Take A Peek Book Review: Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Ivy and her sisters have a secret: their reclusive Great-Aunt is actually Adela Martin, inspired author of the fantasy classic, Ivory Apples. Generations of obsessive fans have searched for Adela, poring over her letters, sharing their theories online, and gathering at book conventions. It is just a matter of time before one fan gets too close.

So when the seemingly-perfect Kate Burden appears at the local park, Ivy knows that something isn’t right. Kate has charmed the entire family, but she is suspiciously curious about Ivory Apples. And Ivy must protect what she and her Great-Aunt share: magic that is real, untamable, and—despite anyone’s desire—always prefers choosing its own vessel.

My Thoughts:

In Ivory Apples , four young sisters end up at the mercy of an outsider who charms her way into their family and then takes over. Kate is a clever but overly obsessed fan of the classic children’s fantasy book Ivory Apples — not just because she loves the story, but because she suspects that the author, Adela Martin, had access to real magic as she wrote the book, and Kate wants some of her own.

Oldest sister Ivy is the only one not fully taken in by Kate’s schemes, and breaks away from the family in order to keep her aunt’s secrets, only to return in desperation when she realizes that her sisters need rescuing. Meanwhile, Kate is right about one thing — there IS a source of real magic, and Adela and Ivy both have access to it.

I enjoyed the family dynamics and Ivy herself, as well as the central role played by the book Ivory Apples and its secrets. Not all of the magical aspects made complete sense to me, and the sense of urgency throughout lagged from time to time. Still, the book is different and unusual in all sorts of ways, and Kate makes for a devious and menacing bad guy beneath her pleasant and child-friendly exterior. I’d definitely like to read more by this author.

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The details:

Title: Ivory Apples
Author: Lisa Goldstein
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication date: October 15, 2019
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a collection of new moms who gave birth in the same month. Twice a week, with strollers in tow, they get together in Prospect Park, seeking refuge from the isolation of new motherhood; sharing the fears, joys, and anxieties of their new child-centered lives.

When the group’s members agree to meet for drinks at a hip local bar, they have in mind a casual evening of fun, a brief break from their daily routine. But on this sultry Fourth of July night during the hottest summer in Brooklyn’s history, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is abducted from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but the May Mothers insisted that everything would be fine. Now Midas is missing, the police are asking disturbing questions, and Winnie’s very private life has become fodder for a ravenous media.

Though none of the other members in the group are close to the reserved Winnie, three of them will go to increasingly risky lengths to help her find her son. And as the police bungle the investigation and the media begin to scrutinize the mothers in the days that follow, damaging secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are formed and fractured.

I feel like I should start this review with a disclaimer:

Thrillers are not my jam. And neither is the so-called mommy-drama genre, where domesticity and gossip and childraising are backdrops for intrigue and danger.

So why did I pick up The Perfect Mother? Easy. My book group made me do it.

This is our book of the month for October, and — feeling guilty for missing the last couple of months — I was determined to participate this time around.

So let’s get to it:

In The Perfect Mother, a group of Brooklyn women who all became new mothers in the same month form an ongoing support and social club, where they exchange online tips and gather at the park for company and (it seemed to me) to compare their little darlings against all the others, and hopefully feel smug and self-satisfied as a result.

Oh dear, I’m not going to be very good at writing this review. Again, forgive me, but the odds of me liking this book were pretty slim from the start.

As the story progresses, a baby is kidnapped from his crib while his mother is out partying with the other women on a rare, adults-only outing. Immediately, there’s recrimination and blame and remorse. How could she leave her baby with a nanny she’d only just met? How could all these new moms be out getting so rip-roaring drunk when they have babies at home? Whose bad idea was it really to even go out in the first place? Why does everyone feel so pressured to be there?

Why are these people so in each others’ business and so damned judgy? Ugh.

Anyway, the mystery proceeds from this point. It turns out that everyone is keeping a secret or ten. Certain characters become overly involved (um, obsessed) with Winnie and her past and her connections and her life. It’s all just toooooo much.

The ending is supposed to be a twist, but is it patting myself on the back too much to say I saw it coming from really early on? Not to be too spoilery, but if you’ve seen The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, you’ll at least have a good hunch about why the kidnapping happened, if not whodunit exactly.

