Saturday, March 30, 2019

My March Reading

March was a time of illness and days of alternately lying in bed and rushing around to help other members of the family. For me, illness always means comfort reading, and that means, sinking into traditional Regencies. I read three: Carla Kelly, Balogh, and Andrea Pickens.

I wrote about four multicultural retellings of my favorite book Pride & Prejudice by Ibi Zoboi, Soniah Kamal, Sonali Dev, and Uzma Jalaluddin. I also collected a list of romance novels by authors of color that I reviewed from January 2018 to now.

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings
Category: Poetry
Comments: Waking up from a long sleep of unconscious living into purposefulness and the rewards of that awareness is a common theme in Rumi's poetry. Here's an excerpt from "The Worm's Waking":

This is how a human being can change.
There is a worm
addicted to eating grape leaves.

Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he is no longer a worm.

He is the entire vineyard,
and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that does not need to devour.

Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career by Carla Kelly
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: I loved this book! It is set in Oxford and is focused on scholarship—a marquess and a squire's daughter who have nothing but learning on their minds. He bargains a year of fellowship at All Souls from his mother before assuming his duties. She escapes her forbidding father's house for a girls' schoolat the gates of Oxford. Whereas he is allowed to study whatever he wants, Oxford at that time, forbid women from its elevated environs. Despite it, through the guise of her scapegrace brother, she manages to research and write notable Shakespearean papers.

The black moment comes about because he has hidden his noble identity from her and presented himself as a mere mister, because he is afraid that she will be scared away by his august title. And that proves to be the case when she finds out. Oxford has always fascinated me—in my salad days, I dreamed of going there, but like many dreams, that one went by the wayside—so I was interested from the get-go, and Kelly fulfilled the promise of her premise. I highly recommend it.

An Unlikely Duchess by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: As I discussed on Twitter, Balogh has books that suit every mood, and her trads have been largely successful for me. This one, unfortunately, was less so. Since I wasn't in the mood for a serious story, I picked up this farce. The first half of it was quite entertaining, a paean to Heyer. However, it went south in the second half. All those intermingled story threads and earnest to-ing and fro-ing of the people involved had to be resolved and it felt tedious at times without the humor of the first half.

Paul Villiers, the Duke of Mitford, is all that is proper. When the weight of the title and duties settled on his teenage shoulders, he took them all on with a grave sense of responsibility. In that same vein, he agrees to marry a girl his maternal grandfather suggests, sight unseen. Josephine Middleton is the oldest daughter of an earl, and as far from the ideal of a serious, circumspect duchess as there could be. With Mitford traveling incognito up north to propose and Jo traveling south to escape from the arranged marriage, they chance to meet, where else, at an inn.

And Mitford's mind suffers a shock. He is appalled that the dutiful girl he was supposed to marry is in reality this harum-scarum girl with nary a thought to respectability. But despite this, he becomes embroiled in her schemes and finally, for the first time in his life, has a rousing adventure.

Code of Honor by Andrea Pickens
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Sebastian, the Earl of Branford is a dissolute rake. When we first meet him, he's drunk and in bed with his mistress, whom he proceeds to have sex with before giving her her congé, which shows just the kind of insensitive man he was. Thus his makeover is that much sweeter, (though it comes sooner than is possible). After his night of debauchery, he drunkenly makes a wager to seduce a supposedly bold piece of goods from the country. When he meets her at the ball, he is struck by how innocent she is—all she is interested in is discussing botany of which she is passionate—and he strikes his wager foo White's books.

Unknowing about this wager, Alexandra Chilton dances and chats with Branford at every ball. They're both charmed with each other's interests, intelligence, and fascination with the other, and Alex disbelieves the rumors about Branford's black character and The villain of the book is one Earl of Hammerton, who is desperate to orchestrate the death of Alex's brother. (I bought a published book, and the eBook was riddled with errors that could've been avoided with a copyedit.)

Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This book is all about happiness — happiness in love, happiness in work, happiness with life as it comes at you. Cole is a highly skilled writer, who can convey a wealth of emotion and meaning with a few well-chosen words. And yet, her books are not self-conscious and cautious, but rather, filled with a joie de vivre that is enchanting. If you are a fan of comics, anime, superheroes, and puzzles, this novella will be a delight.

Regina “Reggie” Hobbs is a super fan of Reject Squad Ultra and she knows everything that is to be known about the anime show — even her house is filled with reminders of the show. Reggie is a strong, independent woman who uses quirkily-designed wheelchairs to get around because of her ataxia. She is the founder of GirlsWithGlasses, and through talent and sheer hard work, she has made her fledgling pop culture and social media enterprise into a hugely popular site.

Gustave “Gus” Nguyen is a neurodivergent, gifted puzzle master who loves solving complex problems. His day job is being an architect, but in his spare time, he designs escape rooms. He has recently been hired for a dream project: designing a multi-room escape experience for Reject Squad Ultra. Unfortunately, he knows next to nothing about anime, romance, or the show. Not only that, but he has a tight deadline for the project, and the disparate parts of the project that he has designed are just not coming together as a whole.

I have followed Cole’s Reluctant Royals series from its first book, and I’ve loved every single one of them. This book is one of two novellas between books two and three. They’re all standalone books, but you don’t want to miss a single one of them. I rarely recommend an entire series of books, but this is one of those times. My review is here.

Desire Lines by Elizabeth Kingston
Category: Medieval Romance
Comments: No one does medieval romance as superbly as Elizabeth Kingston. Desire Lines is a thing of beauty: complex in essence, rich in detail and characterization, with every word indispensable to the story. This is the third book in her Welsh Blades series, and every book is a treasure.

Told in crisscrossing storylines, this novel displays the intricacy of the history and personality of the protagonists by turns revealing and concealing details, always teasing the reader with glimpses of this or that. Kingston is remarkably skilled in keeping the reader always on tenterhooks as her story wends its way through circumstances, events, and people.

The Welsh word hiraeth is what this book is all about. It is a deep abiding hunger for what one has lost and that means everything to who they are. Both protagonists are searching for a return to the days of their youth, when they were safe and protected, when life was simpler and wants were more commonplace. While he yearns for the home he left behind in Wales, she yearns to be reunited with her younger sister. Their journey together towards their destiny is one strewn with love and heartbreak. My review is here.

Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Calinda “Cal” Valerio is a figure skating superstar in the Philippines, having won numerous gold medals in various competitions. From a very young age, she has been hyper focused on the ice. And her parents made sure she stayed focused by not allowing her to date — not seriously, not casually. Now Cal is retired and no longer competes; instead, she choreographs routines for other figure skaters and puts on shows and performances. She also courts donors to help fund skaters who cannot otherwise afford to pay for this expensive sport.

Filipino-American Ramirez “Ram” Diaz-Tan is an award-wining star of the Philippine national hockey team. Living part of the year in Houston, where he is an English teacher, and part of the year training and playing in Manila, Ram leads a busy life moving seamlessly between his two worlds. Using his time and money, he has also helped other kids take up the sport. However, money has always been tight for him, and he is tired of not being able to hold down a steady job, since hockey has always come first for him. So he is retiring from playing the sport.

Cal and Ram used to be great friends when they met ten years ago. But when rumors of their friendship reached her parents’ ears, they were adamant that she stop seeing him, and Cal and Ram’s relationship died aborning. Over the years, they have kept abreast of each other’s careers, because after all, the world of winter sports in a country with no winter was a small world. Now, ten years later, they meet on the set of a video shoot of thirty most accomplished people in their thirties. My review is here.

American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Nesto is a Dominican-American chef who owns a Caribbean food truck in NYC. His teenage afternoons spent with a chef who was more father to him than his own missing one, have left Nesto with a hankering to make a living feeding people with food handmade with love. So he chucks his office job goodbye and starts a food truck. When the story opens, Nesto has decided to try his hand at making a success in Ithaca, where his mother and sister live.

