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Review – The Bollywood Bride

The Bollywood Bride, Contemporary Romance by Sonali Dev

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a hard time reading a book. Not because of density of language or being bored. The emotions in this one hit me incredibly hard, for personal reasons.

Ria is a Bollywood actress of significant fame and an abundance of painful secrets. She’s forced to go home to Chicago and face some of her past when her beloved cousin Nikhil begs her to come to his wedding. When she faces her first, failed loved Vikram, she’s caught up in a storm of constant emotional onslaught.

Hot damn does Ria have the feels. She has to be the single most passionate character I have ever seen. Unfortunately for her, it isn’t the kind of passion that people use to sell romance novels and art supplies. It’s the biblical rent your garments kind of passion. She feels so much and so intensely that I wonder if someone ought to have warned me. I’m in a vulnerable place right now.

I love it and hate it at the same time. Ria is terrified of hereditary insanity, to the degree that she’s helplessly self-destructive. Helplessness defines a goodly portion of her character. I don’t mean that she’s passive and badly written. I mean she is like a genuinely real person struggling with helplessness that ruins her life.

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Always Kinda Emo by paperbeatsscissors on DeviantArt

As a romance, it takes steamy to a new level–maybe a bit further than some people like–and it’s definitely heartfelt. However, her love for Vikram is one of the millstones she collects about her neck. Hell, it comes in a matching set of related issues. This is more the story of Ria learning to be okay than it is a romance, and yet it’s romantic and their relationship is absolutely key to most of what’s going on.

Of course, there is a large supportive family whom I adored, as well as lots of description of food and wedding traditions. Sonali Dev has a gift for supporting characters. They’re varied and full of life. Nikhil and Jen, the happy couple planning their wedding, are sketched with such loving detail that I want to read the book about how they met. There’s so much hope and many kinds of love in Dev’s books.

But if you’re going through a bad patch, maybe read this for a cathartic cry or wait until you’re feeling better. It’s powerful.

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Review – Those Endearing Young Charms

Those Endearing Young Charms, Regency Romance by MC Beaton writing as Marion Chesney

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

“It was in the evening, when what little light there was began to fade, that London became a magic place with carriages rolling over the cobbles and houses ablaze with lights. Then the shops came into their own, with many thousands of candles lighting up silverware, engravings, books, clocks, glass, pewter, paintings, women’s finery, gold and precious stones, and endless coffee houses and lottery offices. Each street looked as if it were lit up for a fair. The apothecaries harlequinned the streets with the light from their display glasses filled with spirits, purple, yellow, and verdigris-green. Most dazzling of all were the confectioners with their candelabra and their hanging festoons and Spanish grapes and pineapples, their pyramids of apples and oranges, their rich cakes and tarts, all served by exceptionally pretty girls with silk caps and white arms.”

While other prolific writers have their charms, there is something incredibly comfort-food-like about MC Beaton under any name that will draw me inexorably back forevermore. Her books are like cupcakes. They may not be nutritious, some may not even taste that great. But I consume them in bulk because CUPCAKES.

This particular cupcake has rather a nice fresh beginning. Mary and Emily are sisters who get along. Mary is awaiting the arrival of her husband to be, once poor Captain Tracey now Earl of Devenham. Her parents disapproved his first proposal ten years previous, and see nothing gauche or vulgar about accepting the same man now that he’s received an unexpected title. To be fair, they’re not the worst parents a Chesney heroine has had.

Unfortunately for Mary, ten years is long enough for the flames of young love to snuff out, and she finds herself returning the ardent regard of the local vicar. In a bid to save her sister from a dutiful marriage she doesn’t want, Emily drugs Mary’s chocolate and marries the earl herself. It’s intimated that Emily reads too many novels.

After the marriage, miscommunication delays consummation. This is much more Emily’s story than Devenham’s. She has the most characterisation, his grievances are downplayed while she is admired as a martyr to his bad behaviour by other characters. Also, she gets a kitten and he is a beast about it. Clearly, she is the superior protagonist.

