TV Time: Virgin River season 3. So watchable. So annoying.

Virgin River Credit: Netflix

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or, in the case of season 3 of Virgin River, newly released on Netflix, nothing really changes, and everything pretty much stays the same.

This show. Geez. I love watching it, but it’s also so ridiculous and laughable… and endearing AF.

So, season 3.

Note: SPOILER ALERT!! I’m going to be discussing plot points from the season, so if you haven’t watched, you may want to look away!!

Season 3 picks up soon after the cliffhanger ending of season 2. Season 2 ended with Jack lying bleeding on the floor of his bar, shot by an unknown assailant and on the verge of death. (Except he’s the main love interest and that makes him bullet-proof).

As season 3 opens, Jack is alive! He’s recovering from his bullet wound, but has no memory of who shot him. Signs point to someone connected with the illegal drug trade that once thrived in the woods near Virgin River, but there’s no proof, and the drug business is (thankfully) mostly gone from this season, after being raided and driven out.

Can I get a Hallelujah?? I hated everything about the drug-running subplots of the previous two seasons. Let’s just focus on small-town adorableness, with its quirky personalities and town gossip, and leave drug kingpins to other, darker shows.

OK, back to season 3. Some new characters are introduced, including Jack’s sister Brie, who gets involved with a bad boy and seems to like riding on the back of his motorcycle and other risky behavior. There’s also a notable supporting character missing — Hope, Doc’s sometimes-estranged wife, is out of town for the entire season, making a couple of brief appearances during Zoom calls (apparently because of COVID restrictions affecting the actress’s ability to participate in filming).

There are continuing stories about the son of a woman on the run being sheltered by her friend, teen romance, Doc’s own health issue, and a tearjerker about a local woman diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Meanwhile, Jack’s ex is STILL pregnant and being obnoxious, and in our main storyline, Jack and Mel are in love, but face ups and downs.

So….

Let me once again break it down into highs and lows.

The good stuff:

  • Once again, the scenery is AMAZING. I’d watch a travel documentary just showing aerial views of the woods, the rivers, and the mountains. Except Virgin River is a fictional location (supposedly in Northern California, but filmed in British Columbia). I want to go there! I want my own cabin on the river!!
  • The characters themselves are great, especially Mel. She’s a strong, professional woman with endless wells of compassion, a good friend, a devoted sister. I love her to bits and pieces.
  • As I said in my post about the first two seasons, any excuse to watch Tim Matheson in action is a gift. He’s just lovely as Doc, gruff and grumbly, but with a heart of gold and a gentle side too. This season, he gets to be particularly vulnerable as he’s put through an emotional wringer, and every time he tears up, my heart melts.
  • Small town cuteness!! There’s a lumberjack festival, for Pete’s sake!! Everyone wears flannel, there’s log rolling and a chainsaw competition, and it’s just so corny yet also adorable in all its weirdness.
  • And one more time… it’s just so pretty! Like this moment, for example:
VIRGIN RIVER (L to R) ALEXANDRA BRECKENRIDGE as MEL MONROE and MARTIN HENDERSON as JACK SHERIDAN in episode 304 of VIRGIN RIVER Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

Which totally gives me this vibe:

The bits that drive me nuts:

