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Category: reading

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for September: A Spanish Affair by Helen Brooks

I read this at the very beginning of the month and had planned to read something else for the challenge, but work keeps intervening and I’m way behind on all my non-required reading. Luckily, this entry on the Harlequin TBR fit September’s challenge, which is “Kicking It Old School,” i.e., a romance published ten or more years ago. A Spanish Affair was first published in 2001, so it definitely qualifies. I like Brooks’s Presents books as a rule; they mix sweet and steamy in a way that works for me. The heroes and heroines tend to fit the Presents formula but are not OTT. This particular novel falls on the sweeter side, by a lot, and it felt almost Burchell-like in terms of the plot, characters, and romance.

Cover of A Spanish Affair

Georgie has left her job to come and take care of her recently widowed elder brother Robert and his two young children. Robert’s business was neglected during his late wife’s final months and it’s now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Georgie is combining PA and other office duties with childcare, and she’s in the office when a badly needed client comes in. The client, our hero, is Matt de Capistrano, who gets off to a bad start with Georgie when he overhears her disparaging him before she’s even met him. But to give him credit, he sets that aside and deals straightforwardly with Robert and the potential business deal they are considering. Matt makes some calls which enables Robert to continue taking on customers and Georgie swallows her initial reaction to help out her brother.

Matt finds Georgie charming despite her hostility, as one does when one is a Presents hero. He works with her and also pursues her, and she rebuffs him, as one does when one is a Presents heroine. But they continue to be thrown together, including by Robert, who befriends Matt, and by his children, who find him as charming as George eventually will admit he is.

The story cooks along in a workplace-romance, getting-to-know-you way. Then there is a sharp turn and acceleration to the romantic storyline, which is precipitated by Matt’s need to go to his family home in Spain (he is half Spanish, half English). Georgie learns more about his background and family, Matt deals with his feelings for Georgie, etc. etc. All too quickly they have their realization, retreat, return to each other, and HEA.

Overall I enjoyed this quite a bit. There’s nothing terribly unusual happening, Georgie is one of those sensible, pretty, and quietly competent heroines, and Matt’s Spanish-ness is quite dialed down from the usual “Latin Lover” approach, which I appreciated. It was just the timepass I needed when I read it, and it reminded me of how often Helen Brooks writes satisfying categories.

A Spanish Affair is #373 on the Harlequin TBR.

Thoughts on the Booker Shortlist and the Giller Longlist

Yes, it’s awards season again. Labor Day is over and my library holds are coming in with a vengeance, what with all the Big September Releases. The Booker shortlist and the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist are coincidentally released on the same day. I woke up to the Booker news, which had been announced at 10am BST, and then waited for the Giller announcement to be delivered from St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador at 8:30am my time.

The Booker shortlist:

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

I’ve only read one of the six (the Obioma, which I reviewed here). That seems unusually low for me, but I do own three of them and have a fourth coming from the library in two weeks. And I’d read five of the seven longlisted books that didn’t make it. I will probably not read the Atwood any time soon. I read The Handmaid’s Tale back in the 1980s and still have my ancient mass-market paperback edition. It made a big impression on me then but I haven’t wanted to revisit it, and I had no interest in the TV adaptation. So I’ll wait for the reviews and word of mouth to see if I want to read the sequel. The Rushdie is getting mixed reviews, but I’m curious about it and I got in early on the library hold list so I can at least sample that before the winner is announced.

I was sorry not to see the Luiselli on the shortlist, especially after listening to her talk about it and read from it at the National Book Festival. My reading and reviewing of it was shaped by my knowledge of her personal life and Alvaro Enrigue’s work, but the panel I attended helped me separate that from the text, and the further away from it I get the more I think it is an excellent novel. But there are plenty of US awards coming up, and I’m sure it will be in consideration for at least some of those. Of the others, I don’t have strong feelings about their omissions from the shortlist. I enjoyed the Braithwaite and the Lanchester entries but they each had shortcomings and I don’t see them as Booker winners., I think the Barry, which I have finished and need to review, is stronger but a bit slight compared to some of the other entries. And I was the outlier on the Porter from the beginning.

On to the Giller longlist:

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#Onebagging a conference

OK, not quite one bag, but the purse could go in the backpack in a pinch.

I haven’t tried this before but after our UK trip I was so taken with traveling light that I decided to try it for a conference. That pack holds two dresses, three tops, one pair of trousers, a sleep shirt, and the relevant undergarments. And a pair of sandals. I’m wearing trousers and a jacket and a pair of walking flats. The sandals went down at the bottom and the clothes into packing cubes, which left plenty of room for toiletries and other travel odds and ends.

