Wednesday, June 28, 2017


My June Reading


I continued my foray into Traditional Regency Romances with a lot of Balogh and a touch of Overfield. I also read Julie James as a palate cleanser. Balogh's trads have storylines that over the years have become tropes, so it was great to see what the original plots looked like.

Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander
Category: General Fiction
Comments: Sometimes a family's deepest silences hide the most important secrets. What an evocative story, redolent with hidden passions and a deep abiding love rising from the ashes of mistrust, despair, and duty. Set in a small town of Sardinia in the 1950s, native resident and gifted seamstress Carmela Chiringoni meets American Captain Joe Kavanagh. While Carmela is engaged to a jealously possessive fiancé, Joe is married. She is hired as his interpreter and so begins their relationship. My review is here.

A Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: This is one of those perfect romances, where the emphasis is on romance rather than a lot of extracurricular activity. And within the scope of the category-sized story, Balogh delivers a master class on writing a Marriage of Convenience plot. My review is here.

The Ideal Wife by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Someone told me not to read The Ideal Wife right after The Temporary Wife, because of the similarity of the plot. So I proceeded to do exactly that: examine how an author works almost the exact same premise twice. This iteration was less successful than Temporary, because the characters felt more caricature than heartfelt. In the above book, I could understand the characters' motivations and why they did what they did; in this book it felt more on a whim and tedious.

The worst aspect of the book was the heroine's predilection for unnecessary volubility. It was cute at first, because the last thing the Earl of Severn wanted was a managing talkative wife. Guess what kind of female cousin he rescues from impoverishment? She looked meek and submissive at first glance, but turned out to be a loquacious virago after the wedding. I spent most of the book feeling sorry for him, because Abby quickly began to grate on my nerves. After reading a few paragraphs of her speech, I started skipping every time she spoke, which didn't bode well for her character development. I'd give this one a miss, if I were you.

A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Fabulous story of a young ingénue, a marriage of convenience, and a spouse ten years older—only that, the hero is the young innocent and the heroine the older experienced. This book is a true commentary on how a couple, who've known each other peripherally but are now yoked together, negotiates marriage. Powerful, powerful story with moments of such tenderness. A must read! My review is here.

A Chance Encounter by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: The story starts with a "Netherfield Park has been let at last," kind of a storyline. Mr. Mainwaring is Mr. Bingley here and comes with his Mr. Darcy-like friend, the Marquess of Heatherington. Both men create a stir in the countryside neighborhood and set many young hearts pitter-patter. Among them is a stoic spinster in her mid-twenties, Elizabeth Rossiter, working as a governess-cum-companion in a prominent gentleman's household.

SPOILER: Unbeknownst to everyone, Heatherington is Elizabeth's husband. For six years, they have set aside their marriage and refused to speak to each other. Distance has only served to embitter them. Little did either of them know that they would be in the same neighborhood at the same time and be forced to be civil to each other. When young Heatherington and Elizabeth had been deeply in love, Heatherington's uncle was dead set against their marriage and sought to wreck it and succeeded.

This story is the classic Big Misunderstanding. I'm usually not a fan of it at all, but this time, I considered it as one of the first instances of a storyline that has now become a trope, and it's a Balogh, so I persisted with it. At one point I tweeted, I'm at 92% mark in my digital book and the H/H haven't reconciled yet or are even in the same county. But Balogh makes the story work.

The Sinister Spinster by Carolyn Madison / Joan Overfield
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: I picked up this book because it involved foreign diplomacy with a spot of spying and detecting. While there are a plethora of Regency historical romances involving spying by the nobility, diplomacy is an under-utilized plotline. An alliance with Russia in 1814 in the wake of NapolĂ©on’s destructive path through Europe was of crucial importance to international relations, so I was hoping to see more politics and not the murder mystery that this book focused on. Ultimately, this proved to be its weak point. It tried to do too much in the beginning and so set the story up with a complexity that failed in the execution. By the end, even the mystery failed to satisfy and the heroine's behavior towards the hero was a big no-no. My review is here.

The Thing About Love by Julie James
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: In recent years, Julie James's books have received much acclaim from critics and readers. I really enjoyed her first two books, but was meh about a couple of the other ones. However, this book was much touted, so I decided to give James a go again, and the results have been mixed. James has gotten better and more assured over the years. She does good characterization and plotting—I liked the story.

