Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My May Reading

I returned to my love of traditional Regency romances this month and re-read a few and managed to acquire a few. Until I sat down to write this recap, I didn't realize that I hadn't read any poetry this month. Need to rectify that for next month since I'm beginning to appreciate modern verse (not a whole lot but baby steps).

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
Diversity: Written by an Indian-American author and features POC people
Comments: Every so often a book comes along that I feel privileged to have read. This is one of them. After years and years of hard work, a chief resident in neurosurgery is close to achieving his life's ambition, but then is struck down by a virulent cancer. This is his memoir. The writing is WOW! My comments are here.

Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: I fell into a discussion on Twitter about favorite books, and several of us, including me, mentioned how much we liked this book. Naturally, this set off a hankering to read it again. And it was just as satisfying this nth time that I read it. The Marquess of Carew is a beta hero who meets his match in a vivacious young woman. Both are convinced that love would pass them by...until they fall in love with each other.

The Would-Be Widow by Mary Jo Putney
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: So our intrepid independent titled heroine wants to keep her fortune and independence. In order for that to happen, she has to meet her dead father's demand that she marry before she's twenty-five. Now our heroine's been to army barracks in Continental Europe (that part of the story is grin-worthy and requires a healthy suspension of disbelief), so she decides to visit an injured officer in York Hospital. She happens upon a major on the verge of death. And she decides to pay for his sister-in-law's future self-sufficiency while gaining her own by marrying him. What do they say about best-laid plans? Yeah. So this one goes awry. Our major doesn't die but accomplishes a complete recovery. Now she's stuck with a husband she does not want, while he falls in love with her. He feels inadequate and frustrated. She feels caught and frustrated. They, er, resolve their frustrations in a time-honored fashion and the marriage begins its healing from that point onwards.

The Queen of Hearts by Michelle Martin
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: This is a mad romp of a book, not because it's disorganized (which it isn't) or witty (which it is), but because the heroine, one Lady Samantha Adamson, romps through the pages from the first to the last. Poor straitlaced Lord Cartwright who steadfastly rescues her from one scrape after another, much to the disapproval of his prosing bore of a fiancée and much to the approval of his sister, brothers, and mother. Lady Samantha has the temerity to have traveled to all sorts of foreign climes, can curse in three languages, makes friends very easily and loyally, and has unparalleled matchmaking skills. It's the latter that she applies with impunity among the people she knows to devastating effect.

A Difficult Truce by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: Until I read this book, The London Season was my best Wolf. Now, this book shares the number one spot. It's very political and centers around the Catholic Emancipation movement for Ireland in the 19th century. Wolf takes events that happen over the century and compresses the timeline and distributes the actions among her characters, but the essence of the politics remains unchanged. This is a book of strong protagonists: he's a highly respected politician and duke, she's the last leader of the old rule of Ireland. And together this Englishman and this Irishwoman come together to forge a strong bond between themselves and their countries. Wolf's books seem to have themes that run through them. This one is about respect for each other's beliefs and respect for each other's abilities. Both are passionate, strong-minded people, but they respect each other deeply.

The American Duchess by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: Tracy Bodmin is very much an American with new-world republican views of equality. Unbeknownst to her, her father has contracted a marriage for her with the impoverished Duke of Hastings for his venerable title, power, and breeding. Tracy's father comes from the lower classes of England, and while Tracy's father has moved to America to build a life and fortune for himself, the image of the nobility is indelibly imprinted on his mind. Thus, marriage to Hastings means the culmination of his life's dream. Here're his views:

"When I think of my own life, I realize that my sole aim has always been to make money. I was successful, but I was always so occupied with earning money that I had very little opportunity to reflect upon its uses. What might one do with a life into which one has succeeded in introducing a fortune? I look around here and I see the kind of life that understands the uses of money, not just the making of it. I see grace and beauty and learning."

What I really liked about Hastings's personality is his confidence not in the power of his title so much as in himself. He had little doubt as to his success. He had an implicit faith that whatever the outcome he might desire he would always absolutely bring it off. And he applies this across all facets of his life.