Jude is a youth services librarian in Ithaca. He works by day at the local library with his best friend, Carmen. By night, he retreats to the house he owns and which he has made into a haven with carefully chosen furnishings and art he’s collected from his travels. When the story opens, he is working on getting his mobile library project passed by the library board.

While Nesto has always been accepted openly by his family, Jude has only faced ostracization, so he is a bundle of insecurities. Nesto is comfortable in his own skin and shows in every way possible how wonderful he finds Jude. The best part of this book is seeing how Jude starts to trust Nesto and slowly comes out of his shell. My review is here.

Highland Crown by May McGoldrick
Category: Scottish Regency Romance
Comments: Isabella Murray Drummond studied to become a physician and surgeon in Würzburg, Germany with the blessings of her father. Seeking a safe marriage, Isabella moves to Edinburgh with her physician husband where she practices medicine and surgery with her husband’s support. But her husband has secret revolutionary leanings that put Isabella’s life in grave danger.

When her husband is killed by the English, Sir Walter Scott aids her in escaping the English soldiers and Scottish rebels who have both put a bounty on her head. Both sides think Isabella knows too much and consider her a danger to their cause. With Scott’s help, Isabella heads to the coast of North Sea from where she will board a ship to Halifax, Canada.

Cinaed is a smuggler and captain of the Highland Crown that roams the North Sea from Canada to Scotland. He smuggles arms to the Highlanders. In his childhood, he had been a Highlander from Dalmigavie Castle, high above the hills of Inverness. Cast from home and hearth, he goes to the sea. The life of a sailor suits him and he quickly rises through the ranks. But unknown to him, he has a scandalous past that will link him forever to the Highlands.

They meet when Isabella rescues Cinaed on the lonely coastline of the North Sea. She saves his life; he returns the favor. There are soldiers and rebels chasing them and there's the mystery of Cinaed's ancestors. A great read of deep historical research, mystery, fast-paced action, and a sweet romance. My review is here.

Spring Skies Over Bluebell Castle by Sarah Bennett
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This story is sweet, tender, and laugh-out-loud funny. When a rugby-playing baronet with an authentic castle stuffed with ancient historical paintings and knick-knacks and an art historian meet, there's love and hijinks to be had in the stone circle replica in the backwoods as well as around the shelves of a Beauty and the Beast library.

Named for King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, with a bona fide giant round table in the great room, the denizens of the Camland "Bluebell" Castle are au courant even as their lifestyle and environs are steeped in centuries-old tradition. Sir Arthur Ludworth is one of a triplet of siblings and on whom the weight of the title and lands have fallen, including the state of near bankruptcy on which they hover. They want to see if any of their ancient, dusty paintings and knick-knacks can yield treasures that can either be sold or used to create an Arthurian legend to draw in paying visitors.

Lucinda "Lucie" Kennington has a degree in art history and specializes in pre-Raphaelite paintings. When the rare painting she discovers is set up as the star of a highly respected auction, but turns out to be a fake, she's accused of stealing the original and replacing it with a forgery. She is summarily dismissed from her position. Now, at loose ends at home, Lucie spies an advert for an art historian and archivist wanted at Camland Castle. My review is here.

"The Champa Flower" from The Crescent Moon by Rabrindranath Tagore, illustrated by Jaikar Marur
Category: Children's Picture Book, Poetry
Comments: A beautiful way to introduce a young child to poetry through the voice of a naughty child. The champa flower is a very fragrant flower of India; a variety of it is the frangipani or plumeria of Hawai'i. One day, a little boy decides to become a champa flower high up on the branch of the big tree right where it grows in his backyard. While he plays in the wind with spring leaves, he asks his mother if she knows that he is up there. The poem is a one-sided conversation the boy has with his mother as he observes her going about her regular day, commenting on the ordinariness with fresh eyes and a new perspective. He is naughtily enjoying hiding from her, but when it is evening, he jumps down from the tree as a boy again, ready to be cuddled by his mother before going to bed.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh, Amalia Hernández, El Ballet Folklórico de México
Category: Children's Picture Book, Biography
Comments: This is the true story of Amalia Hernández, the founder and artistic director of El Ballet Folklórico de México, the most famous dance company in Mexico and well-known all over the world. Amalia was fascinated by the art, culture, dances, and history of the different regions of her country. Folkloric dancing is an integral part of festivities and celebrations all over Mexico. Drawing inspiration from these traditional dances, Amalia founded her ballet company in 1952 on the principles of preserving and capturing the spirit of these folk dances, adapting them to be enjoyed in a theater setting, and encouraging people of Mexican origin to feel pride in their roots. The book is biographical from when she was little girl to her death.

