Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My August Reading

I was not able to get as much read this month as I'd planned, because the whole issue surrounding the book For Such a Time took up so much of my time and energy. But what I did read was a welcome departure from the horrors of that read.

The Venetian Affair by Helen McInnes
Categories: mys
Commentary: Recommended by Janet Webbb and Liz McCausland. My first McInnes. Just started reading it.

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
Categories: rom, hist
Diversity: Jewish characters
Commentary: I wrote about it in detail earlier this month.

Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim
Categories: memoir
Diversity: Based in North Korea featuring North and South Korean people in addition to volunteers from other countries.
Commentary: I started reading it last month and finished it this month. What a powerful look into a closed culture. Despite the division of Korea in recent times, the difference in the cultures of the two countries separated by a common language is vast. South Korean-American journalist, Suki, posed as a teacher and traveled to Pyongyang to teach English to elite college students. This gave her a rare insider authority on North Korean culture and student life. I'll be commenting much more on this in my September TBR Challenge post.

Shadowskin by Shveta Thakrar
Categories: poetry
Diversity: POC character, in e- format
Commentary: This poem was recommended by author Victoria Janssen. The poem talks about how two girls dream similar things, but one girl's dreams are achievable, acceptable, but the other's are not. Why? The first girl is white-skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes, the other is brown-skinned with black hair and eyes.

Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: romance, contemporary
Commentary: I've been dying waiting for this book from Kleypas's fabulous Travis series. They are the strongest of all her books other than some of her historicals, such as the New Orleans series and Devil in Winter among others. Her Texan contemporary voice is very distinct, as is her characterization. The experience of being married to a Texan and having lived there for many years shows in the ease and confidence of her voice. I was hooked from the beginning of this story. Her writing is superb and easily matches the rest of the series despite the many years between Smooth Talking Stranger and Brown-Eyed Girl. There're passages like these...

Sofia let out a little yelp of excitement. The atmosphere in the studio seemed instantly diluted—my lungs had to work harder to obtain the necessary amount of oxygen.

The heroine tells the hero how some people make the proposal into an event, like proposing mid-air on a hot-air balloon ride or proposing underwater on a scuba dive.
"That's ridiculous," Joe said flatly.
"Being romantic is ridiculous?"
"No, turning a private moment into a Broadway musical is ridiculous."

I had a great discussion with Robin about Kleypas's aggressively alpha heroes in all her books, whether historicals or contemporaries. Their caring side comes out really strong and ever-present in the story, and that makes their stories and the longevity of their HEAs believable.

Reykjavík Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason, translated by Victoria Cribb
Categories: mys
Diversity: Male author
Commentary: It was recommended by Miss Bates and her review is here. Set in Iceland, the beauty of the setting is what drew me to the book. However, this is set wholly in Reykjavík with no forays into the countryside. My interest was still sustained by this look into Nordic summer city life. This mystery story is just my speed: painstaking police procedural work minus violent gore or horrifying psychological twists (except for one terrible DV). This is policeman Erlendur's first foray into detecting. Unlike later in the series, he isn't a detective here yet, but has a personal stake in the investigation that he follows through on his own time and his own dime. Dogged, unflappable, and meticulous, he interviews people, carefully parcels out information, and uses his policeman status sparingly. His approach is as a friend of the deceased and a concerned citizen. I enjoyed Indriðason's writing style very much and look forward to more of his books.

Thrush Green by Miss Reed
Categories: lit fic
Commentary: Recommended by Sunita and her review is here. For a big fan of Enid Blyton books and the miniseries Cranford, I instantly fell in love with this novel. Like the Enid Blytons, there are pen-n-ink illustrations sprinkled throughout the text. The voices and scenes are so distinct, I could picture them in my mind as I read the book. It's been a while since I read a book where the images are so vivid. The inciting event is that the owner of the fair, which does a show every May Day in Thrush Green, might be closing down the show after this last hurrah. Set against this event, the lives of the main inhabitants of the small village revolve. The enjoyment of this book is in the very small details. While to some this could be boring, to me they're what make the story so enjoyable. Entire lifetimes and personalities unfold in those delicious details.

Then there are also passages like this one...

