This December, I had a Plan.
I was going to have a ✨themed✨ reading month, based solely on how my ARCs stacked out. Apparently, January and February were all about books about books, and I was there.
Unfortunately, best laid plans being what they are and all that, this was not quite the bucolic experience I was going for. I ambitiously took a pause to read something that had been on my TBR for years, and my life was consumed for three weeks with The Fiery Cross, the book that literally has a day that never ends (it’s 200 fucking pages, why???) contained within the book that never ends (it’s over 1400 pages long, again, why???). I did read some great books (and some not so great ones), but they weren’t exactly what I was expecting.
And with this long intro, here are some quick(ish) reviews!
For the sake of space, these are all ARCs I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson
Nora Hughes is the last editorial assistant left at Parsons. Overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated, she toils away and grits her teeth against the microaggressions of being a Black woman in a mostly whyte field. Parsons was only ever supposed to be a stepping stone to her Dream Job, but lately she’s just been stuck. With the latest rounds of downsizing, she finds her pay cut and her tasks doubled. Scrambling to figure out how to pay her bills, everything is looking down…until she gets an offer to take a part time freelancing editorial gig with Parsons’ rival. It’s an opportunity she can’t pass up. Even if she has to lie and say that she’s not working for Parsons anymore. It’s a small lie, and she can keep her shit together…right?
At this rate, she’d probably end up taking a third and fourth job to get out of the problems caused by her first and second jobs, and she’d never be free of the cycle.
Okay, so first off, the cover and title are a bit of a lie.
This is not a cutesy contemporary romance, nor is it really a happy contemporary story about a young woman bumbling happily through life and failing upwards (think of this more of a realistic critique on those happy-go-lucky stories, and a critique on the “find your purpose”/hustle culture things millennials were told).
However, despite the mismarketing (which is such a fucking pity because this is a good book that will ring true with a lot of millennials), Nora’s troubles spoke to me in increasingly uncomfortable ways. Her unhappiness in her soul-sucking job, the depression that took over her life, the slow realization that Dream Jobs just might not exist for her at all.
“But I don’t think I want to do anything.” She spoke slowly at first, but her words spilled out faster as she went on. “When I think I do, it turns out I’m wrong. I think I just don’t have a parachute color. I don’t even have a parachute. Maybe I’m not even on the plane. Maybe that happens, and maybe some people are fine with doing something pointless for the rest of their lives, but I’m not. If my life is pointless, that’s not a life I want to live.”
But I really did enjoy it, if I’m treating enjoy in a sense that does not mean “make me happy.” It was a cathartic read, one that would have had me crying a year ago. Now, since I quit the job that *should* have been my Dream Job over a year ago because it was crushing me heart and soul and I could not take the underhanded pettiness of it all, I only teared up. Because I’ve been there. Not quite in all the ways as Nora, but enough.
Depression is a bitch, and this was a very personal read for me.
The only thing more dangerous than a man with a bad idea was a man with the power to make it happen.
Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristen Lee
Getting into a top-tier Ivy League school is what Savannah Howard has strived her entire life for. Never mind that she wanted to join an HBCU instead; she’s going to Wooddale, an elite private school. As soon as she arrives, Savannah is left reeling by the microaggressions from her roommates and classmates. And then a Black man’s statue is defaced with blackface. When Savannah protests, her dormroom door with defaced with a racist slur. Savannah should be cowed. She should tuck her head, stay low and get her degree. But she can’t let these injustices fly.
“We live in a world where we are inundated with other people’s lives. You go two steps up and then you see someone on social media who’s gone twenty steps further,” Daphne says.
I was not quite expecting what I read.
This is not a book about required reading or reading really at all. Instead, the title is saying that this is the book that is the required reading. In case you need that broken down, because I certainly did.
Anywho, this is heavily based upon the author’s experiences at a mostly whyte elite college, and so many of the events ring with the sharp and depressing bite of authenticity.
There are a lot of microaggressions and outright racism, and while that is challenged, not a whole lot happens to the perpetrators (is there lasting change? Maybe, but mostly not). Savannah is faced with threats that range from physical violence to destruction of property to false accusations, while also dealing with the erasure of the issues of what she is facing.
