Friday, October 29, 2021

September & October Reading Notes

Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern There are different types of editors. Some let your words stand for themselves, some pick and choose here and there and polish it up but leave most of it alone allowing your voice to shine through, some ask questions to force you to think deeper and more critically, and then there are others, who take your words and rewrite the piece in their own words while retaining some of your phrases and ideas/information. I was used to the first, am really appreciating the second and the third because they make me a better writer, and am bemused at the fourth because the end result doesn't sound like me; not my voice, not my style. Writing for different outlets is making me aware of such different editing styles.

Reckless by Selena Montgomery AKA Stacey Abrams
Category: Contemporary Romanctic Suspense
Comments: [A Starred Review for Booklist.] This was my first book by Stacey Abrams. I keep meaning to read her hugely popular mystery, but I have been a bit leery whether the book is popular because of the contents of the book or Abrams' name. However, this book has convinced me that she is an excellent writer. I am hoping Avon plans on publishing other of her Selena books. Reckless has a mystery as well as the romance, and both are very well paced. The heroine is a high profile celebrity defense attorney in Atlanta and he is a small-town sherriff in a small town in Georgia, who moved there from Chicago and finds that the small town suits him better. This small town is also where the heroine grew up, and moving back here to defend a client has her questioning her high-stress job in the big city. [My review is here.]

Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words by Annika Sharma
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [A Starred Review for Booklist—it was on the cover of the Sept 15 issue and also a Review of the Day!] A strong cultural clash between a woman from India and a white man from Tenessee set in NYC and New Delhi. This is the first South Asian multicultural book I have read where one set of parents is based in India, so the clash is between conservative Indian Indian values and Southern Caucasian American values as opposed to Indian American and Caucasian American values in nothern cities, which are easier to meld. Sharma's work is pitch perfect here as she has her protagonists walking the tightrope between what their hearts desire and what their cultures demand of them. [My review is here.]

The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller
Category: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Comments: This book was a wow book for me. My first Biller, and I plan to pick up her first. In this gorgeously written romance, Diana Biller provides a fascinating view into the psychological makeup of two haunted lovers, where one is literally haunted. Yes, there are ghosts in this book. This is a stunning novel of tender emotions amid harsh circumstances. The romance is set in 1878 France, seven years after the horrific events of the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. It’s an unusual setting for a romance, full of great strife and turmoil, and Biller provides readers with a fabulous immersion into that place and time. The heroine is a prima ballerina with the Paris Opera Ballet. The hero and heroine met 12 years ago in a whirlwind summer romance, but she broke it off. Now he is back and determined to rekindle their romance, yet she sends him away again. He realizes that he has to let her go so she can decide if they are meant to be together. This book is very much her journey from living a rigid life of conformity and denial into one of acceptance and courage and in charge of her happiness. [My review is here.]

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
The Royals Next Door by Karina Halle
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [This was a double review for BookPage.] In Battle Royal, the pastry chef heroine and the princess bond over her wedding cake. In The Royals Next Door, the school teacher heroine befriends the royal duchess, whose character is greatly influenced by Meghan Markle, as a neighbor. Both pairs of women quickly become bosom bows. Both books are enemies-to-lovers romance stories. Parker's hero is a competing pastry chef, whereas Halle's hero is the royal couple's chief bodyguard. There is much angst between the couples and much tenderness from the heroes. All four characters have had traumatic pasts that are sensitively portrayed. I really enjoyed both stories. Be prepared for a new direction in Parker's style from her London Celebrities books. [My review is here.]

Meet Me in London by Georgia Toffolo
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [Reviewed for Booklist.] Toffolo, known as Toff, is a big British TV personality. This book was previously published in the UK and is Toffolo's debut book for the US market. It was very well-received in the UK. Set in London, it's a heartwarming story about love between a barkeep, who moonlights as a fashion designer, and the reluctant heir to a billion-pound department store empire. This is a fake fiancée story where she serves as his conscience to pay his privilege forward and he serves as a deep, abiding support in her struggles with her inability to have children. An immersive London setting would've made this story better.

Never Fall for Your Fiancée by Virginia Heath
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: [Reviewed for Booklist.] Fans of Heath’s Harlequin Historicals will enjoy this first installment in her Merriwell Sisters series, a historical rom-com. This is possibly my first historical rom-com written in the modern style. Of course, it displays the deep period knowledge that Heath has. The heroine is a woodcut engraver and illustrator barely eking out a living for herself and her two sisters. Enter a nobleman thinking her perfect as her fake fiancée to bamboozle his mother and get her off his back about marrying.

