Monday, April 16, 2018

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (2011), narrated by Nicola Barber

It's funny. I never rate Kearsley's books very high (on Goodreads I usually give them 3 stars, occasionally 4) yet they've become my comfort reads. I had purchased The Rose Garden on sale through Audible and forgotten about it until I was scrolling through my library one day. I immediately thought about English country gardens, history, romance, and that ethereal time-slipping that is in all of her novels and realized it was exactly what I wanted at that moment.

The protagonist is a woman named Eva who just lost her sister to illness, and she returns to Cornwall to scatter her ashes in the place where they spent their childhood together. She is staying with old family friends, but begins traveling back in time to the early 18th century where she meets previous inhabitants of the house. She can't control when she moves back and forth in time, and it's a bit jarring to suddenly appear in a place wearing clothing from the wrong time period. As she spends more time in the early 1700s, she begins falling for the smuggler Daniel Butler, and questioning where her true home really is.

This is the first book of Kearsley's I've read in which the main character actually travels in time. In the others, it's more like she will have a very close connection with someone from the past and maybe experience their story, but as that person, not as herself. Here, Eva showed up and interacted with people from another time, having to explain that she is from the future and being careful not to give them too much information or do anything to potentially change the future. Kearsley didn't dwell on the mechanics of the time travel, though it was connected to the house. It's not clear why not everyone there traveled through time, but that's not important. It's really about the life she lived in both places and the people she knew there.

I found it a little strange that the people she met in the 1700s didn't ask her about the future, and that no time was spent speculating on why it was happening, and why to her. It was also convenient that she never happened to disappear or reappear in front of the people in the current day, though a few people saw her come and go in the 1700s. But I can't really say that there are complaints as I think a lot of conversations about what was happening would have detracted from the real story.

Late in the book we learn some things that delightfully tied various bits of the story together. Of course I don't want to spoiler anything, but I loved how it all wrapped up. (Well, mostly.) I enjoyed this book the whole way through, and found Nicola Barber's narration perfect for the story.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

So You Want To Talk About Race

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (2018)

As it turns out, this book really is a guide for talking about race. I wasn't sure, I just knew that if Oluo wrote it, I wanted to read it. I follow her on Twitter and have read some pieces she has written, and she's brilliant, thoughtful, clear-headed, and concise. In addition to all her sensible advice, she shares her own experiences about, for example, being followed around in stores, and having to explain to her son why he can't play with a toy gun outside although his white step-brother can. She also helpfully includes information and statistics on things like income and police brutality as it relates to race.

The structure of the book is based on questions she has been asked. Chapters include "What if I talk about race wrong?", "What are microaggressions?", "What is cultural appropriation?", "Why can't I touch your hair?", "I just got called racist, what do I do now?", and "Talking is great, but what else can I do?" Each chapter is short, succinct, and filled with advice. I don't want to try and pick out bits of it to share because I think it's really important to read it in context.

But I will share the other actions - from the "what else can I do?" chapter - which is always what I want to know. They include things like voting in local elections, speaking up in unions, supporting POC-owned businesses, giving money to organizations working to fight racial oppression and support communities of color, boycotting businesses that exploit workers of color, supporting music, film, television, art, and books created by people of color, and supporting increases in the minimum wage. These should all be easy, and it's really the least we can do.

I also appreciated how inclusive the book is. She talks about LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and some of the specific problems faced by Asian-Americans. Did you know that 41-61% of Asian-American women experience physical and sexual abuse, which is TWICE the national average for all women? I didn't, and this is a horrifying omission from our conversations about feminism, and is exactly the sort of thing we mean when emphasizing the importance of intersectionality.

There is so much for most of us to learn from Oluo's writing. I consider this required reading for anyone wanting to take part in the current conversation about race (and we all should be doing so.) It's also the kind of book I want to keep referring back to, so although I returned my copy to the library I'm likely to purchase one to keep for myself.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Wrong To Need You

Wrong To Need You by Alisha Rai (2017)

In the first book of the Forbidden Hearts series, we were introduced to the Kane and Chandler families and their intertwined history, and the tragedies that tore them apart. That story continues in this second book, but at the forefront, of course, is romance. After the tragic events that occurred ten years ago, Jackson Kane took off, a pariah in his community because of a crime he didn't even commit. Now he has returned and is working for his widowed sister-in-law Sadia Ahmed, but their feelings for each other are not of the sibling variety.

Sadia's husband (and Jackson's brother) died alone in the woods in a hiking accident. He shouldn't have been alone, but he and Sadia had recently separated, a secret she has kept to herself all this time. She inherited his cafe and is determined to keep the business afloat to support herself and her son, Kareem. She's not a businesswoman at heart, preferring instead her shifts at a local bar, but she is determined to keep going with her incredibly busy over-scheduled life. And then Jackson returns to town.

All these years, Sadia had emailed him regularly. They were good friends before she married his brother and missed him a ton while he was away. He missed a lot, including Kareem's birth and Paul's death, without explanation for his absence. Sadia is angry at him now, but also curious about what he's been doing and where he has been. It turns out that he is now a trained chef who has an international pop-up restaurant, and he's willing to fill in at the cafe now that Sadia's chef is gone. But his presence in the town dredges up old animosities and grudges, and as he and Sadia become closer, he considers maybe sticking around, but there's a lot that needs to be straightened out between his family and the Chandler family if he is to stay.

The tension between Sadia and Jackson is obvious - she feels like her relationship with him should be a family one, not romantic, since he's her brother-in-law. And she's still working through her feelings of guilt over her husband's death and their failed marriage. Plus Jackson has cut himself off from everyone for a long time, keeps to himself so much it's hard to get to know him, and it seems like he could bolt at any moment. He, of course, is still dealing with the fallout of being accused of arson so many years ago and though he knows he's innocent, there are some pretty dark secrets about the event that he has kept to himself all these years.

There is a darkness in these books, because of the family secrets and tragedies that everyone is dealing with, which is one of the reasons I liked the first book so much and that has carried through. Rai has done a great job of creating this family situation and, within it, contemporary romances that are challenging for reasons other than the hero and heroine's inner neuroses. The third book, Hurts To Love You, has just been released and I'll definitely be reading it at some point. I need to get to the bottom of all the secrets in the Kane and Chandler families!