I have had issues with my weight and body image for close to ten years now. In fact, just the other day, I found myself staring at a BMI chart and thinking about how so many of our beauty standards are utterly subjective. Knowing how ridiculous these measurements are does nothing to ease the bad feelings in most cases, either; our ideas about body image are so ingrained in our society that many of us will swallow them without a thought.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was written by Whitney Way Thore, who is apparently on a show called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. I haven't seen the show, but I was interested in the memoir because I think body positivity is important. Ever since Tess Holliday received her controversial modeling contract, body positivity and image are starting to get more focus in the media. But a lot of people don't seem to fully comprehend what it entails.
"Love yourself," the media says, "but only if you have a body worth loving!"
This memoir starts from Thore's childhood and continues to the present day. She discusses the diet her mother put her on at a doctor's urging because she was a pound heavier than the average ten-year-old should be. She talks about the eating disorder she developed to be "normal-sized" & the cycles of starvation, excessive exercise, and purging she got into in order to maintain her size. She relates stories from her dating life, and points out the differences between body positive men and men who fetishize fat. She also talks about her rise to fame after one of her Fat Girl Dancing videos went rival, and how - even after this long and arduous journey - she is still insulted on a daily basis about her weight and appearance.
I DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON was a difficult read for me - partially because I could relate to the weight struggles in some ways, and partially because her experiences were so painful that I really just felt awful for her. Her parents' seeming attempts to deal with their own issues by projecting them onto her was terrible. Her trip to Korea, which should have been a fun experience, resulted in tons of insults and gawking and humiliation. And the men she encountered on various dating sites, who treated her like she was worth about as much respect as a plus-sized blow-up doll, were sickening.
On that note, I think it's an important read precisely because it's so uncomfortable. Thore forces you to think about why fat is viewed as such a bad thing, and how many of the "standards" we set for weight are really just lose/lose scenarios, because it's a rigged game from the start. The opening chapter is a little rocky because it starts out with Thore publicly calling one of her trolls on the carpet, but by the end of the book, you will definitely feel like her annoyance is more than justified. Her attempts to stay healthy despite a diagnosis of PCOS are admirable, and her dancing is incredible. She really doesn't fit society's stereotype of a "fat girl" and if you ask me, that's a damn good thing.
Short story collections are the literary equivalent of a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. On the one hand, they allow an author to be more experimental and the reader to "sample" the author's work. On the other hand, sometimes things get too crazy and you end up with the "coconut nougat" story.
Shadow Selves - ☆☆☆☆☆
MIDDLE-AGED BOYS & GIRLS starts out strong with Shadow Selves a story about a thin woman who is uncomfortable about her heavier friend, because her friend feels at ease in her body in a way that she, the main character, does not. Shadow Shelves really captures the love-hate dynamic of some friendships, and the importance of loving yourself first before letting others in.
Verdict: hazelnut truffle
Prey - ☆☆
Odd, kind of boring story about a conman, two women, and Poland.
Verdict: milk chocolate
Dirty Laundry- ☆☆☆☆
This is a creepy story about a landlord couple renting out a room to a sexy, younger woman. The husband is a little flighty, and the wife has a bit of a sinister vibe. As you can imagine, things end badly, and the words "sexual harassment" rear their ugly head in a lawsuit. The writing in this story was reminiscent of Ira Levin's work. It has that same slow build-up of doom amidst normality.
Verdict: white chocolate citrus
Valentine - ☆☆☆
This story is about a medical illustrator divorcee. One day, she realizes that her awkward, asexual preteen daughter has used the family computer for what looks like nudes. I liked this story, but it was very odd - and I felt like the connection between actual hearts and valentines was strained.
Verdict: cherry cordial
Thick - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about an aging model who is slowly starting to realize how much of a free ride her beauty really gave her, even when she tried to rally against it. After reading I DO IT IN THE DARK, it felt especially relevant; the model's realization that she could only really get away with being flip and uncaring when she had nothing to lose was really powerful. Definitely another favorite.
Verdict: honey crunch
New Ground - ☆☆
Weird story about a husband and wife splitting up. The wife attempts to gain solace by latching on to the super smooth leader of her neighborhood dog-walking group.
Salvation - ☆☆☆☆
Another strange addition, but one I actually liked. The main character is a volunteer working with children who are in danger of becoming bullies or bullied themselves. She attempts to bribe them for good behavior by drawing their portraits, while also reflecting on how easy it is sometimes to bully someone with an accurate (but cruel) caricature of themselves.
