Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Sunita

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

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REVIEW:  Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage by Susanna Carr

REVIEW: Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage by Susanna Carr

Dear Susanna Carr:

The title of your book, Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage, both attracted me and put me off a bit. It signalled a marriage-in-trouble story (a trope I love) but also a Bollywood setting (which I’m starting to get tired of). Nevertheless, I was curious to see what a Presents author would do with a Bollywood book, so I dove in.

secrets bollywood marriage carrDev and Tina have been separated for a year, estranged in the aftermath of Tina’s miscarriage. Tina returns to Mumbai from the US end their marriage for good, but Dev will only agree to divorce proceedings if she is willing to continue as his wife while he negotiates with investors to obtain a new infusion of cash for the family film business. Tina reluctantly agrees because she needs to work in order to continue to support her mother and sister, and since she’s nowhere near the Bollywood heavyweight Dev is, being on good terms with him is good for her career.

This is a pretty standard setup (rich, powerful hero essentially blackmails heroine into a relationship), so what makes a difference is the execution. I like the first third of this book quite a bit. The setting was well depicted and while Tina and Dev did the usual estranged-lovers’ love-hate dance, Tina in particular felt like a well realized character. I find it hard to believe she came from the slums of Mumbai and married Dev, but that’s a type of Slumdog Millionaire-inspired license I can live with. I believed in their relationship and that they had been happy in the past, and I thought the details that emphasized the Indian setting were well integrated (although maybe that’s because this is pretty much my memory of chewing paan):

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to a restaurant?” Dev said as he placed a protective arm on the small of her back as a barefoot child with spindly arms and legs ran past them. “There’s a really good one on the other side of Mumbai.”

Other side. She knew he really meant to say the good side. The glittery and elite world where he ruled. The exclusive neighborhoods that she still couldn’t enter if she didn’t have the Arjun name and clout behind her.

“Those restaurants are not authentic. They make appetizers and snacks that are inspired by chaat,” she declared with her nose in the air. “You have to get chaat from the streets. Tell me you’ve eaten something from these wallas at some point in your life.”

He shook his head. “My family considered it unhygienic.”

“That just adds to the taste,” she teased him. “I can’t believe you haven’t been to a bazaar or eaten street food. You need to see more of Mumbai.”

“I was born and raised here,” he reminded her.

“Not my Mumbai.” She flashed a smile of thanks to the paanwalla as she accepted the stuffed [betel] leaf that lay on a small square of tin foil. As Dev paid with rupees, Tina tucked the treat in her mouth, resting it between her teeth and the inside of her cheek. She tilted her head back and moaned. “Ah, now that tastes like home.”

Once Tina returns to their marital home and begins living with Dev, however, the story loses steam. There’s not much conflict to keep them apart. An actress who stars with Dev, Dev’s mother, and Dev’s close friend appear briefly and then mostly fade away. Tina’s mother, who is quite the ambitious stage mother and harpy, shows up and causes some trouble but then isn’t around much. Tina’s sister is barely there, and Dev’s mother, who dislikes Tina because of her modest background, shows up, glowers, and then isn’t heard from again. These all felt like missed opportunities to me. Unlike, say the Mills & Boon India books I’ve reviewed, the author doesn’t do much with the potential conflicts that Indian culture offers.

Instead, we basically see Tina and Dev rehashing the previous year, especially Dev’s resentment at what he considers Tina’s abandonment of him and their marriage. Tina insists that she’s not coming back to him even though she clearly still has feelings for him. The miscarriage is mostly treated with respect, but the choices the characters and the authors make in the last third of the novel diminished that somewhat, and the ending is just too fast and not sufficiently foreshadowed. And I really could have done without the epilogue.

I did appreciate that the Bollywood setting was used in a way that emphasized the workplace and business aspects. I felt as if Tina’s career was important to her, and the details about the film industry felt authentic to me (I don’t know enough to know if they are, but they felt real). I especially liked that Tina wasn’t a huge star but rather a working actress. Had the marriage in trouble plotline been more richly developed and the relevant Indian cultural aspects been utilized to a greater degree, this would have been a powerful reading experience. As it was, I started out really engaged and then became frustrated as the story progressed. Grade: C

~ Sunita

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Daily Deals: Classic gay fiction & YA, and a thrill ride to Christmasland

Daily Deals: Classic gay fiction & YA, and a thrill ride...

