Monday, June 27, 2022

Review: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Jenner follows upon the success of her hugely popular Jane Austen Society (2020) with the 1950s London-based story, Bloomsbury Girls, about three shopgirls, a century-old bookshop, and much feuding between the male staff and the female staff to take ownership of the shop.

The servant girl, Evie Stone, from Jane Austen Society is now all grown up with a degree from Cambridge and has found her home among the rare books of Bloomsbury Books & Maps. Jenner says that Evie Stone is the only character inspired by real life: her own mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and her own daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team.

Illustrious women of the publishing world, such as Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, George Orwell’s widow Sonia Blair, Peggy Guggenheim, and others make cameo appearances at the bookshop and at literary salons around London, setting the stage on which the three female employees, Grace Perkins, Vivien Lowry, and Evie Stone, build their dreams and careers.

Vivien Lowry is vivacious, self-confident, and very much single. She still mourns the loss of her aristocratic fiancé who was killed in action during World War II. She is reluctantly in charge of the cash register though her goal is to be Head of Fiction and replace some of the stuffy male-only titles with books by women. She is in a love-hate relationship with Alec McDonough, the current Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins has worked at the shop the longest. She prefers keeping her head down at her bookkeeping and secretarial job in the backrooms of the shop. Her two sons are her joy. But her marriage is suffocating under her husband’s increasingly worsening mental health. Grace is always dutiful, but there are times when she wishes she could run away. Her only respite is Lord Baskin, the aristocratic owner of the shop who spends time with her and makes her laugh.

Evelyn “Evie” Stone is the shop’s newest and youngest employee who was hired based on her being in the first class of female students from Cambridge who were permitted to earn a degree. In her naïveté, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. She is determined to make a success of her secret project in London, which is to print notable works by women writers that have been lost to obscurity. The shop’s shy scientist in charge of the Science and Naturalism Department, Ashwin “Ash” Ramaswamy, opens her shy, innocent eyes to Indian culture and British racism. And to attraction.

As we saw in Jane Austen Society, and especially heightened in Bloomsbury Girls, Jenner skillfully imbues her characters with so much personality, you cannot help getting enmeshed in their vivid lives unfolding on the page. In both books, Jenner explores friendships and a coming together for a common cause; in other words, a life of meaning and purpose. Women in postwar London were not allowed to exhibit ambition and a career-focus, but that is exactly what the women in the story pursue. Stealth and much derring-do in the sale of a precious forgotten three-volume manuscript add color and drama to the narrative.

Bloomsbury Girls solidly situates Jenner as a writer of unforgettable and delightful historical fiction. If you are enamored with books and bookshops, then Jenner, who was an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, is the perfect person to introduce Bloomsbury Books & Maps to you.

[Please note: The unabridged audiobook has been narrated by the esteemed British actress Juliet Stevenson, who has narrated many period audiobooks. No one does characters as distinctly and well as her.]

Friday, May 27, 2022

April & May Reading Notes

I didn't have very many books in April, so I thought to combine my April and May reading notes into one post. But holy cow! I read so many in May that this has turned out to be one long post. I did try to make every mini review as small as possible while still conveying a sense of the story. In some places, I have links to the full reviews. In many others, I couldn't link because the reviews are behind a paywall or they are supposed to be annonymous.

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman
Category: Graphic Novel
Comments: A banned book that I read for a book club. We are moms from our old school who've continued to meet every month over Zoom. We read anti-oppression books by authors of every diversity featuring their thoughts and ideas on their diversity. Our goal is to emerge from the discussions with more clarity, respect, and insight into the issues facing those marginalized from the dominant groups in America.

This graphic novel is the author's Polish father's Holocaust survivor story of his experiences as faithfully written down by his son, an American. The Jewish people are depicted as mice and the Nazis as cats. The book was a visceral shock because it is a real story and all in dialogue narration. There isn't any distance of formal nonfiction prose, and while the narrator is even keel, that makes his truths all the more horrifying. The author does not give the reader any breaks and demands that you keep up with the intensity of the story.

Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World Retold by Bolu Babalola
Category: Literary Fiction Short Stories
Comments: This debut collection by Nigerian-British author Babalola has thirteen short folktales and myths with romantic elements of people largely from African legends focusing on Black empowerment. There are also story retellings from Greece and China. I adored this book and Babalola's writing and imaginative storytelling. In "Nefertiti," the Egyptian queen is a vigilante protecting women from patriarchal violence and oppression. In "Orin," both the protagonists are on terrible dates when they meet, and their easy conversation is a balm to their bruised spirits. "Ọṣun" is a Yoruba new adult love triangle tale, "Naleli" is a Lesothoian YA friends-to-lovers tale, and "Siya" is another warrior fantasy. Here is an example of Babalola's writing, which is why I adore this collection.

