War on Peace

farrowI read this one in part as a truce with my dad, who loooves to talk about politics, but soon got sucked into what felt like a lesson in global civics told in terms of a horror story.
WAR ON PEACE is a breakdown of the systematic sabotage of the State Department and the Foreign Service, and the atrocities that occur when military escalation takes the place of diplomacy.

The most resonant accounts are from Farrow himself: the absurd decadence of the Vice President’s palace in Kabul, the heartbreaking interview with the mother of a terrorist, and a categorical description of ambassadors in terms of their ties.

A good portion of the book is a eulogy to Ronan Farrow’s old boss, Richard Holbrooke, and a farewell to Tom Countryman, two diplomats who marked the end of an era of the US as a superpower. Timelines of their careers tell us not just who they were, but how the job is done, and how attitudes and regimes shape the process of keeping peace.

As I read, I felt more and more naive, boggled by the amounts of money spent to keep the US pertinent on the world stage, and overwhelmed by the horrors of proxy wars we’ve funded.
The ending feels ambiguous, with a scrapbook of photos that don’t shed light or hope into the future, and perhaps that is what Farrow intends to say.

The Chateau

IMG_8595This was so much fun.
Clever and marvelously explicit as always, but THE CHATEAU has a slightly different feel than the original Originals–a little more action, a little more intrigue, and a whole lotta King.

We go back in time, to a younger Kingsley, on a mission that takes us to a castle themed after The Story of O, only now the roles are reversed, and Madame’s women rule the rooms at the chateau.
King is 24, and full of…er, spunk, so to speak, but we get a deeper PoV that makes us bleed for him, and fall in love that much harder as he unravels the mystery and risks getting unraveled himself.

I was so lucky to get an early version of this one, and it might be my favorite so far. I hope we get more bawdy thrillers starring our favorite filthy Frenchman.

THE CHATEAU comes out June 5th–you can pre-order it on amazon over here.


The Last Black Unicorn

unicornThis book gives all the funny.
I laughed so hard.
Tiffany Haddish’s memoirs hurt like a kick to the stomach. She pulls no punches–on the reader, on herself. And a lot of that pain, I know. Most women know betrayal of some kind. Most of us have dealt with physical abuse.
And still we find a way eventually laugh again–at ourselves, and the irony of, well, life.

Because it really is some funny shit.

Sometimes the book runs like gonzo stand-up, like the chapter about her days as a pimp–which had me rolling so hard the cat came running to see what was wrong. At the end there’s a Rolodex file of introductory anecdotes of celebrity comedians–and holy crap, she totally calls out Dave Chappelle. And once she licked Arsenio Hall’s face and he tastes like–
Oh, just go read it.
Afterward you’ll want to hang out with Tiffany and Jada Smith and get life lessons about a designer handbag with a dog on it, and walk around grinning all day about how funny life is, even when it hurts.

Uncommonly Good

51wKigKPT8L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_From Amazon:

Finishing school taught Amelia Wheeler how to put on a well-mannered performance—when she’s not bored and looking for trouble. Lady Grantham’s is behind her and now it’s time for Amelia to keep her promise to her dying mother: marry a title and leave her wild days behind.

That promise would be much easier to keep if Nate Smythe hadn’t just reappeared in a London ballroom. The son of an impoverished sailor, Nate—Natty, as he used to be called—has grown up to become handsome, rich and polished. He claims to be looking for a proper bride who can advance his business interests, but that doesn’t stop him from seeking out Amelia every chance he gets. Challenging her. Kissing her.

Suddenly, struggling against her simmering passion is the least of Amelia’s problems—one of her titled suitors is hiding a desperate secret that could stop Amelia from pleasing her parents or finding happiness with Nate. As a weeklong house party threatens to derail her hard-won future, Amelia must decide: fight against disaster or act like the lady she’s promised to become?

I love Amanda Weaver’s writing, but especially her historical romances. This follow up to A DUCHESS IN NAME is even better than the first.  Amelia is a blast to read, and reminds me of some Amanda Quick’s heroines: intelligent, rebellious and fun. And Nate is handsome and dashing and earnest, in all the ways he should be. The marvelous Genevieve Grantham returns, as well as shrewish Kitty Ponsoy.

What sets this book above many others in the Regency genre is the acknowledgement of how difficult and unfair women had it during the time period, when men decided the fate of their daughters and wives and appearances were everything–not everything is ribbons and bows–but how Amelia foils the Society “system” with its own rules is so fun to read.
Weaver’s books are also hotter than most; the bedroom (or carriage) door is left wide open, letting us in to some sexy scenes and hilarious and intimate conversations.

I can’t wait for the third, and I hope the series goes on for many more.


Dagged Roses

indexFrom Amazon:
“I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.”
In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever.

