Aubiobook Review: The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The details:

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

Aubiobook Review: Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart

 

In the fifth installment of Amy Stewart’s clever and original Kopp Sisters series, the sisters learn some military discipline—whether they’re ready or not—as the U.S. prepares to enter World War I.

It’s the spring of 1917 and change is in the air. American women have done something remarkable: they’ve banded together to create military-style training camps for women who want to serve. These so-called National Service Schools prove irresistible to the Kopp sisters, who leave their farm in New Jersey to join up.

When an accident befalls the matron, Constance reluctantly agrees to oversee the camp—much to the alarm of the Kopps’ tent-mate, the real-life Beulah Binford, who is seeking refuge from her own scandalous past under the cover of a false identity. Will she be denied a second chance? And after notoriety, can a woman’s life ever be her own again?

In Kopp Sisters on the March, the women of Camp Chevy Chase face down the skepticism of the War Department, the double standards of a scornful public, and the very real perils of war. Once again, Amy Stewart has brilliantly brought a little-known moment in history to light with her fearless and funny Kopp sisters novels.

My Thoughts:

Long live the Kopp sisters! This brilliant series continues strong, as fearless Constance Kopp and her sisters Norma and Fleurette leave behind their New Jersey farm to attend a women’s training camp. The US is on the verge of joining the war in Europe. Young women, mostly of privileged families, sign up to attend a National Service School to learn military bed-making, bandage-rolling, and some basics about marching in formation and understanding signalling.

For most of these women, it’s not particularly serious. Most will go back home to mommy and daddy afterward — but for some, it’s a stepping stone to sailing for France, where they hope to join the war effort in whatever way they can. And for one woman in Kopp Sisters on the March, the camp and France represent an escape from her intolerable, scandal-ridden life.

When the Kopp sisters arrive at camp, it’s the year after Constance has lost her job as a sheriff’s deputy, after the election of a new sheriff who has no interest in or tolerance for women in law enforcement. Constance is adrift and rather hopeless, until she ends up being put in charge of the camp after the camp matron is injured. Under Constance’s direction, the camp takes on a more disciplined and focused feel, and she even introduces secret hand-to-hand combat and shooting lessons for the small group of women who are determined to be taken seriously and prepare themselves for the war.

The narrative is split between Constance and her sisters and the historical figure Beulah Binford. As the author explains in her notes, there’s no record of the real-life Beulah attending such a camp, but it seems like a great fit for her to place her in this story. Beulah was the “other woman” in a highly publicized murder case, and while she was never charged with a crime, she was dragged through the papers and became one of the most notorious women of the time, forcing her to live under assumed identities and live in hiding. I didn’t realize until I got to the end of the book and read the notes that Beulah was a real person — this made her parts of the story all the more fascinating and tragic, seeing how an uneducated, resourceless woman could end up having her life so thoroughly ruined.

It’s a bit jarring to have the action in a Kopp sisters book move away from law enforcement and local police work to a military setting, but it tracks with the timeline of the real Kopp sisters, and seems like a natural choice for them in the context of the US’s war preparations. As always, Constance is a strong character who doesn’t back down and who is determined to improve the lives of the women around her. I’m less fond of her sisters — Fleurette is flighty as always, and Norma and her pigeon-obsession are a bit much to take — but their family dynamics are always fun.

As with the previous four books, I listened to the audiobook version, becuase the narrator is so gifted when it comes to portraying the sisters and the various other characters. As I mentioned in my reviews of the other audiobooks, she makes each character come alive, and as a listener, I really got the essence of each character’s personality through Chrsitina Moore’s presentation.

The author’s notes at the end of the book are essential reading (as they are in all of the Kopp Sisters books). Amy Stewart provides the historical context, explains her research, and makes clear which parts of her story are from the record and which are her invention. It’s fascinating to see how she so skillfully weaves together fact and fiction, and really remarkable to learn just how much of these women’s lives actually happened.

