Listening to Mindy

I’m back on the ABC’s 702 Sydney show this morning. Linda Mottram is on holidays so I will be chatting with Deb Knight about audiobooks – perfect for roadtrips!

I have a deep, dark secret to admit here. But first, let me point out that I adore being told a story. As a young child, I don’t recall ever being read to but my parents were always telling us stories, and particularly my dad would embellish his with hyperbole (this apple does not fall far from that tree). This storytelling time was either at dinner or at bedtime. Bedtime stories would always put me to sleep, and here is my deep, dark secret. I choose my audiobooks for their ability to put me to sleep. Not in a “I’m so bored I can barely pay attention” way but in a search for calm, soothing voices that work their magic and send you into Morpheus’s arms. This is great when I am in bed, but not so good when I am driving.

My driving audio choices need to be much more lively. I remember on a three hour drive to Newcastle having chosen Homer’s Odyssey to listen to. I barely remember the first line yet when I woke up all rested at the end of the drive, both my sons were at the ready to describe the gruesome eye-gouging of the Cyclopes that I had missed. Side note: my husband was driving on that day.

So what is my latest choice – and have I chosen it to stay awake or go to sleep?

Mindy KalingI’m currently listening to Mindy Kaling’s Why not me? And I am definitely wide awake. I absolutely adore self-narration. I know that this is not always possible. Authors are not necessarily orators, many authors are dead, and it is always interesting to listen to other narrators and their interpretation of a story. There aren’t that many self-narrated fiction audiobooks as much as memoirs. Previous memoirists I have adored are Gervase Phinn and his stories of being a school inspector in the Yorkshire Dales, and David Sedaris whose stories did not inspire me until I heard his readings at Carnegie Hall which had me laughing so hard that I had to pull over and stop driving as I could not see ahead of me due to the tears rolling down my face.

Well, the verdict on Mindy Kaling is up there with both Phinn and Sedaris. I’m not too familiar with her TV work. Though I have seen the occasional American The Office episode (which I like much more than the cringeworthy UK original), I have not seen The Mindy Project at all (I don’t subscribe to cable or any subscription viewing TV). But many of my tweeps bandy her name around with lots of love and adoration so I have watched her interviews on Youtube here and there. Her memoir is like Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Celebrity observances, her life shaping moments, ideas on love and work. I loved her opening with skittles and buying people’s approval because who wants to be “effortless”. Her chapter on why Bridesmaids Have it Worse than Groomsmen validated my 20 years ago decision to not have any bridesmaids at my wedding.  She is funny, sharp and keenly observant. I will definitely be listening to her previous book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

I purchased a copy of Mindy Kaling’s audiobook from an online vendor. I borrowed Gervase Phinn from the library and I was given the David Sedaris CDs as a gift though it is now long gone – damn the picky thief who broke into my sister’s car and did not touch all the nostalgic 80s music but took my book. I hope the CD warped and jammed in your player and you are stuck in a sound distorted hell.

Romancing the Duke: Tessa Dare, meta and the TBR challenge

After several false starts, I have finally finished reading Tessa Dare’s Romancing the Duke from the Castles Ever After series for this month’s TBR Challenge. And to avoid even more false starts (particularly of the blogging kind), I’m going to do a quick blurb cut-and-paste:

Romancing the Duke by Tessa DareAs the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens.  She never doubted romance would be in her future, too.  The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off.  One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?

Abducted by handsome highwayman?

Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head.  What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

Spoiler alerts early on in this review:

I enjoyed this book. Isolde inherits a castle but it comes with a duke (Ransom) who was not aware that his castle had been bought as he has been in a self-imposed exile to recover from injuries he received in a duel. He is mostly blind and he is adapting to life without full sight. Izzy is the daughter of a famous (now deceased) English author who wrote stories of romance and adventure with Izzy as the central character. Though she has been left destitute, there is national goodwill toward her and she has a strong, though a tad overthetop fans who follow her to her castle. Ransom has never heard of her father or Izzy and treats Izzy like an adult unlike most people who she comes across in her life. Ransom wants Izzy to leave his castle immediately but homeless Izzy refuses to give up her inheritance even if it seems to be an illgotten gain. Izzy decides to help Ransom tackle his paperwork which has not been read in months due to his inability to read. She becomes his eyes and reads aloud all his correspondence in order to uncover how his castle was sold without his knowledge.

