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07 Dec, 2016

The Chocolate Apothecary

/ posted in: Reading The Chocolate Apothecary The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon
on June 24, 2015
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Setting: Australia
Goodreads

“Christmas Livingstone has formulated 10 top rules for happiness by which she tries very hard to live. Nurturing the senses every day, doing what you love, sharing joy with others are some of the rules but the most important for her is no. 10 – absolutely no romantic relationships!
Her life is good now. Creating her enchantingly seductive shop, The Chocolate Apothecary, and exploring the potential medicinal uses of chocolate makes her happy; her friends surround her; and her role as a fairy godmother to her community allows her to share her joy. She doesn’t need a handsome botany ace who knows everything about cacao to walk into her life. One who has the nicest grandmother – Book Club Captain at Green Hills Aged Care Facility and intent on interfering – a gorgeous rescue dog, and who wants her help to write a book. She really doesn’t need any of that at all.
Or does she?”


I hardly ever find any Australian books to read.  I’m not sure why.  I was so excited when this turned out to be set in Tasmania!  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book set there.

Christmas owns a chocolate store that reminds me a lot of the one in Chocolat, without the magical realism.  Her goal is to combine chocolate and medicine.  She started to store after a heartbreak on the mainland.  Now she is content in her life.  There are two big opportunities for her coming up.  She has a chance to go to an eccentric chocolate making week-long course in France and she is asked to co-write a book on chocolate with a botanist.  Both of these are exciting on their own, but her friends and family are interfering.  They think she should look up her long lost father in France and they think that she should see the botanist as a romantic opportunity.  Christmas is fine without either complication, thank you very much.

This book is mainly about the characters.  Christmas and her family are all unique personalities as are the residents at the Aged Care Facility who decide to work as matchmakers.  That distracts them from the cut throat competition to be in charge of the book club.  There isn’t a lot that happens in the story but getting to know the people is the real joy of this book.

 

foodiesreadsmall

Linking up with Foodies Read and I will have a copy of this book available as a prize for people linking up with us.

 

05 Dec, 2016

Fatima’s Good Fortune

/ posted in: Reading Fatima’s Good Fortune Fatima's Good Fortune: A Novel by Joanne Dryansky, Gerry Dryansky
on June 22nd 2005
Pages: 336
Genres: Europe, Fiction
Published by Miramax Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: France
Goodreads

“Freshly arrived from a beautiful Tunisian island to work for the exacting Countess Poulais du Roc, Fatima finds herself in a city where even the most mundane tasks like walking the dog and buying the groceries prove baffling. But her natural compassion ensures her survival, and-unexpectedly-brings good fortune to those around her.”


Fatima’s younger sister, Rachida, moved from the Tunisian island of Djerba to Paris to make a better life for herself.  She was working as a maid for the Countess when she was killed in an accident.  The Countess remembers that Rachida had a sister and imperiously sends for her to take her sister’s place.  She considers this a mission of charity but doesn’t think about the impact on Fatima’s life.  That is the major character flaw of the Countess.  She is so self-centered that she doesn’t think about the needs of anyone other than herself and her dog, Emma.  She moves through other people’s lives like a battering ram oblivious to the damage that she is causing.  She takes credit for good deeds that others have done and never gets called out on her casual racism.

She is shocked to find out that Fatima is nothing like her sister.  Fatima went to work in a resort as a cleaner as a child.  This income allowed Rachida to go to school.  Fatima is illiterate.  She is not as worldly as Rachida.  Life in France is overwhelming to her.

Fatima enlists the help of others in her building to help her learn the skills that she needs to survive in France.  She has a warmth that draws others to her and makes them want to help her.  The reader sees this slice of Paris through the eyes of a North African immigrant who isn’t always welcomed.

The ending is mostly an immigrant fairy tale.  Everything works out wonderfully and not that realistically.  This book tries to make a light and fun tale out of some serious subjects – immigration, class inequality, the death of a family member – so even as you root for the characters it feels jarring like no one is taking this as seriously as is merited.

I have really mixed feelings about this one.  While reading it, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story but wasn’t sure about the tone.  Was the racist and classist representation of the Countess meant to point out the bad behavior of French people?  With everyone around her not commenting on it I wasn’t sure if it was that or if the book was somehow trying to condone it – “Oh, that’s just how rich old ladies are.”  All the Africans are wonderful, amazing people who improve the lives of everyone they interact with.  There is no nuance.  It made me thing of the magical negro trope.

03 Nov, 2016

Can You Afford Your Life? The Invoice

/ posted in: Reading Can You Afford Your Life?  The Invoice The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
on July 12th 2016
Pages: 204
Genres: Fiction
Published by Hogarth
Format: Hardcover
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Sweden
Goodreads

“A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.”