In the author's note, I found out that during her lifetime, Amalia had been criticized for appropriating and misrepresenting the dances.

Holes in the Sky by Patricia Polacco
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This poem brought me to tears time and time again. It talks about a little girl who loses a beloved grandmother only to find a new grandmother in her friend's grandmother. It is also a story of diversity and how what matters are friendship, caring, and love, not the color of your skin.

The Russian-American girl grew up in Caucasian Michigan. Her babushka always said that "the stars in the sky are holes in the sky. The light of heaven is showing through them from the other side." When it is her time to go, she will always look upon the girl through those holes. After her grandmother passes away, the family moves to Oakland CA, where the girl meets people from all over the world and enjoys making friends with them and visiting their houses. Her best friend is Stewart, an African-American boy who has the kindest grandmother, Miss Eula. Through Miss Eula, the girl learns about being kind to others, helping others, and how love is the best gift.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Books by Authors of Color that I have Reviewed (with links)

These are the romance novels by authors of color that I've read since January 2018, and most of them I have reviewed for USA Today Happy Every After, Frolic, and All About Romance.

1. Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra (link)
2. American Dreamer by Adrianna Herrera (link)
3. Crashing into Her by Mia Sosa (link)
4. The Fearless King by Katee Robert (link)
5. The Matchmaker’s List by Sonia Lalli (link)
6. Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal (link)
7. Their Perfect Melody by Priscilla Oliveras (link)
8. Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (link)
9. Not Another Family Wedding by Jackie Lau (link)
10. Couldn’t Ask for More by Kianna Alexander (link)
11. Untouchable by Talia Hibbert (link)
12. A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (link)
13. Tender Secrets by Ann Christopher (link)
14. Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt (link)
15. From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon (link)
16. Rogue Hearts anthology (link)
17. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (link)
18. A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (link)
19. Tempest by Beverly Jenkins (link)
20. A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev (link)
21. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
22. The Butterfly Bride by Vanessa Riley
23. Grumpy Fake Boyfriend by Jackie Lau

Saturday, March 2, 2019

My February Reading

Being marooned at home with inches of snow on our steep hills made for good reading progress. It being Valentine's Day, I read some V-Day-specific Harlequins that I had not read before. The only themed books I'd read before were Christmas books, and I love those. Now after reading these two V-Day books, I'm more inclined to try other holiday-themed books. You already have emotions surrounding holidays, so tying a romance to those emotions makes the book immediately accessible.

While these are not reviews, I want to share these two pieces that I'm particularly excited about: an interview with the amazing Lisa Kleypas and stories about their experience of the Romance genre by passionate denizens of Romancelandia: readers, bloggers, authors, editors, librarians, and scholars from all over the world.

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings translated & edited by Coleman Barks
Category: Poetry
Comments: I am really enjoying reading my way through this book, a poem a day, some very simple, some complex despite the paucity of words. I'm convinced most of what he had to say is going over my head. I thought to read to understand Rumi, instead Rumi is explaining my life. Whatever is going on in my life, I see in his poetry.

The Matchmaker's List by Sonya Lalli
Category: General Fiction
Comments: I was really looking forward to this book with its promise of cross-cultural highs and lows, an exploration of the immigrant experience, and a look at traditional arranged marriages in modern society. Unfortunately, it ultimately failed to live up to its pledge because the heroine quite sank the story.