Okay, I’m pretty much sucking at writing this review, but I just don’t think I can maintain my interest long enough to say much more that’s meaningful. But let me attempt to at least inject a little positivity in this thing:

The book does move quickly, and made for an engaging read on a long flight. I wasn’t bored while reading it… just increasingly annoyed by the sniping and the mommy stereotypes and the ridiculousness of some of the relationships.

I guess it’s clear that I didn’t like this book. Oh well, at least I’ve been a faithful book club member this month!

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The details:

Title: The Perfect Mother
Author: Aimee Malloy
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Length: 341pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Library

Shelf Control #187: The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: The Last Chinese Chef
Author: Nicole Mones
Published: 2007
Length: 278 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

This alluring novel of friendship, love, and cuisine brings the best-selling author of Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light to one of the great Chinese subjects: food. As in her previous novels, Mones’s captivating story also brings into focus a changing China — this time the hidden world of high culinary culture.

When Maggie McElroy, a widowed American food writer, learns of a Chinese paternity claim against her late husband’s estate, she has to go immediately to Beijing. She asks her magazine for time off, but her editor counters with an assignment: to profile the rising culinary star Sam Liang.

In China Maggie unties the knots of her husband’s past, finding out more than she expected about him and about herself. With Sam as her guide, she is also drawn deep into a world of food rooted in centuries of history and philosophy. To her surprise she begins to be transformed by the cuisine, by Sam’s family — a querulous but loving pack of cooks and diners — and most of all by Sam himself. The Last Chinese Chef is the exhilarating story of a woman regaining her soul in the most unexpected of places.

How and when I got it:

I picked it up at a library book sale sometime in the last five years or so.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read one book by Nicole Mones previously, Lost in Translation, and while I don’t remember a whole lot of plot details at this point, I do remember that it was pretty thought-provoking and really interesting to read. I don’t usually gravitate to foodie books, but this one sounds quite good, especially as it combines unearthing family secrets with a cultural exploration.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

The Monday Check-In ~ 10/14/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

Another travel week! This time, I had a few days off work for the Jewish holidays, so I took advantage of the time to fly east and visit my father in his nursing home.

Added bonus: It’s autumn in New England! The leaves have just started turning, so I didn’t quite get the full effect — but it’s still glorious!

And, I got to catch up with a bunch of other friends and relatives, so even though it was a short trip, I was able to pack a lot of great experiences into it.

(Plus reading. Always reading.)

What did I read during the last week?

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp: Thriller with a supernatural twist. My review is here.

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas: I picked up this 90s-era YA novel because its author is Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars. Strictly a 3-star, run-of-the-mill coming of age story; definitely a little dated.

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery: The 8th and final book in the Anne of Green Gables series. It was wonderful! Rilla is set during World War I, so is much more serious and sad than the other books. A lovely finish to a beautiful series — once I’m back home and settled, I’ll write up some thoughts on the series as a whole.

In audiobooks:

I finished listening to the Amazon’s Forward series of short stories. All were terrific!

Pop Culture

Still with my Veronica Mars obsession… this week, I started watching the hilarious web series Play It Again, Dick. Didn’t have time to finish before leaving on my trip, but still – so much fun.

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week. Amazing.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m flipping back and forth between two books at the moment:

  • A Very Distant Shore by Jenny Colgan: A short novel by an author I can always count on for sweet, light storytelling.
  • The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy: My book group’s pick for October. I missed the last couple of book group books, so I’m really determined to keep up this month!
Now playing via audiobook:

Yes, indeed… even more Veronica Mars! I’m listening to the first VMars novel – which is especially delightful with Kristen Bell as the narrator.

Ongoing reads:

Whee! I’m reading A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, one chapter per day for the whole month. I forgot to pack my paperback when I left on my trip, so I’ll have about six days to catch up on once I get home… but in a way, reading a bunch of days in a row sounds like even more of a good time.

And in book group news:

We’ve just started the Outlander-related novella A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows — it’s such a good one! I’ve read it before, but it’s really great to read and discuss it with the group.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: Ghoster by Jason Arnopp

Jason Arnopp – author of acclaimed cult hit The Last Days of Jack Sparks – returns with a razor-sharp thriller for a social-media obsessed world. Prepare to never look at your phone the same way again . . .

Kate Collins has been ghosted.

She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty apartment. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared.

Except for his mobile phone.

Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his calls, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself.

That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognize. Scratch marks on the walls that she can’t explain. And the growing feeling that she’s being watched.

