Tag: what i’m reading

Review: The Bride Test

TBT

 

  • Publisher: Berkley (May 7, 2019)
  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English

I read The Kiss Quotient last summer and was delighted with Stella Lane’s character. She has Asperger’s Syndrome and Hoang does an exceptional job of giving us a glimpse of how Stella processes the world. I’m a massive fan of unconventional female leads and Stella reminded me of Eleonor Oliphant in Eleonor Oliphant is Competely Fine (another excellent read).

In The Bride Test, she gives us Khai Diep, an autistic male lead. His mother, desperate over the fact that he doesn’t date, goes to Vietnam to get him the perfect wife. The title refers to the test she devises to help her select a suitable bride for her son, a test Esmeralda Tran, a hotel maid, easily passes. For the sake of her mother, grandmother and daughter, Esme accepts the proposal to go to America with the purpose of persuading Khai to marry her before the end of the summer. Instead of simply seducing Khai, she falls in love with him as well and the novel hinges on whether Khai can divest himself of the idea that he doesn’t have feelings to admit he loves Esme, too.

If you read all the reviews, you will get a sense of why this book is so successful – dual POVs with distinct character voices; a swoon-worthy male lead who is kind, considerate, intelligent, a bit clueless and utterly unaware of his worth; a resilient female lead to understands her value and is willing to fight for her future and the future of her daughter.

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But this book impacted me for other reasons, as well. Khai’s autism isn’t really acknowledged by his family. Therefore, to some degree, he is left to his own resources to interpret for himself what his unique way of processing the world means. Having years of experience teaching children, I’ve learned that if we as adults don’t define in clear terms what makes an exceptional child unique, whether they have autism, Asperger’s or giftedness, they will rationalize for themselves what makes them different and many times, they don’t choose the best explanation.

Khai believes he is simply incapable of love and grief and comes to the conclusion that he is bad when he fails to respond the way others do to the death of his best friend, Andy. This conditions his behavior for years, until Esme comes along and proves otherwise.  But the point I’m making is this: if Khai’s autism had been addressed in a way that made clear to him and his family that he simply has a different way of processing stimuli and emotions, he might not have drawn the conclusion that he was bad. Hoang nails the power of these mistaken self-beliefs and how they can negatively impact our lives, simply because the adults left the explanation of a complex dynamic in the hands of a child instead of acknowledging the thing directly.  Khai’s journey of self understanding and acceptance makes me love him a thousand times more.

The Bride Test Instagram 1

The Bride Test also contains elements of the immigrant narrative. Hoang explains in the author’s note how Esme moved from being a peripheral character to the main love interest in the novel. Hoang derived her inspiration for Esme’s character from her mother, and used the writing of this book as an opportunity to get to know her own mother’s immigration story. This made an impression on me. As a first generation Puerto Rican, born and raised in the United States, I will never know what it’s like to pick up your family, leave a way of life to come a country where you don’t speak the language, armed only with hope and a dream.  I lived in Europe for many years but I had a good job, knew the languages and had the expectation of returning home some day.

Stories like Hoang’s mother, Esme or my grandparents are completely different. We come to understand these experiences by becoming familiar with our parent’s histories. There’s so much in Esme’s determination and spirit that I recognized from the stories of my parents and grandparents, what they did to go from being barely literate farm workers to entrepreneurs to having children who went on to go to college and beyond.  That’s why I was rooting for Esme, independent of her relationship with Khai.

Romances like these are why I love this genre so much.

5 enthusiastic stars.

 

Review – In Case You Forgot

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  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (June 11, 2019)
  • Publication Date: June 11, 2019
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English

Amazon

When I first read the description of this novel on Netgalley, I was genuinely excited. It hits a lot of my soft spots – #ownvoices writers, m/m romance, socially aware, complex characters and diverse leads. I am particularly enjoying the number of romances being published that are either diverse or engage in social issues. I want novels like these to be successful and try to support them every way I can.

This is how I approached In Case You Forgot by Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar. Told in the first person present, the story althernates POVs between Zaire and Kenney. Each chapter title ties in with the main title to complete an aphorism. For example, ICYF: Be Honest, ICYF: Leave on Read, and so on, implying that each chapter should serve as a lesson reinforcing the aphorism presented. It’s a clever way of organizing the novel and provides thematic structure to each chapter.

We meet our first main character, Zaire, in chapter one when he asks his huband, Mario, for a divorce. This act sets off Zaire’s search for self-realization as he recognizes the need to be free of his partner in order to find the fulfillment he seeks. In contrast, Kenny Kane is not the agent of his own change in the beginning. When we meet him, he is at his mother’s funeral, where his on-again/off-again boyfriend, Brandon-Malik, breaks up with him by text. It’s an act that haunts Kenny throughout the entire novel and, while it is clear Brandon-Malik is not an ideal partner, Kenny spends the better part of the novel pining after him.