Verdict: dark chocolate
The Girl Next Door - ☆☆☆☆
How would you react if you found out one of your neighbors killed and dismembered a young girl? The main character in this story is becoming neurotic, aware of the hostility in their neighborhood, and the negativity her minority single mother status garners as a matter of principle.
Verdict: dark chocolate truffle
Memory Loss - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about a mother and a father and a son. The father races motorbikes, which the mother doesn't like because of how dangerous it is. It becomes a point of contention between the couple - one that they end up dragging their young son into. And then one day the father gets into an accident. I see that I gave this a five star rating in my notes. I'm not sure if I still agree with that sentiment, but it was a really good story, with the same creepy Ira Levin vibe, so five stars it is!
Lord of the Manor - ☆☆☆☆
Another story about landlords, but this time the main characters are the ones who are renting. They find out that their landlord is thinking of selling their lovely home without any consideration for their five-year lease, and one of their jokes turns into a very real idea for potential sabotage.
Verdict: strawberry creme
Dissolution - ☆☆☆
I think this is the most depressing story of the lot. The main character - a woman - is teaching yoga to some high risk girls. But as the story goes on, you quickly learn that she's somewhat of a pederast and has more than strictly platonic feelings for her teenage students (ick!). There are some seriously squicky flashbacks in here, as well as an uncomfortable vibe and a seriously downer ending.
Verdict: sea salt caramel
Doughnut Eaters - ☆
A Canadian expat family living in German, with an absolute jerk of a father. The title comes from his choice insult for men he considers both useless and foppish. What a charmer, am I right?
Overall opinion? Not bad. Definitely one of the better short story collections I've read.
Female antiheroes have been around for a while but Gillian Flynn made them popular - if you look at the blurb for this book, you'll see that it's compared to both WE WERE LIARS and GONE GIRL - and now this trend is extending to YA. Normally comparisons like this make me cringe because they tend to be wildly inaccurate, but in this case there is some foundation for the GONE GIRL comparison. The protagonist of BEWARE THAT GIRL is calculating, and willing to do anything to get ahead.
Kate O'Brian grew up in terrible conditions. She had to claw herself out of the gutter to get where she is now: an elite NYC school for the rich and successful. Kate knows that if she's going to succeed, she needs to get herself a meal ticket: one that comes in the form of the popular but troubled golden girl, Olivia Sumner.
A problem presents itself in the form of the new head of fundraising, Mark Redkin, a sexy, charming man who instantly wins the hearts of female students and faculty. He has a sinister side that nobody but Kate seems to register, and when he turns the full force of his attention onto Olivia, he threatens to compromise everything she's accomplished and reveal the dark secrets of her past that she's tried so hard to hide.
The plot of this book kind of reminded me of a sexed-up version of the Losing Christinaseries by Caroline B. Cooney. Losing Christina was about a sinister private school on the east coast where two members of the faculty - a principal and teacher who were also husband and wife - got off on psychologically breaking their students. It's really interesting to see how YA is changing; authors are less afraid to be edgy and controversial. The genre is growing up and getting a taste for big girl pants.
I liked BEWARE THAT GIRL. The promised twist at the end wasn't really all that shocking, but the build-up of tension and the atmosphere of dread and suspense was well done. I kept having to remind myself that this was being marketed as YA because it seemed way too dark to be a book for teenagers. Anyone who enjoys dark tales about girls gone wild will enjoy this book.
Lisa Kleypas's Gamblers series was what got me into romance. I used to avoid the genre at all costs until some friends held a sort of mini-intervention and gave me a list of good historical romance authors to check out. I took to the genre like a moth to light - and Lisa Kleypas was, by far, one of my favorites.
Which is why it kills me to give this a low rating.
Julia Hargate and Damon Savage were engaged as children at the insistence of their overly involved and aggressive parents. What their parents didn't count on, however, was the fact that both their stubborn and spirited children would rebel against the match. Julia, in particular, decided to take to the stage and became a talented and highly celebrated actress, under the name (Mrs.) Jessica Wentworth.
I'm a huge fan of the mistaken identity/secret identity trope, so I was delighted when Damon and Julia feel an instant attraction in the prologue, despite neither of them knowing the other's identity. When Julia encounters him again several years later, she realizes that Damon is her husband, Lord Savage, and attempts to avoid him at all costs, while Damon, on the other hand, is oblivious, remembering her only as the girl he met at a May Day celebration several years ago.
Kleypas's secondary characters are usually highly developed, but I felt that the characters in SOMEWHERE I'LL FIND YOU - with the exception of Julia's parents - were one-dimensional. Alyssa, Julia's friend, is a terrible person, and in the second half of the book indirectly causes her friend to almost be raped. Pauline, the mistress, is a hyper-sexualized woman whose sole purpose seems to be to showcase Julia's purity and goodness. William, Damon's brother, jerks women around like toys on a string.