  • Time moves SO slowly. As I wrote in my post about the first two seasons: A character who revealed a pregnancy at the end of season one is now (2 episodes from the end of season 2) nearing the end of her first trimester. So… she’ll give birth in season 4 or 5? I guess I was being prophetic: As of the end of season 3, that same character is MAYBE in her second trimester. So expecting her to give birth in season 4 is maybe even a bit optimistic!
  • Except in one instance, time moves too quickly. A character reveals early in the season that she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, is opting for palliative care, and wants to live out her remaining days at home with her family and friends. And within a couple more episodes, she’s dead. No wasting away, no depressing episodes showing her weakening and getting sicker. Just boom — she goes to take a nap after a great day with friends, and then she’s dead. So weird.
  • Nothing really changes. Ever. We start the season not knowing who shot Jack. We end the season not knowing who shot Jack. Characters have ups and downs, but the plot is SO static so much of the time.
  • We end with Mel telling Jack that she’s pregnant, and that the baby might not be his. Well, we know why that is… but it’s utterly ridiculous. While visiting her sister in LA for a few days, Mel is reminded by her sister that she still has some embryos left from her fertility process with her late husband. Despondent over her break-up (very temporary) with Jack, Mel goes to the fertility doctor’s office. Well, apparently, she walked in and got impregnated, just like that. And that made me roll my eyes so hard I thought they’d fall out of my head. This is a woman with a history of fertility issues, who’s gone through multiple rounds of IVF. She was only in LA for a few days, as far as we could tell. If she was going to move forward with having embryos implanted, she should have been on hormones, at the very least. This is not a single trip to the doctor’s office situation!!
  • Jack’s ex is expecting twins (sometime in 2025, I guess), and apparently she’s engaged to some rich guy she’s just met, and everyone talks as if Jack would have no parental rights at all… and I just don’t understand. There’s DNA testing in the 21st century, people! Why does his lawyer act as though he has no chance of being the babies’ legal father unless Charmaine allows his name to be put on the birth certificate?
  • Inconsisent supporting characters — there are certain characters whose depiction seems to change depending on what scene they’re in, and I wish the show would just make up its mind! Connie is often shown as an interfering gossip, but then she’ll turn around and offer protection to someone with a secret and acts like other people’s most trusted friend. Which is she? Same with Muriel, who in previous seasons was set up to date Doc as a decoy by Hope (never mind, it’s complicated). Muriel is sort of depicted as someone who might not be trustworthy around other people’s husbands (ugh, I hate that judge-y kind of vibe), but she’s actually completely lovely. Muriel in season 3 is vivacious, supportive, and tons of fun… so why do I feel like the show wants us to be suspicious of her when it comes to Doc?
  • Lack of diversity. There is exactly one Black named/featured character on the show. I was shocked when a Black family was seen walking by at the lumberjack games. Wait, there are families of color living in Virgin River? The show needs to open its doors a little wider, is all I’m saying.

Despite my grumbling, I freely admit that I’m hooked on the show. I just wish more would happen in a season. How long is the wait until season 4? Arrrrrggh.

And one final thing: I still haven’t read the books. Should I???

Shelf Control #277: And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

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!

Title: And the Ocean Was Our Sky
Author: Patrick Ness
Published: 2018
Length: 160 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a richly illustrated and lyrical tale, one that asks harrowing questions about power, loyalty, obsession, and the monsters we make of others.

With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself…

As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.

With the lush, atmospheric art of Rovina Cai woven in throughout, this remarkable work by Patrick Ness turns the familiar tale of Moby Dick upside down and tells a story all its own with epic triumph and devastating fate.

How and when I got it:

I treated myself to the hardcover edition when it was released in 2018.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read several Patrick Ness books by now, but not nearly enough! I think I have at least two more of his books sitting on my shelf, still to be read (maybe future Shelf Control books?). I was drawn to this book for a few reasons:

  1. I’ve never not liked Patrick Ness’s writing, even if the book’s main topic isn’t of huge interest to me. Can’t say I’ve ever been let down.
  2. It’s illustrated by Rovina Cai! She also does the illustrations for Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children books, and I love her artwork.
  3. I’ve seen this book described as telling the story of Moby Dick from the whale’s perspective, and what’s not to love about that?? I actually read Moby Dick a few years ago (yes, really), and I think experiencing an “upside down” version of the story would be fascinating.

I really do intend to read this book soon… or as soon as I can remember which shelf I left it on, last time I came across it.

PS – The opening line of this book is:

Call me Bathsheba.

How awesome is that?

