Friday, September 7, 2018

My August Reading (and Music)

I have always found that children's picture books are very avant garde in terms of America's socio-cultural issues. This current market is full of immigrant and multicultural stories. In comparison, the Romance market seems so out of step with what is currently happening in our country. Immigrant stories are almost nowhere to be found. See below for the children's immigrant stories I read this month.

Poetry of Donald Hall
Category: Poetry
Comments: I have been slowly making my way through Donald Hall's poetry. I discovered him when a friend of mine brought his obituary to my attention. I enjoyed that obituary very much; it reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which I love. He was considered a major American poet. What I like best about his work that I have explored so far is that he examines a more bucolic past with reverence for nature, which is what has always drawn me to the Romantic poets. He is compared to poet Robert Bly—Mary Bly AKA Eloisa James's father—whom he met at Harvard. His academic credentials are every student's dream: Philips Exeter, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford. Given my love for Didion's memoir of her marriage, I should read Hall's memoir of his marriage as well: The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon. I am fascinated by how two people negotiate their marriage.

Tender Secrets by Ann Christopher
Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Tender Secrets was originally published by Kimani, and it is now published by Blue Iris Press. In this book, the handsome CEO billionaire Adam Warner meets his match in fiery reporter Viveca Jackson. I loved this book’s trope-tastic, over-the-top-ness. She blames the Warners for the loss of her father and their subsequent financial hardships when she was young. She intends to write an exposé of the Warners via a biography. Originally published by Harlequin in 1984, Adam and Eva is one of the early books by an African-American author featuring African-American characters. Kitt is a hugely popular author, and this small book packing a big story is a good read. I found this look into 1980s gender norms interesting. At the beginning of the book, he’s an alpha male and she’s the soft-hearted foil for him, but the heart of the story is how they change. My brief reviews are here.

Untouchable by Talia Hibbert
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I have been hearing high praise about Talia Hibbert, and I'm glad I read Untouchable. Nate and Hannah were each other’s childhood crush in the small town of Ravenswood and took great pains to hide it from each other then. After high school, they went their separate ways, he to the big city to work as a photographer, while she stayed on in town, working with small children. Both love their work. When they meet again, Hannah has been to jail for smashing up someone else's car (she has a very good reason why) and Nate is divorced with two children. Nate has returned home to the small town because his mother is very ill, and he hires Hannah as a nanny for his children. Hibbert handles her characters’ mental illnesses and developmental challenges with gentleness and finesse. A great read. My review is here.

A Lady Needs an Heir by Louise Allen
The Mysterious Lord Millcroft by Virginia Heath
A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: Set in Portugal and England of 1815, the premise of A Lady Needs an Heir is a complex set of issues keeping the hero and heroine apart that require trust, respect, ingenuity, and legal acumen to resolve. Gabrielle Frost is one of the descendants of the English aristocracy who have been cultivating port wine in Portugal for generations. She requires an heir to bequeath her quinta (farm) to, but she cannot marry, because her husband would then own and business and could destroy it in one fell swoop. So how is she to go off, have a discreet affair, and return home pregnant and a grieving widow? And yet, when she falls in love with Gray, what will she choose: port or marriage? Can she have both?

Heath's The Mysterious Lord Millcroft is my first book by her. Where Sebastian Leatham is very shy around women, Clarissa Beaumont is bold and confident around men. Where Seb’s tongue gets tied into knots, Clarissa is glibly tongued. Where he is awkward, she radiates sophistication and confidence. In social scenes, Seb fades into the woodwork, while Clarissa glitters like a diamond. Seb is a successful spy, Clarissa is a fêted society Incomparable.

Last year was when I read my first Sebastian book, and I've read many of them since. His godfather bequeathed an unentailed London townhouse to Hartley Sedgewick and gypped his heir out of it. The heir in retribution spread the news that Hartley had been in an unnatural relationship with his father. Doors shut in Hartley's face as society shunned him. Sam Fox is a good, kind man who, through his public house, offers warmth, good food and ale and a place of safety for all sorts of people from London’s underbelly. These two men from such disparate backgrounds, wealth and race and experience, find tenderness, warmth, and respect with each other. My brief reviews are here.

