Friday, November 9, 2018

My October Reading (and Music)

When our very favorite writers have passed on, we always fantasize: WHAT IF they had left an unpublished manuscript behind. Wouldn't it be marvelous to read one more book by them? Well, that is exactly what happened this year. In January, Michael di Capua Books published a forgotten children's picture book with Maurice Sendak's original pictures and collaboration on a story with his friend of many years. Maurice Sendak! What a rare gift to his fans! (See below for more about the book and the story behind the book.)

In addition to the usual romance fiction and children's picture books this month, I read some poetry, some nonfiction, and a curious little book published in India in 1987. The romance novels are at the top followed by the rest of the books.

A Very Proper Widow by Laura Matthews
The Golden Songbird by Sheila Walsh
Category: Traditional Historical Romance
Comments: In A Very Proper Widow, Vanessa Damery is holding Cutsdean Hall in trust for her young son. James Damery, the fourth Earl of Alvescott, is the co-trustee and her son’s godfather, but he has neglected the estate forcing Vanessa to step in. When he finally visits, he finds that she politely but insistently challenges his sense of consequence due to him, but instead of getting offended, Alvescott works through his ego and tries to understand her point-of-view. This book has it all: tenderness, trust, vulnerability, maturity, respect, consent, loyalty, and wit.

In The Golden Songbird, the fourth Marquis of Mandersely wins Lucia Mannering in a wager. But instead of cringing in front of him in abject despair, she flings herself at him in a desperate bid to leave her house with him. Her stepfather is grooming her to be a wealthy nobleman’s plaything, and despairing, she is determined to have complete say in her future. The two do not get along at the outset—the way they are thrown together by the circumstances lends itself to uncomfortable interactions. Combine that with an attraction, and neither knows how to handle it. Luckily, his aunt is there to lend them her support. My reviews are here.

Band Sinister by KJ Charles
Category: m/m Regency Romance
Comments: This book was simply perfect—one of the best I've read this year. This story is a masterclass in consent: what it means, what its scope should be and how it should be employed in a relationship. The book is a classic tale of a world-weary rake meeting a country provincial, but shows how a true romance blossoms through care, attention, and patience...and trust. Charles also skillfully shows how social class, race, and religion in the early 19th-century society affect each character in the story differently and how they each navigate its pitfalls and joys. My review is here.

A Timeless Christmas by Alexis Stanton
Category: Time Travel Romance
Comments: This is a time-travel tale set in 1902 and 2018. Megan Turner has been working as a tour guide of the Whitley-Moran Mansion by impersonating Rosie, the housekeeper, along with other reenactors. The mansion was built by Charles Whitley in 1902. A self-made man and brilliant inventor and entrepreneur, Charles grew up poor and acquired vast wealth and influence through determination and hard work. Just when the actor playing the role of Whitley quits the museum, Charles time travels to the present. Megan had always been fascinated by Charles and half in love with his portrait. Seeing the real flesh-n-blood person has a devastating effect on her senses. In the meantime, Charles is overwhelmed with modern conveniences, but his innovator mind is busy making sense, while Megan is scrambling his emotions. My review is here.

Love Rekindled at Christmas by Eve Pendle, Elizabeth Keysian, E. Elizabeth Watson, Evelyn Isaacks, Diana Lloyd
Category: Historical Romance Anthology
Comments: This is a charity anthology with all proceeds being donated to Planned Parenthood. My reviews are here. There are some common themes across the five stories: Christmas, second-chance love, the Regency era, the parlor game Snapdragon, and a medium heat level. Here are two of the stories:

In A Pineapple in a Pine Tree by Eve Pendle, the young teenage couple were separated by misunderstandings. When they meet again, they're plagued with questions about what really happened then, had the other truly cared for them, and whether they care for them now, even as they realize that they're still attracted to each other and are getting to know each other better. Compounding this is that his wife died in childbirth, and he has made a vow not to make love to another woman to avoid the risk of her dying. What I liked about it is how the author made them work through the solution in a mature fashion rather than resolving it herself.

