Jennie’s Reading List for January and February
This was reviewed by Kaetrin, who loved it and gave it a straight A. I liked it a lot too; I really like a lot of aspects of these new adult/Ivy League college/hockey series (I’m thinking the Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen series, specifically). I just wish they didn’t contain old cliché elements that would be more at home in a bodice-ripper or Harlequin Presents book: namely, the hero and his friends are all unbelievably promiscuous with women who are, it’s often implied, not really worthy of respect. The heroines are, by contrast, relatively pure. These books have elements of sex-positivity and pay lip service, at least, to the idea of heroines being sexually liberated (they masturbate, they have sex toys; a few even aren’t virgins, though they often are). But underneath the surface there’s a very reductive “boys want sex; girls want intimacy” message. I can’t tell if the really (to my mind) excessive promiscuity of the male characters is supposed to be realistic (they are hot college athletes, after all) or just a redux of the romance trope “A hero’s masculinity and thus appeal can be measured in how many women he sticks his penis in.” Either way, I really want to hear and see less about it. Plus, the madonna-whore dynamic is super-tiresome (all those references to “puck bunnies”!). Still, I liked the writing pretty well and this book was super-readable, so I’m giving it a B+ in spite of my criticisms (which again, are more general to the whole sub-sub-genre of college athlete NA romances, not just The Deal specifically).
Editorial note: Jane’s authorial alter ego is co-authoring a YA series with Elle Kennedy.
A Duchess in Name
Janine recommended this one to me, in spite of the fact that she had some reservations about it. I ended up giving it the same grade, a B-, and having some similar reservations, though most of my misgivings had to do with feeling that the hero didn’t have sufficient reason for his bad behavior; he jumped to conclusions and never even bothered to talk to or ask the heroine about his assumptions. I was also very annoyed by how over-the-top awful both sets of parents were. They just seemed such unnecessarily broadly drawn caricatures; it was jarring every time any of them showed up. I’ll probably only try the second book in the series if the reviews are good; the plot synopsis I read didn’t really grab me.
Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology
Jenna Miscavige Hill
This was a pretty interesting look into a very strange world. Jenna Miscavige was born into Scientology; her whole family were adherents, her parents were powerful figures in the organization’s structure, and her uncle, David Miscavige, was and is the controversial head of the organization/religion/cult (pick your descriptor; I’ll go with the last one). Growing up near the seat of power didn’t afford Jenna a cushy childhood though; she spent most of it separated from her busy parents, living with other children and teens in varying conditions of comfort and spending her days doing manual labor and the “work”, much of it extremely tedious and often bizarre, needed to move up Scientology’s levels (I still don’t understand the Scientology obsession with understanding the definitions of words). Hill left the cult as a young adult, after much of her immediate family had already gotten out. I gave this a B; it was readable and pretty well done but Miscavige had a limited view and understanding by dint of the fact that it was all she ever knew and she was a child for most of her time in the organization. I still need to get around to reading Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear for a more comprehensive take on Scientology.
The Year We Fell Down
I’ve been reading this series out of order; I confess I put off reading this, the first book in the series, because I wasn’t sure I was interested in a “disability” romance. Jane reviewed it here. I won’t say that it’s *not* a disability romance (how’s that for a double negative?) but it’s just as much a tale of unrequited love, at least at first. The heroine crushes on the hero from the get-go and it takes him slightly longer to return her feelings, partly because he already has a girlfriend. I really wish more romances would allow their heroes and heroines to not fall into insta-lust the minute they clap eyes on each other; it’s so rare that it’s actually refreshing! I really liked the nuance in the story, particularly as it related to the hero and his reasons for being with his spoiled, high-maintenance girlfriend. (It also didn’t hurt that the hero wasn’t one of those promiscuous hockey players I complained about above.) My grade for The Year We Fell Down was a B+.
Michael Ian Black
I follow Black on social media; he’s funny and engaging and I tend to agree with his political opinions. He touts his books a lot, and the repeated mentions kind of wore me down, so I picked up his latest essay collection, Navel Gazing. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turned out to be a surprisingly deep – but also funny! – meditation on health, life and aging. Black’s mother has suffered a plethora of very serious health problems in recent years, and her condition has made him contemplative about the fragility of the human body. I don’t mean to sound dismissive when I say that I was genuinely surprised how deep and thought-provoking Navel Gazing was – Black has a light touch and the book was very readable, but the themes he deals with are serious, heavy and timeless. I gave Navel Gazing an A-; I’ll be looking into Black’s backlist.