Sunday, April 28, 2019

My April Reading

Life as a reviewer for USA Today Happy Ever After used to be chaotic since my two columns (for historical and contemporary romance) had no deadlines and would run whenever I was done reading the books and writing them up. Thus I'd end up having some blah days and some days when I was rushing to catch up. With Frolic Media, I have a weekly commitment to one or two reviews. As a result, some order has been brought on my reading and writing, and instead of having a whole month of reading to do, I have weekly goals with deadlines. This has not only allowed me to plan my reading (all the way through December!!) but also to intersperse it with personal reading as opposed to just review reading.

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings
Category: Poetry
Comments: As I mentioned before, Rumi's poems seem to show up for me exactly when I need them. This poem was a good reminder to let go of my anger before it twists me up inside and turns me bitter about that particular person. Easier said than done, of course, and it's a work in progress, but reminders like this snippet from "Wax" are perfect.

I must have been incredibly simple or drunk or insane
to sneak into my own home and steal money,
to climb over my own fence and take my own vegetables
But no more. I have gotten free of that ignorant fist
that was pinching and twisting my secret self.

Day of Love by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance Anthology
Comments: Balogh has put together three of her Valentine's Day novellas in this collection. If nothing else, this anthology has convinced me what a master storyteller Balogh is. I know, water is wet, but honestly, it's in her trads that she shines, and these novellas are top-notch. The stories are complex and complete in and of themselves without feeling rushed despite the obvious short form.

Golden Rose is set in Bath where the Master of Ceremonies seeks to enliven the dreary winter days with a masked ball on February 14. Each gentleman is encouraged to send a valentine to the lady of his choice with the request that she carry some favor of his to the ball to be reclaimed at the end of the evening. In the true spirit of the festival, the card is to be anonymous. A twelve-year-old boy decides to take matters into his own hands and delivers his rakish cousin's valentine and favor—golden roses—into the hands of a destitute companion of their aunt's instead of the bored beauteous widow who is the valentine's original intent. Surprise at the unmasking! And the start of a relationship.

A Waltz Among the Stars is about two souls finding Valentine's Day the most unbearable of days in the year, because the day is a celebration of love and both have lost their loves, one to death in childbirth and the other to the Battle of Talavera. The heroine has been ostracized from her family for having lain with her lover on V-Day before he headed off to war and died, leaving her with child. She lives in the dower house at her father the duke's mercy, shunned and forgotten.

The hero has been invited to a house party at the duke's manor house to propose marriage to the younger daughter. There the hero and heroine meet on the grounds of the estate. The two are drawn to each other, partly because of attraction and partly because only they can understand what the other has lost and what it means to survive the loss and move on in life. Such a quiet story of intense feelings.

The local spinster has been hurriedly called in to replace an unexpected no-show at a house party in The Substitute Guest. She knows that the hostess has a reputation for being fast, but she is determined to grasp at this one chance in a lifetime to have a short adventure to enliven her declining years. Unfortunately for her, the crowd she finds herself in is rather risqué, and she does not know whether she should turn tail and run or stay and try to enjoy herself. Luckily for her, she is rescued by a bored duke who decides to set himself the challenge of seducing a virginal spinster. But he is rather shocked how fast his feelings for her change and how protective he is of her innocence and reputation. Thus the seducer is seduced.

An Unacceptable Offer by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: This story is warm and tender and...just perfect. Best of all, the two little girls in the book are not plot moppets. They're integral to the story and go towards the characterization of both the protagonists. In fact, that is true of the four major players. The cast of secondary characters is small—only three—and their roles are minor. This is a trad in the best sense because the focus is on the people and on characterization rather than plot.

She fell in love with him five years ago, but he had eyes only for another. Now he's widowed and back in town for a wife. She realizes she still loves him but he now has eyes only for her beauteous cousin. So she's taken by surprise when he proposes to her and angered when she realizes that he proposed marriage because she was sensible, conversable, and good with children. She rips up at him in tears, "I am not a footstool. I am a person. My happiness matters to me." Marvelous scene! When she turns around and accepts his best friend, he is thrown first into the sullens (he's never been refused by a woman before) and then into the doldrums (too late, he now realizes he loves her).

A Chance Encounter by Gayle Buck
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: The story starts out with a very interesting premise. Our hero is drunk and driving his phaeton recklessly along the North Road when he rounds a corner sharply and throws a woman into the ditch. He rescues her with the right amount of contrition, but then recklessly abducts her with the purpose of marrying over the anvil at Gretna Green. He would much rather marry a down-on-her-luck stranger who remonstrates with his behavior, than do his duty to a dynastic marriage arranged since his short-coat years to an imperious miss. After much persuasion, she perceives that marrying this stranger is better than trying her hand at being a governess.

So they marry at an inn and he proceeds to take her off to his grandmother to rehabilitate their reputation, avoid scandal, and make the marriage palatable to his parents. All right and good and rollicking fun so far. But when the threesome go to the family seat, the rapid pace of the novel slows down and is taken up by a whole slew of people. The loud protestations to the marriage, anger, hysterics, and jealously are all well and good, but what is sacrificed is the romance of the two. Pity!

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Going from a pep talk about visualizing success to lying flat on her back hugging her teen idol and fangirling all over him is not how Kailyn Flowers thought her first morning of law school would go. Unfortunately for her, this does not prove to be the case where the most embarrassing moment of her life can be locked up and the key thrown away. Her Embarrassment is in every class of law school, and he enjoys debating and competing with her.

They meet again five years later, when she sets up a trust for his much younger sister. Both are lawyers now, she odes trusts and wills, he's an entertainment lawyer. A few months later, they meet again when both his parents die in a horrific car crash, and he finds himself as a guardian of her young teen.

What I loved best about this book is how Hunting balances bone-deep grief with growing love. Humans are meant to be happy, according to the Dalai Lama, and Hunting shows that beautifully in this book. My review is here.

The Takeover Effect by Nisha Sharma
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is another story with lawyers. He is very much a take-charge man and she is a take-charge woman, so I wondered who would be the alpha in the relationship. It was very interesting to see how they actually manage it between them. They pass the baton back and forth between who is in control and who is acquiescent. It was wonderful to see that someone who is used to getting their own way doesn’t always have to have it that way. They can cede control and take it back depending on the circumstance.

What I really liked about this book is the language and cultural history they have in common that allows them to instinctively understand each other without having to explain with words. They appreciate that aspect of their relationship very much as it brings not only them closer, but also their families. Sharma has highlighted the immigrant outlook to life very well — what is important to them as a family and at work, how they relate the culture of the old nation to the new country, and what they inspire in their children. My review is here.

Unlaced by the Highland Duke by Lara Temple
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: The Lochmore Legacy series of books is about the Lochmore Castle through the ages and a bitter feud between the Lochmore and McCrieff clans. The castle has been a witness to it all: the battles, the betrayals, the weddings, the wild passions… The four books telling its stories are: His Convenient Highland Wedding by Janice Preston (set in the Victorian era), Unlaced by the Highland Duke by Lara Temple (Regency), A Runaway Bride for the Highlander by Elisabeth Hobbes (Tudor), and Secrets of a Highland Warrior by Nicole Locke (Medieval).