I liked the way that Isolde (Izzy) and Ransom (the duke) spoke to one another throughout the book. Izzy loves his lack of sentimentality and even seeks out his company for this quality:


Do come to dinner and be your ill-tempered, unromantic self. Please.

They had a connection both cerebral and physical.  Descriptions of Izzy were like thick smears of Vaseline on the lens of a Doris Day movie, she is made of shadows and light streams. The sex scenes were interesting in that Ransom’s perspective was focused on taste and touch, but only in that they were not so different to Izzy’s perspective. What they could (or could not) see was secondary to what they could feel.

Tessa Dare goes all meta in this book in her representation of fandoms, child/adult celebrities and how fans can be both a hindrance as well as a support. Her fandom is instrumental to the outcome of the book but not before Ransom has insulted her most loyal fans and past undue judgement upon their abilities to function in broader society.

Though she does love that he doesn’t know who she is, and has not read her father’s stories, she also has to pull him up on his criticisms of the people who do love her father’s stories, of people who seek love and romance:

But his smugness made her so prickly all over. And he wasn’t merely insulting love and romance. He was insulting her friends and acquaintances. Her own hard work.

The innermost yearnings of her heart.

This wasn’t an academic argument. It was personal. If she didn’t defend the idea of lasting happiness, how could she hold out any hope for her own.

Yes. The innermost yearnings of her heart are the innermost yearnings of most people’s hearts. Love and connection to someone who connects with our cerebral and physical selves. A yearning that many scoff outwardly as though it makes them sophisticated and worldly. It is a yearning that some people also choose to not pursue for varied reasons but it does remain elemental to our being. I don’t mind authors going meta on readers and Tessa Dare manages to keep it on the good side of overt (though not at all subtle). In the end, everyone gets their HEA which though expected, I felt it was a bit abrupt and neat.

I liked this book. Though it didn’t immediately set my world on fire, I think it will slowly sneak into my subconscious. Small lines from the book have already started popping up into my daily movements. I “doubt not” that my problem was my many false starts and fractured reading of it. This is a book to, not read in fits and starts like I did, but one to savour and read over a long, quiet weekend.

I bought my copy of this book from a bricks and mortar bookshop in Sydney at full price.


This past week has been quite busy for me. I started my research in 2012 and was (thankfully) assigned a research desk within my university’s research office. I had what I considered luxury. It was a large corner cubicle with plenty of shelves and drawers where I could spread out my papers when I was working on an idea and it also afforded me a lot of privacy. After 3.5 years in the same space, our research office has been moved to a different floor and I now have a smaller desk in a much more open space. This too is fine for me. As someone who is used to sharing spaces – I have never had my own bedroom, I did not even have my own chair (let alone a desk) at my first, second and third jobs, and though I have had jobs where I have had my own office, I still consider a desk of any sort to be an absolutely delightful bonus.

A corner of my old desk

A corner of my old desk

This move has necessitated me to go through all the paperwork that I had amassed in all this time. I can happily say that there was very little duplication and very little that needed to be discarded. I did have to sort through a lot of my paperwork as it was all mixed in. I have now ordered my work into boxes, files and trays which represent, to me, how I hope some of my chapters will come together. I also have had to sort through many post-it notes. There were many that had ideas that have continued to grow into more fruitful writing, some whose ideas are still relevant and others whose content perplexes me.