In those swim meets, she focused on the sound of the water smacking against her skin like a hand against the taut hide of a talking drum. Her swimming became a dance to a rhythm she was creating with the water. With each hip switch a hand sliced through the water till she was no longer just a body among bodies within a false aquatic body, tiled and sterile. No, she was the body, the only body, vibrant and heavy breathing. By the time the music stopped, she was over the finish line, alone. All they saw was an excellent athlete; only she knew that she was a dancer.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This spring has seen quite a few contemporary romance titles set in the publishing world. This one is about a literary agent shown as a "shark," and an editor who turned down her star client's previous book. They meet in a small town where her client has based her novels. He now wants to acquire her client's next book and they have to work together with the high maintenance author. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved Henry's writing style and characterization. [My Review]

A Scot is Not Enough by Gina Conkle
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: It was surprising how much I liked this book. In this sharp, brilliant Georgian romance, a Scottish Jacobite forever changes the trajectory of an upright English barrister’s life. It is a tale of political adversaries who are beguiled with each other in spite of everything pulling them apart. The mystery of the sgian-dubh adds intrigue, but it is Conkle’s prose and character work that make this romance so compelling. [My Review]

Good Morning, Love by Ashley Coleman
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is more women's fiction and the heroine's journey than romance though the happy-for-now ending is convincing. I learned so much by reading this book. It brims with authentic details of how music records are produced, how artists are discovered, and the life of a megastar from music industry professional Ashley M. Coleman. The hero is an R&B artist who has made it to the big leagues. The heroine works with artists at a creative agency, and in her spare time, she moonlights as a songwriter. She hopes to make it big in the industry. They meet because her boss is his publicist.

All Fired Up by Dylan Newton
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I really liked this book. The heroine is a publicist at a publisher and frenetically juggles important authors. To-do lists are her superpower and her kryptonite. She moonlights as a ballet teacher. But stress is causing her insomnia and panic attacks, so she takes a leave of abscence and moves to her grandmother's small town to relax and help her grandmother. The hero is an ex-Marine, who now embodies a laidback surfer dude vibe. He really woos her with all his sweetness and patience. (CW: eating disorder, PTSD, survivor's guilt). [My Review]

The Accidental Pinup by Danielle Jackson
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a fun, flirty look at the modeling and photography of lingerie. The protagonists are rival photographers competing for the same assignments. However, as a Black female photographer, she finds herself losing out to him repeatedly. She wants to photograph a national ad campaign so when she finds herself demoted to modeling with him being the photographer, it is the last straw...and the start of their relationship. There is a lot of groveling involved in the end.

From the Jump by Lacie Waldon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: The coolest thing about this book is that part of it is set on a South African safari. I chose the book based on that and also because I had simiarly chosen her previous book, which was set on the Galápagos islands. This is a friends-to-lovers story of a traumatized heroine and a sweetheart of a hero, who also had a difficult childhood. She betrays his trust and there is much atonement for her in the end, and how their relationship survives is the heart of the story. (CW: unsheltered youth)

Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic by Lauren Ho
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Frank talk about monthly cycles, IVF, and money are part of an unconventional co-parenting agreement in Malaysian author Ho’s sensitive portrayal of two people’s deep desire to be parents, but not being able to go the usual route of love and children with a committed partner. The story is set in Singapore and deals with a happy-for-now story of romance between the protagonists, temptation from her ex, and Singaporean society's disapprobation of a child out of wedlock. Ho skillfully applies humor to heighten and soften heartbreaking truths. [My Review]

For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is an enemies-to-lovers story of a celebrity chef and the owner of a chain of family restaurants who are acrimonious co-hosts of a television cooking show. A flame-out is followed by unexpected, but well-publicized, almost snogging. Oops! Now, they are required to fake date to save their reputations. Under the breezy premise is a story of low self-esteem, mental health challenges, financial worries, and rediscovering who they are and who they want to be. Well done! (CW: panic attacks)

Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood
Category: Contemporary Romance Novella
Comments: My first Ali Hazelwood story, and I totally get why her debut book Love Hypothesis has 4.6 stars from 30,800 readers on Amazon. She is a superb writer and tells an entertaining, fast-paced story of nerdy NASA engineers and scientists geeking out over code and Mars rovers and engaging in great derring-do in the brutal wilds of Svalbard, Norway. She is prickly and thinks very poorly of herself. She believes men are only interested in hookups with her and would be turned off if they got to know her. He thinks she is fabulous and fell in love with her at their first meeting. He is a total cinnamon roll, kind and sweet and earnest. I loved all the tech in the book—you get the feeling that Hazelwood has really researched it all in great, authentic detail. And who does not have stars (ha!) in their eyes over NASA?

