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Shoma Narayanan

Reading List by Jayne for Spring/Summer 2013

Reading List by Jayne for Spring/Summer 2013

CobwebBride-Mockup1Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

This book was submitted to DA for possible review. The description intrigued me making me immediately think of the old movie “Death Takes a Holiday.” Death appears in an “alternate Renaissance” world and demands his bride. Until she is brought to him, no one, no matter how gravely injured or sick, will die – and this includes animals as shown in one horrific scene. Various characters driven by personal reasons set off in a quest for the Bride. Will she be found, Death appeased and those who need to die allowed to do so?

The first few chapters of this book enthralled me. The descriptions of those near death are chillingly detailed making me just as anxious as their loved ones for them to find peace. The alternate world is close enough to reality that I felt at home in it yet also just different enough that I knew I was in an “other” world. Yet it soon became obvious to me that the pace of the book was going to be slow – or I, unused to fantasy series, found it slow once the initial burst of world building and character introduction was over.

At some future time I might be tempted back to discover what happens but after feeling bogged down at the 1/3 mark, I decided to move on.

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Under an EnchantmentUnder an Enchantment by Anne Stuart

I found this novella for sale at Smashwords and decided to give it a go. The tag mentioned selkies, Scotland, romance and, just to make sure I realized it I guess, Scottish folklore.

“Ailie MacBride has convinced everyone on the tiny island of St. Columba that she’s daft — it’s the only defense she has against her wicked relatives. When a mysterious, beautiful man emerges from the cold ocean she finds herself caught in his wicked gaze and his dreamlike smile, until all thoughts of her ordinary life vanish, and she is his.”

What I didn’t realize until I started it is that is also features two tropes I don’t care for – the virgin widow and a revenge plot. It’s also set in the mid 19th century and for some reason I have a hard time imagining whimsy and fantasy dressed in Victorian attire. Steampunk, sure. Selkies, not so much.

The heroine alternated between being fey-ish and silly while the hero was initially hell bent on – a deserved – revenge for wrongs done to his mother. But after he determined that he was going to exact his revenge on the innocent heroine, knowingly leaving her in nearly as bad a condition as his mother had been, I lost interest in him. Of course he changes his mind but the moment it all becomes clear to him and he decides to continue, I thought, “what a dick.” Skimming to the end of a novella isn’t a good sign but that’s what I did here.

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cowboy who caught her eyeThe Cowboy Who Caught Her Eye by Lauri Robinson

It’s 1880s Dakota territory and Molly Thorson is a woman in trouble. Five months pregnant, she knows she can’t hide her condition from her two sisters and the townsfolk for much longer. When a smooth talking, good looking cowboy arrives and finagles a job at her general store Molly’s stress level soars even higher. Pinkerton agent Carter Buchanan isn’t sure what Molly’s hiding but he bets it’s related to the stolen money he’s in town to investigate. Since the first bill found was at Molly’s store, that’s where he needs to be. As he becomes more deeply involved with the Thorson sisters, especially prickly Molly, could he have finally found a place to call home?

I’m shallow where a good cover is concerned and this one caught my eye. The set up of a pregnant heroine in an age when unwed mothers were shameful seemed as if it might be interesting. How would the town react to Molly’s condition? How would Carter? Who was the father and what happened to him? And, after I started the book and realized this aspect of the plot, who stole the money from the railroad and how did it keep showing up in Molly’s store?

Well, I got tired of waiting for all these questions to be answered. From the moment Molly and Carter met, they started sniping and fighting. More than once Carter muses that Molly was acting like a child having a temper tantrum and I couldn’t have agreed more. Molly’s emotions are in turmoil, her hormones are raging – I get this – but her unrelenting sulks, ultimatums and waspishness made me lose interest in her. Carter also spends more time soothing Molly, fixing up the Thorson homestead and playing tea parties with her youngest sister than solving the crime. At the halfway point I gave up.

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houseguestsThe Houseguests by Mark Lijek

Jennie’s reading lists has inspired me to include some non-romance books in my reading rotation. Sort of a palate cleansing kind of thing. When the movie “Argo” was released last year, I read up on and refreshed my memory about the six Americans who had been sheltered by the Canadian embassy staff and ultimately snuck out of revolutionary Iran. From the wealth of books now out on the subject, I chose this one due to the good reviews and the fact that it appeared it would focus on the time spend by the fugitives in Iran rather than more on the actual escape.

Mark Lijeck and his wife were among those who were in the embassy compound when it was taken over and who managed by luck, fate and some breaks along the way, to avoid being taken hostage. He details his road and that of his wife, who was working in the visa section of the embassy in Tehran, the day of the takeover, the initial days in hiding as they were shuttled from one hiding place to another and then the long haul while they remained in the care of the Canadians and waited for a way out of the country.

The narrative moves along quickly, rarely gets bogged down too much – though Lijeck has a strange penchant for describing the hairstyle of many of the people involved – and covers not only the stay in Tehran but also the reception of the six once they arrived in Germany and then the U.S. He continues through the release of the hostages and then gives some follow up details on the main participants. I’d eventually like to read something showing the POV of the others in this part of the overall story but this is a good starting point.