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Top Ten Tuesday: Book Titles That Are Questions

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Book Titles That Are Questions. This is a fun one! Here are ten books that fit the theme, either from my shelves or my TBR list:

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

This children’s classic was HUGE while I was growing up (which gives you some idea of how long ago that was…)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I read this ages ago while going through a Blade Runner obsession phase (probably due to a friend who insisted that Blade Runner was the most profound movie ever). The book definitely explains a lot more than the movie — but I should probably watch the director’s cut again at some point and see if my reaction has changed at all.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

This is a more recent book — published in 2019, it’s a story of a decades-long space voyage to a new planet. I loved it!

Have You Eaten Grandma? by Gyles Brandreth

Who doesn’t love a great grammar book? I sure do! I love smart, funny books that explain grammar — with a sense of humor.

Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

This book scared the heck out of me when I first read it. Maybe it would seem tame compared to thrillers today, but I absolutely lost sleep thanks to this book way back when.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates

I’ve only read the title story… but it’s stayed with me ever since. This story was the basis for the 1985 Laura Dern/Treat Williams movie Smooth Talk, which is understated and disturbing and really memorable.

Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida

I’m including this book on my list this week because I love the title, even though I ended up DNFing the book. I thought the idea of someone with amnesia using Siri and social media to figure out her identity and her life was really clever, but I ended up annoyed by the plot and couldn’t bring myself to finish.

If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? by M. E. Kerr

I remember basically nothing about the plot of this book, but M. E. Kerr was super popular for a time in the pre-YA young adult market. (Hmm — I see a trend in this week’s list: Books From My Younger Days. Sigh.)

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss

My family is full of Seuss fans, and this happens to be a really fun one to read aloud. It includes such magical passages as:

And now all the Hawtchers who live in Hawtch-Hawtch are watching on watch watcher watchering watch, watch watching the watcher who’s watching that bee. You’re not a Hawtch-Watcher — you’re lucky you see!

May I Bring A Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Another awesome children’s book to read aloud! I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I read this one to my son… but it was a daily favorite for weeks at a time. So charming!

What books made your list this week? Please share your TTT links!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 7/12/2021

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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.

I ended up under the weather on Saturday, but at least I got to read and watch TV! Unfortunately, I missed out on spending the day at a park, but I guess it can wait until next weekend.

What did I read during the last week?

Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev: A terrific Sense and Sensibility retelling that works on its own as well. My review is here.

While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory: The 6th book in the loosely-connected The Wedding Date series is fun and romantic. My review is here.

Beth & Amy by Virginia Kantra: A really enjoyable follow-up to Meg & Jo. Definitely recommended for Little Women fans! My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

What impact did the pandemic have on my pop culture life? For one thing, I’d never seen a Fast & Furious movie before, and now I’ve seen them all! This past week, I ventured out to a movie theater to see the newest, F9, and it was just as dumb and just as much fun as I’d expected.

I mean, what are the laws of physics when you’ve got family?

Puzzle of the Week:

I actually wrote a whole post about why I love this Shakespeare puzzle so much! See it here.

Fresh Catch:

I continue to indulge… new books this week include a travel guide I’m excited to put into action and an illustrated version of a favorite:

The new Simon Snow book came out this week, and I couldn’t resist getting a copy of the 1st book in the series to match #2 (that I already owned) and #3 (that arrived this week). Look how awesome!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Flash Fire by TJ Klune: This is the sequel to last year’s The Extraordinaries, and it’s off to a great start. (I had intended to start the Simon Snow book next, but I’m trying really hard to not fall behind on my ARCs…)

Now playing via audiobook:

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: My book group’s pick for July. I have two weeks to get it done!

Ongoing reads:

Outlander Book Club is doing a speed-re-read of Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, #8 in the Outlander series. We’re reading and discussing 5 chapters per week. Let me know if you want to join in — the more, the merrier! This week: Chapters 51 – 55.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Audiobook Review: Beth & Amy by Virginia Kantra

Title: Beth & Amy
Author: Virginia Kantra
Narrators: Janet Metzger, Brittany Pressley, Catherine Taber
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 11, 2021
Print length: 348 pages
Audio length: 11 hours 8 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Four sisters face new beginnings in this heartfelt modern take on Little Women by New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

Amy March is more like her older sister Jo than she’d like to admit. An up-and-coming designer in New York’s competitive fashion industry, ambitious Amy is determined to get out of her sisters’ shadow and keep her distance from their North Carolina hometown. But when Jo’s wedding forces her home, she must face what she really wants…and confront the One Big Mistake that could upend her life and forever change her relationship with Jo.