Christmas Wore Plaid by E. Elizabeth Watson is another story of trust. Scarlet fever tore the teen courting couple apart and machinations of relatives kept them apart. Now, she's a wealthy, sophisticated woman, whereas he is an impecunious laird. Even as they discover that their love for each other is unchanged, he is filled with despair. What can he offer her? But she is likewise filled with determination. She has a lot to offer him. And they could help each other achieve their goals, which are not so far apart, if only he'll allow her to make him happy. Like the above story, the author allows her characters to arrive at the solution on their own.

This Month's Music
This month, my car was dominated by repeated demands to listen to Panic! At The Disco and Ariana Grande...over and over and over again till the tunes and words were etched in my brain and...wonder of wonders...I began to enjoy them, so much so, that I may have even played them in the car even when the Demanders were not in it.

Tales from Hitopdesa translated and adapted by Asha Bhalekar
Category: Children's Folktales
Comments: Written centuries ago, these tales are from the great Sanskrit classic Hitopdesha. Bhalekar has adapted some of the stories for younger readers. Each story involves either anthropomorphic animals or people and animals and usually has a moral in the end. They're such heartwarming stories that they would appeal to adults as well as children. Here's one of them:

The Ghost Bell is a story of the error of making false assumptions. One day, a brazier, a maker of metal bells, is walking through the forest when a lion kills him. His bell is left lying on the forest floor. A group of monkeys are delighted with their find and hang it on a tall tree and ring it whenever they pleased. When the nearby villagers hear the bell at night, they become nervous. They are sure it is a ghost. So they stop sending their livestock to graze in the forest and live in fear of being killed. One day, a frail, old woman says that she'll get to the bottom of this. Everyone laughs at her, but she is insistent.

One early morning, off she goes to the forest with freshly-roasted peanuts. She heads straight to the place where the bell is ringing. When the woman comes upon the group of monkeys ringing the bell, she leaves the peanuts scattered on the grounds and quietly climbs up the neighboring tea. When the monkeys scramble down to eat the peanuts, she snatches the bell and throws it into the nearby river. Then she goes home and tells the head of the village that she has solved the problem. When the bell no longer rings, everyone praises her bravery to the skies and gives her a large reward for her bravery. And she lives happily ever after.

The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers by Alice Walker
Category: Poetry
Comments: I was privileged to attend a talk by Alice Walker earlier this month. (My notes on the lecture are at this link.) I have been reading some more of her The World Will Follow Joy. "Hope" is such a poem for our times. It talks about coveting what other people have, of seizing what belongs to others by force and enjoying what they enjoyed before while they now suffer. It is a poem of privilege and entitlement.

Hope never to believe / this robbery / will make you a better / citizen of your new / country / as you unfurl and wave / its recent / flag / that has been given / to assure you / of this impossibility.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
Category: Spiritual Nonfiction
Comments: This is going to be an ongoing book as I read it slowly and try to understand what it is she is really trying to say. There are exercises in the book as well, but in this first readthrough, I'm just going to be reading. I'll do the exercises the second time through. Hay is a psychologist, whose advice has energized millions of people, particularly women. I'm at the stage in my life where I find myself struggling with definite areas of myself that need intentional work. So I decided to pick up this book on a recommendation of a close friend.

Each chapter opens with an affirmation that Hay suggests you use when you're working on that area of your life. She also suggests that you take two to four days to study and work with each chapter. Keep saying and writing the affirmation that opens the chapter. The chapters close with a treatment, which is a flow of positive ideas designed to change your thought patterns. Hay recommends reading over this treatment several times a day for a few days following the end of the chapter.

Some of her philosophical points:
1. We are each responsible for all of our experiences.
2. Every thought we think is creating our future.
3. The point of power is always in the present moment.
4. Resentment, criticism, and guilt are the most damaging patterns.
5. The bottom line for everyone is: "I'm not good enough." It's only a thought, and a thought can be changed.
6. Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes When we really love ourselves, everything in our life works.

Beyond Birds & Bees: Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids about Sex. Love, and Equality by Bonnie J. Rough
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: All schools have a mandatory health class in middle school and high school. However, what I realized is that all they were doing was telling kids what they should NOT do, not what they should/could do. It was all about telling them all the wrong about relationships and social situations that they need to watch out for—it's about inducing guilt. However, in addition to showing this, I would've liked them to show what are good relationships and what are the positives they should seek—it's about showing them joy. "Don't do bad" is fine. But also teach "do this good." That is why when I found out about Beyond Birds & Bees, I was immediately fascinated. In this book, through personal experiences, the author is writing about how the Dutch approach sexuality in a relaxed, matter-of-fact manner that conveys the normalcy of it as well as how good it feels. The arc of the book is to show how these attitudes leads to better health and success of young adults, eventually leading to gender parity.

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, in association with Help Refugees
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a story of how a day that began in all innocence in an elementary classroom was turned into a war zone by lunchtime. The child's home was a black hole and her family nowhere to be found. The war had taken everything...leaving her to set off alone, joining strangers on a journey to who knows where and to what lies ahead. Despite reaching a refugee camp safely, war had followed her everywhere on her journey; it had taken possession of her very heart. And if you think this is heartrending enough, picture what happens next to this little girl as door after door in the town shuts to her, where she is shunned, and denied a chair at a school filled with laughing children. Until...some brave, kind children come to the refugee camp with chairs for her and the other kids.

NGO Help Refugees says that out of the world's 22.5 million refugees, more than half are children. In the spring of 2016, the UK government refused to give sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied child refugees. In reaction to that, Davies wrote this poem published in the Guardian. It caught fire on social media under the hashtags #ChooseLove and #3000Chairs accompanied by pictures of empty chairs. This book was published this year.

Presto & Zesto in Limboland by Arthur Yorinks & Maurice Sendak
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: Before I get into the story behind the story, let me tell you a bit about this silly, entertaining story. Presto and Zesto while searching for cake end up in Limboland. The only way they can get out of Limboland is by attending the wedding of two sugar beets where they will be cake. The only way they can attend the wedding is by stealing the wedding gift from the monster of Limboland.

Forty-eight years ago, Sendak and Yorinks met over cake and sealed they friendship over a mutual love of music, words, and pictures. In 1990, Sendak was asked to provide projections for Janacek's Rikadla, a composition that sets a series of nursey rhymes to music. Then he put the pictures in a drawer and forgot about them. Then in 2000, he and Yorinks met in his studio and the subject of the Sugar Beets pictures came up and they decided then and there to convert them into a picture book. So they arranged them in order and began riffing on a story that might turn these disparate pictures into a coherent story. And in so doing, laughed themselves silly. The book then lay hidden and misfiled until it was resurrected recently and published in January. What a gift to readers!

Bees: A Honeyed History illustrated by Piotr Socha, text by Wojciech Grajkowski, translated from Polish by Agnes Monod-Gayraud
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: Did you know, honey bees have existed for at least a hundred million years? Fossilized evidence in amber has given truth to this supposition. And thus begins this huge picture book on bees accompanied by gorgeous and very colorful illustrations. While the information is clearly aimed at upper elementary children, the illustrations will please preschoolers. This book is narrative nonfiction at its best: informative, entertaining, and appealing. From the biology of the bees to the danger environment poses to bees to the usefulness of bees to humans (and Greek gods) to human-made decorative hives for the bees to digestible fun party tidbits about bees, this giant book would make a fantastic addition to your home library—for the sticker price of a hardcover book, your child is guaranteed more than one school project. Why even Napoléon thought very highly of bees and made them a symbol of France.