And Damon -
Until the second half of the book, I actually liked him quite a bit. The sex scenes were steamy, and there was a lot of attraction between Damon and Julia. But then Damon becomes really, really possessive in a really, really uncomfortable way. Julia is almost raped - twice - by two "lords" who claim to be fans of hers, and saved - both times - by Damon, who tells her during the second time that it's basically her fault for almost being raped because she's an actress.
Damon then forces himself on her - twice. The first time, Julia cries during and then convinces herself that she wants it. The second time, after Damon finds out that Julia wants to marry her theater director, Logan Scott, he hires two men to abduct her and then tries to rape her while she's crying. After they have sex, Julia tells him that she enjoys being abducted(!) and cancels her engagement to Scott and agrees to marry Damon instead.
The pretext for their "we mustn't be together" dilemma is that Julia doesn't want to leave the stage, and Damon is trying to force her to. Julia also doesn't want to be forced into a marriage she isn't even sure she wants, since she hadn't exactly agreed to it in the first place. Damon keeps saying that he loves her, but everything that he does says otherwise. And while I'm a fan of alphahole heroes as much as the next girl, I really don't like it when their bad actions are rationalized as "being driven mad by love" because that isn't love.
Lisa Kleypas is a wonderful historical romance, and I highly recommend her Gamblers series to anyone who's looking for a sexy, clever, and slightly angsty romance series to sink their teeth into. I can't say the same thing about the Capital Theatre series - at least not yet. Maybe the next series will be better...although if it's about Savage's brother, William, it might also be worse.
Get ready to clutch your pearls, because this tawdry piece of history is something you didn't learn in high school. SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, in case its title wasn't warning enough, is about prostitution in turn-of-the-century Chicago, specifically the Everleigh Club, which was a brothel run by two gently-bred sisters, Minna and Aida Everleigh.
One of the criticisms of this book is that the author, Karen Abbott, takes a lot of liberties with the narrative. It reads like one of those trashy but epic sagas from the 1970s, with its purple prose, sensationlist writing, and scandalous content. I personally like those kinds of novels, so that was pure heaven for me and kept the tone from being too dry (something I hate when reading nonfiction, because it makes me feel like I'm being lectured at, and then I get bored and inevitably lose interest), but if that is a peeve for you, then yes, you will probably not like this book.
The saga spun these pages is too complicated to recollect completely, but the gist is that the Everleigh Club was the best place to go if you wanted to sleep with a woman who was not your wife. Minna and Aida wanted to be the best damn madams in Chicago, and they were willing to spend money to do this. They hired doctors to check out the girls and make sure they were healthy and free of disease; they fed the girls and the guests well, with totally sumptuous feasts that made me drool a little just from the description; and the decor was, literally, out of this world - think fountains that gush scented oil, and entire rooms done completely in gold leaf, with a gold piano, to boot!
Also of note is a prostitute from China named Suzy Poon Tang (apparently where the slang "poon tang" comes from) who was so good at her job, that she ended up getting married to one of her clients after just a few sessions of working at the Everleigh Club. There was also some brouhaha when a black boxer, Jack Johnson, wanted to come into the club. Because segregation was still active at this time, the sisters were highly reluctant, but his manager basically forced them into relenting; it worked out, though - he was hot, the prostitutes - "butterflies," they were called in Everleigh - adored him, everybody had a great time, and segregation got to suck it...literally (one would assume).
You can probably guess how the story ends. People in power decided that vice was becoming too unpopular and they began systematically cracking down on pleasure houses as tales of "white slavery" (read: middle or upper-middle-class girls getting tricked into the sex industry by mustache-twirling con-artists) began saturating the papers, and putting fear into decent folk. Everleigh Club was one of the last to go, and signified the downfall of an era. Some of the names in here you will probably recognize, because when some of the bigwigs lost their hand at prostitution, they turned their attentions to the big, booming industry of crime started by Al Capone and Jim Colosimo.
SIN IN THE SECOND CITY was a fun book to carry around with me in public. I had a lot of people ask me what it was about, and their reactions were quite priceless in some cases. I enjoyed learning more about an era that I didn't really know much about before this, and it was cool to learn where the phrase "poon tang" actually came from. I do feel like the book was longer than it needed to be, especially towards the end, it felt like the content was being stretched thin. But if you like history, and if you like trashy historical romance novels, you and this book will get on like a house on fire.
