Review | Discretion (The Dumonts 1), Karina Halle

DiscretionOk, I admit I picked up Discretion partly because of the cover model with the wavy hair and smouldering eyes. I also wanted an escapist read with lots of luxury, decadence and fantasy.

While there was certainly a lot of wealth and fantastical elements in this story, I found myself disappointed overall.

The thing I did love was all the soap opera-ish drama around Olivier and his wealthy family. The Dumont family is split into two factions: on one side is Olivier, his sister Seraphina and their father. They respect the family legacy of elegance and taste, and want to maintain the quality and integrity of the Dumont brand. On the other side is Olivier’s villainous uncle and his equally cruel cousin Pascal. (Pascal does get a shot of humanity later on, with a sad childhood story involving a guinea pig, but the uncle is clearly beyond redemption.) Their main claim to villainy is wanting to commercialize the Dumont brand, such as adding online shopping options and finding cheaper workarounds to stuff. The uncle also blackmails Olivier about a decade ago, after Olivier does Something Bad.

The family drama is deliciously campy and over-the-top, and honestly, I found it the most entertaining part of the book. The one gripe I have about this plot thread is that when the story begins, Olivier basically agrees to hand over his share of the Dumont company to his uncle in return for the uncle keeping his Big Secret. Given that kind of build-up, I’d expect the Big Secret to be something truly horrendous, or — given that as the romantic hero, Olivier can’t be too irredeemable — at least truly embarrassing. The thing is, the Big Secret doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me. Certainly not worth handing a family business worth millions over without a fight. Olivier is also 20 when he makes this agreement, which, while young, should at least be old enough to know his uncle doesn’t really have that much of a hold over him. The author later tries to explain this further by painting the uncle as some kind of mob boss, and Olivier’s capitulation as a genuine fear for his safety rather than just concern over his family’s reputation, but if that was the case, it should have been more obvious from the beginning.

The romance, sadly, fell short for me. Olivier’s relationship with Sadie felt more like super-lust than even insta-love, and for all that the author told us Sadie and Olivier were in love, I couldn’t really understand why. Both characters also make major life-altering decisions for their relationship, which is fine, but when their connection feels mostly physical, their decisions are a bit hard to believe.

Partly, it may be because I never really warmed to Sadie. She seems super naive and — for all her whining about how poor she is — also super privileged. While reading this book, I realized that I’m tired of the trope of ‘poor American student’ who somehow can afford to travel around Europe and leave behind her real life for a full month with no consequence. It’s a fairly common romance trope, so this is not the author or the book’s fault in this case, but more a personal preference. It’s a major privilege to be able to backpack around Europe and also not have to go home for a job / apartment / family responsibilities as Sadie did in this book, so her whole “I’m so poor and broke” thing just annoyed me. I realized I prefer older heroines who actually have responsibilities that they need to consider / sacrifice in order to enjoy being swept away by the wealthy hero.

The other part is that while I enjoyed reading about Olivier dealing with his family drama, I never really warmed up to him as a romantic hero either. His idea of a term of endearment is calling Sadie “my rabbit”, and while there’s a cute childhood story attached to that, I couldn’t quite bring myself to find it romantic. The other thing is that while Sadie fails to acknowledge her privilege, Olivier can sometimes be an outright jerk about his. There’s a scene where Olivier wants to show Sadie that money isn’t an issue at all, and so he just breaks an expensive plate in the hotel room. It was a throwaway scene, but such a turnoff.

Still, the family drama and all the thrillerish elements are over-the-top escapist fun, and I enjoyed meeting the Dumonts.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Review | Lion’s Head Revisited (Dan Sharp Mystery 7), Jeffrey Round

LionsHeadRevisitedLion’s Head Revisited is a good, solid, well-paced mystery. When a four-year-old autistic boy is kidnapped during a camping trip, his mothers and his biological father hire Dan Sharp to investigate the disappearance. Dan’s investigation reveals a lot of potential suspects: a former housekeeper who was fired by the family; the ex-husband of one of the mothers, who was previously deceived into believing he was the biological father of the boy; the wealthy but estranged mother of one of the mothers; the drug addict surrogate with a history of extorting money from the family; and the ex-business partner of the biological father.

The reveal was far more complicated than I expected, and I didn’t guess the identity of the ultimate villain, but the mystery was satisfyingly twisty. With so many red herrings and potential suspects, this mystery could very easily have devolved into a super confusing muddle, but Jeffrey Round does a good job in keeping the plot threads simple enough to understand, and in bringing suspects in and out of the spotlight as needed.

I also really liked all the subplots around Dan’s personal life. For example, his best friend Donny has been very distant ever since Dan started dating Nick. I felt bad for Dan, who just wanted everyone in his life to get along, but when we learn why Donny’s been distant, his reasons are also understandable.

*SPOILER* (Not of the mystery, but of something from Dan’s childhood)

The mystery also brings up lots of bad memories from Dan’s childhood. I seem to remember from previous books that his father was abusive. In this book, we learn that when Dan was a kid on a camping trip with his parents, they actually made him abandon his dog Sandy, who had gone running off somewhere when his dad suddenly decided he wanted to leave the campsite. I absolutely hate stories of animals being hurt or abandoned, so this was the hardest subplot for me to read. Reading about Dan’s heartbreak in leaving his dog behind was heartbreaking, and while I’m glad this is fiction, there are horrible people who do this kind of thing in real life, and I wish the author had somehow let us know that Sandy’s story turned out okay.

