Monday, April 25, 2011

Book #53: Naked

NakedTitle: Naked
Author: David Sedaris

Last week David Sedaris was in Salt Lake City, and I was at Disneyland. So I decided to read one of his collections of essays to get myself over the pain of not taking the opportunity to see him in person (I know my crush on him will forever be unrequited, but still, being in his presence would have been nice). If you've known me since early childhood, or at least since college, you know that I've never been shy about being naked, so the topic and the author had me convinced that this would be a great read.

There were essays that I loved. I laughed so hard in "True Detective" that I almost hyperventilated. And maybe it was because I tried to read the book in basically a single sitting (doing as much vegetating as possible before spring term starts tomorrow) and I think it would have been better in small doses. I have had such a straightforward, from A to B, normal, boring kind of life that reading about Sedaris's adventures in housepainting and migrant farm working, and hitchhiking with a paraplegic roommate always leave me feeling pale and unadventurous by comparison. Until we got to the nudist colony essay. I would have felt right at home there.

Book #52: Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother

Secret Thoughts of An Adoptive MotherTitle: Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother
Author: Jana Wolff

In Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother, Jana Wolff describes her experience adopting Ari. Jana and her husband were white Jews living in Hawaii when they were chosen by a birth mother in California whose child was multiracial. Wolff writes about waiting for Ari to be born, her mixed feelings toward the birth mother,  her own worries about raising Ari, and the highs and lows that come with raising any toddler, adopted or not. The book is a super quick read (one bath for me!). As an essayist, I often feel prodded to be more honest when I'd rather be a little less forthcoming, and Wolff is nothing if not honest. I sort of want to pat her on the back for telling everything like it is and also want to stand looking at her, eyes agape, wondering if she really said those things.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Book #51: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: A NovelTitle: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Author: Tom Franklin

I've been saving Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter to read as a reward for the end of the semester, and I'm pleased to say that it was worth the wait. I'd heard a lot of hype about the book, which tells the story of two boys, one white and one black, who grew up as friends in rural Mississippi, then parted ways. In the ensuing quarter century, Silas, was a star baseball player and returned after college to work as the town constable, which means he eats for free at the local diner and catches speeders in a jeep older than he is. Larry, careful and bookish, became the town pariah after he took a girl on a date and she disappeared forever.  When another girl disappears, Larry quickly becomes the prime suspect, and the men must confront their long-buried shared past.

I loved the idea of this story, and the language was literary without being overwrought. It was also a quick read-- it finished it in two nights at our hotel at Disneyland, and I'm pressuring Eddie to read the book right now (unlike Bossypants and Discovery of Witches, neither of which I think he'd like). There were a few things I felt were farfetched-- like how the town ignored the most obvious suspect in the 1982 murder and placed all the blame on Larry. I was a little surprised that people were unwilling to give him at least a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, but I've never lived in a tiny town and don't understand how they operate. There's also another element of the story, the tie that will bind Larry and Silas forever, that seemed to be taken for granted without, like, evidence or anything. I can't say more for fear of ruining the plot, but neither of these points really interfered with my overall enjoyment of this fine book.

Book #50: Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and LoveTitle: Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love
Author: Xinran

Although I've read quite a few memoirs from the point of view of adoptive parents, there aren't as many books out there from the point of view of birth parents, especially from Chinese birth parents, where babies are generally abandoned and adoptions are always (or at least nearly always) closed. But Chinese journalist Xinran (who now lives in London) managed to collect the stories of about a dozen women from all walks of life who felt it was in their families' best interest to place their baby girls for adoption.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother is definitely unique and I appreciated hearing the kinds of situations our daughter might face in the first months or years of her life. It was also a hard book to read-- these are hard stories from a parent's perspective. I think I'll have a lot more empathy for our daughter's birth parents and the hard decisions they faced as they decided not to keep a child who, in many cases, they dearly loved and wanted. It also feels like a very foreign book. I think part of that is the fact that it's a translation, but part is also at due to the fact the cultural pressures that force birth parents into leaving their babies are so different from my own cultural experiences. I'm interested in reading more about Xinran's The Mother's Bridge of Love charity to promote cultural understanding between adoptive and birth cultures.

Book #49: The Way I See It

The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger'sTitle: The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's
Author: Temple Grandin

As we delve deeper into strategies to help Bryce navigate life, we've decided to look more at Asperger's. He's sort of in the gray area where ADHD, Asperger's and anxiety converge, so we decided to read Temple Grandin's book to see what she offered.

