Book Review: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Title: Evvie Drake Starts Over
Author: Linda Holmes
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: June 25, 2019
Length: 289 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out.

 

Evvie Drake is not your typical widow. She’s hidden herself away not out of grief, but from fear that everyone will discover that she’s NOT actually grieving. Evvie’s late husband Tim was her high school sweetheart, a respected town doctor, and behind closed doors, a nasty man with a tendency toward gaslighting and emotional abuse. Evvie’s little secret is that the night Tim died, Evvie was packing her car and getting ready to leave — but now, the whole town treats her with kid gloves and tells her how much they loved her husband, and she just can’t seem to shake the feeling that she’s at fault somehow.

Meanwhile, Dean is the current ultimate failure in sports, going overnight from star pitcher to a guy who can barely throw a ball. He’s been mocked and publicly humiliated, so finding a haven in a little town in Maine seems like a good idea. When Evvie rents him her spare rooms, it’s a good solution to both of their most immediate problems, and pretty soon they fall into an easy friendship, each understanding that the other has been hurt badly and just needs a little room to breathe and recover.

Of course, their connection develops into more, but it’s complicated. As the story progresses, they both have to face certain truths, and discover that moving forward can only truly happen when they let others in and start dealing with and sharing their secrets.

This book has been popping up on my recommendation lists ever since its release in June, and as with most hyped books, I was resistant. I’m so glad I finally gave in and grabbed a copy when I saw it at the library!

The writing is light and breezy and engaging, even when dealing with the more serious and troubling issues concerning Evvie’s marriage. The author presents a realistic look at Evvie’s process of shock, guilt, anger, and loss, and follows her through her coming to terms with what’s holding her back and seeking help. Likewise with Dean, there are no easy answers or fixes. As much as Evvie wants to find the solution to Dean’s pitching problem, it’s not something within her power, no matter how badly she wants to help him. Dean too has to go through a process of loss and anger in order to find acceptance and a way to move on.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is filled with likeable characters and small-town charm. I loved the New England town with its quirky characters and deep connections. where everyone knows everyone… and probably knew their grandparents too. Evvie’s relationship with her best friend Andy feels authentic, and I struggled along with Evvie as their paths seemed to diverge and their friendship suffered under the weight of Evvie’s secrets. Evvie and Dean’s relationship was pretty much pitch-perfect (*groan* — sorry for the baseball pun!) — rather than subjecting us to the dreaded insta-love scenario, the author allows their friendship to grow and blossom into romance with all the caution and hesitation that people in such precarious points in their lives might experience.

I really enjoyed this book, and heartily recommend it! There’s real emotion and some sad and painful moments, but there’s love and joy and friendship and family too, and overall the vibe is hopeful and a celebration of being open to life and connection. Don’t miss Evvie Drake!

Warning: This book may make you want to move to a small coastal town, get a dog, live by the water, and attend local sporting events. Proceed at your own risk.

Audiobook Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

Title: The Dinner List
Author: Rebecca Serle
Narrator: Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: September 11, 2018
Length (Print): 288 pages
Length (Audio): 5 hours, 50 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

We’ve been waiting for an hour. That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends within her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

I picked up The Dinner List on a whim — I was ready to start a new audiobook, and wanted something that would be a quick, non-taxing listen. This popped up on my “recommended” list on the library website, so I figured I’d give it a whirl.

The Dinner List is set in a cozy New York restaurant, where Sabrina is meeting her best friend Jessica for dinner in honor of Sabrina’s 30th birthday. But when she arrives at the restaurant, she discovers that it’s not just dinner for two. Joining them are Sabrina’s former college professor Conrad, her estranged father Robert, and her ex, Tobias. Also, Audrey Hepburn.

And yes, Audrey Hepburn is deceased, as is Robert. But they’re still attending Sabrina’s dinner.

How is this possible? Like Sabrina, we readers just need to go with it and see how the dinner unfolds.