And here is where we get to the crux of my struggle with this novel. On Amazon, this novel is categorized as African American Romance Fiction and LGBT Romance. Therefore I went in, fully expecting a romance read, complete with a meet-cute, beats, declaration, resolution including an HEA/HFN. Instead, the main characters don’t even meet until about 30% through the narrative and spend the better part of the book apart. Because of the expectations, I kept trying to read this novel as a romance and grew frustrated with it.

This is not an indie publication, therefore I hold the publisher responsible for the miscategorization. I’m certain I would have enjoyed the novel much more if I had gone into it expecting an LGBT fiction read without the expectation of romance. Realizing the dissonance between genre and content, I reread the book in an attempt to reframe the narrative in my mind and give it a chance to be successful.

Apart from that, the novel is enjoyable on its own terms. It serves as tableau of black youth trying to find connection and love in West Hollywood, complete with all the racial, social, and personal challenges that implies. Zaire and Kenny’s struggles feel very relateable and there’s a hipness to the characters that I find refreshing.

The point of view was a bit of a struggle for me. I normally don’t favor any one viewpoint over another – whatever works for a novel works for me. However, the first person point of view reminds me of the YA genre, in particular when paired with the present tense. As a reference point, The Hunger Games trilogy is told in this very specific pov/tense. It lends immediacy and intensity to the narrative but it’s hard to pull off if the internal dialogue isn’t rich and engaging. In ICYF, there were times where the transition from internal dialogue to action was jerky and took me out of the reading.

What really works in this novel is the worldbuilding. The setting and supporting characters provide a convincing backdrop against which the characters grow. When I ignored the flaws in narration, I was able to enjoy the realistic character arcs of  Zaire and Kenny overcoming their respective struggles to arrive at a place where they are doing what they like to do and are satisfied with the outcome of their lives. As I stated earlier, this journey felt real to me. If I had read it that way from the beginning, I would have gotten more out of it. While there are romantic elements, this novel would be better marketed as straight fiction. Knowing this in advance will allow reader to better manage their expectations and choices.

4 out of 5 stars

ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review – By the Currawong’s Call by Welton B. Marsland

by the currawongs call

By the Currawong’s Call by Welton B. Marsland

  • Publisher: Escape Publishing (November 1, 2017)
  • Publication Date: November 20, 2017
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English

Bisexual, Victorian Romance

Amazon

I was just coming off reading Holding the Man and missing the Australian setting when Marsland’s debut novel, By the Currawong’s Call came across my desk. Anglican priest, Matthew Ottenshaw, finds himself posted to the small town of Dinbratten, where he forms a deep friendship with Jonah Parks, the police sergeant in residence. This novel does something I love – it gives a chance for the relationship between the MCs to grow slowly before they give in to their romantic feelings, made doubly complicated by Matthew’s vocation and the historic period. It’s excellently written, just skirting the lyrical as the relationship between Matthew and Jonah escalates into something irrevocable.

copy of by the currawong's song

In addition, each character, even the minor characters, are distinctly drawn. The author takes advantage of the differences in dialect and vocabulary to mark each character. This is particularly effective between Matthew and Jonah, because Matthew is more formally educated than Jonah. Even without dialogue tags, there is no question who is speaking.

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This novel commits only one forgivable misstep – it sometimes uses Jonah as a vehicle for promoting the modern attitudes towards what were then illegal, same-sex relationships. There is nothing wrong with this, but if I, as a reader, am consuming this genre, it had better be because I’ve sorted my feelings about queerness. On the strength of this assumption, it’s a bit like preaching to the choir. Oh, and that epilogue can go for the same reason.

Everything else in this novel is divine.

by the currawong's song (1)

Favorite quotes:

“You’d better decide quick-smart whether ya reckon I’m worth it, as well. Or else we should stop it all, right here.”

“The match flame illuminated the angles of his face. He was a god of myth, inhaling fire and sighing out incense.”

‘We are a wonder together,’ Matthew thought. ‘An absolute wonder.’

4.5/5 Stars. Great debut!

Note to writers:

  • Excellent example of using vocabulary and dialogue to sharpen characterization
  • Sex scenes escalate intimacy and are tied to the story and characters. Integral to the emotional arc.
  • Illustrates the pitfalls of using epilogues that do not enhance the story.
  • Powerful sense of place.

And the rating (drumroll)… A solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Great debut novel!