the conventions of genre to serve up strange realities: In Not the End Yet, Flattery probes the hilarious and wrenching ambivalence of Internet dating as the apocalypse nears; in Sweet Talk, the mysterious disappearance of a number of local women sets the scene for a young girl to confront the dangerous uncertainties of her own sexuality; in this collection's center piece, Abortion, A Love Story, two college students in a dystopian campus reconfigure the perilous stories of their bodies in a fraught academic culture to offer a subversive, alarming, and wickedly funny play that takes over their own offstage lives. And yet, however surreal or richly imagined the setting, Flattery always shows us these strange worlds from startlingly unexpected angles, through an unforgettable cast of brutally honest, darkly hilarious women and girls.
Like the stories of Mary Gaitskill, Miranda July, Lorrie Moore, Joy Williams, and Ottessa Moshfegh, SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME is the work of a profoundly resonant and revelatory literary voice – at once spiky, humane, achingly hilarious-- that is sure to echo through the literary culture for decades to come.
I like reading collections of short stories to break up longer books or when my attention span is fried, so I was happy to read a collection of a new-to-me author. This collection played with the subversion of gender roles and explored the contrasts of women in society. My favorite story of the collection is ‘Show Them a Good Time,’ but the rest began feeling samey and repetitive after a while. This is probably best read one story at a time rather than a few here and there.
Title: Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
Published by Berkley
Published: June 11, 2019
“It doesn’t matter how someone in a romantic comedy affords their absurdly nice house, or whether or not their profession makes sense, or if technically they’re sort of stalking someone they heard on a call-in radio show. What matters is that they have hope. Sure, they find love, but it’s not even about love. It’s the hope that you deserve happiness, and that you won’t be sad forever, and that things will get better. It’s hope that life doesn’t always have to be a miserable slog, that you can find someone to love who understands you and accepts you just as you are.”
Can a romcom-obssessed romantic finally experience the meet-cute she always dreamed of or will reality never compare to fiction, in this charming debut adult novel from Kerry Winfrey.
Annie is twenty-seven years old, single, and obsessed with romantic comedies (she and her mother watched them religiously, before her mom died). Her dating life is limited by the expectations she’s formed from these movies. She is not as open to new experiences as she might be, because she’s waiting for her Tom Hanks–i.e., a guy she’ll find in the perfect, meet-cute romantic comedy way. When Annie does finally meet her perfect match, it’s not quite in the way she expected, and she’s forced to reckon with the walls she’s built around herself over the years.
I’ve been reading a lot of romance this year, and it’s helped a lot through the more stressful and difficult times of this year. It’s light, fluffy, and a perfect escape from reality for a little bit. I do tend to gravitate toward historical romance, but some of the contemporary romances I’ve read this year have been super cute. I really enjoyed Kerry Winfrey’s Waiting For Tom Hanks because it ties in those Nora Ephron romantic movies with someone who has modeled their expectations around the characters Tom Hanks portrays in the romantic movies in which he’s starred.
The story explores Annie’s expectations versus reality and how she comes to terms with meeting her “Tom Hanks” and how he differs from and goes beyond her expectations throughout the course of the story. Drew is the good-looking Hollywood star who has come to film a romantic comedy in the town in which Annie lives, and they have their own movie-perfect meet-cute, but she has self-doubts that Drew actually is interested in her for real reasons rather than whatever she has concocted in her mind. As she and Drew get to know each other and sparks develop, Annie begins to learn more about herself and her past that shatter everything she’s ever known and reveal truths with which she must come to terms and make adjustments in order to grow and be who she needs to be rather than who she wants to be.
I loved the romantic comedy references sprinkled throughout the story, and the cast of characters is so much fun. I loved her friend Chloe, and I can’t wait to read the forthcoming book about her! Annie’s Dungeons & Dragons playing uncle, Don, was such an amazing character to include, and I don’t know if I’ve seen many nerdy characters like these portrayed positively in contemporary fiction like this (though my pool of reference is fairly small, so correct me if I’m wrong), and I hope to see more of him in the upcoming sequel and beyond!
This is a breezy, cute romantic story that I read in two sittings because I couldn’t put it down, so if you like Nora Ephron comedies and contemporary romance in general, definitely look into this one.
Title: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Published by Berkley
Published: February 12th 2019
Format: Trade Paper
A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.
I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.
I am the Beast.
The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.
My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.
My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.
And now I might lose her forever.
Lose yourself in this gorgeously rich and magical retelling of The Beauty and the Beast that finally lays bare the beast's heart.
It feels like it’s been forever since a I read a fairy tale retelling that was set in its traditional time period. The Beast’s Heart
is a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in 17th century France that evokes a lot of the style and magic of what I associate with the fairy tale. Shallcross manages to retell a familiar tale set in a familiar landscape and somehow make it entirely infused with a fresh magic. This retelling is told from the Beast’s perspective, and Shallcross does a fantastic job of letting us into the mind of the beast, showing us the arrogance and the assumptions that the young woman should
love him just because he saved her. She shows his growth from “the beast” to “the prince” in a sympathetic and true way, and I liked seeing the Beast’s growth from his own perspective.
While this does stay true to the original tales, as I get older, I realize and recognize some of the weird behaviors that are often swept aside for the romance. As someone in her 30s now, I do find it generally off-putting for men to continually ask someone else out even after she’s said no, find non-consensual voyeurism strange, and think that the whole “woe is me, please love me I’m alone” deal to be tired. You’ll find all of this in the book, and on one hand it is grating and off-putting. I found myself thinking “just leave her alone!” several times when the Beast kept making his advances. I thought some of the scenes where the Beast was watching Isabeau and her family through his magic mirror to add a depth to the story, but there were times he watched Isabeau for the sake of watching her (and in one scene watching her undress). The Beast also bemoans his lack of humanity and the horrors of his beast self, and the consistency with which that happens gets old after a while. But there are people out there in the world who behave this way, and the Beast does come to his senses, matures, and begin reversing a lot of those thoughts and behaviors by the book’s end.
I thought the descriptions of the chateau and its surroundings were beautiful, the dialogue is sparkling, and the pacing is just right for a story like this. It reminded me a lot of the fairy tale retellings I read ages ago by Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, and Gail Carson Levine, so it left me with good feelings by the end.
Title: Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen
Published by Berkley
Published: April 30th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
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.