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REVIEW:  The Contract by Zeenat Mahal

REVIEW: The Contract by Zeenat Mahal

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“…I’ll pay you a monthly salary to behave and appear for all practical purposes as my wife…If you agree, the marriage vows can be taken on the phone on Saturday, since I have an hour free in the morning.”

Circumstances have forced the young divorcée, Shahira, to accept Hussain’s unusual proposition. As per their contract, she’ll have his name, will be paid to look after his ailing mother and motherless daughter and will be left well alone by him. Perfect!

Until her new husband decides to stop playing by the rules…

Dear Ms. Mahal,

While perusing the latest offerings from Indireads, I remembered how much I enjoyed “Haveli” and how much people at DA expressed interest in reading more books about South Asia. Especially ones using different arranged or marriage of convenience plots. Voici, I thought, here’s a book that will cover all bases.

One reason I love to read books set in a country other than my own is for the chance to vicariously live there for the duration of the story. “The Contract” allows me to do just that. It’s packed with little details about life in Lahore, Pakistani families, weddings, Daahta Saheb and life in general. I was eating all this up and looking for seconds. This is why I read non-US set books.

The growing relationship between Hussain’s mother Aunty Salma and Shahira is wonderful as each finds that which she has longed for – a loving mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law to dote on. Salma also takes Shahira’s son under her wing and gently scolds Sharhira when she protests saying that’s what grannies are for.

Hussain might be a high stakes business wheeler and dealer but Shahira puts him in his place a time or two when he takes the high hand with her over their initial marriage negotiations. He finds himself intrigued but still not falling at her feet – which is a good thing to me. They scheme and snip at each other as they attempt to keep the rest of the family from guessing the truth of their arrangement and seemed evenly matched to me. I was looking forward to them finally discovering each other when some sand got tossed in the Vaseline.

First an Evil Other Woman appeared. The novella is short and there’s a lot of ground to cover so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when this person was little more than a tissue paper thin stereotype but I would have liked to see a bit more depth to her. However while I could easily dismiss Nudrat, something else occurs that got me steamed.

Shahira was very firm in her demands for no sexual aspect to their marriage. When this suited Hussain, he cared less. But once he decided he wanted to change their arrangements, he was determined to get his way. Shahira all but tells him she was sexually abused by her first husband. While his initial response was dismay for what she went through, in the next breath he turned on the seductive charm again and says,

“You’ve been divorced for six years.”

“Seven, actually…but who’s counting?” she laughed nervously, still a little embarrassed.
“That’s a long time to remember. You should have forgotten any bad experiences by now.”
He gave her another sultry look.

I wanted to slap him through my ereader. No, actually I wanted to knee him in the nuts. She should have forgotten any bad experiences by now?! She should have forgotten being raped?! Really? Asshole. He’s amazed – amazed! – that she’s still traumatized by what (his words) “that bastard” did to her. Hussain just won my prize as the prick of the year. His later anger at Shahira for not telling him she spoke Arabic (of all things to be pissed about) didn’t help. His smug belief that their night of hot loving near the end of the book would fix everything had me rushing to get through the end of this one. B for the local color and Shahira’s strength, F for Hussain.

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Broken Trails by D. Jordan Redhawk

REVIEW: Broken Trails by D. Jordan Redhawk

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Scotch Fuller has already run the Iditarod three times and is preparing for a fourth attempt. Her single-minded focus on the rigors of training allows her to forget the shocking loss of her lover in a tragedy for which she blames herself.

The only race Lainey Hughes runs is away from her past and into the bottom of a bottle. After a devastating injury in a war zone, she’s continued her photojournalist career in the natural beauty and warmth of Uganda. A trip to Alaska to cover dog sledding is not what she wants, but the lure of a paying gig proves too tempting.

Lainey trusts her camera and Scotch trusts her dogs—and neither cares much what the other thinks…not at first.

Dear Ms. Redhawk,

The description of your latest book had already caught my attention before I read the glowing review at Ladylike Book Club. Since I have a long time fascination with the Iditarod – ever since reading “Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulson and “My Lead Dog was a Lesbian” (no, I’m not trying to be funny, that really is the title) by Brian Patrick O’Donaghue – I probably would have read it anyway but the other review sealed the deal.

From the blurb, I hadn’t realized that Lainey would end up running the race as a rookie or that so much time would be spend in months long preparation for the March race but this allowed for some in depth, behind the scenes insight into just how much effort goes into sled dog racing – tons – and how grueling it is for the mushers – unbelievable. By the time the race arrives, I was mentally exhausted.

But I was loving all the information. I enjoy a book where the characters are given unusual occupations or a unique event takes place and this book has both. Better still, instead of being mere window dressing, they are integral to the plot, well researched, and seamlessly integrated into the whole.

When the mushers and their dogs set off from Anchorage, the real endurance begins. Reading about Scotch’s efforts to win the race and Lainey’s to merely finish it, I truly understood that this race ain’t for sissies. If you’re not prepared, you could die. If you don’t take proper care of your team, you all could die. Worst of all, even if you do everything right, the conditions could still be enough to cause you to scratch after all that hard work. Or die. Being in Lainey’s head as she navigated and experienced the race was almost like being there but it also convinces me as nothing else could that following from home via the official race website is the way to go for me.

Ah, but where’s the romance? For the first third of the book, both Scotch and Lainey play the is-she-isn’t-she guessing game and lust a little as they’re dishing out dog chow and taking the dogs out on trail runs. The mental lusting never becomes as bad as some books I’ve read wherein the characters practically stand in a daze of drool. I do think readers should anticipate that the sexuality is low key for a good long time. When Scotch and Lainey do finally get a chance to jump each other’s bones, the jumping is delicious, sexy and nicely done but it takes a while to get there.

Scotch and Lainey also have other issues to deal with namely a disastrous past romance for Scotch and Lainey’s alcoholism. Of the two I felt the alcohol issue got more page time and attention. You don’t hesitate to show how addicted Lainey truly is, how it runs her life and how hard she denies it. As the book ends, each woman is coming to terms with her issue and things are looking up but I would like to have gotten more insight into the demon of Scotch’s past.

As an exploration of what goes into the training for the Iditarod – both for mushers and dogs – I think the book is great. As for the romance, I’m afraid that takes a back seat to the race so readers looking for a more even balance or a book heavy on the relationship will probably be disappointed. I like that not all the loose ends are tied up, that Lainey and Scotch both know there will be more work needed for their past and present issues but also that they’re committed to solving their problems and building a life together. B

~Jayne

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