Book Review: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her.

Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naive village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life – cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.

A Bollywood Affair is my book group’s selection for February — we do have a tendency to go romance-themed each year at this time, and the results have been decidely mixed for me. I’m not a romance reader, although I do enjoy a good love story every so often. Still, there are elements of the genre that just don’t float my boat, but more on that later…

In A Bollywood Affair, we start with a marriage between two children. Mili, at age 4, is married off to Virat, a much older 12 years old, by arrangement between their grandparents. Apparently, mass weddings between children are traditional in the region of Mili’s birth. And while the two children are immediately separated, they’re expected to eventually live as man and wife once they’re old enough. Meanwhile, Mili’s grandmother raises her to be a perfect wife, and only at Mili’s insistence that her husband would want her to be as educated as city girls is she allowed to attend university and pursue an education.

At age 24, Mili travels to Michigan for graduate work in sociology, aiming to work toward her goal of improving the lives of women in India. She has no money though, and her fellowship leaves her only the barest subsistence to get by on.

Back in India, Virat and his pregnant wife learn that the annulment of his marriage to his child bride was never finalized, and he’s worried that this will interfere with the well-being of his wife and baby. Virat’s younger brother Samir, a playboy heart-throb who is (of course) gorgeous and has (of course) a heart of gold hidden beneath his player, bad boy exterior, is sent to America to get Mili to sign the annulment papers once and for all. And (of course), things get complicated.

Mili is klutzy, innocent, and awkward, and immediately rides a bike into a tree and injures herself in Samir’s presence, so he has no choice but to stay and take care of her, hiding the true reason for his arrival. He’s drawn to her sweetness and beauty; she’s drawn to his kindness and amazing biceps. They open up to each other emotionally, but the secret reason for Samir’s presence looms in the background, ready to ruin the love growing between the two of them.

Mili is a little too naive to be believable, and Samir is too much of the bad-boy-who-is-secretly-good stereotype. Mili clings to her vision of her marriage and the husband who will someday claim her as his wife, even as she works to better the status of women’s rights in India. Samir puts up with an awful lot to be near Mili, and it’s kind of hard to buy his willingness to immediately devote himself to her. Both being gorgeous, amazing in the kitchen, and absolutely fantastic people, they are naturally and immediately drawn to each other, and (we’re told) have a strong chemistry that keeps them both lusting after one another pretty much constantly.

Look, I basically liked the story, but I have issues. First off, please spare me from any book in which the main male character names his penis. Sorry, but no. I do not want to hear Samir refer to “Little Sam”, not once and not repeatedly. I also don’t want to hear about Mili’s “dark crevices”, as in…

Her name rumbled in his chest. She felt the sound rather than heard it and warmth melted through her like molten gold filling a mold at the goldsmith’s. It slid into her heart and into the deep dark crevices of her body.

Did I mention already that I’m not really a romance reader? I’m no prude, but I don’t need every detail of a sexual encounter spelled out for me — body parts and fluids and the rest. The overblown language during the sex scenes just immediately pulled me out (no pun intended) of the mood and made me giggle instead:

She let him jab into her, free her, tangle her. She tasted him, breathed him in. His smoky taste, clean and dark and hot. His tongue, hungry and probing and hot. His heavy shoulders under her fingers, firm and yielding and hot.

Yes. Hot. I get it.

Man, do I sound mean right now, but honestly, this kind of writing just doesn’t work for me.

That said, I actually enjoyed a lot of the story, when the gasping and tasting and “liquid skin” and “sensitive, secret flesh” weren’t getting in the way. I really liked the descriptions of the foods and the clothing and the traditions that we see through Mili and Samir’s experiences, and the backstory about Samir’s childhood is both upsetting and touching. The obligatory secret between the main characters (there wouldn’t be much of a plot without it) makes the drama feel forced at times, but I came to care enough about Mili and Samir as people that I was willing to overlook most of the elements that I didn’t care for.

Would I recommend this book? I’d say it’s a very qualified… maybe. I don’t regret reading it, and I’m looking forward to discussing it with my book group — despite the fact that this isn’t the type of book I’d usually choose to read. Still, if you’re a fan of steamy scenes in the midst of your love stories, you may truly love A Bollywood Affair!

