Tuesday Book Rec: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

EveryHeartDoorway

I’ve been focusing a lot on promotional stuff as of late, but I wanted to take today to return to my Tuesday Book Recommendations.

I get these “author crushes.” Basically, it’s when I look at another author with a combination of envy and awe. And yes, I know—we all have our own voices and styles, etc. Still, it doesn’t stop me from looking at the work of other authors and thinking, “I wish I could do that!”

Seanan McGuire is one of those authors for me. Every book I’ve read of hers, whether it’s her fae fantasy October Daye series or her zombie political thriller Newsflesh trilogy (written under her Mira Grant pseudonym), every book I’ve read of hers has been entertaining and engaging, with great characters and story. But what really gets me about McGuire’s work is her worldbuilding. Every sci-fi/fantasy universe that she creates is so complex, well-realized, and they’re each so different than one another.

In Every Heart A Doorway, McGuire’s new novella, she describes multiple, unique worlds, each of them a love child of Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton. At the heart of the story is a question: what would happen when Alice and Dorothy Gale and the Pevensie children came home? They’ve had these big adventures in this fantastical worlds, and then they come home and are expected to act like nothing has changed. Their family and teachers and friends have certain beliefs about who they are and what they’re like—but they no longer fit.

The book takes place at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The families of these children believe they’re attending a school to cure them of their otherworldly fantasies, to turn them back into the people they were before their disappearances. But really, this is a retreat for children who have gone to another world, long desperately to go back, and have to learn to live in the world knowing the doorway back “home” will probably never open for them again.

There a murder mystery, but that was the least interesting part of the book for me. The most interesting were the stories of the students and their respective worlds: Nancy and the Hall of the Dead, where stillness and silence reign; Jack and her Frankenstein-esque scientific pursuits; Jill and her vampire-master; Christopher and the bone princess with whom he fell in love.

But the story that touched me the most was Kade’s, a transgender boy. Kade was kicked out of his world, after years of being a hero there, when they realized that the girl they thought they had taken was really a boy. But Kade’s parents cannot accept that he is transgender, either, so he’s stuck at the school as Miss Eleanor’s ward, not really belonging anywhere.

There are deeper metaphors here, about growing up and finding a place where you belong and not fitting in with the world around you. It was sad and sweet and beautiful, and it touched me in ways I can’t quite articulate. Maybe because I was one of those kids who never quite fit in. I would have loved a school like this one.

I also loved McGuire’s treatment of gender and sexual identities in the story. Nancy, the protagonist, is asexual. Kade, the leading male character in the story, is transgender. This story is not about that, and for the most part those aspects of their characters are treated as no big deal by the other students. For Nancy and Kade, their sexual and gender identities are just one more way they don’t fit with the world around them.

To be honest, I almost didn’t pick this book up. I got sick of YA novels after reading a lot of them several years back, and I’ve mostly avoided them since. I did so because I’m a McGuire fan, and because the premise sounded interesting.

And I’m so glad I did. It touched me in ways I didn’t expect, more deeply than any other story has in a long time.

Tuesday Book Recommendation: TRULY by Ruthie Knox

Truly Ruthie KnoxI’ve discovered recently that the romances I like best are the ones that are about messed-up, broken people discovering love in spite of themselves, which is probably one of the reasons why I gravitated to Truly by Ruthie Knox.

The story follows May, a New York City transplant who recently turned down an engagement by stabbing her boyfriend with a lobster fork. (But in fairness, he kind of deserved it.) She hates the city, and wants nothing more than to return home to Wisconsin. But a series of unfortunate events leaves her without money or identification in a Manhattan sports bar, where she meets Ben. Ben is a former chef who lost his restaurant in his divorce. But that restaurant nearly cost him his health, between high blood pressure and anxiety issues. Now, as a rooftop beekeeper, he’s much more at peace—if not exactly happy.

Both of the leads here are incredibly broken in their own ways. May is a people-pleaser who has allowed others to dictate how she acts and feels about herself: she’s the plain one, the steady one, the ordinary one. Even after years away from the high-pressure restaurant business, Ben can barely control his temper, and he initially comes across as unlikeable and surly.

But the magic in this book is how they discover each other’s better selves. Underneath Ben’s surliness is a kind, compassionate heart, and when May stops trying to make everyone happy she becomes a confident, intelligent woman. It happens slowly, layers being peeled off, with one step back for every two steps forward.