The follow up to the Wrath and the Dawn was a more satisfying read for me, though not as riveting. While I found the story and the characters much more intriguing with less of the blatant Twilight structure, I missed the marvelous tension between Shazi and Khalid.
A lovely new addition to the story was the character of Artan, who might be a djinn, or perhaps an ifreet. He’s cantankerous and challenges Shazi at every opportunity. Their interaction brings back what Ahdieh writes best-and what I missed while Shazi and Khalid were separated-the banter and antagonism that leaves you grinning and rooting for both sides.
Irsa stole the story. Her characterization and conflict was fresh and realistic and heartfelt-the little sister’s struggle to understand the drama swirling around her. I hope we get a book with her own story, set in this marvelous world.

Call Her by Her Name

51aU0vgefaLFrom Amazon:

In Call Her by Her Name, the poet and performance artist Bianca Lynne Spriggs creates a twenty-first-century feminist manifesto suffused with metaphoric depth. This collection is a call-and-response of women—divine and domestic, legend and literal—who shape-shift and traverse generations. Through these narratives and cinematic poems, a chorus emerges of stories and lives rarely told.
Call Her by Her Name seeks to give voice to the voiceless, including lynched black women, the biblical “Potiphar’s wife,” and women who tread the rims of phenomenal worlds—the goddess, the bird-woman, the oracle. While these poems reflect an array of women and women’s experiences, each piece could be considered a hue of the same woman, whether home-wrecker, Madonna, or midwife. The woman who sees dragons was perhaps once the roller-skating girl-child. The aging geisha may also be the roots woman next door. The woman who did not speak for ten years could have ended up sinking to the ocean floor. Spriggs gives each one life and limb, breath and voice, in a collection that adds up unequivocally to a poetic celebration of women.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs is an amazing creative voice in the Bluegrass community-an Affrilachian poet, an incredible visual artist and a stellar actress. Every few years we meet in the throws of theater and have marvelous talks about writing, race, self-image and magic.
She’s a vortex of expression and art. With a few sentences she can make me feel like a naive white girl who doesn’t listen enough, and the next moment she’ll kindle me to roar with glamour and color and words and soul.

I was so excited to see she’d had another book of poems out. It came in the mail yesterday, too impersonally.
I gobbled this poetry collection like a teenager running through her first art museum. I have to remind myself not to read so fast.
I’m lucky, I’ve heard Bianca’s voice in person. I can catch her smile in some words, heavy thunder in others, a mystic’s question, a-not-so-subtle pointed glance.
(All those sentences started with I.)
(The words pull me inside myself, turn me inside out.)

They’re all women, these poems, and they shine, and have a flavor. Sometimes they’re rough. Sometimes they’re sharp. Some are sex and guts and glory and longing. They all tell stories. The deepest and most haunting are those of The Lynched Woman.
My favorites are the witchy ones, like “Alchemist,” though the pieces all have a touch of that, the woman-magic-power.
The book sits on top of the stack by my bed; a folded page corner on “Recess: A Bop,” because Mami Wati makes me grin, and I will go back and read her for comfort when I need it.

Reader seeks Audibles

41MPL2YEqzL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_In my ever-quest to get fit–no body self shaming here, I’m big-big boned Scandi gal with a Viking ass, but I’ve got bad knees and the more weight I lose the better they feel–I’ve started walking again.
I subscribed to Audible, so that I could conquer my Goodreads challenge of a book a week, and hopefully get excited about trudging through my neighborhood while avoiding all the goose poo on the sidewalk.

My first narrated book might have been the wrong choice. NEANDERTHAL SEEKS HUMAN was cute, and there were things I loved, like the knitting group that drinks wine more than they cast on. Janey and Quinn are frustrating and oblivious to their obvious affections, which is a theme I enjoy, but the narration really grated on me.
I think this book was written to be a tongue-in-cheek contemporary romance, with a sarcastic stream of consciousness PoV. I might have enjoyed reading it, but the inner snarkiness was lost in the sweet-voiced vocal translation, especially with no variance with the repetition. (The blinking. So much blinking. And I began to count how many times the phrase SirMcHotPants was used during my lap around the block.) I also wish the narrator had not tried so hard with the accents–after living in both Appalachia and New England–I was wincing at the Boston and the Tennessee affectations.

I’ll recommend this book (the e-book or the hardcopy) to my college-aged daughter and her friends.

Maybe I just need to get used to narrated stories. Anybody got any suggestions for Audible books?

Seven and Eight

51YUvJqLl3L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve enjoyed Jeanette Grey’s writing for a while, but I really loved her Art of Passion series.

SEVEN NIGHTS TO SURRENDER starts in Paris, with a tentative young woman with a sketchbook, and a jaded pick-up artist. Both Kate and Rylan are running from their past and choices they have to make. He’s ridiculously bold, and she sees through him, but their mutual attraction leads to a trip to a museum and explorations in bed.
The sex is lovely and hot, and the emotional arc is the perfect balance of “aawww” and “I-want-to-slap-these-two-upside-the-head” but my favorite parts are the descriptions of the artistic process Kate goes through on her creative self-discovery.