And as I’ve said in each review I’ve written for the books in this series:

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Kopp Sisters books yet, start with Girl Waits With Gun, and then keep going!

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The details:

Title: Kopp Sisters on the March
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: September 17, 2019
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 26 minutes
Printed book length: 355 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Audible download (purchased); ARC from the author

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Audiobook Review: Reticence by Gail Carriger (The Custard Protocol, #4)

Dueling covers: US version

 

Bookish and proper Percival Tunstell finds himself out of his depth when floating cities, spirited plumbing, and soggy biscuits collide in this delightful conclusion to NYT bestselling author Gail Carriger’s The Custard Protocol series.

Percival Tunstell loves that his sister and her best friend are building themselves a family of misfits aboard their airship, The Spotted Custard. Of course, he’d never admit that he belongs among them. He’s always been on the outside — dispassionate, aloof, and hatless. But accidental spies, a trip to Japan, and one smart and beautiful doctor may have him renegotiating his whole philosophy on life.

Except hats. He’s done with hats. Thank you very much.

Reticence is a fun, enjoyable wrap-up to a delicious series. The Custard Protocol is four books of fluffy good times, as an odd crew of misfits and eccentrics set sail through the aether on their giant spotted dirigible, seeking danger and adventure all around the globe.

In Reticence, the last remaining unmatched member of the Spotted Custard’s officers finally meets his true love in the form of Dr. Arsenic Ruthven, a Scottish doctor whose no-nonsense approach and absolute devotion to learning and libraries secures her a spot in Percy’s antisocial little heart.

As Arsenic learns to love the crew and vice versa, they set off on a trip first to Egypt and then to Japan, seeking out more supernatural shapeshifters and a missing spy, and discovering all sorts of new and exciting mysteries to solve. With plenty of explosions, tea, and parasols along the way.

As the conclusion to both the Custard Protocol series and, it would appear, the Parasol-verse at large, Reticence features cameos by a who’s who of characters from all of the related books (including the Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series). Because really, how could we possibly leave this amazing world without one more check-in with Alexia, Conall, Ivy, Lord Akeldama, not to mention Sophronia, Lady Kingair, and more?

Dueling covers: UK version

The adventure itself is fun, and seeing Percy lose his heart in the most awkward way possible is highly entertaining. With Percy at center stage, I did miss spending time with Rue and Quesnel, who are much more my favorites, and the wonderful character Tasherit spends most of this book literally asleep.

Once again, the audiobook is a total delight — so much so that I can’t imagine enjoying this series quite so much on the printed page. Narrator Moira Quirk is outstanding, giving each character a unique voice, capturing the silliness to perfection, and keeping the action sequences exciting and easy to follow.

I’m sorry to see the series come to a close. I know there are more related novellas in the works, but I do hope the esteemed Ms. Carriger decides to treat us to yet more full-length books (or, dare I suggest, four-book series?) set in this oh-so-special world. The Custard Protocol is a treat. Highly recommended.

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The details:

Title: Reticence (The Custard Protocol, #4)
Author: Gail Carriger
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Length (print): 339 pages
Length (audiobook): 12 hours, 21 minutes
Genre: Fantasy/steampunk
Source: Purchased

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Aubiobook Review: Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart

 

Trailblazing Constance’s hard-won job as deputy sheriff is on the line in Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, the fourth installment of Amy Stewart’s Kopp Sisters series.

After a year on the job, New Jersey’s first female deputy sheriff has collared criminals, demanded justice for wronged women, and gained notoriety nationwide for her exploits. But on one stormy night, everything falls apart.

While transporting a woman to an insane asylum, Deputy Kopp discovers something deeply troubling about her story. Before she can investigate, another inmate bound for the asylum breaks free and tries to escape.

In both cases, Constance runs instinctively toward justice. But the fall of 1916 is a high-stakes election year, and any move she makes could jeopardize Sheriff Heath’s future–and her own. Although Constance is not on the ballot, her controversial career makes her the target of political attacks.