Our hero lives a small life.  He doesn’t pay much attention to the outside world.  He works part time at a video store that specializes in obscure foreign films that no one wants to rent.  He had a girlfriend once but she left him to go marry the man her family chose.  He has one friend.

When the bill comes it is a shock.  Why would he owe 500,000 kronor (about $55,000)?  Who does he owe it to?  He calls the number on the bill and finds out.

Everyone in the world is being charged a fee for the happiness in their lives.

He has the largest bill in Sweden.  He’s sure there has to be a mistake.  He is allowed to appeal and this starts an investigation about whether he truly is the happiest man in Sweden.


I related to the man in this story.  He doesn’t have a life that anyone would objectively describe as great from the outside but he is satisfied with his situation.  As much as I come across as sarcastic and cynical at first glance, I’m actually a happy person.  It pains me to say it.  I don’t want to be an optimist but it seems to be a fact.  I was told this in no uncertain terms by my ex-husband.  In fact, he listed it as one of my major flaws.  “You’re happy in whatever situation you’re in,” he spat at me in true anger.  He took that to be a character flaw that led to my lack of desire for social climbing.  Recently, I had lunch with a former coworker.  At one point she said to me, “You don’t like to seem like it, but you’re nice” in a tone usually reserved for statements like, “You are a horrible racist pig.”

Another thing that raised the hero’s bill was his ability to see the best in situations and to learn from them.  I’m afraid that in both of the above situations I was thinking as they happened that each was going to make a wonderful story.  When my husband complains about the time in St. Thomas when I almost had us fall off a cliff into the ocean at night I always respond, “We had an adventure!”  Oh, I am so screwed when my happiness bill comes due.

This is a great short story about finding out what is truly valuable in life.

What do you think that your happiness bill would be?

 

 

02 Nov, 2016

The Whole Town’s Talking

/ posted in: Reading The Whole Town’s Talking The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg
on November 29th 2016
Pages: 224
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Random House
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Missouri
Goodreads

“Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening out at the cemetery. “Still Meadows,” as it’s called, is anything but still.”


I love Fannie Flagg’s books.  You know what you are going to get with them.  They will be funny and heartfelt stories of small towns.

This is the story of the founding of Elmwood Springs, Missouri.  It is settled by Swedish farmers who decide that they need to carve out a town to support their farms.  The first white settler in the area was named Lordor Nordstrom.  Eventually the women of the surrounding farms decide that he needs a wife.  He advertises for a bride and finds a nice Swedish woman in Chicago.  Their romance is sweet and charming.

The town grows through the years and eventually the founding settlers begin to die.  This is where the story takes a turn.  In Elmwood Springs the residents of the cemetery are still involved in town life.  They keep up on the local gossip from interviewing new arrivals and from listening to what visitors to the cemetery say.

I liked the beginning of the book but most of the cemetery section was less interesting for me.  The action skipped over years at a time.  It was hard to keep track of the family trees as time passed.  The epilogue of the book redeemed it for me though.  It ties together what appeared to be major plot holes in the story in a satisfying way.

This was a quick read. I read it in one setting.  This is a great book for a cozy night of comfort reading when you don’t want anything too challenging.

 

Book received from NetGalley in exchange for a review
28 Oct, 2016

Juliet Takes a Breath

/ posted in: Reading Juliet Takes a Breath Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Oregon
Goodreads

“Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.
Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?
With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself. “


Everyone needs to read Juliet Takes a Breath

Ok, that was easy.  Review over.

Seriously though, this book has something to say to everyone.

Juliet is nineteen and has her first girlfriend.  Her family doesn’t know and that bothers her.  They are very close and keeping something this important from them feels wrong to her.  She tells them right before she leaves for the summer to do an internship in Portland with her favorite author.  The reception is not what she hoped for.

Portland isn’t what she expected either.  It is so overwhelmingly white but the white people are weirder than any white people she’s met before.  If she’s come to her favorite lesbian author’s house, why is there a naked man in the kitchen?  Why doesn’t she understand what anyone is talking about?

There is no right way to be

Juliet had idolized Harlowe as a lesbian author who seemed to have the answers to everything.  But as Juliet gets more involved in Harlowe’s world she sees that some of the ideas that Harlowe has might not be right for her.  Part of her growing up and owning her own story is finding out how she needs to branch out and be different.  Learning what to keep and what to reject is hard.  She needs to see a variety of ways of being a lesbian so she realizes that there are options out there.

Likewise, Harlowe can’t mold Juliet to fit into her preferred narrative.  This causes conflict in the book as they try to find neutral ground to speak to each other.

Not everyone speaks your language

Juliet doesn’t have the background in the language of the LGBT movement to be able to understand everything that people in Portland are talking about.  Preferred pronouns?  Polyamory?  As readers follow Juliet’s stories they are exposed to concepts that they may also have not known about.  It is also a reminder not to denigrate people who may not know the “correct” terminology but to educate.