I read the Temple book for Frolic, and my review is here. I will be reading the Locke book for All About Romance in a couple of months.

The widowed current Duke of Lochmore is in need of a companion for his young son. A windowed destitute relation of the Uxmores is urged to take up one more job of usefulness by becoming a governess to her dead cousin's husband Lochmore. What starts out as servitude quickly becomes a relationship of equals. This is a story of how a mousy woman becomes a fierce advocate for herself and what she believes in when shown respect, equality, and trust. Lovely story!

The Madness of Miss Grey by Julia Bennet
Category: Victorian Romance
Comments: This is an exquisite story of torment—the torment of doing the right thing and the torment of being right and unable to do anything about it. In a bid to hide his extramarital affair, a duke has his orphaned by-blow wrongfully imprisoned in a mental "hospital" in Yorkshire. There, in the care of a barbarous doctor and a sadistic nurse, Helen has endured a harrowing existence for ten years. When Dr. Will Carter arrives, she is on the ropes of despairs.

Where he is all consideration and understanding, ten years have made her mistrustful and manipulative, always looking for an advantage. The more he gets to know her, the harder he falls in love with her. But she does not know how to interpret her emotions any more. What is she feeling? Should she be feeling something? The beauty of the book is in how Bennet navigates the power imbalance between them—he is her doctor after all—and how she equalizes that power and also how Helen learns to trust again—herself and Will—and thus discover that she can receive and give love again. My review is here.

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is Parker's fourth book in her London Celebrities series. I have loved every one of her books. Her characterization, her voice, and her sense of humor work perfectly for me. A bubbly, sassy, perennially optimistic actor is paired with a dour, curt, glacial theater critic—how fun! And Parker spins this into an edge-of-the-seat, rollicking tale with drama, intrigue, and a soft, tender romance.

A soft, tender romance with someone whose scathing review calls her an "overexposed, chronically confused crowd-pleaser who's built a career riding on her family coattails"? Yes, indeed. He has hidden depths of loyalty and empathy and affection, which she has to drill down to discover, and to my enjoyment, she did it with self-possession and a protective concern for him. These two really fancy each other, and Parker proceeds to convert the reader's "no way" to their relationship to "of course." My review is here.

Fumbled by Alexa Martin
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: From tragedy to intimacy, from distrust to tenderness, from anger to love, Fumbled has it all. Ultimately, this story is all about joy—the joy of living and the joy of loving.

Poppy Patterson is a teen mom who has survived ten years on her own by working nights at a club while dedicating her waking hours to raising her son. TK Moore has spent those same years following his dream in becoming a football star in the big leagues and making pots of money. They were high school sweethearts, till a misunderstanding drove them away from each. Now ten years later, a chance meeting makes them realize that the magic between them is still there and just as strong as ever. But they are now adults with careers and responsibilities…not to mention a son.

You would think that acrimony and past hurts would've made them bitter and the book would be full of angry exchanges between them. But the strength of these characters is their ability to transcend the past and focus on who they are now as people and on the son they have in common. And to focus on happiness in life. My review is here.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Category: Children's Picture Book Memoir
Comments: This book has gorgeous artwork! Morales was born and raised in Mexico and immigrated to the United States to be reunited with her son's father, who is a US citizen. She spoke no English when she arrived, but through the amazing world of the public libraries of San Francisco, she not only learned the language of her new country, but she mastered it and honed her artistic talent. She has put together fabulous children's picture books, which have gone on to bring her many accolades and awards. The title of this book doesn't refer to the political term dreamers, but rather for dreamers of the world who immigrate to new countries: migrantes soñadores.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: What is a name? A name is powerful, a link back to your ancestors and the heritage you bring into your life. This little girl's name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, and she despaired of having such a long name to write everywhere till her daddy tells her the story of her name: who she is linked to and who they were. Sofia for her grandmother, Esperanza for her great-grandmother, José for her grandfather, Pura for her great-aunt, and Candela for her other grandmother. And Alma just for her—she will make her own story.

As a child, the author herself thought she was stuck with the most old-fashioned, harsh, ugly, and way-too-Spanish name in all of Lima, Perú, where she grew up. Nut now that she is in United States, it feels unique and reminds her every day where she came from.

Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: A lovely tale of friendship that celebrates their differences and finds commonality in thought and action. Yaffa, a Jewish woman, and Fatima, a Muslim woman, are neighbors who are friends with each other while also leading their own religious and communal lives. They share their joys and their lives with each other. So when tragedy strikes in the form of a failed date harvest, which is essential for their living, their thoughts are not on their own hunger and their own future, but on the other's hunger and her future. Thus, they are friends in plenitude and in strife.

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: Set in Muslim Mauritania, this is a story of a young girl's longing to wear a malafa (long veil), the ultimate symbol of beauty, fashion, mystery, empowerment, tradition, religion, and adulthood to her. But she is considered still too little by her society to wear it. So she asks the women of her village: Why do they wear it? The women all tell her their reasons and how the malafa is everything she thinks it is and much more. I loved how this story seeks to shift the misguided assumptions that the veil is all about the oppression of women to how integral it is to the women's identity.

The book has some Hassaniya (an oral Arabic dialect) words along with a glossary. I love books with other languages in them—I am fascinated by their sounds. I had always hoped that one day, I would be able to add many more languages to my six. But alas! Not yet. But when I next have a chance, Arabic, especially, classical Arabic is at the top of the list. Zaiyn (good)!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

My March Reading

March was a time of illness and days of alternately lying in bed and rushing around to help other members of the family. For me, illness always means comfort reading, and that means, sinking into traditional Regencies. I read three: Carla Kelly, Balogh, and Andrea Pickens.

I wrote about four multicultural retellings of my favorite book Pride & Prejudice by Ibi Zoboi, Soniah Kamal, Sonali Dev, and Uzma Jalaluddin. I also collected a list of romance novels by authors of color that I reviewed from January 2018 to now.

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings
Category: Poetry
Comments: Waking up from a long sleep of unconscious living into purposefulness and the rewards of that awareness is a common theme in Rumi's poetry. Here's an excerpt from "The Worm's Waking":

This is how a human being can change.
There is a worm
addicted to eating grape leaves.

Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he is no longer a worm.

He is the entire vineyard,
and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that does not need to devour.

Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career by Carla Kelly
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: I loved this book! It is set in Oxford and is focused on scholarship—a marquess and a squire's daughter who have nothing but learning on their minds. He bargains a year of fellowship at All Souls from his mother before assuming his duties. She escapes her forbidding father's house for a girls' schoolat the gates of Oxford. Whereas he is allowed to study whatever he wants, Oxford at that time, forbid women from its elevated environs. Despite it, through the guise of her scapegrace brother, she manages to research and write notable Shakespearean papers.

The black moment comes about because he has hidden his noble identity from her and presented himself as a mere mister, because he is afraid that she will be scared away by his august title. And that proves to be the case when she finds out. Oxford has always fascinated me—in my salad days, I dreamed of going there, but like many dreams, that one went by the wayside—so I was interested from the get-go, and Kelly fulfilled the promise of her premise. I highly recommend it.