My new desk

My new desk

I feel rather fortunate. This move has come about at a good time for me. I like that I had a private quiet cubicle for my first few years. One of my biggest obstacles doing my research has been my transition from a practitioner to a scholarly practitioner. In my first few years, I tended to focus on the practicalities of my research and how it reflected library work. I feel that my private corner let me become engrossed in scholarship. A lot of this was due to the students around me who shared their own experiences. A couple of months ago, my biggest influence in the research office completed her work and has moved on. Previously, I would stop by her desk as I walked past her every morning, and we would talk about our theoretical frameworks (I had zero idea what that even was when I first started!) and conceptual problems that we were grappling with, often solving our problems over a cup of tea and lemon and lime tarts whilst sitting in one of our cubicles. My routine had already shifted when she left. I still talk with other students, both in the old space and the new space, but the disruption to my way of working occurred well before the move to the new. I am thinking differently. This new routine and new space is renewing the way I am viewing my work. Where previously I was reading and data gathering, I am now focusing more on analysing and writing. The operative word is focused. I find that shiny little objects (I’m looking at you, Twitter) no longer have the ability to distract me as easily.

I am now nearing the second half of my fieldwork. I am continuing to collect data but I see a new phase emerging for me and by the end of this year I hope to be writing full-time towards my PhD. So often, as is the norm for most people, a physical change of space has also helped change my thinking spaces. Where before my desk was spread out, chaotic in its order, my smaller space has allowed order to dominate chaos, both in the arrangement of my papers as well as the alignment of my ideas in my mind. Where, before, I was unsure of where to compartmentalise my ideas as they came to me, now I seem to naturally place my thoughts in a specific file in my mind.

I am also fortunate that this move came at a time that worked well for my schedule. If this had occurred during my last few months before submitting my thesis, this would have caused me some distress. I really feel for any of the students that have had this extra pressure placed upon them. It has, though, highlighted to me how important a quiet, stable environment is for me. This had never been an issue for me in workplaces, often travelling between library branches and using the desks that are assigned to work duties rather than specific staff members. This highlights to me that I have indeed shifted away from being only a practitioner. Not only do I like having a permanent space away from home to study in, which is only mine but I feel I need my own place with my own books and my own papers and my own mark. I also have fallen into the habit of rarely doing any university work when I am at home. Home is dedicated to reading and my blog (which explains so many midnight posts). Most people would say that this is a good thing, that I have delineated my life but as I spend more time at home than at university, I might have to blur that line a bit more and perhaps even consider working exclusively from my own home.

I guess I can make that decision later in my next phase, whenever that may be.

My metadata article, motherhood narratives and This One Summer

I’ve been published again! I am honoured that The Journal of Popular Romance Studies has published my second (well third but I rarely ever mention my first paper published on hypermedia) scholarly paper. This article is on metadata interplays, the paratext of category romance and Public Lending Rights. I am particularly pleased that the Journal is open access so you can read the full text when you click here.


My reading in the past week:

Once again, Tessa Dare’s book is left waiting in my TBR pile but I still don’t have time for a prolonged read. It is now spring so maybe by next week I will have read it.

Last week, I also had a right royal whinge about JM Coetzee and how I didn’t like his short stories. Despite this, I ended up recommending the offending story for my son to use as a related text for his high school English assignment. A timely reminder why people must not only read widely but also engage with materials that they may dislike as you never know when they will be useful.

Things I wish I'd knownThings I wish I’d known: women tell the truth about motherhood

edited by Victoria Young

Mothermorphosis: Australian storytellers write about becoming a mother

edited Monica Dux

I enjoy reading motherhood narratives. I like getting an insight about how bringing up babies and children changes different women’s understanding of themselves and their connection with their community. I run in horror away from those publications filled with flowery, precious epithets and aspirational motivation quotes as, for me, they just serve to diminish the real experiences that women go through, and instead, serve as a false benchmark of earth mother “your instincts lead you” precious proselytising that only serve to make me feel inadequate. Nor am I interested in parenting “how to” books. I want the personal stories. The narratives that reflect the difficulties and the enjoyment that different women experience when they have their kids.

