Saturday, February 29, 2020

My February Reading

Over the past weekend, I read Georgette Heyer's Devil's Cub and then earlier in the week, I finished These Old Shades. And then as life would have it, just as I finished the two books, Janet Webb told me about this amazing Heyer podcast whose episodes 2 and 4 feature the two books I just read.

The episodes alternate between discussions about Heyer coupled with interviews of various people and discussions about her books. The people they feature include Stephen Fry, Heyer's biographer Jen Kloester, Hollywood producers, Australian biographers, some well-known British readers, authors including Mary Jo Putney, Susannah Fullerton the head of the Jane Austen Society in Australia who compares Austen and Heyer, and many others. In addition to discussions of the book, they also also feature fans and newbies alike as they seek to try to convert people who don't know about her. For example, in the second episode, they had a playwright and a 15-year-old. It was great to see their opinions.

Here is their reading list of books. I listened to their first episode on Wednesday featuring über fan Stephen Fry with a smile on my face as he waxed rhapsodic about the characters, the worldbuilding, and the cant and mused over the inexplicable lack of interest from filmmakers to bring Heyer's works to the screen, and I fell in love with the podcast. When Fry said that sometimes he wishes he were a little bit sick so he could have an excuse to lie in bed and read Heyer all day long, I fell in love with him.

The company is Fable Gazers, and this is their second season. (Every season, their focus is on different topics/people/ideas.) If you are a Heyer fan, I urge you to give their first episode a listen. Their production quality is superb and the host is a great interviewer, knowing just when to let her interviewees talk and when to gently guide them with great questions.

In this reading roundup below, I comment on romance novels and children's picture books.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer
Category: Traditional Georgian Romance
Comments: What can I say here about these two stories that hasn't been said before? These two books were my first Heyers (in that order), and I have read and re-read them since my teens. In fact, Heyer's books were what launched my decades-long love of the British-based historical romances set in the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. I used to like TOS over DC, but this time around, DC edged TOS out even though the Duke of Avon bits were among the most interesting parts of DC. Rupert, the scamp, had me in gusts of laughter over and over again as the stories sometimes descended into farce. One thing I will say about Heyer is how well-matched her heroes and heroines are on multiple levels. She is so perceptive of human nature and foibles.

With this reading, I noticed the fat-shaming Heyer does. Fat people are bad people or boring or silly. There is definite classism with Avon—he was absolutely against upward mobility among the classes. If either of these severely bother you, these books are not for you.

The Mock Marriage by Dorothy Mack
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: He is a lord who used to be favorite of his grandmother and poised to become heir to her estate, when she stipulated that he marry the girl of his choice while repudiating the one he chose. In a fit of the sullens, he ran away to war. Now he is recently returned, mature and wiser and willing to make peace with his grandmother, but still not willing to buckle under her dictate. He needs to find a wife fast.

She is the offspring of a very old twig of the genteel classes from Northumberland now reduced by poverty to take to the stage. However, she is being housed by her previous nurse who is fiercely protective of her virtue. Unfortunately, as a stage actress, she is courted by the idle scions of the nobility who vie to become her protector. Her brother has incurred insurmountable debts and seems to imply that she should sell herself to save him. She needs to find an alternative fast.

The best solution to their dilemma of course is that they enter into a temporary but real marriage-of-convenience with him paying her the requisite sum to act as his wife. The plan is that once he has secured his inheritance they would divorce. Well, in their desperation, they did not think things through—divorce was incredibly difficult to get and who knew how long they'd need the ruse to last?

Having given her characters a dilemma, Mack then has them deal with their rash decision, and the book is about how they behave with each other and the others in the story. Mack has created wonderful secondary characters, and the heroine's interactions with them reveal so much about her. This was my first Dorothy Mack story, and I look forward to more of her trads. One thing to note, is that this is slow story, and it works well for me, but it may not be for everyone.

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I gave this book an 'A+' in my book spreadsheet. This is going to go on my Best Books of 2020 list. I LOVED it. I consider Kate Clayborn an author of prodigious talent, and in this book, she has created perfection. My review is here.

Lilian and the Irresistible Duke by Virginia Heath
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: I am always interested in books where the romance involves older protagonists. Those stories tend to be more complex because so much of the protagonists’ lives has already been lived. They bring experiences and ideas to the relationship that younger characters just cannot. As a result, many of those books tend to deal more with internal conflict as opposed to external conflict as the characters try to overcome fixed ideas in order to fit their lives together.

She has been widowed these many years and has worked incredibly hard through the lonely difficult years to bring up her three children despite her reduced circumstances. In addition, she has successfully run the foundation that was her late beloved husband’s passion. Nowadays however, she has been reduced to being a spectator in her grown children’s marriages and her authority over the foundation has also lessened as her children have taken that on.

He is an Italian duke who is a handsome charmer and very popular with the ladies. Unlike his peers however, he is a working aristocrat with a thriving gallery through which he connects old art with nouveau riche people. He has had a turbulent marriage that has made him adamant about not getting caught again. He enjoys many casual liaisons with the firm stipulation in place that he is not interested is anything beyond the physical.

In order to show how loving a second relationship is, some romance novels tend to severely downplay or even disparage the first relationship. But Heath carefully shows how it is possible for one person to love twice, to love very different people and to be happy with both of them. My review is here.

Temporary Wife Temptation by Jayci Lee
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Début author Jayci Lee has burst on the romance scene with six books scheduled between now and the summer of 2022. Temporary Wife Temptation is her first book and the first in her Heirs of Hansol series featuring the Korean-American Song family. He is the VP of Business and Development at Hansol Incorporated, one of the top fashion retailers in the country. The company was started by his grandparents, and he has worked his way up the chain to where he is now poised to take over the role of CEO if he can land a partnership with another fashion conglomerate. At Garrett’s level, a man with a family is seen as a reliable man with whom to do business.