Raina is biracial, having a barely-there Indian mother and an absent Caucasian father. She was born in Toronto when her mother was sixteen, and she has been raised by her traditional immigrant Indian grandparents. Raina spends all her life trying to be a good Indian girl while also fighting against the restrictions imposed by the expectations of her Nani’s (grandmother’s) culture.

It’s clear from the way the book is written that we are meant to sympathize with Raina and follow her trials and tribulations with a smile. Unfortunately, I could not do it. She’s an utterly self-absorbed, selfish woman, who does not take the time to examine how her words and actions affect the people around her and takes their care and love for granted. While there are moments when she is nice to them, most of the time, we hear her carping about them or saying and doing things that hurt or anger them. Her feelings and her concerns take up all her attention and she has none to spare even for Nani. My review is here.

The Fearless King by Katee Robert
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: The heart of The Fearless King is a lifting up of the two protagonists as better people in themselves, because they’re together as a couple. Love, the rare equalizer of all humans, paradoxically allows the individual to shine uniquely.

Journey King is the COO of Kingdom Corp. in Houston. Along with her brothers, Anderson and Bellamy (and silent partner sister Eliza), they collectively own enough shares to successfully lead the company. In their childhood, they’d been badly abused by their father, Elliott. When their mother, Lydia, finds out, she runs Elliott out of Houston and helms Kingdom Corp., while raising her children. Now Lydia is out of Houston, leaving the company to her children, and…
Elliott is back in town to take over Kingdom Corp, as—to their shock—the majority shareholder.

The only way for Journey to deal with Elliott’s threat to herself personally and to Kingdom Corp. is to ask Frank Evans for help. Frank is a real estate mogul who is a power to be reckoned with in Houston. Many powerbrokers are in debt to him because he is the holder of many secrets and deals in information. Journey is convinced that if there is something to be discovered about Elliott, Frank would be the one to find it.

I really liked how the author showed how two strong personalities learn to rely on each other, their vulnerability not diminishing each other in the least. My review is here. I am pleased with how this review turned out.

Lady Notorious by Theresa Romain
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Cassandra Benton is an unofficial Bow Street Runner and partner of her twin Charles. She enjoys investigative work and solving problems, and above all, being useful — to Bow Street and to Charles, who needs looking after. While she enjoys being needed, contradictorily, it is also a burden that she wishes somebody would take off her shoulders.

George, Lord Northbrook is the Duke of Ardmore’s heir. He lives at home and is a fancy-free gentleman who enjoys no responsibilities to anything or anyone and is simply waiting in the wings to become the duke someday. In the meantime, he’s dabbling in this and that. He’s convinced that he is a useless fribble and has learned to navigate society’s tonnish ways with a joking manner and careless mannerisms.

There are two things I loved about this story. The first is their absolute belief in the other person and the value they bring to everyone around them. The second thing is that the falling in love happens when they are together and just as much when they are apart. Many books have the romantic resolution happening mostly when the two people are together on the page and not much reflection when they're apart. I enjoyed the contemplative nature of this book. There's the murder mystery and then there's the frantic attraction and lovemaking, but there is also the quiet, thoughtful parts of the book. My review is here.

Devil's Daughter by Lisa Kleypas
Category: Victorian Romance
Comments: In this The Ravenels meet The Wallflowers book, Kleypas connects two of her most popular series. The book is also set in the world of Sebastian, now the Duke of Kingston, from Devil in Winter. My review is here.

Phoebe, Lady Clare, is Kingston’s oldest daughter. When the book opens, Phoebe has been widowed for two years, and after living with her parents for all this time, she is just coming out of mourning. She has two small children who she is henceforth determined to raise at Clare, the seat of her older son, Justin’s viscountcy. As our story starts, Phoebe is out of mourning and is traveling with her family and children to the Ravenels’ estate where her brother is marrying Lord Trenear’s ward. It is there that she meets West Ravenel.