MothermorphosisBoth the publications managed to have stories reflecting how women writers have coped with their own individual circumstances. From single parents, couples, sleeplessness, the Breastapo (hehe – I’m familiar with the Lactose Nazis but I do like this term too), tears from both babies and mothers, anger at officialdom which seem more focused at meeting government targets than dealing with individual needs, sadly at the expense of a woman’s mental health and many more. The stories were touching and lovely (though in the Australian publication they were a tad too drawn out). However, all the women were writers and after a while the stories all melted into one, despite all their personal differences. I think I would have preferred more varied voices and not only writers so I will just keep searching. In the meanwhile, I did like the UK publication a little bit more than the Australian one.

This One SummerThis One Summer

by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

I’m a sucker for gorgeous art work and I must say that I borrowed this graphic novel completely on the strength of the delightful cover art. Rose spends her summers at a lakeside with her parents but spends most of her time with her summer holiday friend, Windy. The girls are in those pre-teen years where watching the dramas of older teens in this holiday location is part of their daily routine. Rose’s parents are still trying to deal with a miscarriage from the previous year, their sadness permeating the family’s life and vibrating off the pages. Rose is still young and is quick to judge and misunderstands the actions of people both close to her, as well as those who are in her community but not part of her own social sphere. Windy is less judgmental and worries when she hears Rose speaking harshly. Despite this, the two girls enjoyment and closeness, especially when they are watching horror movies, is remininscent of summer holidays when I was younger. I loved the different stories occurring around these two young girls. The storytelling is slow and languorous, just like a heated, lazy summer holiday. I really enjoyed this book.

All three of these books were borrowed from a NSW public library.

Impulse challenge

I’m not really an impulse book buyer. However, I am a chronic impulse book borrower.

Last week, SuperWendy’s TBR challenge was to read an impulse buy and as I searched my burgeoning bookcases I realised that very few of the books I owned had been purchased without thought and planning. Each one seemed to have a back story. Either a review I had read, a cover artist I had admired, a recommendation from a friend or an award I wanted to consider. It isn’t as though I don’t purchase from bookshops. It is just that somewhere in the recesses of my mind I am hesitant to purchase a reading experience without having tried it out first. I have limited space in my small(ish) home and I also have a small(ish) book budget. Despite spending hundreds of dollars every year on my reading choices, these are more often for keepers as I cannot afford to make dud purchases. It made me realise how dependent on libraries I am for that serendipitous author discovery.

The other week, I went to the library to pick up two reservations that had arrived, and I left with 22 other books which I am slowly getting through. This past week I have read two of my serendipitous impulse borrows.

Roz Chast's Can't we talk about something more pleasantCan’t we talk about something more pleasant?

A memoir by Roz Chast

Just a quick warning for those of you who may not want to read about death, skip to the next book or just stop reading.

Roz Chast is a cartoonist with The New Yorker. Having grown up in Brooklyn, she moved to Conneticut when she was expecting her second child. However, her elderly parents continued to live in Brooklyn and as they entered their progressed through their 90s she found herself returning to the apartment she grew up in to take care of them until their increasingly ill-health necessitated their moving to a retirement home which Chast (and her parents) refer to as The Place. This graphic novel, traces those last years of understanding parent foibles, taking care of the people that have raised you and trying to make the right decisions for the ones you love despite their refusal to discuss their end of life desires.

In my own Greek tradition (or at least in my family), talking about death and last wishes, though not dinner table talk*, is relatively open. I’m so open on these that I am even happy to list them here. If possible: donate my innards but not my body which needs to be washed with red wine (tis’ Greek tradition not a personal quirk!), there is no way on earth that Baloubis the Phlegma Gang member from high school turned funeral director is allowed anywhere near my cold, dead corpse and if this is not respected I will haunt haunt haunt all those who thought it a good idea to hire him, to the funeral director who does get to bury me – my family and friends are more than welcome to haggle for a better price dammit!, I want an open casket (a warning to my indigenous friends) of untreated wood planks (no fancy schmancy polished wood velvet lining for me thankyouverymuch) for a burial so that worms can get in and break me up, an Orthodox service in the church I was christened and married in, the gospel reading in English all the rest in ecclesiastic Greek and absolutely no eulogy from anyone in the church, leave that for the wake after my internment and even then make sure it is a wake and not a celebration of my life, I want commiserating, I don’t want music in respect of my love for shhhhh!, I want a wake with crying and grieving that makes way to storytelling and hopefully laughter. And if all this is not possible, oh well. Life (and death) take their own paths**.

