Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My October Reading

This is a month when we typically start seeing a lot of cloudy, gray days and rain...the start of our winters. And on top of that I read Ta-Nehisi Coates's book Between the World and Me and it's been a heavy month for me. I struggled with the book, read it twice, grieved through it, and came away awed. AWED! And read five romances to compensate.

Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
Translated by Brian FitzGibbon
Categories: literary fiction
Commentary: I read about this book on Rohan Maitzen's blog and after reading her review, I instantly grabbed it off my TBR shelf. My comments are here.

Inspire: A Volunteer Adventure Inspiration Book by various authors for Me to We
Categories: nonfiction
Diversity: Features international people of all nationalities, races, religions, social classes
Commentary: Recommended by my daughter.

"Inspiration is everywhere. It surrounds us. It gives our lives direction and purpose. And yet it can take an extraordinary adventure or moment to open our eyes to its potential. Once we have found our passions and the seed of inspiration has been planted, it's up to each of us to nurture it with small daily actions that reinforce our values and beliefs. That's how we live an inspired life that fulfills and sustains us."

The book is filled with small stories and quotes and pictures of people encouraging volunteerism and extolling the advantages of such service. Even as schools in our area ramp up with service learning as a required component for graduation, it is important to start the motivation to help others not as privileged as us in early childhood. Kindness is a virtue worth cultivating.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Categories: literary fiction
Diversity: by a male author
Commentary: Much, much has been written and said about this book for decades. So suffice it to say that I've read and re-read this book many times and enjoyed it every single time.

Between the World and Me from White Man Listen! by Richard Wright
Categories: poetry
Diversity: Male author, African-American experience
Commentary: Ta-Nehisi Coates took the title of this poem as the title of his book below. So I read the poem to see how it was relevant. And relevant it was. It was horrifying. In painful terms it describes how a young black man is tarred and feathered and burnt at the stake by a crowd of watchers who smoke and drink while he screams in agony. How are these monsters even human.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Categories: nonfiction
Diversity: Male author, African-American experience
Commentary: This is the Book of the Year for me. In light of rising racial turmoil in the U.S., it's a book with a timely message. And so well-written! Its complex message has been rendered accessible and understandable through the writer's compassion, intelligence, and talent. If you're going to read one book this year, let it be this one. My reflections are here.

Madalena by Sheila Walsh
Categories: regency, romance, category
Diversity: freed American slave turned majordomo
Commentary: It was a fast, fun read recommended by Sonomalass and Janet Webb. The story is almost fan-fiction of These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. The heroine, Madalena, is a French ingénue smuggled out of France into England—innocent, feisty, unselfconscious, gamine, who captivates every male around her. She's referred to as "child" and "little one" by everyone of a certain age, including the hero. The hero is a duke, referred to by her as Monseigneur, and is considerably older than her. He indulges her, and she captivates him. He feels he's unworthy of her, and she feels that he feels duty towards her. She's French. He's an English duke of French extraction. Plenty of spying, jaunts in the dead of the night, captures, rescues, digging bullets out of shoulders, and various other hijinks. And despite all the improbabilities and Heyerisms and Heyeresque imitations, it was altogether enjoyable.

The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane by Kasey Michaels
Categories: regency, romance, category
Commentary: A witty romp through Regency England recommended by Anne Glover. Tansy is a bad governess on her way to yet another dreary post, when she happens upon a duke's sister in the middle of wanting to get out of the elopement she had embarked upon. Naturally, she rescues said pert miss and naturally, the madcap miss's said duke brother shows up, fulminating on a tight rein. The end of that tight, witty exchange results in Tansy on her way to the duke's house in charge of his sister. The world for a genteel lady out on her ear is suddenly looking up and up. She's furnished with a full wardrobe, made into a bosom bow by the outspoken dowager duchess fond of outspoken people, and embarks on the high society life. Hijinks and witty repartee ensue in a hand waved at a plotline and Tansy finds herself the object of deep abiding love from the duke—a satisfactory ending to a very light Regency in the traditional style. My one regret was that this duke wasn't very ducal...at all.