Kate refuses to leave the apartment – she’s not going anywhere until she’s discovered what happened to Scott. But the deeper she dives into Scott’s digital history the more Kate realizes just how little she really knows about the man she loves.

SMART PHONES BAD.

That seems to be the thesis statement of this horror novel in a nutshell.

Smartphones, and people’s obsession with them, may literally be the root of all evil.

Kate is a successful paramedic who has only recently kicked a very nasty smartphone habit. She finally recognized that she was addicted to stalking exes through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and hooked on the mini-highs caused by the dopamine rush she gets each time someone likes her posts or tweets.

And then she meets Scott, someone she first noticed on Tinder, who shows up in the flesh at a digital detox retreat she attends. Their connection is instant and powerful, and Kate is swept up in a fast-moving romance with this hot guy who seems too good to be true.

And ya know… if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

After an intense few months, Scott asks Kate to move in with him, and she delightedly agrees, giving up her job and apartment and moving hours away to live with him in Brighton. But when she arrives, he’s not there, and his apartment is completely empty. Except… she finds his smartphone, and her old obsession kicks back in, leaving her no room for any other thought but cracking Scott’s password and seeing what his phone can tell her about him and where he might have gone.

But this goes beyond a woman being ghosted by a skanky boyfriend. Weird stuff is happening — like ghostly blue figures who show up in the apartment in the middle of the night, and strange phone calls on Scott’s phone warning Kate to get out. Kate can’t shake the conviction that there’s more to the story than just being cruelly dumped, so she keeps digging, to such an extent that it’s affecting her new job (okay, among other things, she shoots up amphetamines so she can stay awake for her 12-hour ambulance shifts), and her best friend Izzy has to swoop in to pull her back from the edge.

As Kate digs into Scott’s phone, she discovers creepy images and disturbing videos, evidence of his pursuit of other women, and connections to other people who may have also disappeared. And the more Kate digs, the weirder and more disturbing and dangerous it all becomes.

Ghoster is a fast read that drew me in from the beginning… but I didn’t really think it was all that great a read. Sure, it’s entertaining and never dull, but it’s awfully preachy about the downfalls of social media and the need for approval online. And I just had a problem with Kate as a character. She simply didn’t feel real to me at all. Her attitudes, her habits, her social media usage, the way she speaks — none of it felt authentic to me. On top of that, Kate is just hard to like as a person. She makes terrible choices and is a pretty lousy and irresponsible friend.

On top of all that, the reveals we get late in the book about Scott’s inner truths and the key to his personality and behavior seems like revisionist history. We’re led to believe one version of Scott, and it turns out that he’s quite different than first presented. A twist like that can be a good thing, but in this case, I didn’t find it believable.

As for the supernatural aspects of the story, it’s a neat twist, but not as well developed as I would have liked, and too many of the odd occurrences end up having fairly pat, mundane explanations.

I realize this sounds like a pretty negative review, but if I had to assign a numerical rating, I’d give this book 3 stars. Ghoster definitely held my interest and kept me turning the pages, despite the simplistic point it seems to be making about our society’s dependence on social media and the character/plot elements that bugged me.

I’d be interested in hearing opposing views from other readers!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Ghoster
Author: Jason Arnopp
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: October 22, 2019
Length: 496 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: ARC received from the publisher

Shelf Control #186: The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: The Coldest Winter Ever
Author: Sister Souljah
Published: 1999
Length: 351 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Renowned hip-hop artist, writer, and activist Sister Souljah brings the streets of New York to life in a powerful and utterly unforgettable first novel.

I came busting into the world during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, so my mother named me Winter.

Ghetto-born, Winter is the young, wealthy daughter of a prominent Brooklyn drug-dealing family. Quick-witted, sexy, and business-minded, she knows and loves the streets like the curves of her own body. But when a cold Winter wind blows her life in a direction she doesn’t want to go, her street smarts and seductive skills are put to the test of a lifetime. Unwilling to lose, this ghetto girl will do anything to stay on top.

The Coldest Winter Ever marks the debut of a gifted storyteller. You will never forget this Winter’s tale.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book at the beginning of 2019.

Why I want to read it:

After the PBS Great American Read list came out, my book group created a DIY challenge, where we all picked five books that we hadn’t read yet (from the list of 100), and made a commitment to read them by the end of the year. As I was looking for books I hadn’t read, The Coldest Winter Ever caught my eye. To be honest, I’d never even heard of it, and it doesn’t sound much like my typical reading material — but isn’t that the point of reading challenges, to get out of our comfort zones?