This is a book for anyone who has ever felt out of place but who wants to belong.  Juliet is charming and you root for her the whole way through the book.

I listened to the audio version of this book.  The narration was amazing.  Her accents were well done and the Spanish in the book flowed naturally in the story.

Do yourself a favor.  Pick up this book and fall in love with Juliet.

 

27 Sep, 2016

Smile As They Bow

/ posted in: Reading Smile As They Bow Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi
on September 1st 2008
Pages: 146
Genres: Fiction
Published by Hachette Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Myanmar
Goodreads

“As the weeklong Taungbyon Festival draws near, thousands of villagers from all regions of Burma descend upon a tiny hamlet near Mandalay to pay respect to the spirits, known as nats, which are central to Burmese tradition. At the heart of these festivities is Daisy Bond, a gay, transvestite spiritual medium in his fifties. With his sharp tongue and vivid performances, he has long been revered as one of the festival’s most illustrious natkadaws. At his side is Min Min, his young assistant and lover, who endures unyielding taunts and abuse from his fiery boss. But when a young beggar girl named Pan Nyo threatens to steal Min Min’s heart, the outrageous Daisy finds himself face-to-face with his worst fears.”


Screen Shot 2016-09-25 at 4.27.31 PM

 

I bought this book several years ago when I was trying to read books set in as many countries as possible. I had never seen any other books written by a Burmese author. I never got around to reading it though. I finally decided to get to it during the #diverseathon readathon. I’m glad I did.

I didn’t know anything about nats or the Taungbyon festival to honor these spirits in Myanmar. Worshippers, mostly women, come to the festival to promise the nats favors and offerings if they help their family in the coming year. The book opens with beautiful descriptions of some of the people coming to the festival – a pickpocket lamenting the poor pickings this year, a poor woman, and a rich woman. Once the stage is set, the story moves to Daisy Bond and Min Min.

Daisy is a natkadaw or spirit medium. He pretends to be possessed by a spirit to bestow blessings in exchange for cash. The women around him will hear about it if they don’t offer him enough cash too.  Min Min is his “husband.”  He acts as a manager for both Daisy’s career and house as well as being his lover.  Daisy is very insecure about his relationship with Min Min.  Daisy is in his 50s and Min Min is a teenager.  Min Min also isn’t gay.  Daisy bought him from his mother to serve this role in Daisy’s life.  He knows Min Min isn’t happy and is afraid that he is planning on leaving.  His paranoia is serving to push Min Min farther and farther away until he does make plans to get away from Daisy.

Here’s a video that shows what the festival looks like now.

This book is beautifully written and draws you into the festival that you’ve probably never heard of.

15 Sep, 2016

Two Boys Kissing

/ posted in: Reading Two Boys Kissing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
on August 27th 2013
Pages: 196
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.”


I’d seen this book around but wasn’t really interested.  Contemporary YA isn’t my thing.  Then I heard last week that it was narrated by the spirits of men who died of AIDS and I had to read it.

I devoured this book in one afternoon.  When the husband came home that night I told him that a book made me cry – twice.  He was as surprised as I was that a book melted my ice-cold heart.

This is the story of three couples and of a single teenager.  Craig and Harry are exes who are looking to set the world record for kissing at over 32 hours.  They were inspired by a homophobic attack on their friend Tariq.  Craig isn’t out to his family.

Peter and Neil have been a couple for over a year.  Neil’s family is still not acknowledging his homosexuality.

Avery and Ryan just met last night.  Avery is trans and is worried about letting Ryan know.

Cooper’s family just found out that he is gay and the resulting argument drove him out of the house.

These aren’t the stories that got to me though.  I think that’s because I’m older than the typical YA demographic.  It was the narration of the dead men watching these boys openly live their lives in ways that the men of the 1980s couldn’t have dreamed of.

“You can’t know what it is like for us now — you will always be one step behind.

Be thankful for that.

You can’t know what it was like for us then — you will always be one step ahead.

Be thankful for that too.”

Those are the opening lines of the book and that’s when I started getting teary.  The passage that made the tears roll down my cheeks is later when Craig and Harry was going into the first night of the kiss.  They have teachers watching as official monitors so the record counts.  The teacher that is taking over the shift is recognized by the narrators.

“He’s Mr. Ballamy to his history students.  But he’s Tom to us.  Tom! It’s so good to see him.  So wonderful to see him.  Tom is one of us.  Tom went through it all with us.  Tom made it through.”

It goes on to tell the story of a man who lost his partner in the first wave of the AIDS epidemic and stayed in the community to nurse others.

“He lost years of his life to us although that’s not the story he’d tell.  He would say he gained.  And he’d say he was lucky, because when he came down with it, when his blood turned against him, it was a little later on and the cocktail was starting to work.  So he lived.  He made it to a different kind of after from the rest of us.  It is still an after.  Every day it feels to him like an after.  But he is here.  He is living…..