This book went by in a haze of frosting and sweet prose. I recommend it the same way I have always recommended all MC Beaton books. Get this and five others, have a cup of tea and an evening in.

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Review – The Fire Opal

The Fire Opal, YA Historical Fantasy by Regina McBride

My rating: ⭐️⭐️

The Fire Opal is a fairy tale. Not sure if it’s a retelling or simply told in a sort of longform style of a fairy tale. It’s written in a dry, generally somber manner, yet is quite beautifully poetic. The story also strikes a compelling balance between stark pragmatism of historical fiction and the wistfulness of  a fantasy quest. However, I would recommend it more to people who like reading Andrew Lang’s fairy books or Grim and Perrault than to those who enjoy retellings. Reading it put me in mind of Koschei the Deathless.

Like a fairy tale, not everything is elaborated upon or given a firm foundation. The main character makes obvious mistakes because that’s what fairy tale protagonists do, and she also receives an absurd number of magical items. There’s a romance, but it’s completely bloodless as well as boneless. She meets Fransisco, a Spanish sailor, falls in love immediately, and yearns for him forever after.

The major downside for me is that it’s ultimately pretty forgettable. It’s a swift, smooth enough read, but I actually had to go back and reread bits before finishing because they’d failed to stick in my mind. Two stars means “it was okay,” and I certainly would tell anyone interested to check it out.

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Review – The Phantom Tree

The Phantom Tree, Historical Fantasy by Nicola Cornick

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Alison and Mary are linked across time, both struggling with their own present troubles as well as tragically weighed down by the past. Alison moreso than Mary, but they are both orphans. Being touched by the supernatural only seems to complicate things, though Alison is a sharp survivor who turns it to her advantage, and Mary eventually comes to accept it in herself.

I am an extremely soft mark for this book. On more than one point. Time travel appeals to everyone. I don’t see how it can fail to do so. We all have things we wish undone, or we feel displaced and wish for a brighter better future, or even a simpler past. (Although much as I love history, I don’t believe the past was ever simpler or easier than the present day.)

I’ve always loved the phrase, “the past is a different country.” For all that the two women’s accounts take place in the same geographical country, they are in very different places. That juxtaposition serves to show how much they have in common as the story progresses. Particularly when the action cranks up in the latter third, when answers come in a satisfying avalanche.

Although Mary is resilient, wispy, and delightfully self-aware, Alison is my favourite. She’s strong and smart enough to know that being nice is a luxury that she can’t afford. Consumed by the loss of her son and living in an impossible emotional situation, the fact that she can keep going is inspiring.

There’s a continuous theme of yearning for things that have passed, or simply wishing for them to have gone differently or contributed to a better present. Six or so years after my RA diagnosis, I still find myself prey to these sorts of thoughts. This book portrays the emotions involved in a beautifully genuine way, while anchoring itself and everyone involved in the reality that one cannot undo anything. Acceptance is the true goal.

The Phantom Tree is a lovely piece of historical fiction generously coloured by the supernatural elements. It feels true, which is one of the things that makes this genre is so intriguing.

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.)

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Review – Pugs of the Frozen North

Pugs of the Frozen North, funny Fantasy by Philip Reeve, illustrations by Sarah McIntyre

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thus far, my experience with Philip Reeve has mainly been reading the Larklight series two or three times. This is also a charming book full of confidently offbeat characters and a realistic sense of the importance friendship, belonging, and doing the right thing have to the target audience.

Shipwrecked by the sudden freezing of the sea, Shen finds himself alone and saddled with 66 pugs that the captain had said would sell in like hot pies. He finds the Po of Ice, formerly the Post Office where he meets Sika. A misunderstanding or two later, the two embark on the Race to the Top of the World, where the winner will gain their heart’s desire.

