Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Review: No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

I am almost immediately attracted to books about the Indian American immigrant experience. I can't explain it; I just accept it. So when I first heard about Rakesh Satyal's novel No One Can Pronounce My Name, I knew I wanted to read it. And it very much is a novel about the Indian American immigrant experience but somehow it just didn't capture me; I set it down twice and only finished it on the third try with a concerted effort despite the fact that it should have been perfect for me.

Ranjana has spent years being the wife and mother she was expected to be but now that her only child, Prakash, is off to college, her life is sort of drifting. Her marriage has become background noise and she thinks her husband might be having an affair. To fill her free time she starts writing paranormal romances, attending a writer's group (even if she doesn't feel brave enough to participate to start with) and takes a job as a receptionist in a doctor's office. She is a reserved woman whose loneliness and need for direction is palpable. Harit is a middle aged man who works in a department store and lives with his mother. After work, he dresses up in his late sister's saris, pretending to be her for his nearly blind mother's benefit. She hasn't accepted his sister's death and he thinks to ease her by his deception. Like Ranjana, he too is crushingly lonely. It will take meeting each other and the outside influence of their respective co-workers for Ranjana and Harit to blossom into the people they want to be.

Satyal is a strong writer but the narrative here is slow and meandering. More and more secondary characters come into the story drawing it out even further. This highlights both Ranjana and Harit's distance from their community, both just hovering on the edges of the Indian American community in Cleveland, not fully integrated or accepted, but it also gives the story a lack of focus. This is very much a character study centered around issues of identity and belonging, friendship and the desire to be loved for who one is. There are some funny moments and some poignant moments as well but over all the story went off track a little too often, sprawling out in side plots that did nothing to drive the central story forward and the ending was an unrealistically happy and facile ending for the tone up to that point. The pacing was uneven as well, with the first half somberly dragging out as it established Ranjana and Harit's (and to a lesser extent Ranjana's son Prashant's) characters and the second half turning into a more comedic road trip kind of tale. The two halves were definitely an odd juxtaposition. Not a bad book, but not one that called to be picked back up once it was set down either.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review: The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore

"If once you have slept on an island / You'll never be quite the same" (Rachel Field, "If Once You Have Slept on an Island"). People head to islands for many reasons: a place to vacation, a chance to slow down and figure things out, a place to heal, a place to live. Islands are different places from the mainland somehow, even if people are just going about their lives, especially if the island is one dependent on summer tourism. Meg Mitchell Moore has captured some of the unique summer magic of an island and the people on it in her charming latest novel, The Islanders.

Anthony Puckett, the son of a famed thriller writer, is an author himself who had a much feted first novel. His second novel turned into a huge literary scandal. He started drinking and his wife kicked him out, withholding their young son from him. He's on Block Island house-sitting a friend's uncle's place while trying to come to terms with what he did to his life. Depressed and ashamed, he just wants to fade into the background and disappear. Joy is a year-round islander who owns and runs the island bakery. Joy Bombs is famous for its reinvented whoopie pies but this summer Joy is struggling both financially and personally. Her rent has increased and a French food truck that sells macarons is giving her stiff competition. Her 13 year old daughter is heading into the tough teen years, making Joy, a single parent, feel abandoned and as if she's failing as a mom.  That her ex-husband has gotten his life together with a second wife and cute younger daughter doesn't help her feelings of inadequacy.  Lu is a stay at home mom to two young boys. Her husband is a surgeon and she used to be a lawyer but she quit her career to stay home with their children. Their family has moved out to Block Island for the summer, compliments of her in-laws' (unasked for) generosity. Four years into this life of domesticity, Lu is unhappy and unfulfilled. She feels trapped. She's lost her sense of self but she's starting to secretly reclaim it, working on something that gives her great joy, something that has the potential to turn into a job that completes her, if only she can find the courage to tell her husband her needs and wants have changed. The summer proves one of great change for all three of them.