Actually, many of the things Grandin suggests are things we already know and have tried. However, I really like how she talks about how it's not acceptable to blame bad behavior on Asperger's. She talks a lot about troubling behaviors that can arise from Asperger's and those that are just plain bad manners. It was good to hear her say that it's okay (and even good) to be firm and demand good behavior and not to allow people to make excuses for sloppiness or nose picking or whatever because of Asperger's. I plan to read more of her books in the future to see if they can give me any more help and insight.

Book #48: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches: A NovelTitle: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness

Okay, I know right now that some people might take issue with me calling A Discovery of Witches a great read. There were a few things I absolutely hated about the book. First of all, any book that's just half a book, that's a total cliffhanger with no attempt at a resolution, or even a partial resolution (sequel potential?) just bugs. Remember the ending of Back to the Future 2? It's similar to the ending of A Discovery of Witches. If you go into the book knowing that there's no resolution, and that this is just half of a story, then you'll probably be happier than I was when I got to page 592 and nothing wrapped up at all. Secondly, the main character, witch Diana Bishop, spends a lot of time sleeping, eating, fainting, and generally feeling under the weather. Maybe that was intentional on Harkness's part, to show how Diana is different from the vampires who populate her life, but it felt like she was a damsel in distress who needed Matthew (her vampire) to come rescue her all the time.

Those two major faults aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Discovery of Witches. It has all the longing lustiness of Twilight with the action of The DaVinci Code and the research of Elisabeth Kostova's The Historian. I think Harkness, who has been an academic and wine blogger (!) creates interesting characters and does a great job making history come to life. The audiobook is about 26 hours long, and I listened to the whole thing in three days, happily folding laundry and putting sheets on beds so I could keep listening. The story of Diana's awakening powers, her budding relationship with a 1,500 year old vampire, and her entrance into a world populated by witches, ghosts, vampires and demons kept me in its thrall. I just wish the next book were finished so I could start to read right now! Another big plus-- it's totally PG-rated! Even my friends who don't like smut can read this one with a clear conscience!

Book #47: Mr. Monster

Mr. Monster (John Cleaver Books)Title: Mr. Monster
Author: Dan Wells

Of all the books I read for last years Whitney Awards, the one that felt the most fresh and different was Dan Wells's I Am Not a Serial Killer. Although I recused myself from reading any speculative fiction this year (those speculative fiction people have a LOT to say!) I wanted to read Mr. Monster enough that I read it anyway. 

Mr. Monster picks up about six months after I Am Not a Serial Killer leaves off, with John Cleaver still struggling to keep his obsession for killing at bay. When a new group of women starts turning up dead, John's confused-- he killed the last bad guy, didn't he? He also fears that the FBI guy brought in to solve the case suspects him, a suspicion that grows stronger when bodies start showing up at places where John has been.

Once again, Wells does a great job showing John's inner struggles-- he wants to be good but he thinks he needs to be bad. The series has been favorably compared to Dexter, and I do think that both Wells and Jeff Lindsay do similar things in the way they get in the mind of a soft-hearted sociopath. But Mr. Monster differs in one important way from I Am Not a Serial Killer (and even from Dexter, excepting season 5, which it strongly resembles)-- the last third of the book is really terrifying and disturbing. Cleaver figures out who the new demonic serial killer is, but it might be too late to save his own life and the lives of other potential victims. While I'd hand over I Am Not a Serial Killer to a high school student, I'm not so sure I'd want my teenager reading Mr. Monster.

Book #46: China Ghosts

China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to FatherhoodTitle: China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood
Author: Jeff Gammage

I've been thinking a lot about writing about our adoption experience, mainly because, as a wannabe writer, I tend to make sense of things by writing about them. I can envision myself writing a series of essays about our adoption experience, but I also see that there are lots and lots of people who have already done the adoption memoir thing, and especially the Chinese adoption memoir thing, and I wonder how much I have to add to the story. This is the second Chinese adoption memoir I've read, and it was fairly similar to the first one: professional couple, no kids, one parent is a journalist, decide to adopt, fly to China, pick up unhappy child, transition, parent finds him/herself greatly changed. China Ghosts is interesting and compelling, and I think it's preparing me well for the fact that aside from all the adoption stuff, just the trip to China alone will likely be the most foreign and the hardest thing I've ever done. What I wasn't prepared for in China Ghosts was Gammage's anger. He's so angry that he didn't decide to adopt sooner. He's angry at the Chinese government. He's angry at the Chinese orphanage. He's angry at the birth parents. He's just one simmering pot of anger. I wasn't totally convinced by it-- I wasn't sure if anger was his angle, or if he really did hate himself for not getting his stuff together sooner in order to start the adoption process sooner. Because if he had, I think he must realize, from a practical standpoint, that he would have another daughter and his daughter would have another father. I know we're in for some big ups and downs over the next few years, but I hope that I'll be flexible enough to ride those waves without resorting to anger. I was also interested that in both this book and The Lost Daughters of China, the parents actually adopted two daughters, but the second adoption story felt like a short postscript to the first. I wonder if Gammage feels the same sense of anger over his experience with his younger daughter as he does with his older daughter's adoption.

