Friday, September 4, 2020

My August Reading

I did the poetry #TheSealeyChallenge on Twitter this month, and I loved it. It was started by poet Nicole Sealey as a way to get people to start buying and reading poetry. I started seven days late, but then posted every day. The challenge was to post a snippet of a poem you've read from a book or chapbook you own while naming the poet, the title of the poem, and the book; tagging the writer; and adding the hashtag and day of the month. There was also a requirement to post the cover of the book and an image of the full poem, but I didn't do that.

Poems for the Moon: Vol 1 by J.R. Rogue
Category: Poetry
Comments: This was an interesting book by Rogue. Instead of his usual full poems, this book contains vignettes—almost like an ideas journal, where they tried out poems or saved stuff they might want to develop later on.

For August 10, for the #TheSealeyChallenge, I had the following entry:

Can we, for tonight,
just be the moon?
Curve into me like that
cheshire grin in the sky?
Press your heart into my back.
Let me forget my own.
–J.R. Rogue @jenR501 Poems for the Moon

Falling Stars by Loretta Chase
Category: Regency Romance Novella
Comments: The setup is lovely—pure traditional Regency. If you're looking for a low-conflict story full of the warmth of the season and familar characters and settings, then this is the story for you. But for me, it lacks the vivacity of a Chase trad with quirky characters.

They have history. They had been madly in love when they were very young. He had an unsavory reputation then and hadn't dared to approach her honorably because he knew her father and the people around her would've rejected his suit. So in desperation, he'd suggested she elope with him. However, at the last minute, she decided against doing this, and to save her reputation and stood him up. He was grief-stricken but over the years, managed to recover and build a life worth reckoning for himself. She married security and wealth almost immediately following her repudiation of his offer and now has twin girls.

They meet at his brother's house for Christmas. She is his brother's wife's friend. I enjoyed his character development into a man who discovers that he likes children, whether they're his nephews or her daughters. I enjoyed watching her becoming more assertive of her likes and wants as the story moves on. While she honored her husband during her marriage, since her widowhood, she has not forgotten her first love. Their meeting rekindles the spark of attraction like the intervening ten years had never occurred.

Chase writes in her afterword that this was her first Christmas story, and it was inspired by a photograph she saw of an elaborately fanciful gatehouse. (In this story, the gatehouse is where the ill-fated couple were to meet to embark on their elopment.) In this book, Chase definitely shows her fetish for white skin, over and over again in varying ways, and it was discomfiting.

The Wrong Mr. Darcy by Evelyn Lozada & Holly Lőrincz
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: What could a small-town sports reporter and a highly paid professional basketball player have in common when her job is to report on the games and the scandals of the team?

Hara Isari is a biracial (African-American and Japanese-American) beat reporter at a small-town paper, dreaming of making it to the big leagues as a sportswriter. Thanks to her father, she has gained a love of sports, particularly, basketball, as well as a deep understanding of the ins and outs of the games and how to report on them. She knows she faces an uphill task being a woman in a man’s world—imagine, female reporters making their way into male locker rooms after the games for the chance of an off-the-cuff remark.

Derek Darcy comes from a lot of money. While his father is not quite part of the old-monied class of Bostonians, he is right up there with his snootiness about what is due to his family and class. He despises Derek’s choice to play pro-basketball. He feels that instead of going into a prestigious job, he is falling into the clichéd profession of a black man in sports. Derek is the close childhood friend of a basketball legend, and Hara and Derek meet when she wins a contest to interview the interview-shy legend. My review is here.

You had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: From the cover to the last word, this is pure entertainment theater. The high drama, the intense emotions, the impassioned familia, the close-knit relationships, humor and a sexy romance all add up to a satisfying whole.

Jasmine Lin Rodriguez is a soap opera actor who has just landed a lead role in a hot bilingual telenovela called Carmen in Charge. She wants to prove to her family that acting is her dream. Just when she should be celebrating her success, she is dumped by her famous boyfriend and finds herself splashed across the tabloids. Furious, she gets with her cousins to come up with the Leading Lady Plan: leading ladies “don’t need a man to be happy,” they are “whole and happy on their own,” and they are “badass queens making jefa moves.”

