Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My January Reading

The first month of the year and so begins another year of reading and blogging and bookish conversations. I'm looking forward to it in delight. I have so many books lined up to read already.

One new thing that I'm going to be mentioning in these round-ups are children's picture books. I read so many every month. Don't worry I won't list every one here or the 18273 times I read each one. However, there are some books that rise to the top, and I'll mention those.

Last year, I tried to read story collections of poets I already knew or had read before. This year, I'm going for new singleton poems. As a result, many will be modern, a new area for me. I'm a diehard Romantic Era fan and a fan of pastoral lyricism. We'll see how I fare this year. I have no training in poetry reading so the commentary will be superficial at best—more in the vein of "this is what I feel."

In my reading goals for the year, I said I would try to mention any facts that I have learned. In my reading this month, I learned that an amputation of the leg below the knee is vastly different from the one above the knee in terms of future mobility with prosthetics. The teenage heroine of The Running Dream had one below the knee and was able to run with her new running leg (different from her walking leg).

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills
Comments: This was the first book of the new year for me. I shall be reading a little bit in it every day, so it's an ongoing project.

Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: Romance, Victorian
Comments: Kleypas is an auto-buy author for me for her historicals and Travis series. Going into this book, I was determined not to read any reviews of the book, because I wanted a pristine reading experience. And I'm so glad I did. My commentary is posted at All About Romance. Kleypas spent a lot of time setting up the rest of the series here. The book I'm looking forward to isn't Helen's story (next) but rather West's and Pandora's story.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Categories: Play
Comments: Recommended by SonomaLass and Liz McCausland. It was my January TBR Challenge read and my comments are here.

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: I skipped through and read a few sections of the book. My subsequent blog What Are Morning Pages? is posted.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Categories: Literary Fiction
Comments: I have nothing new to add to the hundreds of thousands of words already written about this.

The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: I really wanted to like this book. It's a Marriage of Convenience plot with people who start out as promising characters. He finds a wife to marry by advertising for a governess. She needs money to raise her brothers and sisters and dig themselves out of their dead father's debts. They strike a deal. She will pose as his loving wife in front of his father, the duke, and his family at their ancestral pile. In return for this temporary playacting, he will give her a house, a carriage, and a large allowance. Well, naturally, things go awry. They start having feeeeelings for each other. All in all the relationship was moving along at a smart clip and I was enjoying it, and then came The Scene. I don't mind deliberate rudeness, casual thoughtlessness, thwarting, and avoiding. But I don't countenance cruelty.

"Where did you get it?" His nostrils flared.
"Your father gave it to me," she said. They had an audience — a very attentive audience.
"Take it off," he said.
"Your father—"
"Take it off." His face was white. And suddenly she was terrified of him.
She did not move her hands fast enough. He raised one of his own, curled it about the topaz, his fingers grazing over her skin none too gently, and jerked at the necklet. The catch held fast and she grimaced with pain.
"Turn around," he said.
She turned around and tilted her head forward. His fingers fumbled at the catch for what seemed like endless moments before she felt the weight of the necklet fall away from her neck onto his hand. She did not lift her head or turn around — everyone was behind her and everyone was loudly silent.

And yet, ten minutes later, she's forgiven him and is smiling at him. Two hours later, he acknowledges to himself that he's falling deeply in love with her. What kind of love is this? His anger at and hatred of his father is so consuming that he hurts his wife, makes her neck bleed, insults and humiliates her horribly in front of his entire family, just so he can score a point and drop that necklace onto the floor at his father's feet. Four hours later, she smilingly and affectionately tries to effect a reconciliation between her husband and the duke. She's too nice, she's too understanding, and it was slightly difficult for me to believe in her character.

Despite this, I appreciated how well-written and well-plotted the story was. That entire scene above is perfect in its timing and delivery. The story after all is a Balogh!

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Categories: Children's
Diversity: Children with physical challenges, multicultural children
Comments: A stellar read recommended by my daughter. I sobbed my heart out reading this book. Easily my best read of the month. This is what good children's books should be about: hope, joy, the power of dreaming big, hard work, focus, and living in this big wide world of ours with people of all kinds.

In short, a gifted teen runner loses part of her right leg after a tragic accident. This story is about her recovery from the depths of despair towards hope for herself and compassion for someone she perceives is not as lucky as she is. It is also the story of sheer grit and courage as she learns to run with a prosthetic and not just run for herself on the school track but to run 10 miles while pushing a wheelchair with a 100-lb girl with cerebral palsy. Unadulterated awe! (Yes, it's fiction but its effect is nonetheless just as powerful.)

Jessica brings such joy into Rosa's life, just as Rosa brought hope into Jessica's life by helping lift her out of depression.

"Jessica Carlisle wants to help Rosa do something she would never be able to do on her own—go for a run."
"When Jessica runs me," Rosa says, "I feel like I'm flying."

What is the cause Jessica and Rosa are running for?

"Quite simple, it's to have people see us, not our conditions. That's all anybody with a disability really wants. Don't sum up the person based on what you see, or what you don't understand; get to know them."

An Unexpected Family by Molly O'Keefe
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: O'Keefe is such a good writer. She does emotions really well, with depth and nuance. In this book, there seemed to be one story about the characters' actions and another story about their emotions. The story told in emotions is superb. The story told in the characters' actions doesn't make them very likeable or reliable. The hero always seems to act from anger and the heroine from questionable casualness to everything. That makes their final scene where they confess their love and forgive each other great for the story arc, but it left me with some doubt about the longevity of their HEA. That's where O'Keefe's wonderful epilogue comes in. The two wait a year and marry at the end of that. By then I was on board for their HEA.

There's also a secondary romantic story with the heroine's mother and that one is very well done. Again, the emotions are superbly handled. In fact, I liked that story better than the main one.