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The details:

Title: A Bollywood Affair
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

“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. This week’s “take a peek” book:

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Miriam’s family should be rich. After all, her grandfather was the co-creator of smash-hit comics series The TomorrowMen. But he sold his rights to the series to his co-creator in the 1960s for practically nothing, and now that’s what Miriam has: practically nothing. And practically nothing to look forward to either-how can she afford college when her family can barely keep a roof above their heads? As if she didn’t have enough to worry about, Miriam’s life gets much more complicated when a cute boy shows up in town… and turns out to be the grandson of the man who defrauded Miriam’s grandfather, and heir to the TomorrowMen fortune.

In her endearing debut novel, cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks pens a sensitive and funny Romeo and Juliet tale about modern romance, geek royalty, and what it takes to heal the long-festering scars of the past (Spoiler Alert: love).

My Thoughts:

Comic and graphic novel writer Faith Erin Hicks makes her debut in young adult fiction with Comics Will Break Your Heart, and does it beautifully! In this sweet YA novel, two teens from families with a long-standing grudge meet and connect one summer in Nova Scotia. Miriam’s grandfather co-created the TomorrowMen comics with Weldon’s grandfather, but sold his rights to the brand for only $900 many decades earlier. Since then, TomorrowMen has blown up with a huge fandom and a blockbuster movie in the works, and while Weldon’s family stands to profit hugely, Miriam’s will see not a dime, despite the 20-year lawsuit waged by her grandfather to undo the shoddy deal he unwittingly agreed to.

When Miriam and Weldon meet, they each carry their families’ baggage, but their mutual love of comics as well as their own personal struggles to figure out their futures draw them together and help them move past the animosity that’s lingered for so long. This is a quick, fun read, with touching moments too, and has some lovely scenes that highlight the intricacies and quirks of best friendships, relationships between teens and their parents, and the heartaches and worries that come with making decisions about where to go in life.

Comics Will Break Your Heart is also a terrific ode to the glories of fandom, culminating in a visit to (of course) San Diego Comic-Con. I’m sure everyone with a secret geeky obsession will relate to the characters’ reactions to entering geek heaven:

In a flash he saw everything as she saw it, the madness and energy but also the joyful heart of the convention.

“Oh, wow,” she whispered. “Comics made all of this.”

For more by this author, check out my reviews of two of her graphic novels, Friends With Boys and The Adventures of Superhero Girl.

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The details:

Title: Comics Will Break Your Heart
Author: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: February 12, 2019
Length: 218 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Summer has arrived in the Cornish town of Mount Polbearne and Polly Waterford couldn’t be happier. Because Polly is in love: she’s in love with the beautiful seaside town she calls home, she’s in love with running the bakery on Beach Street, and she’s in love with her boyfriend, Huckle.

And yet there’s something unsettling about the gentle summer breeze that’s floating through town. Selina, recently widowed, hopes that moving to Mount Polbearne will ease her grief, but Polly has a secret that could destroy her friend’s fragile recovery. Responsibilities that Huckle thought he’d left behind are back and Polly finds it hard to cope with his increasingly long periods of absence.

Polly sifts flour, kneads dough and bakes bread, but nothing can calm the storm she knows is coming: is Polly about to lose everything she loves?

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery is the 2nd in a series of three (which starts with Little Beach Street Bakery, reviewed here). As I mentioned in my review of book #1, Jenny Colgan writes escapist fiction more or less to a formula, but it’s a formula that works: Young woman, beat down by city life, escapes to a remote, quaint location, and discovers joy and meaning in her new life. Plus a dreamy, hot love interest. Quirky locals who embrace the new arrival are an added bonus.

In Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, Polly is well-established in Mount Polbearne after living there for about a year, running a successful bakery, living with her hot American boyfriend Huckle (who’s utterly devoted to her), and continuing her obsession with the puffin who’s decided he’s her pet. At the end of book #1, Polly and Huckle decided to buy the decrepit town lighthouse and make it their home. Now living in the lighthouse, they love its charm, but it needs a ton of work, and both are decidedly short on cash for anything but the basics.