Book #45: Bossypants

BossypantsTitle: Bossypants
Author: Tina Fey

When I crawled into bed with Bossypants a few weekends ago, I knew I wasn't going to get out until I'd finished the book. Luckily, it was a Saturday night, so I could read until I fell asleep, then force Eddie to get out of bed with Maren in the morning to quiet her pleas for chocolate milk and a granola bar. I have a lot to say about this book, and hope to eventually get my stuff together enough to write something coherent enough that I can put it up at fMh, but for now, I'll say that this book rocks. I lay in bed for hours, ignoring my papers and my kids, laughing out loud, reading passages aloud to Eddie, and feeling indignant for Fey and for all the women out there who are trying not just to make it in a man's world, but to change the world so it's not just a man's world. My favorite chapter spotlighted the weekend when Oprah guest-starred on 30 Rock, which also happened to be the weekend Fey hosted SNL and did her first stint as Sarah Palin, which also happened to be the same weekend her daughter Alice turned three. All three events were huge for Fey, and her description about trying to juggle all three is hilarious. While Fey does tackle a lot of hard issues in the book, I was interested to see that while she talks a lot about how she and Amy Poehler feminized SNL (although she doesn't come right out and claim it), there hasn't been, to my knowledge, a mother on the show. I think that Fey, Poehler and Maya Rudolph all left while great with their first child. If, as Fey suggests, working on SNL is about 1/100th as hard as working as a coal miner, then why no working moms?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In case you were wondering...

The answer is China. Once the Ethiopian adoption process changed so drastically, we had a couple of options-- we could stick with Ethiopia and hope for the best, we could bag the whole thing, or we could look at other countries. When we first started exploring international adoption, we thought we'd adopt a special needs child from China, but there were so many other places that interested us, so we looked at Korea, and then at Ethiopia. Finally, we came full-circle back to China. We're collecting items for our dossier now (a big ole packet of papers to send to the Chinese government) and it will probably be about a year (at least) until we travel to China to pick up our child, but that's the plan. At least for now.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book #44: A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice (Vintage International)Title: A Town Like Alice
Author: Nevil Shute

A Town Like Alice was a bargain book at Audible a few weeks ago, and somehow it ended up in my cart. I'd never heard of it and didn't know anything about the storyline when I started reading. When the prim British actor started reading a story set in the 1940s, I wasn't sure I would keep listening, but by the time I finished my first drive with the book on the iPod, I was hooked. I listened to all eleven hours in just a few days.

If you're looking for a story with twists and turns and a realistic but potentially unhappy ending, in other words, if you want a book of serious literary fiction, A Town Like Alice might not satisfy. Set in England, Malaysia and Australia, the epic romantic nature of the book reminds me of The Thorn Birds or The Lonesome Dove, or like what The English Patient could have been if they'd all lived happily ever after. Jean Padgett, a London shorthand typist, comes into a legacy of 52,000 pounds and can quit her job and return to Malaysia, where she was kept in a POW camp during WWII. While imprisoned, she met an Aussie POW who sacrificed himself for the women in Jean's group. Once Jean arrives in Malaysia, she realizes she won't have closure on her POW experience until she travels to Australia. Once there, she decides to use her capital to help revive a remote Australian village.

While A Town Like Alice might be categorized as a romance, there are so many other things going on that it doesn't feel like one. It's certainly not a bodice ripper (although there is one steamily chaste scene), and while romance is definitely part of the story, and you finish the book feeling like all things have come together for good, there are lots of hard things that happen too. The narrative, told from the perspective of Noel Strachan, Jean's London solicitor, adds an interesting dimension to the novel as well.