The other thing I loved about this novel were its vivid, beautiful descriptions of New York City. I went to college in New York City, so the frenetic, overwhelming city has always had a special place in my heart. Early in the book, Ben sets out to make May fall in love with the city as he once did. Their half-touristy, half-city insider journey through New York reminded me a lot of Before Sunrise, the 1995 Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy film about two young adults on vacation who fall in love while exploring Vienna. Knox gives New York City that same kind of beauty and magic.

But unlike the idealistic lovers of Sunrise, May and Ben are older, more seasoned, harder in a lot of ways. Their romance doesn’t have the ephemeral quality of Before Sunrise, but you also feel like whatever happiness they can get, they’ve really earned. It makes the story that much more triumphant.

 

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Tuesday Book Recommendation: THE TAMING OF THE BILLIONAIRE by Jessica Clare

TamingBillionaire

So I am going to start trying to recommend a book I like every Tuesday. It won’t necessarily be a recent release, and it won’t necessarily be a fantasy or science fiction book. (When you write it all the time, sometimes you don’t want to read it anymore!) It’s just going to be a book I really liked and want to spread the word about.

My first Tuesday Book Recommendation is The Taming of the Billionaire, a contemporary romance by Jessica Clare.

So I realized some months back that contemporary romances about billionaires are my book crack—which makes Jessica Clare my main supplier. There are a lot of books on the market right now featuring billionaire heroes—it’s wish fulfilment, amiright?—but for my money, none of them are as sexy, funny, or just plain entertaining as Jessica Clare’s. Her Billionaire Boys Club focused on a secret society of billionaires who helped each other to success. Now that series has ended, and Clare has moved on to another series, Billionaires and Bridesmaids, set in the same world, with many of the protagonists from the previous series playing secondary roles.

The Taming of the Billionaire is the second book in this spinoff series, but you don’t need to read any of the other novels to enjoy it. While I liked Clare’s other books, this one had some elements that seemed specifically designed to appeal to me.

–A video game programmer hero.

–A cat behaviorist heroine with an—ahem—acerbic personality.

–Lots and lots of cats.

Seriously, it’s like she took a look at my Twitter feed and said, “What can I write for this girl?”

The book is a take on The Taming of The Shrew. The heroine, Edie and her sister Bianca attend an engagement party, and one of the groomsmen, Levi, falls hopelessly in love with Bianca. But Bianca is Edie’s assistant; Edie was disabled in an accident several years earlier and now has difficulty sitting, walking, or standing for long periods of time. Bianca gives Levi an ultimatum: find someone to distract my sister so I can go out with you.

Enter Magnus, Levi’s brother, who unfortunately didn’t make such a good impression on Edie during their first meeting. (She overheard him insulting “crazy cat ladies.”) He comes off as sort of a jackass when you first meet him, but you start to see his softer, more caring side quickly. He’s a video game programmer, and he and his brother made billions off of a game they created years before. My fiancé is a programmer, albeit not video games, and Clare’s portrayal of Magnus makes me think she must have known a programmer or two in her time. The scene where Magnus is sitting at his computer, headphones cranked up full-blast, cursing at the screen was very, very familiar to me. Verisimilitude at its finest.

But what really made me love this book was Edie. Edie has a take-no-shit kind of personality that leads others to sometimes call her bitchy. (Boy, can I relate!) She seems to keep people at arm’s length, lashing before they can get close enough to hurt her. But some of her takedowns—like her evisceration of the guys who she overhears making sexist comments at the engagement party—are things of beauty. Her disability is dealt with directly. You see some characters react quite poorly and trip all over themselves, and some treat it matter-of-factly. One of my favorite aspects of Edie and Magnus’s relationship is how he just accepts her disability without angst, and he tries to find ways of accommodating her and making her life easier without treating her like an invalid.

…And the cats, did I mention the cats? Edie is a cat behaviorist (think Jackson Galaxy, only without the tattoos and guitar case), basically my dream job when I forget that I’m still a teeny bit afraid of getting my eyes gouged out. As a cat lover and animal shelter volunteer, I loved that this book dealt so honestly with the realities of cat behavior and the difficulties of adopting out older or sick cats. Kittens, on the other hand, are sweet and cuddly and adorable. One of the reasons I do the volunteer work I do is that I hope I can help, in some small way, get the adult cats adopted out faster and make sure they find the right homes. So right away, I was in Edie’s corner, fighting the good fight with her.

This is a sweet, sexy love story that will appeal to fans of the billionaires…and of course, fans of cats. For me, it hit exactly the right notes.