Each of the three main characters here are floundering, facing changes, and trying to see what the future holds for them. As their lives intertwine and their secrets and fears come out, they each find a way forward towards the life that will fulfill them. They learn more about themselves and learn to accept themselves, warts and all, as the summer unfolds. The novel rotates through each of the three main characters, opening their lives, decisions, and motivations up to the reader. If the characters start by seeming unconnected, they eventually come together in ways that are both expected and realistic. There are no big explosive secrets to reveal, just interesting personal dramas in characters living and making a life on the same island. Anthony, Joy, and Lu are not always sympathetic, making poor decisions, hiding things that shouldn't be hidden, but ultimately they are honest with themselves and about their needs. This is an engaging summer novel about people trying to get it right, trying to find themselves, trying to take the scary next step, personally and professionally. The ending comes a little quickly, like a sudden summer storm, and I for one, would have liked more time with these three flawed, human characters getting to that end but overall, the novel was a very satisfying way to spend a few hours.

For more information about Meg Mitchell Moors and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher Harper Collins for inspiring me to pull this off my shelf to review sooner rather than later.

Monday, June 10, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this week are:

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig
What a Body Remembers by Karen Stefano

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George
A Moveable Feast edited by Don George
The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar
Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhannon
Breaking the Ocean by Annahid Dashtgard
Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
The Honey Bus by Meredith May
The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor
The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore

Reviews posted this week:

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handle
Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Exposure by Jean-Philippe Blondel
Here I Am! by Pauline Holdstock
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas
Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager
Granny’s Got a Gun by Harper Lin
White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf
At Briarwood School for Girls by Michael Knight
The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel
All Ships Follow Me by Mieke Eerkens
Like This Afternoon Forever by Jaime Manrique
Gravity Well by Melanie Joosten
Motherhood So White by Nefertiti Austin
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Dear Baba by Maryam Rafiee
Saint Everywhere by Mary Lea Carroll
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Tonic and Balm by Stephanie Allen
Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons
In the Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas
The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
CinderGirl by Christina Meredith
The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones
The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renee Lavoie
The Fragments by Toni Jordan
The Question Authority by Rachel Cline
The Plaza by Julie Satow
The Lonely Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya
Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
Haben by Haben Girma
The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester
Educated by Tara Westover
State of the Union by Nick Hornby
Turbulence by David Szalay
Southernmost by Silas House
Oval by Elvia Wilk
What a Body Remembers by Karen Stefano

Monday Mailbox

Just one again this week. This past week's mailbox arrival:

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald came from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

There's just something so romantic about a good time travel novel, isn't there? I can't wait to read this one about a railroad man from Queens and a socialite who seems out of step with the time who meet in Grand Central Terminal and then meet there again and again and again.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Review: The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

We might think we know many things from history but more has been forgotten or hidden than has ever been written down, giving us an incomplete knowledge of actual people and events of the past. This is true on a grand scale, but it can also be true on a much smaller, more personal scale as well. In Lauren Willig's newest novel, The Summer Country, the secrets of the past change history in a very personal way.

In 1854, Emily Dawson travels from England to Barbados with her cousin Adam and his wife so that she can look into the mysterious inheritance her grandfather has left her. Adam's father (and by extension Adam) inherited the family's lucrative shipping business while Emily, a favorite of her grandfather, has been left a previously unmentioned sugar plantation on Barbados. She cannot think why she's inherited Peverills, especially when she discovers that it's in ruins, having been burned in Bussa's Rebellion in 1816. Determining to learn all about the plantation, she ends up staying at Beckles, a neighboring plantation, run with an iron fist by the assertive and intimidating Mrs. Davenant, who clearly wants to make a match between her grandson, George, and Emily.

In 1812, Charles Davenant returns from England in the wake of his father's death to take up the reins of Peverills. His relationship with younger brother Robert, who was never offered the chance to go to England, has soured and is fraught with jealousy on Robert's part. In addition to the tension within his own house, Chalres is faced with tension without as well in the persons of Mary Anne Beckles, the owner of Beckles plantation, her domineering uncle Colonel Lyons, and the quiet, inscrutable enslaved maid Jenny who must tread carefully between her mistress and her natural father, the Colonel. Charles is idealistic, having returned to Barbados with progressive ideas about freeing slaves and cooperative farming but these ideas and his goal of changing the system from within aren't shared by everyone, including his brother and Mary Anne, and when it matters most to him that they come to fruition, he will fail.