Polly’s world gets upended when the old woman who owns the bakery passes away, and her sister (who lives far away) decides to put her worthless son in charge of the place. He immediately takes a dislike to Polly and everything she does, not seeing the value in her high-end ingredients and artisanal breads and instead wanting to make everything cheap and efficient. Eventually, he outright fires Polly, throwing her into despair.

To make ends meet and create a fund from which Polly can invest in a new business venture, Huckle decides to go work on the family farm back in America for a short time in order to make some money. (Is farming really that lucrative? This doesn’t seem like the most realistic plan to me.) So now, on top of her bakery woes, Polly is living without Huckle for a while, and is miserable.

Meanwhile, there are further complications. Polly realizes that Neil the puffin should be wild, but has a hard time letting go. The widow of a man she inadvertently had an affair with (he didn’t disclose his marital status) has moved back to town, and Polly befriends her, without telling her what happened with her husband. Polly and Huckle’s new brainstorm is to convert a food truck into a bread truck, which is a challenging venture that the new bakery owner is determined to ruin. And then a storm blows in, bringing danger to Polly and the people she cares about.

Overall, I really enjoyed Summer — it was a perfect choice for a week when I was looking for a low-involvement, fun, sweet escape. Even when there are problems and peril, it’s a totally safe bet that everything will work out okay in the end.

I did have some confusion about Polly’s business model. In the first book, she opened the bakery in an abandoned old storefront and totally transformed it, creating something special that reinfused the town with fresh life. Polly’s arrangement was to pay rent to the woman who owned the property, but the bakery was essentially hers to run as she saw fit. In this book, when the jerky Malcolm gets involved, Polly is treated as a mere employee and then fired. But the place wouldn’t exist without her! At one point, a very rich friend offers to buy the bakery for Polly, but she turns him down because she wants to make it on her own. Time for a reality check! Take the rich friend’s offer, Polly! I mean, she could always pay him back (not that he cares), but isn’t that a better alternative to having the bakery she created ripped away from her?

You don’t read Jenny Colgan books for harsh doses of reality — they’re meant to be light and lovely, and Summer succeeds in being just that. I enjoyed it, even while feeling that Huckle is TOO perfect, that Neil the puffin is TOO ridiculous as a house-bird, and that Polly finds success maybe a bit TOO easily. But that’s okay.

I really like spending time with Polly and all the quirky people (and seabirds) around her, and will definitely be back for more! The third book is Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery, and I can’t wait to read it.

Side note: These books WILL make you hungry. So much delicious bread! There are even recipes at the end. I need one of Polly’s fresh-made loaves NOW.

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The details:

Title: Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publisher: Sphere
Publication date: February 26, 2015
Length: 396 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

“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)

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

My Thoughts:

What a cool set-up! Sometime after the world we know is left mostly underwater and the United States is no more, survived by pockets of humanity living in rogue states, the Navajo nation is thriving within the magical walls erected before the flood by prescient elders. Within the walls, the Dinétah people live in a world where magic and gods have returned. And for some of the mortals, clan heritage has manifested with special powers and gifts — among these, Maggie Hoskie, whose speed and ability to kill have made her a powerful monster-slayer.

Maggie struggles with the emotional upheavals that have brought her to this point, and is joined by Kai, a former outsider who has secret clan powers of his own, to try to tame the evil that has brought monsters to the land. The story combines the grit and violence of urban fantasy with the natural beauty and starkness of the Dinétah land.

It’s a rich and fascinating world, although the world-building itself felt incomplete to me. While we’re introduced to Maggie and some of the elemental powers and gods, I felt that the story needed a bit more grounding and expansion. I always felt as if I was missing some tiny element that would push this book over the edge into full-on greatness for me. I would have liked to get to know Maggie more as a person, and the same is true for Kai.

Still, I loved the use of language and culture to paint a picture of the people, the land, and the magic. Trail of Lightning is the first book in a series, and I really can’t wait for more. I’m hoping the next book will give me the greater picture of this world that I’m dying for, so I can feel fully immersed.

As a side note, my city’s public libraries have chosen this book as the citywide “On the Same Page” book for January/February, which I think is all sorts of awesome. It’s really terrific to get a taste of fantasy fiction with a Native American heroine and cast of characters — really a unique set-up, and a world I want to know more about!