An Unlikely Duchess by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: As I discussed on Twitter, Balogh has books that suit every mood, and her trads have been largely successful for me. This one, unfortunately, was less so. Since I wasn't in the mood for a serious story, I picked up this farce. The first half of it was quite entertaining, a paean to Heyer. However, it went south in the second half. All those intermingled story threads and earnest to-ing and fro-ing of the people involved had to be resolved and it felt tedious at times without the humor of the first half.

Paul Villiers, the Duke of Mitford, is all that is proper. When the weight of the title and duties settled on his teenage shoulders, he took them all on with a grave sense of responsibility. In that same vein, he agrees to marry a girl his maternal grandfather suggests, sight unseen. Josephine Middleton is the oldest daughter of an earl, and as far from the ideal of a serious, circumspect duchess as there could be. With Mitford traveling incognito up north to propose and Jo traveling south to escape from the arranged marriage, they chance to meet, where else, at an inn.

And Mitford's mind suffers a shock. He is appalled that the dutiful girl he was supposed to marry is in reality this harum-scarum girl with nary a thought to respectability. But despite this, he becomes embroiled in her schemes and finally, for the first time in his life, has a rousing adventure.

Code of Honor by Andrea Pickens
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Sebastian, the Earl of Branford is a dissolute rake. When we first meet him, he's drunk and in bed with his mistress, whom he proceeds to have sex with before giving her her congé, which shows just the kind of insensitive man he was. Thus his makeover is that much sweeter, (though it comes sooner than is possible). After his night of debauchery, he drunkenly makes a wager to seduce a supposedly bold piece of goods from the country. When he meets her at the ball, he is struck by how innocent she is—all she is interested in is discussing botany of which she is passionate—and he strikes his wager foo White's books.

Unknowing about this wager, Alexandra Chilton dances and chats with Branford at every ball. They're both charmed with each other's interests, intelligence, and fascination with the other, and Alex disbelieves the rumors about Branford's black character and The villain of the book is one Earl of Hammerton, who is desperate to orchestrate the death of Alex's brother. (I bought a published book, and the eBook was riddled with errors that could've been avoided with a copyedit.)

Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This book is all about happiness — happiness in love, happiness in work, happiness with life as it comes at you. Cole is a highly skilled writer, who can convey a wealth of emotion and meaning with a few well-chosen words. And yet, her books are not self-conscious and cautious, but rather, filled with a joie de vivre that is enchanting. If you are a fan of comics, anime, superheroes, and puzzles, this novella will be a delight.

Regina “Reggie” Hobbs is a super fan of Reject Squad Ultra and she knows everything that is to be known about the anime show — even her house is filled with reminders of the show. Reggie is a strong, independent woman who uses quirkily-designed wheelchairs to get around because of her ataxia. She is the founder of GirlsWithGlasses, and through talent and sheer hard work, she has made her fledgling pop culture and social media enterprise into a hugely popular site.

Gustave “Gus” Nguyen is a neurodivergent, gifted puzzle master who loves solving complex problems. His day job is being an architect, but in his spare time, he designs escape rooms. He has recently been hired for a dream project: designing a multi-room escape experience for Reject Squad Ultra. Unfortunately, he knows next to nothing about anime, romance, or the show. Not only that, but he has a tight deadline for the project, and the disparate parts of the project that he has designed are just not coming together as a whole.

I have followed Cole’s Reluctant Royals series from its first book, and I’ve loved every single one of them. This book is one of two novellas between books two and three. They’re all standalone books, but you don’t want to miss a single one of them. I rarely recommend an entire series of books, but this is one of those times. My review is here.

Desire Lines by Elizabeth Kingston
Category: Medieval Romance
Comments: No one does medieval romance as superbly as Elizabeth Kingston. Desire Lines is a thing of beauty: complex in essence, rich in detail and characterization, with every word indispensable to the story. This is the third book in her Welsh Blades series, and every book is a treasure.

Told in crisscrossing storylines, this novel displays the intricacy of the history and personality of the protagonists by turns revealing and concealing details, always teasing the reader with glimpses of this or that. Kingston is remarkably skilled in keeping the reader always on tenterhooks as her story wends its way through circumstances, events, and people.

The Welsh word hiraeth is what this book is all about. It is a deep abiding hunger for what one has lost and that means everything to who they are. Both protagonists are searching for a return to the days of their youth, when they were safe and protected, when life was simpler and wants were more commonplace. While he yearns for the home he left behind in Wales, she yearns to be reunited with her younger sister. Their journey together towards their destiny is one strewn with love and heartbreak. My review is here.

Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Calinda “Cal” Valerio is a figure skating superstar in the Philippines, having won numerous gold medals in various competitions. From a very young age, she has been hyper focused on the ice. And her parents made sure she stayed focused by not allowing her to date — not seriously, not casually. Now Cal is retired and no longer competes; instead, she choreographs routines for other figure skaters and puts on shows and performances. She also courts donors to help fund skaters who cannot otherwise afford to pay for this expensive sport.

Filipino-American Ramirez “Ram” Diaz-Tan is an award-wining star of the Philippine national hockey team. Living part of the year in Houston, where he is an English teacher, and part of the year training and playing in Manila, Ram leads a busy life moving seamlessly between his two worlds. Using his time and money, he has also helped other kids take up the sport. However, money has always been tight for him, and he is tired of not being able to hold down a steady job, since hockey has always come first for him. So he is retiring from playing the sport.

Cal and Ram used to be great friends when they met ten years ago. But when rumors of their friendship reached her parents’ ears, they were adamant that she stop seeing him, and Cal and Ram’s relationship died aborning. Over the years, they have kept abreast of each other’s careers, because after all, the world of winter sports in a country with no winter was a small world. Now, ten years later, they meet on the set of a video shoot of thirty most accomplished people in their thirties. My review is here.

American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Nesto is a Dominican-American chef who owns a Caribbean food truck in NYC. His teenage afternoons spent with a chef who was more father to him than his own missing one, have left Nesto with a hankering to make a living feeding people with food handmade with love. So he chucks his office job goodbye and starts a food truck. When the story opens, Nesto has decided to try his hand at making a success in Ithaca, where his mother and sister live.

Jude is a youth services librarian in Ithaca. He works by day at the local library with his best friend, Carmen. By night, he retreats to the house he owns and which he has made into a haven with carefully chosen furnishings and art he’s collected from his travels. When the story opens, he is working on getting his mobile library project passed by the library board.

While Nesto has always been accepted openly by his family, Jude has only faced ostracization, so he is a bundle of insecurities. Nesto is comfortable in his own skin and shows in every way possible how wonderful he finds Jude. The best part of this book is seeing how Jude starts to trust Nesto and slowly comes out of his shell. My review is here.

Highland Crown by May McGoldrick
Category: Scottish Regency Romance
Comments: Isabella Murray Drummond studied to become a physician and surgeon in Würzburg, Germany with the blessings of her father. Seeking a safe marriage, Isabella moves to Edinburgh with her physician husband where she practices medicine and surgery with her husband’s support. But her husband has secret revolutionary leanings that put Isabella’s life in grave danger.