The two different timelines alternate back and forth, revealing small hints and pieces of family history as Emily moves through her own daily goings-on, searching for answers, enlisting the help of George Davenant from Beckles and Dr. Braithwaite, the nephew of her late grandfather's black partner, Mr. Turner, as she digs into the question of Peverills and just why this ruined place was left to her. The characters in both timelines are quite well fleshed out, with the possible exception of Emily's grandfather, which is both surprising and in a way, necessary. Emily as a character is very forthright and forward thinking in ways that might seem anachronistic for her time except for the constant reiteration of her parents' pedigrees as reformers and humanists. The novel is almost Gothic in tone, with an undercurrent of creeping uneasiness pervading Beckles and Emily's interactions with Mrs. Davenant. This same whiff of menace weaves through Beckles in the 1812 story line as well. The revelation of the family secrets was slow and steady, just enough to feed speculation. The chapter bridges, the first sentence of a new chapter echoing the last sentence of the previous chapter is quite clever and helps to connect the two different timelines nicely. The epilogue, set between the two time periods of the narrative, was an interesting and unconventional way to end the book but it worked. It did take a bit of reading to get into the story and then the family secrets weren't terribly hard to figure out but the story was ultimately compelling. Readers who enjoy historical fiction, who are interested in exotic locations like Barbados, who like uncovering family secrets, and who thrill to a suggestion of the Gothic will be well rewarded here.

For more information about Lauren Willig and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Instagram or Twitter, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this books for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Orphan's Song by Lauren Kate.

The book is being released by G. P. Putnam's Sons on June 25, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: A song brought them together.
A secret will tear them apart.

Venice, 1736. When fate brings Violetta and Mino together on the roof of the Hospital of the Incurables, they form a connection that will change their lives forever. Both are orphans at the Incurables, dreaming of escape. But when the resident Maestro notices Violetta's voice, she is selected for the Incurables' world famous coro, and must sign an oath never to sing beyond its church doors.

After a declaration of love ends in heartbreak, Mino flees the Incurables in search of his family. Known as the "city of masks," Venice is full of secrets, and Mino is certain one will lead to his long-lost mother. Without him, the walls close in on Violetta and she begins a dangerous and forbidden nightlife, hoping her voice can secure her freedom. But neither finds what they are looking for, until a haunting memory Violetta has suppressed since childhood leads them to a shocking confrontation.

Vibrant with the glamour and beauty of Venice at its zenith, The Orphan's Song takes us on a breathtaking journey of passion, heartbreak, and betrayal before it crescendos to an unforgettable ending, a celebration of the enduring nature and transformative power of love.

Monday, June 3, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this week are:

State of the Union by Nick Hornby
Turbulence by David Szalay
The Current by Tim Johnston
Southernmost by Silas House
Oval by Elvia Wilk

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George
A Moveable Feast edited by Don George
The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar
Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhannon
Breaking the Ocean by Annahid Dashtgard
Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
The Honey Bus by Meredith May
The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor
What a Body Remembers by Karen Stefano

Reviews posted this week:

The Current by Tim Johnston

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handle
Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Exposure by Jean-Philippe Blondel
Here I Am! by Pauline Holdstock
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas
Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager
Granny’s Got a Gun by Harper Lin
White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf
At Briarwood School for Girls by Michael Knight
The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel
All Ships Follow Me by Mieke Eerkens
Like This Afternoon Forever by Jaime Manrique
Gravity Well by Melanie Joosten
Motherhood So White by Nefertiti Austin
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Dear Baba by Maryam Rafiee
Saint Everywhere by Mary Lea Carroll
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Tonic and Balm by Stephanie Allen
Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons
In the Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas
The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
CinderGirl by Christina Meredith
The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones
The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renee Lavoie
The Fragments by Toni Jordan
The Question Authority by Rachel Cline
The Plaza by Julie Satow
The Lonely Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya
Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
Haben by Haben Girma
The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester
Educated by Tara Westover
State of the Union by Nick Hornby
Turbulence by David Szalay
Southernmost by Silas House
Oval by Elvia Wilk

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