Words Worth Noting

Favorite Quotes

"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. French. Pascal. The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing."— Madeleine L'Engle

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Review: American Sweethearts

American Sweethearts American Sweethearts by Adriana Herrera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full review at @The_Book_Queen blog: bit.ly/2wTRxcb

American Sweethearts is the soul-stirring and deeply satisfying fourth and final installment in Adriana Herrera’s award-winning Dreamers series, which centers on a tight group of Afro-Caribbean friends finding love and living their own version of the American dream in New York. All the protagonists of these books are Caribbean immigrants or the children of immigrants. All are striving and hustling to forge their own path. Though these characters face challenges stemming from or in some way related to race and their immigrant identity, that identity is also a constant source of pride and joy. The cultures of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti are all represented and celebrated in some way in these books. The fourth book steadfastly upholds this and all the traditions that make this stunning series stand out including indelible characters, incredible found family, and a social justice center leavened by blazing heat and humor.

This time the story centers on Priscilla and Juan Pablo, former childhood sweethearts who’ve been in a volatile, love-hate, off and on relationship since they were teenagers in the Bronx. They’re now in their mid-thirties. Two decades is a long time to be feuding with someone you love, and Priscilla in particular, is more than tired of the struggle. In her words, Juan Pablo has been, and when the story opens likely still is, a “fuckboy.” The last time they got together less than a year ago left some deep scars and not a small amount of hostility. Readers of the earlier books can attest to that tension. The sparks, however, are also very much still in force.

This final chapter in the Dreamers series focuses on how these two people, who have never really fallen out of love, find their way back together despite those two decades of drama, pain and mistrust, but it’s also the story of how one of those characters, Priscilla, navigates a life-altering reevaluation of her life’s work and future path. That multilayered setup is one of the book’s greatest strengths. This is truly grown-folks business in the best sense of the term, and that’s not that prevalent in romance.

More here: bit.ly/2wTRxcb

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Review: Not the Girl You Marry

Not the Girl You Marry Not the Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

My initial feeling was that I might too close to this one—I have a long-standing academic interest in and opinions about how interracial relationships are portrayed in fiction and why it matters. And why so many of these depictions are incredibly problematic. That’s why I’ve stewed about this for months without comment. But that feels too much like cowardice. So here’s a quick rundown of what I thought and felt in reading this book.

From my perspective, the story skimmed the surface of the challenges faced by mixed race individuals and interracial couples, presenting the most basic takes on issues that we’ve now read about everywhere from the New York Times to a plethora of magazines and every day discussions on social media as though they were revelations. I struggled to write this review because I know this is an own voices story. But own voices isn’t and should not be a free pass on criticism. While the issues around identity and belonging seem to be heartfelt and personal (as discussed in the author’s note), the way they’re presented here, the story they’re wrapped up in, doesn’t have the depth to do those issues justice. Instead, the protagonist, a biracial woman struggling with her sense of belonging, sexuality and self-worth, veers close to centuries-old stereotypes about about race and what it means to be black. Without ever using the language, in her own head, the main character basically characterizes herself as a tragic mulatto, a character of mixed racial parentage, who fits in nowhere, who’s rejected by both black and white, and whose race is their downfall.

To take one example, the paragraph that first tipped me off that this was probably Not the Book I Should Read:

“Because they were never looking for a girlfriend, especially not her as a girlfriend. That didn’t hurt anymore. It didn’t. She’d accepted that she was just not the kind of girl men romanced. With her ethnically ambiguous looks, bawdy sense of humor, and filthy mind, men wanted to have sex with her. And then—once they realized that she wasn’t entirely domesticated—they wanted her to disappear.”

That’s my problem with this book in a nutshell. First there’s the strangely old-school tragic mulatto narrative and the self pity that comes with it. Plus the fact that this book seems to take place in an alternate reality, one in which multiculturalism isn't a marketable concept capitalism thrives on, and multiracial identity isn't privileged for its relative proximity to whiteness, and as though that hasn’t been the most acceptable form of blackness in popular culture (see Mixed Race Hollywood for more on that).

Then there’s also the fact that this paragraph is written as though it represents the character’s own thoughts, but the language and sentiments are recognizable as cliche but unrecognizable as the way real people think and speak about themselves in their own words. ”With her ethnically ambiguous looks” is an awfully awkward, stilted way to phrase this idea in one’s own head. “Bawdy sense of humor”? Bawdy, really? Who thinks in those terms?

There’s also a part where the protagonist’s black ex-boyfriend and his mom were horrified to find out she’s biracial. She thinks that also makes her not the girl you marry for bougie black people.

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Saturday, February 08, 2020

Review: Rebel Hard

Rebel Hard Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love him. Love her. Love the way he loves her.

