Tuesday, April 5, 2022

March Reading Notes

I am VERY excited to report that I have been accepted to study philosophy at the University of Oxford through their Department of Continuing Education. It's a four-year-long certificate program with most of the courses done online and one on campus (so cool!). The application process was rigorous and highly competitive. I agonized over the two essays I had to write, and I sweated through my socks and shirt during the Zoom interview for which I had practiced and practiced. So the acceptance was amazing. Many, many thanks to the three people who wrote me references and to my family for their advice and help in making my dream from when I was seventeen a reality decades later.

Had a lovely conversation with Stephan Lee on the world of K-Pop and his two books, K-Pop Confidential and K-Pop Revolution. Adriana Herrera is always a pleasure to talk to about her work, particularly, her newest, Caribbean Heiress in Paris.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Category: General Fiction
Comments: This was my favorite book this month. Museums all over the western world proudly showcase priceless art stolen from other countries through war and conquest, a side benefit of colonialism and imperialism. Many of those countries want their art and cultural identity back, but museums refuse to part with the pieces. Portrait of a Thief is based on the true story of Chinese art that has gone missing from western museums. The book is in response to the question: Who’s stealing the art? In this book, Stanford medical student and debut novelist, Grace D. Li, spins an intricate heist story juxtaposed with a pitch-perfect depiction of the complex nature of immigrant identity. [My Review]

By the Book by Jasmine Guillory
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: A starred review from me for Booklist. This winter and spring has seen multiple romance novels set in the publishing world like this one. What could a people-pleasing editorial assistant, one of very few African Americans working for this publishing house who is still living with her parents, have in common with a rich bad boy known for bar fights, fast cars, and dating supermodels? [My Review]

Kingscastle by Sophia Holloway
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: When I first set sight on the cover of Kingscastle, I knew I had to read it. I was pleased to see that the story lived up to the promise of Lee Avison’s cover design. Much in the same style as the Traditional Regency novels of the 1980s, Kingscastle is a quiet, character-driven story set in the countryside, complete with an imposing castle, a local vicar, a small village, torrents of rain, and a harridan of a beldame. I was tickled pink to discover that Holloway had given the hero the title “Athelney,” which is the name of the village that is best known for once being the fortress hiding place of my favorite king Alfred the Great. Holloway also writes medieval murder mysteries, and I wonder if she is just as fascinated with King Alfred as I am. [My Review]

Sari, Not Sari by Sonya Singh
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Set in the world of Bollywood dancing, mehndi, and matchmaking aunties, this is a debut novel by Sonya Singh, a former entertainment reporter turned PR expert. This is a story of an Indian American woman who wasn't brought up steeped in her culture and finds that she is really missing that part of her identity. In a bid to regain that aspect of herself, she conspires with her client to attend his family's wedding while helping him break up with his girlfriend through her relationship breakup company.

Rules for Engaging the Earl by Janna MacGregor
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This is a story of childhood lovers being offered a second chance. As teens, both the hero and heroine were in love with each other, but he is tempted by the war office's appeal to his patriotism. Badly injured and scarred, he returns from the war a changed man, wary, distrustful, and convinced he will not make a good husband, father, or friend. She made a bad first marriage, and is now widowed with a baby daughter to raise. She asks her old friend to marry her trusting in his integrity and honor and is determined to be a supportive wife to him and make her second marriage a success. She believes that beneath the crusty exterior lies that generous-hearted boy she used to know and sets her heart on peeling back the layers to find him.

A Song Begins by Mary Burchell
Category: Vintage Contemporary Romance
Comments: I read this book as part of the Saturday Book Club read for this month. We had a controversial discussion with Burchell working very well for some readers and not at all for others. I read these vintage contemporary books as historical romance, so the social mores and culture makes sense. This is one of those rare books that gets the music world right. As a choral singer, I delighted in all the music details of the heroine who is plucked from an obscure English village by a world famous conductor who invests his time and effort in training her, while also paying for her housing and food and further study with another teacher in London. It is a patriarchical book that starts out with a huge power imbalance. To me, the power starts to balance out towards the end with the promise that the process will continue in their marriage. I enjoy Burchell's writing.