My problem with James is the voice. I enjoy her humor, so it's not her comedic voice that doesn't go over well, but it's the hyper-contemporary, deliberately-breezy style that doesn't work for me. This book will be dated in five years, not only for the frequent popular culture references, that are not momentous enough to have a long shelf life, but also for the writing style that is so reflective of Twitter-style. Don't get me wrong: She's not writing in sound bites or the compressed tweet-style of sentencing, but rather employs frequent use of slang that you find only online, but is not in common parlance.

The other problem I had with this book, that I don't remember if other books had, was the repeated mentions of the protagonists' motivations—in this case, their joint past and why the hero decides to choose this new job he does. These motivations don't have to be replicated over and over again. And then after having set up why the hero chooses to go away from the heroine forever, his change-of-heart comes about too conveniently and unconvincingly.

In general, I don't see why one character has to give up what they love to do in order to win the love of the other. Yes, sacrifice and compromise do exist in real life, but abandoning a career, they had agonizingly professed over and over again they love, is so unnecessary. It immediately raises the specter of future disenchantment in their HEA.

Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Troy Cummings
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: "Congratulations on your new lion! We know you ordered a kitten, but we ran out of those. Luckily, a lion is practically the same thing! Caring for your lion is easy. Just follow this handy guide." Are you dismayed? The boy in the book sure was when he saw the huge box outside his front door. The only accessory the lion came is a feather, so that in case the lion swallows you, you can tickle him in the tummy, till he throws you up. Yeah! It's very much a book meant to induce giggles.

T.Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, illustrated by Katherina Manolessou
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This darling dinosaur could roar, stomp, gnash, and leap with the best of them, but he did not fit in at mealtimes with his dinosaur friends. While others munched on juicy steaks, he ate crunchy carrots, broccoli, grapes, and greens. Everyone laughs at him all the time, and so finally, he runs away from home hoping to find better friends who will understand him more. On his journey, he looks for herbivore dinosaurs. When he finds them, he's delighted, but they flee in terror. What is he to do?

Over in the Ocean In a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes, illustrated by Jeanette Canyon
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a gorgeous book for the very young with ceramic concentric circle designs of the ocean floor with detailed and highly colorful drawings of sea animals on top. It's a counting book with repetitive rhymes that explains the characteristics of different sea creatures. For example, octopi squirt, parrotfish grind, and pufferfish puff. We have read this book over and over again.


Monday, June 5, 2017


My May Reading


I have read so much Romance this year as compared to previous years, that I'm convinced that the political situation is to blame for this. I crave comforting and soothing in my reading, even as I foam at the mouth and determinedly pursue activism through my work with a local organization and on local candidates' campaigns.

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Lorette Chase
Categories: Regency Historical Romance
Comments: I loved this book from start to finish. This is Chase at her finest, and now I have a new addition to my list of Favorite Books of All Time. I say this often but it bears repeating: I adore characters who resolve their differences in frank conversation and display maturity and manners. I abhor flouncing, sulking, and big long misunderstandings because the characters refuse to talk to each other. This book has honesty and directness sprinkled liberally with intelligence and humor. Competency is so attractive! I recommend you read this book just for the dialogue if not for the story as well. My review is here.

It's You by Jane Porter
Categories: General Fiction with Romantic Elements
Comments: I have loved Jane Porter’s women’s fiction since I read the almost autobiographical Flirting with Forty and Odd Mom Out. I also like Porter herself for her kindness and generosity, both characteristics that are prevalent in her characters. It’s You is a story within a story, one set in contemporary Napa Valley about a dentist from Scottsdale and the other in Berlin during World War II about a language translator for the American Embassy. The book tells of two bright, strong American women torn apart by tragedy and surviving to find a second chance. My review is here.

Dating the Millionaire Doctor by Marion Lennox
Category: Medical Category Romance
Comments: This was my first medical category romance, and the medical details acted as a strong undercurrent to the story and really drew me in. Set in the gorgeous Australian bush, it was interesting to see how an Australian country veterinarian and a high-powered urban anesthesiologist from Manhattan find common ground and love. I look forward to reading more medical romance by Lennox. My review is here.