…. But this is what losing most of your friends does:  It makes you unafraid.  Whatever anyone threatens, whatever anyone is offended by, it doesn’t matter, because you have already survived much, much worse.  If fact, you are still surviving.  You survive every single, blessed day.”


I would recommend this book to everyone.  Younger people will likely identify with the problems of the teens in the story.  Older readers, especially those of us who remember the 80s, will think of all of those lost to the disease whose stories were never told.

06 Sep, 2016

Leftovers

/ posted in: Reading Leftovers Leftovers by Stella Newman
on April 25th 2013
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Great Britain
Published by Avon
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: England
Goodreads

“According to a magazine, Susie is a ‘Leftover’ – a post Bridget-Jones 30 something who has neither her dream man, job, nor home. She doesn’t even own six matching dinner plates.
According to her friend Rebecca, Susie needs to get over her ex, Jake, start online dating – or at least stop being so rude to every guy who tries to chat her up.
But Susie’s got a plan. If she can just make it the 307 days till her promotion and bonus, she can finally quit and pursue her dream career in food, then surely everything else will fall into place.”


Susie is a girl after my own heart.  She has a theory that every type of emotional turmoil can be cured by the application of just the right type of pasta.

She spends her days writing advertising copy for a company that doesn’t appreciate her.  She’s counting the days until her promised promotion is here.  With the bonus money she makes, she is leaving that job and going into food full time.  In the meantime she is muddling through and obsessively watching her ex’s new girlfriend’s Instagram feed.

This is chick lit at its finest.  The cover is even pink.  I love books that combine food and a hint of romance.

The ending is one that any blogger will find themselves laughing out loud over (because it is so delightfully improbable but fun to imagine.)

There are also recipes for lots of types of pasta to full any need in your life.

5bunny

05 Sep, 2016

The Polish Boxer

/ posted in: Reading The Polish Boxer The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon
on October 2nd 2012
Pages: 188
Genres: Fiction
Published by Bellevue Literary Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Guatemala and Serbia
Goodreads

Translated by Thomas Bunstead, Lisa Dillman, Daniel Hahn, Anne McLean, and Ollie Brock

“The Polish Boxer covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather’s past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations; a striking young Israeli woman seeks answers in Central America; a university professor yearns for knowledge that he can’t find in books and discovers something unexpected at a Mark Twain conference. Drawn to what lies beyond the range of reason, they all reach for the beautiful and fleeting, whether through humor, music, poetry, or unspoken words. Across his encounters with each of them, the narrator—a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon—pursues his most enigmatic subject: himself.”


I look for books from different countries of origin and every year I find that I’m lacking in Latin American books.  I also am always on the lookout for books about Poland.  I was thrilled and intrigued when I found a book by a Guatemalan author that referenced Poland.

This books is a series of interconnected stories.  Like all short story collections, I felt like there was something that I was missing as I was reading this book.  Short stories feel like there is a level of symbolism or intent just under the surface that leaves the reader feeling like they missed something important.

Distant

A college professor in Guatemala starts his introductory literature class on short stories.  He doesn’t like his students because they don’t care about literature.  Then he realizes that there is one student who does care.  When that student drops out a few weeks later, he travels to his home in the country to find out why.

This story has little aside in it when a student named Ligia asks why all the writers were male.

“There are also no black writers, Ligia, or Asian writers, or midget writers, and as far as I’m aware, there’s only one gay writer.  I told her that my courses were politically incorrect, thank God.  In other words, Ligia, they’re honest.  Just like art.  Great short story writers, period.”

So, in other words, my habit of specifically looking for books outside of my English-speaking American existence which led me to find this book, is stupid.

Twaining

He goes to a seminar on Mark Twain where a real Mark Twain scholar makes fun of them all for overthinking.

Epistrophy

He meets a Serbian pianist performing in Guatemala.  The pianist is part Gypsy and admits that he’d rather be playing Gypsy music.

White Smoke

He meets an Israeli tourist in a bar.  He admits that he is Jewish.

The Polish Boxer

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How did his grandfather survive the camps?

Postcards

He gets postcards from around the world from the Serbian pianist explaining Gypsy music until he suddenly disappears.

Ghosts

He decides to go hunting for the pianist.

The Pirouette

He is in Serbia hunting for the pianist and trying to find out what does it mean when a Gypsy does a pirouette?

A Speech at Povoa

He needs to write a speech on literature tearing reality.

Sunsets

His grandfather dies and he finds out that maybe everything he thought he knew was a lie.


Did I like this book?  I’m not sure.  The writing was beautiful and could draw you in.  The stories had some interesting moments.  I liked The Polish Boxer and Postcards best.  The Pirouette bored me out of my mind.