Set over the course of a five-hour dinner, interspersed with chapters tracing the history of Sabrina’s 10-year relationship with Tobias, The Dinner List is an examination of love, loss, friendship, growing up, regrets, resentment, and ultimately, forgiveness and compassion.

Jessica reminds Sabrina that way back when, as college roommates, Jessica insisted that Sabrina play the dinner list game with her: What five people, living or dead, would you want to have dinner with, if you could have anyone at all? Here, in the flesh, is Sabrina’s list. As the group orders their meals and shares bottles of wine, connections are examined, and Sabrina is given the opportunity to reflect on all the events, big and small, that led to where she is today.

I had the rare experience of having to constantly reevaluate my feelings about this book as I went along — listening to the audiobook really was an evolution of reactions. Early on, I was annoyed. The author narrates the audiobook, and her delivery just doesn’t compare to the professional, highly engaging narration I’ve grown used to in audiobooks. Beyond that, the plot confounded me. How is this possible? Is it all a dream? What’s the point? How will this dinner be explained?

But as I listened further, I stopped trying to analyze the situation and just went with the experience, and was surprised to realize that somewhere along the way, my initial annoyance has changed completely, and I was now both charmed and absorbed by the characters, their stories, and the overarching themes. I even got used to the narration, to the point where the author’s voice seemed to fit Sabrina’s mindset and no longer distracted me from the content.

The further along the story goes, the more compelling the story becomes. The chapters focusing on Sabrina and Tobias tell a modern love story, full of passion and devotion, but also the realities of being 20-somethings struggling to make it in a grown-up world and figure out what they want out of life. Somewhere at about the mid-point of the book, there’s a particular revelation that really threw me for a loop yet made complete sense in terms of the overall feel of the book — and this is where my emotions really got involved and I started worrying that I would be a soggy mess by the end.

And I wasn’t wrong about that. The downside of listening to audiobooks when out in public is dealing with the teary eyes and sniffles that come with emotionally charged storylines. So yes, I was kind of hideous by the end.

In the moment of impact we think it’s possible to go back. We’re so close to the previous minute; how hard would it be to just turn back the clock? To just quickly undo what has just been done?

If you’d asked me to rate this book based on the first hour or so of listening, I probably wouldn’t have gone higher than 2.5 stars… so I’m as surprised as anyone to see how highly I ended up rating this book.

Granted, the presence of Audrey Hepburn** — while a cute hook — didn’t feel all that necessary to me, and occasionally came off as a bit twee. Likewise, Conrad (the professor) isn’t exactly essential either, although in a way these two serve as guides for the dinner, steering the conversation and asking the difficult questions that are necessary for Sabrina to confront in order to understand her past and how to move forward.

Overall though, I think this was a terrific audiobook, and I’m sure it would be equally as good in print format. I was unexpectedly moved by the emotionally rich scenario and the unfolding relationships, and found the story bittersweet, touching, and memorable.

I look forward to reading more by Rebecca Serle, starting with her upcoming new release, In Five Years, coming out in 2020.

**A side effect of listening to The Dinner Party is my utter conviction that I need to watch Roman Holiday and Sabrina (and probably more Audrey Hepburn movies) ASAP.

Book Review: Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes

Seattle, Washington
Larkin Bennett has always known her place, whether it’s surrounded by her loving family in the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest or conducting a dusty patrol in Afghanistan. But all of that changed the day tragedy struck her unit and took away everything she held dear. Soon after, Larkin discovers an unexpected treasure—the diary of Emily Wilson, a young woman who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union in the Civil War. As Larkin struggles to heal, she finds herself drawn deeply into Emily’s life and the secrets she kept.

Indiana, 1861
The only thing more dangerous to Emily Wilson than a rebel soldier is the risk of her own comrades in the Union Army discovering her secret. But in the minds of her fellow soldiers, if it dresses like a man, swears like a man, and shoots like a man, it must be a man. As the war marches on and takes its terrible toll, Emily begins to question everything she thought she was fighting for.

Today We Go Home took my breath away.

