Book Review: What Nora Knew

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin Book Review

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin Book Review

Over the weekend, I snuggled in bed with What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin. Reading the novel was like settling down with a good friend. All I needed was a glass of wine to make it a girl’s night in. If you’ve ever seen any of Nora Ephron’s movies, you’ll love this book.

Thirty-nine year old Molly Hallberg is a divorced writer living in New York City. Thanks to the Gawker-type website that she works for, she’s sent out on wacky assignments (vibrator testing, anyone?). Her editor assigns Molly a seemingly impossible article: write about romance and true love in the style of Nora Ephron.  Due to her divorce from a divorce lawyer, Molly is a cynic when it comes to such matters. This obviously makes it hard to research a story about love. However, will Molly allow herself to see the blossoming love right in front of her? Or will she miss her chance at true love?

Molly is funny. Not only is she funny, but she’s witty and sarcastic. I caught myself laughing out loud in my quiet sleepy home. Her banter with her love interest was smart and entertaining. I could imagine the zings she shot at him. Her best friends were almost as entertaining as Molly. As someone who’s is addicted to Twitter, Angela cracked me up. She was always attempting to find creative ways to tweet sales (under a false identity) for her grocery store client.

If you’ve seen Ephron’s romantic comedies such as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, you’ll have fun picking out all the movie references.  I won’t spoil them for you.

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin was a fun, easy read and perfect for spring break or beach reading.

I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The House at the End of Hope Street

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

I can’t believe I didn’t pick up The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag sooner. I packed for my trip to Disney World, telling myself that I’d dig into after the kids went to sleep. Except I was just as exhausted as the kids each night. Instead, I pulled it out on the plane trip back home and was immediately wished I could move into the magical house at 11 Hope Street. This has to be one of my favorite novels so far this year.

As the youngest Ph.d. student at Cambridge University,19-year-old Alba Ashby is metaphorically lost. After a tragedy that involved getting kicked out of school, she finds herself in front of a special house at the end of Hope Street. Once she steps insides, she discovers refuge in the magical house. Peggy, the proprietress, informs Alba that she may stay in the house for 99 days and hopefully be able to turn her life around. Along with her fellow housemates Carmen, a singer, and Greer, an aging actress, Alba also befriends the talking portraits of those who stayed there before her: Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf, and many other now famous women.

I loved the human characters in the novel, but the house had a personality too. Each character (except for the house) had a different type of personal crisis. When you got down to it, each woman had to learn to embrace their true self, and in turn, to embrace their passion. The house was not shy about giving hints or nudges to help each lady achieve it.

Just like 11 Hope Street embraced its residents, the author had me under her spell throughout the entire book. The House at the End of Hope Street was such an enchanting novel that I was truly sad for it to end. I fell in love with Alba and the house at first sight. It was hard to let them go.

Congrats to Allison F who won the giveaway for a copy of this book!

I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: Oleander Girl

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Staying up until the wee hours finishing a book on the cusp of daylight savings time was not a wise decision, but I couldn’t stop reading Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The novel was definitely worth the sleep deprivation on Sunday morning. There’s also a surprise towards the end that, looking back, I should have been able to guess. But I didn’t guess it and that’s a testimony to Divakaruni’s well crafted writing.

Korobi Roy, orphaned at birth,  was raised by her traditional grandparents in Kolkata, India. As their only grandchild, they made sure Korobi had the best education possible and not want for anything. She knows nothing of her parents except that her mother died during childbirth and her father in an accident. She yearns deeply to know the woman who was her mother but her family remains tight lipped. After a tragedy occurs on the night of her engagement party, she feels compelled to travel solo to America to uncover her family secrets. During her search in post 9/11 United States, Korobi must reevaluate everything she thought she knew about true love, family, race and identity.

Divakaruni deftly weaves the complex threads of her characters into a beautiful tapestry.  She also deftly tackles issues such as “flying while brown” in the United States; race and class in India versus race and class in post 9/11 America; traditional Indian values; and even religious differences. None of it feels preachy, but rather it’s a peek into the many layers of living in India, for both Hindu or Muslim characters.  She keeps it real for her readers without romanticizing  or exoticizing their complexity.

While most of the novel follows Korobi, some of my favorite characters were her warm, nurturing grandmother Sarojini; her fiance’s teen sister Pia; and her fiance’s loyal Muslim chauffeur Asif. While Pia and Asif have minor roles in the novel, they are just as alive on the page as Korobi and her fiance Rajat.

This novel would make a terrific choice for your book club because we can relate to Korobi’s search for her family’s history yet the issues it raises offers plenty to discuss.