This book would be good for people interested in Latin American literature who enjoy lyrical writing.

26 Aug, 2016

The Governess Affair

/ posted in: Reading The Governess Affair The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
on April 21st 2012
Pages: 100
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General, Victorian, Regency
Published by Courtney Milan
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: England
Goodreads

“Hugo Marshall earned the nickname “the Wolf of Clermont” for his ruthless ambition–a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When he’s ordered to get rid of a pestering governess by fair means or foul, it’s just another day at work.
But after everything Miss Serena Barton has been through at the hands of his employer, she is determined to make him pay. She won’t let anyone stop her–not even the man that all of London fears. They might call Hugo Marshall the Wolf of Clermont, but even wolves can be brought to heel…”


I’m a huge fan of Courtney Milan’s novels.  I love Regency Romances and hers are exceptional.  They are smart and funny.  I can even handle the sex because the descriptions aren’t cringe-inducing.  While I was reading this I noticed that I was smiling, which is about the best recommendation I think I can give a book.

This novella is a prequel to her Brothers Sinister series.  You don’t have to read this series in order.  Each book stands on its own.  Characters from other books may show up as secondary characters in the next book but you don’t need to have read the previous one to understand what is going on.

This story is currently free for Kindle (on the day this review is published) if you want to try out her writing.  Fair warning though you might get hooked and need to read the rest of the series.

5bunny

About Courtney Milan

“C ourtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller, a RITA® finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.

Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.” from her website

24 Aug, 2016

Painted Hands

/ posted in: Reading Painted Hands Painted Hands: A Novel by Jennifer Zobair
on June 11th 2013
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction
Published by Thomas Dunne Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Massachusetts
Goodreads

“Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.”


Zainab is getting a lot of attention as the very stylish spokeswoman for a candidate known for speaking her mind without checking with her advisors first.  This makes her a perfect target for a rising star in conservative talk radio.  A Republican’s advisor is Muslim?  Chase Holland doesn’t even have to think hard to turn his audience’s outrage on.  He doesn’t count on liking Zainab when he meets her though.

Amra works long hours to secure her promised partnership at a law firm.  When her family surprises her with a reintroduction to a family friend’s son, she is outraged.  However they hit it off.  She hides her workaholic tendencies from him and this leads to difficulties as the relationship gets serious.

This book also features Hayden, a white woman who converts to Islam and is convinced that the South Asian Muslim women she knows aren’t following the religion correctly.  She is influenced by a very conservative Muslim woman and enters into an arranged marriage with that woman’s son.  The author is a convert too so it is interesting to get that perspective.

An attempted terrorist attack brings these women’s carefully balanced lives to the brink of chaos.  Zainab is feeling the political pressure of being forced to apologize for something she had nothing to do with.  Amra’s conflicted desires for her job and her family lead her to the breaking point.  Hayden realizes that she may have been lead astray by those who she has been modeling her new life on.

4bunny

 

21 Jul, 2016

The Hindi-Bindi Club

/ posted in: Reading The Hindi-Bindi Club The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan
on May 1st 2007
Pages: 431
Genres: Fiction
Published by Bantam
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads

For decades they have remained close, sharing treasured recipes, honored customs, and the challenges of women shaped by ancient ways yet living modern lives. They are the Hindi-Bindi Club, a nickname given by their American daughters to the mothers who left India to start anew—daughters now grown and facing struggles of their own.


The Hindi-Bindi Club

Meenal

Survived breast cancer this year and has found that this experience has opened her mind to things that she would have rejected in the past

Saroj

Had to flee her beloved hometown of Lahore as a child during Partition.  Now is considering traveling back to Lahore to find the childhood friends left behind.

Uma

Disowned by her father after marrying an Irish man, she wants to translate her late mother’s poetry from Bengali to English if she can get her relatives to give her access to the journals

The Daughters

Kiran

Meenal’s daughter disappointed her family by marrying a man they disapproved of and then getting a divorce.  Now, 5 years later, she is considering a semi-arranged marriage.

Preity

Saroj’s daughter was always the perfect one but she’s haunted by a romance that her mother put a stop to because the man was Muslim.

Rani

Uma’s daughter left her prestigious job to be an artist.  Now she isn’t sure that she made the right choice.


The women would have never been friends if they hadn’t ended up in the same university when they came to the U.S. and then all moved to the outskirts of Washington D.C. Their daughters were never friends despite being thrown together all the time. Each of them is now struggling with major life decisions and finds that they need each other.

I expected this book to be much lighter than it was. There are some serious issues here but there are also funny moments.