The Knight's Tempting Ally by Ella Matthews
Category: Medieval Romance
Comments: How I love a well-researched, well-executed medieval romance. This is a good example of that. She is the plain middle daughter with beuatiful sisters who has been repeatedly told that she is unmarriageable. In her teens, she was falsely beguiled by a man whom she thought loved her and wanted to marry her, so gave him her virginity, only to have him laugh at her and spurn her. She has convinced herself that she is destined to the nunnery. A good medieval usually has heavy politics as does this one. He is one of the King's Knights and has sworn to protect him and his reign. His childhood was tragic and he is "married" to his knight brothers. They meet at the king's court where there are rumblings over war with France. Thanks to Wendy Crutcher for recommending this.

Stirring up Love by Chandra Blumberg
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I really admired the hero for seeking therapy to help him cope with his anxiety-riddled childhood of homelessnes and foster homes. He is still living in temporary housing and working every hour he can get as a chef, but he has big dreams. He wants to open a culinary school for those people society would sooner forget so they have a chance at a better future. She has grown up thinking she was always second-best but she works hard and has big dreams. She wants her small town to become a retail and entertainment hub. She is prickly and caring; he is kind and sweet—a wonderful enemies-to-lovers relationship. (CW: unsheltered youth, foster homes)

A Country Escape by Katie Fforde
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Having grown up reading farm books by Enid Blyton, I jumped at the chance to read a romance set in the English farming countryside. The best thing about the book is how a newbie chef from London develops as a farmer managing hereditary livestock and selling the milk. She has innovative ways to make the broken down farm profitable through supper clubs and learning to make cheese to sell. She is on probation for a year. If she can make a go of the farm, then her elderly relative will let her inherit it. Of course, there is a dastardly villain relative who also wants the farm, and he comes in twirling his mustache. Then there is the wonderfully kind neighbor who is so easy on the eyes but with whom she is supposed to be at daggers drawn, according to her elderly relative. Instead, she is as drawn to him as he is to her. Fforde is talented in detailing her setting. You feel like you are on that farm with the heroine facing the challenges and experiencing the joys. If you're someone who enjoys the English countryside, this is a story not to be missed.

From Chai to Laddoos, From Bindis to Saris, From Dances to Epics, Here are Five South Asian Tales
Category: Children's Picture Books
[My Reviews]
—Ganesha's Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes, illustrated by Sanjay Patel
—Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illustrated by Ashley Barron
—A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
—Dancing in Thatha's Footsteps by Srividya Venkat, illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran
—Bindu's Bindis by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Parvati Pillai

Five Picture Books to Celebrate Eid with Your Children
Category: Children's Picture Books
[My Reviews]
—One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest Univeristy by M.O. Yuksel, illustrated by Mariam Quraishi
—Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
—One Sun and Countless Stars: A Muslim Book of Numbers by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
—My Name is Bana by Bana Alabed, illustrated by Nez Riaz
—Beautifully Me by Nabel Noor, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

March Reading Notes

I am VERY excited to report that I have been accepted to study philosophy at the University of Oxford through their Department of Continuing Education. It's a four-year-long certificate program with most of the courses done online and one on campus (so cool!). The application process was rigorous and highly competitive. I agonized over the two essays I had to write, and I sweated through my socks and shirt during the Zoom interview for which I had practiced and practiced. So the acceptance was amazing. Many, many thanks to the three people who wrote me references and to my family for their advice and help in making my dream from when I was seventeen a reality decades later.