My big issue with this book is its cover illustration. It seems the trend for book covers in women’s literature involves a lone woman in soft colors.  That doesn’t usually bother me. What bothers me is that the woman on the cover does not look of Indian descent. She doesn’t even come close to the author’s description of Korobi: brown skin with long, dark, curly hair. The woman on the cover is a whitewashed version of Korobi.

The hardcover  is just the oleander flowers:

Oleander Girl Hardcover

While the Indian version is a chair with a sari:

Oleander Girl Indian Cover

Is the whitewashing of Oleander Girl‘s cover illustration supposed to make it more appealing to book clubs and non-Indians? We readers should be given more credit.

Don’t let the cover keep you from picking up Oleander Girl by Banerjee Divakaruni.  You’ll be missing out if you do.

I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: I Shall Be Near to You

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

When pick up a historical fiction, I want to be whisked away into that time period. Author Erin Lindsay McCabe transported me smack dab into the U.S. Civil War with her novel I Shall Be Near to You. In fact, I saw the Civil War from a perspective I’ve never seen before: from the eyes of a woman disguised as a man in the Union Army. The novel is inspired by letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who fought in the war as Private Lyons Wakeman.

In the novel, newlywed Rosetta doesn’t want her husband to enlist in the army, but Jeremiah joins up thanks to the promise of good money. He wants to buy them a farm of their own. Rosetta’s father encouraged her to think for herself and work the family’s farm growing up. Now that she’s a wife, she is unable to sit indoors and do what’s expected of her: cook, mend clothes, and other chores traditionally regulated to women. Instead, she disguises herself as a man and runs off to enlist, hoping that she’ll be in the same regiment as her husband.  Jeremiah is none to happy when discovers what she’s done but it’s too late to turn back.

It’s very evident that the author did her research for the novel, which allowed her to bring Rosetta’s story alive for the readers. It’s a pet peeve of mine when I read historical fiction and the characters speak like they’re from present day. Not so with this book.  The language fits in with the period.

The book was a quick read for me because of the pace and the battle scenes. Seeing the war from Rosetta’s perspective definitely made me wonder about all the women who did what she did. I do wish that some of themes in the novel could have been expanded upon more, mainly women’s rights and slavery.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. If you like historical fiction, you should definitely add I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe to your to-read list.

Don’t forget to enter our latest book giveaway. Today is the last day to enter!

I received a review copy of the book.

 

Friday Reads: On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

Now that the snow days are behind us and the kids are back in school on a regular basis, I’ve had On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee in my ears whenever I can.  B.D. Wong is the narrator for the audiobook. I wasn’t sure if I liked his style at first, but his tone fit the mood of the dystopian world of future B-mor (Baltimore for us present day folks). The novel follows Fan, who leaves the safety of B-mor to search for her love:

In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class—descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China—find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement.

In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan’s journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.

Though I’m halfway through the 11-hour long audiobook, it’s gotten to the point where my impatience is kicking in. As I’m such a fast reader, I want to pick up a print copy and speed through the rest of the novel. Instead I’ll just savor the rest of the audiobook and Fan’s story unfold.

On Such a Full Sea is the first book of Chang-rae Lee that I’ve read and it certainly won’t be my last. Have you read his books? Which one should I read next?

What are you reading today?

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Book Review: Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

 

I love reading novels set in India, especially when it’s filled with rich imagery and a nod to India’s history and culture. Each time I opened up the pages of the beautifully written novel Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen, I was transported to India during the turbulent 1940s and 1950s.

Sophie has finally returned to India after her marriage to Lucien, an officer in the British Foreign Office. Ten years ago, she lived in a maharajah’s palace when her father was employed as the palace doctor. Sophie has worked hard to push the past behind after moving back to London, but her memories and heartache rush back when she returns as the new Sophie. The current Sophie feels just as lost as the younger version, but the older, wiser Sophie has learned to take control of her life.

The two parts of Sophie’s life unfolds a few chapters as a time and alternates between her past and her present. I enjoyed seeing how Sophie changed and how parts of her remained the same as the story jumped between the years. The pre-partition India is very different from New Delhi in 1958, where she is stationed with her new husband.

Alison McQueen captures India in great detail but doesn’t gloss over the racism and violence that occurred during partition transition. The country isn’t exoticized for us Westerners, which I appreciated. I found the ending predictable but it was a satisfying one. It was what I hoped for Sophie. Warning, you might need some tissues for the end.

Travel to India and read Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen.

Do you have a favorite setting when you read fiction?

I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.