There are some amazing sounding recipes here. I want to try the rice dish. I can never get rice to taste as good as it does in Indian restaurants.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

3flower

15 Jul, 2016

Santa Muerte

/ posted in: Reading Santa Muerte Santa Muerte (The Daniela Story #1) by Lucina Stone
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Set in New York and Mexico
Goodreads

In 2030 college student Daniela Delgado decides to kill herself.  Instead of dying though, she is dropped through time to 1923 where her pixie cut and boy clothes convince people that she is a young colored boy.  Soon she is on the run with an abused farm girl posing as an aristocrat and her male servant.

Back in 2030 Daniela’s mother fears that the only way to find her daughter is to contact her mother.  They have been estranged ever since Emma came out as a lesbian.  She also didn’t want any part in her mother’s delusions that she was a witch.  But what if she wasn’t crazy and she is the only one who can help Daniela?


This is one of the more realistic time travel books that I’ve read.  Daniela doesn’t land among rich people who will help her.  She isn’t a history scholar who can fix past events.  She’s just a girl who knows that the 1920s aren’t a good time to be mistaken for a young colored man and she needs to get out.

Things get weird when her smartphone still works.  She is able to message another smartphone user in the area.  This turns out to be another time traveler who recognizes the significance of her last name.  The Delgados are family of powerful witches.  An unprotected Delgado is an opportunity to earn a big ransom.

In the future, Emma is getting a crash course in the magic that she has rejected all her life.  Can she embrace her family legacy and not destroy her relationship with her wife?

This is the first book in a series so things aren’t tied up at the end.  I like a little more ending than we got here.  I am interested to see what comes next in the series.

3flower

14 Jul, 2016

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

/ posted in: Reading The Marriage Bureau for Rich People The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
on June 11th 2009
Pages: 293
Genres: Fiction
Published by Putnam Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Set in India
Goodreads

It is a universal problem. A man retires and immediately starts driving his wife crazy. What to do? Open a marriage bureau on the front veranda, of course.


Mr. Ali is was a government clerk.  Now he runs a marriage bureau.  He advertises for matches for his clients in the newspaper.  He keeps files with the special requests of people seeking spouses.  Do you need someone from the same caste?  How tall or short?  Will your wife be expected to live with her mother-in-law? Hindu, Muslim, Christian?

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

When the business takes off, he needs an assistant. Mrs. Ali finds a local woman, Aruna, to help out. She’s perfect. She’s unmarried because her family can’t afford a wedding and she is working to help the family finances.

This book is very simple on the surface. It is the stories of the people who come to the marriage bureau and the story of the Ali family. The style of writing reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

This book is very good at providing a look at the attitudes towards arranged marriages in India in different religious groups. What happens if people want to work out their own marriage? How do the Muslim and Hindu neighbors interact?

If you want a book that immerses you in a slice of life in an Indian coastal town, this is a good read.

3flower

07 Jul, 2016

The Mango Season

/ posted in: Reading The Mango Season The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi
on October 26th 2004
Pages: 229
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Set in India
Goodreads

Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.


Priya is horrified to realize that she considers India differently now than when she left. It is too noisy and chaotic.  She is scared to eat food in the market without washing it first.  She also can’t fit easily back into her family.  Now she sees the racism and misogyny that she grew up with and considered normal.

She knows that her family will probably disown her when she admits to loving a foreigner.  She isn’t going to tell them that she’s been living with him for two years.

Things come to a head during a few days at her grandmother’s house to make mango pickle. Her entire extended family is there. She sees how horribly everyone treats her unmarried aunt and the woman of the wrong caste that her uncle married. Her mother and another aunt spend the whole time in a power struggle. When Priya starts speaking her mind she throws her family into an uproar.

This book made me nervous.  I knew that at some point Priya’s family was going to try to arrange a marriage for her.  So I did the unthinkable.  I read the last chapter to see how it ended.

 

I knew if it was up in the air for me that I would rush through the book to find out. This is a book that should be savored more than rushed.

“I looked at all the women in the room and wondered if behind the facade all of us wore for family occasions we were strangers to each other.

I was trying to be the graceful granddaughter visiting from America but my true colors were slipping past the carefully built mockery of myself I was presenting.  Maybe the masks worn by the others were slipping, too.  Maybe by the end of the day I would know the women behind the masks and they would know me.

I tried once again to talk to Ma but she shunned me and I concluded that she didn’t want to look behind the label:  DAUGHTER, and didn’t want me to look behind the label:  MA.  If she wouldn’t show me hers, how could I show her mine?”

When discussing her grandfather:

“The man was a bigot, a racist, a chauvinist, and generally too arrogant for anyone’s liking, yet I loved him.  Family never came in neat little packages with warranty signs on them.”


I saw this video just after I finished the book and it fit the story perfectly. I laughed at loud at the line about chapati.