I’m not the one presenting our paper so I left my computer at home and will rely on my phone and a small notebook. I could have fit it in but I wanted to try traveling without it again. Most of my work stuff is meetings anyway and there’s an app for the conference so I don’t need to haul the giant program around.

I did bring my ereader though. Of course. Some things are non-negotiable.

I’ll keep you posted on how it works out and tell you more about the clothes, which are all travel-friendly.

Lovely day in DC and we’re on time!

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for August: Juggling Briefcase and Baby by Jessica Hart

This month’s challenge prompt was “anything goes” and I decided to pick a book that was recommended by both Wendy and Miss Bates. I have a number of Jessica Hart’s Harlequins in the TBR and she’s recommended by people with similar tastes to mine, so I’m not sure why I haven’t read her before. Probably the usual “too many books, too many choices” problem. Anyway, this one sounded good to me: opposites attract and a focus on emotions rather than contrived setups. For that I’ll put up with the baby being front and center, especially when it’s a baby that could definitely exist outside the pages of a romance.

Jessica Hart cover

Romy and Lex had a passionate fling in Paris 12 years ago, when they were much younger and starry-eyed. They had known each other growing up and then suddenly and unexpectedly fell for each other. Lex was smitten enough to want to marry Romy but she turned him down and went off to explore the world. Now, at 30, she’s back in London with a baby in tow, working at a temporary job in Lex’s company. They (re-)meet cute in the opening chapter when Romy subs for her boss on a business trip to negotiate a major deal. She joins Lex on his jet to Scotland with baby Freya in tow. Lex is aloof, driven, and completely uninterested in babies and all the real and metaphorical baggage they bring with them. He also had no idea Romy was back, let alone a mother.

The three of them journey to Scotland and stay with the businessman they’re hoping to do the deal with. He’s a widower and fond of children and happy couples, so Lex and Romy rashly decide to be one. This keeps them together and bonded both at work and outside it while the deal is finalized, which leads them to confront feelings they thought were long gone and buried.

The main conflict in the relationship is internal: Romy is afraid of commitment and Lex is allergic to disorder and unpredictability. Romy hasn’t even told Freya’s father about her existence (Hart manages to do this as well as she could and I get it for the setup, but I’m so not a fan of this trope). The personality and history obstacles to Lex and Romy are more believable in the past than the present, but overall they are well depicted. And I really appreciated that there are no bad guys or women in this story, just two people who haven’t learned how to build lives with other adults. Actually, that was a somewhat striking aspect to this story. I’m used to romances where the main characters are socially isolated, but these two don’t seem to have any friends (except for one convenient one near the end, who functions entirely as a plot device and never appears on page). And it’s not addressed at all, which I found equally odd. The backstory traumas are all discussed in terms of how they affected Romy and Lex’s relationship.

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Booker longlist review: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

This is the fifth longlist choice I’ve read and the second by a Nigerian author. I haven’t read Obioma’s debut, which was shortlisted for the Booker a few years ago. This novel has received generally positive reviews from book critics and more mixed reviews at GR, so I wasn’t sure how I’d do with it. And it did take me a little time to get into the rhythm, because it’s a more ornate style of writing than I generally read.

The protagonist of the novel is Chinonso, a poultry farmer in a smallish city. Chinonso’s parents have died and his sister married an older man, moved to Lagos, and became mostly estranged from her family. Chinonso’s closest relative is his uncle, who lives in a different city but visits occasionally. The narrator of the novel is Chinonso’s chi, or spirit, who inhabits his body and communicates with him but cannot direct his behavior. The novel’s beginning and major sections are bracketed by the chi’s appeals to the gods to have mercy on Chinonso in the afterlife because the bad deeds he committed need to be understood in the larger context of his life and its trials.

That life is fairly uneventful until Chinonso prevents a beautiful woman from throwing herself off a bridge. She drives away but he doesn’t forget her. In the meantime he meets other women and starts to think about life beyond the chicken coops and vegetable rows. When Ndali comes back into his life they begin a relationship that is fraught from the beginning: Chinonso is a modest chicken farmer who never went to college, while Ndali is the daughter of a Chief and is studying to become a pharmacist. When their relationship progresses, Ndali brings him home to meet the family, with predictable results. Chinonso is not ashamed of who he is, but he knows it’s not enough for her ambitious and haughty father and brother, so he resolves to turn himself into someone they will accept. Ndali worries about the ramifications of his choice, but she knows it will be nearly impossible for them as things currently stand.

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