Some of the Music I Listened to This Month

The Celtic Voice by Clannad: Sung in Irish Gaelic, the music brings alive the ancient Celtic traditions from County Donegal, Ireland.

The Book of Secrets by Loreena McKennitt: I came to McKennitt's music when my love of medieval romance took off and the music really spoke to me. The underlying theme of this album is this saying by Lao Tzu [570-490 BC]: "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." The music's dreamy, exploratory nature (in instrumentation and McKennitt's glorious mixed voice) lends itself naturally to the quote.

Carmina Burana by Carl Orff: This is the hardest piece of music I have ever sung. The original poem is from 13th C and is written in Medieval Latin, Middle High German, and Old French, as well as vernacular versions thereof. Orff set twenty-four of those poems to music in 1936, and it is a very challenging piece to sing. The difficult words come at you hard and fast and diction has to be incredibly precise to convey the words to the audience. Abrupt dynamic changes and vocal shifts add to the complexity.

Requiem by Mozart: This was my first large piece of music and I sang it at a time when my sightreading skills were rudimentary at best as was my vocal technique. I compensated by listening to the piece over and over again and memorizing it. Decades later, I still remember it all, including the solo pieces and instrumentation.

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This book is a great way to introduce the concept of dim sum to a young child before they go there so they know what to expect. Lots of little, little dishes; something for everyone. This family of five has different likes and dislikes and everybody can get what they want and also share what others like. The book also has a little bit of cultural history. Before dim sum became widespread, people would gather in teahouses for yum cha or tea drinking after work. Eventually, teahouses began serving small dishes of food to go with their tea—the tea happy hour soon began to be called dim sum or something that touches the heart, because people can point and choose.

Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is the perfect story for a child who marches to their own drum. It is totally okay to be going about life your own way. For a small girl, Natsumi does everything in a big way: she is a ninja and she is a runner, she bangs doors and she loudly slurps her noodles. Her parents are at their wits' end; only her grandfather smiles and says nothing. When her family decides to join in the preparations for their town's annual arts festival, Natsumi decides she would participate, too. When she joins her mother at a gentle fan and kimono dance rehearsal, she is a samurai leading troops to battle with her mighty war fan. "YAAAAHHH!" She tries many things, but after many remonstrances, she runs over to her grandfather dejected that she's a failure at everything. Her grandfather then comes up with the perfect answer to her energy and enthusiasm for life: taiko drumming. Rather than conforming her to expected norms, he plays to her strengths.

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: I have read other of Khan's books and books illustrated by Amini before, so I was eager to read this one. And the book is gorgeous! From the beautiful artwork to the stories and shapes of the Muslim world, this is a book to savor. A little history quoted from the author's note: "When Muslim mathematicians and astronomers made significant contributions to science and technology in the early middle ages, their discoveries also influenced Islamic art and architecture." So the choice of the shapes in this book is not just mathematical and religious, but also artistic and cultural.

Cone is the tip of the minaret so fall. I hear soft echoes of the prayer call.
Octagon is a fountain, its water so blue. I wash before prayers and make my
Arch is the mihrab that guides our way. We stand and face it each time we pray.

(A mihrab is a niche in the wall in most mosques that indicates the direction of Mecca and is beautifully decorated.
Wudu is the ritual washing of hands, arms, face, head, and feet before prayer.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sourcebooks Reissues Georgette Heyer's Books and an Interview with Jennifer Kloester, Heyer's Official Biographer

Sourcebooks is reissuing Georgette Heyer's books with the first three published yesterday (September 4) with completely new covers. The Georgian and Regency romance books will be issued in waves of 2-3 books over a year. Here are new covers for Arabella, Frederica, and The Grand Sophy plus all the old covers of those books ever published.

In conjunction with the release of these books, I interviewed Sourcebooks Casablanca's editorial director Deb Werksman about her perspective for the impetus to redoing the covers.

I also had a wide-ranging interview with Heyer's official biographer Jennifer Kloester.

If you're a fan of Heyer, these two articles are a fun read.