I’ve only read 3 of my 5 challenge books so far, but hey, I still have (not quite) three months to go!

What do you think? Have you read this book? Would you read it?

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

The Monday Check-In ~ 10/7/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

In the ongoing saga of my hand, I’m now wearing this little shield/brace on my thumb, probably for just a couple of weeks. And I started physical therapy too, slowly trying to get my opposable thumb movements back. Yay for getting better!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I read during the last week?

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss: Such a gorgeous book! My review is here.

The Institute by Stephen King: After a few false starts, I finally dug back into this book and finished it. Good and creepy! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli: Oh, I had problems with this book. My review is here.

Also in audio — I’m listening my way through Amazon’s Forward series of short stories. So far, I’ve listened to these three:

Quick reaction:

  • Summer Frost: Emotional and chilling story set in the world of AI. Very easy to get caught up in this story!
  • You Have Arrived At Your Destination: About a couple considering a tech firm’s services to produce a designer baby. I’m not sure I really got it in the end.
  • Randomize: So much fun! All about a couple using quantum computing to scam a Las Vegas casino. Fast and enjoyable.

Pop Culture

Back to my Veronica Mars obsession! This week, I watched the 2014 movie. Love, love, love. (Or should I say, LoVe. If you watch the show, you get it.)

And, I finished season 2 of Fleabag. I’m ready for some more binge suggestions!

Fresh Catch:

My amazing daughter sent me this awesome present:

Also…

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman arrived. I’d almost forgotten this was coming! I need to re-read La Belle Sauvage before I start this one…

Debbie Harry made an appearance in SF this past week, and while I missed the event, someone was kind enough to snag a copy of her book for me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas: When I heard that the Veronica Mars creator had written YA novels in the 90s, I just had to try one.

Now playing via audiobook:

Continuing onward with the Forward stories — the remaining three are:

Ongoing reads:

Whee! I’m reading A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, one chapter per day for the whole month. Apparently, this is a thing I’ve been missing out on all these years. Check out more info here. Fun so far!

And in book group news:

Our next group read, starting this week, is the novella A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows, reading two sections per week. I’ve read this story before (a couple of times) — but it’s a good one! I’m happy to be sharing the experience with the group this time around.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephen King, the most riveting and unforgettable story of kids confronting evil since It—publishing just as the second part of It, the movie, lands in theaters.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

When it comes to crafting stories about kids in creepy peril, Stephen King is… well… king.

The Institute doesn’t start the way you think it will — no mention of main character Luke or the Institute itself for about 50 pages. Instead, we meet Tim Jamieson, an ex-cop from Florida who sets out hitchhiking without a whole lot of purpose and winds up in a small town in South Carolina, where he joins the local sheriff’s department as a night knocker, sort of an unarmed watchman position. Eventually, Tim feels like he’s possibly, finally found a home and a new meaning for his life in this little town.

And that’s the last we see of Tim for a few hundred pages.

The main focus of the story is introduced when we meet Luke, a brilliant 12-year-old about to start MIT, whose incredible mental abilities come with a side of very mild telekinetic power. It’s his telekinetics, rather than his brain power, that make him a target for the Institute and land him in this isolated facility in Maine. The children at the Institute are put through a barrage of shots and sinister tests, all designed to enhance their TP (telepathy) and (TK) telekinesis. During their free time, the kids can hang out, basically keep whatever hours they choose, and do whatever they want, including drinking and smoking. In fact, drinking and smoking are encouraged, since the kids earn vending machine tokens through good behavior, and an addiction is a marvelous motivation to keep earning those tokens.

The purpose of the Institute is slowly revealed, but long before we learn why they’re doing what they’re doing, we know enough to know it’s bad. The treatment of the kids is horrific. They’re subjected to physical and emotional torture and abuse, and there’s very little concern about whether the kids are actually healthy, so long as their TP and TK abilities are honed and developed.

I’m not going to go too far into plot here — as with most Stephen King books, it’s best to just read it and put the pieces together as you go along.

So is The Institute a must-read? Well, for King fans, absolutely. It’s not skin-crawling horror like his recent book The Outsider, but it is still chilling and disturbing and creepy. That said, the book is a bit long, and takes a while to really get going. It took me two false starts before I really got into it, hitting stumbling blocks with the sudden transition from a story about an adult in South Carolina to the main story about the kidnapped children. Ultimately, it comes together and the story really works, but I think there are places where the action could have moved forward a little more quickly.