Gentle, unassuming Beth grew up as the good girl of the family. A talented singer-songwriter, she’s overcome her painful anxiety to tour with country superstar Colt Henderson. But life on the road has taken its toll on her health and their relationship. Maybe a break to attend her sister’s wedding will get her out of her funk. But Beth realizes that what she’s looking for and what she needs are two very different things….

With the March women reunited, this time with growing careers and families, they must once again learn to lean on one another as they juggle the changes coming their way.

The March Sisters audiobooks are a treat — let me tell you why! I enjoyed the first book, Meg & Jo, and I’m happy to be able to report that Beth & Amy is a worthy follow-up.

Note: While I rarely include content warnings in my reviews, I do think I need to mention that this book deals extensively with an eating disorder, so keep that in mind if that’s a triggering subject for you.

Obviously, from the title, the focus of this second book is on the two younger sisters from the world of Little Women, whose stories never get as much attention as Meg and Jo’s. Here, Beth and Amy take center stage, and it’s really fun to see author Virginia Kantra’s take on these sisters’ inner lives.

In these books, the girls are grown-ups, all in their mid-20s to early 30s. And let me just take a moment to dispel any fears, at the risk of being spoilery: Beth lives. So if you might avoid this book in order to avoid the heartbreak of Beth’s death… you’re good.

(And excuse my digression, but this seems like a good time to share one of my favorite Friends moments:)

As Beth & Amy opens, both characters seem to have achieved career success. Amy is living in New York, running her own business designing and selling fashion handbags. Orders are starting to pour in, now that a certain Duchess has been seen with one of Amy’s bags. But she’ll need to expand if she wants to really make her mark, and that’s going to take a cash infusion.

Beth is on tour with country superstar Colt Henderson, having written two songs for him that led to Grammy nominations. But she’s paralyzed by stage fright, and after a particularly awful experience, Colt sends her home to her family to recuperate. It doesn’t help that she’s in a relationship with Colt, and he seems more focused on his tour and his next Grammy than on Beth’s well-being.

The family is reunited for Jo’s wedding back in North Carolina, and it’s here that the sisters begin to reevaluate their hopes, their dreams, and what it looks like to be happy.

As in Meg & Jo, Beth & Amy is narrated in alternating chapters by different narrators, each representing one of the two sisters. This time around, their mother Abby also gets a voice, with a few key chapters of her own woven into the sisters’ story. The audiobook makes this story especially fun, and the narrators bring each character to life in a way that feels fresh and engaging.

I did really enjoy Beth & Amy. I’ve always loved Little Women, and before coming across these books, I would have had a hard time imagining that a modern-day retelling could work. The author does a terrific job of bringing the sisters’ lives and relationships into the 21st century, balancing contemporary issues with the more classic elements of the family dynamics.

I feel invested enough in Virginia Kantra’s vision of the March family at this point that I just wish there could be more! Maybe continue with retelling Little Men and Jo’s Boys next?

Final note: I think these two books are engaging enough to work perfectly fine even if you haven’t read Little Women — though of course, if you do love Little Women, these retellings will be even more fun.

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Book Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Title: While We Were Dating (The Wedding Date, #6)
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: July 13, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?

Jasmine Guillory’s books are reliably romantic, intimate, and full of unusual characters, and While We Were Dating is no exception.

Our two main characters are Ben, an up-and-coming advertising executive (who, BTW, used to be a backup dancer — hot!), and Anna, an Oscar-nominated actress who needs her next movie to be the big breakthrough that will take her back to the Oscars and send her home with the prize.

When Anna agrees to star in the ad campaign Ben is leading, they’re immediately drawn to one another and develop an easy rapport. But it’s not until Ben offers to drive her all night to reach her family at a Southern California emergency room that they truly connect, spending the long car ride sharing secrets and dreams. Their intimacy becomes physical, and they’re both wildly attracted to one another — but neither imagines that this can be anything but a fling.

