Monday, August 3, 2020

My July Reading

Finally... Finally!!... Summer has arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and what a gorgeous summer it is. Day time temperature hovers between 75 and 80 F with 30 to 50 percent humidity. Blue skies. Bright sunshine. This is bliss to those of us who love the sun but are stuck in rainy, dark, cold PNW for ten months of the year. I have been spending time in the hammock in the back yard, reading, and time in a lawn chair in the front yard, working. Now, if only, I weren't allergic to the PNW grasses and mold and moss that seems to be permanently mixed in, I would be able to lie down in the cool grass like this young miss here in the picture.

The Ruin of Evangeline Jones by Julia Bennet
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Bennet’s The Madness of Miss Grey was on my Best Books of 2019 list, and so I was eagerly awaiting this book. The Ruin of Evangeline Jones is superb.

Evangeline “Evie” Jones was a much sought-after medium in London. Séances always exhaust her but that is the only thing she has been trained to do in her life. She owes everything to "Captain" who had rescued her as a young child from a brothel. And he demands complete obedience and obeisance from her. His every whim is her command, and she is in thrall to him.

Alex, the Duke of Harcastle has made it his mission to flush out charlatans who separate clients from their money through fraudulent séances. He does not believe in spirits or spiritualists. Other than his zeal for this, he considers himself an aloof man. He has no intimates outside his family, partly because he is reserved and partly because his rank is so daunting. Alex has a secret. He has a naughty photograph of Evie that he accidentally found in one of the print shops of London. The photograph so fascinates and arouses him that he carries it around in his pocket like a talisman and communes with it in his leisure times. Evie and Alex meet at one of her séances. My review is here.

Mr. Malcolm's List by Suzanne Allain
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: The Honorable Jeremy Malcolm, second son of the Earl of Kilbourne, is handsome and wealthy and the greatest catch of the Season. But he is determined to not be caught. He has a list of requirements in the lady on whom he will confer the honor of being his wife: amiable & even-tempered; handsome of countenance & figure; candid, truthful & guileless; converses in a sensible fashion; educated herself by extensive reading; a forgiving nature; charitable & altruistic; graceful & well-mannered; posses musical or artistic talent; has genteel relations from good society.

Dear Readers, you can see where this is going. The Honorable Jeremy Malcolm is set to have his backside handed to him.

Full of good humor and period details, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable story of how a smart, bright young woman brings this arrogant, pompous darling of the ton to his proverbial knees, and in so doing, confers upon him the honor of becoming her husband. My review is here.

Her Best Friend, the Duke by Laura Martin
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Imagine if a duke and a lady could be platonic friends in the Regency, and it would be accepted by the ton with no scandalous rumors attached to them? Just imagine!

James, the Duke of Heydon, is on the wrong side of forty and adores traveling. He is gone a few months of the year exploring to his heart’s content. The other times, he is dedicated to his estates and fulfilling other ducal duties. He has been waiting patiently (and impatiently) for The One to appear in his life. In the meantime, he has perfected the art of depressing the hopes of marriage-minded mamas and their simpering daughters. The only lady’s company he freely enjoys is Caroline’s.

Caroline Yaxley (“Cara” to James) secretly hankers to travel. And Caroline even more secretly hankers after James. She has been in love with him since the beginning of their five-year friendship. But he has never had more than a warm strictly platonic regard for her. He is a reserved man, aloof even with his male friends, and it is only with Caroline that he lets down his guard and shares his thoughts and ideas. Caroline values his friendship so much — at least in this way she has him in her life — that she is afraid to even hint at her feelings and run the risk of having him dropping her like a hot potato. My review is here.

The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Content Warning: There is discussion of assault in the book and in my review.

In this book, Patel brilliantly shows how young Indian Americans blend the Indian ethics and morals their parents brought with them from India—and tried to inculcate in their progeny—and the American principles they grew up with among their peers. Ultimately, the book is an exploration of deeply-held values, how our past shapes us, and how we can intentionally step forward into life.

Liya Thakkar is a Gujarati Indian American biochemistry scientist in Houston. All her life, she’s been known as a rebel among her parents’ generation, a strong person among her friends, and a person with integrity among her colleagues. She was not generally considered a likeable person, and she has convinced herself of that fact, and she has further developed a hard shell to shrug off any attempts by others to like her. She certainly has no intention of marrying.

So when she finds herself being surprised by her desperate parents with an introduction to a prospective groom, she runs screaming into the night…smack into the gorgeous person of Jayesh “Jay” Shah, a Gujarati Indian American lawyer in Houston. Jay is naturally appalled at Liya’s manners and that she hurt his mother’s feelings and her parents’. Unlike Liya’s rebelliousness and prickly relationship with her parents, mostly her father, Jay has a close relationship with his mother, brother, and sister-in-law. Liya has an unruly tongue on her, but Jay is the dutiful son and has always the rights words and gestures for every occasion and every person. My review is here.

A Duke, The Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: In conjunction with release of this book, I wrote up a list of diverse historical romances I have read and loved: #OwnVoices historical romances, stories by marginalized authors, and historicals with diverse characters.

This book is an excellent start to Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women series. I have found Riley to be a consistently good writer with strong heroes and heroines and their remarkable stories with complex bits of history that I never knew about. I loved her previous Advertisements for Love series, and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how this new series progresses.

Patience Jordan is an Afro-Caribbean heiress from the West Indies. When her English husband dies mysteriously, Patience tries to make enquires about the cause of his death, and before she knows it, her son has been kidnapped and she has been stripped of her home and fortune and clapped into Bedlam. She is at her wit’s end with sorrow and worry over her infant son. All she wants to do is rescue him and return to the West Indies.