The thing I love best about Wolf's stories is what I get to learn through her books. Here, she takes us on a tour through the history and interior of Steyning Castle and you get a look into what a great house in the Regency must've looked like.

Hastings and Tracy are such interesting characters whom you get to know through their conversations with each other on a wide variety of topics, including heated discussions on politics between American and British views. This book is as much about culture differences as it is about class differences.

Golden Girl by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: This is another story where the marriage is arranged between her wealth and his title and estates. I'm fascinated by the marriage of convenience trope. Two people who barely know each other are thrust together in a relationship demanding the ultimate in trust and are beset on all sides by external and internal stressors, and they have to make a go of their marriage. It causes people to rise up to the occasion to handle this successfully. I love sitting in the sidelines and watching love flower between these two people who would not otherwise have made time for the other.

Golden Girl is one such story. It's less successful than The American Duchess, because of the mystery element. The mystery is well done but the melodrama of it all takes away from the central relationship though the intent is the opposite—seeking to drive them closer to each other.

Wolf shows trust within the marriage really well. Many of her stories show how it develops between the hero and the heroine. However, in this case, the trust seems one-sided, because the hero's needier than the heroine and so requires much more from her. The tricky thing about trust is that its strength comes from mutual vulnerability, mutual belief, and mutual support. Trust does not work when it's one-sided. Not that in this story it's all one-sided. That's not what I'm saying. But I think the hero and heroine have some growing together still left to do after the end of the book.

The Counterfeit Marriage by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: This book was very hard to read, not because of technical issues but because I couldn't stand the hero. I'm a huge fan of Joan Wolf and it was distressing to me to read this. It took a lot of guts on Wolf's part to start the book where the hero rapes the heroine and then to build a romance from there. It did not work for me. My review is published by All About Romance.

The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman
Categories: Romance, Western, Historical
Comments: A western by Jo Goodman? I couldn't wait to dive into it, and I was duly rewarded. What a great read. My review is published by All About Romance.

It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: This is a modern contemporary of high-powered jobs and protagonists in their thirties. He's an FBI undercover agent, she's an investment banker. Both meet when he tries to pick her up in a coffee shop. Turns out their siblings are marrying each other so they're constantly thrown together. He's an all-American athletic guy complete with frat-boy drinking and single, wisecracking male friends. She used to be a living-the-high-life New Yorker but she's now returned home to Chicago (not exactly small town but that's the effect that's being conveyed). I liked Vaughn's warm and close relationship with his family as well as Sidney's relationship with her sister. James really does extended family well. I was a bit dismayed over how very young the protagonists sounded and behaved—it ran contrary to their bios.

The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
Categories: Children's, Picture
Diversity: This book is in translation from the original Swedish book from 1960.
Comments: Such a delightful winter's tale of Tomten, a nocturnal fairy creature. He makes tracks in the snow as he visits all the animals on this forgotten little farm in the middle of the forest. He talks in the silent tomten language that the animals understand.

Winters come and summers go, year follows year, but as long as people live at the old farm in the forect, every night the Tomten will trip around between the houses on his small silent feet.

Goodnight Mr. Darcy by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Alli Arnold
Categories: Children's, Picture
Comments: This is a mash-up between Austen's Pride & Prejudice and Margaret Wise Brown's childhood favorite Goodnight Moon. I'm a philistine. I find Goodnight Moon tedious and unimaginative with terrible artwork. Having said that, I have read it more times than I can count. Now I love P & P, so I was curious to see how this Darcy version would fare. Well, it was uneven. It had its moments:

In the great ballroom
There was a country dance
And a well-played tune
And Elizabeth Bennet—


And Jane with a blush and
Mr. Bingley turned to mush
And a gossiping mother
and a father saying "hush"

But mostly it fell apart with things like:

And Mr. Darcy surprised by a pair of fine eyes
Goodnight buffoon
Goodnight Mr. Darcy
Goodnight pride