When her husband is killed by the English, Sir Walter Scott aids her in escaping the English soldiers and Scottish rebels who have both put a bounty on her head. Both sides think Isabella knows too much and consider her a danger to their cause. With Scott’s help, Isabella heads to the coast of North Sea from where she will board a ship to Halifax, Canada.

Cinaed is a smuggler and captain of the Highland Crown that roams the North Sea from Canada to Scotland. He smuggles arms to the Highlanders. In his childhood, he had been a Highlander from Dalmigavie Castle, high above the hills of Inverness. Cast from home and hearth, he goes to the sea. The life of a sailor suits him and he quickly rises through the ranks. But unknown to him, he has a scandalous past that will link him forever to the Highlands.

They meet when Isabella rescues Cinaed on the lonely coastline of the North Sea. She saves his life; he returns the favor. There are soldiers and rebels chasing them and there's the mystery of Cinaed's ancestors. A great read of deep historical research, mystery, fast-paced action, and a sweet romance. My review is here.

Spring Skies Over Bluebell Castle by Sarah Bennett
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This story is sweet, tender, and laugh-out-loud funny. When a rugby-playing baronet with an authentic castle stuffed with ancient historical paintings and knick-knacks and an art historian meet, there's love and hijinks to be had in the stone circle replica in the backwoods as well as around the shelves of a Beauty and the Beast library.

Named for King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, with a bona fide giant round table in the great room, the denizens of the Camland "Bluebell" Castle are au courant even as their lifestyle and environs are steeped in centuries-old tradition. Sir Arthur Ludworth is one of a triplet of siblings and on whom the weight of the title and lands have fallen, including the state of near bankruptcy on which they hover. They want to see if any of their ancient, dusty paintings and knick-knacks can yield treasures that can either be sold or used to create an Arthurian legend to draw in paying visitors.

Lucinda "Lucie" Kennington has a degree in art history and specializes in pre-Raphaelite paintings. When the rare painting she discovers is set up as the star of a highly respected auction, but turns out to be a fake, she's accused of stealing the original and replacing it with a forgery. She is summarily dismissed from her position. Now, at loose ends at home, Lucie spies an advert for an art historian and archivist wanted at Camland Castle. My review is here.

"The Champa Flower" from The Crescent Moon by Rabrindranath Tagore, illustrated by Jaikar Marur
Category: Children's Picture Book, Poetry
Comments: A beautiful way to introduce a young child to poetry through the voice of a naughty child. The champa flower is a very fragrant flower of India; a variety of it is the frangipani or plumeria of Hawai'i. One day, a little boy decides to become a champa flower high up on the branch of the big tree right where it grows in his backyard. While he plays in the wind with spring leaves, he asks his mother if she knows that he is up there. The poem is a one-sided conversation the boy has with his mother as he observes her going about her regular day, commenting on the ordinariness with fresh eyes and a new perspective. He is naughtily enjoying hiding from her, but when it is evening, he jumps down from the tree as a boy again, ready to be cuddled by his mother before going to bed.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh, Amalia Hernández, El Ballet Folklórico de México
Category: Children's Picture Book, Biography
Comments: This is the true story of Amalia Hernández, the founder and artistic director of El Ballet Folklórico de México, the most famous dance company in Mexico and well-known all over the world. Amalia was fascinated by the art, culture, dances, and history of the different regions of her country. Folkloric dancing is an integral part of festivities and celebrations all over Mexico. Drawing inspiration from these traditional dances, Amalia founded her ballet company in 1952 on the principles of preserving and capturing the spirit of these folk dances, adapting them to be enjoyed in a theater setting, and encouraging people of Mexican origin to feel pride in their roots. The book is biographical from when she was little girl to her death.

In the author's note, I found out that during her lifetime, Amalia had been criticized for appropriating and misrepresenting the dances.

Holes in the Sky by Patricia Polacco
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This poem brought me to tears time and time again. It talks about a little girl who loses a beloved grandmother only to find a new grandmother in her friend's grandmother. It is also a story of diversity and how what matters are friendship, caring, and love, not the color of your skin.

The Russian-American girl grew up in Caucasian Michigan. Her babushka always said that "the stars in the sky are holes in the sky. The light of heaven is showing through them from the other side." When it is her time to go, she will always look upon the girl through those holes. After her grandmother passes away, the family moves to Oakland CA, where the girl meets people from all over the world and enjoys making friends with them and visiting their houses. Her best friend is Stewart, an African-American boy who has the kindest grandmother, Miss Eula. Through Miss Eula, the girl learns about being kind to others, helping others, and how love is the best gift.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Books by Authors of Color that I have Reviewed (with links)

These are the romance novels by authors of color that I've read since January 2018, and most of them I have reviewed for USA Today Happy Every After, Frolic, and All About Romance.

1. Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra (link)
2. American Dreamer by Adrianna Herrera (link)
3. Crashing into Her by Mia Sosa (link)
4. The Fearless King by Katee Robert (link)
5. The Matchmaker’s List by Sonia Lalli (link)
6. Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal (link)
7. Their Perfect Melody by Priscilla Oliveras (link)
8. Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (link)
9. Not Another Family Wedding by Jackie Lau (link)
10. Couldn’t Ask for More by Kianna Alexander (link)
11. Untouchable by Talia Hibbert (link)
12. A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (link)
13. Tender Secrets by Ann Christopher (link)
14. Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt (link)
15. From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon (link)
16. Rogue Hearts anthology (link)
17. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (link)
18. A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (link)
19. Tempest by Beverly Jenkins (link)
20. A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev (link)
21. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
22. The Butterfly Bride by Vanessa Riley
23. Grumpy Fake Boyfriend by Jackie Lau

Saturday, March 2, 2019

My February Reading

Being marooned at home with inches of snow on our steep hills made for good reading progress. It being Valentine's Day, I read some V-Day-specific Harlequins that I had not read before. The only themed books I'd read before were Christmas books, and I love those. Now after reading these two V-Day books, I'm more inclined to try other holiday-themed books. You already have emotions surrounding holidays, so tying a romance to those emotions makes the book immediately accessible.

While these are not reviews, I want to share these two pieces that I'm particularly excited about: an interview with the amazing Lisa Kleypas and stories about their experience of the Romance genre by passionate denizens of Romancelandia: readers, bloggers, authors, editors, librarians, and scholars from all over the world.

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings translated & edited by Coleman Barks
Category: Poetry
Comments: I am really enjoying reading my way through this book, a poem a day, some very simple, some complex despite the paucity of words. I'm convinced most of what he had to say is going over my head. I thought to read to understand Rumi, instead Rumi is explaining my life. Whatever is going on in my life, I see in his poetry.

The Matchmaker's List by Sonya Lalli
Category: General Fiction
Comments: I was really looking forward to this book with its promise of cross-cultural highs and lows, an exploration of the immigrant experience, and a look at traditional arranged marriages in modern society. Unfortunately, it ultimately failed to live up to its pledge because the heroine quite sank the story.

