Friday, May 27, 2022

April & May Reading Notes

I didn't have very many books in April, so I thought to combine my April and May reading notes into one post. But holy cow! I read so many in May that this has turned out to be one long post. I did try to make every mini review as small as possible while still conveying a sense of the story. In some places, I have links to the full reviews. In many others, I couldn't link because the reviews are behind a paywall or they are supposed to be annonymous.

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman
Category: Graphic Novel
Comments: A banned book that I read for a book club. We are moms from our old school who've continued to meet every month over Zoom. We read anti-oppression books by authors of every diversity featuring their thoughts and ideas on their diversity. Our goal is to emerge from the discussions with more clarity, respect, and insight into the issues facing those marginalized from the dominant groups in America.

This graphic novel is the author's Polish father's Holocaust survivor story of his experiences as faithfully written down by his son, an American. The Jewish people are depicted as mice and the Nazis as cats. The book was a visceral shock because it is a real story and all in dialogue narration. There isn't any distance of formal nonfiction prose, and while the narrator is even keel, that makes his truths all the more horrifying. The author does not give the reader any breaks and demands that you keep up with the intensity of the story.

Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World Retold by Bolu Babalola
Category: Literary Fiction Short Stories
Comments: This debut collection by Nigerian-British author Babalola has thirteen short folktales and myths with romantic elements of people largely from African legends focusing on Black empowerment. There are also story retellings from Greece and China. I adored this book and Babalola's writing and imaginative storytelling. In "Nefertiti," the Egyptian queen is a vigilante protecting women from patriarchal violence and oppression. In "Orin," both the protagonists are on terrible dates when they meet, and their easy conversation is a balm to their bruised spirits. "Ọṣun" is a Yoruba new adult love triangle tale, "Naleli" is a Lesothoian YA friends-to-lovers tale, and "Siya" is another warrior fantasy. Here is an example of Babalola's writing, which is why I adore this collection.

In those swim meets, she focused on the sound of the water smacking against her skin like a hand against the taut hide of a talking drum. Her swimming became a dance to a rhythm she was creating with the water. With each hip switch a hand sliced through the water till she was no longer just a body among bodies within a false aquatic body, tiled and sterile. No, she was the body, the only body, vibrant and heavy breathing. By the time the music stopped, she was over the finish line, alone. All they saw was an excellent athlete; only she knew that she was a dancer.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This spring has seen quite a few contemporary romance titles set in the publishing world. This one is about a literary agent shown as a "shark," and an editor who turned down her star client's previous book. They meet in a small town where her client has based her novels. He now wants to acquire her client's next book and they have to work together with the high maintenance author. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved Henry's writing style and characterization. [My Review]

A Scot is Not Enough by Gina Conkle
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: It was surprising how much I liked this book. In this sharp, brilliant Georgian romance, a Scottish Jacobite forever changes the trajectory of an upright English barrister’s life. It is a tale of political adversaries who are beguiled with each other in spite of everything pulling them apart. The mystery of the sgian-dubh adds intrigue, but it is Conkle’s prose and character work that make this romance so compelling. [My Review]

Good Morning, Love by Ashley Coleman
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is more women's fiction and the heroine's journey than romance though the happy-for-now ending is convincing. I learned so much by reading this book. It brims with authentic details of how music records are produced, how artists are discovered, and the life of a megastar from music industry professional Ashley M. Coleman. The hero is an R&B artist who has made it to the big leagues. The heroine works with artists at a creative agency, and in her spare time, she moonlights as a songwriter. She hopes to make it big in the industry. They meet because her boss is his publicist.

All Fired Up by Dylan Newton
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I really liked this book. The heroine is a publicist at a publisher and frenetically juggles important authors. To-do lists are her superpower and her kryptonite. She moonlights as a ballet teacher. But stress is causing her insomnia and panic attacks, so she takes a leave of abscence and moves to her grandmother's small town to relax and help her grandmother. The hero is an ex-Marine, who now embodies a laidback surfer dude vibe. He really woos her with all his sweetness and patience. (CW: eating disorder, PTSD, survivor's guilt). [My Review]

The Accidental Pinup by Danielle Jackson
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a fun, flirty look at the modeling and photography of lingerie. The protagonists are rival photographers competing for the same assignments. However, as a Black female photographer, she finds herself losing out to him repeatedly. She wants to photograph a national ad campaign so when she finds herself demoted to modeling with him being the photographer, it is the last straw...and the start of their relationship. There is a lot of groveling involved in the end.