Later, Anna’s manager comes up with a plan: In order for the studios to see Anna as a big enough box-office draw to land that next crucial movie contract, she needs to be more in the public eye. He convinces her to go public in a fake relationship with Ben, making sure the paparazzi are on hand to capture their every private-but-public flirtation. Soon, they’re featured in People magazine and are walking the red carpet together, but Ben knows that once the premieres have ended, so will this relationship.

I enjoyed a lot about While We Were Dating. Anna and Ben are both well-developed, flawed people. Sure, they’re super hot, but they’re also vulnerable, each dealing with his or her memories and past painful experiences, cautious about who they trust and who they allow into their lives. They have an easy chemistry together, and their banter is adorable and flirtatious and very down-to-earth.

This author also tends to go outside the societal norms of beauty when it comes to her heroines, and Anna is depicted as both stunningly gorgeous and plus-sized. And honestly, I love that about her.

I’m not a huge fan of “Stars! They’re Just Like Us!” kind of stories, so the Hollywood magic is, if anything, a minus for me when it comes to books featuring glamorous stars and their love lives. Here, though, we see Anna’s family and her roots, her struggle to adjust to her new reality, the invasiveness of the paparazzi, the need to always be “on”, and it makes her feel relatable, even if the day-to-day of her life — with stylists and gowns and borrowed jewels — feels like something from another world.

The books in The Wedding Date series are all loosely connected, but don’t worry if you haven’t read the others. Familiar characters show up, and you’ll be happy to see them if you know who they are, but it’s not at all crucial to know their backstories in order to enjoy While We Were Dating (or any of the other book in the series.) Each book focuses on a new romantic pairing and can stand on its own just fine.

If you’re a fan of Jasmine Guillory’s books, you’ll definitely want to read this one as well. Even if you’re new to this author, this would make a great pick for beach or poolside reading.

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Buy now at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Just For Fun: My new favorite puzzle!

The World of Shakespeare Jigsaw Puzzle
1000 Pieces
Laurence King Publishing

Departing from talking about books, books, and more books for a moment…

If you read my Monday Check-In posts, you may have noticed that I’ve become obsessed with jigsaw puzzles. Spending a year locked in your house will do that to a person!

I need to take a few beats to rave about how much I loved the puzzle I did this week. It’s The World of Shakespeare, and it’s wonderful.

This 1000-piece puzzle is bright, colorful, and highly detailed, pulling together different parts of the geography of Shakespeare’s time and world. But if you look closely, it also includes people and settings from both the historical time period and from Shakespeare’s plays — so you can find Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Caliban, and so many more. Some are pretty obvious, some are hidden among tons of other characters and features. It’s so much fun!

Note: Please excuse my shoddy photography. Next hobby goal: Learning to take decent photos!

Ta da! Finished after 3 mad days of obsessive puzzling…

The puzzle comes with a large-sized illustration to use as a guide… and what I really loved is that the back of the illustration zooms in and provides explanation of key people and places. I definitely would not have gotten them all otherwise!

The puzzle pieces themselves are sturdy, small (but not too small), and click together really well. There’s nothing worse than a shoddy puzzle — this one is terrific quality.

Zooming in for more detailed views:

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, jigsaw puzzles, or both, I can’t recommend this puzzle highly enough! This company also has a World of Sherlock Holmes puzzle (which I’ll skip, since I’m not a Sherlock fan) — and one I can’t wait to get, the World of Jane Austen! My Austen puzzle should be arriving this month, and I’m sure I’ll be attacking it the second it gets here.

Affiliate links: Buy now at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Title: Incense and Sensibility
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: July 6, 2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Yash Raje, California’s first serious Indian gubernatorial candidate, has always known exactly what he wants—and how to use his privileged background to get it. He attributes his success to a simple mantra: control your feelings and you can control the world.