Raina is biracial, having a barely-there Indian mother and an absent Caucasian father. She was born in Toronto when her mother was sixteen, and she has been raised by her traditional immigrant Indian grandparents. Raina spends all her life trying to be a good Indian girl while also fighting against the restrictions imposed by the expectations of her Nani’s (grandmother’s) culture.

It’s clear from the way the book is written that we are meant to sympathize with Raina and follow her trials and tribulations with a smile. Unfortunately, I could not do it. She’s an utterly self-absorbed, selfish woman, who does not take the time to examine how her words and actions affect the people around her and takes their care and love for granted. While there are moments when she is nice to them, most of the time, we hear her carping about them or saying and doing things that hurt or anger them. Her feelings and her concerns take up all her attention and she has none to spare even for Nani. My review is here.

The Fearless King by Katee Robert
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: The heart of The Fearless King is a lifting up of the two protagonists as better people in themselves, because they’re together as a couple. Love, the rare equalizer of all humans, paradoxically allows the individual to shine uniquely.

Journey King is the COO of Kingdom Corp. in Houston. Along with her brothers, Anderson and Bellamy (and silent partner sister Eliza), they collectively own enough shares to successfully lead the company. In their childhood, they’d been badly abused by their father, Elliott. When their mother, Lydia, finds out, she runs Elliott out of Houston and helms Kingdom Corp., while raising her children. Now Lydia is out of Houston, leaving the company to her children, and…
Elliott is back in town to take over Kingdom Corp, as—to their shock—the majority shareholder.

The only way for Journey to deal with Elliott’s threat to herself personally and to Kingdom Corp. is to ask Frank Evans for help. Frank is a real estate mogul who is a power to be reckoned with in Houston. Many powerbrokers are in debt to him because he is the holder of many secrets and deals in information. Journey is convinced that if there is something to be discovered about Elliott, Frank would be the one to find it.

I really liked how the author showed how two strong personalities learn to rely on each other, their vulnerability not diminishing each other in the least. My review is here. I am pleased with how this review turned out.

Lady Notorious by Theresa Romain
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Cassandra Benton is an unofficial Bow Street Runner and partner of her twin Charles. She enjoys investigative work and solving problems, and above all, being useful — to Bow Street and to Charles, who needs looking after. While she enjoys being needed, contradictorily, it is also a burden that she wishes somebody would take off her shoulders.

George, Lord Northbrook is the Duke of Ardmore’s heir. He lives at home and is a fancy-free gentleman who enjoys no responsibilities to anything or anyone and is simply waiting in the wings to become the duke someday. In the meantime, he’s dabbling in this and that. He’s convinced that he is a useless fribble and has learned to navigate society’s tonnish ways with a joking manner and careless mannerisms.

There are two things I loved about this story. The first is their absolute belief in the other person and the value they bring to everyone around them. The second thing is that the falling in love happens when they are together and just as much when they are apart. Many books have the romantic resolution happening mostly when the two people are together on the page and not much reflection when they're apart. I enjoyed the contemplative nature of this book. There's the murder mystery and then there's the frantic attraction and lovemaking, but there is also the quiet, thoughtful parts of the book. My review is here.

Devil's Daughter by Lisa Kleypas
Category: Victorian Romance
Comments: In this The Ravenels meet The Wallflowers book, Kleypas connects two of her most popular series. The book is also set in the world of Sebastian, now the Duke of Kingston, from Devil in Winter. My review is here.

Phoebe, Lady Clare, is Kingston’s oldest daughter. When the book opens, Phoebe has been widowed for two years, and after living with her parents for all this time, she is just coming out of mourning. She has two small children who she is henceforth determined to raise at Clare, the seat of her older son, Justin’s viscountcy. As our story starts, Phoebe is out of mourning and is traveling with her family and children to the Ravenels’ estate where her brother is marrying Lord Trenear’s ward. It is there that she meets West Ravenel.

And her mind and body are stunned—that was the only word that came to mind. He is so completely out of the realm of experience. With her first husband, Henry, she had shared a loving, gentle relationship. He was everything a gentleman should be, with the emphasis on gentleness and noble pursuits. West is reformed ex-rake who energetically pursues estate stewardship and continually challenges Phoebe's preconceived notions about herself. She slowly begins to believe that she is capable of many things, not just of being a wife. Just as he bucks her up, she bucks him up into believing in his reformation and not being blighted by his previous profligacy.

Crashing Into Her by Mia Sosa
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Biting humor really works in catching my attention. Pair that with sharp characterization and sharper dialogue, and I am hooked. Anthony Castillo is a Hollywood stunt professional for TV and film and an instructor at a stunt training company. He lives at home with his father and is hoping to buy a home, but his non-steady income makes it difficult for him to get a mortgage. He is adamantly, uncompromisingly determined that he wants to remain relationship-free.

Eva Montgomery is a fitness instructor. She lives in the shadow of her father’s concern — a concern that can be as smothering as it is manipulative. After a scumbag of a boyfriend tried to force her to marry him by attempting to impregnate her, she is single-mindedly resolute in avoiding future serious entanglements.

They meet at the wedding of Eva's best friend and Anthony's cousin's wedding. They spend a passionate night together and vow to let the hookup go no further. But when life throws them together, despite their best intentions, their attraction to each other only deepens. They reminded me of magnets every time they're in each other's proximity—magnets for rampaging libidos and sarcastic comments. I liked how they retained that sassiness right through to the end and didn't dissolve in a gooey puddle despite the "awww" moments. My review is here.

Best Friends, Secret Lovers by Jessica Lemmon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a sweet, hot story between college friends who impulsively share a kiss on Valentine’s Day that sends shockwaves in their relationship. Sabrina Douglas has been Flynn Parker’s best friend since college. They cannot recall a time when they had not shared their thoughts and time with each other. Along with Gage and Reid, the four of them have been an inseparable quartet, especially now that they all work for Monarch Consulting, a management consultancy firm.

But it is with Sabrina that Flynn feels most like himself, and likewise for Sabrina—they’re attuned to each other’s thoughts and feelings. It is a friendship that has sustained them through various changes in their lives, large and small. For three years, while Flynn was married to Veronica, their friendship had somehow stumbled along, but now that Flynn is divorced, Sabrina and Flynn are back in each other’s lives stronger than before. And he is desperately holding on to her generous, empathetic, sunshiny nature to avoid drowning—emotionally in the aftermath of his divorce and the intense pressure of stepping into his father's dominating shoes as head of Monarch.

Neither of them wants to jeopardize their friendship, but neither can they resist the siren call of love. How will they juggle their sexual relationship, their friendship, and their working relationship? My review is here.

Her Secret Texas Valentine by Helen Lacey
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Jake Brockton is the wealthy owner of the Double Rock Ranch, a large cattle ranch outside Houston. When his father died, Jake dropped out of college to work the ranch and support his mother and sister. He later finished his college online and got an MBA. However, he generally conveys a sense of being a down-to-earth cowboy, except in elevated circles. His previous failed marriage, where his ex-wife took him to the cleaners, has left him cautious to trust anyone. His requirements for a new woman in his life are someone who is organized, hardworking, passionate about her work, and independently wealthy.