Peter Cabot Gets Lost by Cat Sebastian
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This short novel is a sequel to Sebastian's novella Tommy Cabot Was Here. This is an m/m story set in the 1960s and unfolds over the course of a cross-country journey by car from Boston to LA. Peter is the son of a super wealthy Massachussetts family of politicians, with his father running for president. All his life, he has been considered the family's disappointment. He never measures up to their drive and ambition; and they don't yet know that he is gay. Throughout his four years of college, he has lusted after his classmate Caleb, the one who has it all together. Or so it seems. Caleb comes from poverty and through dint of scholarships and sheer hard work has made it through an Ivy League university. Now, he has landed a prestigious job at LA Times as a journalist. But he just has to get there, and he has very little money left, and his ride skipped out on him, and he is stuck...and in tears. Spying Caleb on the side of the road, Peter jumps to his aid and offers to drive him to LA—mentally consigning his father's campaign to the flames. His family thinks very low of him, and he just plans on pleasing himself from now on. Peter is all laconic charm, bending over backwards to please. Caleb is grumpy, prickly, and has a chip on his shoulder about money and paying his share. The heart of the story is how they grow together and become more of themselves through the belief and support of the other in them. They each believe that the other is wonderful in every which way. And a journey that was supposed to take days becomes a life-long committment. Tender and fierce, this book is what romance is all about. Highly recommended!

Rescuing Lord Inglewood by Sally Britton
Category: Traditional Historical Romance
Comments: This was a Saturday Book Club read, and it wasn't very successful. I wonder whether "middling" books become "not great," because of the slow reading, the deep attention to detail, and the discussion with multiple people, thereby sundering the magic from the book. Maybe if I had read it all in one gulp, I would've enjoyed it more because I would've become caught up in it. The book started out well enough with our intrepid heroine rescuing the hero by bodily throwing herself over him to protect him from a falling statue. The hero tries to save her reputation, but circumstances, rumor, and innuendo means they have to marry. MOC!! My favorite trope...only when both the protagonists are mature. In this case, the hero decides to make the best of it. He is officious and a bit high-handed, for sure, but his heart is in the right place and his intentions are kind. She, on the other hand, is stuck in her childhood and makes the hero pay for his slights over and over again with immature and inexplicable behavior. It was understandble for a bit, but quickly became tiresome. I was #TeamHero.

The Lovely And Dangerous Launch Of Lucy Cavanagh by Stacy Peterson
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: [Reviewed for Foreword Reviews. Foreword Reviews magazine goes out librarians and booksellers and carries reviews of indie books.] I don't know how much I am allowed to say here about it, so I won't say much other than the book was a bit of a mess in terms of storyline, characters, plot, pacing, and writing craft. Pity. It started out strong with a heroine taking a courageous step in leaving her wealthy home in New York City and heading out on a perilous journey by herself to her aunt in San Francisco. It is a story set in 19th century Wild West Americana and is a tale of the heroine's journey, physical and emotional.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: This was a chapter sample. I wanted to see what the brouhaha was all about because this book received 67 (!!) reviews in reputable outlets before two weeks post publication were out. An Observation: From reading LitHub and now this piece, I realize that tiny, particular details are so important these days. To me, they seem like persnickity details that probably don't matter; but there is "literary" value these days to detailing everything and juxtaposing non-coherent details one on top of the other. As far as this book goes: I enjoyed the writing. I am intrigued by the premise. And I have FOMO. It's on my list to read over the Holidays.

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: Pico Iyer is one of the greatest of writers and philosophers living today. (He'd be the first to disavow this approbation.) He has written countless articles, essays, reviews, books and so on, edging ever closer to philosophy. His book about His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one of my treasured books. So I was really curious about his thoughts on stillness—periodic pauses in one's life. From His Holiness, Leonard Cohen, Thoreau, and the masters at the temples in Kyoto, Iyer has come away with a deep and vast knowledge of self that is integrated in all that he is and does. His writing is the easiest way for outsiders to observe this. This book came from the TED Talk he gave on this subject a few years ago. It's a slim hardcover—only 70-odd pages—but it is packed with wisdom.

The Unexpected Friend: A Rohingya Children’s Story by Raya Rahman, illustrated by Inshra Sakhawat Russell
Sugar in Milk by Thirty Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le
Category: Children's Picture Books
Comments: Children suffer the most when people are displaced from their homes through natural means and/or human depredations and violence. Without their volition and against their wishes, they are uprooted from the safety and security of their homes and made to undergo harsh circumstances in faraway lands. And yet, their trauma and their stories often go untold. These two books seek to redress that disregard. [My reviews are here.]

Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
Seven Golden Rings by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
The Secret Code Inside You: all about your DNA by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Category: Children's Picture Books
Comments: This year is a banner year for author Rajani LaRocca. She has two middle grade novels publishing as well as four picture books for children. I was highly curious how LaRocca does it all given her busy career as a doctor. All four of her picture books are Indian-themed and range from tales for the very young to older children. Her repertoire is large in terms of the stories she tells and the writing style. Her favorites are books where math and science are embedded into the stories. I cannot wait to see what she has in store next year. This is one author to watch. [My interview and reviews are here.]