People nowadays seemed too busy for gaiety, and what was worse, appeared to frown upon innocent enjoyment. Life was too dreadfully real and earnest these days and all the young people were middle-aged at twenty.


He felt his dislike of this tough ungainly woman growing of an hour, her massive legs planted squarely apart to display the sturdiest pair of knickers it had ever been dr. Lovell's misfortune to observe. In shape and durability they had reminded the young man of his father's Norfolk breeches used in the early days of cycling.

Veranda: A Passion for Living: Houses of Style and Inspiration by Carolyn Englefield
Categories: nonfiction, coffee table book
Commentary: I LOVE THIS BOOK! Ahem! I discovered it thanks to Vassiliki. I enjoy gawking at the furnishings and inner architectures of the houses of the wealthy, but especially, oh, so especially, the old estates of England. I'm always interested in what taste people exhibit when money is largely not an issue. Englefield writes, "Houses are like Wunderkammers, those curiosity cabinets of the Renaissance where each carefully selected object has a story waiting to be told. A Passion for Living is a synthesis of the belief that our homes are the places where we live our lives with joy, grace, honesty, and personal style." This is not to say that all the photos are picturesque or très élégant. Some of them are hideous. But that's the fun of reading a book like this. Even when it cannot possibly work for you, it's fascinating how on earth they managed to put those things together in that way.

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman
Categories: children's
Diversity: People of various ethnicities and religions
Commentary: Recommended by my daughter and Smart Bitches and the review is here. First of all, let me GUSH over the cover and book design. I have the cover here, but the inside book design from its endpapers to its beginning pages, font and so on are also beautifully done. This has to be the best one of the year for me. Totally appropriate for the story and a work of art by itself. Delicious!

I would've leveled a charge of "exotiticizing" at the author if I had not been aware that the girl depicted in the story will be similar to her children's blended family experience (when she has children). The author herself is Jewish-American, who's married to an Indian -American, so a Basmati Bar/Bat Mitzvah would be in her children's future as well. From the get-go I liked the young girl's voice: clear, personal, and age-appropriate. Too many kids in books sound precocious where their voices don't fit in with the type of story the author's trying to tell through them. Here, it felt like the girl herself is telling her story. Great characterization!

Tara Friedman's father is Jewish-American and her mother is Indian-American, who converted to Judaism before her marriage. Tara is in Hebrew school preparing for her Bat Mitzvah but she's struggling with her commitment to her faith and the process of the Bat Mitzvah. At the same time, she's concerned whether she's losing her Indian side to her Jewishness. She doesn't want to lose the affinity she has with her Indian grandparents who've now passed away, while at the same time, she loves the closeness she shares with her Jewish grandmother. She wants to feel at one with both her cultures and the story is about her working through this.

She's also grappling with her belief in G-d and can she be Jewish without believing in G-d completely. She discusses this with her Jewish and Christian friends and also tangentially with her Rabbi.

It seemed incredible t0 me that someone could keep believing in G-d after living through something as terrible as [the Holocaust]. And if he did, then why did I have any doubts whatsoever?

Tara's also disturbed when she finds out from Hebrew school that Jewish people used to own slaves. That they could do so when Jewish people themselves faced constant persecution throughout history is abhorrent to her. Again she brings this up with her Rabbi. He reminds her that the Jewish faith places very high value on dialectics and debate, and nothing was sacred from discussion.

What's interesting to me about this story is how unlikable and at the same time likable she is. Her confidence, her easy friendships, her smartness make her likeable on one hand, but her sense of self-entitlement is off-putting at the same time. She receives far more than she gives and is always upset when she isn't receiving what she insists she deserves. A treasured saree that her Indian great-grandmother carried with her safely through the chaos and horror of the partition of India and Pakistan is bequeathed to her. She plays with it with her friend regularly. And one time, they spill burning incense on it, which burns holes in the ancient fabric and ruin it. I gasped out loud with anger and sadness. She and her Jewish grandmother then convince her mother that the only way to save the fabric was to cut it up and make it into a dress for her. I again gasped aloud with anger and sadness though it is the logical solution to the problem. A precious heirloom has been destroyed by her carelessness and the only thing she feels is fear of her mother's anger. Yes, she's young, but at 12-13, she's not too young to be able to appreciate what she has destroyed.