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Thanks to Dundurn for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, Amanda Leduc

AmandaLeducOh. My. God. This book.

“In fairy tales, disability is often a metaphor, and that is itself a form of erasure.

But my cerebral palsy has never been a metaphor for anything. It has only ever been me — me, myself, my body.” [13%]

I’m not disabled, but I’ve always been a chubby kid and am now a plus-size woman, and I related SO HARD to Leduc’s thesis that fairy tales allow only certain types of bodies to be granted happy endings. Leduc also raises many good points on the trope of transformation in fairy tales and superhero stories, and the message therein that you must “overcome” your less-than-“perfect” body to get your happily ever after. There’s a lot of emphasis on “overcoming” your own obstacle, and considerably less emphasis on the role that a supportive community can play in making your world better overall.

There are so many gems in this book, and I wasn’t sure how to write a blog review because there’s just so much to absorb and to unpack. So I’m going to go with a full-on gush, and just post some highlights that I noted while reading.

  • According to Leduc, the social model of disability acknowledges that the issue around disability isn’t the physical condition of disabled people’s bodies, but rather the fact that society excludes disabled people, whether through stigma or through design of social spaces. Leduc then raises a good point that the trope of transformation in fairy tales suggests that the problem is actually within the individual’s body rather than with broader social structures: “Interestingly, it is never society that changes, no matter how many half-animals or scullery maids are out there arguing for their place at the table.” [15%]
  • While Leduc seems to align with the social model of disability, I love that she also points out its limitations. There are conditions like fatigue and chronic pain that even a fully accessible society won’t eradicate, but the pressure to abide by the social model of disability may make some disabled people hesitant to talk about experiences that may be perceived to critique the social model. [19%]
  • I love this quote so much:

“Princess meets Prince, and falls in love, over and over and over again.

And I have Quasimodo, misshapen and kind, who finds friends at the end of his story and is happy about, because that is the only kind if happiness he is allowed to have.” [32%]

  • I love that Leduc interviews other disabled people about their responses to fairy tales, and why some of them are so troubling from a disability lens. One example is the original Beauty and the Beast story, where the Beast’s beasthood can be seen as a form of disability (because it’s a physical feature that sets him apart from the social norm). In the original version, Beauty agrees to marry the Beast, but hesitates to marry him once he becomes a Prince again, because “When I accepted him, I believed that I was taking pity on something below humanity.” [55%] The idea that the Beast’s difference renders him, first, as a thing rather than a person, and second, as being less than human rather than simply different, can be outright hurtful to some readers. I hadn’t thought about this before, but will now no longer look at Beauty and the Beast the same way again.
  • I also love that Leduc calls out the “invisible hierarchy” of disabled people, where those who are intellectually disabled often face more discrimination than those who are physically disabled. This isn’t a point I see raised often, and it gave me a lot to think about.
  • I absolutely, positively love how Leduc includes mental illness in the conversation on disability. Mental illness does also lead to experiencing many social barriers, but I find it’s often treated as a separate conversation altogether, so I love that this book raises awareness and understanding on how it can be a form of disability as well. Leduc also shares the fascinating — and super troubling — history about how mental health experiences used to be thought of as someone being replaced by a changeling. There’s a story of a guy who killed his wife because of it. Leduc contextualizes this with her own experience of depression, and how her loved ones noticed the change in her. [70%] Stories – and what we learn from the characters in them – matter.
  • At 74%, I was basically cheering out loud while reading this book: YES!!! On how we often have an idea of who ‘deserves’ a happy ending — the grateful protagonist, the obedient princess, etc. And YES!!! on how white privilege plays into that idea, and people who are BIPOC, disabled, otherwise marginalized, may receive less access to mental health supports because they are seen as less than ‘ideal.’

The book also made me reflect on my own thoughtless privilege. Leduc shares an anecdote about how she once left a lindy hop dance class after her partner teased her for concentrating too hard and taking things so seriously. That reminded me of a ballroom dancing class in high school PE where I teased my dance partner for the same thing. My immediate response to Leduc’s story was defensiveness — my dance partner wasn’t disabled, and obviously, if she had been, I would have been more understanding about it. But the truth is that my dance partner shouldn’t have to disclose a disability for me to respect her approach to dancing. Whatever my partner’s reasons were for concentrating more than I was on the dance, they were valid, and I shouldn’t have made her feel self-conscious about it. (My teasing also caused us to fall behind from the group, and then bump into our classmates when I sped up our pace to try and catch up. So, in hindsight, my partner may have had the right idea on the concentration front.)

My main takeaway is something Leduc says near the end, which is basically that we need to make space for different stories, where the protagonist with the different body gets their happy ending not because they overcome obstacles on their own but because they have a community that pulls them through. As Leduc says, “My walk, my legs, my body — I am, all of me, a feature. (We are, all of us, a feature.)” [81%]

It’s been a while since a book has affected me this much, and I can only imagine its impact on disabled readers. Read it.

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Thank you to the Coach House Books for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.