There's over-the-top writing, like "radiating tension like a nuclear reactor" and "blood pooled in his brain." It was a tad too much. But it's all forgivable, because overall, the writing is great.

For example, here's Lucy waiting to find out the bad news from her accountant:

She closed her phone and watched a bird—maybe a hawk, she wasn't sure—swoop along the ridgeline and ride the wind current off the Sierras. Not a care in the world, that bird. Must be nice, she thought, totally aware that she was jealous of a creature with a pea-size[d] brain.

About Jeremiah:

His smile was lopsided, rueful, and utterly self-aware. A heartbroken cowboy who was self-aware? Good Lord, he was a country song brought to life.

A romantic moment for them:

His lips fell across hers like sunlight. Light and warm and sweet and she melted into the moment, into him. He breathed out, she breathed in, and the earth stopped rotating, as if someone had just pressed pause on the rest of the world.

Mawṭinī Mawṭinī (My Homeland, My Homeland) by Ibrahim Tuqan
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Diversity: Translated from Arabic
Comments: Palestinian poet Ibrahim Tuqan composed this three-verse poem in 1934. It was adopted as the Palestinian national anthem then, and since 2004, as the Iraqi anthem. You can have a listen here to the music that supports this rousing, patriotic song composed by Muhammad Fuliefil and you can also read the original Arabic poem.

No matter our political views today, every nation believes in pride in its land, hope for its future, and the goodness of its people. For Palestine and Iraq there's anguish in every word. Will they see that future they envision?

My homeland, my homeland
Glory and beauty, sublimity and splendor
Are in your hills, are in your hills
Life and deliverance, pleasure and hope
Are in your air, are in your air
Will I see you, will I see you?

New Year by Ed Ochester
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Comments: In the fictional surreal world of dreaming, a man learns a truth he never realized in reality. He'd always assumed his mother had never said, "I love you" to him and implicitly questioned whether she ever loved him. To which, she replies:

"You’ve always been somewhat of
a fool; don’t you remember how,
that time you passed out at my birthday party,
one of your cousins told you later
I cried out ‘My son, my only son!’?"

To What You Said by Walt Whitman
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Comments: Whitman is addressing a woman saying that though she entreated him passionately to be with her, he cannot belong to her like she cannot belong to him. He is consumed by his love for his male comrades (erotic and platonic). And he's always conscious of society's censure and suspicion. In speech at least he defies it and seems to urge society to do so as well.

Behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors — What are they to me?

A Not So Good Night in the San Pedro of the World by Charles Bukowski
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Comments: My first reaction was to laugh at this narcissistic piece.

I have no idea of what would be of
interest to you
but I doubt that you would be of
interest to me, so don't get
in fact, come to think of it, you can
kiss my ass.

On second thought, it's a poem of deep depression.

it’s unlikely that a decent poem is in me
let us celebrate the stupidity of our

It's not a poem of anguish, of struggle, but rather one of depression where he's given up. He feels he's completely alone, no one has the slightest interest in him or what he does, and he's defiant in his loneliness. What may be defiance to him, comes across as dangerously low esteem to the reader.

In the Land of Punctuation by Christian Morgenstern
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Diversity: Translated from German
Comments: A delightful poem about the war punctuation marks wage against each other even as they tout their own usefulness.

The peaceful land of Punctuation
is filled with tension overnight
When the stops and commas of the nation
call the semicolons "parasites"


But, woe! A new war looms large,
as dashes against commas charge
And cut across the commas' necks

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
Categories: Children's, Picture
Comments: This book came highly recommended by a children's book librarian, but it was less successful for me. This is a case of a framing story filled with little stories inside. The framing story is about a girl who discovers a special book at school and borrows it from her teacher. When she arrives home she realizes that it is full of pictures but there are no words. A whisper tells her to not cry over the loss of words but to imagine her stories for the pictures. Every page of the book for at least a dozen pages is then filled with a picture and a 2-3-sentence fragment of the story the girl has imagined for that page.

Mr. Ox, you must please promise not to tell anyone, but we need your help. Last week..."


Their hundred-mile journey began in a sturdy wooden boat. "Are we there yet?" asked Rabbit. :In another two days and one night," replied Lion. "Oh, that a very long time. I forgot, please remind me again—where are we going?" asked Rabbit

The stories were short, discombobulating, and uninteresting. These story fragments along with the dreamlike, disjointed, superimposed pictorial characters were confusing for me for 2-3 pages and completely confusing for the audience it was meant for.

Last Stop of Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
Categories: Children's, Picture
Diversity: Hispanic author, POC and multicultural characters, people with physical challenges
Comments: This is a brave book that has all sorts of characters from the lower socio-economic classes. The boy and his grandmother cannot afford a car, for example, and have to ride the bus everywhere. His Nana gives the best explanations for all the questions he has.

"Nana, how come we don't got a car?"
"Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."

Every Sunday after church, CJ and Nana head over to the poorest part of the town to help serve in the Soup Kitchen.

"How come we always gotta go here after church?" CJ said. He stared out the window feeling sorry for himself. He watched cars zip by on either side, watched a group of boys hop curbs on bikes.

But his grandmother's teaching holds true. When an old woman with curlers and a jar of butterflies got on the bus, he gave her a big smile and said "Good afternoon." When a man with dark glasses, a cane, and a seeing-eye dog got on board, CJ gave up his seat. When the tattooed guitarist played a song, CJ closed his eyes to feel the magic of music and in the darkness, the rhythm lifted CJ out of the bus, out of the busy city.

Nana shows him that there's magic and joy everywhere you see. You just have to look for it.

"How come it's always so dirty over here?"
She smiled and pointed to the sky.
CJ saw the perfect rainbow arcing over their soup kitchen. He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.