mini-review · stuff I read

The Windfall by Diksha Basu

Summary from Goodreads:
For the past thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Jha’s lives have been defined by cramped spaces, cut corners, gossipy neighbors, and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages. They thought they’d settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son’s acceptance into an American business school. But then Mr. Jha comes into an enormous and unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex in East Delhi to the super-rich side of town, where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status: skinny ties, hired guards, shoe-polishing machines, and all.

The move sets off a chain of events that rock their neighbors, their marriage, and their son, who is struggling to keep a lid on his romantic dilemmas and slipping grades, and brings unintended consequences, ultimately forcing the Jha family to reckon with what really matters.

Diksha Basu wrote a wonderful comedy of manners about the life of a family from East Delhi and what happens when a successful business deal allows them to move into the upper class as well as move from an old apartment complex to a single-family home in an affluent part of Delhi. Basu gives each of her four main characters (Anil, Bindu, Rupak, and their friend Reema) different hurdles with this move. And I have to say, the “keeping up with the Jonses” competition with the neighbors is never old whether you’re from Delhi or New York or middle-America. A good book for the summer.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean (Scandal & Scoundrel #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
The one woman he will never forget…
Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, has lived the last three years in self-imposed solitude, paying the price for a mistake he can never reverse and a love he lost forever. The dukedom does not wait, however, and Haven requires an heir, which means he must find himself a wife by summer’s end. There is only one problem—he already has one.

The one man she will never forgive…
After years in exile, Seraphina, Duchess of Haven, returns to London with a single goal—to reclaim the life she left and find happiness, unencumbered by the man who broke her heart. Haven offers her a deal; Sera can have her freedom, just as soon as she finds her replacement…which requires her to spend the summer in close quarters with the husband she does not want, but somehow cannot resist.

A love that neither can deny…
The duke has a single summer to woo his wife and convince her that, despite their broken past, he can give her forever, making every day The Day of the Duchess.

I don’t even know, y’all.  Just go read it.

Nobody can make me bawl though the last two chapters of a romance like Sarah MacLean. Which is what I proceeded to do because holy cats does it get heartfelt. Romances where one of the couple has to overcome cheating are always hard for me. How do you fix something that is so broken? That’s such an insurmountable breach of trust.

While I would have appreciated a cricket ball to the goolies (thank you Jasper Fforde) for Haven, there are massive amounts of groveling, self-flagellation, and relationship rebuilding to make this one another fantastic entry in SM’s body of work. Sera is just the baddest of all badass ladies who have had it with their man’s garbage. And it’s funny, and all the sisters are so awesome and great, and there’s a ballroom, holy schnikies.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go set up the pup tent bc I’m camped outside Sarah’s house until I get a book with Sesily’s HEA (give it to me now! She deserves one!).

Dear FTC: Yeah, so I read a digital galley, but I had a copy on pre-order because why the hell wouldn’t I? (Edit: I’ve read it twice this review posted.)

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes (Diamonds in the Rough #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
He never thought he’d become a duke, or that the secrets of his past would cost him his greatest love…

Raphe Matthews hasn’t stepped foot in polite circles since a tragedy left his once-noble family impoverished and in debt. The bare-knuckle boxer has spent the last fifteen years eking out an existence for himself and his two sisters. But when a stunning reversal of fortune lands Raphe the title of Duke of Huntley, he’s determined to make a go of becoming a proper lord, but he’ll need a little help, and his captivating neighbor might be just the woman for the job…

After her sister’s scandalous match, Lady Gabriella knows the ton’s eyes are on her. Agreeing to tutor the brutish new duke can only lead to ruin. Although she tries to control her irresistible attraction to Raphe, every day she spends with him only deepens her realization that this may be the one man she cannot do without. And as scandal threatens to envelop them both, she must decide if she can risk everything for love with a most unlikely duke.

Sophie Barnes’s romances are a little up and down for me – some better, some not so much.  Her new series, Diamonds in the Rough, follows a brother and his sisters, born into the landed gentry but forced to grow up almost on the streets, are elevated to the aristocracy when Raphe is determined to be the heir to the deceased Duke of Huntley.  The little group must come up to scratch, in a very image-and-lineage-obsessen ton, and when their new London neighbor, Lady Gabriella, goes against convention and agrees to be their tutor in social graces, all bets are off. A Most Unlikely Duke is  a sweet, very sensible romance with a little bit of gender-flipped Pygmalion in the mix. It turns out that you can still have a story even when characters sit down and have intelligent conversations about past difficulties or character flaws without resorting to possessiveness, blackmail, kidnapping, or trapping anyone into marriage.

I was delighted to see that it looks like the next hero will be Coventry, which is good since I found his character quite interesting.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

Summary from Goodreads:
In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .
An emerging AI uprising . . .
And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

Ahhhhhh! This book is completely bananapants. It’s like American Gods had a baby with Batteries Not Included that crash-landed in District 9. The Prey of Gods is a wild, enjoyable brain-bender of a story, perfect for summer reading. I can’t wait to see what Drayden does next.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because I wasn’t cool enough to get a galley.

mini-review · stuff I read

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

Summary from Goodreads:
From the best-selling author of the National Book Award-winning The Year of Magical Thinking two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks–writings that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary writer.

Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles–and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through.

And from a different notebook: the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.

South and West is an interesting little book.  Snippets of Didion’s thoughts as she traveled around the southern Gulf states with her husband and then later as she prepped the Patty Hearst article. I appreciate the way everything was left unpolished. It was a nice book to read in small chunks at the end of the day.

