Thursday, April 1, 2021


March Reading Notes


Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern I am continuing apace with my exploration of audio books. As mentioned earlier, listening in the car works best for me. Sitting in a chair to listen, inevitably puts me to sleep. Before I started listening to books, I had no idea how vital a narrator is to how interesting a book is. The writer's skill matters of course but the performer's is just as important.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: This book has been a fascinating read thus far. I am in two book clubs for the same book, and depending on the composition of the book group, different aspects of the readings have been highlighted. For me, comparing and contrasting the caste system in the US with the caste system in India has been an interesting exercise. People forget how much privilege they have until they have to grapple with something like this, and realize that so much of what goes on right in front of your nose, you are compeltely impervious to and do not notice its effect on others. I have listened to the author talk in a couple of talks. Brilliant thinker and brilliant book. It should required reading for all incoming college freshman.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: self harm, anxiety] Grace Porter has a newly minted doctorate in astronomy from Portland. Eleven years of dogged hard work and weekends and summers sacrificed to research and achieving new and newer heights in her pursuit of perfection have left her burnt out. Job search has been heartbreaking as she realizes that the field of her dreams is rejecting her Black heritage. Whereas her father, the Colonel, has pushed and prodded her and expected perfection from her emotionally and academically, her mother only wants her to be happy and fulfilled in whatever she chooses to pursue.

Grace wishes she could disappear in the orange groves of her childhood home in Florida. Problems don’t disappear even if you choose to hide, but taking a break is definitely called for every once in a while, before you splinter into tiny particles and get scattered among the stars. In a bid to shore her spirits up, Grace goes off to Las Vegas with her dearest friends. And there, one night, she meets a girl with stars in her eyes and roses in her cheeks; they get drunk; they get married; and they buy a lock together with matching keys and rings. After a night together, the girl leaves behind a love note to her Honey Girl with a calling card and a photo.

Yuki Yamamoto is a Japanese American child of immigrant parents living in NYC. She is a medieval history major who waitresses for her living needs and assuages her lonely soul and those of others in a late night radio show called Are You There? My review is here.

Careless Whispers by Synithia Williams
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [CW: miscarriage, wealthy tobacco company] Parenting has such an impact on how a child grows up into the adult the world sees. One child in this story was brought up to be tough as all heck and giving no way to any softness, and the other child was brought up in a loving family where all feelings were allowed to have free rein. Both adults are driven to succeed, but for one adult, there is never any other way of life, whereas the other one has realized that a fast-paced life is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Elaina Robidoux was trained from birth to one day assume control of Robidoux Tobacco and Robidoux Holdings. From leading boardroom meetings of directors to orchestrating her politician brother’s events, from being a socialite to a ruthless businesswoman, Elaina does it all. Growing up, she had been starved of love and acceptance by her parents, and in her adulthood, she finds herself seeking connections that ultimately fail to give her the love she is attempting to find. As a result, she considers herself unlovable and incapable of loving, pathetic and lonely. She is tired of being strong all the time, but being strong is all she knows.

Alex Tyson has joined his large family in Jackson Falls in a bid to slow down his life. His pedal-to-the-metal way of life leads to him having a heart attack at a very young age. It serves as a wake-up call that his life in New York City is killing him. So he packs everything up and heads south to Jackson Falls to become head of research and development at Robidoux Holdings. Unfortunately for him, he proceeds to clash with Elaina on a regular basis. My review is here.

The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: [CW: Previously enslaved character and mention of enslavement. References to emotional and financial abuse of spouses and children.] KJ Charles continues to write book after book of near perfection. Every time I think, she can’t get better, she does.

Sir John Hartlebury “Hart” is a baronet, a prosaic member of the Upper Ten Thousand with a good-sized property, and also a tradesman efficiently managing his sister’s brewery. He is a large man with a large voice, who cannot be bothered to temper his views or mind his manners when in company. He retains an avuncular interest in the future of his niece, wanting her to acquire some town bronze, while safeguarding her fortune from the hands of fortune hunters.

Robin Loxleigh is a gazetted fortune hunter. He and his sister, Marianne, make no bones about them being down on their luck and from a small village in Nottinghamshire, here in London to make advantageous marriages. They charmingly cozen everyone into thinking them to be harmless, so Society casts a benign eye over their machinations.