From the Jump by Lacie Waldon
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: The coolest thing about this book is that part of it is set on a South African safari. I chose the book based on that and also because I had simiarly chosen her previous book, which was set on the Galápagos islands. This is a friends-to-lovers story of a traumatized heroine and a sweetheart of a hero, who also had a difficult childhood. She betrays his trust and there is much atonement for her in the end, and how their relationship survives is the heart of the story. (CW: unsheltered youth)

Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic by Lauren Ho
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Frank talk about monthly cycles, IVF, and money are part of an unconventional co-parenting agreement in Malaysian author Ho’s sensitive portrayal of two people’s deep desire to be parents, but not being able to go the usual route of love and children with a committed partner. The story is set in Singapore and deals with a happy-for-now story of romance between the protagonists, temptation from her ex, and Singaporean society's disapprobation of a child out of wedlock. Ho skillfully applies humor to heighten and soften heartbreaking truths. [My Review]

For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is an enemies-to-lovers story of a celebrity chef and the owner of a chain of family restaurants who are acrimonious co-hosts of a television cooking show. A flame-out is followed by unexpected, but well-publicized, almost snogging. Oops! Now, they are required to fake date to save their reputations. Under the breezy premise is a story of low self-esteem, mental health challenges, financial worries, and rediscovering who they are and who they want to be. Well done! (CW: panic attacks)

Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood
Category: Contemporary Romance Novella
Comments: My first Ali Hazelwood story, and I totally get why her debut book Love Hypothesis has 4.6 stars from 30,800 readers on Amazon. She is a superb writer and tells an entertaining, fast-paced story of nerdy NASA engineers and scientists geeking out over code and Mars rovers and engaging in great derring-do in the brutal wilds of Svalbard, Norway. She is prickly and thinks very poorly of herself. She believes men are only interested in hookups with her and would be turned off if they got to know her. He thinks she is fabulous and fell in love with her at their first meeting. He is a total cinnamon roll, kind and sweet and earnest. I loved all the tech in the book—you get the feeling that Hazelwood has really researched it all in great, authentic detail. And who does not have stars (ha!) in their eyes over NASA?

The Knight's Tempting Ally by Ella Matthews
Category: Medieval Romance
Comments: How I love a well-researched, well-executed medieval romance. This is a good example of that. She is the plain middle daughter with beuatiful sisters who has been repeatedly told that she is unmarriageable. In her teens, she was falsely beguiled by a man whom she thought loved her and wanted to marry her, so gave him her virginity, only to have him laugh at her and spurn her. She has convinced herself that she is destined to the nunnery. A good medieval usually has heavy politics as does this one. He is one of the King's Knights and has sworn to protect him and his reign. His childhood was tragic and he is "married" to his knight brothers. They meet at the king's court where there are rumblings over war with France. Thanks to Wendy Crutcher for recommending this.

Stirring up Love by Chandra Blumberg
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: I really admired the hero for seeking therapy to help him cope with his anxiety-riddled childhood of homelessnes and foster homes. He is still living in temporary housing and working every hour he can get as a chef, but he has big dreams. He wants to open a culinary school for those people society would sooner forget so they have a chance at a better future. She has grown up thinking she was always second-best but she works hard and has big dreams. She wants her small town to become a retail and entertainment hub. She is prickly and caring; he is kind and sweet—a wonderful enemies-to-lovers relationship. (CW: unsheltered youth, foster homes)

A Country Escape by Katie Fforde
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Having grown up reading farm books by Enid Blyton, I jumped at the chance to read a romance set in the English farming countryside. The best thing about the book is how a newbie chef from London develops as a farmer managing hereditary livestock and selling the milk. She has innovative ways to make the broken down farm profitable through supper clubs and learning to make cheese to sell. She is on probation for a year. If she can make a go of the farm, then her elderly relative will let her inherit it. Of course, there is a dastardly villain relative who also wants the farm, and he comes in twirling his mustache. Then there is the wonderfully kind neighbor who is so easy on the eyes but with whom she is supposed to be at daggers drawn, according to her elderly relative. Instead, she is as drawn to him as he is to her. Fforde is talented in detailing her setting. You feel like you are on that farm with the heroine facing the challenges and experiencing the joys. If you're someone who enjoys the English countryside, this is a story not to be missed.

From Chai to Laddoos, From Bindis to Saris, From Dances to Epics, Here are Five South Asian Tales
Category: Children's Picture Books
[My Reviews]
—Ganesha's Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes, illustrated by Sanjay Patel
—Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illustrated by Ashley Barron
—A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
—Dancing in Thatha's Footsteps by Srividya Venkat, illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran
—Bindu's Bindis by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Parvati Pillai

Five Picture Books to Celebrate Eid with Your Children
Category: Children's Picture Books
[My Reviews]
—One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest Univeristy by M.O. Yuksel, illustrated by Mariam Quraishi
—Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
—One Sun and Countless Stars: A Muslim Book of Numbers by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
—My Name is Bana by Bana Alabed, illustrated by Nez Riaz
—Beautifully Me by Nabel Noor, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali


Victoria Janssen said...

That is a LOT of books in one month! Go you! I see several new-to-me authors of interest here....

Keira Soleore said...

All those books over two months, but still a lot! Hope you found something interesting to read there.