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian
Category: m/m Historical Romance
Comments: In a bid to read outside my usual norm, I chose this much-lauded book—playing it safe there. And I was not disappointed. Sebastian gets the historical period right and the Beauty and the Beast romance right. Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, thinks he is mad. The people in the village believe he is mad. In reality, he's merely eccentric and a brilliant inventor and researcher. Georgie Turner is a handsome thief and confidence artist posing as a secretary. When he took up the post, little did he realize that Penkellis and Radnor would wake up a latent conscience and sense of duty in him. I loved how sensitively, Sebastian handles the two men's characters, their growing attraction, and how they open up to each other in all their vulnerability. My review is here.

Glitterland by Alexis Hall
Category: m/m Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a noteworthy book, and I’m glad I read it. However, I found it a difficult read, mainly because we’re told the story from Ash’s POV, which wasn't unreliable per se, just variant depending on the manifestation of his mental illness symptoms. I would’ve liked to have seen some of the scenes from Darian’s POV; in fact, it would’ve been interesting to have seen a few of the same scenes from both their POVs to have provided a better feel for the disparity in their characterizations.

There's a big grovel scene towards the end. While as a general rule, I’m not fond of grovels, because it puts one character with more power over the other, in this book's case, Ash truly needed to atone. However, I would’ve liked to have seen a longer time spent in the reconciliation and togetherness part of their relationship, so that I could believe in the longevity and sincerity of their HFN.

Miss Westlake's Windfall by Barbara Metzger
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Ada Westlake doesn't consider herself a fool, though as her age to whistling a handsome, titled, wealthy man down the wind is nothing short of foolishness. But she believes that she's not the bride for Viscount Ashmead, and if she steadfastly continued refusing his proposals, he will look elsewhere for a more suitable bride. As is inevitable, his mother invites a whole passel of demure misses to tempt him, much to Ada's dismay and secret jealousy. This is a delightful romance, witty and charming, and I enjoyed Ashmead's gentle beta-ness.

Miss Lockharte's Letters by Barbara Metzger
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Miss Rosellen Lockharte is a penmanship teacher at Miss Merrihew's Select Academy for Young Females of Distinction. She's very sick with the influenza that swept through the school and believes herself to be dying. In her last hour, she wants nothing more than to settle a score with half a dozen individuals, which does by wielding her pen as a sword, and without mincing words, she manages to impale all her victims those who brought her grief. One such individual was Viscount Stanford, the brother of her student and fried, Susan Alton. Susan convinces Rosellen that he would be willing to take her away with them so as to offer her a new lease on life and an opportunity to meet her own eligible parti. However, unthinkingly, he rescinds Susan's invitation, thereby crushing Rosellen's every hope.

This story was perhaps less successful than the one above, because of its tendency to sometimes descend to farce where the Merrihews were concerned. However, the opening chapters are strong, distinctive, and very enjoyable. The romance is perhaps tepid by modern historical romance standards, but it appealed to me. One caution I have is that other than that earlier five-minute meeting, Rosellen and Stanford's story together truly doesn't begin until the 40% mark. While this bothered me not a whit, it might not be the same for others.

Desperate Measures by Candice Hern
Category: Traditional Regency Romance Short Story
Comments: Set in 1810, this is a romance that takes place in one evening at a ball. Young Lydia Bettridge is suffering from the pangs of unrequited love. She’s desperate to have her brother’s friend, the Golden God, Geoffrey Danforth notice her, so she and another of her brother’s friends, Phillip, hatch a plot to make Geoffrey jealous. What follows is a story of young but mature, sensible protagonists and a slightly-hotter-than-usual trad. I enjoyed seeing how Lydia grew in confidence from the beginning of the evening to the end—good romance arc for a short story. My review is here.

Lady Ann's Excellent Adventure by Candice Hern
Category: Traditional Regency Romance Short Story
Comments: I loved this book! It is one of the best traditional historicals I've read. Over the course of one long day, these two affianced-since-the-cradle strangers meet under assumed names and become fast friends. Both the Earl of Evesham and Lady Ann of Gloucester had been reluctantly determined to do their duty to the other and their families. And yet, over the course of this day, they can't help falling in love with each other as plain Will and Annie. This discovery of beauty, of wonder, of specialness is what great romance is all about. My review is here.