Under the Stars of Paris by Mary Burchell
Category: Vintage Contemporary Romance
Comments: After finishing the above book, I got into a conversation about Burchell that led to this book, and I was immediately tempted to re-read it. It, too, has the same power imbalance of wealthy, careworn, successful man and ingegue young woman. This is set in the fashion world, and like the above book is very well researched. Fans of Project Runway will appreciate the story. She is plucked out of a Parisian street by a fashion house as a stand-in for their injured top model. She instinctively know how to walk and carry off the clothes and makes a success as a model. He is the creative director of the fashion house and she becomes his creation. There's a secondary love interest who would make a plausible partner, but she is only interested in the seemingly unttainable hero.

Akbar and Birbal by Amita Sarin
Category: Children's Nonfiction & Fiction
Comments: I loved this book. Set in 16th century India, the stories are a mixture of real historical tales and fables of Akbar, the Mughal Emperor of India, and his trusted advisor, Birbal. Akbar was known as a benevolent ruler, bright and kind. Birbal was known as a brilliant, savvy vizier. The author has organized her book with a historical story followed by 1-3 fables based on that story. In each story, either citizens approach Akbar with problems or Akbar himself comes up with problems that Birbal is required to solve, which he does in witty, clever ways.

Shahrzad & the Angry King by Nahid Kazemi
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is another marvelous book in the pantheon of great books by celebrated family-owned publisher, Enchanted Lion Books. Drawing on her Persian heritage and expertise in visual art, Nahid Kazemi spins a magical story of her homeland. Storytelling is the backbone of our civilization, and throughout the ages, it has always been a powerful method of enacting societal change. Who does not know of Scheherazade and her one thousand and one stories to beguile her husband and stop him from executing her and fall in love with her? Her stories, such as Aladdin’s Lamp, Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and others live on to this day. In Shahrzad & the Angry King, Kazemi brings Scheherazade to life in the guise of a young girl named Shahrzad who loves to collect stories from the world around her. Her goal is to really understand people at a deep level. [My Review]

Kenny's Window by Maurice Sendak
Category: Children's Book
Comments: A standout line from the book: "A wish is halfway to wherever you want to go." Beautiful! My copy is a first printing from my library from 1956 and it has been barely read. Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is stupendously popular, so I assumed that people would be scouring his backlist and forelist and everything would've gone back for multiple printings. So it is curious that this book from 1956 is still pristine. Looks like a hidden gem. The story is about a boy who wakes up from a dream remembering everything including seven philosophical questions he has to find answers to. He answers them in his own vastly creative ways with small parables. Do read philosopher Maria Popova's wonderful review of the book. She says everything that I might ever want to say better.

The Great Philosophers: The Lives and Ideas of History's Greatest Thinkers by Stephen Law
Category: Nonfiction
Comments: Superb book that explains the major philosophical ideas of the western world distilled into small bites. It links back and forth between ideas as contemporary and later philosophers dispute established theories. Each piece has a bio of a philosopher and explains the basic theories along with examples. Very thorough treatment for understanding by lay people. It has Buddhism and Confucianism in the beginning, but that is a bit of a pretense to be international, because there aren't other non-western philosophers later on. Discounting those two first entries, it is an excellent resource for an armchair philosopher.


Barb in Maryland said...

Congratulations on your upcoming academic life!! That is just super.

The Holloway book sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out. What name does she use for her historical mysteries? I am always looking for good ones.

Keira Soleore said...

Thank you so much, Barb!!

Holloway writes medieval murder mysteries under her pen name Sarah Hawkswood. I have not read them, so cannot vouch for them. Her Regency voice felt authentic to me, and her writing was solid. Hope that hold true for the mysteries as well.

Barb in Maryland said...


Ah, Sarah Hawkswood--I already have several of her books in my TBR. I shall have to move them up.
I've also added Portrait of a Thief to the TBR, as your review really intrigued me.


Keira Soleore said...

Ooh, do tell me about her Sarah Hakswood books if you read them. There just aren't enough medieval mysteries.

I can't recommend Portrait Thief highly enough. The protagonists are young but mature and thoughtful. Immigrant Identity is the dominant theme, and for the first time, I've come across an author who approaches it four different ways. Most authors fall into a stereotypical groove, but this author is refreshingly different.

Vassiliki said...

Oh my goodness! This is such wonderful news! I am soooooo happy for you, Keira! I totally missed your announcement!

Woooooohooooooo! Sending you lots of love and lots of support!

Keira Soleore said...

Thank you SO MUCH for your kind wishes and congratulations. I am thrilled and nervous!! Hope my aging brain can learn again.

Vassiliki said...

I have soooo much confidence in you! I will look forward to hearing about your progress <3

Keira Soleore said...

You are so kind. Thank you so much for your faith in me!