The CharioteerThe Charioteer by Mary Renault. $ 2.99

From the Jacket Copy:

Mary Renault’s landmark novel about a wounded soldier who returns from the front and must choose between relationships with two very different men

After being wounded at Dunkirk in World War II, Laurie Odell is sent back home to a rural British hospital. Standing out among the orderlies is Andrew, a bright conscientious objector raised as a Quaker. The unspoken romance between the two men is tested when Ralph, a friend of Laurie’s from school, re-enters his life, introducing him into a milieu of jaded, experienced gay men. Will Laurie reconcile himself to Ralph’s embrace, or can he offer Andrew the idealized, Platonic intimacy he yearns for?

This novel has been called one of the foundation stones of gay literary fiction, ranking alongside James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar. Celebrated for its literary brilliance and sincere depiction of complex human emotions, The Charioteer is a stirring and beautifully rendered portrayal of love.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Mary Renault including rare images of the author.

A classic novel of war, love, and coming of age, I reviewed this when it finally came out in ebook form thanks to Open Road. If you didn’t buy it then, you should definitely buy it now. It’s gay romance but the emphasis is on the relationships, not the sex. And the cocktail party scene is worth the price of admission all by itself. It took me forever to finally read this book because I was afraid it couldn’t live up to the hype. Don’t make the same mistake I did!

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lavinia le guinLavinia by Ursula Le Guin. $ 2.99

From the Jacket Copy:

In a richly imagined, beautiful novel, an acclaimed writer gives an epic heroine her voice.

In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner—that she will be the cause of a bitter war—and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.

Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.

I am woefully under-read in Le Guin’s oeuvre but even I know that she is one of the towering writers of the 20th century. This book takes a minor character from Virgil’s Aeneid and imagines her life. It’s technically a YA novel, I guess, but like everything else Le Guin writes, everyone should read it. I can’t do it justice, so I’m counting on the awesome DA commentariat to come to my rescue below.

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stray andrea hostStray by Andrea K. Höst. $ Free

From the Jacket Copy:

Part 1 of the Touchstone trilogy.

On her last day of high school, Cassandra Devlin walked out of exams and into a forest. Surrounded by the wrong sort of trees, and animals never featured in any nature documentary, Cass is only sure of one thing: alone, she will be lucky to survive.

The sprawl of abandoned blockish buildings Cass discovers offers her only more puzzles. Where are the people? What is the intoxicating mist which drifts off the buildings in the moonlight? And why does she feel like she’s being watched?

Increasingly unnerved, Cass is overjoyed at the arrival of the formidable Setari. Whisked to a world as technologically advanced as the first was primitive, where nanotech computers are grown inside people’s skulls, and few have any interest in venturing outside the enormous whitestone cities, Cass finds herself processed as a ‘stray’, a refugee displaced by the gates torn between worlds. Struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture, she must adapt to virtual classrooms, friends who can teleport, and the ingrained attitude that strays are backward and slow.

Can Cass ever find her way home? And after the people of her new world discover her unexpected value, will they be willing to let her leave?

We’ve talked about Stray many times in comment threads here at Dear Author, but newer visitors might not be award of Höst’s work. It’s free again for a little while, and it’s well worth the cost of your time. I assumed we had reviewed it at some point, but we haven’t. Technically YA, once again, but also written for just about everyone to read.

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nos4a2 joe hillNOS4A2 by Joe Hill. $ 1.99.

From the Jacket Copy:

NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Amazon informs me that this title is pronounced Nosferatu, for which I am grateful. Joe Hill has great fiction and horror bloodlines (Stephen and Tabitha King are his parents) but he comes by his high reputation honestly, through the quality of his work. This book will apparently make you see Christmas in a different light, and not necessarily a good one. Presumably it speaks to those of us who think the Christmas season already has some horrifying aspects. Critics suggest that it is longer than it needs to be at 700 pages, to which I say bah. I love Big Fat Books.

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