I keep finding myself returning to this book again and again. There are so many good things here. Absolutely lovely hero. I love him. Love her. Love the way he loves her. Lots of Pride and Prejudice references but they’re smart and organic to the story rather than gratuitous. I also love the fact that Indian culture in New Zealand is absolutely central to the story and it’s rendered in wonderfully specific detail. This is by far the most nuanced portrayal of arranged marriage I’ve seen and I’ve read quite a few of late (Ayesha At Last, When Dimple Met Rishi, There's Something About Sweetie).

One of the best things about this narrative is that the setup creates ample room for realistic, relatable conflict and growth. A formal introduction is coordinated by Nayna and Raj's families, but the relationship—its pace, intimacy, power dynamics— is all them, and that’s essential to its success. Nayna is the consummate good girl, and she’s tired of it. She’s an ambitious, well-educated, sexually inexperienced professional woman in her late twenties, and frustrated with the constraints of the role. She adores her family but is tired of always doing their bidding. Raj is a traditional guy with a rocky early childhood who wants a strong, traditional family for himself. This does not seem like an auspicious foundation for a relationship. But Raj expands his conception of what a happy family life requires because he understands that a strong marriage requires a happy wife and for the wife he wants that means freedom and equality within the relationship. For Nayna, there’s nothing sexier than a man who listens, respects and responds to her needs.

Favorite quote:
“You love her as my Nayna deserves to be loved. Don’t lose faith in your own ability to grow.” Raj stared down at the seamed lines of her face, feeling the sense of tightness around his chest snap. “Midnight walks and shared secrets?” Aji’s smile was luminous. “See? You understand.” She opened the back door. “Love grows when it is tended.”

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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Review: Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As befits the title and cover art, in Tweet Cute, two smart, attractive and socially insecure Manhattan teens meet cute online. In the real world, Jack and Pepper don’t like each other very much. Yet they have an easy rapport on the social networking app that's exclusively for and by kids from their school. With the freedom and sense of security that comes from anonymity, Jack and Pepper find that they a lot in common: both feel like outsiders in their swanky Upper East Side private school; both have a snarky sense of humor; and they both harbor a disdain of the more entitled classmates who have more family money than intellectual heft.

Unfortunately, as social media/ marketing whizzes who, unbeknownst to each other, use Twitter to boost their families’ fast food businesses, they’re also competitors. The premise is fine, but there’s an inherent challenge in a book that hinges on the wit and creativity of its protagonists: the text itself has to have original things to say and say them well. Novels about poets for example fall flat when the poetry disappoints.

In Tweet Cute, the art is texts and tweets. The conflict between Pepper and Jack arises from a critical tweet by Jack about Pepper’s family account, a tweet that’s supposed to be so sharp it gets shared by a pop star, and goes viral. Rather than bask in his moment of twitter fame, Jack’s immediately consumed by worry that he’s going to be grounded for his impudence. The Tweet in question though is basic, rather than edgy: Pepper tweet brags about a new menu item at her family’s burger chain; Jack screenshots it with the comment “Sure Jan,” making fun of the larger company for being a copycat. As Twitter fights go, that’s as mild as it gets. So neither its virality nor the anxiety it inspires make much sense, and therefore the tension between the two feels pretty overblown and low stakes. I've seen Gen Z tweet. It gets a little wilder and funnier than this!

That said, when you're young and sheltered, and experiencing the stirrings of first love, everything is amplified. It's wonderful that Jack and Pepper have that space. The Manhattan Pepper and Jack live in is essentially a wholesome, G-rated version of the one depicted in Gossip Girl with some of the sweetness of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I've Loved Before . Sometimes that’s just the escape we’re looking for as readers. Even though the conflict is tepid, the characters are interesting and really, refreshingly sweet. They care about each other, their families and their futures. There are subplots about realistic concerns like bullying, sibling rivalry, academic stress, business ethics, and divorce. The plot gets a bit more complex with time, and I grew more invested in them as things progressed. While Tweet Cute may not be the kind of YA novel that holds a ton of crossover potential, it could and should appeal to its true, hopefully less jaded, intended audience. At least least I hope so!

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Saturday, January 04, 2020

Review: Band Sinister

Band Sinister Band Sinister by K.J. Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Band Sinister was without a doubt one of the best books I read in 2019. I love it for many reasons: sweetness of the central romance, the rich, multidimensional, diverse found family that surround them, the spot on homage to Heyer, Venetia in particular. But one of the strongest elements has to be K.J. Charles's facility with and economy of language and how she uses language to build character.

For example, when a close friend wonders about the main character's judgment in getting involved with a seemingly conventional younger man, the friend says:
"You were going to tell us about how and why you’ve talked a strait-laced bundle of rustic nerves into bed.”

Six words: "straight-laced bundle of rustic nerves." A small thing. But it's just the right turn of phrase. Captures Guy. Captures how the others, Philip’s friends see Guy. Captures their dilemma, the gap between them. Perfection.
That's just one tiny example; the whole thing is a joy. But a smart one full of insight as well as kindness. And quite a bit of heat. Charles is also really good at that.

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