Not all plans need to be adhered to as Chast shows in her book that making decisions around the care required by her parents during their sunset years is much more difficult when health and economic reasons narrows their choices or takes them away completely.

I was deeply touched by this book. It made me look around my own (minor) hoarding habits and I spent all of Saturday clearing 3 of my cupboards of rubbish that my children will never need. My bins are full and my local op shop is about to receive a whole lot of board games and jigsaw puzzles that were taking up a ridiculous amount of space. I already feel happier. This is the power of writing. Thank you, Roz Chast.

* I lied. These discussions have also been had at the dinner table.

**Except I will NEVER travel the Phlegma Gang funeral director path.

JM Coetzee's Three StoriesThree Stories

by JM Coetzee

Occasionally, I want to return to reading literary fiction by male authors. I am so deeply embedded in women’s writing, I often feel as though I am missing out on “greats” of writing, those Nobel, Pultizer, Booker winners that were my reading mainstay 25 years ago and are still the books that receive accolades and reviews. I dip my toe in reluctantly. Often trying out a few chapters of a novel, but more commonly, I find their short stories, published either in literary magazines or in small collections. So, having never read any of JM Coetzee’s work, I borrowed this volume of very short stories (less than 20 pages each). I love short stories. The sparcity of words to deliver an understanding not only of the story but also of the elegance of an author’s wordsmithery, both serving as a threshold to the longer works of fiction for an author. Sadly, Coetzee’s short stories did not make me want to read more of his work, but instead, made me agitated and annoyed that he receives accolades such as the Nobel Prize for literature. There are so many female writers whose works are equal and/or surpass his in complexity and craft yet they do not get recognised. It just serves to lower my respect for, not only the author, but the awarding institution.

So how could a short story collection give me such agitation? I will only discuss the first story “A House in Spain”. The story is about an unnamed man who buys himself a house and he discusses falling “in love with objects” ie his house in Spain. He (the main character) starts talking about the parallels of love of a house and love for a woman (because, you know, both are objects). I can run with this idea. Fine. Sure. I get it. The depth of man, the symbolism of the house in place of a woman. Sure. Let’s run with it even if I am already gritting my teeth. So here are some kernels of Nobel prize winning wisdom that I was to ponder:

His plan, at the beginning, was to spend two seasons of the year here. Summers he would avoid because they were too hot, winters because they were too cold. Plenty of men have marriages like that, he told himself. Sailors, for instance, spend half their lives at sea.

Fair weather husband. Awesome.

Thankfully, the house endears her(its)self to him so he stays year round. He gets to know the village which remembers the previous owners, or in our narrator’s words “the previous husband” (italics are Coetzee’s not mine)

If this is marriage, he tells himself, then it is a widow I am marrying, a mature woman, set in her ways. Just as I cannot be a different man, so I should not want her to become, for my sake, a different woman, younger flashier, sexier.

Charmer. He’s so respectful of his house/wife. No mutton dressed as lamb for him. He likes his older women respectfully restrained and creaking.

When one marries, one cares deeply who one’s wife was married to before, even who she slept with before.

Hmmm. There are so many talking points here. I’ve already slipped into thinking that he cares only to judge her for sleeping with anyone before him but then again, that statement can also be thought of in terms of caring because I want to understand you as a person. This judgement point is not unique to men and it certainly is implied in a lot of romance fiction too. The whole “good girl” narrative continued into someone’s mature years (even if that someone is a house). So as a male point of view, once again we see the passing of wisdom words on to more men, who will bestow awards to these words, set them in some school curriculum and then all who will read them will nod and take them on as their own wisdom words to judge the women they might want to marry. I, the reader, understand this is an analogy. And just in case I am stupid, the narrator actually tells me that this is just  an “…analogy between ownership and marriage, houses and wives…” (my use of this quote here is slightly out of context but it is not a misrepresentation).

