Thursday, June 1, 2023

On the Shelf: May 2023

I did a Scrooge McDuck swan dive into historical romances in May, and yet the book that really knocked my socks off was an upcoming contemporary! The Art of Scandal by Regina Black was almost impossible to put down. I kept being pulled back to my Kindle like a magnet. A story set in the greater D.C. area, with politician's wife Rachel being drawn to younger man Nate, it's got every bit of scandal that the title implies. Yes, there's cheating. But it's also every bit a gorgeous romance where these two seemingly disparate characters find themselves as they fall in love with each other. There is an HEA. And, oh, it's so worth it. Definitely preorder it or run out and grab it on August 1!  

I also want to rave about T. Kingfisher's A House With Good Bones, because she really seems to be committed to putting the fear of flora in me. First it was mushrooms in What Moves the Dead, now it's rosebushes. Kingfisher is writing some of my favorite horror books right now. I have never been so happy to be so freaked out. (If you haven't read The Hollow Places or The Twisted god. Keep some lights on.)  

The Reading Rundown
Someone is Always Watching by Kelley Armstrong (young adult thriller/suspense)
The Art of Scandal by Regina Black (out 8/1, contemporary romance)
Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (young adult horror)
The Counterfeit Scoundrel by Lorraine Heath (historical romance)
A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher (gothic horror)
A Sinister Revenge by Deanna Raybourn (historical mystery)

Backlists and Rereads: I reread Eva Leigh's April release, A Rogue's Rules for Seduction. I worked my way through Elizabeth Hoyt's Legend of the Four Soldiers quartet—To Taste Temptation, To Seduce a Sinnder, To Beguile a Beast, To Desire a Devil—despite the cringery of the French and Indian War content. I had to do a quick reread of Scandalous Desires to cleanse. I also forayed into Nicola Davidson's backlist with The Seduction of Viscount Vice and reread Sarah MacLean's One Good Earl Deserves a Lover and No Good Duke Goes Unpunished. I didn't go unpunished either. lol.Then I journeyed back to an old fave, Liz Carlyle, and her books Wicked All Day and Devil to Pay. The former held up. The latter, which in some ways was more progressive, not so much. 

Currently reading: I'm still reading Topaz by Beverly Jenkins a few chapters at a time.

On the TBR/wishlist
The Notorious Lord Knightly by Lorraine Heath
Blood Betrayal by Ausma Zehanat Khan
The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George

Monday, May 29, 2023

A Story Is Still A Story: These Are the Roys Of Our Lives

One thing I find fascinating about a lot of people who watch only prestige TV? They assume it's automatically operating on a higher level, and more subversive, than mass-consumption series like Law & Order or One Chicago and what-have-you.

As though streaming or a bigger budget or an edgy cast means the basic foundations of storytelling are somehow different or better. They aren't. And those who constantly screenshot frames and zero in on props, looking for Meaning...oftentimes they are overlooking the obvious.

Because obvious messaging is boring, right? God, it's so pedestrian. If it's a smart show, then it has to be stimulating me intellectually and making me look deeper. No. Really, it does not. Often, the writer is still telling a core story that boils down to right vs. wrong.

Put another way, the Roys on Succession are a big-budget, award-nominated, variation on Days of our Lives' DiMeras*. The archetypal warring family with the patriarch they're desperate to impress and live up to. And, frankly, none of those kids jockeying for control can possibly measure up. Those who watch both shows are probably like "Yup, I know what the crux of this is." While many prestige-only viewers are flailing to assign "elevated" meaning.

This goes for things like Ted Lasso as well. I often feel like some viewers don't watch any other shows, because the basic foundational storytelling of a comedy or dramedy is missing them entirely. They can't see the forest for the trees that don't actually exist. Like, no, a heartfelt comedy with the message of "believe" is not going to have the Dutchman assault Rebecca while she's too drunk to consent. That is breaking the contract with the genre and with the viewer. But people were assuming ambiguity and some sort of awful "gotcha." When the writers were doing no such thing. 

It occurs to me that the word "prestige" comes from the French for "illusion." It's "a conjurer's trick," per Merriam-Webster. The first definition that comes up on Google is "widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality." On the basis of a perception. Sometimes what you think you are seeing is not what's actually there. And that stands as much for the magician being obvious as it does for them pulling the wool over your eyes while they saw someone in half. What if the illusion in question is that it's deeper than what it actually is? The audience perception of this as a trick when it's not a trick at all.

A story is not lesser because its meaning is discernible and blatant. And writers can be telling the same core stories no matter what network or streaming channel their project is airing on. Right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, the patriarchy and white supremacy often win out, and kindness can be inherent in every gesture. Sometimes, there's no need to sift through the sands in the hourglass looking for more than what's there. The sand itself is enough.  

*Anyone who thinks comparing the DiMeras to the Roys is an insult? I hope Stefano's ghost haunts your pompous elitist ass.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2023

On the Shelf: April 2023

Wow, I just crawled right into my Kindle during the month of April, didn't I? Between the library, ARCs, and impulse purchases, I was up to my eyeballs in books—and happily so! From recent releases by longtime faves KJ Charles and Molly Fader (aka O'Keefe) to unputdownable suspense/thrillers by Ausma Zehanat Khan, Rachel Hawkins and Kiersten White, to a whole slew of historical and contemporary romances—both older and upcoming. I keep ping-ponging between such dark books and the genre that that will always give me the comforting happily ever after I need. What does that say about me? Don't answer that.  

Keep an eye out for Heba Helmy's debut, The Earl's Egyptian Heiress, which may just be Harlequin's first historical romance with a character actively practicing their Muslim faith. (Don't quote me on that, 'cause I'm not sure. But I'm delighted to see on-page rep either way!) Also, someone needs to slap my hand for waiting so long to read Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto. It was such a hoot! Simultaneously over-the-top and totally relatable.   

The Reading Rundown
Some Dukes Have All the Luck by Christina Britton (historical romance)
A Thief in the Night by KJ Charles (historical m/m romance, novella)
The Sunshine Girls by Molly Fader (mainstream fiction, women's fiction)
The Villa by Rachel Hawkins (gothic suspense, mystery/thriller)
The Duchess Hunt by Lorraine Heath (historical romance)
The Return of the Duke by Lorraine Heath (historical romance)
The Earl's Egyptian Heiress by Heba Helmy (out 6/27, historical romance, category romance)
The Rake Gets Ravished by Sophie Jordan (historical romance)
Blackwater Falls by Ausma Zehanat Khan (mystery, suspense)
The Duchess Effect
by Tracey Livesay (out 7/11, contemporary romance)
Full Moon Over Freedom by Angelina Lopez (out 9/5, contemporary romance)
Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto (mainstream fiction, cozy mystery)
The Lone Wolf's Rejected Mate by Cate C. Wells (paranormal romance)
Hide by Kiersten White (horror, suspense)

Backlists and Rereads: Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas, the surprisingly bonkers The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen (there was ghost sex?!), and The Thing About Love by Julie James.

Currently reading: Topaz by Beverly Jenkins and Someone Is Always Watching by Kelley Armstrong.

On the TBR/wish list
The Counterfeit Scoundrel by Lorraine Heath
The Notorious Lord Knightly by Lorraine Heath
Blood Betrayal by Ausma Zehanat Khan
A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher
A Sinister Revenge by Deanna Raybourn
The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George