With wit and verve, book-club favorite Amy Stewart brilliantly conjures the life and times of the real Constance Kopp to give us this “unforgettable, not-to-be messed-with heroine” (Marie Claire) under fire in Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit.

My Thoughts:

Four books in, the Kopp Sisters series is going strong! Constance Kopp is an independent, strong, career woman — at a time when these were not considered desirable attributes for a female. She works as a deputy sheriff at the Hackensack jail, where she essentially does double duty, both capturing criminals and carrying out deputy funtions, and serving as the jail’s matron for female inmates, whom she views as her charges.

Both Sheriff Heath — a fair-minded man who treats Constance as a colleague and professional, a rarity in the law-enforcement world — and Constance believe in prison reform, the idea that treating prisoners as people with options for redemption will actually lead to less crime overall. Constance takes a particular interest in the young women who often find themselves incarcerated for being wayward or otherwise uncontrollable, working with a sympathetic judge to get them released on probation, under her supervision, and finding them safe living situations, opportunities for decent work, and the chance to educate themselves and improve their lives.

All this is threatened by the 1916 elections. Sheriff Heath has termed out of his role and is running for Congress, and the sheriff’s position is hotly contested beween a man who detests Constance and a man who sees her as a cute affectation. In describing the tone of the campaign, author Amy Stewart adeptly shows how dirty politics isn’t new to today’s political climate. Sheriff Heath, perhaps naively, believes that elections can be won or lost on the merits of a candidate:

“Miss Kopp, Don’t you see that it’s better for us this way? He’s putting all his worst qualities right out on display for the public to see. You notice that he hasn’t said a word about what a sheriff’s actual duties might be, or why he’s best qualified to carry them out. A man who does nothing but cast out hate and blame couldn’t possibly be elected to office.”

If only.

As always, Constance Kopp — who is a real person, and whose history Amy Stewart draws upon for the events of the novel — is a stunningly strong, honest, and dedicated woman. She believes in her purpose, and constantly puts her own interests second to her duty to the public and to her inmates. In Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, we spend a bit less time with Constance’s sisters Norma and Fleurette, who feature much more prominently in earlier books. Still, their home life and interesting personality dynamics are always entertaining to read about.

By the end of the novel, circumstances have changed dramatically for the Kopp sisters, and it would appear that their lives are about to enter an entirely new phase. And while I’m sad to see the partnership between Constance and Sheriff Heath reach an ending of sorts for the moment, I’m still as invested as ever in these people and their lives, and can’t wait to see where they go and what they do next.

I’ll wrap up by repeating almost exactly what I wrote at the end of my review for the 3rd book, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

A final note: I listened to the audiobook, and it’s wonderful! Narrator Christina Moore has a gift when it comes to these characters, making each sister distinct, as well as the rest of the characters, whether working class New Jersey girls or glad-handing politicians or downtrodden housewives. Their voices are sharp and funny and full of personality, just like Amy Stewart’s characters themselves.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Kopp Sisters books yet, start with Girl Waits With Gun, and then keep going!

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The details:

Title: Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: September 11, 2018
Audiobook length: 8 hours, 53 minutes
Printed book length: 320 pages
Genre: Detective story/historical fiction
Source: Audible download (purchased); ARC from the author

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Aubiobook Review: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart

 

The feisty, fiery Kopp sisters are back in another unforgettable romp by international bestseller Amy Stewart.

Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges of waywardness, incorrigibility, and moral depravity. The strong-willed, patriotic Edna Heustis, who left home to work in a munitions factory, certainly doesn’t belong behind bars. And sixteen-year-old runaway Minnie Davis, with few prospects and fewer friends, shouldn’t be publicly shamed and packed off to a state-run reformatory. But such were the laws — and morals — of 1916.