But when a hate-fueled incident at a rally critically injures his friend, Yash’s easy life suddenly feels like a lie, his control an illusion. When he tries to get back on the campaign trail, he blacks out with panic.

Desperate to keep Yash’s condition from leaking to the media, his family turns to the one person they trust—his sister’s best friend, India Dashwood, California’s foremost stress management coach. Raised by a family of yoga teachers, India has helped San Francisco’s high strung overachievers for a decade without so much as altering her breath. But this man—with his boundless ambition, simmering intensity, and absolute faith in his political beliefs—is like no other. Yash has spent a lifetime repressing everything to succeed.

Including their one magical night ten years ago—a too brief, too bright passion that if rekindled threatens the life he’s crafted for himself. Exposing the secrets might be the only way to save him but it’s also guaranteed to destroy the dream he’s willingly shouldered for his family and community . . . until now.

As you might guess from the title — but not from the synopsis — Incense and Sensibility is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It’s also a moving, well-written, and engaging contemporary novel about love, pain, and healing.

I&S continues the loosely connected story of the Rajes, a wealthy Indian-American family living in the Bay Area. Previous books have focused on Yash’s sister Trisha (Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors) and his cousin Ashna (Recipe For Persuasion). In both of those books, Yash is a background character — the successful, driven brother who can achieve anything he wants. He’s the golden child, the one everyone believes will do great things.

He’s also haunted by trauma, although he doesn’t even realize this until events kick off in I&S. As the book opens, Yash is running a competitive race for governor of California, and his chances look good. He’s a man devoted to public service, who truly believes that he’s called to make life better for those who are suffering. While popular with many voters, Yash also encounters the racism you’d unfortunately not be surprised by due to his skin color and ethnicity. An attempted shooting at a rally leaves Yash lightly wounded, but puts his trusted friend and bodyguard Abdul into a coma that he isn’t expected to wake from.

Suddenly, Yash’s world is turned upside down. He feels tremendous guilt about Abdul’s sacrifice, and is overwhelmed by an anxiety attack when he attempts to go onstage at his next rally. With only months to go until the election, and with a growing lead in the polls, his family is desperate to “fix” him. And so they turn to a friend of Ashna and Trisha’s, India Dashwood, a yoga instructor and Reiki healer.

India lives with her mother Tara and her highly emotional sister China in the apartment above their yoga studio. They’re not well off, but they’re getting by, until Tara falls ill and India realizes they may not be able to cover her necessary medical treatments. On top of that, China is head-over-heels in love with a Korean pop star, but the woman she loves is deeply closeted and insists on secrecy. China sees a rosy future, but India is afraid that China will be hurt badly.

When Yash reenters India’s life, it’s ten years after they spent a magical, romantic night together in which they fell in love, but then parted and never reunited. India has never quite recovered from the pain of Yash’s disappearance from her life, but she also can’t turn him away when he’s obviously in such pain and in need of help. As she works with him on healing from trauma, old wounds reemerge and are finally confronted, and Yash and India’s feeling for one another resurface as well. But with the election his to lose, Yash has to make some big decisions about telling the truth and taking a stand, and India must decide whether she’s willing to risk the peace she’s found for the man she’s never gotten over.

Incense and Sensibility may look light and possibly even funny from the cover, but it’s really not. While there are some lighter moments, the book deals with very real trauma and pain, and the author isn’t afraid to show how the characters are affected by their pasts in damaging ways. At the same time, the characters really are lovely and sympathetic, and I loved getting to know the new characters introduced in this addition to the Rajes series, especially India, who is just wonderful.

As an Austen retelling, I found I&S to be very successful. Contemporary retellings of Austen novels are hard to pull off. With the classics’ focus on marriage, their themes can be hard to translate to a modern setting, and many of the retellings I’ve read feel like they’re trying too hard to shoehorn Austen’s storylines into a setting where they just don’t work.