What it comes down to, astonishingly, is that he wants a relationship with this house in a  foreign country, a human relationship, however absurd the idea of a human relationship with stone and mortar might be… return for that relationship he is prepared to treat the house as one treats a woman, paying attention to her needs and even her quirks, spending money on her, soothing her through her bad times, treating her with kindness.

How kindly of our narrator to want to take care of a woman *ooops* house even if it does have quirks.

As you can tell, I did not enjoy the “moral to this story is”. The writing was okay. It was fluid, cohesive but it didn’t enthrall me and neither did it stand out as different to so many other storytellers. The thing that annoyed me more than anything else was that I felt that I, the reader was being talked down upon. The reader is the lesser in this relationship. I, the reader needed to have lessons of life bestowed upon me and this was not done subtly or subversively but it felt as though the writer was telling me rather than showing me how he viewed life. I finished the other two stories in this short collection (all written before he received the Nobel) but they too left me unimpressed and doubtful that I will ever want to expend any time on a longer story by Coetzee.

Both these books were borrowed from a NSW public library.



More August reading

Once again, I have put Tessa Dare on the back burner, waiting for some quiet, peaceful time to read her book. I haven’t read any novels this past week, with most of my book selections being dip-in-and-out reading. I have always loved visually beautiful books but they are:

  1. Too expensive to buy so I go to the library and
  2. Too heavy to borrow from the library and carry home

But the other week, I *shock and surprise* drove to the library so I stocked up on big, heavy, pretty coffee table books.

Infographics series 

Infographica : visualizing a world of information; Infographic guide to music; Infographic guide to literature

I love well-designed infographics and the majority that are in these books are interesting representations of the comparisons and visual narratives they are trying to represent. My only complaint, unfortunately, is that infographics lend themselves best to posters and larger (than A4) sized paper. These books are small in size (20.4 x 16.9  x 2.2 cm) and I found some of the information design was overly complex and difficult to read. I’d love to see these books published in quarto sizes.

The Thoughtful Home

by Tahn Scoon ; photography by John Downs, Anastasia Kariofyllidis and Elouise van Riet-Gray.

I love interior decorating books but this one missed it’s mark for me. The photography and styling was lovely albeit a bit beige for my tastes. However, I do not like projects in my interior decorating books (the subtitle “creating a home with heart on any budget” should have given that away . Projects remind me of my crappy craft abilities and drag me out of my dream world and into the practical realities of a home makeover. Not fun at all.


Ideal BookshelfMy Ideal Bookshelf

art by Jane Mount; edited by Thessaly La Force.

I love the premise of this book. It is a compilation of a variety of people from Jennifer Egan, David Sedaris and Judd Apatow who discuss their keeper books and what makes them special to them. The layout is simple. On one side the text; on the other side the books are illustrated spine out on a bookshelf. Their size varies, some had Dewey numbers stamped on them, some had no indication of the book that they were representing (I guess the original cover had no spine information). I enjoyed reading the separate reading inspiration stories and I really liked the art work. My only disappointment was that not a single person, not even Stephenie Meyers, included a romance novel. There were kids books, horror, the usual literary and classic fare but the closest anyone did get was a Judith Krantz title. The artist also does bespoke bookshelves. There is the option of getting a print from choosing books from an extensive list provided by the author. this list is broad ranging even including some wonderful Sandra Boynton board books and Mo Willems picture books. There is lots of fantasy, some sci-fi, some crime and there is even some chick lit Bridget Jones Diary though surprisingly no Marian Keyes. However, there is not a single romance title. If romance readers want a shelf of their books they have to pay double the amount for a bespoke art work. Dang it! To be fair, the artist does say that not all the books she has painted are listed.


by Caroline Englefield

This book was splendid. Glossy, beautiful photographs of modern European homes.I enjoyed browsing through it so much that I forgot to read the notes that accompanied each image. Some rooms were so stunning that I would pathetically run my hand down the pages as though it was a tactile experience rather than just a visual delight. As we say in Greek, γεμιζη το ματι (it fills my eye).

