Thursday, June 14, 2018

The 2018 Reader Survey

Discovering reader preferences, habits and attitudes — The 2018 Reader Survey is designed by authors M.K. Tod, Heather Burch, and Patricia Sands. This is fourth such reader survey organized by M.K. Tod.

Readers and writers is a symbiotic relationship. Ideas spark writers to create stories and build worlds and characters for readers’ consumption. Readers add imagination and thought to interpret those stories and deriving meaning and enjoyment in the process. A story is incomplete without both reader and writer.

What then do readers want? What constitutes a compelling story? How do men and women differ in their preferences? Where do readers find recommendations? How do readers share their book experiences?

The 2018 READER SURVEY is designed to solicit input on all these topics.

After analyzing the survey data, M.K. Tod will email the results to you if you provide an email address in the survey.

Please TAKE THE SURVEY and share the link ( with other readers via blogs, email, and social media. Robust participation across age groups, genders, and countries will make the survey more significant.

Friday, June 1, 2018

My May Reading (and Music)

"Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing," says Lucille Clifton, poet and children's book author. The highlight of this month's reading was a children's picture book of poems. How wonderful is that? Inspiring children from a very young age to find beauty in words and the images they paint. The paucity of words and the unique styling of a poem is a language spoken directly to you, because it has the power to touch your emotions, your heart, and your mind and change you in ways that prose cannot. I wish more children experienced this:

Desk in tidy rows
Notebooks and texts neatly stacked
New year begins soon.
Pens scratching paper
Syllables counted with care
Poets blossoming.

—"Contemporary Haiku" from Out of Wonder

Making Up by Lucy Parker
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Parker's previous two books had been among the highlights of my previous reading years, so this was my most anticipated book of 2018 and it did not disappoint. Parker's style really appeals to me. It leaves me breathless with laughter at the quick, witty repartée, while enjoying the modern, mature vibe to her characters. It's a wonderful blend of lighthearted and serious. Most contemporary novels fail to achieve that balance; they tend to be, according to me, over-the-top silly or hyper.

In this story, Parker brings cosmopolitan London alive with a diverse set of characters. Beatrix “Trix” Lane, with her pink hair, is an aerial performer in London’s West End. One day, she finds out that her arch nemesis, Leo Magasiva has taken on the job of lead makeup and special effects artist for her show. Close proximity ignites fireworks, but both are convinced that they’re definitely not in a “we bicker because we want to have sex” situation. My review is here.

Rogue Hearts an anthology by Emma Barry, Suleikha Snyder, Tamsen Parker, Stacey Agdern, Kelly Maher, Amy Jo Cousins
Category: Contemporary Romances
Comments: Democracy survives in the crucible of citizens’ vigilance and energetic activism, and this anthology shares the stories of a few such individuals. This is resistance story-writing at its best. I found that Barry's, Snyder's, and Parker's stories appealed to me the best. My brief reviews are here.

Barry is such a fantastic writer. Maggie Clark is a very busy public defender living in the Montanan town she grew up in, surrounded by three generations of her family, working hard for the public good, and very content with life. And into this life walks her former debate opponent Adam Kadlick. Having abandoned corporate law and high living in Los Angeles, he has spent the past few months in his home state of Montana, trying to recruit the eight Democrat candidates whom he’s identified as the perfect fit to win their state Senate races and turn the Senate blue. He wants Maggie to run, and she doesn't want to.

Snyder's is a curious little tale. All in third-person present tense from both the protagonists’ points-of-view, it’s more a recounting of emotions and events than a showing of an unfolding story. Letitia Marie Hughes is the first African-American female vice president of the United States on the ticket with the first female president. They won the election in 2020. Keeping her protected, secure and loved is young Shahzad Ali Khan, the first Indian-American Secret Service agent. Against their parents’ instinctive cautions, Shahzad and Letty are determined to continue their loving relationship with discretion and care. Out of the blue, she proposes to him, and then comes the delicate negotiation of their dreams and hopes, their family's notions and conventions, and the country's priorities and dictates.