Not so in I&S. Sonali Dev doesn’t hit us over the head with the Jane Austen references and plot points. While they’re there, they work organically, so the story would make sense and be appealing even without knowledge of the original. And while some characters’ storylines are a bit more obvious — for example, China as the Marianne stand-in is destined to have her heart broken — I was still taken by surprise by some of the twists and turns of the story, and that’s a good thing. Also, for what it’s worth, it took me a really long time to figure out who the Colonel Brandon character would be, even though it should have been obvious (I won’t say why, because spoilers!).

Incense and Sensibility is a terrific read, both as a standalone contemporary love story and as an Austen retelling. I can’t wait to find out which Austen novel the author will tackle next! I’m so enjoying the characters and their lives, and look forward to the next book so I can stay in their world.

And as a side note — India’s yoga practice and her approach to life have finally convinced me that I need to find a good yoga class!

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Shelf Control #276: A trio of Bill Bryson books

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!

For this week’s Shelf Control post, I thought I’d focus on an author, rather than one particular title. It turns out that I have several unread books on my shelves by Bill Bryson. What am I going to do about that?

Title: In a Sunburned Country
Published: 2000

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door, memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion along the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the WoodsIn A Sunburned Country is his report on what he found in an entirely different place: Australia, the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet. The result is a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiosity.

Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide

Title: The Body: An Occupant’s Guide
Published: 2019

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the bestselling, prize-winning A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson achieved the seemingly impossible by making the science of our world both understandable and entertaining to millions of people around the globe.

Now he turns his attention inwards to explore the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. Full of extraordinary facts and astonishing stories, The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a brilliant, often very funny attempt to understand the miracle of our physical and neurological make up.

A wonderful successor to A Short History of Nearly Everything, this book will have you marvelling at the form you occupy, and celebrating the genius of your existence, time and time again.

Title: Notes From A Small Island
Published: 1995

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain-which is to say, all of it.”

After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson – bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. (“I had recently read,” Bryson writes, “that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”) But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile.

How and when I got them:

I bought The Body when there was a Kindle deal, but the other two are paperbacks I picked up at library sales over the years.

Why I want to read these books:

I constantly struggle with making myself read the non-fiction books on my shelves. I’ve always heard that this author’s books are fun, engaging reads, with plenty of humor as well as great descriptions and adventures. I love the sound of the topics, and know that if I ever break out of my non-stop fiction reading, I’ll enjoy them.

So… this post is a reminder to myself to read non-fiction every so often — especially these books, which I’ve been interested in for a long time, and have a feeling will really appeal to me.

Have you read any of these or other Bill Bryson books? Any you’d particularly recommend?

Please share your thoughts!


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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 or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons Why I Love Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Reasons Why I Love Reading. It seems challenging to break down into an itemized list why reading is such a dominant part of my life, but here goes:

1). Reading involves my brain, my emotions, my heart… it’s an immersive experience that makes me feel and makes me think.

2) I’ve learned so much from books! I love entering another time period through historical fiction, or learning about a place or a culture I might not otherwise encounter.

3) I can never be bored — I always have a book with me! Waiting on a long line at the store or the pharmacy? No problem — more time to read!

4) Bonding — Even if we have nothing else obviously in common, if I meet someone who loves the same book as me, we have plenty to talk about.

5) Flights of imagination — I love reading about fantasy worlds and feeling them come alive.

6) Getting to know favorite characters in a series. A well-written series can make me feel like certain characters are a part of my own life.

7) Living vicariously. Let’s face it, I’m probably never going to wield a sword or explore new star systems, but reading lets me feel as if I might, even if only in my reader’s brain.

8) Oh, the smarts! I’m adamant that reading makes us all smarter. Vocabulary, geography, scientific concepts — you name it, and I’m better at it because of reading.

9) The calming effect — sometimes, when times are tough or there’s just a lot of stress, opening a favorite book can feel better to me than meditation or even a nap. I can immerse myself in a beloved story or world and come out of it feeling refreshed and ready to face the world again.

10) Gaining empathy and understanding: Great novels let us into their characters’ hearts and minds. Walking in a character’s shoes and seeing how life feels to them is key to opening our hearts to people whose lives might not mirror our own.

Why do you love to read? Please share your TTT links!

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