Had a lovely conversation with Stephan Lee on the world of K-Pop and his two books, K-Pop Confidential and K-Pop Revolution. Adriana Herrera is always a pleasure to talk to about her work, particularly, her newest, Caribbean Heiress in Paris.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Category: General Fiction
Comments: This was my favorite book this month. Museums all over the western world proudly showcase priceless art stolen from other countries through war and conquest, a side benefit of colonialism and imperialism. Many of those countries want their art and cultural identity back, but museums refuse to part with the pieces. Portrait of a Thief is based on the true story of Chinese art that has gone missing from western museums. The book is in response to the question: Who’s stealing the art? In this book, Stanford medical student and debut novelist, Grace D. Li, spins an intricate heist story juxtaposed with a pitch-perfect depiction of the complex nature of immigrant identity. [My Review]

By the Book by Jasmine Guillory
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: A starred review from me for Booklist. This winter and spring has seen multiple romance novels set in the publishing world like this one. What could a people-pleasing editorial assistant, one of very few African Americans working for this publishing house who is still living with her parents, have in common with a rich bad boy known for bar fights, fast cars, and dating supermodels? [My Review]

Kingscastle by Sophia Holloway
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: When I first set sight on the cover of Kingscastle, I knew I had to read it. I was pleased to see that the story lived up to the promise of Lee Avison’s cover design. Much in the same style as the Traditional Regency novels of the 1980s, Kingscastle is a quiet, character-driven story set in the countryside, complete with an imposing castle, a local vicar, a small village, torrents of rain, and a harridan of a beldame. I was tickled pink to discover that Holloway had given the hero the title “Athelney,” which is the name of the village that is best known for once being the fortress hiding place of my favorite king Alfred the Great. Holloway also writes medieval murder mysteries, and I wonder if she is just as fascinated with King Alfred as I am. [My Review]

Sari, Not Sari by Sonya Singh
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Set in the world of Bollywood dancing, mehndi, and matchmaking aunties, this is a debut novel by Sonya Singh, a former entertainment reporter turned PR expert. This is a story of an Indian American woman who wasn't brought up steeped in her culture and finds that she is really missing that part of her identity. In a bid to regain that aspect of herself, she conspires with her client to attend his family's wedding while helping him break up with his girlfriend through her relationship breakup company.

Rules for Engaging the Earl by Janna MacGregor
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This is a story of childhood lovers being offered a second chance. As teens, both the hero and heroine were in love with each other, but he is tempted by the war office's appeal to his patriotism. Badly injured and scarred, he returns from the war a changed man, wary, distrustful, and convinced he will not make a good husband, father, or friend. She made a bad first marriage, and is now widowed with a baby daughter to raise. She asks her old friend to marry her trusting in his integrity and honor and is determined to be a supportive wife to him and make her second marriage a success. She believes that beneath the crusty exterior lies that generous-hearted boy she used to know and sets her heart on peeling back the layers to find him.

A Song Begins by Mary Burchell
Category: Vintage Contemporary Romance
Comments: I read this book as part of the Saturday Book Club read for this month. We had a controversial discussion with Burchell working very well for some readers and not at all for others. I read these vintage contemporary books as historical romance, so the social mores and culture makes sense. This is one of those rare books that gets the music world right. As a choral singer, I delighted in all the music details of the heroine who is plucked from an obscure English village by a world famous conductor who invests his time and effort in training her, while also paying for her housing and food and further study with another teacher in London. It is a patriarchical book that starts out with a huge power imbalance. To me, the power starts to balance out towards the end with the promise that the process will continue in their marriage. I enjoy Burchell's writing.

Under the Stars of Paris by Mary Burchell
Category: Vintage Contemporary Romance
Comments: After finishing the above book, I got into a conversation about Burchell that led to this book, and I was immediately tempted to re-read it. It, too, has the same power imbalance of wealthy, careworn, successful man and ingegue young woman. This is set in the fashion world, and like the above book is very well researched. Fans of Project Runway will appreciate the story. She is plucked out of a Parisian street by a fashion house as a stand-in for their injured top model. She instinctively know how to walk and carry off the clothes and makes a success as a model. He is the creative director of the fashion house and she becomes his creation. There's a secondary love interest who would make a plausible partner, but she is only interested in the seemingly unttainable hero.

Akbar and Birbal by Amita Sarin
Category: Children's Nonfiction & Fiction
Comments: I loved this book. Set in 16th century India, the stories are a mixture of real historical tales and fables of Akbar, the Mughal Emperor of India, and his trusted advisor, Birbal. Akbar was known as a benevolent ruler, bright and kind. Birbal was known as a brilliant, savvy vizier. The author has organized her book with a historical story followed by 1-3 fables based on that story. In each story, either citizens approach Akbar with problems or Akbar himself comes up with problems that Birbal is required to solve, which he does in witty, clever ways.