In this dual timeline novel, we follow two separate but interwoven and related threads. The main character in the contemporary timeline is Larkin Bennett, a US Army veteran who receives a medical discharge after being wounded in action in Afghanistan, now suffering from PTSD and the tremendous guilt she feels over the death of her best friend. And as Larkin explores her friends’ personal effects, she finds a family treasure — the diary of Emily Wilson, who fought as a man in the Civil War. Through these two remarkable women, we see devotion to duty and family, as well as the toll that war takes on a person’s soul.

Larkin’s story is moving and tragic. She was never happier than in service to her country, and felt a calling to the military. Her best moments were when she and her friend Sarah were side by side, whether in college, in training, or in Kandahar. But Larkin, when we meet her, is emotionally destroyed by her experiences, turning to alcohol to numb herself and drown out the memories that haunt her every moment.

Larkin’s family is supportive (can I mention how much I love her grandmother and cousins?), and they do what they can to help, but there’s just so much that Larkin has to process on her own, and she resists reaching out for professional help. Her growing obsession with Emily’s diary gives her a purpose, and the more she reads, the more determined she becomes to both tell the stories of military women and to find out more about the real Emily Wilson.

Meanwhile, Emily’s story is equally powerful. After her father and oldest brother ride off to join the Indiana regiment heading to support the Union cause, Emily is left behind on the farm with her younger brother Ben, expected to just wait at home and be content with “women’s work”. When their father is killed and their brother takes ill, they set off to go take care of their brother, and from there, they decide to enlist. Emily is both called to serve and determined to protect Ben at all costs, and together, they join their late father’s regiment and learn to become soldiers.

Emily takes the name Jesse and poses as Ben’s brother, knowing that she must keep her gender a secret. She finds that she’s actually good at soldiering, and starts to love the freedom that comes from being seen as male — the freedom to work, to speak her mind, to not hide her skills, to pursue what she wants.

She would never again settle for a life where her every action, even her thoughts, were controlled by someone else. From now on, no matter where life took her, she would live on her own terms.

The threat of discovery is always present, and the true meaning of going to war doesn’t really sink in until the regiment enters its first battle and Emily gets a close-up view of shooting at the enemy and being shot at.

The general shook his head. “I will not send you back to the field. You can no longer impersonate a soldier, do you understand me?”

Emily had to look away from his accusing glare. She had not been impersonating a soldier. She had been a soldier. “Yes, sir.”

The author does an amazing job of weaving together these two stories. Some dual timeline books feel forced, or as if one only exists as a frame for the other. Not so here. You know it’s a well-done approach when both halves of the story feel so compelling that you hate to leave each one to switch to the other. When an Emily section would end, I’d want more… but then I’d get re-involved in Larkin’s story, and couldn’t imagine wanting to read anything else but her story.

Kelli Estes has clearly done a tremendous amount of research into both women serving in the Civil War and into the plight of today’s veterans, especially the staggering rate of PTSD and suicide among women veterans. She provides a list of reference materials as well as information on support for veterans at the end of the book, and is definitely doing a great service herself by calling attention to the issues confronting today’s combat veterans.

She set the diary aside, thinking about Emily’s struggles. They were timeless. Even now, over a hundred and fifty years later, female veterans faced many of the same challenges that Emily did: being seen as inferior because of her gender, not being able to find work after being discharged from the military, earning less than men, becoming homeless.

Some of the social commentary is really spot-on, such as Larkin’s anger over the general lack of interest and awareness she encounters once back in the US. To Larkin, she was serving in Afghanistan to protect the United States, yet most Americans seem indifferent or unaware of what’s going on there and the sacrifices being made by American service men and women. Likewise, she is understandably infuriated when a clueless man, who spots her wearing an Army t-shirt, asks her whether it’s her father or her brothers who served, failing to recognize the very real service of hundreds of thousands of women.