If you enjoy King’s writing, you’ll enjoy The Institute. As for me, as I always love when Stephen King references himself (and with over 60 novels in print, he has a lot of source material to choose from!). Here’s one example from The Institute that made me happy:

Back in the main corridor — what Luke now understood to be the residents’ wing — the little girls, Gerda and Greta, were standing and watching with wide, frightened eyes. They were holding hands and clutching dolls as identical as they were. They reminded Luke of twins in some old horror movie.

Good stuff.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Institute
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: September 10, 2019
Length: 561 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased

Aubiobook Review: The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli

One devoted modern girl + a meddlesome, traditional grandmother = a heartwarming multicultural romantic comedy about finding love where you least expect it

Raina Anand may have finally given in to family pressure and agreed to let her grandmother play matchmaker, but that doesn’t mean she has to like it–or that she has to play by the rules. Nani always took Raina’s side when she tried to push past the traditional expectations of their tight-knit Indian-immigrant community, but now she’s ambushing Raina with a list of suitable bachelors. Is it too much to ask for a little space? Besides, what Nani doesn’t know won’t hurt her…

As Raina’s life spirals into a parade of Nani-approved bachelors and disastrous blind dates, she must find a way out of this modern-day arranged-marriage trap without shattering her beloved grandmother’s dreams.

My Thoughts:

The Matchmaker’s List had been on my to-read list for a while, and after a few heavier books, I thought this would make a nice, light change of pace. And yes, it did, but it was also frustrating and ultimately disappointing.

In The Matchmaker’s List, Raina is 29 years old, a serious career woman — an investment banker — coming off a break-up with the love of her life. Dev is another investment banker, hard-driven in a way that Raina isn’t, and always puts his career ahead of their relationship. Raina is so blinded by love that she puts up with it, until she just can’t any more. As the book starts, Raina is living back in Canada after her time in London with Dev has ended, single, and devoted to her grandmother Nani, the woman who raised her.

Raina’s best friend Shay is newly engaged, and Shay’s mother Sarla is planning the ultimate Indian wedding bonanza. Nani just wants to see Raina settled as well, so she convinces Raina to go on a series of blind dates with suitable men from Nani’s list. The men are, for the most part, duds — arrogant or looking for an insta-mommy to their kids or just plain strange, and Raina is so not into it.

It’s a fairly cute set-up so far, right? Raina wants to please her Nani, and she’s not having any romantic success on her own, so why not try some traditional matchmaking? Except Raina is still hung up on Dev, who stays in touch just enough to keep Raina on the hook.

And here’s where I got really turned off by Raina’s character: After a misunderstanding, Raina lets Nani think she’s gay. In fact, she confirms it, thinking it’ll stay between the two of them and keep Nani from pursuing even more extreme measures to find her a prime Indian man to marry. Of course, it doesn’t stay between them, and soon, the entire Indian community knows the “truth” about Raina, causing a huge amount of scandal and division, and leading to Nani being shunned by the women she used to be friends with.

Still, Raina keeps up the fiction, even when she sees that Nani has been browsing the internet to learn more about gay rights and how to support one’s gay chldren, even investigating reproductive options for lesbian couples. Yup, Nani is ready to become a gay rights activist in defense of her beloved Raina. Raina still doesn’t back down — not even when the boy she used to babysit, now 18 years old, uses Raina’s “coming out” as inspiration for his own, pushing him out of the closet before he’s really ready and causing a huge rift within his family.

On top of Raina’s ongoing lie, which feels like a cop-out to me, so unnecessary and causing so much drama and tension, she just doesn’t strike me as a particularly good friend or nice person. When Shay mentions that she’d like to introduce Raina to one of her fiancé’s friends who’s just back from traveling the world for the past few years, Raina labels him a drifter and dismisses him — and when she meets him, she immediately decides he’s a stoner with no real evidence to support her conclusion, and continues to refer to him that way to his face even during additional encounters. Judgmental much?

What seems the most unforgivable to me is the huge fight she and Shay have during Shay’s bachelorette weekend, when Shay hears from Sarla that Raina is a lesbian. Shay knows that that’s a lie, and confronts Raina, and the two end up in a screaming match, during which Raina says this awful thing to Shay:

“I wonder if Julien would still marry you if he knew what a slut you used to be.”