Shahrzad & the Angry King by Nahid Kazemi
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is another marvelous book in the pantheon of great books by celebrated family-owned publisher, Enchanted Lion Books. Drawing on her Persian heritage and expertise in visual art, Nahid Kazemi spins a magical story of her homeland. Storytelling is the backbone of our civilization, and throughout the ages, it has always been a powerful method of enacting societal change. Who does not know of Scheherazade and her one thousand and one stories to beguile her husband and stop him from executing her and fall in love with her? Her stories, such as Aladdin’s Lamp, Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and others live on to this day. In Shahrzad & the Angry King, Kazemi brings Scheherazade to life in the guise of a young girl named Shahrzad who loves to collect stories from the world around her. Her goal is to really understand people at a deep level. [My Review]

Kenny's Window by Maurice Sendak
Category: Children's Book
Comments: A standout line from the book: "A wish is halfway to wherever you want to go." Beautiful! My copy is a first printing from my library from 1956 and it has been barely read. Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is stupendously popular, so I assumed that people would be scouring his backlist and forelist and everything would've gone back for multiple printings. So it is curious that this book from 1956 is still pristine. Looks like a hidden gem. The story is about a boy who wakes up from a dream remembering everything including seven philosophical questions he has to find answers to. He answers them in his own vastly creative ways with small parables. Do read philosopher Maria Popova's wonderful review of the book. She says everything that I might ever want to say better.

The Great Philosophers: The Lives and Ideas of History's Greatest Thinkers by Stephen Law
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: Superb book that explains the major philosophical ideas of the western world distilled into small bites. It links back and forth between ideas as contemporary and later philosophers dispute established theories. Each piece has a bio of a philosopher and explains the basic theories along with examples. Very thorough treatment for understanding by lay people. It has Buddhism and Confucianism in the beginning, but that is a bit of a pretense to be international, because there aren't other non-western philosophers later on. Discounting those two first entries, it is an excellent resource for an armchair philosopher.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

February Reading Notes

It is already the 10th of the month, I am just now putting out my reading notes for last month. Where has the time vanished?

Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma
Category:Contemporary Romance
Comments: A starred review for Booklist. This is a fun, engaging, Taming of the Shrew-inspired rom-com about American Desi culture. She is a prickly lawyer living with his increasingly distant family and waiting for true love. He is a cardiologist who wants an arranged marriage because falling in love is stressful for the heart. They have a huge blowout fight on his talk show. How to rehabilitate their reputations and manage their family's expectations? [My Review]

By Any Other Name by Lauren Kate
Category:Contemporary Romance
Comments: Stories set in the publishing world are really popular this spring. This is set in NYC and brings the city to life, which was fun. The heroine's been promoted to editorial director and the star author of their publishing company now falls under her care. Only problem is that the author is way past the due date for her manuscript. The author is a real diva and a cipher—no one has ever met her. When our heroine meets her in person, she is shocked that she is a he. Legions of fans would be upset when, if, this were to get out. So what to, whether to, tell them? How to unblock his creativity and get him to finish his book? Some of the questions this book grapples with. This story has the most romantic proposal I have ever read. (My review in the Feb 15 issue of Booklist.)

Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: A lovely, quiet story by Balogh of two lonely souls finding in the other their reason for living. Lydia is recently widowed. Her former husband was a vicar, more devoted to his parish than his wife, and her life with him had been one of duty and loneliness. She is enamored with her new-found freedom and is loath to give it up to any man by marrying him. But she wonders about the intimate side of marriage. She wants to take a lover to discover for herself whether it is all that it is cracked up to be. Harry lost his earldom due to his father's bigamy and joined up to fight Napoléon. After being badly wounded, he has now become a gentleman farmer. He now seeks solitude by habit. Like many of Balogh's self-possessed heroines, Lydia takes charge of her destiny. She propositions Harry with an a balm against loneliness for both. I really liked Harry, his kindness, his thoughtfulness to everyone around him, but especially Lydia. She is like parched soil and soaks up his gentleness. I enjoyed seeing the rest of the Westmorland clan gathering around implicitly demonstrating to Lydia how strong the women are and how equal they are in their marriages.

The Burn Zone by Annabeth Albert
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a high-octane book in terms of heat and action set in rural Oregon. The two men are a few years apart. One is a seasoned veteran smoke jumper and the younger one is a new recruit. Jacob's older brother was Linc's best friend and team member, and he has had a crush on Linc for years. Both men have had eyes for each other, but Jacob's family's homophobia had kept them both in the closet. This is a sort of an enemies-to-lovers story because Linc wants to keep Jacob safe, even from himself, at first. But then they fall into the classic romance trope of "let's have a brief affair to get it out of our systems." The story does a bit too much navel gazing with one of the "obstacles" keeping them apart being the age gap—ten years. No biggie, but this story makes it a biggie. The other source of tension is Linc's desire to keep his sexual identity a secret from people at work and others in his life. The author does an OK job of having Linc deal with this, though his blowing hot and cold goes on a tad too long.

Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: A low angst romance between a traumatized woman and a cinnamon roll hero who's a reporter coming into town to do a story on her brother. Spring is a denim-wearing, horse-riding rancher and Garrett is a bookish, formerly enslaved journalist. They meet in a blizzard where she saves his life. He doesn't fall off his horse, but he does fall in love with her. Jenkins does small town, low angst romances really well. Spring is the star of this Women Who Dare series. She's a straight shooter who brooks no nonsense, who hangs out in saloons and is not missish of her sexuality. The roles the two protagonists adopt are true to form. He is the more giving, more accepting person. She takes and usurps. He meets her more than halfway and does the heavy lifting in their relationship. She comes across as standoffish and even selfish at times. However, Jenkins does a superb job of showing Spring rising up to the challenge of her past and coming to terms with it and growing through that process. I really enjoyed this story.

The Wife He Needs by Brenda Jackson
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is the first book of her Westmoreland Legacy: The Outlaws series. I have read two of her other books, and this is similarly a book of grand gestures, high heat, and big emotions. It is a showy book that is not in my style. I love that Regan is the corporate pilot. She is tasked with getting the billionaire head honcho, Garth, on a two-week getaway to Spain with his date. The date is a no-show. But the trip still stands. Regan is the stand-in. Despite ten years having passed since his first wife died, Garth remains unconvinced that he can fall in love again. But his kids need a mother. What was to be a marriage of convenience is now getting mixed up with a lot of angst, heat, and feelings. She, on the other hand, has always had a soft spot for him, and their affair only convinces her the rightness of him being in her life. The twist in the tail is expected but well done. This is a fast-paced story like Jackson's other books.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:LitFic Audio
Comments:I was so excited when I heard that the divine Juliet Stevenson had finally narrated P & P. The minute I heard, I went up to Audible and re-upped my membership, bought the title, and promptly canceled my membership. Stevenson has done other Austen works, so I've always been puzzled why she hadn't done P & P. Whatever reason, I am glad she has finally narrated it. To call, Stevenson's reading a "narration," is doing it disservice. She "performs" it like a play, taking on very different and specific character voices based on their personalities. She clearly has read the book backwards and forwards and understands the story and the characters at a very deep level. I have read the book and watched the adaptations many times, yet, I discovered a few more details here that I had never noticed before, thanks to Stevenson. Highly recommended.

Threshold by Angela J. Reynolds
Category: Children's Middle Grade Fiction
Comments: Set along the coastline in Cape Breton, Threshold is a gorgeous meditation on the magic of friendship, if one only has the courage to reach for it. This friendship is the turning point in the life of a dreamy twelve-year-old girl, who is spending a lonely summer over at her aunt's house by the ocean, agonizing over her younger brother's health. "Will he die?" is a question that haunts her. But she has no one her age to share her worries with, until she meets someone who understands her perfectly. Threshold, a tale of friendship, family, and great derring-do, is a highly addictive read. Its compelling and engrossing nature is enhanced by the lyrical beauty of Reynolds’ prose. Highly recommended. [My Review]

–Alex's Good Fortune by Benson Shum
–Friends are Friends, Forever by Dane Liu, illustrated by Lynn Scurfield
–The Runaway Wok by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Sebastià Serra
–New Year by Mei Zihan, illustrated by Qin Leng, translated by Yan Yan
Category: Children's Picture Books
Comments: The joyous celebration of the Lunar New Year, observed in different countries throughout Asia, as a multiday holiday, is the most important time of the year for families to get together. The origins of the Lunar New Year festival are thousands of years old and are steeped in legends. These days, typical festivities, include religious ceremonies honoring ancestors, spring cleaning of houses, dances, parades, fireworks, special foods and red envelopes with money for children for good luck. In some parts of Asia, the celebration concludes with the Lantern Festival. These books will help your kids ring in the Year of the Tiger! [My Reviews]

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Review: Threshold by Angela J. Reynolds

Set along the coastline in Cape Breton, Threshold is a gorgeous meditation on the magic of friendship, if one only has the courage to reach for it. This friendship is the turning point in the life of a dreamy twelve-year-old girl, who is spending a lonely summer over at her aunt's house by the ocean, agonizing over her younger brother's health. "Will he die?" is a question that haunts her. But she has no one her age to share her worries with, until she meets someone who understands her perfectly.