Parker's story is sweet, warm and engrossing. Recited in first-person present tense by Korean-American Benji Park, this inwardly insightful, but outwardly goofy, man shares his deepest thoughts and desires, fears and triumphs, hopes and dreams with readers with a frankness that is as disarming as it is charming. What I loved best about him is that he loved his mother unreservedly. Despite his rock star fame, he aspires to do something worthy of his mother’s regard. Immigration lawyer Jordan Kennedy (first-gen or second-gen immigrant citizen, I couldn't figure out which) wakes up Benji's latent desire to help undocumented immigrants. He is first seduced by her voice and most of their relationship is conducted by phone and text. Their HFN is barebones, i.e., they barely make it over the finish line. The author told me that she's thinking of fleshing this story out into a full novel. What a challenging task given that this story is out in the public sphere.

From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Category: Contemporary YA Romance
Comments: I really enjoyed Menon's début When Dimple Met Rishi, and I really enjoyed this story of a wallflower who comes to believe strongly in herself and claims the love of the boy who believes strongly in her. Right from the beginning, I was struck by the joy in the story. The overall impression of Twinkle is one of happiness. Twinkle is passionately in love with movies and with the idea of becoming a filmmaker, and this epistolary novel is written as a series of dated letters by Twinkle to various notable female film directors, such as Sofia Coppola, Mira Nair, Ava DuVernay and Jane Campion, among others. Her confiding honesty and emotional intensity in her diary let the reader really understand her, who she is and what drives her, her successes and her failures. My review is here.

Lady Elizabeth's Comet by Sheila Simonson
The Wagered Widow by Patricia Veryan
Category: Traditional Historical Romances
Comments: Simonson's story is written in first person, through the viewpoint of the heroine, Lady Elizabeth Conway, who is the daughter of the former Earl of Clanross. She now lives in the Dower House on the grounds of Brecon, the Clanross seat. She’s deeply dedicated to the study of astronomy and very serious in her quest to discover new celestial objects. She is aware that in marrying, she would most likely have to give up her scholarly pursuits, but loneliness drives her to accept just such a controlling man. But when the current Earl of Clanross comes to claim Brecon, she is torn between the two men. On one hand is a sure marriage; on the other, is a man who understands her passion and her personality and not only condones it, but actively supports it. Theirs is a gentle, slow romance.

This is an unusual Georgian story set in the mid-18thC. I've mostly read those set much later in the century. Rebecca Parrish is a young widowed mother living in London. She has just come out of mourning for her unlamented husband and is eager to rejoin society. This time, she wants to be sure that she chooses her own husband, but the debts left to her by her former husband means that her husband has to at least be wealthy. Torn between an extremely handsome and wealthy gentleman and a devilish rake known to be impoverished, she keeps seesawing between them. She needs to be practical even though the wealthy gentleman is unimaginative and weak, but she is of course drawn to the principled and understanding rake despite his shocking reputation. My reviews are here.

Secrets of a Wallflower by Amanda McCabe
Category: Victorian Romance
Comments: This is the first of the Debutantes in Paris series set in the late 1880s on the occasion of the Paris Exposition. At just 18, Diana dreams of being a magazine writer living on her own and covering Parisian fashion and the expo for a London ladies’ journal. She not only dreams it, but makes it happen. And on to Paris she goes. She is firmly convinced that once a lady is married, her own ideas about life are finished.

Sir William Blakely is a diplomat with the Foreign Office, whose work is shrouded in mystery. He has just returned from a stint in India, but Her Majesty's government sends him off to Paris to look into the security and diplomacy of the Prince of Wales's impromptu visit to Paris. As it so happens, William is Diana's best friend's cousin and they've met a time or two in the past. She's convinced he thinks her frivolous and he is convinced she finds him boring. They blush charmingly in each other's company. My review is here.

The Prince by Katharine Ashe
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Simply, wow! It is written with such delicacy and subtlety, that it makes the undercurrent of sexual tension thrumming throughout the story all the more powerful. Cohabiting for most of the book doesn't mean that they fall into bed within the first few days, which is how many books would set up their relationship. They fall in love well before they give in to their lust, and they do so only when it is integral to their story. This is a slow book that gradually speeds up. Their internal black moment when it comes is truly organic to the story and inevitable. I wrote on Twitter that at 93%, the two were on different continents and I had no idea how they were going to get together again. And Ashe wisely lets two years pass by while they work to resolve their life's circumstances that eventually allows them to be together as husband and wife permanently. I highly recommend this book.