4flower

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29 Jun, 2016

How To Eat a Cupcake

/ posted in: Reading How To Eat a Cupcake How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue
on March 13th 2012
Pages: 309
Genres: Fiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in California
Goodreads

“Funny, free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated, ambitious Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clair’s housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia’s San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls who know nothing of class differences and scholarships could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie is now a talented, if underpaid, pastry chef who bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother’s death. Julia, a successful businesswoman, is tormented by a painful secret that could jeopardize her engagement to the man she loves. When a chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, they must overcome past hurts and a mysterious saboteur or risk losing their fledgling business and any chance of healing their fractured friendship.”


There is a lot going on in this book.  There is a relationship between Annie and Julia.  There is the mystery of the vandalism.  There is tension between Julia and her fiance.  Annie is trying to find a recipe book of her mother’s.  It is a bit too much taken all together.  What stuck with me was this:

This book is the story of two people who were raised together but who see the world completely differently because of their racial and class backgrounds.

Annie is Hispanic and working class.  She lived in an upper class world but never was allowed to forget that she was the daughter of a servant.

Julia is white and upper class.  She can’t understand why Annie is still bitter from her experiences in high school.  She hasn’t thought about that in years.

Julia is looking for a diversion for a year and offers Annie the chance to open her dream bakery.  Despite her reservations Annie agrees because this is the only way she will ever receive funding.  They can’t even agree on where to open it.  Annie insists on the Mission but Julia is convinced that is a dangerous, lower class area.  When the bakery is vandalized repeatedly during construction it seems like Julia may have been right.

 


3bunny

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17 Jun, 2016

IQ – Sherlock Holmes in East Long Beach

/ posted in: Reading IQ – Sherlock Holmes in East Long Beach IQ by Joe Ide
on October 18th 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Published by Mulholland Books
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in California

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood's high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can't or won't touch. They call him IQ. He's a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he's forced to take on clients that can pay. This time, it's a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.

Goodreads

Isaiah Quintabe’s whole world fell apart when his brother Marcus died leaving teenaged Isaiah on his own.  In order to make his rent he gets a local drug dealer and petty criminal named Dodson as a room mate.  It changes both of their lives.

Now years later Dodson has a case that he thinks Isaiah would be interested in.  It has a huge paycheck attached and Dodson has decided to help out to get his cut – whether Isaiah wants him around or not.

This book reminded me a lot of a Carl Hiaasen novel.  The mystery is convoluted.  The characters are quirky and unexpected.  The book is laugh out loud funny at times.

  • IQ is a loner who is brilliant and who has trained himself to be observant and make deductions like Sherlock Holmes
  • Dodson is a drug dealer who wants to move on to crimes with a better class of criminals
  • Deronda is a woman from IQ and Dodson’s past who is looking to be become famous any way possible
  • Cal is a depressed rap superstar who has a greedy entourage
  • Add in a hit man with an obsession with breeding the perfect attack dogs

The story is told through dual time lines.

Present Day

Cal is too depressed to leave his house and go into the studio to record his contractually obligated next album.  Anything he writes is way too depressing to record anyway.  He is attacked in his house by a gigantic dog.  He only gets away by falling in the pool and making so much noise that the neighbor calls the police.  A man comes out of the woods to get the dog and lets Cal live.  Isaiah takes the case.

In the Past

Dodson has just moved in with a grieving Isaiah.  He realizes that he has a genius as a room mate and that genius is in need of money.  He decides to put Isaiah’s brain to use to think up better criminal activities.

It is interesting to see what happens in the past to make Isaiah the detective that he is today.  This is supposed to be the start of a series and I can’t wait to see what Isaiah gets up to next.

My only quibble is that at one point they rob a pet store and take feline epilepsy test strips.  I wish they would have gotten me some.  Those would be handy since nothing like that actually exists.  The author probably meant feline diabetes test strips.  Sorry, that’s my veterinarian side coming out.

freetogoodhome

First come first served and if you want to throw in a few dollars for shipping that would be great but not required.

 

23 May, 2016

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged

/ posted in: Reading Sofia Khan is Not Obliged Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
on September 3rd 2015
Pages: 456
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Great Britain
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England

"Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?'
Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.
As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

Goodreads

Sofia Khan’s almost-fiance has told her that he expects them to live with his parents in side by side houses connected through a hole in the wall.  She breaks off the relationship.

Now she is forced to face her extended family again who can’t figure out what her problem is. She’s so old! She’s (gasp) 30! How will she ever find a husband at her advanced age?

Her mother says it is because she insists on wearing a hijab. Everyone else just thinks she is too picky.

When she makes a comment in a staff meeting about her dating life, her superiors decide that she should write a book about Muslim dating. She signs up for Muslim online dating sites to try to gain stories for the book. That’s in between dealing with crisis after crisis with her sister’s wedding and hiding her father’s cigarettes from her mother and trying to convince her friend not to marry a man who is already married.