The beaches are dear to debut author Angela J. Reynolds' heart, and that love gives the novel a luminous quality. Like the gentle waves lapping the shore, the book has a soft beginning as Terra luxuriates in the endless summer stretching out before her, even as she keeps her worries bottled up. She allows the ocean and the beach to disarm her and soothe her. Swimming, collecting sea glass and pearlescent shells, and simply walking, her toes curling in the sand, is how she means to spend her days.

She finds her interest snagged by the sea caves where she can hear the waves crashing at high tide but accessible at low tide. She is stunned to notice that one of the seals sunning themselves on the rocks has unusual blue eyes, and that the seal is trying to communicate with her. What can this possibly mean?

A few weeks into her vacation, she’s woken up one night with eerie singing. “The song wasn’t loud, but it felt as though it was in her head, not out on the beach, a dreamlike sound the color of starlight.” Compelled to rise from her bed and head to the seashore, her feet take her to the rocks above the sea cave where she sees a beautiful mermaid with unusual blue eyes all aglow in the moonlight. And so begins an unlikely friendship that nevertheless is deeply meaningful for both girls. Minne, the mermaid, introduces her to the world of the Murgelt in the depths of the sea where Terra feels at home.

Terra’s aunt’s girlfriend owns a museum celebrating Acadian history. On her first visit to the museum, Terra is drawn to a tarnished hand mirror with strange markings. She is stunned to hear the same humming that she associates with Mergelt singing. A glance through some ancient texts and repeated conversations with her Mergelt friends convinces her that La Lune Mirroir is deeply meaningful to the Mergelt. What Terra decides to do next is an exciting discovery I leave to you.

Threshold is a children's middle grade novel that is a welcome departure from the high-octane novels that dominate the market. No less propulsive, it is a tale replete with the emotions of a young girl on the cusp of her teen years. Most mermaid stories involve the sea creatures entering the human realm. The action in Reynolds’ highly original story has humans surviving deep in the ocean. The means of breathing and communicating underwater and unraveling the social hierarchies and cultural priorities occupy Terra’s waking hours to the exclusion of all else.

Reynolds’ innate understanding of the pre-teen mind allows her to show how Terra grows through this experience from a cautious little girl into a courageous, self-confident young girl able to negotiate complex situations with ease. Likewise, her ability to communicate with peers and adults, human and Mergelt, brims with mature conviction.

Threshold, a tale of friendship, family, and great derring-do, is a highly addictive read. Its compelling and engrossing nature is enhanced by the lyrical beauty of Reynolds’ prose. Highly recommended.

[The beautiful cover art is by the talented illustrator Lauren Soloy, whose picture books are some of my favorites. The book will be available in June 2022 from Moose House Publications of Nova Scotia, Canada.

Please Note: Angela is a friend of mine. We met online when both of us took classes on medieval manuscripts. She, then, joined me in writing Morning Pages. Her book grew out of those Pages. This is the first time I read it.]

Monday, January 31, 2022

January Reading Notes

Today is the last day of the first month of the year, and it feels like just yesterday, I was writing my New Year's Day post. This month has simply vanished. There was a lot of busyness involved every single day and some days felt like they were a week long; yet, the month has gone by with an unnoticed rapidity. I moved yet again, and there was a lot of packing and unpacking involved. There are less than ten (feels like a victory) packed boxes to go through and then I will be done. I hope there are no more moves in the forseeable future.

The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews
Category: Victorian Romance
Comments: I highly recommend this book. It is one of the best historical romances I have read in a long time. At twenty-three, Evelyn Maltravers has just arrived in London from the Sussex countryside for her first season. Evelyn is determined to snag a wealthy aristocratic husband to pave the way for the successful futures of her younger sisters. Her passions are horses and fashion, and she intends to harness both in her bid to cut a dash in London society. Ahmad Malik is a dressmaker, currently working out of a gentleman’s tailoring shop making bespoke riding habits for the ladies of the demimonde. He dreams of opening his own ladies’ dress shop, designing unique gowns to fit each lady’s body and personality. Evelyn and Ahmad meet when she arrives at his shop to commission a riding habit. [My Review]

The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a haunting meditation on the psychological perils of success. It is a romance novel by two coauthors who married for love, who’re now writing a romance about coauthors who fall in love while they’re writing a love story. New Yorkers Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen have history. They used to be very successful co-authors who had a falling out. But now, they're back together to write one final book on their publishing contract, and they realize that they are not only phenomenal co-authors but even more phenomenal life partners. [My Review]

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: A lovely story that does Jewish, neurodiverse, and fat rep well. It also sensitively handles managing depression through meds and therapy. Ari Abrams is a TV meteorologist. Russell Barringer is a TV sports journalist and a teen parent of a now preteen. The two bond over matchmaking for their bosses because their verbal warfare is causing stress in the workplace for everyone. While I liked Solomon's debut Ex Talk more, this is a wonderful story.