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The details:

Title: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: June 26, 2018
Length: 287 pages
Genre: Speculative/dystopian science fiction
Source: Library

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Book Review: Unmarriageable (Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan) by Soniah Kamal

 

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.

Pride and Prejudice retellings come in so many flavors and varieties — but Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal makes it all feel new and fresh again by setting the familiar story in her native Pakistan in the early 2000s.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.

So begins this enchanting story. You know the basics, of course. A formerly prosperous family, rather down on their luck, has five daughters in need of husbands. Their small-town life gets a dose of excitement when a new, very eligible, very wealthy young man arrives on the scene and instantly attracts attention from all the mothers dying to make good matches for their daughters.

In Unmarriageable, the Binat family lives in the less-than-exciting town of Dilipabad. Having been cheated out of the family fortune, they’ve adapted to their reduced circumstances, and meanwhile mother Pinkie obsesses over the futures of her single daughters, exhorting them to make sure to “grab it” whenever they have a chance to meet a wealthy man. The oldest two sisters, Jena and Alysba (Alys) teach English at a private school for girls. In their early 30s, the sisters are practically over the hill, but Pinkie has not given up on them just yet. When the family is invited to the big society event — the NadirFiede wedding — it’s another opportunity to find eligible men for the girls to make “you-you eyes” at.

Alys, our main character, is smart and independent, not willing to accede to her mother’s insistence on marriage as the be-all and end-all of a woman’s purpose. She loves her family and her friends, loves to read and think, and is not about to pursue a man or agree to a match because it’s expected or provides access to a fortune. At the wedding, she and Jena meet Bungles, a lovely young man who’s instantly smitten with Jena, but his friend Darsee is rude and stand-offish, and Alys takes an immediate loathing to him.

We all know where the story goes, right? Unmarriageable hits all the major marks of the Pride and Prejudice story, but the Pakistani setting keeps it fun and different. Some retellings just don’t work within a 21st century timeframe, because the emphasis on social standing and marrying for money doesn’t necessarily translate well in a way that makes sense. Here, though, we’re led to understand that among the upper class society circles (and those longing for acceptance into those circles), the pursuit of successful marriages is everything. It’s really entertaining to see the traditional butting up against the modern, whether through the descriptions of the clothing, the marriage rituals, or the expectations for women to fulfill their prescribed roles in respectable society.

I loved the introduction to Pakistani culture — the foods, music, clothing, literature, and unique ways that the English and Pakistani languages are interwoven. The use of close-but-not-exact names to mirror Austen’s characters is really clever too.

My only minor quibble is that it doesn’t quite work for me to have an Austen retelling in which the characters read Jane Austen! In many of the modern-day retellings I’ve read, it’s never acknowledged that the original stories even exist. But here, in Unmarriageable, Alys teachers Pride and Prejudice in her English classes, and returns again and again to thinking about Austen’s themes. So given that, how does she understand her own life and the people in it — sisters Jena, Mari, Qitty, and Lady; her suitor Kaleen; Darsee and his sister Jujeena; and the dastardly Mr. Jeorgeullah Wickaam? Wouldn’t you think she’d end up in some sort of existential crisis, wondering if she really exists or if she’s just a character in a book?

That silliness aside, I do love the writing in this story, which captures some of the archness and intelligence we’d expect in a P&P retelling:

The clinic was an excellent facility, as all facilities that cater to excellent people tend to be, because excellent people demand excellence, unlike those who are grateful for what they receive.

The story doesn’t dwell on serious matters for too long, but there are little moments that let us know that the lives of women are particularly fraught at that time, and that the issues facing women go well beyond securing a rich husband:

She grabbed the newspaper no one had opened yet and flipped through the usual news of honor killings, dowry burnings, rapes, blasphemy accusations, sectarian violence, corruption scandals, tax evasions, and the never-ending promises by vote-grubbing politician to fix the country.

But overall, there’s plenty of lightness and joy to go around:

Alys laughed. “O’Connor, Austen, Alcott, Wharton. Characters’ emotions and situations are universally applicable across cultures, whether you’re wearing an empire dress, shalwar kurta, or kimono.”