Angel Luis “Ashton” Suárez is a man of secrets, and he wants to protect his privacy at all costs. He is also one of the rising stars of telenovelas, and coincidentally, Jasmine’s abuela’s favorite telenovela star. He had been despondent over being killed off his last show, so he was delighted to be cast in the happening Carmen in Charge. He is nearing forty and hopes that this show will finally help him get bigger and better roles.

Jasmine and Ashton meeting on the set of Carmen in Charge in New York sets the story in motion—their meet cute where he spills coffee on her is funny and sweet. My review is here.

The Return of the Disappearing Duke by Lara Temple
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: For some books, you know within the first few pages as you sink into the story that it is going to be very good. Compared to Temple's other books, this is a deeply philosophical book, especially those scenes in the Egyptian desert.

Colonel Raphael, the Duke of Greybourne AKA Mr. Rafe Grey, ran away as a teen from his abusive father and stern, indifferent mother to the army. From there, he became a wanderer and mercenary for hire. At one point he did return to England to support his younger brother and his newborn son. But the death of his nephew sent him out wandering again. At the moment the story begins, he is on the trail of his brother who has disappeared in Egypt.

Cleopatra “Cleo” led a circumspect life until her teen years with her loving mother and largely absent father. When her mother died, her father’s absence put her and her younger brother in the orphanage for a year, before he sent for his son. But Cleo disguised herself as a boy and went with her brother to her father, who was not best pleased to be saddled with a girl in his global nomadic exploration of antiquities—real and fake—to sell to the highest bidders. His indifference towards his children makes for an unusual upbringing and accounts for much of Cleo’s mistrustful personality. She never knows when someone will betray her and seeks to be on guard at all times.

Cleo and Rafe meet when Cleo propositions Rafe—offering to pay him with an emerald—for his offices in getting her from Syene to Cairo. My review is here.

Here To Stay by Adriana Herrera
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: With this book, Herrera brings a fresh and fun look at workplace romance with an enemies-to-lovers theme. And as with all her books, what seems light on the surface has deep and serious undercurrents, such as verbal abuse and the deportation of immigrants. Herrera continues to wow me with her stories of complex fully-formed characters, found family, Latinx family relationships, starting over in new places, and success and happiness despite the odds.

Dominican American Julia del Mar Ortiz leaves behind her familia to follow her boyfriend from NYC to Dallas to her dream job of running a charitable foundation for a big department store. Unfortunately, her feckless boyfriend ends up ditching her to hightail it out of Dallas, leaving her behind with an expensive apartment and car to pay for and to fend off loneliness.

Herrera’s skill is in writing characters who are passionate about and dedicated to the work they do. Julia cares deeply about the people she helps through her work for the Foundation. Her commitment and no-nonsense attitude stand her in good stead when dealing with her work duties as well as working with her colleagues.

But her fiery personality makes for spectacular clashes with fellow New Yorker, Rocco Quinn. Rocco is the talented consultant hired by the Foundation’s CEO to move the store into public ownership. This could result in Julia’s job being eliminated. Her and Rocco’s conflict arises between their opposing desires for the head of the Foundation because of the impact that position would have on their respective lives—each stands to lose something important to them. My review is here.

Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is Malaysian author Lauren Ho’s debut book and is set in Singapore. I really liked this book for its deeper examination of Singaporean society and what it demands of its young. Using humor, the author makes the painful, palatable. An assured debut.

Chinese-Malayasian-Singaporean Andrea Tang is in her early thirties and laser-focused on her career in a successful law firm. She is a senior associate aiming to make law partner before too long. Her chic condo and chic friends and their high-living life have been enough for her so far. And yet, she dreads the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration that always brings out nosy relatives, who opine on her unmarried and child-free life and bring her deeply hidden insecurities about her future to the surface. She knows she is supposed to want a husband and children, that a woman isn’t considered complete without being married, that her social capital is at a low ebb as a single woman&8212;these are the challenges of Singaporean society.

So when her mother with over passive-aggressive tendencies finds out that Andrea is being courted by wealthy entrepreneur Eric Deng and she is over the moon, Andrea takes comfort that she is finally being the dutiful daughter and taking an interest in life beyond work. She parrots out loud how rich, handsome and successful Eric is and thus perfect for any woman, especially her, and she would be crazy to refuse to marry him.

And yet...there is Indian-Singaporean Suresh Aditparan. On one hand, he is supremely irritating and with whom she is vying to make partner; on the other hand, she can’t stop thinking about him. She is completely conflicted. On one hand, Eric is the politic choice, which will please her family and hush up her critics, on the hand, there is Suresh’s seductive charm. My review is here.

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This is an ongoing read for our Sunday Twitter Book Club with Mary Lynne, Kay, Ros, and Willa. We are reading three chapters every week. The discussions for this book have been robust, and not everyone is in agreement at all times, which makes for interesting conversation. This book is about the protagonists' growth arcs, particularly, the heroine's. The others have read this book before, but this was my first read. I feel that for the others, their overall impression of her is coloring how they view her in the beginning chapters. Since I was coming at the book with fresh eyes, I found her character difficult to read or understand, much less empathize. But now that we're beyond chapter 10, I am beginning to see glimmers of her promise. The hero I have found reasonable and logical and sympathetic right from the start. But in order for the story to work, you have to understand the heroine, and it takes effort to stay the course till chapters 9 or 10. I can well see why this was a polarizing book—some people really liked it and others didn't. It's certainly not an easy book, and I wonder if I would've continued on with it if I hadn't been reading it for the book club and knew that the other members of the club had read it and enjoyed it.

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed
Category: Contemporary YA Fiction
Comments: This is a dual-timeline, YA romantic suspense that didn't quite take off. The premise is very interesting. The author Alexandre Dumas was friends with the painter Eugène Delacroix in early 19th century. Alexandre, a known womanizer, was fascinated with a woman with long black hair. This is Leila, whose name Dumas doesn't mention. What is also little known is that Dumas was biracial with a white French grandfather and a black slave grandmother and was discriminated in his life because of it.

Our modern-day teen, Khayyam (yes, of that famous poet's name) is an American, French, Indian, and Muslim teen. She has a Caucasian French father and an Indian Muslim mother, both professors at a well-known university in the US. Of her heritage Khayyam writes (and I loved): "I'm not a passport that everyone gts to stamp with a label of their choosing. People look at me and try to shove me into their own narrative to define who and what I am. But I'm nto a blank page that everyone else gets to write on. I have my own voice. I have my own story. I have my own name. It's Khayyam."

Her dream is to study art history at the college adjoining the Art Institute of Chicago, which requires that she write an original research essay. She submits one on the possibility that Delacroix secretely gave Dumas one his famous paintings. The judge returns the essay with a scathing opinion. Khayyam embarks on her annual family trip to Paris in a glum mood but determined to redeem herself. Lo and behold, one of the first people she meets is the great-great-many greats-grandson of Alexandre Dumas who has a character sketch by Delacroix in his parents' apartment.

Very promising start to the story, no? But it is the writing and Khayyam's lovelorn characterization that sinks the story. It isn't that teens aren't lovelorn. But YA authors, such as Sandhya Menon, write such characters with a light hand, sprinkling lots of humor with some emo. Khayyam has only one setting to her: gasping over the new Parisian boy with a lot of silliness and self-deprecation minus the humor. This is all a huge pity. I really wanted to like the book, because the mystery is well done.

A note: I enjoyed the loving relationship between Khayyam's parents. Bright intelligent people who enjoy each other intellectually and romantically and who love their child unconditionally and provide her with the support, challenge, and independence she needs. This is what marriage is about. I wanted to read their story.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: I took a writing webinar on the beauty of rage in the personal essay this month led by a brilliant professor of journalism and fantastic essayist. This book is a good example of the beauty of rage and its effectiveness. Far too often, Black women have been deemed as angry women and dismissed as irrational. However, we have seen the rise of eloquent women expressing rage in public spaces with great effectiveness: Serena Williams, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Toni Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Audre Lorde, and so many others. Drawing on Lorde's experiences, Cooper has in turn explored rage in the context of Black females starting from when they're little girls. In many ways, this was a hard book to read, because the emotions are right on the surface, so much so, that a careless glance could dismiss it as a chip on the shoulder. But if you stay with the text and really listen to what she is saying, she is showing us how expressive rage can be and how empowering.