Thursday, February 25, 2021

February Reading Notes

Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern i can't believe two months of the new year have whizzed past. Life for me has been tranquil these past few days, and I am immensely grateful. Routine is great. Boring is good. It leaves me time to think, to write, to dream a bit. To hope.

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell, performed by Juliet Stevenson
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: As I was finishing up with this story, I found myself getting more and more impatient with Margaret. I was shocked how little she mourns the death of both her parents and her godfather. She is more disturbed by the lie she told Mr. Thornton and ruminates on it and castigates herself endlessly, instead of being grief-stricken over those deaths. Ultimately, despite all the good and caring work she did in Milton, I found that she was undeserving of Mr. Thornton's love because she is unfeeling.

People could read her character as someone who feels deeply but hides it well because she doesn't know how to express it. However, her thoughts rarely roam to those she has lost, which I would suppose would happen if she cared deeply for them. People could read that as her mind protecting her from deep sorrow by not allowing her to dwell on them. Other than worrying about the lie she told Mr. Thornton and his opinion of her character, I never saw her even think to herself that she held him in affection or even love. My reading could be the "wrong" reading of the work, but I stopped sympathizing with Margaret towards the end. She did not deserve Mr. Thornton.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, performed by Prunella Scales
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: Listening to Cranford narrated by Prunella Scales in the car these days. I am about half an hour into it, and while Scales is not bad, she just isn't as good as Juliet Stevenson. She gets rather lost on long sentences and tries to go fast and far on one breath and peters out.

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I loved this enemies-to-lovers book. It is such a breath of fresh air in that it infuses the enemies to lovers trope with tenderness and softness and wonder as a contrast to the initial animus.

Shay Goldstein is Caucasian Jewish American and a producer at a public radio station in Seattle. She secretly yearns to be a host of her own show, but in ten years of taking crap from her sexist boss, she hasn’t made much progress in that direction. She still cannot get over the death of her beloved father from whom she got her love of public radio. Now, her mother has moved on and found a new love, and suddenly, Shay finds herself planning for her mother’s wedding when her mother should’ve been planning for hers. Shay finds herself disheartened and living alone in an echoing house.

Dominic Yun is Korean American and has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He is intent on making his mark in serious journalism. Inexplicably, he chooses to do so at a radio station despite his fear of public speaking, because he sees that as a springboard to journalism greatness.

Shay and Dominic’s animosity towards each other fuels great banter between them. Everyone around the station enjoys their snarky comments and brush-offs. So when Shay suggests a new show to draw more listeners in, their boss immediately thinks of them working together. The show’s premise is that a couple who has had a flaming falling out gets together to banter on their show, and while doing so, brings in experts to offer relationship advice and explore all different facets and psychology of relationships.

But Shay and Dominic haven't had a romantic relationship much less had it break up. So now they have to get to know each other in order to lie about a broken relationship. Life quickly becomes complicated for them. My review is here.

Then There Was You by Mona Shroff
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: miscarriage, school shooting, death of child, mourning loss of child, racism]

Annika Mehta is a rebel according to her traditional Indian American parents. She does not go to medical school, nor does she get a fabulous, high-paying job. Instead, she is a kindergarten teacher. It is a job she loves and at which she is really good. But to her parents, she is not achieving success. They are forever trying to set her up with good Indian boys, but Annika has a way of slipping out of the wide matrimonial net they have cast. Her parents and the wider gossiping South Asian community are aghast when Annika gets engaged to a Caucasian man, gets pregnant by him, and then gets dumped by him. Luckily, according to them, she loses her baby. The most traumatic experience of her life evinces not much empathy from her community. Her parents love her but want her to move on and come back into the fold as a “good” Indian daughter who listens to the counsel of her parents. In addition to being a teacher, Annika moonlights at a bar.

Daniel Bliant is an ER nurse practitioner who is passionate about his job. Five years ago, he lost his precious daughter to a senseless tragedy where a gunman shot up her school — the very school at which Annika teaches. Daniel is inconsolable at his loss and cannot move on. When his wife suggests having a second child, he is incandescent with rage, and they divorce. He even cannot see his nephew, because the boy is the same age as his girl had been. He tries to repress all feelings by working every minute he can — all he wants to do is work and sleep and allow life to pass him by. In addition to being an ER nurse practitioner, Daniel moonlights as a helicopter medic.

Daniel meets her when she is unconscious in the hospital, but they officially meet at the bar. Both have so much pain they're carrying from their pasts. Shroff sensitively portrays Annika and Daniel’s soul-deep sense of bereavement at the loss of their children. How to then have them move on and move together into a romantic relationship is where Shroff's skill comes in. My review is here.

Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I have loved Sandhya Menon’s YA contemporary romance novels (When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love), so I was curious how she would make the transition to adult contemporary romance under the pen name Lily Menon. With this book, Menon has a winner on her hands.