And finally, something that I know will ring true for all the booklovers out there:

It was a truth universally acknowledged, Alys suddenly thought with a smile, that people enter our lives in order to recommend reads.

It’s my pleasure to recommend Unmarriageable! If you love Austen and are ready for a new take on a well-loved story, definitely check this one out!

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The details:

Title: Unmarriageable
Author: Soniah Kamal
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Audiobook Review: Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro


The acclaimed and beloved author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets—a real-time exploration of the staggering discovery she recently made about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden story of her own life.

What makes us who we are? What combination of memory, history, biology, experience, and that ineffable thing called the soul defines us?

In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets—secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in—a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.

Timely and unforgettable, Dani Shapiro’s memoir is a gripping, gut-wrenching exploration of genealogy, paternity, and love.

I picked up Inheritance on a whim, after a book group friend mentioned plans to attend a talk by the author at an upcoming event. The little bit I heard sounded interesting enough to make me want to know more: The author, raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, discovers through DNA testing that the man who raised her wasn’t actually her biological father.

With the proliferation of inexpensive testing resources like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, anyone can learn a little bit about their genetic background. Author Dani Shapiro’s half-sister had done DNA testing, and Dani decided to do it as well. But when she got her results back, she was startled: According to the data, she was only 52% Ashkenazi Jewish, not the 100% she was certain was her correct heritage. She’d been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, and her father’s lineage in particular was practically a who’s who of important people in the Orthodox world. She and her half-sister shared a father, but when she compared their results, it turns out that the two women were not actually biologically related at all.

The author was in her mid-50’s at this point, and both her parents were already deceased. She began to follow the scanty available clues, among them memories of her mother stating that she’d been conceived thanks to a medical institute in Philadelphia, and within days, made the discovery that her parents had turned to a fertility center that relied on donor sperm to help infertile couples have children. With only the most preliminary attempts at sleuthing, the author was able to trace connections and find her biological father, a man who was a sperm donor for a period of time as a medical student in Philadelphia in the 1960s.

The book focuses on Dani Shapiro’s search for both the facts of her heritage and conception, and the bigger truth about her identity. Much of Inheritance is spend on understanding the essential question: Who am I? The author, in discovering that the facts of her entire life were false, found herself unmoored and in desperate need of answers. Did her parents truly understand the treatment they sought? Did they know that donor sperm would be used? If they truly knew, how could they hide the truth from her for her entire life? Does this truth change her history, her understanding of her parents’ marriage, her place in the family history?

The author narrates the audiobook, which lends it greater immediacy and emotion. When she describes her soul-searching and her moments of pain and shock, it feels genuine — as though the author was allowing us a peek inside herself, letting us see the turmoil she experienced.

I must admit that there were sections that made me feel very impatient. The degree of shock and dislocation experienced by the author was hard for me to fully understand. I mean, I get being shocked by learning in midlife that there’s a big family secret that was hidden all this time — but the extreme questioning about whether she was still herself and whether she still belonged to her family struck me as over the top. What about people who’ve been adopted? What about all the other people out there whose parents used assisted reproductive technologies involving donor sperm or donor eggs? Why should the use of donor sperm in conception mean that the father who raised her wasn’t really her father?

As a whole, Inheritance spends a great deal of time on introspection and the search for meaning. Which I guess is the point of a memoir, so maybe I’m just not a particularly good memoir reader? In any case, I was much more interested in the unraveling of clues, the discussion of the medical ethics, and the research into fertility approaches in the 1960s than in the contemplative sections on identity and belonging.

That being said, I did find Inheritance quite fascinating as a whole. It’s a relatively quick listen, with lots of food for thought, and elements focused on the author’s Jewish upbringing and how that carries through to her current life particularly resonated for me.

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The details:

Title: Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
Author: Dani Shapiro
Narrated by: Dani Shapiro
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: January 15, 2019
Length (print): 272 pages
Length (audiobook): 6 hours, 44 minutes
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased

Book Review: The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

 

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.

The Wartime Sisters is the second novel by Lynda Cohen Loigman, whose debut novel The Two-Family House came out in 2016 (reviewed here). Both books focus on women’s lives during the 20th century, and both examine the intricate relationships between sisters, friends, and the people who come into their lives.