Really? Slut-shaming her best friend? And threatening her this way? Just disgusting.

As is the way with what’s supposed to be a breezy romantic story, things of course work out for Raina and she ends up meeting the man of her dreams, getting the awful ex-boyfriend out of her life, telling the truth to Nani, and making up with the boy who came out because of her and felt horribly betrayed. And of course, she and Shay make up and are closer than ever, with Shay supporting Raina every step of the way.

And really, I just couldn’t. How could Shay possibly forgive Raina after the horrible thing she said? I’m sorry, I don’t care how angry Raina was (without justification, I might add) — I think her actions and statements were pretty unforgivable.

Also, by allowing Nani to believe she was gay, she thrust her unprepared grandmother into a controversy that caused her all sorts of grief and turmoil. Raina later seems to be using the experience to show how sexual orientation shouldn’t matter in terms of being loved and supported by one’s family and community, but it felt like co-opting someone else’s struggle. Raina, a straight woman, pretending to be a lesbian for her own convenience, and somehow holding herself up as a symbol of pride and equality? No.

I wish I could say the story itself is charming enough to get me to see past these issues, but it’s not. It wasn’t a slog to get through or anything — the narrative moves along quickly, and there are plenty of amusing incidents and vignettes that keep the pace going. Nani is a great character, and I enjoyed the sections that showed the complications of Raina’s childhood, her mother’s life, and the backstory for her relationship with Nani.

The cultural elements are also quite good — I loved getting the little snippets about Raina cooking with Nani or enjoying their favorite Bollywood movies together, as well as the customs surrounding a traditional Hindu wedding, and can only imagine how spectacular it might be to actually be there and experience the gorgeous clothing and amazing tastes and sounds and smells.

Still, that doesn’t outweigh how offensive I found so many of Raina’s actions. I’d love to hear opposing thoughts, of course. But for myself, I can’t really recommend this book, despite its occasional amusing and entertaining parts.

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The details:

Title: The Matchmaker’s List
Author: Sonya Lalli
Narrator:  Soneela Nankani
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication date: February 5, 2019
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 40 minutes
Printed book length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

Oh so pretty! The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

 

The story is supposed to be over.

One enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever.

When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself . . .

The Thorn and the Blossom
 is a remarkable literary artifact: You can open the book in either direction to decide whether you’ll first read Brendan’s, or Evelyn’s account of the mysterious love affair. Choose a side, read it like a regular novel—and when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself at a whole new beginning.

I’m in love.

With the gorgeousness of this book.

The Thorn and the Blossom is just a treat to hold and unfold. Yes, unfold. It’s described as a “two-sided love story”, and that’s literally what it is. This book has two hardcover covers, but no spine. It opens accordion-style, so you can read it from either end. The two versions of the story complement each other. Each side is about 35 pages, so this is a quick read, but utterly enchanting.

Okay, so I’ve described the outside of the book. What about the inside? Is the story itself any good?

YES.

Two stories are told here — one from Evelyn’s perspective, and one from Brendan’s. When we first meet Evelyn, she’s finishing her graduate work in medieval literature. She’s had a somewhat rocky past, but now on a brief holiday in Cornwall, she’s enjoying a fresh burst of energy and inspiration. When she meets Brendan, he introduces her to a local folk tale, and this meeting, and the story she discovers, change her life.

Brendan is also pursuing graduate studies in literature, breaking away from his home in Cornwall to pursue his dreams. After their initial meeting, a long time passes before Evelyn and Brendan meet again… but they seem destined to reenter one another’s lives.

I love the ambiguity of the story. Are they meant to be the embodiment of the fairy tale characters, or are they simply two compatible people who become obsessed by the same story? Does Evelyn hallucinate, or is she blessed (cursed?) with the second sight spoken of in tales? Is what she sees real? What do she and Brendan really mean to one another?

I read the Evelyn story first, and then the Brendan story, and I really liked the way both stories developed and being able to see how they match up and where they diverge. I wonder how the story would have felt if I’d read Brendan’s side first, not knowing the other pieces to the story?

Maybe I’ll come back to this unique book after a few months, read it the other way, and see if my impressions change!

Meanwhile, let me just say that I really loved reading and experiencing this beautiful book.

And now, I must read more by this author!

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The details:

Title: The Thorn and the Blossom
Author: Theodora Goss
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: January 17, 2012
Length: 85 pages
Genre: Fantasy/romantic fiction (??)
Source: Purchased