And her mind and body are stunned—that was the only word that came to mind. He is so completely out of the realm of experience. With her first husband, Henry, she had shared a loving, gentle relationship. He was everything a gentleman should be, with the emphasis on gentleness and noble pursuits. West is reformed ex-rake who energetically pursues estate stewardship and continually challenges Phoebe's preconceived notions about herself. She slowly begins to believe that she is capable of many things, not just of being a wife. Just as he bucks her up, she bucks him up into believing in his reformation and not being blighted by his previous profligacy.

Crashing Into Her by Mia Sosa
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Biting humor really works in catching my attention. Pair that with sharp characterization and sharper dialogue, and I am hooked. Anthony Castillo is a Hollywood stunt professional for TV and film and an instructor at a stunt training company. He lives at home with his father and is hoping to buy a home, but his non-steady income makes it difficult for him to get a mortgage. He is adamantly, uncompromisingly determined that he wants to remain relationship-free.

Eva Montgomery is a fitness instructor. She lives in the shadow of her father’s concern — a concern that can be as smothering as it is manipulative. After a scumbag of a boyfriend tried to force her to marry him by attempting to impregnate her, she is single-mindedly resolute in avoiding future serious entanglements.

They meet at the wedding of Eva's best friend and Anthony's cousin's wedding. They spend a passionate night together and vow to let the hookup go no further. But when life throws them together, despite their best intentions, their attraction to each other only deepens. They reminded me of magnets every time they're in each other's proximity—magnets for rampaging libidos and sarcastic comments. I liked how they retained that sassiness right through to the end and didn't dissolve in a gooey puddle despite the "awww" moments. My review is here.

Best Friends, Secret Lovers by Jessica Lemmon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a sweet, hot story between college friends who impulsively share a kiss on Valentine’s Day that sends shockwaves in their relationship. Sabrina Douglas has been Flynn Parker’s best friend since college. They cannot recall a time when they had not shared their thoughts and time with each other. Along with Gage and Reid, the four of them have been an inseparable quartet, especially now that they all work for Monarch Consulting, a management consultancy firm.

But it is with Sabrina that Flynn feels most like himself, and likewise for Sabrina—they’re attuned to each other’s thoughts and feelings. It is a friendship that has sustained them through various changes in their lives, large and small. For three years, while Flynn was married to Veronica, their friendship had somehow stumbled along, but now that Flynn is divorced, Sabrina and Flynn are back in each other’s lives stronger than before. And he is desperately holding on to her generous, empathetic, sunshiny nature to avoid drowning—emotionally in the aftermath of his divorce and the intense pressure of stepping into his father's dominating shoes as head of Monarch.

Neither of them wants to jeopardize their friendship, but neither can they resist the siren call of love. How will they juggle their sexual relationship, their friendship, and their working relationship? My review is here.

Her Secret Texas Valentine by Helen Lacey
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Jake Brockton is the wealthy owner of the Double Rock Ranch, a large cattle ranch outside Houston. When his father died, Jake dropped out of college to work the ranch and support his mother and sister. He later finished his college online and got an MBA. However, he generally conveys a sense of being a down-to-earth cowboy, except in elevated circles. His previous failed marriage, where his ex-wife took him to the cleaners, has left him cautious to trust anyone. His requirements for a new woman in his life are someone who is organized, hardworking, passionate about her work, and independently wealthy.

Valene Fortunado works as a real estate agent in her family’s real estate agency that her father has built into a force to be reckoned with in Houston, with offices in Austin and San Antonio. She used to be a party girl in the circles she moved in. However, a failed relationship, where her boyfriend was more interested in romancing her father to get into the family business than romancing her, has left her cautious to trust anyone. Her requirements for a new man are money, a college education, and a good job.

Jake and Valene meet thanks to a dating app, and they hit it off from the first date, despite the fact that they are both exactly the opposite of their stated preferences. And in spite of the black moment in the second half of the book, theirs is a sweet story, with a heaping of sweetness from him. I really enjoyed seeing how their requirements of an ideal mate changes the more they get to know each other. My review is here.