The downside – I now have to return all of these books necessitating me to once again drive to the library rather than enjoying a leisurely train ride reading the books I will inevitably borrow.

I borrowed these books from a NSW public library.

Lynne Graham’s The Sheikh’s Secret Babies

When it comes to Sheikhs in romance fiction I feel like that lone child at a birthday party, quietly whispering “I don’t like clowns” while all the other kids are keenly anticipating fun and laughter until that horror moment when the screen door slams open and a Margo Lanagan-esque Barry the Boisterous Bastard Clown blasts into the party thunderously shouting “Who’s ready to bust this partaaayyyy up” triggering tears from all the kids bar one jumping up and down shouting “More More More”.

[added after I received the first comment] Let me articulate that I am not scared of clowns. I want them to be funny. However, they are either failed slapstick AKA Fozzie Bear funny or downright creepy but rarely do they amuse me. The same goes with sheikhs. I want to like their stories. However, I want their culture to be a little bit more realistic and not whitewashed with western sensibilities. With alll due respect to authors who work hard researching their books, I have yet to find a Sheikh romance that culturally does not discomfort me through what is left unsaid. Lynne Graham has possibly achieved this with this book better than meagre few I have read for reasons outline below.

So it was with trepidation that I picked up this latest Lynne Graham novel. It had the makings of some of my favourite romance tropes:

Autobuy author – Lynne Graham tick
Billionaire – our hero tick
Secret marriage – tick
Secret babies (plural!) – tick tick!

But then there are a few not so favourite romance tropes:

Sheikhs – *sob*
Made up kingdom – *sob*
Man with a ponytail – *whimper*

All this from just the cover and blurb! However, Miss Bates reviewed this book over on her blog (which I have yet to read). The last time the two of us reviewed the same book we used the same quote. So, it is game on!

Lynne Graham's The Sheikh's Secret BabiesBut first, the blurb!

Twin royal heirs! Prince Jaul of Marwan’s royal duty is to marry a suitable bride. But first he must divorce the woman who betrayed him. Locating his estranged wife? Easy. The intense passion still burning between them? Manageable. Discovering he has two royal heirs? Impossible! Devastated when her handsome prince deserted her, Chrissie Whitaker’s beautiful twin babies were the only balm to her broken heart. Now Jaul will stop at nothing to claim his legitimate heirs, but can Chrissie forget their painful past and recognize him as her husband in every sense of the word?

Chrissie Whitaker is the younger sister of Lizzie who married billionaire Cesare. One small detail when I have to contend with a whole made up white-washed Middle Eastern kingdom called Marwani. *sigh* Why is it that the whole of Romancelandia can adore those Greek, Russian, Italian billonaires but you never hear of the Egyptian’s Secret Babies, or the Arabian’s Billionaire Bride? If we are going to be vague about borders why don’t we just say the European’s Hot Night with Consequences.  The men from the middle East deserve established countries, dammit! *rant rant*

…but let me return to Chrissie.

We meet Jaul overlooking his kingdom, trying to decide who will be his prospective bride. His legion of carers clear their throat and mention to him that he must divorce his first wife. Jaul is surprised as he was under the impression that his quickie hide-away marriage while he was sowing his wild oats at university in the UK had been deemed illegal/invalid in his country. But nope – Jaul’s recently deceased daddy had just said that in a show of despotic control over his only son. Jaul wastes no time returning to the UK to demand a divorce from the woman he married two years earlier.

Chrissie Whitaker meanwhile hates Jaul. They met at university several years before the time of the novel. Here Jaul finds his first freedom from his father and his conservative country, he appears to Chrissie as a womaniser who has just wined and dined and slept with her consenting roommate on a one-night stand. Over several years while they are students they develop a friendship but ultimately they are obsessed with each other. They marry in his country’s embassy but Jaul wants to tell his father first and then send for Chrissie to join him. Unfortunately, while in his country, he falls victim to a bombing near the border and is in a coma for many months. During those months, Chrissie tries to desperately contact Jaul to let him know she was pregnant but instead is abused by his father and told that she was a silly Western fling.