Today We Go Home is beautifully written and is so very powerful. I tore through this book probably faster than I should have, because I just couldn’t get enough of either Emily or Larkin and had to know how their stories would turn out. The emotional impact is strong and real. By the end, I felt such sorrow for their experiences, and yet hopeful and uplifted as well. And while Emily’s story is set in the past, Larkin’s story has an urgency to it, knowing that brave men and women are still facing the unbelievable struggles that come with serving in war settings and then coming back home afterward.

Don’t miss this amazing book. This goes on my list of top books for 2019.

Other reading resources:

For more on women in the Civil War, I highly recommend two excellent novels:

  • I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe (review)
  • Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall (review)

I don’t think I’ve read any other novels recently about contemporary women serving in the military, but I’d love some suggestions!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Today We Go Home
Author: Kelli Estes
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: September 3, 2019
Length: 401 pages
Genre: Contemporary/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren

Sam Brandis was Tate Jones’s first: Her first love. Her first everything. Including her first heartbreak.

During a whirlwind two-week vacation abroad, Sam and Tate fell for each other in only the way that first loves do: sharing all of their hopes, dreams, and deepest secrets along the way. Sam was the first, and only, person that Tate—the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars—ever revealed her identity to. So when it became clear her trust was misplaced, her world shattered for good.

Fourteen years later, Tate, now an up-and-coming actress, only thinks about her first love every once in a blue moon. When she steps onto the set of her first big break, he’s the last person she expects to see. Yet here Sam is, the same charming, confident man she knew, but even more alluring than she remembered. Forced to confront the man who betrayed her, Tate must ask herself if it’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason… and whether “once in a lifetime” can come around twice.

With Christina Lauren’s signature “beautifully written and remarkably compelling” (Sarah J. Maas, New York Times bestselling author) prose and perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner, Twice in a Blue Moon is an unforgettable and moving novel of young love and second chances.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners and the “delectable, moving” (Entertainment WeeklyMy Favorite Half-Night Stand comes a modern love story about what happens when your first love reenters your life when you least expect it…

If you’d checked in with me a year ago, I would have told you that I’d never read anything by the author duo Christina Lauren. Flash forward to the present, and I’ve now finished my 6th novel by them — and it won’t be my last!

Twice in a Blue Moon is such a sweet, engaging love story. We start off fourteen years in the past, as 18-year-old Tate takes a rare vacation with her grandmother to spend two whole weeks in London after Tate’s high school graduation. Tate lives in a  small Northern California town with her mother and grandmother, and has never been anywhere! She’s thrilled at the idea of the adventure ahead of them, especially knowing that this trip is a total splurge for her grandmother.

And then, they meet Sam, a 21-year-old Vermont farm boy traveling with his grandfather Luther. In a switch worthy of A Room With a View, Tate’s grandma is vocally unhappy about their street-view hotel room, so Luther gallantly offers the women a trade. As the four chat, they find lots of common ground, and become travel buddies, enjoying the sights of London together.

And unbeknownst to the grandparents, Sam and Tate have also been sneaking out at night to hang out in the secluded hotel gardens, stargazing and sharing secrets. Tate has a whopper of a secret to share, one that she’s never told anyone: She’s secretly the daughter of Ian Butler, only THE biggest star in Hollywood (I’m thinking Brad Pitt-level superstar), but ever since her mom left her dad when she was 8 years old, Tate has had no contact with him. And while it’s been burned into Tate’s every waking moment that this is a secret that can’t ever be told, she trusts Sam so deeply that she shares the entire story with him… as the two fall deeply into an all-consuming first love.

Of course, it all comes crashing down when Tate discovers that Sam and Luther have checked out of the hotel early, and she proceeds to go outside only to be mobbed by papparazzi. The quiet, anonymous life Tate has treasured is over, and her heart is shattered by Sam’s betrayal.

The story picks up in the present, 14 years later, as 32-year-old Tate, now a successful Hollywood actress, is about to begin filming the movie that may final propel her career from supernatural/action genres into award-level recognition. Plus, the new movie is the first time Tate will be making a movie with her father, and the press is just eating it up. but when she arrives on location, she sees that the screenwriter is none other than Sam, the man who broke her heart so long ago. Tate has to figure out how to pull herself together in her most important career moment without causing a scandal or reverting back into the helpless teenager she left in her past.