River of Fire by Mary Jo Putney
Categories: regency, romance
Commentary: This is a painterly book with fabulously detailed information about painters, colors, implements, and painting techniques of the greater Georgian era. I had mentioned enjoying the painting aspects of B.A. Shapiro's The Art Forger in my February Reading post, so author Victoria Janssen recommended River of Fire, and she was right. I was totally engrossed and pleased by the painting aspect of the story—to me it was the main character and the hero and heroine secondary characters with a mystery and tertiary characters thrown in. The mystery was alright but the people were done well. I enjoyed the portrayal of the hero's war history, drawing history, and the juxtaposition of the two. I also enjoyed how the heroine was depicted with her painting intensity and intensity of character in various aspects of her personality. Putney never fails to engage my interest and does Regency romance really well.

One of the minor characters is greatly bothered by the fact that the heroine's father, a famous painter in Regency England, paints private portraits as well as contemporary battle scenes. He believes that only historical themes painted in the Grand Manner is real art, the rest is rubbish. This reminds me of this discussion of should art be timeless in the New York Times.

Cordelia's Corinthian by Victoria Hinshaw
Categories: regency, romance, category
Commentary: This was a re-read from my stash. A charming, quiet story in which not much happens except that the hero and heroine notice each other more and more as the days pass by at a country house party. They'd met at the heroine's one and only London season. Since then she's become too poor to return to the frivolous, flirtatious, fancy scene. She's planning on becoming a governess or companion to an older lady in order to earn her keep and send money for her parents to move to Bath. The hero in the meantime was horse-mad and military-mad and went off to become an officer. Waterloo put paid to his war ambitions. He returned home with a limp and a painful thigh that barely escaped the surgeon's knife. Both the hero and heroine are battle scarred and gun shy and think they're not worthy of the other person. The fun of the story is in how they arrive at the conclusion that indeed they're perfect for each other.

One exchange between the hero and heroine caught my eye.

Hero (internal): "No one who had not been there could ever understand and he had made a fool of himself by telling her."
Heroine to Hero: "Yes, a nasty business, but not a topic unfit for my ears. I believe that those of us who remain ignorant will never understand. And I wish to understand, I really do."

It happens over and over again between civilians and returning military folks to this day. On one hand, they want their horrific experiences understood, on the other hand, they assume that no one can understand them.

Under the Stars of Paris by Mary Burchell
Categories: contemporary, romance, category
Commentary: Recommended by author Miranda Neville and her review is here. I read that review and was a goner. Mary Burchell was writing contemporaries in the 1950s, so to some extent, I read it as a historical novel. The male-female interplay made more sense in that context, rather than as a modern-day contemporary novel.

Florian is an haut couture designer in Paris. Anthea is a Londoner, who's moved to Paris to escape a jilting and a scheming stepmother. There she falls into a job as Florian's mannequin showing off the models of his Collection at the spring show.

Look at this description of an haut couture gown: A dress of stiffened lace in an indescribably beautiful shade of iridescent green—so shining and exquisite that Anthea nearly cried aloud in her surprise and delight. And another: ...something like a cloud of morning mist, sparkling with dews of dawn.

The hero is very much an alpha, make no mistake, in spite of this opening description of him: a slight, fair-haired man with beautiful hands, thinning hair, and the air of an exhausted and impatient schoolboy. And out of this, Burchell spins gold. However, no matter how masterful Florian gets, I never warmed up to him. My heart was stolen by the worthy Roger, whom Burchell presents as a very viable alternative love interest. Roger is charming, warm, sensitive, and full of giving generosity in time and thought. On the other hand, Florian is imperious, tyrannical, and mercurial with inexplicable flashes of thoughtfulness.

On page 176, we have this scene: With her hand still in Roger's—that blessed contact which meant warmth and affection and reliability—she made her way slowly back through the crowd to where she thought her father might be.

And on page 185, she's passionately kissing Florian and declaring her love to him and vice versa. The only thought for Roger is this: "Poor Roger—I hope he was not too fond of me. At least we never quite reached the romantic stage."

I disliked her instantly. How dare she lead the poor man on. He had all but declared his love to her in so many ways, and she took advantage of it while it suited her and she was unsure of Florian's affections. But the minute, Florian was hers, Roger was a postscript.

And Florian merely wanted her as his wife. Roger wanted her to continue the job she loved of being a mannequin after her marriage to him.

And yet, this was a great read. Despite being written in the 1950s, this story did not feel dated. It was superbly developed in its short form with distinct, memorable characters.

Best line of the book? Il faut souffrir pour être belle. Indeed!


Victoria Janssen said...

I'm so glad you liked RIVER OF FIRE! It remains my favorite Putney.

Keira Soleore said...

Thank you for suggesting that book to me. I'm so glad I read it. Great book!