Robin and Hart meet when Robin inveigles himself into the notice of Hart’s niece. Hart is instantly suspicious of Robin’s background and motives and sets detectives into digging up dirt on him. In town, he keeps an eagle eye on him and his doings. Deciding to corner Robin into a tight spot, Hart destroys him over a game of piquet to the tune of four thousand odd pounds. The next day, Robin arrives at Hart’s house penitent and defiant over his inability to pay. He leaves with an unholy bargain: his body for a month in exchange for forgiveness of his debt. That entire scene of negotiation is a master class in the subtle use of words juxtaposed with the shifting undercurrents of the unsaid. My review is here.

Cranford Elizabeth Gaskell, performed by Prunella Scales
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: I abandoned this book partway through. I just couldn't stand the performer. There are many characters in this story and so much of the story is all in conversation, and Scales just isn't up to the heft of this book. I have read the book and watched the miniseries, so I am familiar with the story, and yet, I was bored by Scales' characterization and had a difficult time figuring out who was who. Scales has a bland voice for the omniscent narration and has a tendency to mumble toward the en of sentences. In addition, she did not have much animation and differentiation in the tone and color and style of voices for the different characters. All in all, a disappointing narration.

One thing that listening to the story as opposed to reading the book or watching the miniseries brought up for me was Gaskell's peculiarity, or perhaps it was in literature in the Victorian times, in how her characters' perceive death and their lack of sensibility or emotions surrounding it. There is some sadness, some shock, but life as usual moves on pretty quickly. People died, and ho hum. I found this true in North & South by Gaskell as well, and I find it off-putting. Perhaps there is extreme sensibility in the unsaid that I am supposed to get and am not. Perhaps this is an incorrect reading of Gaskell. Anyway. It didn't work for me.

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachael Joyce, performed by Juliet Stevenson
Category: Historical Literary Fiction
Comments: What a decided pleasure to be listening to Juliet Stevenson read this book. I chose this book primarily because of her, and then also because the story reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I loved. I am about a third of the way through and thanks to Stevenson am following along really well. Stevenson is a treasure.

A middle-aged woman decides to throw in the towel and leave the teaching job she hates and the modest circumspect life she is leading to travel halfway around the world to New Caledonia in this post WWII story. She is on the search of the elusive golden beatle that she's been fascinated with since she learned about it at her father's knee. Her dream has gotten tarnished over the years, but never abadoned. Now she drags it out, spiffs it up with spit and polish, throws all her money at it, and finds herself on a ship steaming away to New Caledonia with an improbable and suspicious assistant and a stalker with PTSD.

This book embodies the type of heroine with whom I have some difficulty. I saw her type in Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant as well. These are taciturn, very emotionally subdued women, by circumstance, for whom we are supposed to feel sorry and have sympathy. In general, my interest is immediately peaked by the quiet ones, because they usually have much more going on for them, especially because it is not visible. However, the protagonists of both these books assume that the other protagonists have to give and give while they take and take. The little they do give is to be received with gratitude and be considered sufficient. This is the dynamic that both the authors set up for their protagonists. While both Joyce's and Grant's stories are marvelously written and the heroines are superbly drawn, I find that my sympathies are with the other protagonists, not the heroines. Those other protagonists deserve more from life than what the heroines are handing to them. Anyway. Despite these misgivings, I am going to continue on with the book to see where it leads.

Forbidden by Jo Beverley
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: I am now part of a new Twitter book club called The Saturday Book Club with @willaful, @janetetennessee, @regency_gal, @growlycub, and @emmelnie. Forbidden is our first book. We are JoBev fans, so this was an enthusiastic choice. You can tell the caliber of the writer JoBev was from the opening pages. This is a re-read for me, but it has been so long since I last read it, as part of a binge-read of all of JoBev's works, that I have forgotten most of the story other than hazy recollections. We've had two rousing discussions for chapters 1-6, and I look forward to discussing the rest of the book in April, three chapters a week.