Kamila Knows Best by Farah Heron
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I loved Heron's first book, Accidentally Engaged, last year, and I loved this book. I enjoy her voice and her storytelling style. Set in the same cosmopolitan Toronto setting as her first book and Uzma Jallluddin's and Jackie Lau's books, this is a childhood friends to lovers story. Kamila Hussain is a staid accountant by day and a vivacious party planner by night. And clueless that sharp-dressing Rohan Nasser is in love with her. They have history. He is the CEO in her and his fathers' company, and her father trusts him while indulges her, i.e., doesn't take her seriously. She wants to be respected. And Rohan shows her how to get what she wants.

Ramón and Julieta by Alana Quintana Albertson
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This was an unusual book for me, and I loved it for that. Set in San Diego and dealing with the unique and complex San Diegan Latinx culture, this deals with one character being fully embedded in the culture, and another coming to terms with his roots, after being on the outside for long. The unusual part of the book for me was the deep immersion in the culture. In the Latinx books I have read before, the authors have sparingly included cultural details. This book does a deep dive—without the culture, there is no story. I loved that! And the stakes for the hero are very high, his very identity. In his youth, Ramón Montez’s father stole a recipe for a taco from a señorita and built a nationwide chain. Ramón lives a luxurious lifestyle. The recipe was Julieta Campos' mamá's, and they are barely ekeing out a living. Julieta wants to continue to run her highly successful, small tacqueria, but Ramón wants to convert it into his flagship chain restaurant.

Lease on Love by Falon Ballard
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a roommates-to-lovers, opposites-attract debut rom-com. I enjoyed Ballard's wit and writing, and I am looking forward to her next book. Sadie Green works in stodgy finance but dreams of opening a highly creative florist business. One day, sharp words later, she's out on her ear. After confusing a roommate-finding app with a dating app, she ends up with a room in a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone at an unbelievably low rent. Jack Thomas is very wealthy and very alone. He is shy and she is larger-than-life. She's like a whirlwind in his life and gets him out of his shell and painting again. He, in turn, makes her feel worthy and valued and respected.

Reputation by Lex Croucher
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This was a difficult book. The publicity for the book is falsely advertising that it is Bridgerton-esque or like Jane Austen. Yes, it is set in the Regency, but any and all connections to Julia Quinn’s and Jane Austen’s work or other current histrom are non-existent. There is a love interest, but it is not a romance; it is more women’s fiction with a romantic subplot. This is not the usual rom-com as the publicity would lead you to believe. While there is some witty banter and some LOL moments, I feel British sense of humor is rather different from American. The story is rather dark with drug and alcohol abuse, death, emotionally abusive families, rape, sexual assault, slut-shaming, toxic friendships, racism, and violence. While none of these in the singular or plural is cause for my disfavor, all of it together is too much to balance with the love sub-plot. As far as the writing goes, it is well written, astute, and assured and does not read like a debut book. And I loved the diverse cast of characters in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. Yes, the book is popular on GoodReads, but it was not for me.

Caroline's Waterloo by Betty Neels
Category: Vintage Contemporary Romance
Comments: There was a period of a few months in 2020 when I read many Betty Neels and Mary Burchells. This was my first Neels since then, I think, other than one exception. It came across highly recommended by @NYSuri from our Saturday Twitter Book Club. It is classic Neels with a middle class British nurse heroine and a very wealthy Dutch doctor (surgeon?). This book is set in The Netherlands. Caroline does not think anyone would ever want to marry her since she isn't pretty or especially clever. She gets injured in a biking accident and ends up staying at the mansion of the aloof, arrogant Professor Radinck Thoe van Erckelens for a few days. Out of the blue, he proposes to her, telling her that he needs a hostess. He is not looking to fall in love. He has A Past(!) and so wants to settle for comfort this time around. She has fallen in love with him so accepts his proposal and agrees to not impose on him in any way. But, in her heart of hearts, she is scheming for his love. There is one dramatic scene towards the end that is quintessential Neels, and our heroine brings the hero to heel...imposingly and arrogantly.