Dear FTC: I won my copy of this book in an Instagram giveaway.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Necessary Medicine by M.K. York

Summary from Goodreads:
In the high-intensity world of hospital residency programs, there’s no room for romance. So it’s a good thing for first-year surgical resident Neil Carmona that his crush on the gorgeous cardiologist Eli Newcombe is sheer fantasy. Not only is the sexy doctor Neil’s superior, he’s also recently divorced.

As Neil’s skill as a surgeon grows, so does his friendship with Eli, and his silent, hopeless longing for more. It isn’t until Neil’s final year that Eli at last admits his own deepest desires. But Neil’s joy is short-lived: Eli has no intention of pursuing a relationship. Their positions in the hospital would make it unethical, even if he was emotionally ready for someone new.

Wounded and furious, Neil is determined to forget about Eli once and for all. But when a near-tragedy strikes, a new question arises: Is a life without love—without Neil—a greater risk than laying his heart on the line?

Branching out into the newly-discovered genre of m/m romance, I was recommended MK York’s new contemporary Necessary Medicine. This book is a very slow-burn m/m romance (if you prefer more…fizz…this might not be for you). The story takes place largely over the five years of Neil’s surgical residency as he fights an attraction to Eli, an older (apparently straight at the beginning, but comes out as bi later) faculty member. York unpacks a lot in this book – stress in medical education, the stakes present in life-saving medical intervention, active diversity initiatives in academics (there are some committee meeting scenes that are pretty true-to-life), and why there are rules about faculty/trainee relationships. The eventual resolution of the romance is very sweet and the supporting characters are excellent (especially Pete, Neil’s faculty mentor).  I would have liked more than just Neil’s perspective throughout the book; we only get Eli’s “voice” in the Epilogue. #ughEpiloguesagain

Dear FTC: I bought my ebook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Falling for the Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highlanders #4)

Summary from Goodreads:
Lady Murine Carmichael has known her share of bad luck. But when her debt-ridden half-brother tries to sell her off in exchange for a few Scottish horses, it’s the final straw. If keeping her freedom means escaping through harsh countryside alone, so be it. She has barely begun her journey when she lands an unlikely escort—the brawny Highlander who just refused to buy her virtue.

Dougall Buchanan was disgusted by Lord Danvries’ shameful offer, but Murine herself tempts him beyond measure. Even bedraggled and dusty, the lass glows with beauty and bravery. Dougall wants to do more than just help her flee. He wants to protect her—with his life and his heart—if she’ll only let him. For Murine may be pursued by a powerful foe, but nothing compares to the fiery courage of a Highlander in love.

Lynsay Sands, good lord woman, what are you doing with this series?  It started out really fun, and it seemed like branching out into the different women who appeared as potential/thwarted brides in To Marry a Scottish Laird (book 2) would be an excellent plan but what even is this book?

Falling for the Highlander is completely phoned in. Lazy writing, silly plot choices (Really? All these brothers are so smitten that they bring EVERY dress for Murine to choose from so they are conveniently destroyed by a fire forcing her to wear braies so Dougall can ogle her butt?), and strange word choices (butt cheek? In medieval Scotland, really?).  The Buchanan brothers – introduced in Saidh’s book – are kind of a riot but they don’t help a recycled plot.  And then it just sort of ends. Do better (next time, because I can’t quit Sands’s Highlanders for some reason).

I’d like a book about Aulay, please.  Given that he’s got some hang-ups I think he’d be far more interesting to write about. (Next one’s about Niels, though, oh well)

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley, but it expired so when the library’s Overdrive system got a copy I borrowed it.  Glad I didn’t buy it.

mini-review · stuff I read

A Girl Walks Into a Book: What the Brontës Taught Me about Life, Love, and Women’s Work by Miranda K. Pennington

Summary from Goodreads:
How many times have you heard readers argue about which is better, Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights? The works of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne continue to provoke passionate fandom over a century after their deaths. Brontë enthusiasts, as well as those of us who never made it further than those oft-cited classics, will devour Miranda Pennington’s delightful literary memoir.
Pennington, today a writer and teacher in New York, was a precocious reader. Her father gave her Jane Eyre at the age of 10, sparking what would become a lifelong devotion and multiple re-readings. She began to delve into the work and lives of the Brontës, finding that the sisters were at times her lifeline, her sounding board, even her closest friends. In this charming, offbeat memoir, Pennington traces the development of the Brontës as women, as sisters, and as writers, as she recounts her own struggles to fit in as a bookish, introverted, bisexual woman. In the Brontës and their characters, Pennington finally finds the heroines she needs, and she becomes obsessed with their wisdom, courage, and fearlessness. Her obsession makes for an entirely absorbing and unique read.
A Girl Walks Into a Book is a candid and emotional love affair that braids criticism, biography and literature into a quest that helps us understand the place of literature in our lives; how it affects and inspires us.

*publisher catalog waves title about person talking about Brontës under my nose and I practically short-circuit until I get my hands on a copy*

A Girl Walks Into a Book is a lovely memoir about how one woman found solace and guidance throughout her life through a love of the Brontës and their work. Lots of life lessons, dreams, heart-break, and learning to be an adult who works through difficult situations, particularly relationships. Pennington touched on all of the Brontës’ books, a number of the film adaptations, and even includes a shout-out to the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (aww, yeah).

Dear FTC: I had to buy a copy of this book because no one would give me a galley (sad but true).