I loved this book.  It was a perfect light read.  I actually stayed up way too late reading it while trying to convince myself that even though I was only 56% done I could finish it fairly soon.  The husband had to gently remind me that I had to go to work in the morning and I really should get some sleep.

Sofia had a great voice.  She’s a modern Londoner who takes her faith seriously which makes her a bit of an outsider to her coworkers and to her family.  She deals with racism on the streets of London.  She isn’t sure exactly what she wants to do when she grows up but she knows it isn’t being a live in slave to a demanding mother-in-law.  She isn’t particularly interested in learning to cook anyway.

This is Ayshia Malik’s first book.  I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

28 Apr, 2016

The Good and The Bad about Uprooted

/ posted in: Reading The Good and The Bad about Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik
on May 19th 2015
Pages: 438
Genres: Fiction
Published by Random House Publishing Group
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Fantasy Poland

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Goodreads

Ever 10 years the local wizard comes into the valley to choose a girl to live with him. Usually he chooses the most beautiful or talented. But this year, instead of taking Kasia who everyone knew was going to be the chosen one, he takes her friend Agnieszka because he recognizes her latent magical talent. He isn’t happy about having a student especially when Agnieszka can’t seem to master any spells.

There is a Wood at the end of the Valley. Monsters live in the wood. The wizard is supposed to protect the people in the valley from the Wood but there isn’t really much he can do. If anyone is taken by the monsters, they are dead.

When the Wood attacks Agnieszka’s home village and then takes someone that she cares for, she decides to use whatever magic she has to fight back.


The Good

  • I have a soft spot for non-World War II books set in Poland. This book is set in a fantasy version of Eastern Europe. The audio version of this book was done with a strong Eastern European accent which was a constant reminder of the world where it was set.
  • I like the fact that Agnieszka and the Dragon have very different systems of magic.  At first they don’t even recognize the power that Agnieszka has because it is so different than what magic is supposed to look like.
  • There is a great story of female friendship here.  That’s isn’t something that is always seen in fantasy books.
  • Spoiler – Highlight to read – She sleeps with someone and then goes on with her life when a relationship doesn’t develop.  She doesn’t sit around and pine. There is some resolution of this at the end but there isn’t a happily ever after.  That is refreshing.

The Bad

  • I’m not a person who routinely says that books are too long but this one started to really drag after a while.  I sped the audio up and powered through it.  There was a complex political world that Agnieszka was thrown into and it went on and on.
  • The Dragon is always written as annoyed or glaring.  Maybe he just a grumpy fella but don’t try to make sympathetic and a potential romantic interest while having him be nasty to the character that you want him to get romantic with.  That’s no basis for a relationship.
  • There is a point where a prince comes to visit them.  He attempts to rape Agnieszka.  She realizes her power at this point and not only fends him off but almost kills him.  The Dragon then explains this all to her by telling her that the Prince planned to insult him by raping her.  We are into some seriously problematic territory now.  Her personal autonomy doesn’t come into consideration at all.  Then it gets worse.  They decide to plant a false memory so he doesn’t realize that she was violent towards him.  The Dragon gives her a choice of letting him think that she complied enthusiastically to his sexual advances and they had a great time or that she complied but was really bad at it.  She half heartedly complains about this but no other options are considered.  I mean, if you can implant a false memory why not have him think he got drunk at dinner and went to bed?

Bottom Line

I liked it but it drug on audio.  Maybe read this one instead so you can go faster.  That’s sad because the narration was really well done.

20 Apr, 2016

Owl and the Japanese Circus

/ posted in: Reading Owl and the Japanese Circus Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
on January 13th 2015
Pages: 432
Series: The Adventures of Owl #1
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Urban
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Las Vegas, Bali, Tokyo

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem—and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Goodreads

Owl had a promising career ahead of her as an archeologist until she uncovered a supernatural site and her department made her a scapegoat. Archeologists don’t allow publication of supernatural sites. They keep them covered up.

Now Owl is using her knowledge as a very discreet and very expensive thief. It was going well until she accidentally exposed an ancient vampire to the sun during a job and his underlings are angry. Now she’s on the run and living off the grid with her Egyptian Mau cat, Captain. His breed was developed to sense and fight vampires.

The Japanese Circus is a Las Vegas casino that turns out to be owned by a dragon.  She did a job for him without knowing he was a dragon and now he wants another.  She can’t really refuse and stay alive.

This is a great start to a series that is different than other urban fantasy stories.  Owl’s friend Nadya got out of the archeology program too and now runs a bar in Tokyo.  You find out a lot about the host and hostess bar culture in Tokyo where having an attractive person pay attention to you is part of the provided atmosphere.  The creatures in this supernatural world are familiar but each has a few different characteristics that aren’t commonly seen.

Owl is stubborn and doesn’t listen well to advice.  She gets into trouble over and over because of it.  That can get a little annoying to read but the author has made it make sense in context.  I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

 

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

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