Monday, December 31, 2018

My December Reading

The end of December snuck up on me very quickly, and I didn't get as much read as I'd hoped to. Due to USA Today Happy Ever After's shutdown news, I lacked motivation to read at the beginning of the month. Then I bucked up, because I had eight reviews promised for this month that I was going to honor, bad news or not.

I have good news as well to tell. Within a week of HEA's news, I was incredibly lucky to secure a weekly writing stint with Frolic. Here's some information about them by Fast Company.

Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder
A Christmas Proposition by Jessica Lemon
Merrily Ever After by Jenny Holliday
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Snyder is a writer whose short works I never miss, because each is a memorable moment in time. Tikka is a short novella that feels like a novel in the expansiveness of the storyline and complexity of characterization. It is a story between an Indian American girl from a traditional immigrant family who falls in with a leader of the local motorcycle gang. Is he a brutal criminal or a funny, warm-hearted man of high morals? Snyder keeps us guessing even as she show how they're falling under each other's spells.

This is a modern-day fairy tale where the princess is the billionaire and the prince the hired help. It is also a modern marriage-of-convenience that both end up wanting to make into a real marriage. She is a light-hearted party girl who loves Christmas. He is a serious leader of the security detail to billionaires. Lemmon skillfully shows how these two people from such disparate backgrounds can figure out how to bridge their lifestyles and build a partnership of equals.

I loved this novella. Some authors excel no matter the format, short, long and all sizes in between—Holiday is one such author. This book is a curious one. The protagonists fell in love in Once Upon a Bride, got married in One and Only, but in Merrily Ever After, their marriage hits a big snag. Will it sunder their marriage? He is adamantly sure that he does not want children. That is why she's perfect for him because due to health reasons she cannot have children. But then the unexpected happens. She gets pregnant. And she wants to keep the baby. Where are they to go from here? My reviews are here.

The Earl I Ruined by Scarlett Peckham
The Uncompromising Lord Flint by Virginia Heath
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: In both of these books the heroes struggle mightily to learn that love involves trust and respect in spite of unpalatable facts staring you in the face about the object of your fascination. It involves forgiving the other person and believing in them, because you're innately convinced that they're what they're telling and showing you they are. It is forsaking all others and being faithful—in body and mind—to the other.

Heath is such a wonderful historical writer who truly understands the history and socio-cultural mores of the time period. King and Country before romantic interest. Should an agent for the Crown give in to his attraction to a traitor? Never! He had learned that lesson painfully once before, when he'd succumbed to the urges of his body, his heart overruling his head, and then she'd betrayed him. Now he is again in the same situation. Faced with a bewitching woman England wants to try and hang for her crimes, he nevertheless finds her enchanting. Will he compromise his ideals for her or will he remain stalwart?

This second book in the Secrets of Charlotte Street series is moody, intense, and superb. The contrast between the lightness and innocence of the heroine and the artistic erotic knowledge of the hero is exquisite. His sensual mastery wars with his love for her while her breezy insouciance infuriates him: How is he to manage her? Should he? She is tantalized by his unconventional carnal knowledge. He cannot trust her because instead of noticing her generous heart, he concludes that she manipulates people to suit her purposes. They're both secretly in love with each other. Where does trust and respect figure in their relationship? My reviews are here.

Their Perfect Melody by Priscilla Olivieras
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: In this third book of the series, Olivieras has crafted an absolutely delightful story of how opposites attract and repel but end up being perfect for each other. On the surface, there is no way these two people could see eye-to-eye about anything. Their constant struggles to understand the other person and to make them understand themselves seem endless and purposeless. What is even the point? And and a passionate investment in the community's youth breaches the divide to unite them. Family is a theme Olivieras returns to again and again in this story and that is at the heart of what makes this story so heartfelt and true. Both characters are loyal sand strongly connected to their families and seeing this in the other makes them feel kindly towards each other. It is as if, a person at one with their family is an inherently good person. My review is here.

The Mysterious Heir by Edith Layton
The Seventh Suitor by Laura Matthews
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Whenever I open an Edith Layton novel, I know I’m going to be rewarded with a complex, unusual story, and this one was no different. And with Layton it is not just that her characters and plots are notable, but so is her prose and how she expresses herself. I always enjoy books where the romance starts as friendship and slowly deepens into love. All those shifting emotions, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair, laid bare for the reader to care about. The hero desperately needs an heir so he invites three of his relatives to his country house to choose among them. The heroine is the sister of one of them. Neither thinks they’re marriageable: he, too scarred by experience, and she, by dint of her dowerless, lowly status. And in spite of this, they strike up a tenuous friendship.

This is an early traditional Regency by Laura Matthews from the 1970s. Unlike some of her other fast-paced novels, this is a slow-developing story that is as much a tale about familial relationships as it is about the romantic connection. But the romantic arc is fully realized from disgrace to grace for both of them, deeply felt while avoiding histrionics. In the beginning, every time the hero and heroine meet, sparks fly; neither can see the good in the other. She thinks he’s a stiff-rumped, self-consequential prig; he thinks she lacks morals. Neither can see eye-to-eye about anything. Matthews really know how to allow her characters to dig deep inside themselves and examine their emotions. Life goes on around them as they realize that the other person is worthy of notice and consideration and deeper, warmer feelings. My reviews are here.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

My November Reading

All this year, I've bemoaned the lack of time in my reading schedule to include nonfiction. So this month, I decided to choose a small stack of them and read a little bit through each book every night. And I've been making leisurely progress through the books and enjoying my time with them immensely.

The brief romance reviews are first, followed by the nonfiction and poetry. Alas, there were no noteworthy children's picture books this month.