Book #43: The Danger Box

The Danger BoxTitle: The Danger Box
Author: Blue Balliett

I loved Blue Balliett's art mystery Chasing Vermeer. I thought it was genius for the middle grade market and like The Westing Game, I was genuinely guessing about the whodunnit portion of the book for the majority of the novel. Although I wanted to read the two successive books with the characters from Chasing Vermeer, I never got around to it, and I decided to jump right in to The Danger Box.

It's a cute story about an anxious, legally blind boy named Zoomy, who's been raised by his grandparents in a small Michigan town, and who finds himself at the center of a mystery when his ne'er-do-well father returns to town with a mysterious diary. Zoomy and his friend Lorrel (who is also a little quirky) decide to figure out who owned the diary. I loved the combination of Zoomy's narration, the bad guy's narration, and newspaper articles. I also liked the characters of Zoomy and Lorrel, and want my quirky, anxious kid to read the story for that reason. However, I felt that Chasing Vermeer was ultimately more rewarding for an adult reader. I knew exactly who wrote the mysterious diary within five pages of opening the book, and it seemed pretty obvious to any adult reader. I'll have my kids read it to figure out if they thought it was predictable too.

Book #42: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me (Whitney Book #18)

Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill MeTitle: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me
Author: Kristen Chandler

I saved Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me for my final read of the Whitney Awards (I was only reading three of the categories, plus all of the new authors because of school. Next year I'll be back to reading all 35.) because I just had a feeling that it might be a good one. After all, it had the trifecta of greatness: awesome cover design, a national publisher, and an author with an MFA. Maybe it was the title, but I was expecting something more fantastical, more Twilight-esque. But Wolves, Boys... (sorry the title is too long to keep typing the whole thing) is sort of the opposite of Twilight, once you get past the clumsy, shy dark-haired female protagonist and the male hottie she falls in love with. For one thing, the wolves are just wolves, not shape-shifting humans. These wolves are beautiful and deadly and have divided the small Montana town where KJ and Virgil (props to Chandler for trying to resurrect the popularity of the name Virgil) live-- the wolf watchers want them protected (they're an endangered species) and the ranchers want them gone. If anything, Wolves, Boys... shows the complexities of environmental issues, or really any issue-- there are humans behind every side of the story (although the main bad guy falls solidly in one camp, which may be an indication of Chandler's personal feelings on the wolf issue). The book is more than just a romance or a book about wolves; it also explores complicated family relationships and has elements of a mystery. The climax is pretty darn exciting too.

One of the things we talk about frequently in grad school is writing windowpane prose (clear storytelling) and stained glass prose (pretty writing). Brandon Sanderson came to one of my classes yesterday and talked about his writing aims for windowpane prose, but there are a few times when stained glass prose can function appropriately in his work. Most of Chandler's book was windowpane prose, but there were definitely sections where it slipped into stained glass. I'm not sure a YA audience would appreciate a whole book of stained glass, but there were times when I felt she was trying too hard to write pretty.

Overall though, Wolves, Boys... was a great read. It was easily my favorite of the 18 books I read and I hope it sweeps all of the categories in which it's eligible. And since Chandler is a fellow marathoner and mom of four living in SLC, I may just start stalking her (just kidding, but if I do meet her at the Smith's, I'll be sure to ask for an autograph).

Book #41: Blink of An Eye (Whitney Book #17)

Blink of an EyeTitle: Blink of an Eye
Author: Gregg Luke

It's been a week since I finished Gregg Luke's Blink of an Eye and I can hardly remember what happened. I don't think that's a great sign. I had a lot of fun with Gregg Luke's Whitney finalist last year (about a potential terror threat at Utah State) but this book had a lot less compelling action. The first scene opens with Joseph Ramirez getting hit by a cement truck. For the next 300 pages he sits in a hospital bed (for seven weeks! Who stays in the hospital for seven weeks anymore?) and dreams bad dreams about his childhood with his abusive fatherhood, a childhood he'd manage to repress for nearly 20 years. I think it's hard to write an interesting action-based thriller when the main character sits in bed the whole time (I'm just sayin'). Luke's work was reminiscent of Finding Mercie in his attempt to capture the accent of a Spanish speaker (Joseph's parents were Guatemalan immigrants), and I wasn't sure how well the side romantic story worked. The major romantic twist of the novel also felt a little strange-- I was pretty sure that one of the two characters involved would have remembered their prior meeting, given how significant it was. Anyway, I know Gregg Luke has the chops to write a good thriller, but this time, with Joseph bound in bed, it felt like the action never really got off the ground. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book #40: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International)Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Hirouki Murakami

Was this book written just for me? Murakami talks about how running has made him a better writer and writing has made him a better runner. Apparently the two skills are highly compatible. Who knew? I loved this book. I was sad that it was over so quickly. I'm even temped to start reading Murakami's postmodern surrealist fiction so I can spend more time with the guy-- he feels like a kindred spirit. 