The Widow’s Grace is a secret society that helps widows down on their luck return to their former status, find their families, and perhaps even find true love. The society helps Patience to hire on as her son’s nurse in the ducal household of his guardian, all unbeknownst to him. Busick Strathmore, the Duke of Repington, is used to commanding people and their respect, as a duke and in combat. He wears the mantle of power and influence lightly but comfortably. So he is perplexed to be at daggers drawn with his ward’s nurse. My review is here.

So Forward by Mina V. Esguerra
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Young poet Gaby Comprés has written: "stories, we all are stories, we are books longing for someone to look beyond our covers and turn our pages and read the ink tattooed on them. we long to be seen, we want to be read and understood and loved. we are hoping to become poetry to those hearts that see us, something beautiful and unforgettable." This is what I thought of as I read this book.

All her life, Alexandra "Lexa" Lorenzo has been told that she is tough, difficult, unfriendly—she is never the sweet one, the cute one, the nice one. She knows that people believe she is scary and aloof. While she is ambivalent about wanting to change this commonly-held perspective of her, she does want the top job at Basco Lorenzo, and Filipino companies need to see their managers being friendly and enjoying themselves at parties before they can be liked and trusted. Esguerra has done a good job of showing how this belief in her toughness, has allowed Lexa to succeed on the rink as a Philippine national women’s team ice hockey player, but it has done a number on her mind. She believes she is unlovable.

Colin Valerio is the darling of the rink as a nationally renowned figure skater of the Philippines, who has a fetish for posting, wildly popular, shirtless photos of himself on Instagram. Now that his skating days are over, he makes money with an on-off modeling career and a marketing job for an underwear brand, which subsidizes his MBA at AGS.Colin thinks people look at him and assume he is empty-headed and not going to amount to much. Esguerra does a wonderful job of showing Colin’s vulnerability. My review is here.

A Sweet Mess by Jayci Lee
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: In this book, Jayci Lee brings together two Korean-American protagonists who have combustible chemistry with each other that eventually deepens into an abiding love. Lee’s skill as a writer is bringing her characters fully formed to life right from the beginning.

Aubrey Choi is a talented baker who puts her heart and soul into her work, even caring for her youngest clients’ birthday cakes. Her small Comfort Zone bakery is set in Weldon in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Aubrey has built up her life away from her strictly traditional Korean parents, especially her father. She asserted her independence early on and is working hard to not only make ends meet but also to keep her dream bakery alive. It is not easy being a business owner in a small town, and it is especially difficult when you are one of only six Asian Americans. However, Lee has a light hand with the story. This book is of two people finding love and their romantic struggles, not of socio-cultural struggles marginalized Americans face.

Landon Kim is a celebrity food critic, who travels all over the world leading a nomadic life. He is known in the industry to never walk back a review, whether good or bad. His word is his word, and his reputation rests on it. He also retains his professional integrity by never mixing the personal with the professional; in other words, he does not want to be party to a scandal accusing him of allowing a restaurateur to sleep with him for a positive review.

And in this story, the personal collides with the professional. My review is here.

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant
Category: Historical Romance Novella
Comments: This was my first Cecilia Grant book, and I was wowed. Her writing is delicate, subtle, and nuanced, and you get the feeling that the words are carefully chosen and placed. I am absolutely in love with her writing

The hero and heroine are virgins. She is a free spirit, he is an uptight prig. He is powerfully attracted to her right from the beginning; she is slow to warm. He is unbending in his duty and rules of propriety; she cares not a fig for propriety. Over the course of just a handful of days, he starts to let his guard down and to see that it is okay for him to not be so perfectionistic and not do everything just right. And in so doing, he starts to notice that what he had initially found annoying is actually are good traits to have. Likewise, she realizes that not everything should be winged; she learns to slow down and think before impulsively acting. They both also learn to accept in the other what they may not like and to admire the other for what they do well. And thus they each change and shift to fit together.

I read this as part of a Twitter book club. We read this book over three Sundays in July. In August and September, we plan on reading Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant, over six weeks, three chapters a week. Do join in on Sundays at 2pm ET with hashtag #LadyAwake.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: A brilliant book pitched at young middle schoolers, it is the YA version of Dr. Kendi's adult book Stamped. Reynolds does a good job of breaking Kendi's complex research and writing, down to salient points that harness what the kids already know to explain what they don't know. History is told by the victors, and so there is all this Black history that has been erased. This book talks about all the notable Black people in history who effected structural change, that does not include the known greats, but the lesser known lights who were even more influential.The book also turns commonly-told white history on its head. Most kids' history books wax poetic on Thomas Jefferson, but how many kids know that he spoke out of both sides of his mouth: equality and slaveholder?

One of the interesting ideas of this book is how people in history have been segregationists, assimilationists, or antiracists. This exists to this day. People either fall in one bucket or the other, or some straddle buckets depending on the situation. Some people progress through different buckets at different points in their life. Obama is an ineresting example. Black people had hoped he would be antiracist; turns out he was more assimilationist when he was in office. I attended a panel which had Dr. Cornel West on it, and he talked about how he was a huge Obama fan and worked really hard on his first campaign but became disillusioned about him and increasingly critical as time went to on.

I read this book as part of a Zoom book club, and we met for five Thursdays this month to discuss different sections of the book. We read this book deliberately as part of the antiracicsm work we are doing. In June, we read So You Want To Think About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. In August and September, we are going to read, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper. In October and November, we will be reading How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.