Ah, such a terrific story! I think I loved the teen sections even more than the parts about grown-up Tate and Sam. For the first ten chapters, we’re living through a story of first love, and it’s gorgeous. The authors capture the highs and lows of falling in love for the first time, showing the sparks, the wonder, the uncertainty, and then the joy of realizing that feelings are reciprocated, knowing that a connection exists unlike anything else, and feeling so sure that it’s the right time to venture into a physical relationship. All of Tate’s emotions felt spot-on, and I really believed her thought processes as well as the chemistry with Sam and her worries about her future.

I enjoyed the adult storyline as well, but connected with it perhaps a little less. After all, it’s hard to really understand the pressures of a Hollywood star if you’re not actually a part of that world, whereas the ups and downs of first love is pretty universal, I think. Still, the story of the movie-making process, Tate’s emotional investment in the role, and the truth about Sam’s past and his betrayal are all fascinating. I loved the plot of the movie they were filming, and wish the real-life equivalent existed!

Tate’s father is such a piece of work — such a self-involved ass who lives for the camera, and who values his renewed relationship with Tate in exact proportion to the amount of positive press and trending social media posts it generates. And while I kept trying to picture Ian as Brad Pitt or someone of similar star wattage, I couldn’t keep Aaron Echolls out of my mind — the character played by Harry Hamlin on Veronica Mars (my recent obsession), whose personality seems very much in line with Ian’s!

Twice in a Blue Moon is a lovely, funny, emotional read — and while I’m not typically drawn to Hollywood stories, this one had enough grounding in everyday human experiences and emotions to make it relatable and real. Highly recommended! At this point, I will definitely read whatever these authors write next.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Twice in a Blue Moon
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: October 22, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Gallery Books and NetGalley

Aubiobook Review: Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

From Rob Thomas, the creator of groundbreaking television series and movie Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling new mystery series.

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is not a simple missing person’s case. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts:

More Veronica Mars? Yes, more Veronica Mars!

If you’ve visited my blog at all during the last couple of months, chances are you’ve seen me chatting up my VMars obsession, which was reignited by the new season of the TV series, then further fueled by going back and re-watching the show from the beginning. I capped it off by watching the 2014 Veronica Mars movie… so naturally, what came next was the first of two Veronica Mars books, written by series creator Rob Thomas.

And in case you’re wondering — no, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line does NOT read like a cheap novelization. Instead, it’s a complex, well-developed detective story that kept me on the edge of my seat. And of course, the true delight is getting to spend more time with the characters we know and love.

As a bit of context, the plot of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is set about two months after the events of the movie. (Seriously, go watch the movie if you haven’t!). Veronica is back in Neptune, turning her back on a lucrative law career and a boring relationship (bye, Piz!) in New York to join her father in the family business, Mars Investigations. And if you think Papa Mars is happy about that, think again! Keith explodes in anger, furious that Veronica has given up the safety of corporate law to wade back into the seedy, dangerous PI business. Of course, his anger is really a mask for fear. He’s terrified that Veronica will end up hurt, or worse, and with good reason. She just does not know how to back down when she’s chasing a lead, no matter the danger involved.

What about Logan? Well, Veronica and her true love Logan Echolls reunited in the movie, and they’re still together, building a relationship, in this book — although “together” is a relative term, since he’s in the Navy and away on a mission for the duration of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Still, it warms my little heart to know that these two crazy lovebirds are back in each other’s lives.

As to the mystery fueling the plot, it centers around the lunacy of spring break in Neptune, a magnet for drunken rowdiness for college students from all over, who descend on Neptune and party like there’s no tomorrow. And for one unlucky girl, there isn’t — a college freshman named Hayley goes missing after a wild party at a fancy mansion. Once national attention becomes focused on the debauchery of Neptune, the town’s leaders realize they need the girl found in order to protect the lucrative Neptune spring break business, so they hire Mars Investigations to find her (because the local sheriff is both corrupt and incompetent, don’t ya know.)