In The Wartime Sisters, Millie and Ruth couldn’t be more different. Ruth is three years older than Millie, and spends her entire childhood and adolescence hearing about her sister’s beauty and charm. Millie is the one their mother pins her hopes on, fantasizing about how the endless crowd of suitors will yield the perfect man to propose to Millie and make all her dreams come true. Meanwhile, Ruth grows up realizing that she’ll never be the pretty one, and resents Millie for always being the center of attention… never stopping to ask herself if Millie actually wants or enjoys the attention that comes her way.

The story flashes back and forth between the late 1930s, as the girls approach womanhood, and 1942/1943, as they settle into life at an army base in Massachusetts. We learn over time how they came to be there, and how they became so estranged from one another following their parents’ death.

Interwoven throughout their chapters on their earlier years is a nice evocation of Jewish life in Brooklyn at that time, showing the ways in which the family’s religion and culture define their world, their friends, and their approaches to life. Meanwhile, in Springfield, both Millie and Ruth form new bonds among the military wives and base workers, who represent a different but no less vibrant sort of community.

The Wartime Sisters shows the damage done to women’s souls through neglect and abuse, and also by the small and large cruelties carried out through resentment and gossip. In Springfield, we meet two additional women who fill large roles in the sisters’ new lives: Lillian, the base commander’s wife, with her own troubled childhood, is a pillar of strength and goodness amidst the turmoil; and Arietta, a motherly woman with a talent for both singing and cooking, takes Millie under her wing.

It’s sad to see the conflict between Ruth and Millie. As Ruth’s husband is sent overseas as a wartime scientist and Millie arrives, husband-less, impoverished, and burdened by secrets, it would seem that the two women finally have an opportunity to reclaim their relationship and establish a new closeness. Sadly, although Ruth offers a home to Millie, the warmth and ease that should come with it is missing. While the author lets us see why Ruth feels as she does and how her resentments built over time, it’s still hard to empathize. As far as we can see, Millie has never done anything wrong, has never set out to hurt Ruth or to undermine her. Ruth blames Millie for the incessant comparisons unkind neighbors have made all their lives, but it’s clearly just so unfair. Because of Ruth’s animosity, Millie is left to deal with their parents’ death on her own, and makes some calamitous decisions that bring about hardship and suffering. It’s hard to forgive Ruth for what she put Millie through.

In terms of the historical settings, I enjoyed learning about the Springfield Armory and the role women played in wartime readiness and production. The characters are colorful and memorable, and Arietta in particular is a delight to meet.

Overall, I found The Wartime Sisters to be moving and engaging. The story is crisp and nicely constructed, and the length means that it never feel draggy. I enjoyed the exploration of Ruth and Millie’s relationship, and despite being super annoyed with Ruth for much of the story, I thought the build-up of their history together and the explanation of all the baggage they carry with them was really effective and realistic.

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The details:

Title: The Wartime Sisters
Author: Lynda Cohen Loigman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Audiobook Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon


Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet, fun young adult romance, focusing on two teens, fresh out of high school, dealing with the expectations of their Indian families while also trying to find their own way in life.

Dimple is passionate about her future as a coder, and despite her mother’s focus on finding a husband for her headstrong daughter, Dimple swears that she’s going to be laser-focused on her education and career. Rishi is devoted to his parents and is determined to make them happy, by becoming an MIT-educated engineer and settling down with a nice Indian wife.

Dimple and Rishi meet at Insomnia-con, a six-week coding competition held on the campus of San Francisco State University. Students work in pairs to develop their own  unique app, and the winning team gets a chance to work with a successful web developer, Jenny Lindt — Dimple’s idol, who is everything she aspires to be.

Things are rocky right from the start for Dimple and Rishi. He greets her as his “future wife”, and Dimple throws her iced coffee on him. Yeesh, not good. It turns out that their parents have conspired to bring them together, and while Rishi is totally on board for this, Dimple isn’t. Not only is she not on board, she’s also completely unaware — her parents didn’t share their plans with her. Dimple is furious, even more so when she learns that Rishi and she have been assigned to be partners, so she’ll be spending oodles of time with him over the next six weeks.