Valene Fortunado works as a real estate agent in her family’s real estate agency that her father has built into a force to be reckoned with in Houston, with offices in Austin and San Antonio. She used to be a party girl in the circles she moved in. However, a failed relationship, where her boyfriend was more interested in romancing her father to get into the family business than romancing her, has left her cautious to trust anyone. Her requirements for a new man are money, a college education, and a good job.

Jake and Valene meet thanks to a dating app, and they hit it off from the first date, despite the fact that they are both exactly the opposite of their stated preferences. And in spite of the black moment in the second half of the book, theirs is a sweet story, with a heaping of sweetness from him. I really enjoyed seeing how their requirements of an ideal mate changes the more they get to know each other. My review is here.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

My January Reading

This month's reading roundup has been a long time coming. We've had many snow days here, which means, everyone has been at home, and I've been the default entertainment center. On to my blog post...

This month's children's books were selections sent to me by my friend in India. She's the founder of the NEEV Literature Festival for children's and young adult books and the festival's corresponding awards. The festival attendees and awardees are Indian authors, writing about Indian children, and published by Indian publishers.

"The NEEV Book Award recognises outstanding writing that leads to a fuller understanding of India, Indian lives, and Indian stories. The award spotlights stories that offer Indian children reflections of their own lives and experiences. It also invites children around the world to explore and better understand India. We hope that this award will encourage and promote Indian children's literature globally. The award winners are chosen from a shortlist of literature that illuminate a changing India. The authors give voice to India's evolving characters and the challenge her children face. An independent jury selected three books after months of deliberation, and the awards were given out on September 29 at the NEEV litfest."

See below for my thoughts on three children's picture books.

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings translated & edited by Coleman Barks
Category: Poetry
Comments: This is going to be an ongoing read: a day-by-day poem-after-poem read throughout the year.

The Scoundrel and I by Katharine Ashe
Category: Pre-Victorian Historical Romance
Comments: Every review of an Ashe book should include: "A! Go read it!" Honestly, she writes stellar books, and this novella is no different. This is a story of a girl born of humble origins who is raised into the ton by an ardent suitor. She is truly downtrodden, dreaming of happily-ever-after while working at a low-paying job at a printing press and looking after an ailing grandmother and watching the lonely years pass on by. The hero enters into her life in a hurricane of aristocratic insouciance that changes to genuine concern and on to attentive romantic interest. He wants to lift her up to his life, but she is an independent soul who will not be bamboozled by his wealth and rank. Convincing her of allowing him to help her is a Herculean task. I liked how strong both characters are and how encouraging and supportive they are of each other. I also liked the cast of secondary characters.

The Weaver Takes a Wife by Sherri Cobb South
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: The hero is a true low class hero with a low class accent and ill-fitting, though expensive, clothes. He moves on the outer ton circles because of his vast wealth. After being bought from the workhouse to work in a cotton mill, he is raised up the chain of command to the very top through his hard work and smarts. And yet, despite his keen intelligence, he falls hard for a supercilious duke's daughter and succeeds in buying her from the duke in a marriage of convenience. How she comes to recognize his worth and he hers is a tender romance. But right to the end, the hero retains his accent and his connection to trade. He will be a tradesman and Cit all his life, but he will have the love of his high-born wife.

The Storybook Hero by Andrea Pickens
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: The hero is a wastrel to the nth degree—that is, a rake who truly behaves like a rake. He's a gambler and a promiscuous alcoholic. It took to freezing his arse off in the Russian countryside in the dead of winter to come to the realization that maaaybe, just perhaps, this was not the fastest way to put a period to his existence. Unless he wanted to eat the business end of a pistol, he was better off shaping up. And he sure cleaned up nice. The hero became a wastrel when he was unable to save his oldest brother from drowning and was then made to feel like he should've been the one to die by his family. Lovely family! Anyway. In order to jerk him out of his hellish ways, his uncle sends him off to Russia to rescue a young orphaned male relative whose life is in danger.

In the meantime, the heroine is on her way to Russia to be a governess because hard circumstances, in the guise of a vengeful, sexually-thwarted owner of the house where she works, means there is no other option open to her. She's going to be teaching a young orphaned girl. As coincidence would have it—and in romance novels, they always do—the hero and heroine meet on the boat from England to Russia. Then they part ways.

They don't meet again till chapter 8. This may bother some people who like their protagonists to be in regular contact after the meet-cute. However, to me, the strength of this book is how much time it spends in individual character-building so that when they meet again, you already know who they are. It makes their interactions all the richer, because the basics are out of the way, and the author gets into more of the complexity of the characterization. Russian winter is beautifully shown in this book. It is one of the highlights of the story.

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal
Category: General Fiction
Comments: This is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice set in Pakistan. It is so clever and so witty, while also being tender and heartwarming. Kamal’s writing is smart, bright, and fresh with wonderfully well-placed humor and a deep dive into contemporary Pakistani society and culture. Like a musical refrain, Kamal returns again and again to the Pride & Prejudice text to build a filigree of interconnections between it and Unmarriageable. Where the two stories march together is just as fun as when the stories diverge allowing Pakistan to shine through the fabric of the book.

Kamal’s comprehensive and thorough understanding of Austen’s Regency-era culture and social norms and those of Pakistan’s today, allows her to draw many parallels between the two—how in essence, the women have the same concerns, anxieties, triumphs, sacrifices, compromises, and limitations. Their lives are just as hemmed in today as they were two hundred years ago. Marriage is the culmination of womanhood and a woman is nothing without that status—whether she is happy in that union or not is immaterial. Like Austen, Unmarriageable is not a romance genre novel. It is a sharply observant and witty commentary on Pakistani society and culture and the myriad relationships among the people who live in it. My review is here.

Any Old Diamonds by KJ Charles
Category: Late Victorian Romance
Comments: Charles' books are near-perfection! I know you're rolling your eyes at my hyperbole, but I can't think of saying it in any other way. The juxtaposition of menace and affection, control and submission in this book are as exquisite as they are irresistible.

Lord Alexander Greville de Keppel Pyne-ffoulkes, the second son of the Duke of Ilvar, is now known simply as Mr. Alec Pyne. He has come rather down in the world and works as a lowly sketch artist for illustrated papers and books, toiling in his studio under London’s skylights. On this late Victorian June evening, he is at the Grand Cirque presumably to attend a performance, but in reality, to meet the Lilywhite Boys AKA professional jewel thieves. He wants to commission the theft of an obscenely expensive diamond parure gifted by the Duke of Ilvar to his duchess.

This is how the book starts. The story unfolds as Alec and one of the thieves embark on a relationship while setting up the heist. The story is told with Charles' characteristic precision of detail and economy of words. The details and the twists and turns—oh, there are a few of those—are too delicious to spoil. My review is here.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Those readers who loved Sally Thorne’s début The Hating Game and expect a similar style of story told in that same authorial voice will find this second book, 99 Percent Mine, a totally different story. While I enjoyed that first book, I liked this one very much. The first book was everything writ large, whereas this novel looks inward. It is all about the inner growth of Darcy from insecurity to confidence. It is a tale of how a person can grow up surrounded by love yet feel not worthy of it. How is such a person to be convinced that not only are they deeply loved but that they can love deeply in return?