The Bluestocking Duchess by Julia Justiss
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: This was a disappointing Justiss novel. Usually, I really like her work, but not this one. There was far too much navel-gazing and retreading of the same concerns throughout the novel without much forward movement. Another issue I had with the book was lack of sexual tension even though there was constant noticing of the facial charms of the other. The anticipation of a kiss or no kiss was used as sexual tension, but again a lack of forward motion there made the anticipation deflate for the reader. Here are the main issues concerning the protagonists.

She is an ancient Greek scholar but believes that no one knows of her expertise. She think she manages to even fool her father and brother despite actually doing a fair bit of the translation work. She is convinced that marriage would mean the end of her scholarship. So she is determined to be a spinster lady's companion. I was not sure how this would enable her to continue the work that "defines her." As a result, while she really wants to kiss the hero, she really does not want to marry him.

He has been newly elevated to a duke's heir. He really wants to kiss her but that would be dishonorable. Marrying her has never occurred to him because despite being attracted to her, his one brush with romance in the past has turned him off romance, even though it seemed like a rather innocuous experience to me. As a duke's heir, he is expected to marry well, and the daughter of the duke's librarian ain't cutting it. He wants to do his duty to the title and let the duke choose his bride but he really wants to kiss her.

Every time they think of wanting to kiss the other person, they retread the above. And frustratingly, I didn't get much of a look into their thoughts—how are they changing how they look at their lives and what they can to get what they want. Yes, of course, there's a HEA at the end of the book so there is forward progress in their relationship towards the end but they stay mired in these ruminations for far too long. Disappointing! I look forward to Justiss' next book because I really like her writing.

Dial 'A' for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I had been looking forward to reading this book ever since I first read the back cover copy. The author's introduction/author's note at the beginning of the book solidified my impression that this was going to be a good book. I enjoyed the dual timelines between the heroine's college life and current life, both progressing along in the story, and I enjoyed the prologue setup, though it was entirely telling rather than showing. On to the story and what caused me to rate it two stars.

I was uncomfortable with how after graduating from college, Meddie breaks up with the love-of-her-life (and the hero of this story) Nathan. She has made up her mind that she cannot abandon her mother and aunts and move away from home. So when Nathan gets the job in NYC, she tells him that she has stopped loving him, all so he wouldn't sacrifice his NYC job for her. He is utterly shocked. It is one thing to be self-sacrificing, but quite another to lie like that and break his heart. Why did she not opt for an honest conversation where she lays out all the reasons she cannot move? Instead, she chooses to break up with him in the worst way possible. He had hoped to marry her. I thought she was very insensitive to his feelings and immature in how she handled the situation.

My belief in her immaturity was solidified by what happens with her ill-fated date with Jake.

Yes, Jake is totally behaving like a creep and a threat to her in the car, and she is justified in being scared by his behavior. But tasering him while he is driving fast is a surefire way to getting both of them badly hurt or killed. Luckily for her, despite the car wrapping around a tree, she is OK and her car is dented but OK, but Jake is so badly hurt that she thinks he is dead. I was then horrified that instead of using his phone to call 911; or walking to get help; or somehow maneuvering him out of the way on the roadside, driving to get help, and returning with the help, she stuffs him in the trunk of her car.

Then she drives home to her mother and lets her mother and aunts take care of her and the situation. She shows no maturity even at 26, no remorse, and no conscience. I read in horrified fascination as she, her mother, and her aunts all eat and joke and laugh while Jake lies unconscious or dead in the car trunk. Then they drive him over and put him in a cooler, which the next day, gets put on a boat to an island, and so on.

I know we are supposed to be laughing along with all these shenanigans, but my sympathies were all with Jake and none with Meddie. I kept on hoping Jake would wake up soon and go on home, chastened by what has happened to him. Instead, the horror kept going on. I had hoped so much from this book. The author paints a wonderful picture of her aunties at the beginning, and I had hoped they would do madcap stuff, which they did, except, I did not want them do to it with a "dead" body. That was just not funny.

(BTW for a 5'2" petite girl to lift a deadweight grown man, who outweighs her by a lot and is much taller than her, is impossible. So that whole thing of her moving him from the driver's seat into the trunk is completely unbelievable. I know we're supposed to suspend disbelief at this point, but it is a bridge too far for me. Implausible things I can take in stride, but this is impossible.)