Keith is out of commission, having been severely wounded in a car crash (in the movie) and still recovering, so Veronica jumps in and takes the lead on the case. Her investigations lead her to college campuses, the rich and powerful of Neptune, and even to a Mexican drug cartel, putting her own life in grave danger (naturally). A second girl goes missing, and this time, it’s personal — it turns out that Aurora is the underage stepdaughter of Veronica’s mother, a woman who abandoned her years ago and whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade.

The plots twists are just as good and unpredictable as any Veronica Mars fan might expect. And Veronica herself is as much of a reckless bad-ass as ever, with plenty of smarts and a handy Taser to back her up. Not to mention her good friends in her corner — Wallace and Mac are back, as are some other old favorites, such as the DA Cliff and even the ridiculous Dick Casablancas.

The writing is terrific, with all the quippiness that makes Veronica Mars so much fun.

Sometimes, if it looks like a murderous duck and quacks like a murderous duck… well, you know.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is tons of fun. If you’re thinking about reading it — I can’t stress this enough! — pick up the audiobook! Kristen Bell does the narration, and it’s perfect. I mean, you really can’t get any better than having the actress who plays Veronica Mars reading the Veronica Mars novel. She does a good job with the supporting characters too, although it’s a little weird to hear Kristen Bell doing Keith and Logan, but I got over it.

If you’ve never watched Veronica Mars, then likely this is all gibberish to you (although what are you waiting for? Go watch the TV series, and be sure to start at the beginning!) This book is a total treat for fans, and I would guess that even folks not familiar with VMars might enjoy the detective story here.

As for me, in case it isn’t already clear, I loved it. There’s one more book available, and I can’t wait to start it!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line 
Author: Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Narrator:  Kristen Bell
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication date: March 25, 2014
Audiobook length: 8 hours, 42 minutes
Printed book length: 324 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: Purchased (Audible)

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.

_________________________________________

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

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/30/2019

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

Life. 

Wishing all who celebrate a sweet and happy new year!

And in other news…

No more cast! The cast came off this past Friday, and now I have a brace to wear for about six weeks. Freedom! You have no idea how great it feels to take a shower without having to wrap my arm in plastic first. Now comes the hard part — I start physical therapy on Tuesday, and I’ve been warned already that it will hurt.

But yay for being on the road to recovery!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I read during the last week?

In brand-new fiction:

An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen: Don’t be put off by the misleading cover image — this is a thoughtful, touching novel about a woman who chooses a new life in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn. My review is here.

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman: Beautiful and tragic. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart: The Kopp Sisters series continues strong in this, the 5th installment, and the audiobook narrator is as terrific as always. My review is here.

Book group reads:

I couldn’t help it — I was so frustrated by reading The Pickwick Papers in tiny increments that I ended up reading through to the end. I suppose I’m glad to have read it, but of the four Dickens novels I’ve now read, this one would go at the bottom of the list for me.

We wrapped up our group read of Virgins by Diana Gabaldon this past week. For me, it was my 3rd time reading this novella. If you’re an Outlander fan and haven’t read this yet, definitely check it out!

Pop Culture

While on the plane traveling to a conference this week, I started watching season 1 of Fleabag.

Man, is it funny. And man, do you not want to be watching this in public! I didn’t realize how filthy (in a good way, IMHO) this show is, but watching on a plane, I felt like I had to keep hiding my screen — especially since I was using captions. Hilarious — can’t wait to continue!

Fresh Catch:

Hurray! My copy of the new Simon Snow book arrived this week while I was away.

And thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy of Ghoster! Sounds creepy and delicious — can’t wait to start!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith: I’m only just getting started.. but a library in hell? Yes, please.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli I was in the mood for a light-hearted listen, and so far, this seems to be hitting the spot.