The charm of this book for me was that they are both so outwardly self-assured and capable, but within the privacy of their twosome, they feel uncertain of every step they take. They know they love, but are they loved in return? This anxiety changes as the book advances to: The other person loves me, but are they willing to be in a forever loving relationship with me, because one does not follow the other? In most books, the I-Love-Yous are immediately followed by marriage vows, but that progression is completely uncertain in this story. My review is here.

Three Little Words by Jenny Holliday
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: What is a relationship? And what constitutes a good relationship? There are infinite varieties of human connections, and in this book, Holiday gives her protagonists the onus and latitude to explore the depth and breadth of these two questions and how they pertain to the two of them. Gia Gallo and Bennett Buchanan are bridesmaid and best man, respectively, in their best friends’ wedding. This is the only tie they have.

Their lives couldn’t be any different. Gia is a super model with no fixed home. She lives out of a suitcase in fabulous locations all around the world — her exceptional beauty translating into wealth. Bennett is a Southern transplant to NYC with deep roots in Charleston. He is a celebrated chef serving superbly crafted Cajun food in his restaurant to high-paying and non-paying clientele. She does not know what to do with her riches; he does not know how to pay for his dream of opening a charitable restaurant. You would think that this would be the meet cute of their relationship. But nothing by Holiday is as obvious as that. My review is here.

Trailblazer by Anna Schmidt
Category: Victorian Western Romance
Comments: It is a tender, gentle tale of love blossoming between two people who’re not searching for it. Someday… oh, sure, someday, they want that special someone in their lives who will bring them joy and companionship, someone with whom they will walk side-by-side on the road of life. But at this moment in time, they are not looking for marriage. They are not even looking for love. And yet… love catches them by surprise.

Grace Rogers decides to move west to earn her living as a Harvey Girl at the Harvey Eating Houses along the Santa Fe Railroad. She is yearning for adventure away from the loneliness and poor prospects eking out a living at her family farm in Missouri. She also wants a good job that will allow her to send money back to her parents to aid their impoverished circumstances.

Nick Hopkins is a foreman at a cattle ranch in Juniper, New Mexico. He enjoys the trust and respect of his employer, but he dreams of owning his own land and his own ranch. He has been saving every penny he can so that one day he can turn his aspiration and ambition into reality. He has already staked out the land that is going to be his.

On the train from Kansas City to Juniper, Grace and Nick chance to meet. My review is here.

Our Incredible Cow by Mahasweta Devi, translated from Bengali by Devi, illustrated by Ruchi Shah
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a cute story of a naughty cow called Nyadosh, who was a family's cow but considered herself a pet. She would boldly enter the house, and she loved to chew up and digest the children's books. One day, Nyadosh discovered the taste of fish, and she was all over it. In vain, the lady of house remonstrated with her that cows don't eat fish, but Nyadosh refused to eat her regular food. She loved chicken and developed an über-sophisticated taste for lobster and crab.

Raiding the kitchen wasn't her only misdemeanor. She loved to go to the banks of the River Ganges and push any policeman who loitered around there into the water. Nyadosh was possibly the only cow in British-ruled India to have police cases lodged against her. And so on and so forth—the story talks about all the naughty doings of this cow.

I Will Save My Land by Rinchin, illustrated by Sagar Kolwankar
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This won the New Book Award 2018 and is a beautiful story of how a girl and her grandmother stand up for a woman's right to work. Little Mati loved to help her father, Ba, and grandmother, Ajji, work in their potato farm. But Ba doesn't allow Mati to do much in fear that she will spoil the crop. So Mati asks for her own plot of land to plant her own crop.

When Ba demurs, Ajji speaks up strongly in support: "How much I had to fight to keep my land. Just to plough it I had to go against the whole village. They used to laugh at me. It has taken me so long to get my rights. And now you say things like this? You, who have been brought up alone by your mother?"

Ajji went to court and fought the upper caste villagers for her farm, and now she is pleased that her granddaughter has inherited her spirit and stubbornness. Seeking advice from Ajji, Mati grew all kinds of vegetables in her successful doli-khet farm. She also attended meetings with Ajji about village politics and rich people usurping land. Great story of strong women standing against the depredations on their livelihood.

Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why by Sowmya Rajendra, illustrated by Satwik Gade
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is the true story of one of India's famed social workers who was also a beloved teacher and respected lawyer. Little Bhim was a mahar, of the untouchable class—a shameful practice that continues to this day in this highly striated society of classes and castes. As a child, Bhim was ostracized from participating in all the ordinary activities of other children. He was not allowed to drink from the same pot or sit with the other children or plays with them. Yet, he did not allow himself to be discouraged.

He was an intelligent child, a hard worker, and kept a positive attitude. His diligence paid off, and after college, he won a scholarship to study in America. There, he finally found freedom from his caste. He could sit anywhere, drink from the same glasses, and go everywhere. But when he returned to India, the oppressive stigma of his caste pressed down upon him again. After getting a degree in law from London, Bhim returned to India determined to seek justice for his people. He worked very hard and advocated for equality among the classes. After India became independent, he became India's first Law Minister.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Best Books of 2018

I love reading everyone's end-of-the-year lists but I always find it agonizing to put mine together. This time to help with the process, I graded all my reading throughout the year as well as reviewed every single book on this blog, so that I would arrive at this time of the year and have some help in narrowing down which titles should go on this list, which were middling, and which would be best forgotten. I have organized this post into sections. The first is romance, followed by poetry, then general fiction, nonfiction, and finally, children's picture books.


My list is posted on All About Romance and includes these books:
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
A Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen
The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Making Up by Lucy Parker
From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
The Prince by Katharine Ashe
Untouchable by Talia Hibbert
Not Another Family Wedding by Jackie Lau
Band Sinister by KJ Charles
My One and Only Duke by Grace Burrowes


The Living Fire by Edward Hirsch
Over the years, I have loved reading and re-reading Hirsch's poetry collection Special Orders. It's a treasured volume in my personal library, so I decided to try out more of Hirsch's work. I'll continue to read from it a little at a time over the next few months. Lately, I have been plagued by insomnia, so this really spoke to me: Silently / you confront the blue-rimmed edge / of outer dark / denied warmth, denied rest, / denied earth's sleep and granite.

Poems by Donald Hall
I discovered him when a friend of mine brought his obituary to my attention. I enjoyed that obituary very much; it reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which I love. He was considered a major American poet. What I like best about his poems which I have explored so far is that he examines a more bucolic past with a reverence for nature, which is what has always drawn me to the Romantic poets. He is compared to poet Robert Bly—Mary Bly AKA Eloisa James's father—whom he met at Harvard. His academic credentials are every student's dream: Philips Exeter, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford. Given my love for Didion's memoir of her marriage, I should read Hall's memoir of his marriage as well: The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon.

