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A Fine Passion by Stephanie Laurens

After a less-than-successful spouse hunt in London Jack, Baron Warnefleet, returns to his ancestral estate, where he hasn't been in many years, and comes across Lady Clarice trying to rescue a young man from a carriage wreck. Jack soon discovers that Clarice is a very assertive and intelligent woman who has essentially been running his estate while he's been gone, and that the carriage wreck was most likely a murder attempt- the early part of the book is thus mostly taken up by Jack trying to figure out what he wants to do with Clarice while she >('s at him and they both wait for the victim of the carriage wreck to wake up from a coma and provide them with answers.

Eventually the young man wakes up and reveals that there's a plot accusing Clarice's cousin of treason and Jack and Clarice resolve their UST but not their URT, so the middle of the book is mostly "Clarice and Jack discuss how they're going to clear Clarice's cousin's name, then Clarice and Jack have sex. Then they discuss the plot against Clarice's cousin, then they have sex, etc. etc."

Eventually the book picks up a bit when they actually go to London and work on clearing Clarice's cousin's name, discover that the false-accusation plot is probably part of a larger conspiracy plot that runs through the other books in the series, and also work on restoring Clarice's position in society, marrying off her brothers, and booting her wicked stepmother off to the country.

Overall not particularly bad, but I found this one more tedious than anything else.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Sort of a companion to Raina Telgemeier's previous autobiographical comic, Smile, set mostly around the same period of her life, but with a heavier focus on her family relationships and particularly Raina's relationship with her younger sister Amara, using scenes from a three week road trip and flashbacks to earlier parts of their childhood to show off their relationship and character. As cute as the previous one, and I think this one was actually a bit more interesting to me. I appreciate that the creator is willing to sometimes show herself in a less positive light.



The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

I first read the Sandman comics- or some of them, anyway- when I was a young teenager and someone in my family brought home a couple of volumes from the library. If you know much about this series then you will probably not be terribly surprised to hear I was kind of traumatized, but as I am now Officially A Grownup and because my goodreads account kept waving this under my nose, I decided that damn it, I am probably now capable of handling that one issue of torture porn where John Dee brutalizes everyone in a diner. 

Anyway this was an enormously successful/influential series once upon a time so I feel like much of my own commentary/summarizing of it would be unnecessary but what the hey. This book is the first of ten volumes and collects the first eight issues of a comic series set in the DC universe but focusing more on Morpheus/The Sandman/Dream, the anthropomorphic personification of dreams and to a lesser degree stories, and a member of The Endless, a collection of siblings/gods who are anthropomorphic personifications of Various Things That Start With D. (Death and Dream are the only ones to appear in this volume but iirc the other ones are Despair, Desire, Delirium, Destiny, and Destruction.) (Also some of those are probably spoilers oops.)

The first issue kicks off the story arc that runs through this volume when Dream is accidentally summoned by a bunch of cultists trying to gain control over Death, and then has his magical stuff stolen and gets locked up in a magical glass globe for seventy-two years, during which a bunch of Weird Dream Shit happens to various people around the world as a result of this metaphysical fuckery. Eventually Dream escapes and takes his revenge on his surviving captor, then goes off on a quest to regain his powers that takes him through various terrifying locations such as Arkham Asylum, the Dreamscape, Hell itself, and London, England.

As I alluded to when I earlier described one issue as being "torture porn" this comic is pretty fucked up in a lot of places. The final issue in this volume features Dream shadowing his sister Death during her work; it is probably the calmest and nicest issue in this volume. But if you're not too bothered by things like gore, sexual assault, drug use, abuse, murder, etc. or at least can mentally prep yourself beforehand, it's definitely an interesting read. And upon rereading it I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the art style. There's something very "classic comic book" about the style to my eye, with a lovely garish palette and enough surrealism to get the dream atmosphere across without making the story incomprehensible. It reminds me a lot of the scans I've seen of old horror comics and while I'm under the impression that Neil Gaiman intended this series to be more than just horror focused it does borrow heavily from those sort of themes- and some of those old characters, as various old horror anthology characters even make cameos in this volume.



Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Another reread of a book I read a while back, Flipped is the story of a boy named Bryce Loski and a girl named Juli Baker, alternating between the two children's viewpoints as their relationship and perception of each other and their families change over the years.

It starts when Bryce and Juli are seven and Bryce's family moves into Juli's neighborhood- Juli goes over to say "hi" and falls in love with Bryce almost at first sight while Bryce on his part is annoyed and embarrassed by Juli, but unable or unwilling to straight up tell her to bug off. Juli spends their elementary school years pursuing Bryce, while Bryce spends his elementary school years avoiding Juli; Juli is the freest spirit to ever free a spirit, while Bryce mostly prefers to keep his head down and avoid attention; Juli's family struggles financially but is loving and artistic, while Bryce's family is upper middle class but appearance oriented, dysfunctional, and has a father that is borderline abusive.

Around the eighth grade Bryce and Juli's opinions of each other start to change as Bryce's grandfather moves in with the family and befriends Juli, nudging Bryce in the direction of looking at Juli in a more positive light while Juli meanwhile discovers Bryce a) has been secretly throwing away the eggs she was giving him for free (long story) when she could have been selling them to other people for money and b) she does not actually know him very well and he seems kind of shallow?? And thus comes the eponymous "flip" as Bryce gradually falls in love with Juli while Juli grows to doubt her own feelings for Bryce.

Anyway, I guess the relationship between Bryce and Juli is cute but the thing that struck me most upon rereading this was a subplot about a relative of Juli's, a subplot I'm not sure how to feel about.

It's revealed partway through the book that Juli has an uncle named David, who's the primary source of the family's financial struggles. David Baker is disabled due to brain damage caused by hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy- it isn't explicitly referred to as HIE but... I'll go into that- and lives in a private residential care facility as Juli's parents feel the facility is much better equipped to handle David's needs than governmental care or the family themselves. David's primary purpose in the story seems to be highlighting the contrast between the Loski and the Baker families- Mr. Loski makes jokes about David's condition and what it might imply about the Baker family, while Mr. Baker is compassionate and patient with his brother. The Bakers are willing to make sacrifices to ensure David's safety and comfort whereas Bryce, who was at risk for a similar condition, realizes his father probably would have dumped Bryce in the cheapest place available and tried to forget about him. David is a forty year old man but due to his disability is presented as a childlike figure with a phonetic speech impediment, who gets excited over his birthday, fixates on jigsaw puzzles, and is happy to get ice cream but has a violent meltdown when he drops it on the floor.

He is also only ever described by the r-word; I only found the term HIE through googling "umbilical chord wrapped around fetus' neck" since that's mentioned in the story, and HIE was the first term I found that seemed to match what was described in the book. I realize this book is set mostly in the 90s and was published in 2001, so that might have been before the r-word was more widely considered an ableist slur, but it was still incredibly jarring for me to be reading along with this cutesy kid's love story and suddenly having this word slam into my face. 

I dunno, between that and the actual portrayal of David I felt that this subplot was... maybe not the Most Ableist Thing Ever, but it made me uncomfortable and felt kind of othering. And since nobody else seems to have talked about this anywhere I've looked so far I wonder if I'm overreacting or what.

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