Ongoing reads:

None at the moment! My book group has a new novella starting next week, but our next classic read doesn’t start until December. What will I do with all my reading freedom for the next two months? (I’m sure I’ll figure it out…)

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Take A Peek Book Review: An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen

“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)

California girl Lola has her life all set up: business degree, handsome fiancé, fast track career, when suddenly, without warning, everything tragically implodes. After years fruitlessly searching for love, marriage, and children, she decides to take the radical step of seeking spirituality and meaning far outside the parameters of modern life in the insular, ultraorthodox enclave of Boro Park, Brooklyn. There, fate brings her to the dysfunctional home of newly-widowed Jacob, a devout Torah scholar, whose life is also in turmoil, and whose small children are aching for the kindness of a womanly touch.

While her mother direly predicts she is ruining her life, enslaving herself to a community that is a misogynistic religious cult, Lola’s heart tells her something far more complicated. But it is the shocking and unexpected messages of her new community itself which will finally force her into a deeper understanding of the real choices she now faces and which will ultimately decide her fate.

An Unorthodox March is a powerful and moving novel of faith, love, and acceptance, from Naomi Ragen, the international bestselling author of The Devil in Jerusalem.

My Thoughts:

An Unorthodox Match is set in the ultra-orthodox community of Boro Park, Brooklyn, and is told through the points of view of several characters. Leah (Lola) is Jewish by birth, but was raised by a mother who wants nothing to do with the religion of her own upbringing. Leah only discovers faith and deeper meaning as a college student, and eventually pursues religious studies in her path back to observant, orthodox Judaism. Yaakov, a widower with five children mourning for his late wife, is a prize sought after by a slew of matchmakers, all looking to make a marriage involving his prestigious family. Yaakov’s mother-in-law Fruma Esther wants what’s best for Yaakov and his children, but not at the risk of their family’s reputation. And getting involved with someone newly returned to religion is a sure way to get gossip flowing, possibly endangering the future standing of the next generation.

This book is a deep dive into the community and its social constructs, and does a good job of explaining why a modern, educated woman might turn to a world that outsiders view as repressive and misogynistic. Leah is an interesting character, and the author does a good job at letting us see why Leah might find a fresh meaning and purpose through religion, faith, and tradition.

I’d tried everything the secular world had to offer and still felt empty. I wanted something else, something that would give meaning to my life. In your world, I found so many of the things I’d longed for all my life: safety, order, rules, limitations, real community, deep values. But I have to be absolutely honest with you… I’ve also discovered some things I wasn’t prepared for.

The family dynamics are well-drawn and touching, and I felt quite sorry for Yakov, his late wife (whose postnatal depression is only revealed late in the book, although there are certainly plenty of hints), and the children whose lives fall apart, until Leah steps in to provide love and order in their home once more.

Of course, as a 21st century feminist, I have a huge problem with religious rules that force women into “modest” clothing, declare them unclean when they have their periods, and require the rabbi’s okay for a woman to stop having babies when she’s clearly suffering and in severe distress. Through Leah’s perspective, the dress requirements are freeing, keeping her body private and preventing men from seeing her as a sexual object — but that only goes so far. Leah (or the author) seems to be a bit fixated on weight, and we keep hearing about how Leah has gained weight since giving up running (which she can’t do as a religious woman, since the clothing and/or activity would be immodest). The issues around body image and looks got in my way quite a bit, as did some of the characters’ attitudes around race and difference.

That’s not to say that An Unorthodox Match isn’t a good read — it is. I was caught up in the story and invested in the characters… but I definitely was challenged by needing to put my own opinions aside in order to accept Leah’s values and hopes. [Side note: For contrast, check out the memoir Unorthodox, which tells the story of a woman’s struggle to leave the Orthodox Jewish community she grew up in.]

A word on the cover: It’s a striking cover image for sure, but totally misleading. At no point in the story does Leah wear a skimpy little red dress, nor do she and Yaakov ever embrace or touch each other. And she does not have a back tattoo. (Okay, she has a small tattoo on her wrist, which is quite the scandal until it miraculously (?) goes away after she spills scalding water on her hands.)