Poems by Chinua Achebe
He was a Nigerian poet, novelist, and critic. I have had Achebe on my radar ever since he won the Booker, but it finally took my pursuit of different poets for me to run across his work. What I liked best about his work is his use of expressive language to persuade and convince the reader of his ideas. Like an onomatopoeia is a word where the meaning and the sound are closely related, his poetry is like that: the words and the images they paint are symbiotic.


Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur
I cannot praise this highly enough. The original story is in Kannada (one of the languages of southwestern India) and is set in Bangalore. It is told by an aimless, shiftless young man who resides in a complex, interdependent, joint family situation with his parents, wife, sister, and uncle. The uncle runs his own spice trading business, which has become quite profitable, and is the sole earner of the family. The family, in turn, caters to his every want and desire, even before he realizes he needs it. The story starts with them living in a modest lower-middle-class house and then moving up to a fancy two-storey house. Once prosperity enters their house, so do untold troubles. Shanbhag does a masterful job of teasing out the turmoil in this tightly psychological novella through his protagonist's observations, actions, and reactions.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin
She Unnames Them by Ursula Le Guin
Omelas is simply brilliant. I have nothing else to say about it. The background of She Unnames Them is the Biblical book of Genesis, in which Adam names the animals, but Le Guin subverts this by having Eve unname the animals. The story is in two parts: one part describes how the animals feel about the unnaming and the second part describes how the narrator (Eve) feels about the unnaming. Is there any form of writing that Le Guin does not excel at?


Becoming by Michelle Obama
Who doesn't love Michelle Obama? I had this book pre-ordered since it was announced in March. I wish, wish, wish she'd come to my town during her book tour, but it was not meant to be. A local private school has a one word mission: Becoming. It is exactly like Michelle says, "It's one of th most useless questions as adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that's the end." Michelle is the epitome of someone who has reinvented herself over and over again as her life has changed around her. She's adapted and thrived with grace and drive in every situation. We only see that she has it all; in this book we see how hard she has worked for it. This eminently readable book for the teens as well as the octogenarians, it is the story of a remarkable woman who is still in the process of "becoming." It has made me fall in love with her even more.

West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House edited by Gautam Raghavan
This book is a treasure for the stories written within and for how I came about it. I was gifted a signed copy of it by the Raghavan's mother. In turn, I gifted one of my favorite books (mentioned above): Edward Hirsch's Living Fire. In West Wingers, eighteen Obama staffers tell their stories of how they fought doggedly for their ideals and how in Obama they found a president willing to listen, to be educated, and to act. This book gives a glimpse into a dynamic White House where some of history's pivotal events unfolded through people's passion.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, foreword Harold S. Kushner, afterword William J. Winslade
The Dalai Lama posits that the primary human drive is happiness, whereas Frankl's theory is that it is the pursuit of something meaningful. in his book, he argues that while we cannot avoid suffering, how we cope with it allows us to find meaning in it and allows us to move forward. That he discovered this through his experience in the Nazi death camps is remarkable. Frankl's logotherapy concept was later (in 1998) echoed by Kathleen Norris in her Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work", wherein she says that even the daily routine chores can bring meaning to one's life. While Norris' book was an easy read in 2016, Frankl's book will need multiple re-readings to digest it.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
This is an easy-to-read book that nevertheless delivers a series of messages that I was in the right frame of mind to receive. Here are the main philosophical points of her book:
1. We are each responsible for all of our experiences.
2. Every thought we think is creating our future.
3. The point of power is always in the present moment.
4. Resentment, criticism, and guilt are the most damaging patterns.
5. The bottom line for everyone is: "I'm not good enough." It's only a thought, and a thought can be changed.
6. Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes When we really love ourselves, everything in our life works.

Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art in England and France 700-1200 by Kathleen Doyle & Charlotte Denoël
A few years ago, thanks to the plethora of massive open online courses (MOOCs), I was very fortunate to be able to take classes about medieval manuscripts from Stanford, Cambridge, and Harvard. My passion for illuminated manuscripts continues unabated to this day, so I was very excited when the British Library put out a book based on their collections. It is a fully illustrated book, with an image of the recto or verso side of a manuscript page on one side and a description on the other with historical details, translation of the text, and other fascinating tidbits. I love my book and leaf through it often.


Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence, illustrated by François Thisdale
This is a Cree story. Kateri is a young girl living with her nokhôm (grandmother) whose nimâmâ (mother) is lost. Despite the love and care, her grandmother shows her kamâmakos (little butterfly), Kateri talks about her mother and dreams about her all the time. I cried as I read this book, cried for its beauty and its tragedy. This fictional story is based on true fact. There are many , and this has devastating effects on their families and their children who are left behind. Many Canadian women of First Nations who will never return home because they are missing or have been murdered with no justice for their families and no repercussions to the perpetrators. If you would like to find out about this growing problem of the lost indigenous women of Canada, visit the No More Stolen Sisters site at Amnesty International.

The True Story of Balto: The Bravest Dog Ever by Natalie Standiford, illustrated by Donald Cook
I love books that get me in the feels as well as the kids. There's nothing like rooting for a character, being awed by them, and then feeling a sense of pride in them when the story is over. Balto was one such dog. The story is set in a frontier town amidst the ice and snow of Alaska of 1925. In the winter, there was no way to travel in that region except by dog sled. Neither planes, nor trains, nor boats, nor cars could work in those snow drifts and iced over lakes. A year after Balto's great feat of bravery, endurance, and leadership, New York City erected a statue of Balto in Central Park, which stands to this day. This is a true story.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
This is a book that sets up a frog in your throat from the dedication onwards that doesn't dislodge even after you read the author and illustrator bios at the end. The book is dedicated to refugees everywhere. Both Bao Phi and Thi Bui came to the U.S. from Vietman as refugees. People in their American neighborhoods "did not understand why we were there at best, and blamed us for the aftermath of the war at worst." Both Bao and Thi were very poor as children, and their parents worked multiple jobs just to survive. The story and the style of illustrations is their way of honoring their roots and the dislocation of the immigrant experience through a fictionalized version of Bao's childhood.

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe
The author interviewed various kids from around the globe and then decided to choose these seven kids and their stories. His artwork and the depictions of the people are based on photographs sent in by the seven families. Lamothe's goal was to appreciate how different we all are, and yet, in so many ways how similar. Inspired by his own travels, Lamothe sought to show us how our common experiences unite us. It's a book that at once fascinates and educates. Children, especially the very young, are able to quickly discern the commonalities and the dissimilarities among the depicted kids and accept them all for who they are. This is a book to savor.

Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Amnesty International (written by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono, translated by Lyn Miller-Lachmann)
Few books come along that catch you at the right moment that you're poised to receive them. This is one such book. Commissioned by Amnesty International, this is a book about immigration, about hope for a better future in the new land, hope that is destroyed by reality, and then about hope being rebuilt by forging a new identity through hard work and innovation. The message is timely in our current political climate where immigrants are being "othered" and seen as "users" of the current society/culture/benefits and not as "contributors" to a better future together. Amnesty International hopes to convey that defending and protecting the basic human rights of all people is a responsibility that belongs to all of us. (The 30 articles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights document make for fascinating reading.)