Book #39: Spark

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the BrainTitle: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
Author: John J. Ratey, MD

The idea behind Spark-- that exercise influences the way the brain works, is a great concept. But listening to the audiobook is painful. Ratey talks about the way that exercise works on a depressed brain, a hyperactive brain, an old brain, a menopausal brain, a child's brain, etc... and comes to the same conclusions-- exercise is good for the brain. I think it would have been better to buy the book and read only the relevant chapters. But if I'd done that and hadn't had the same message hammered home for nine hours, I'm not sure I would have put it into practice for my highly-distractible kids. We've been running, walking and scootering all over the neighborhood this week, and I'm seeing a difference in their mood and attention span, so I think it's working, but yowza, I probably wouldn't listen to this whole book again if someone paid me.

Book #38: Maisie Dobbs

Maisie Dobbs (Book 1)Title: Maisie Dobbs
Author: Jacqueline Winspear

A few weeks ago I went to dinner with my old roommates from London, and they all gushed over Maisie Dobbs. I ordered the audiobook and also fell in love. The book reminds me of the Alexander McCall Smith books (except they're set in Bloomsbury instead of Botswana), but they're much deeper and richer. In fact, I thought the mystery in this book was really secondary to Maisie's character. My mom listened to this audiobook too and liked it so much she immediately went home and put the second, third, and fourth books in the series on her iPod. If you like smart mysteries, books set in London, or stories with a Marxist/Feminist bent, you'll probably appreciate Maisie Dobbs.

A breather, and an apology

Last semester I felt consistently busy from the beginning of the semester until the end. I went to class on Tuesday and Thursday, and worked every other day of the week on homework and lesson plans and laundry and being a mom. This semester, I mistakenly thought things were a little easier. Sure, I was going to Provo every day, but there were some weekends when I barely did any homework at all. Little did I realize that  I was in for payback. Big time payback. This weekend, with 32 research papers sitting on my desk waiting to be corrected, I'm also writing four big papers of my own, preparing two presentations, and driving down to Utah County (again) for family dinner. I also needed to get in that long run for the marathon next month. But I'd rather blog. So instead of writing that power point, or buckling down and getting back to the two papers I still need to read to fulfill today's quota, I'm going to write a few book reviews. When I emerge from the school-induced haze I'll be sure to recap about the happy and important things in life, like our adoption and the fabulous paint job my mom did in the girls' room. Please excuse me if the reviews are brief, unhelpful or completely unintelligible. At least they won't be graded.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book #37: Finding Mercie (Whitney Book #16)

Finding MercieTitle: Finding Mercie
Author: Blaine Yorgason

Just a warning. This is not going to be nice. As honest as possible, but decidedly not nice.

If this book had been a paperback instead of a digital copy, I think I would have actually thrown it at the wall a few times. I was excited to see a book with LDS characters set in Chicago, and especially a novel with non-white LDS protagonists, so I had high hopes for Finding Mercie, but it was problematic for me on so many levels. When Hector Lopez finds a bleeding, frozen little girl on a Chicago street corner and rushes her to the hospital, the police initially suspect him, which forces them to examine his life a little more closely.

In Yorgason's defense, I think Hector's character is pretty interesting. He's charitable and spiritual to a fault, and that sometimes results in him having an inflexible world view. He's also very hard on himself. The other characters in the book, however, don't work as well. When the book opens, Hector's teenage son, Raul (literally a choir boy), and his girlfriend learn that they're expecting a baby. Both are good, active LDS kids who only slipped once. They had sex, and immediately (within a few hours) were in the bishop's office confessing their sin. Both of the teenagers go through a period of self-flagellation, and the girlfriend, in particular, has a lengthy passage where she basically compares herself to Bathsheba for not always being as modest in dress and attitude as she should be. There are times when I feel like passages from bad church slideshows from the 1970s have been dropped right into the book and this is one of them. Hector's girlfriend, Liliana, is also perplexingly inflexible. I have a hard time seeing Liliana and Hector having a successful marriage, despite what the angels say.