The Sheikh's Destiny by Melissa James
Category: Contemporary Category Romance
Comments: I was recommended this book when I mentioned on Twitter that I was looking for a sheikh romance where the sheikh was a real Arab and a Muslim. Both the protagonists in this are Arabic Muslims, and speak various dialects of the language and reflect on their complicated relationship with religion. There is some category sub-genre shorthands but that was to be expected and did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Alim El-Khanar is the sheikh of Abbas al-Din. He drives medical trucks for Doctors of Africa and delivers crucial medicines to remote villages under fire from various tribal warlords. He has specifically designed trucks that can withstand being driven over all terrain and under the stress of great speeds. In his former life, he was a race car driver and living the high life. He was also the second in line for the title Sheikh, when his older brother died. But instead of ascending to the seat of power, Alim abdicated to his young brother and gave up his racing career, because of his deep guilt over having been responsible for the death of his older brother. When the story opens, he has barely made it to the village of Shellah-Akbar in Northern Africa ahead of the men chasing him.

Quick thinking on the part of the medical professional, Hana al-Sud, saves his life thrice over: first by rescuing him from a runaway truck, then by taking care of his health, and finally by claiming him as her missing husband. She of course knows who he is; he doesn't. They're bound in this pretense of a relationship as they seek to escape the remote village to safety. They're forced to reveal closely-held secrets as their attraction deepens into love.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley & Marjory Wentworth; illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Category: Poetry, Children's Picture Book
Comments: Three North American poets bring the poetry of Bashō, Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Chief Dan George, Pablo Neruda, Okot p'Bitek, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and many others to children by paying lyrical homage to these great poets' works. This will be an ongoing entry in my reading log for the next couple of months. Here's a snippet of a poem:

Let us celebrate Africa.
Let us adorn her with a river of gold,
proudly carry her above our shoulders like water to drink.
Let us gallantly wrap our arms around her blackness,
hold her hands in ours,
lace each glistening finger
of freedom.

—"Song of Uhuru" celebrating Okot p'Bitek by Kwame Alexander

The Living Fire by Edward Hirsch
Category: Poetry
Comments: I love Jewish American Edward Hirsch's poetry. Last month I said that I was done reading this book, but when it came time to return it to the library, I ended up renewing it instead and proceeding to read my favorite bits all over again.

Look Back! by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: I really enjoyed how the book's lines are redolent with the lyricism of the main character's Dominican Caribbean roots. I'm a huge fan of onomatopoeia, so when the mysterious Ti Bolom walks "pattaps pattaps" and the girl falls "bladdaps", I was instantly connected to the story. One day, Grannie tells Christopher the story of Ti Bolom and her experience with him when she was a child. Throughout the story is the refrain "Eh Kwik!" by Grannie, answered "Eh Kwak!" by Christopher. Ti Bolom is this short creature with a long, flat foot and a big head, and when you're walking alone at night, he walks behind you. But when you turn around, he's not there. As a child, Grannie tried hard to catch a glimpse of Ti Bolom, and Christopher is fascinated by the story and dreams of doing the same.

Next Stop — Zanzibar Road! by Niki Daly
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a delightful, rollicking chapter story of animals on a busy market day in an African village. Mama Jumbo lives at Number 7-Up Zanzibar Road, and this morning, she puts on her flippy-floppy, flappy-slippy, this-way-that-way pompom hat and takes off squashed in Mr. Motiki's rattletrap taxi along with other denizens of Zanzibar Road. The story follows her adventures at the loud, busy market. Mama Jumbo is in her element, because she loves a lively market. I had chuckles o'plenty as I read along. This is a rare chapter picture book.

Music I Listened To...

Every time I get asked the question: What type of music do you listen to? Er, eclectic is my reply. There's no other category, rhyme, or reason what appeals to me. Here's a sampling of what I listened to this month: Taraf de Haïdouks (Roma/Romany), Music of the Mountains (India), Best of Bhangara (India), Delhi 2 Dublin (bhangara from Canada), Cheb I Sabbah (Morocco), Mi Yeewnii by Baaba Maal (Senegal), Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg, Best of Pavarotti, and Spirituals by Kathleen Battle and Jesse Norman.