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Here’s a recap of my recent full reviews -

His Kind of Woman by Nona Raines – A “fling” length offering only available from Loose – Id’s website this is a trans* woman finding love with a man she has reason to distrust due to the past actions of his brother. Trans* characters are few and far between in romance and I think this one is worth checking out even if you can’t one-click it. Review

Carolina Girl by Virginia Kantra – The second in Kantra’s series on a family living full time on a North Carolina barrier island. The family dynamics are wonderful and it avoids the typical small town meddlesome family and neighbors feel. Starting with “Carolina Home” will give a greater feel for all the characters but the backstory is handled well enough here so you won’t be lost if you don’t. Review

One More Valentine by Anne Stuart – A book that I would have liked better if I’d read it when it was released. As it is now, the whingeing virgin heroine and the uber-noble hero canceled out the inventive paranormal angle of a 1920s gangster hero returning to life for 2 days each year. Review

Secrets and Saris by Shoma Narayanan – Does a wonderful job depicting modern day India and Indian characters but still needs a little work in sustaining the conflict. Nevertheless, I’m with Janine in wanting to support SE Asian authors and settings. Review

A Dance with Indecency by Linda Skye – I’m still looking for good 1920s setting books. The atmosphere is great and I liked the sexually confident heroine but the resolution of the conflict was way to fast and unsatisfying to convince me of a future for the hero and heroine. Review

Alena by Merline Lovelace – I’ve read this book at least three times now over the years and it still holds up as a realistic portrayal of life in Roman Britain. The heroine is strong and allowed to be so while the hero eventually comes to admire and love her for the woman she is. Review

The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin – Another offering in the multicultural department of Tang Dynasty China featuring two intelligent characters who slowly overcome their mistrust of the essential personality elements of the other. She doesn’t trust anyone in authority while he makes his livelihood working on the edge of the justice system. Review

Thinking of You by Jill Mansell – This is more a chick-lit style women’s fiction set in contemporary England. A little more romance would have been the icing on my cake but I love the older heroine and hero finding love. Watch for the hero’s cat hogging a seduction scene. Me loves the kittehs. Review

REVIEW:  Secrets and Saris by Shoma Narayanan

REVIEW: Secrets and Saris by Shoma Narayanan

Secrets-and-Saris

 

“A secret that could cause scandal!

Jilted at the altar, Shefali Khanna should be humiliated. Instead she takes the opportunity to start again. Top of the priority list: do not tumble headfirst into another relationship!

But even moving from the city to the country can’t keep Shefali out of trouble–especially when she catches the eye of local celeb Neil Mitra! There is no way she can risk a scandal already! He might be gorgeous, but he’s totally off-limits…right?”

Dear Ms. Narayanan.

My goodness doesn’t this blurb have a lot of exclamation points? After reading and enjoying “Monsoon Wedding Fever” last year, I was excited to see another book of yours – this time in the Harlequin “KISS” line. I enjoyed your voice again, as I did in “Wedding,” and loved delving into life in contemporary India but though I could understand the confusion and hesitation both Neil and Shefali had about their feelings for each other, the numerous flip flops in their actions caused by their confusion didn’t leave me with a solid feeling about their future relationship.

There is no mistaking that these are Indian characters living in contemporary India. Details of their daily lives are smoothly worked into the story without tedious explanation to interrupt the flow of the scene. This gives a nice feel for the setting and people. We can see how conservative the smaller city is that Shafali is now living in compared to Delhi and how being known to have slept with Neil would damage her reputation as the manager of a pre-school. I could also grasp how unusual it was for Neil to be a single, divorced parent with custody of his daughter. The differences in languages and in religious observation of the same holiday show both the vastness and nuances of India.

There is a casual acceptance of arranged marriages which agrees with what I read a while ago in a news story. In it, a young Indian woman said she didn’t waste time trying to find Mr. Right – that was her parent’s job. Shefali grew up expecting her parents and aunties to find her someone suitable and acceptable to marry. As such, it’s not unusual in this social class and setting for her to still be a virgin but at least she’s not hung up about it or screeching for Neil to marry her once she’s not anymore.

Shefali might not have what people consider a high powered executive job but she’s no dummy either. I loved the way she coolly sold her engagement ring and got the best price possible. She also didn’t fall apart when Pranav was a no-show, deciding to leave Delhi and not stay under her parent’s thumbs anymore. Moving away was also a means for her to escape the pointing fingers and pity. She enjoys the smoking sex she and Neil have but isn’t trying to hang onto him like a life preserver after the ship has gone down. When she realizes that she just isn’t into something this casual she has little hesitation about cutting her losses, especially with the way Neil is bungling their relationship.

Neil’s first marriage and its aftermath aren’t typical which is shown in how Shefali reacts with shock to its telling. Neil and his first wife were childhood friends who started dating at an astonishingly young age for India, were in a sexual relationship and got caught by an unintended pregnancy which ended up with Neil pushing the reluctant mother of his child to marry him. When the marriage ended, Neil bucked the expectations of his family in order to raise Nina by himself. With this in his background, I wasn’t surprised that he has little interest in marrying again.

With both hero and heroine being reluctant to jump into anything permanent but society demanding it due to Shefali’s job and the small town mentality, the shift into first an engagement and then a marriage of convenience seems like a plausible plot twist. What annoyed me was the quicksilver shifts from then on. One minute Shefali is complaining that her reputation can’t take another broken engagement and then she wants to break it. Neil states that he doesn’t want any more children and then changes his mind but only to make Shefali happy. Back and forth and back and forth. It’s as if now that you’ve gotten them together, you’ve run out of conflict.

It’s not that I don’t understand the way these characters think and what is motivating them but for both of them to whiplash back and forth gets tiresome. When they both announce their undying love for each other, I’m afraid I’m still holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. The conflicts here are plausible and there’s certainly enough to go around but the resolution just doesn’t quite convince me in the end. B-

~Jayne

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