Once past her initial anger, Dimple starts to appreciate Rishi. He’s not a hardcore coder like she is — in fact, he doesn’t care all that much about Insomnia-con, whereas she’s been living for this opportunity. Still, realizing how important it is to Dimple, Rishi throws himself into it as well. As the summer progresses and their tech ideas take wing, a friendship blooms between Dimple and Rishi… and from friendship, attraction and romance start to bloom as well.

The characters are really engaging and likable. Even though they have very different outlooks on life, it’s clear to see that they’re both passionate in their own ways. Rishi, it turns out, is following his parentally approved path to MIT, but in his secret heart of hearts, his true calling is to become a comic book artist. Through Dimple’s eyes, we learn just how talented he is, and it’s hard to understand how he could shut off that piece of himself in order to please his parents.

The two main characters’ Indian heritage adds so much to this story, as we see the weight of family traditions and expectations, but also see the cultural aspects in everyday aspects of their lives such as clothing, food, music, and more. When Rishi and Dimple are required to compete in the Insomnia-con talent show, they choose to perform a Bollywood-inspired dance, from this video:

I felt that the inner struggles both Dimple and Rishi face were portrayed really convincingly. Dimple is completely thrown off guard by her feelings for Rishi, and desperately wants to avoid allowing romance to derail her from her career aspirations into a life more suited to her mother’s preferences. And Rishi is so afraid of letting his parents down that he refuses to even consider taking the opportunities that come his way in the art world.

On the negative side, the pacing is a bit… off. It felt as though the first three weeks of the summer took up most of the story, and then suddenly we jump to the final days of the competition. That means a lot of time is spent on the early days, and then, somewhat bizarrely, on the talent show. I didn’t quite get why a talent show was at all relevant in a coding program, except for the fact that the winners get prize money to put toward their project development. Still, there’s way too much time spent on Dimple and Rishi rehearsing their dance number, and as adorable as they are together, it didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the story.

Some of the emotional crises in the relationship felt rather hollow and immature. They each goad each other and mistrust each other in some pretty petty ways… although to be fair, they’re young, and I suppose the depiction of a turbulent first love is probably pretty realistic.

My other issue with the story is that Dimple is so focused on winning the competition that there’s not much consideration given for any of the other students involved, other than a group of “Aber-zombies” who rely on nepotism rather than talent to get ahead. Granted, Rishi came to Insomnia-con to meet Dimple, but it bugged me that they’re always referring to their project as Dimple’s, and the focus is on whether Dimple wins, not them as a team.

A note on the narration:

The dual narrators, Sneha Mathan and Vikas Adam, take turns narrating sections told from each of the characters’ perspectives. We bounce back and forth between “Rishi” and “Dimple” sections, and the narrators are great at capturing their voices, inner thoughts, and emotions — love, frustration, anger, disappointment, laughter, and more. Plus, they’re able to convey other characters, like their parents or other Insomnia-con participants, in a way that makes the story feel energetic and full of life.

Wrapping it all up:

When Dimple Met Rishi is truly a lot of fun to listen to, although the pacing issues with the story occasionally made the audiobook feel like it was dragging. Overall, though, I really enjoyed it. Dimple and Rishi are great characters with good hearts, and the storyline as a whole is engaging and hopeful, and sends some good messaging about being true to oneself and following your dream. I’ll definitely want to check out more by this author.

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The details:

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Narrated by: Sneha Mathan, Vikas Adam
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: May 30, 2017
Length (print): 380 pages
Length (audiobook): 10 hours, 45 minutes
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

Take A Peek Book Review: Roomies by Christina Lauren

“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)

Marriages of convenience are so…inconvenient.

For months Holland Bakker has invented excuses to descend into the subway station near her apartment, drawn to the captivating music performed by her street musician crush. Lacking the nerve to actually talk to the gorgeous stranger, fate steps in one night in the form of a drunken attacker. Calvin Mcloughlin rescues her, but quickly disappears when the police start asking questions.

Using the only resource she has to pay the brilliant musician back, Holland gets Calvin an audition with her uncle, Broadway’s hottest musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entry into Broadway—until his reason for disappearing earlier becomes clear: he’s in the country illegally, his student visa having expired years ago.

