Thursday, February 4, 2021

January Reading Notes

Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern The image on the left is a Regency morning gown and is an 1813 print from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. The image is copyrighted by author and collector extraordinaire Candice Hern. I will be using this image for some of my monthly reading notes this year.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: This is an ongoing read for my book club. Last spring, we read So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. In the summer, we read Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and professor Ibram X. Kendi and Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by professor Brittany Cooper. This fall, we read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. In the winter, we've started reading Caste. This book examines the caste systems of India, the Nazi Reich, and the US, comparing and contrasting how the caste system manifests itself differently given the history, culture, and philosophy of those three countries.

We read section one (first three chapters) of the book for this month. In our discussions, I realized how difficult it is for Caucasian Americans to see "caste." Caucasian Americans like to believe that we are all about upward mobility and movement between classes in our country. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is what this country is about. But they fail to grasp how caste anchors people down where they are, sometimes, with no recourse to better things, or sometimes, requiring superhuman effort and a great deal of luck to be able to break free. For February, we are reading section two (chapters 4-9).

Unexpectedly Wed To The Officer by Jenni Fletcher
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Set in Bath, this is a lovely quiet story between a shopkeeper and an officer of the navy who is the grandson of a duke. They meet in a dramatic fashion in the middle of the night when she breaks his nose and knocks him on his backside. Surely, they were meant to fall in love?

Henrietta Gardiner runs the biscuit shop that has been in the Fortini family for two generations. Her beauty has led her into tricky situations with unscrupulous men and suspicious women, so she is wary of men who compliment her. Her family life brings her great sorrow. Instead of devoting his life to his young sons after his wife’s death, he is devoting his life to drinking. As a result, she is doing two jobs: running the shop and caring for the children in the evenings. One day, she finds out that he has run away and left the boys in her care.

Sebastian Fortini has recently left the Royal Navy and returned to dry land after many years, only to find that his mother and sister have fallen into the embrace of the much-hated aristocracy. His sister is now a countess. His mother has returned to her uncle’s house where her mother, the dowager duchess, resides. All his life, Sebastian has hated his mother’s relations for disowning her after she ran away with a footman turned baker. And now, he is bemused that his mother has reclaimed her heritage and expects him to visit there. My review is here.

Happy Singles Day by Ann Marie Walker
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: How would you give a professional organizer an anti-vacation? Have her be housebound with the most disorganized person she has ever met. She is revolted and thinks he’s a slob. He is disgusted and thinks she’s uptight. But there is one thing on which both agree: the other is hot.

Paige Parker is a certified Professional Organizer. Everything in her life has a place and is in place. She is pleased to be single, living in a big city, and in charge of her flourishing business, Chaos Control. Everything is flawless, except… she hasn’t had a vacation in years. On the goading of her assistant, she books a room at the beach-side Copper Lantern Inn on Aurelia Island, a no-car island off the coast of North Carolina. It looks perfectly charming on the website and the best way to commemorate Happy Singles Day — she certainly doesn’t need a man to make her happy.

Lucas Croft is a single father in thrall to his four-year-old daughter and barely hanging on to his now-defunct, derelict inn. His wife and he had bought it together with such joy and hope for their future. And with her death, he can’t bear to relist it for guests. At the same time, bills have a tendency to come at regular intervals, and with managing his daughter and taking on odd jobs in carpentry, money is in short supply. Luckily, Lucas is blessed with a bossy, managing sister, who does what younger sisters do best: plague their brothers… and take care of them. Unbeknownst to him, she revives the listing for the B&B and books him a client. My review is here.

Shipped by Angie Hockman
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Visiting the Galápagos islands has been a lifelong dream of mine, so when I spotted this book about the islands by an author who had been there, I jumped at the chance to read it. And it was such a rewarding experience. Hockman has done a fabulous job with Shipped. The book provides the reader a front row seat in experiencing the magic and wonder of the Galápagos as the protagonists explore the islands. And even as they discover the beauty, the beauty has an effect on them and their relationship. In some books, the setting is a backdrop; in this book, the setting is as much a character as the protagonists.

Henley Rose Evans is not one to make waves as a marketing manager at Seaquest Adventures, a global adventure cruise travel company based in Seattle. She works tirelessly, and bookings for Pacific cruises have done up every quarter since she joined the company. However, her ambition to make director before the age of thirty is being thwarted by a sexist boss. Henley also moonlights as a graduate student in business administration, and as if she isn’t busy enough, she skimps on sleep to work on her never-ending task list.

Graeme Crawford-Collins, AKA Graham Cracker in Henley’s head, is the social media manager at Seaquest and works remotely from Michigan. He joins in business meetings from his home over a tinny phone line. This is in pre-Zoom days. He has a tragic backstory that has made him unable to work in a high-powered job. His fear of public speaking and being uncomfortable in large groups further compounds his isolation. So even though the Seaquest job is a step-down for him, it suits him. My review is here.

Beginner's Luck by Kate Clayborn
Category: Contemporary Fiction
Comments: This is the first book of Clayborn's highly popular series Chance of a Lifetime. I am reading it three chapters every week for the Sunday Book Club on Twitter with Mary Lynne (@emmelnie), Kay (@miss_batesreads), Ros (@ros_clarke), Rohan (@rohanmaitzen), and Joanne (@regency_gal). We meet every Sunday at 2pm ET (7pm UK) for a rousing and rapid-fire discussion. So far, we've read two Cecilia Grant, one Lucy Parker, and one Balogh. We have established a good pace and enjoy each other's company.

This book builds slowly. Having read Clayborn's Love Lettering, I knew that was her style, and I enjoy it. It is like she draws the outline in the beginning chapters and slowly starts coloring it in. I love her voice: no hyperboles, no eye-rolling leaps of faith. Just good, engrossing storytelling. My issue with this book doesn't have anything to do with Clayborn's writing, which I love, but has to do with her protagonist Kit.

I find Kit unusually mealy-mouthed and self-effacing to the point of being tiresome and unbelievable. I find how she goes about her career very frustrating and unbelievable. Why all this self-sacrificing? I understand instability in her childhood, but I would’ve thought that she would seek more and more financial security and not less. And one can build a home anywhere. By her doggedly holding on to her home in this very town where the hero has a history of being a delinquent and ran away from is thoughtless at best and cruel at worst.

The only thing she reaches out and takes is sleeping with the hero, which goes from fabulous sexual tension and a single kiss to jumping between the sheets. It is too abrupt and involves a huge spike in trust without any build-up of scaffolding underneath. I wish contemporaries did a slow build-up to the sleeping together; they are always in such a rush to get their protagonists there.

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, performed by Juliet Stevenson
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: I continue to be fascinated by the story through Stevenson's narration. I am not driving as much these days, and I only listen to the audiobook in the car, so the story is moving along slowly despite how gripping it is. I hope to be able to finish it next month. I have five hours left to go. I have another Stevenson book cued up for February.