Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My August Reading

This month, I had the temerity to read and comment on a Kathleen Woodiwiss novel. Reams have been written about her novels. She's, after all, considered to be one of the originators of the modern format of the Romance genre novel. So it was intimidating to be commenting on one of her novels, especially since I wasn't lauding it.

Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: Shanna Trahern is a spoiled, pampered eighteen-year-old in Georgian England. Her father, the lord and master of a Caribbean island, has given her a year's grace to find a husband, or else he'll find one for her. So what she do? At the end of the year, she marches off to Newgate and flashes her wealth and generous bosom and hopes to bamboozle a condemned murderer into marrying her. Ruark Beauchamp acquiesces but demands a night of passion from her in return.

Shanna then bribes the prison guard and get a day's outing for Ruark. But after the wedding ceremony is over, Shanna betrays Ruark and has him captured back before he can get his night of passion. She then returns to her father's isle to spend her days as the widowed Mrs. Beauchamp. Imagine her horror, when a few days later, a liberated Ruark shows up at the island as her father's bondsman. Well, 660 pages later, everything's all settled.

There's great worldbuilding here and clearly shows Woodiwiss's writing talents. However, the forced seduction scene (the book was written in the 1907s after all), the foot-stamping curl-tossing feistiness of the heroine, and her tiresome childish outbursts didn't work for me. My review is here.

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: This is as much a story of Afghani women as it is a story of contemporary Afghanistan. On the surface it is a murder mystery. A young wife is found covered in blood next to the dead body of her husband with a hatchet buried in the back of his head. Did she or didn't she do it? That is the question that various characters ask during the story.

Zeba is mum about the exact events, and it is up to her legal aid Afghan American lawyer, Yusuf, to tease out what exactly happened. I found the story elements to be at once identifiable and also difficult to connect with. The role of women in Afghan society in its many facets is what Hashimi discusses through this murder mystery. It's a fascinating story, and I found Hashimi's writing very compelling. My review is here.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: If historical fiction is to be written, it should be like this. Jiles paints such a gorgeous canvas of Texas in 1870, and on it she details a tender story of a seventy-year-old man and a ten-year-old girl. The German American girl had been captured by the Kiowa at age six and ransomed back to the U.S. by the army at age ten. To all intents and purposes, she is Kiowa, and that is how he treats her. With such care and patience, he slowly brings her into the Anglo-American world.

And just as he changes her, she changes him. He had been feeling depression settle upon him in his rootless life of wandering from town to town of North Texas reading international newspapers in town halls for money. She grounds him, gives him a renewed purpose in life, and brings affection and a child's joy into his life. I loved this book so much. If there's a fault in the book, it lies in too many details bogging down the forward drive of the story especially towards the end. My review will be published by All About Romance in October, and I'll add a link back here then. [Edited 10/7: My review is here.]

The American Earl by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: Julia Marshall is the daughter of the Earl of Althorpe. Following her father’s rather gruesome death, she now has the burden of the house and the impoverished estate of Stoverton on her young shoulders as well as the future of her younger sister to worry about.

While Julia is struggling to make ends meet at Stoverton, the new earl has been informed of his misfortune. He is an American from Salem and is enormously wealthy, but his wealth comes from a vast shipping business. To the ton, he's a cit. To him, the earldom is a burden he doesn’t want, and he is reluctant to leave his business to travel all the way to England. Likewise, Julia can’t believe an American will be able to appreciate the responsibilities and duties that go with an earldom.

I enjoyed reading how Wolf had the two protagonists approach the other's culture and develop an understanding of their own in the other. Their rapprochement was very satisfying to read. Wolf does people so well.

My problem with the book came in the last quarter. She wrapped up all the story threads with an alacrity that felt almost business-like—a contrast to the leisurely development of the story for the initial three-quarters of the book. My review is here.

Roman by Heather Grothaus
Categories: Romance, Medieval
Comments: I was very excited to read a medieval romance set in Syria. Unfortunately, the story did not live up to its premise. The book was riddled with editing errors. A guiding developmental editing hand would've helped in streamlining the story into a cohesive whole. As it is there were tiger scenes in there that added nothing to the whole. The characters were strangely unromantic towards each other despite a love scene. The whole setup of the plot that launches the hero and heroine on a journey together is thin and implausible. And so on. A disappointment. My review will be published by All About Romance in October. [Edited 10/2: My review is here.]