She is the youngest HR Director at Hansol Incorporated and is a dedicated workaholic herself and very successful at her job. However recently, her life has been completely shaken up by the death of her beloved sister and brother-in-law in a car accident. Her sister’s dying wish was that Natalie bring up her daughter as her own. Unfortunately for her, the baby’s grandparents are blocking her case for adoption, and social workers see more stability in adoption of babies by wealthy families than by single parents. So what could be a better solution than for the hero and heroine to contract a temporary marriage of convenience to be dissolved once he has his position as CEO and she has custody? My review is here.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: While this story is pitched as a rom-com and many people found the book very funny, the wit did not tickle my funny bone. However I found the drama compelling, especially, the growth in maturity of the characters. I finished reading the book in the morning and ended up at a Brazilian restaurant for dinner. This book will make you hungry.

For someone searching for that other person who doesn’t push her buttons, doesn’t force her out of her comfort zone to confront uncomfortable emotions, the hero is the worst person with whom to be involved. She is a Brazilian American wedding planner to DC professionals, but she was jilted at the altar. The culprit is her fiancée's brother. Said brother works for his mother’s company, which is a one-stop shop for marketing and publicity services. His life has been ruled since childhood with his rivalry with his older “perfect” brother.

For financial reasons, she is looking to expand her business, and her dream job is to be the wedding planner for a family-own small chain of boutique hotels. In order to prove to his mother that he is fully capable of handling the marketing campaign for an important client on his own, he is eager to work with the owner of a small chain of hotels to finesse her plans. Of course, they end up being forced to work together and to get along. My review is here.

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, illustrated by Haten Aly
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: Muhammad was the first Muslim American woman in hijab to compete and medal in the Olympics. She names the characters in her story after her sisters. This is a beautiful story of being strong in the face of criticism, of loving your faith and who you are, of sisterly love, and of modeling strength and graciousness. Wearing the hijab in America is an act of deep courage right when girls are dealing with the discomfort and self-consciousness of puberty—not to mention hormones. The hijab ties young girls to their faith spiritually and physically and is beyond the understanding of many peers. Muhammad was frequently asked why she was wearing that tablecloth on her head, so remembering her childhood and the "othering" she suffered, she wrote this book so other girls who look like her can see themselves in a picture book. They can see two sisters taking pride in their hijab and their faith and each other. "My hijab is beautiful," she says to those girls, "and so is yours."

Up Down Inside Out by JooHee Yoon
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: It is less a typical children’s picture book than it is a delightful curiosity for children of all ages. It explores the interactive nature of books with flaps, die-cuts, pull-outs, and a dramatic gatefold, while inviting discovery and expansive thinking from the reader. The humor and playfulness in the images with its discoverability of joy is as appealing as it is surprising. Exaggerated emotions add to the whimsical, comic nature of the visual renderings. Each of the eighteen maxims challenges the reader to really think through the words and what they mean and how the visual depiction translates and adds to the meaning of the words. It is not merely an image of the saying, but rather the essence imagined through a printmaker’s creativity.

Patience, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez, illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: In this book, the young girl Miyuki is eager for springtime and for her garden to bloom. But on the first day of spring, when she visits her garden, she is sad to see that one little flower is still asleep. The story follows Miyuki’s search for the purest water for her little flower—and the farther she searches, the more frustrated she becomes. So ends the first perfect day of spring with Miyuki having been unable to appreciate it.

Good things in life are worth waiting for, worth slowing down for in order to cherish their value. Everything, everyone, grows in their own time, and impatience cannot hurry them along. Growing nature symbolizes hope, longevity, and good fortune. Miyuki’s wise grandfather asks her to slow down so she can recognize the gifts the natural world is giving her, instead of spurning them in her hurry to force a flower to bloom. This book is as much a story of nature as it is a story of nurture, of teaching the young girl the importance of mindfulness. Miyuki’s grandfather explains to her the importance of imbuing the present moment with her presence, rather than focusing on a future event of great uncertainty. The book is thus an emissary of deep existential wisdom.

Wangari Maathai: The Women Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot, translated by Dominique Clément, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: Originally in French, this is the story of a woman born in British-occupied Kenya who planted millions of hopeful seeds that have become forests today—in a sense keeping her alive to this day. Given that her name is Wa-ngari, meaning she who belongs to the leopard, from her childhood, she always thought of herself as a part of the forest. Early in her childhood, her mother taught her an important lesson: "A tree is worth more than its wood."

Wangari was inspired to plant trees when she saw her beloved forest being denuded by the greedy British imperialists to plant tea. Wangari was blessed with a thirst for knowledge and got a high school diploma when few African girls even knew how to read. She comes to an American university to study on a special program instituted by John F. Kennedy. She returns to Kenya when it gains independence, and she is shocked how poorly her country has fared, especially its forests. So she decides to use her education and her network of people at home and abroad to educate them how a forest is one of the most precious treasures of humanity. She started the Green Belt Movement in 1977 and traveled from village to village to educate people. She raised funds from Kenya and from international organization to plant her thirty million of trees.

And in so doing, she empowers women. She believes in confident women and entrusts tree nurseries to women, paying them per tree that grows. She believes that confident women have an important role to play int heir families, in their villages, and on the entire African continent. She is shot at, jailed, and receives death threats, yet every time she is released, she becomes more involved in the political process because that is the way to truly effect the change she wants to see. She is eventually elected as assistant environmental minister. In 2004, she receives the Nobel Peace Prize, the first for an African woman, for the countless seeds of hope she planted and grew over the years.

We need another Wangari Maathai in our midst today even as the White House moves to destroy protected forests and displace/kill wild animals.