Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My June Reading

With family visiting us this month, sustained nanny troubles, and a major upset, I've had less reading time than usual. As a result, I read no meaty books. I also read more romance this month as compared with other months this year. Next month, I have many nonfiction books queued up, depending on which holds come due at the library. I hope to also start with my summer Big Fat Book in August: The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Categories: literary fiction, victorian
Diversity: By a male author
Commentary: On the 200th anniversary of Trollope's birth, I decided to read one of his novels. The Warden was recommended by Liz McCausland and Sunita. I'm still reading it. It was tough going at first. I'm not used to so much exposition unleavened by dynamic back-n-forth dialogue. Once I got used to the narrative style, the pace picked up. Liz said: "Trollope’s attention to the plight of the middle-class man is fascinating." And I agree in my reading so far. This is the character he’s always most in sympathy with and for whom he’ll willing to do a lot. I'll write in more detail on this next month.

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: A discussion on Heyer with Heyer's biographer Jen Kloester made me hanker after reading one of Heyer's books. Every time I read one, I'm always reminded how very creative she was with her characters, her storylines, and the pacing and plotting of each book. This book was usual in the sense that a nobleman marries a wealthy Cit girl to save his estate from ruin. It's a marriage of convenience plot (one of my favorite tropes) with the heroine in love with the hero and he being completely oblivious to her and hankering after the noblewoman he would've married if he had not been impoverished. This book was unusual in that, once married, the hero doesn't cleave to the heroine in an insta-lust/insta-love pair of emotions. Sometimes he's even 'mean' to her, and he's not always likeable. However, what the hero and heroine eventually settle for is not intense passion but a gentle, loving marriage that sustains all difficulties with each being supportive and knowledgeable of the other. This is the sort of marriage that you can easily believe will endure forever. The high-passion/high-drama/high-grovel kind of marriages fill me with some misgiving on their future tranquility and longevity.

Truckers by Terry Pratchett
Categories: children's
Diversity: A fantasy novel by a male author. I'm trying to read more children's fantasy this year.
Commentary: On the day Pratchett died, I realized I hadn't read a single of his books. What a hole in my reading history! Set about to correct that error with this recommendation by Liz McCausland. What a delightful story about a race of "nomes" who are little people who came from outer space and now live under the floorboards of a department store. It was funny, silly, and heartwarming. The nomes have built an entire world within the department store, including a religion. We always talk about detailed world-building within fantasy novels, and this is (according to my limited knowledge of the genre) one of the finest.

Poetry of Walt Whitman edited by Jonathan Levin
Categories: poetry
Diversity: Written by a male author
Commentary: On May 31, I discovered a link to James Earl Jones reading "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, and I realized that I had a book of Whitman's poetry languishing on my TBR. So I pulled it out, and hey, presto, I had my September TBR Challenge book. (I'm a shameless off-theme reader.)

Beloved Stranger by Joan Wolf
Categories: contemporary, romance
Commentary: Recommended by blogger Miss Bates. It's an old skool Joan Wolf, and I was bound to like it, despite it being a trope I don't like: snowstorm, strangers getting stranded, having unprotected sex, resulting in a baby. I know the story's set in 1980s, but the dominating male where the female runs after him picking up, getting ordered around, etc. is not a storyline that works for me. Despite the deck stacked against it, I enjoyed the story, because Wolf's characterization is very good. Joan Wolf does people really well—every book of hers that I have read has characters that I remember long after the book's done. MHarvey said it best: "The best books are the ones that make me love a trope I hate."

This book had an interesting storyline for me—it was very much the hero's book and about his journey arc, but told mainly from the heroine's perspective.

Sweet Talking Man by Liz Talley
Categories: contemporary, romance
Commentary: Recommended by Miss Bates. The premise of the story about second chances set in a small Southern town is something that I have always been fond of. I liked the characters, main ones as well as the large cast of adjunct ones—some were standard small-town fare (love!) and some like the hero were "interesting" (yay!). Talley did a great job of making the "opposites attract and complement each other" work really well in this story. I was also pleased to see both characters grow over the novel.

However, I had problems seeing the unfurling of the romance. I was told a lot that the other had completely changed the game for them, but I didn't see it happening. The part about romance novels I like is watching them appreciate each other, watching them notice and imprint upon the smallest details, watching them fall in love. I don't want to be told they're in love, I want to see it happening. And here I didn't get to experience that. So despite the good characterization and familiar setting, I wasn't able to sink into the story.

But please don't take my naysaying word for it. Do read Miss Bates's fabulous review for the definitive word on the book and how much she enjoyed it.

There were other things that bothered me about this story, and they are all tied into the historical versus contemporary sub-genres. There are storylines and plot details that I forgive in historicals that I would never tolerate in a contemporary. Being so close to my present-day life, I have opinions on what is happening to contemporary characters. Plausibility and possibility play a big part in my buying into the story. For a historical, the distance of two-hundred years and lack of intimate knowledge of the reality make it easier for me to swallow improbable and implausible storylines. It's not that I'm not seeking accuracy in historicals (because I most definitely am), but that the suspension of disbelief is easier. In a contemporary, I'm judging every tiny detail against my values. Knowing too much about something always spoils the magic of the romance.

[However, Jodi Thomas's modern-day small-town westerns always work for me, because the setting of those stories is like a foreign country to me.]

The Adventurers by Michelle Martin
Categories: Regency, romance
Commentary: Michelle Martin is one of my absolute favorite traditional Regency writers. Her wit and her Heyeresque characters and plot make her very few books one of the highlights of whichever month I choose to re-read them in. This book has derring-do, a cross-dressing heroine, an imposing peer of the realm bested by our intrepid heroine, a worthy quest, noble sacrifice, and laughter. And implausibility of plot. But who cares? I was enjoying reading the book too much to be bothered about practicality and reality.

Secret of the Templars by Paul Christopher
Categories: mystery/thriller
Diversity: Male author
Commentary: I read the word "Templar" in the title and borrowed the book from the library without reading the back cover copy. I figured it'd be a fast-paced thriller with religion, history, spying, McGyvering, and haring off to parts exotic at the drop of a hat. It was that. Except that the history and religious parts were thin on the ground; the Templars—the reason I picked up the book—non-existent. What was highly prevalent was the phenomenon of minor characters dying horrific deaths every ten paces. Our hero led a charmed life, just one pace ahead of the dozens of bad guys from all over the world, while around him everyone dropped dead like flies. It was a disappointing read and despite being fast-paced, boring. The mystery element, which should've been the driving energy behind the story, was completely dissipated by no character being safe from death. There was not a single character to sustain the intrigue, to provide a foil for the hero and his sidekick.

An aside: I had an interesting discussion with blogger Amy, Buried by Books and author Isobel Carr about the format and price of the book. It's in the larger mass market paperback size, called an upback or venti/grande. This one is taller and narrower than normal MMPBs. There are wider versions, too. Both are priced at $9.99 versus $7.99 and have larger fonts. It looks like the publishers are experimenting with seeing if people will pay more money for certain authors—the larger format signaling the price increase for otherwise similar fare to an MMPB. "Guy books," i.e., thrillers written by male authors seem to be more prone to this experimentation.