Constance uses her authority as deputy sheriff, and occasionally exceeds it, to investigate and defend these women when no one else will. But it’s her sister Fleurette who puts Constance’s beliefs to the test and forces her to reckon with her own ideas of how a young woman should and shouldn’t behave.

Against the backdrop of World War I, and drawn once again from the true story of the Kopp sisters, ‘Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions’ is a spirited, page-turning story that will delight fans of historical fiction and lighthearted detective fiction alike.

My Thoughts:

The third book in the Kopp Sisters series is another terrific adventure starring Deputy Sheriff Constance Kopp and her sisters. In this installment, the main trouble is young girls looking for freedom and purpose, and the fear the authorities seem to have at the prospect of “waywardness”. Blameless girls can be scooped up and put in jail at the request of their parents, simply for leaving home without permission. Constance becomes convinced that there has to be another way, and does her best to find it.

I love the characters in these books. Amy Stewart does an amazing job of bringing to vibrant life these audacious, unusual women, and shows us the incredible biases they faced on a daily basis. It’s great fun knowing Constance was a real person, and I couldn’t help but admire her devotion to her principles and her job, even while being scoffed at for doing “men’s work”.

Book #3 isn’t perfect, though: The plot itself is a tad flat compared to the previous two books, which featured dangerous criminal cases, pursuits, threats, and imminent risk to the Kopps. Here, it’s a quieter sort of story, as the plights of Minnie and Edna are interwoven with Fleurette’s own escapade. The story is never dull, but it lacks the adrenaline and speed of the previous two.

Still, it’s absolutely worth reading. The characters continue to be delightful, and it’s interesting to see how the looming involvement of the United States in WWI begins to cast a shadow over the events in the story. I definitely want to see what happens next!

A final note: I listened to the audiobook, and it’s wonderful! Narrator Christina Moore has a gift when it comes to these characters, making each sister distinct, as well as the rest of the characters, whether working class New Jersey girls or New York cops or traveling vaudeville stars. Their voices are sharp and funny and full of personality, just like Amy Stewart’s characters themselves.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Kopp Sisters books yet, start with Girl Waits With Gun, and then keep going!

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The details:

Title: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 4 minutes
Printed book length: 365 pages
Genre: Detective story/historical fiction
Source: Audible download (purchased)

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Take A Peek (audio) Book Review: Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

“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)

Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker‘s copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.

Between You & Me features Norris’s laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage—comma faults, danglers, “who” vs. “whom,” “that” vs. “which,” compound words, gender-neutral language—and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster’s groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world’s only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders.

Readers—and writers—will find in Norris neither a scold nor a softie but a wise and witty new friend in love with language and alive to the glories of its use in America, even in the age of autocorrect and spell-check. As Norris writes, “The dictionary is a wonderful thing, but you can’t let it push you around.”

 

My Thoughts:

What fun! Mary Norris’s excellent memoir/grammar book is funny, clever, informative, and endlessly entertaining. She recounts her early days at The New Yorker, learning the rules of copy editing one pencil mark at a time. She has chapters dedicated to the finer nuances of punctuation, a fascinating chapter on vulgarity and swear words in print, and an homage to her obsession with pencils.

I listened to the audiobook, which has pros and cons. On the pro side, Mary Norris herself is the narrator. She has a distinctive voice, very sharp and clear, and you can sense the humor underlying every sentence she utters. On the con side, some of the punctuation chapters were especially difficult to follow, and I think I would have enjoyed them more if I’d at least had a print copy on hand for reference.

Between You & Me is perfect for word geeks and bibliophiles everywhere. I think I need to grab a hard copy to keep on hand for the next time I need to clarify some commas or hyphens, or finally settle on whether to use “which” or “that”.

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The details:

Title: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
Author: Mary Norris
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
Publication date: August 4, 2016
Print length: 240 pages
Audiobook length: 8 hours, 10 minutes
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Audible

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