Stranger Within the Gates by Mira Stables
The Counterfeit Betrothal by April Kihlstrom
Category: Traditional Regency Romances
Comments: The Stranger was interesting in that it was a much slower-paced romance than I'm used to with parts of the story devoted to relationships of the protagonists with other people. However, despite the characters not being together in those moments, their thoughts about each other allow their awareness of the other to simmer. I liked how close they become as friends before attraction overwhelms them. It's stories like these where they "like" each other first and temper each other's excesses and assumptions that convince me of the solidity of their HEA.

The Betrothal was a delight from beginning to the end and laugh-out-loud funny in parts. It's a Heyer-esque complex plot where the main characters and supporting cast are earnestly involved in hoodwinking the other characters and bending over backwards to support each other but creating more complications with their underlying assumption that makes for a pretzel-like hilarious plot. My reviews are here.

An Affair of the Heart by Joan Smith
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: The Marquis of Claymore has been rejected by the Diamond of the First Water and with rumors circulating of his ignominy, he hies off to the country to marry the younger of the Wanderley twins. Turns out, the younger one is promised elsewhere, so he turns to the older one. Pragmatic and a tiny bit flattered, she accepts him. A few days in each other's company, and both are convinced they love the other, but do not want to admit it. At one point, I put the book down as a DNF, but curiosity made me pick it up to the finish line. I was annoyed not by the heroine's insecurity but by her impetuous actions stemming from this. The long-suffering hero's patience through it all made me think well of him, but his denseness in recognizing the cause of her insecurity was tiresome. In general, a frank conversation before sealing their marriage of convenience would've gone a long way to shortening their agony, but then that would've made for a very short story.

A Scandalous Winter Evening by Marguerite Kaye
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: This was an 'A' read for me as has been the entire Matches in Scandal series. This is the last book and reveals the mysterious figure who is the driving force behind all the other books in the series. The protagonists had met more than six years ago and had shared a passionate night before departing. Little did they know their paths would cross again. When they meet, they are just as fascinated with each other, almost against their will. They are both harboring secrets that they're at pains to keep from the other, but developing emotional ties in relationships have a way of sundering restrictions keeping them apart. What is more natural than to trust the other person a little at a time? Kaye's strength as a writer: setting up a plot and characters shrouded in mystery, and then revealing them with increasing complexity as the story moves on. This sounds like a case of "water is wet," but not every author does this as successfully as Kaye. My review is here.

Cadenza by Stella Riley
Category: Georgian Romance
Comments: It's a two-relationship book but one thread of the story didn't work for me, because the heroine is so impulsive and entitled and self-absorbed, I felt sorry for her hero. However, the other thread of the story is wonderful, and the heroine is wonderful—caring, compassionate, mature—I would've liked her for both the sensitive heroes who're vulnerable and feel that society cannot accept them the way they are. The heroes' story arc is how they gain confidence in taking their rightful place in the ton. The writing is very good and the period details (aside from certain eye-roll things) are good. The first heroine, however, sank the book for me. I'm in the minority though. Read the comments below my review to view others' comments. My review is here.

My One and Only Duke by Grace Burrowes
The Other Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Category: Regency Romances
Comments: The Quinn story is in its signature Bridgertons style: witty, light-hearted, tender, and romantic. Their relationship develops through forced proximity aboard a ship through neither of their faults. But despite this, they do not live for the week in simmering resentment. They're mature and decide that constant angst is not going to get them to their destination faster but only make it unpleasant. So they set the negative feelings aside and realize how much they have in common with each other. The story has a tightly-knit plot and the developing relationship is well done.

The Burrowes story was fabulous. It made me cry and cheer and read the story with bated breath. Excellently plotted with characters that are multi-layered and real. That latter was the selling point of the book. Their marriage of convenience begins at the very bottom of the relationship and through a commitment to marriage no matter the hurdles life throws at them, they show how rewarding loyalty and trust are in bettering their current circumstances. My reviews are here.

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Category: Memoir
Comments: I have adored Michelle Obama since she came on my radar during Barack Obama's presidential campaign. As her memoir shows, she's a remarkable woman: driven, humble, brilliant, and compassionate. Coming from an under-privileged background, her successes are a testament to her hard work and singular focus. She's a role model for our teens and young women.

West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House edited by Gautam Raghavan
Category: Narrative Nonfiction
Comments: A book about real stories of events inside Obama's White House told by his staffers? Sign me up. What a great book! And I'm thoroughly indulging my nosy self in knowing what really went on behind doors.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
Category: Spiritual Nonfiction
Comments: This is an easy-to-read book that nevertheless delivers a series of messages that I am in the right frame of mind to receive. I continued reading this from last month.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, foreword Harold S. Kushner, afterword William J. Winslade
Category: Spiritual Nonfiction
Comments: This is another book whose message in my life is timely. While on the surface, I seem to have received its teachings, I believe I will be served best by delving further into it. Frankl's experiences in the Nazi death camps led him to developing his theory that the essential drive for life is finding meaning in doing something. There were parts of the book where he failed to convince me, but I kept going back to the first part about his horrific experiences that led him to his conclusions. I need to read this dense book a few times.

Medieval Illumination: Medieval Art in England and France 700-1200 by Kathleen Doyle and Charlotte Denoël
Category: Illustrated Nonfiction
Comments: One of the best things about Twitter are all the medieval historians I follow. Every day, they tweet some funny tidbit or a snippet of an illuminated manuscript. I am utterly fascinated by the talent, expertise, and exactitude of the scribes' renditions. In front of those beautiful uniform lettering, my handwriting looks like chicken scratch. This book by the British Library has one illustration on a facing page and a description on the other page. It is a fascinating look at some of the English and French manuscripts.

The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers by Alice Walker
Category: Poetry
Comments: I continued on my journey through this book from last month.