What I really liked was how well this book looked at various experiences of being Black: of being poor and attending college, of being wealthy and attending the same college, and the varying levels of privilege associating with walking through varying layers of whyteness (and how, when push comes to shove, whyteness sticks together), and vertical integration within the system.
It was also a look at how heavy and hard it is to be the one pushing back against injustices and prejudice so ingrained into the system that no one else seems to care to change, or just shrug off because what can you do? Being that squeaky wheel, when you don’t conform to the polite, quiet disagreement (tone policing is huge here) expected of you, is heavy and a painful burden to bear, particularly when Savannah never wanted that burden in the beginning.
Anywho, this is a long review, and it’s definitely a book that had me thinking. I did have some issues with the pacing, the ehhhhh romance and the ending that just…ended, but overall the book highlighted what it meant to highlight and was a good read overall, with a protagonist who was not perfect, but who tried her damnedest.
Mama sighs, and rebuts. “Baby, I been trying to tell you…the entire world is a racist institution.”
The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk
Liesl Weiss is just about to enjoy a year-sabbatical from her job at the university’s rare books department when she’s called back to work because her boss has had a stroke and she must take over as (temporary) director. It should be an easy job, but right away, weird things start happening: the newly purchased and absolutely priceless rare book they’ve just purchased is missing. As Liesl tries to keep her donors happy and the department running, a librarian goes missing. And things go from bad to worse.
This was a book that I should have DNF’d.
Right from the beginning, with the awkward first chapter that just launched into problems and relationships without any context (and then did not really go into any context until much of the way through the book), to the writing style and immediate fatphobia, there were red flags.
This was another book that I wasn’t expecting. I had wanted a plucky murder-mystery within the rare books department of a university (which is what the blurb and cover indicate, btw), and got instead the mid-life crisis of a whyte woman who has spent her entire career in a position of power but refuses to look at it because she’d rather focus on being a victim of the patriarchy.
Yes, exactly that.
I had a very hard time with the writing style and the way the story was told, as both just did not jive with me at all, and I really, really hated Liesl, who went the entire time whining about things instead of trying to change them (when she had the power to change them) or acknowledge her own role in the reason things were so awful in her department.
I could kinda see where the author was trying to go in trying to make Liesl a sympathetic and complex character with flaws and whatnot, but quite frankly, I was not having it. Liesl kept her head down, ignored the issues and stayed in her lane so thoroughly (and judged and isolated the woman she should have allied with) that she saw absolutely nothing until it was too late. Not to mention how horribly she treated her husband and her emotional affair with a coworker (while judging the other woman for a situation that was sketchy as fuck at best).
And I really did not like how the book ended. (mild spoiler to follow) I’ve noticed this trope in a couple of other places, and at first it seemed oooh yes this is how we fix things that are broken, but really, it’s taking the easy way out and then making a woman of color come in and try to fix everything with even more odds stacked against her, no matter how accomplished or connected she is.
Unrelated, a show that I’ve been really enjoying handles this (and other things, but the root cause is whyte feminism and whyte woman highlander syndrome) in a much better and more nuanced way is The Morning Show. There is practically no similarity to them aside from that, though.
The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Two super duper famous co-authors split up for unknown reasons shortly before the release of their biggest hit. She goes into hiding, and he goes on to continue his writing career, but both are stagnant in their lives. And both have one left novel to write on their contract. It’s been three years, but it’s time for them to write together. Somehow.
Yeah, this was a big fat DNF for me.
Normally, I would not post this to my blog (or, quite frankly, the review on the other book), because I’m trying this new thing where I only post negative review on GR (something something limiting negatively, whatever), but this is a themed post, this was one of the books, and since every single book here was different than anticipated (for different reasons, as you can see), I decided to do the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The writing styles (for both characters but in different ways) and me are just NOT jivving, and as an indie author, the whole oh poor little me I’m stacked with privilege and absolutely and utterly famous oh what do I do next? thing is irksome and I was too irked to push past it.
Maybe it gets better. This puppy currently has a 4.01 rating and the authors are very popular. Maybe you read it and loved it. That’s great. But this was not for me and I wasn’t going to push through my initial irritation to see if it gets better.
And now I’m going to live my life, happy and carefree and whatnot.
Just excuse my tears, because Berkeley will never approve me for another ARC ever again.