Sometimes you read a book that makes you feel as though your insides have turned to sunshine and glitter. You read over passages and, no matter how curmudgeonly you are, find yourself smiling. As you reach the climax of the book, a joy swells within you at being able to partake of such love, even if it's completely vicarious, because you want that for yourself.
A MATTER OF CLASS is that book.
Reginald is the rakish son of a coal merchant who became part of the nouveau riche through hard work and good business decisions. He burns though cash like a flame, and has a gambling habit to boot. Annabelle is the daughter of nobility, well known for her incredible beauty, but after being caught in a compromising position with a carriage man all her beaux have withdrawn their proposals, leaving her in a most sorry state.
Upon finding out about Annabelle's disgrace, Reginald's father, Mr. Mason practically runs over to Lord Havercroft's house to offer a solution that he feels will benefit both sides. He will marry his son to Annabelle for her title in exchange for a sizable dowry and redemption from a fall from grace.
It seems to be hate at first sight. Reginald and Annabelle bicker continuously and it is immensely entertaining. Many of those smiles I referred to in the beginning of this review came from their back-chat. I am a sucker for witty banter, and this book did not disappoint. The sexual tension is off the charts here, too, and a couple scenes - surprisingly chaste considering what happens in many romance novels these days - had me reaching for a nonexistant fan.
I think what I liked best about this book were the characters, though. Reginald/Reggie and Annabelle/Anna were wonderful. The more I read about them, the more I liked them, to the point that by the end of the book, I was utterly smitten. I loved their families, too, especially the mothers of the hero and the heroine. They were so sweet. Even the fathers, despite their shortcomings - pride and greed, you could say - loved their children, and as we see at the end, were willing to sacrifice their own ambitions in order to make their children happy. This is a romance novel that is completely, and unashamedly about love, in its many forms, and it was an absolute delight to read.
A MATTER OF CLASS was my first Mary Balogh book - but it won't be the last.
Like so many others, Lisa Kleypas was my "gateway drug" into the historical romance genre. I loved her Gamblers series, and then her Wallflowers series. Then she took a hiatus from historical romance, working on her contemporary series, Friday Harbor and the Travises. When she started writing historical romance again, I was so excited. But then the reviews for the first book in her new Ravenels series started coming in...and they were less than stellar.
I put off reading COLD-HEARTED RAKE for a while, but because I love Lisa Kleypas I wanted to give it a try. My tastes often don't align with what's popular, and Kleypas is such a great writer, that it really is shocking for me when I read something of hers that I don't like because it's such a rare occurrence. She's that good.
COLD-HEARTED RAKE features Kathleen, Lady Trenear, newly widowed after her husband, Theo Ravenel fell from an unbroken horse while drunk. His cousin, Devon Ravenel, inherits the estate upon Theo's passing, and he is less than pleased with the estate's conditions and debts. He intends to sell it piecemeal, and kick out its tenants, including Kathleen and his sisters, Helen, Cassandra, and Pandora.
The book starts out fairly well. I'm a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, and Kathleen had good reason to dislike Devon because of his callous insensitivity and utter selfishness. The trouble is, he warms to her and changes his ways far too quickly, to the point where it seems unrealistic, almost to the point of being a near-overnight transformation. I also felt like there was some indecision about how Kleypas wanted Devon to be characterized. He isn't exactly a cold-hearted rake - he's far too easily manipulated and too quick to feel guilt - but at the same time, he isn't a beta hero either, since he uses his sexual wiles to overpower the heroine and ignores several "nos" said on her part.
Also, the virgin widow trope is a peeve of mine, and I wasn't pleased to see it here.
Some have complained that the secondary romance between Helen and Winterbourne (it's not really a spoiler since, I mean, come on - the summary of the next book) overpowered the plot, and while this wasn't exactly the case, it did feel a bit like filler, especially in the latter half of the book. I've never read a Kleypas book where the secondary romance featured so prominently - usually it remained in the background, so as not to diminish the main story line. Winterbourne was kind of an ass, too.
I did like the descriptions of renovation, the interactions with the tenants and servants, and the witty banter (especially when done in epistolary form at the beginning of the book). I was torn on Cassandra and Pandora - they acted way younger than 19, and were so self-centered that sometimes I really didn't like them, although they had some great dialogue, too. The introduction of a pig as a pet was an interesting touch, but I didn't really find him comical, as he was undoubtedly intended to be. The beginning of COLD-HEARTED RAKE was much better than the end, which felt disorganized and kind of landed all over the place in terms of plot. This isn't her best, but it isn't her worst, either.