Seeing that her uncle needs Calvin as much as Calvin needs him, a wild idea takes hold of her. Impulsively, she marries the Irishman, her infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves and Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway—in the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting—will Holland and Calvin to realize that they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

My Thoughts:

Yet another sweet, wish-fulfillment romantic story by the amazing writing duo Christina Lauren! There’s not much of a shred of realism in the plot, but it’s oh so fun to just kick back and go with the flow.

We have Holland, mid-twenties, with an MFA that she’s not using, living a comfortable New York life (thanks to her amazing, generous uncles) — who decides that marrying her crush is the best way to help him get legal residence in the US so he can pursue his musical career. Of course, Calvin is both incredibly gorgeous and unbelievably talented, as well as being sweet, smart, and a considerate and passionate lover. Of course, Calvin shoots to instant stardom. And of course, their fake marriage turns into a real marriage, although not without the requisite trust and communication issues that plague any good contemporary romance.

It’s all good fun, and the happy ending is never in doubt. It’s an entertaining, sexy romp, and even though we know that these two crazy lovebirds will end up together, the excitement is in seeing how they get there. The book is quick and light, and despite the moments of emotional turmoil and illogical behavior, the characters are always likable (and have enough of a sense of humor to get past some super awkward situations.)

This is my 4th Christina Lauren book, and I have yet to encounter a dud! Not exactly deep reading, but great for when you need something cheery.

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The details:

Title: Roomies
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: December 5, 2017
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

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Book Review: In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4) by Seanan McGuire

 

This is the story of a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.

For anyone . . .

Every Heart a Doorway was the first book in the Wayward Children series of novellas by Seanan McGuire, and ever since reading it, I’ve been captivated by the dreamy nature of the worlds portrayed. Now, here with the 4th book in the series, In An Absent Dream, the author once again works her magic through her lyrical, otherworldly writing.

In the Wayward Children books, we meet various children and teens who discover portals to magical worlds — but each door is unique to the particular child, taking him or her to a world that (in most cases) is exactly where that child belongs. We’ve seen people go to the halls of the dead, to a world made of cakes and sugary treats, to a world of monsters and haunted moors. In each case, the children involved may choose to stay, or may find themselves thrust out unwillingly — and when they’re forced out, they may spend the rest of their lives yearning for a way to get back “home”.

In this newest book, we’re reunited with a familiar face from the first book in the series. There, we met Lundy, a teacher at the boarding school inhabited by these wayward children. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that Lundy is highly unusual and memorable, and is a favorite character for many readers of Every Heart a Doorway.

In An Absent Dream treats us to Lundy’s backstory, introducing us to her as a young child named Katherine who learns about fairness and independence and fitting in through the casual cruelty of other children. Lundy finds a door for the first time at age eight, and ends up in a world known as the Goblin Market. It’s a place of rules and absolute commitment to fairness. The most crucial rule is “always give fair value” — for every favor granted or assistance given, something of fair value must be given in return, or else a debt may be owed… and those who owe debts find themselves facing odd, disturbing changes.

As in the other Wayward Children books, the writing itself creates the magic — sometimes brooding, sometimes ethereal, sometimes menacing or full of foreboding. I simply can’t get enough of the delicious language. A few random samples:

It is an interesting thing, to trust one’s feet. The heart may yearn for adventure while the head think sensibly of home, but the feet are a mixture of the two, dipping first one way aand then the other.

They ran through the golden afternoon like dandelion seeds dancing on the wind, two little girls with all the world in front of them, a priceless treasure ready to be pillaged.

They held each other, both of them laughing and both of them weeping, and if this were a fairy tale, this is where we would leave them, the prodigal student and the unwitting instructor reunited after what should have been their final farewell. This is where we would leave them, and be glad of it, even as Lundy had long since left a girl named Katherine behind her.

Alas, that this is not a fairy tale.

These books are just too beautiful to miss. Read them, re-read them, maybe listen to the audiobooks, savor the lovely language… the Wayward Children books are not long, but they don’t need to be. In An Absent Dream and the other books in the series are must-reads. Start at the beginning and read all four!

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The details:

Title: In an Absent Dream
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 8, 2019
Length: 204 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased