30 May 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Summary from Goodreads:
A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

I first heard about When Dimple Met Rishi months ago when Preeti Chhibber started talking about an upcoming YA romance novel about two Indian kids at a computer coding camp whose parents have decided to play matchmaker.  That sounded a) adorable as all get-out and b) yaaaas, #ownvoices book about two nerdy kids.  Yes, do want, kthanks.

Would you be surprised if I said that basically anyone who walks into our teen section at the store gets this book handed to them?  You shouldn't be.

Because When Dimple Met Rishi is the most adorable, a-dork-able romance I've read in a long time. There's comics, coding, cosplay, generalized nerdery, and Bollywood. Dimple and Rishi are such great characters who are very smart but also have a lot of life experience to live through, too.  Dimple is extremely angry at her parents for this matchmaking scheme (particularly her mom, since her mom's sole purpose in life seems to get Dimple to be more girly and snag an Ideal Indian Husband); she doesn't have time for a relationship, she's going to focus on her career to develop great apps and software to help people.  Rishi, who is of a more traditional mindset, is determined to be a successful engineer so that he can take care of his parents later on, even if that means depriving himself of a creative outlet that he loves.  I loved the secondary characters of Dimple's roommate Celia and Rishi's brother Ashish. But in and around the central romance plot, there are some really sobering scenes with the local rich douche-bros and some casual racism and sexism; Menon uses these really tough scenes to highlight how hard Dimple has worked and how people like to pigeon-hole brown kids. I loved it - such a good book.

If this book does not make you grin with delight there is no hope for you. Definitely a comp for fans of Fangirl, given the characters' are edging out of teenage years and into adulthood.

(Also, please make this into a movie? It would be the cutest.)

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

28 May 2017

From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh (The London Underground #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
Eva Leigh launches a seductive new series that sizzles with the dark secrets of London’s underworld...

Years ago, the Duke of Greyland gave his heart—and a princely sum of money—to a charming, destitute widow with unparalleled beauty. After one passionate night, she slipped from his bed and vanished without a trace. And just when he’s given up hope of ever seeing her again, Greyland finds her managing a gaming hell. He’s desperate to have her… until he discovers everything about his long-lost lover was a lie.

In truth, Cassandra Blake grew up on the streets, picking pockets to survive. Greyland was a mark—to be fleeced and forgotten—but her feelings for the duke became all too real. Once he learns of her deception, however, the heat in his eyes turns to ice. When her business partner absconds with the gaming hell proceeds—leaving unsavory investors out for blood—Cassandra must beg the man she betrayed for help.

Greyland wants compensation, too, and he’ll assist her under one condition: she doesn’t leave his sight until her debts are paid. But it’s not long before the real Cassandra—the smart, streetwise criminal—is stealing his heart all over again. 

Eva Leigh is kicking off a new series!  More cross-class romance, yes! (I still need to catch up with the last book from her Wicked Quills of London series, Temptations of a Wallflower - I have it, but haven't read it, yet, story of my life.)

From Duke Till Dawn is a wild ride!  We have a Duke in love with a pretty widow who captured his attention then disappeared but turns up months later as the manager of a pop-up gaming hell...who spins a few more glib stories but her house of cards soon collapses.  The pretty widow is really a con-artist, skilled at getting rich men to "help out" a destitute young widow desperate for a few hundred pounds to get her out of a jam, more familiar with the gutter than the ballroom.  The Duke, Greyland, is understandably pissed off at her, not so much for cheating him out of money but for abusing his trust (and maybe breaking his heart).  Cassie was hoping this gaming hell gig would be her last job, a way to get out of the grind and lead a life free of lies. But when her business partner - her supposed friend and mentor for many years - disappears with the takings from the gaming hell, leaving Cassie in mortal danger, she's forced to throw herself on Greyland's mercy.

This is a cross-class romance that gets rather adventurous (in more ways than one) and has some real stakes. I really liked the problem presented by making the heroine a grifter who had made the hero a previous mark - it turns the meet-cute on its head and presents a real problem of social, moral, and personal tangles to the resolution of a Happy Ending rather than just those pesky "three little words." Ellingsworth and Langdon were a hoot as the comic relief - I can't wait to see what Leigh has in store for them.

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

25 May 2017

Isadora by Amelia Gray

Summary from Goodreads:
Using the scaffolding of Isadora Duncan’s life and the stuff of her spirit, Amelia Gray delivers an incredibly imaginative portrait of the artist

In 1913, the restless world sat on the brink of unimaginable suffering. But for one woman, the darkness of a new era had already made itself at home. Isadora Duncan would come to be known as the mother of modern dance, but in the spring of 1913 she was a grieving mother, after a freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children.

The accident cracked Isadora’s life in two: on one side, the brilliant young talent who captivated audiences the world over; on the other, a heartbroken mother spinning dangerously on the edge of sanity.

Isadora is a shocking and visceral portrait of an artist and woman drawn to the brink of destruction by the cruelty of life. In her breakout novel, Amelia Gray offers a relentless portrayal of a legendary artist churning through prewar Europe. Isadora seeks to obliterate the mannered portrait of a dancer and to introduce the reader to a woman who lived and loved without limits, even in the darkest days of her life.

I've been very interested in this novel for a while.  Isadora Duncan is an absolutely important figure in the development of modern dance and in breaking away from the classical ballet tradition.  She's also a tragic figure in the discipline, first losing her eldest two children to an accident and then dying of a broken neck when her scarf is caught in a car's axle.  Of course, I would want to read a novel based on her life.

This didn't quite pan out.  There's an interesting biographical novel somewhere in Isadora, one about grief and loss and art, but it's bogged down by the style. The novel begins on the day that Isadora's children drown in a car accident in the Seine and spans the next 18 months or so told by a rotating cast of 4 characters: Paris Singer, Isadora's lover and father of her younger child; Elizabeth, Isadora's sister; Max, Elizabeth's lover (maybe her lover, maybe not?) and a teacher at the Duncan school in Darmstadt; and Isadora Duncan herself.  There are also other characters coloring the narrative, the Duncan matriarch, another Duncan sibling and his wife, students of the Duncan school, and so on. Now, the major snag here is that Isadora narrates in the first person and everyone else in a close third person point-of-view, with some letters mixed in between chapters, and that makes it absolute hell to read. Also, while some of Paris's sections were interesting, absolutely none of Max's sections were worth reading, in my opinion. Isadora's sections are the strongest, and most beautiful, with Elizabeth's a perfect contrast as the sister always in the shadow. If I could take a knife and snip out everything else leaving only these two sister narrators (and magically make Isadora's sections a close third POV) this would be a marvelous novel.

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

24 May 2017

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. by Samantha Irby

Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire. With We Are Never Meeting in Real Life., "bitches gotta eat" blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making "adult" budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette--she's "35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something"--detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father's ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms--hang in there for the Costco loot--she's as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.

Somehow, I had not run across Samantha Irby, a writer/humorist from Chicago, on the Interwebs. (No lie - I saw the cover with its grumpy kitten and was like SOLD, I wonder who wrote this.) we are never meeting in real life. is a very solid collection of personal essays ranging from hilarious (her bachelorette contestant application) to the stone-cold sobering (a phone call at college informing her that her father is missing, possibly dead). The arrangement of essays is very clever, moving us from topics we grasp easily - and easily chuckle over - moving through gradually harder subjects as Irby reveals to us - always with a quip - who she is as a queer, disabled black woman. She will cut you to ribbons with her words then enjoy a marathon of Real Housewives in her pajamas without a second thought. I think my favorite piece was the one about the Civil War reenactment she ran across while in Naperville for a wedding.  Definite recommend.

we are never meeting in real life. is out May 30th!

Edited to add: Congrats to Irby on her TV deal for her previous book, Meaty!

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

23 May 2017

Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy

Summary from Goodreads:
Thunderstorms are rolling across the summer sky. Every time one breaks, Rose Bowan loses consciousness and has vivid, realistic dreams about being in another woman's body.

Is Rose merely dreaming? Or is she, in fact, inhabiting a stranger? Disturbed yet entranced, she sets out to discover what is happening to her, leaving the cocoon of her family’s small repertory cinema for the larger, upended world of someone wildly different from herself. Meanwhile her mother is in the early stages of dementia, and has begun to speak for the first time in decades about another haunting presence: Rose’s younger sister.

In LITTLE SISTER, one woman fights to help someone she has never met, and to come to terms with a death for which she always felt responsible. With the elegant prose and groundbreaking imagination that have earned her international acclaim, Barbara Gowdy explores the astonishing power of empathy, the question of where we end and others begin, and the fierce bonds of motherhood and sisterhood.

Little Sister is one of those books that has such a good premise and idea behind the characters but then gets really underserved by the construction. The book takes so long to get to WHY Rose becomes so obsessed with Harriet and how the two of them might be connected (or not) that I was having trouble staying with the story.  And then it doesn't really dig into whether Rose was actually having visions, or just migraines, or if there truly was something supernatural.  For a short novel it should not have taken me this long to read. The mother, Fiona, was a great character and one of the few times that I've read an aging parent with dementia who is portrayed sympathetically but also given a three-dimensional personality beyond the mental deterioration.

Dear FTC: Thanks to Tin House Galley Club for the ARC.

21 May 2017

Chemistry by Weike Wang

Summary from Goodreads:
Praised by Ha Jin as "a genuine piece of literature: wise, humorous, and moving," and perfect for readers of Lab Girl and Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, a luminous coming-of-age novel about a young female scientist who must recalibrate her life when her academic career goes off track.

Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She's tormented by her failed research--and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there's another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding success on her own.

Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she's confronted with a question she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry--one in which the reactions can't be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

Chemistry is a book that fits in between Dear Committee Members and Dept. of Speculation - which is an intersection that I didn't know I needed. I really enjoyed the narrator as she winds up having to break almost everything in her life from her academic career to her long-term relationships before she can figure out who she is or what she wants. The writing is very wry and there's a lot of science and chemistry (NERD CRED FTW). I had some trouble at the beginning with the tenses - present tense is used for EVERYTHING, including events from the narrator's childhood, and I found that kind of annoying.

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

17 May 2017

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Summary from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring comes the fifth installment in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a modern retelling of Othello set in a suburban schoolyard

Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, a diplomat's son, Osei Kokote, knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day so he's lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can't stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players - teachers and pupils alike - will never be the same again.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970's suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant girlfriend Mimi, Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

I am having extreme side-eye with this this book. I love the Shakespeare Hogarth series idea, but I don't think New Boy executed well. We've had Othello updated using teens before but Chevalier chose to use 6th graders in the 1970s as her setting. Her depiction of racial tension in 1970s America worked but the sexual politics fell very flat, particularly since the action took place in a single school day.  One school day.  I know eleven-ish/twelve-ish year-olds are DRAMA (I've got twin nieces that age, tell me about it) but it felt over-constructed. Maybe it would have worked better to run the story over time as the children aged and developed relationships but this was far too short a time span.  In addition, I think Hogarth missed an opportunity to get an author who is not a white person to write Othello's story.  Chevalier is a fine writer, but what would Marlon James have done with this?  Jesmyn Ward? Colson Whitehead? NK Jemisin? Nnedi Okorafor? (OMG, YES PLEASE WRITE THIS, NNEDI)

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

16 May 2017

Evensong by Kate Southwood

Sumary from Goodreads:
Margaret Maguire—a widow and grandmother, home from the hospital in time for Christmas—is no longer able to ignore the consequences of having married an imperious and arrogant man. Despite her efforts to be a good wife and mother in small-town Iowa, her adult children are now strangers to one another, past hope of reconciliation. Margaret’s granddaughter could be the one to break the cycle, but she can’t do it without Margaret’s help. It’s time to take stock, to examine the past—even time for Margaret to call herself to account.

By turns tenacious and tender, contrary and wry, Margaret examines her life’s tragedies and joys, motivations and choices, coming to view herself and the past with compassion, if not entirely with forgiveness. Beautifully rendered and poignantly told, Evensong is an indelible portrait of a woman searching for tranquility at the end of her days.

While perusing catalogs, I came across a book set in Iowa.  Gimmie.

Evensong by Kate Southwood beautiful, quiet, slowly unfolding story about an elderly woman near the end of her life.  As she recuperates from a heart attack, she contemplates the consequences of her choice of husband who died decades ago when their two children were young (nothing squicky, just not a great person, in the end). The family dynamics here are very intricate - encounters are either commonplace or fraught with tension between the daughters and grand-daughter.  Anyone who has had that awkward holiday dinner with the one overachieving weirdo relative that everyone else is winding up will understand.

Although I picked up Evensong specifically because it is set in Iowa - a fictional town somewhere down near Ft Madison - and it isn't specifically evocative of place, it very much deserves its comps to Marilynne Robinson's Gilead with with the focus on a long life, family, and the past.

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

09 May 2017

Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano by Andrea Avery

Summary from Goodreads:
Andrea, already a promising and ambitious classical pianist at twelve, was diagnosed with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis that threatened not just her musical aspirations but her ability to live a normal life. As Andrea navigates the pain and frustration of coping with RA alongside the usual travails of puberty, college, sex, and just growing-up, she turns to music—specifically Franz Schubert's sonata in B-flat D960, and the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein for strength and inspiration. The heartbreaking story of this mysterious sonata—Schubert’s last, and his most elusive and haunting—is the soundtrack of Andrea's story.

Sonata is a coming-of-age story that explores a “Janus-head miracle”—Andrea's extraordinary talent and even more extraordinary illness—in a manner reminiscent Brain on Fire and Poster Child. As the goshawk becomes a source of both devotion and frustration for Helen Macdonald in H Is for Hawk, so the piano comes to represent both struggle and salvation for Andrea in this extraordinary debut.

Sonata is a beautifully written, unflinching look at how a pianist has fought and accommodated her disease, even as it tried to close off her instrument. This is not Inspiration Lit. Avery doesn't triumph over adversity to nab a Juilliard scholarship, recording contract, and massive acclaim as a concert pianist. She allows us to see her anger, her loss at not being given a fair shake to see where her talent might take her before RA decided that she wasn't allowed to know if her joints would reliably function. That some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are awful. How being an adult with a chronic illness and disability impacted her relationships, romantic and otherwise. Mixed into Avery's story are the stories of Franz Schubert, a gifted composer ahead of his time who wrote the B-flat sonata that calls to her, and Paul Wittgenstein, a concert pianist who lost an arm in WWI.

Avery has a very nice writing style.  Straightforward but also illustrative without getting ornate. Someday, I hope she writes about being an English teacher, too, since she gives us a small glimpse into her life as an instructor and it sounds like she can give us some stories there, too.

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

03 May 2017

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

Summary from Goodreads:
A brilliant, illuminating reassessment of the life and work of Jane Austen that makes clear how Austen has been misread for the past two centuries and that shows us how she intended her books to be read, revealing, as well, how subversive and daring--how truly radical--a writer she was.

In this fascinating, revelatory work, Helena Kelly--dazzling Jane Austen authority--looks past the grand houses, the pretty young women, past the demure drawing room dramas and witty commentary on the narrow social worlds of her time that became the hallmark of Austen's work to bring to light the serious, ambitious, deeply subversive nature of this beloved writer. Kelly illuminates the radical subjects--slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them--considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman "of information," fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it. We see a writer who understood that the novel--until then seen as mindless "trash"--could be a great art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer up to that time, imbued it with its particular greatness.

I'd been hearing about this new book of Jane Austen criticism that posits Miss Austen would have been a radical.

OK.  I'm in (I was actually in at "new book of Jane Austen criticism" but "political radicalism" bumped it up the TBR). Hello, Jane Austen, the Secret Radical.

I really, really liked Kelly's analysis of Austen's work.  The arguments made about Jane Austen's political leanings (spoiler: she's not a Conservative) are interesting and worth thinking about, whether you agree or not.  I actually started wishing I had a physical copy of this book so I could do some annotating/arguing in the margins. However, the affectation of placing a fanciful, fictionalized scene from Austen's life at the beginning of each chapter, including the Introduction, is completely unnecessary and hypocritical after pillorying Austen biographers for creating saccharine, unsupported-by-evidence portraits of "our Dear Sweet Aunt Jane." Such a lazy device. The editor should have nixed those pages.

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

02 May 2017

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

Summary from Goodreads:
From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about  a  Palestinian family caught between present and past, between  displacement and home.

On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel, and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967. Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children.

When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities.

Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand—one that asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again. 

Oh man, this book.  Salt Houses is going on my best-of list this year for sure. I had to take a break about page 74 to charge up the iPad (since I forgot to charge it before Readathon started - oh, the vagaries of digital galleys), but once I started reading again this morning I could not stop.  And I'm so glad this was an end-of-Readathon book as opposed to the beginning because it ruined me for a few days afterward.

Salt Houses is a beautifully crafted story told by rotating among the different members of four generations of a Palestinian family, forced into a nomadic life after their home in Jaffa is lost during the 1948 incursion. Subsequent homes are created and lost over the years - Nablus, Kuwait, Amman, Beiruit, Paris, Boston. The push-pull of culture, homeland, loss, and faith is exquisite. Such a wonderful debut novel.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this wonderful novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

01 May 2017

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

Summary from Goodreads:
When she was sixteen years old, Pamela Paul opened to the first page of a notebook and began recording the title and author of every book she read during the summer. She continued doing so as autumn turned to winter, as high school turned to college, as her life took her through romance, disappointment, marriage, and motherhood, and as she rose in her career to the editorship of The New York Times Book Review. The once-new notebook—now mottled, coffee-stained, and frayed at the corners—is the record of her lifelong love affair with books, and it has come to mean more to her than any other material possession. She has even given it a name: Bob, for “Book of Books."

Pamela Paul’s life with Bob is a life that many of us will recognize, a life in which books play a much more meaningful role than simply imparting information or entertaining us with compelling stories. When she opens Bob to any page, the titles and authors listed there serve as touchstones to remember the people, places, and emotions of her past – not only what she was reading but where she was and the person she was at the time. It makes a difference that she read The Trial while on a youth program in France, The Hunger Games in the maternity ward, and Swimming to Cambodia in Cambodia, and she reflects on how her life’s journey has been shaped and redirected by the books and authors who spoke to her at that time.

Not merely a chronicle of reading, My Life with Bob is also a testament to the power of books to provide the perspective, courage, companionship, and ultimately the self-knowledge to forge our own path and get where we want to go.

Bob is pretty awesome.

"Books wherein an author talks about how much they love books and what they read" is a particular genre kryptonite of mine. Editor of the New York Times Book Review wrote a book about keeping a book journal for most of her life?  Sign me up.

My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul was a little more memoir that I had anticipated - I was expecting more "this is what I read" as opposed to "this is my life while I was reading books" - but it's a well-written set of personal essays about a life-long love of reading, chronicled by the Bob (Book of Books) that she started while on a study program in France during high school. As someone who only started a book journal once finished with grad school and free once-again to start reading voraciously I found this particularly appealing.

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