The book includes a lot of dreams and scenes where angels take care of Mercie (the girl Hector rescued). Call me a skeptic, but these scenes did not work for me. Hector seemed to base his life on these dreams, and even the police found themselves following the directives of the angels.

I think that the main problem of the book is that there were so many characters and storylines and some of them weren't wrapped up at all (how did Hector get his money? what is the prognosis of his illness? what's going to happen to the good-turned-bad-turned-good police officer? what's the deal with the dead teacher?) and others wrapped up a little too neatly. For example, there are 9 million people in the Chicago Metro area, but one bad guy was responsible for all the bad in the whole book. It felt completely unrealistic to have at least three different attacks perpetrated by the same baddie. It almost felt as if the bad acts were predetermined and predestined, because there was so much hokey spiritual stuff in the rest of the book.

Finally, while I admire Yorgason's attempt to capture the dialect of the Hispanic characters and the teen characters, both came off in a way that felt false and rubbed me the wrong way. And the village of Schamburg, which is an important location in the book, is consistently spelled wrong throughout. A good editor would have helped immensely on this project.

Book #36: Courting Miss Lancaster (Whitney Book #15)

Courting Miss LancasterTitle: Courting Miss Lancaster
Author: Sarah M. Eden

It's been 200 years since Jane Austen wrote her Regency romances, and although many have imitated her subject and her style, few have been able to capture the conventions and the spirit of the age like Austen did. Sarah Eden's Courting Miss Lancaster is an attempt at emulating the spirit of Austen. When impoverished Harry Windover's best friend, the scary Duke of Kielder, gives him the task of overseeing the social season of his sister-in-law Athena, Windover presents Athena with a suit of unsuitable suitors because he can't bear to see Athena fall in love with anyone but him.

When Emily and I talked about Courting Miss Lancaster, we both decided that it's very readable. It's probably even more readable for a modern audience than Austen. And I think that's the book's main problem. It feels too crisp and clear, the diction a little too modern, the attitudes of the characters a little too twenty-first century. That's not to say Eden doesn't have her details right (at least not as far as I can tell), but there's something that feels a little off. In fact, it reminds me a little bit of Shannon Hale's Austenland, with modern characters playing at the Regency period. I can't put my finger on what it is, though.

One thing I thought was unique and refreshing was that the book was told from Harry Windover's point of view. Virtually all of the romances I've ever read have female protagonists, and in Austen's most famous works, it's the penniless girl who's pining after a rich guy. In this case we have a poor guy lamenting that he'll be seen as a money grubber if he chases after the woman he loves.

Book #35: The Legend of Shannonderry (Whitney Book #14)

The Legend of Shannonderry - A NovelTitle: The Legend of Shannonderry
Author: Carol Warburton

When I started reading the Whitney Award books last year, I hadn't read a romance novel in at least a dozen years. I had a lot of preconceived notions about what I'd find in these books, namely that they would all be bad-- cheesy, unconvincing, flat, etc... When I actually started reading the books, however, I found that I liked them more than I expected I would (no, I don't feel sheepish about admitting that). In fact, my favorite book of last year (Counting the Cost by Liz Adair) was classified as a romance. There was also one that was absolutely dreadful (I won't be mean and say which one, although it wouldn't be hard to figure it out if you read my reviews last year on the blog). Overall, I was quite pleased with the quality of the romances.

This year when Emily, Maralise and I decided which categories we were going to read for Segullah, I asked to read the romances. They'd been such a delightful surprise last year. However, I've struggled with them a little more this year. I found Meg's Melody to be totally problematic (with the whole OB/boyfriend, healthy preemie thing). Luck of the Draw seemed to go in one way and then went in another. And while I think many of the Whitney books err on the side of being too short to develop their plots and characters fully, The Legend of Shannonderry felt painfully long. And maybe it's a convention of the genre that the first strange man the protagonist sees will become her eventual love, it felt so painfully obvious here. There were a few places where the story tried to diverge from the forward motion of Gwyneth (a Welsh name for an Irish lass?) and D'Arcy (Darcy, really?) toward the altar, the diversions weren't diverting enough for me.

Last year the Whitneys was chockablock with male leads named Tristan. This year it's full of 19th century British settings. Since most of the authors are from the American west, the settings feel a little out of place. I think the stories might work better if the authors wrote about places they knew well rather than focusing on recreating a world gone by.