Annika Dev is the CEO of Make Up, an app to help estranged people find love again. Annika and her smart alec developer have worked hard to make their prototype. They are seeing excitement among beta testers, but have, as yet, failed to convince investors of the long-term success of their app. Their cash cushion has run out, and they are facing eviction soon. Annika has pinned her hopes on the EPIC conference, where she hopes to woo and impress investors about how vital her app is for how technology can be used in interpersonal spaces for success in romantic relationships. Her father wants her to become a doctor, but she knows with every particle of her being that she is a creative entrepreneur, and her future lies with Make Up.

Hudson Craft is the CEO of Break Up, an app that helps people break up relationships that have become stagnant or burdensome. Hudson and his team have made a huge splash on the startup scene and seen their app downloaded a million times. Hudson’s reputation is of an up-and-coming CEO who’s a visionary, a genius. Hudson is planning to pitch his app at the EPIC conference to woo and impress investors so he can take his app to another level. Hudson had always dreamed of becoming a sculptor, but he needs to make money so he can help his parents, so for now wealth is what he is pursuing. And he is satisfied with what he has achieved with Break Up.

Annika and Hudson have history together. At a conference in Vegas a few months ago, before either of their apps were anything but a dream, they had hooked up for a blissful weekend. They meet in the present when Annika realizes that Break Up has moved into the office next to hers and is competing neck-to-neck with Make Up. My review is here.

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I loved this book to pieces. I alternated between enthusiasm and delight as I read this book: enthused by the craftmanship of the characters and delighted by their story. There is food and friendship, vulnerability and defenselessness, affection and aloofness, birth family and found family, betrayal and the requisite expiation. And above all, there is love and laughter.

Heron draws on her own Indian Tanzanian Canadian Muslim heritage to write these wonderful characters full of heart and warmth. It is in the small, small details that you get to see this — in the dishes where the Gujarati Indian food has an East African twist, in the occasional comments about what is allowed or disallowed in Islam, in the Canadian-ness of the heroine’s outlook to life, in the longing the hero has for the beauty of Dar es Salaam and the spices of Zanzibar. Culture is not a mere backdrop to the book, but rather an intrinsic aspect of who these characters are; their story could not possibly be told by divorcing it from the culture.

Reena works in finance, a field she despises. It is a field she chose in defiance of her parents’ wishes to work in their real estate business. She wants to stand on her own two feet as far as possible. As it is, she is living in a low-rent apartment in a building her family owns, the last thing she wants to do is work for them and be completely owned by them. And yet, paradoxically, the career she chose is not one at which they would laugh. But in her heart of hearts, she wants to be a baker, a bread baker. She has already learned how to do it well, but she wants to attend an institute to learn how to be a better one.

Nadim has come to Toronto from Dar es Salaam via a graduate degree from the London School of Economics. He is blessed with a posh English accent and a well-developed body. He is easily seduced by bare feet and bread. But, and this is a big stumbling block for Reena, Nadim works for her dad and is the chosen one “from the Muslim Bachelors “R” Us warehouse” for her hand in marriage by both sets of parents. My review is here.

Love at First by Kate Claybourn
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: The authorial voice and writing style of Clayborn's Chance of a Lifetime series are very different from the deeply introspective Love Lettering (my review is here) and are different once again for the angst and humor of Love at First. Clayborn has the remarkable ability to adapt her writing to fit the story, rather than requiring the story to work around her craft. Having said that, I loved Love Lettering much more than this.

Nora DeAngelo Clarke is a freelance web designer, who loves her work. She grew up spending her summers with her Nonna (grandmother) in her small apartment building, and all the neighbors became her extended family. When her Nonna dies, Nora inherits the apartment and moves in and makes it her own. Her attachment to her Nonna transfers over to her attachment to the building and a desire to keep things exactly as they are in perpetuity.

Clayborn has paid a lot of attention to fully developing Nora’s “found family” of other apartment owners. They are quirky and sweet and crochety, each with their own motivations and insecurities, but all are united in their affection for Nora. They are always in Nora’s corner. And she cares of their wellbeing just as much as her Nonna did.

Will Sterling is an extremely busy emergency room doctor who has inherited his estranged (and reviled) uncle’s apartment. He can’t wait to unload the unit for its associations and also for its ugly interior, but there is a stipulation that he has to own it for one whole year. So he is working with an agent to renovate it and have it rented out.

And that is where he runs up against the building association president, Nora. She is adamant in her refusal to allow short-term renters because it will spoil the current ambience of long-term ownership and emotional investment on her part and the others living in the building. He will destroy the character of their sanctuary forever by having strangers trooping in and out at all hours of the day and night. My review is here.

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.