Chrissie is a bit of a self-flagellator, as she does not reveal to any of her family that she had married, and indeed faces her father’s censure of her as a single mother. I love this exchange between her sister and brother-in-law:

Cesare stopped dead to skim her an incredulous glance. ‘You were married to the twins’ father?’

‘My goodness, I certainly didn’t see that coming! Married!’ Lizzie admitted in shock

So shock nowadays comes from having a child in wedlock. Though, later in the book Chrissie, distraught at Jaul’s father’s machinations in keeping the two of them apart points out “Now my family may not be from a culturally conservative place as sensitive as Marwan but my father didn’t speak to me for over six months once he realized that I was pregnant and unmarried because he was ashamed and embarrassed-‘”

Discussion of culture in this book is always in the background, and though it did jar me, it was not as bad as I expected.

At one point, Jaul’s bodyguards from his country are upset when they hear Chrissie shouting at their King and come to his protection, Jaul observing “his highly anxious protection squad had heard her shout when nobody shouted at him and had feared that some sort of a dangerous incident was developing. But they were nervous and on edge, having never been abroad before and London was a very scary place as far as they were concerned.” Let’s give a nod to Ms Graham’s acknowledgement that fear of other cultures goes both ways. Lynne Graham also has Jaul praying with an Imam before his (re)marriage to Chrissie in what, for me (and let’s not forget I don’t ready many sheikh novels) is a first. I also like that there is no false justification or rationalisation in Jaul’s focus on his son “his heir”, at no point trying to elevate equality to his daughter. Oh! And Ms Graham uses my most adored Arabic epithet  habibti  throughout her novel.

My conviction that Lynne Graham writes about families and place through the lens of romance is further cemented with this book. Chrissie was a victim of child abuse from her mother’s subsequent husbands. This was only lightly touched upon beyond through a revelation to an understanding Jaul. My feeling is that this theme will continue to emerge in the coming years through more of Ms Graham’s ouevre. To add to that, Chrissie learns that Jaul’s father was controlling with a terrible temper. At first, Chrissie remains angry at Jaul believing his father’s lies about her but then realises that “she needed to remember how newly married they had been and how vulnerable such ties could be in any untried relationship. Did she now punish him for his father’s sins? Did she hold him to blame for having wanted to love and trust his only surviving parent? Although both Chrissie’s parents had hurt her and held views contrary to her own, she still loved them. She, more than anyone, should understand how basic and strong ran the need to love and trust a parent, she reasoned painfully.”

Jaul and Chrissie find their affection back to each other through their sexual attraction to each other, Jaul observing “Where once it [the amazing sex] had been the icing on the cake, now it was the only glue likely to give them a future as a couple.” And truly, each sex scene acts to bring them closer to reconciliation, not as some powerful wang and magic hou-ha action, but in that it is during their post-coital discussions, some of them rather heated and angry, that they were most comfortable in revealing their vulnerabilities.

Jaul eventually realises that he was too manipulative. But when it comes to the time for his whole hearted apology, the romance reader receives a meta-wink from Lynne Graham:

 ‘I’m trying to say sorry, trying to grovel but you won’t let me,’ Jaul muttered unevenly, his eyes suspiciously bright.

‘I don’t want you grovelling. I don’t want your guilt-‘

Chrissie is a star. A heroine who doesn’t need her hero grovelling. She just needs him alongside her.

I’d like to say that I fell in love with this book but sadly, I did not. There are aspects of it that I really did enjoy but overall the book lacked the storytelling fluidity that Lynne Graham usually delivers so well. In particular, her protagonists’ head jumping seemed jolted and threw me out of the story at times though this did improve as the story moved on.

But, to quote Chrissie speaking to Jaul at the end of their story “Love makes people more forgiving and I love you an awful lot.”. Ahhh! Yes. A reader’s love, too, makes us more forgiving, and I do love Lynne Graham an awful lot.

I borrowed a copy of this book from a NSW public library.


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