51FTZDUv6mL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_EIGHT WAYS TO ECSTASY starts with a bang (er-sorry-nah, not sorry) where the first book left us, in New York, where Rylan and Kate have to figure out their relationship in the real word, beyond their fantasy in Paris. Instead of running from the messes they’ve inherited from their parents, they must deal with them, while caught up in their own turbulent need for the other.
Again, the sex is beyond steamy, but this time I was especially drawn to Rylan’s emotional journey and his coming to terms with his family and his father’s dubious legacy. One chapter involving an art gallery, some high-octane jealousy and the backseat of a Bentley was particularly awesome.

I’d recommend the Art of Passion series to anyone who enjoys a sultry New Adult romance, has been to art school, or walked up the steps to Sacré-Cœur.

Familiar Stories

wrath and twiI loved THE WRATH & THE DAWN–gorgeously written, lush setting, so so so much sexual tension–up until the tortured hero tells the heroine he doesn’t sleep.

I love a retelling. Familiar stories, archetype structures spun out with new depth and detail–I write them myself. And 1001 Arabian Nights is one of my favorites. This one is done as prettily as it gets, but I’ve read it before.

The unwilling killer, a self-named “monster.” The heroine with latent abilities. The physical shock when they first touch. The sassy pushy girl who dresses the heroine, in love with the hero’s best friend. The first date with an attack by a gang. The love triangle with the impetuous boyhood friend. Even the hidden cache of writing in his room.
That culmination tempered with “I’m afraid if I start, I won’t stop.”
And he doesn’t sleep.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoyed TWILIGHT.

Personal Confessions and Tiffany gems.

41GtTg20zcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_One of the things I love about Tiffany Reisz is how personally her writing hits me. Beyond the wit and the banter and the sexy feels, there is always a theme that grabs at a deeper internal level. Sometimes there’s a kink that pushes my curiosity and makes me wonder if my hard limits have cracks in their rigid walls. Sometimes I get a new understanding of doctrine and faith. Nothing is left untouched in her frank discussions of sex, feminism and religion.
THE CONFESSIONS delves into this almost exclusively. Two short stories-conversations with one of my favorite characters, Father Ballard (from POINSETTIA)-and an author interview. It’s a quick companion to the Original Sinners series.

The first story, THE CONFESSION OF MARCUS STEARNS is a lovely peek into Søren’s mind, and probably the closest we will get to his PoV. His interaction with his Jesuit friend and confessor-an insightful and liberal priest with good taste in music-is hysterical. The descriptions of Eleanor are melting.
The second story, THE CONFESSION OF ELEANOR SCHREIBER, is Nora’s unloading on the same priest, a look at choices and hidden desires that stabbed me sweetly in my barren guts as she discusses her decisions about childbirth.

The last third of the book, THE CONFESSION OF TIFFANY REISZ, is a conversation with romance critic Cyndy Aleo. The interview is hilarious, running the spectrum of Catholicism to kink. The two discuss the Church and the biblical parallels of the characters in the Original Sinners, gospel passages and other Christian Literature. They also talk about the distinctions between “safe consensual” play and “risk aware” play, and pushing the limits of dubious consent. Another thoughtful conversation delves into the age of teenage sexual agency-again, a topic hitting close to home for me-I’ve also written on that particular knife edge of moral discomfort.
This section was a special treat. I met Cyndy online in 2009, and fell in love with her writing, her endless pursuit of the sexy off-beat and sensually creative, and her acerbic honesty. Recently, she has edited four of my manuscripts, so in a fashion, she is also my confessor. Three years ago, Cyndy was also the one who said “You must read THE ANGEL, or I’m not speaking to you again.” I did, of course, and then looked up the author on twitter, and said, “Wait–I’ve met you!”
A few years previously I was at a book event at Joseph Beth, my favorite local bookseller, and a friend of the featured author was there-a vivacious woman, jubilant because she had just signed on with an agent for her literary erotica.
Turns out, Tiffany Reisz lived in my hometown. Fast forward to 2014-she invited me to a writer’s crit group at the library. Afterward I met her and her guy (Andrew Shaffer) and had one of the funniest, most encouraging and inspiring conversations over a cup of Starbucks I’ve ever had. (They promptly moved across the country.)
So I confess I have to agree with Cyndy, despite the author’s protests, when she says that Tiffany is the embodiment of Nora: petite, dark haired, clever and funny, with an unrivaled boldness about sex, God and writing. But that’s only a little sin, and I’m sure Father Ballard would forgive me.

THE CONFESSIONS is quite spoilery, (there’s even an Easter egg Fun Fact appendix at the end) so I would recommend reading the entire series before grabbing this little jewel.