This book is best read to/with kids who don’t question the logic of everything and who enjoy random silly things for the sheer awesome factor. Things like shrinksnow and yetis who eat pasta made from snow and hate to wash up. The other racers are a good mix of characters, such as the fashionable Mitzi, the robot-building scientist, and the beleaguered butler serving the nasty entitled son of the last winner. My favourite is Helga, the bearded woman who is kind and pragmatic, and who prefers Winter and the cold.

The illustrations are cute and the message at the end is suitably warming without being kitschy. This book would make a good gift for just about anyone, child or adult.

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Review – At the Stroke of Midnight

At the Stroke of Midnight, Contemporary Romance by Tara Sivec

Series: Naughty Princess Club #1

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

What a wild ride.

Cynthia is at rather a low point in her life. Her husband has left her and their thirteen-year-old daughter with nothing. Unable to cope, Cynthia is desperately trying to carry on as though nothing is wrong, but she can’t keep the facade up in the face of her loud-mouthed neighbour Ariel cutting through the bullshit.

Their unlikely friendship song with another neighbour, a librarian named Belle, and mutually fire financial straits lead them to an intriguing commercial enterprise: a princess-themed stripper service. And who better to help them get started than the incredibly hot owner of a local strip club?

Small confession: I don’t generally enjoy crass humour. I don’t think I’m above it somehow, nor do I have a problem with swearing or sex. I simply don’t find it all that funny. At the Stroke of Midnight relies very strongly on that type of humour. So if that’s your thing, you’ll laugh until you’re sick. If it isn’t your thing, you should still give the book a fair shot. Once I was invested in the characters and substance alongside the humour, I was onboard for the whole thing. Warts and all. This book might well be my gateway drug to enjoying crass humour. It’s definitely my gateway drug for loving Tara Sivec.

I seriously loved this book. Cynthia is amazing. Even in the throes of Stepford Syndrome, she is vulnerable and relatable. Years of an unfulfilling and oppressive marriage haven’t managed to snuff out her strength or determination. She deals with a lot of shit from basically everyone, including Ariel, and one of the best things about Cynthia is that she always comes to a point where she confronts it. This is beautiful every time. Cathartic as fuck. Her blowups spoke to me on a personal level. Even though I haven’t been through the same kind of shit, being fed up is a universal thing.

At the beginning, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get into this. I loved Cynthia, but sometimes I couldn’t help thinking Ariel was a shitty friend and PJ as a love interest worried me because he was pushy and rude. Then something magical happened. Ariel apologised for something. PJ apologised and explained his actions like a mature adult. I was over the moon. Things that bothered me were acknowledged and unpacked in the narrative. This is a book about adults, not only because they swear and have sex. They communicate and take responsibility for their actions. People who don’t do those things are villains.

I can’t wait for Belle’s book.

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Review – Spill Zone

Spill Zone, Science Fiction Graphic Novel written by Scott Westerfeld, drawn by Alex Puvilland, coloured by Hilary Sycamore

Series: Spill Zone #1

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I see Scott Westerfeld’s name, I get excited. His name on a book means an interesting world, difficult choices, troubled youngsters, and the occasional surprise that makes me squee. The artist is new to me, but I love the art. It’s lovely and fits the tone well.

After the Spill, Poughkeepsie has become uninhabitable. Addison and her sister Lexa still live rather close. Armed with rules like “Never get off the motorcycle” and “don’t look at the meat puppets,” Addison braves the weird dangers of the Spill Zone in order to take photographs which she sells through a broker for big cash.

Or so she thinks, until she meets one of her ‘collectors’ who offers her a million to take what might be her last trip into the Spill Zone.

I loved the soldiers that set up barricades around the zone. They were a nice touch of mundanity. Addison is badass and also sympathetic. Her parents were lost in the Spill, leaving her to care for Lexa, who was affected in ways that we’re only beginning to see.

It’s mysterious and exciting, and the stuff in the Spill Zone appeal to both my love of Cthonic weirdness and zombie apocalypses. The second volume cannot come soon enough.