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: An Unorthodox Match
Author: Naomi Ragen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: September 24, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/23/2019

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

Life. 

Woo hoo — I finally get my cast off at the end of this week! I can’t wait to be done… although then I’ll be starting physical therapy, and I’ve been warned already that’s it’s going to be HARD.

I’m heading out of town for a few days this week for a work conference, and you know what that means? Four hours on a plane each way to read!

 

What did I read during the last week?

In brand-new fiction:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I’m really surprised by how many negative reviews there are on Goodreads for this book. I gave it 5 stars! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: I finished the audiobook (as a reread), and loved it. Still not sure I get everything about the Insidious Humdrum, but oh well. At least I’m ready to dive right in when the sequel comes out this week!

In middle grade:

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden: The follow-up to Small Spaces, Dead Voices is another fun ghost adventure for middle grade readers. It’s got some good thrills and chills (nothing too terrifying) and a nice focus on friendship and family.

And in graphic novels…

The Walking Dead, volume 32: Rest in Peace: I can’t believe it’s all over! While the TV series may keep going for decades longer, the comic series has come to an end. Rest in Peace is actually a very good ending for this series, which has had some ups and downs, but overall, has been an incredible journey.

Pop Culture

I couldn’t resist — I went ahead and started season 3 of Veronica Mars. And I’ve got the same mixed feelings about this season as I had the first time around. But hey, on the bright side, when I finish this season, I’ll have the movie up next!

And speaking of movies, I took myself to see this over the weekend:

There really isn’t much of a plot, but it doesn’t matter — the whole point is spending a couple more hours with all the characters. And hearing the Dowager Countess get in some good zingers.

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to two books this week:

An adorable hardcover edition of Little Women, to go with my copy of Anne of Green Gables from the same series (Puffin in Bloom); and…

… this amazing-looking two-sided, accordion-style book. Can’t wait to start it!

I also hit the big library sale last week, and showed remarkable self-restraint! I spent $30 and came home with 11 books. Not too shabby!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Institute by Stephen King: I’ve just barely started it, so I’m not into the story yet. I may put this one aside temporarily, since I have the hardcover edition and don’t want to take it on the plane with me.

Now playing via audiobook:

Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart: Book 5 in the terrific Kopp Sisters series. Even though I received a print ARC of this book a couple of months ago, I decided to hold off and wait for the audiobook. So far, I’ve listened to the audiobooks for the whole series, and the narrator is amazing!

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — Instead of going at my group’s pace, I decided to just push through to the end via Serial Reader. I think I’ll be done in the next few days! Finally.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon — Finishing this week!

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/16/2019

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

Life. 

I’m down to the last two weeks in a cast. I’m much better at functioning with one hand — but I’ll be happy to move on.

What did I read during the last week?

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow: Lovely story. My review is here.

Reticence by Gail Carriger: I finished the audiobook last week. My review is here.

Pop Culture

I just finished season 2 of Veronica Mars last night. Now what? I know I’ll probably end up continuing straight on to season 3, but not without some qualms. I remember hating that season when it originally aired and swore to pretend it never happened… but for continuity’s sake, I guess I can’t ignore it forever. Sigh.

Fresh Catch:

My two most highly anticipated releases for fall 2019 both came out this week! My book mail made me very happy.

Also, a family member who shares my interest in true-life survival stories sent me this book this week:

Looks terrific! I think I’m going to save it for my flights to and from a conference later this month.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I’ve made it through about half so far, and I’m loving it.

Now playing via audiobook:

Doing an audiobook re-read of Carry On before the release of the sequel. I can’t believe how much I’d forgotten about the story… but that’s okay, it gives me a chance to be surprised and entertained all during my listening adventure.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — I’ve basically given up on keeping up with our group read of this book, but since I’m determined to finish it, I’m switching over to Serial Reader and tackling it in small daily chunks instead.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon — I’ve read this novella a couple of times before, but it’s great fun to reread it with the group. We’ll be done by the end of the month.

So many books, so little time…

boy1