TBR Challenge Book Review: The Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

July's TBR Challenge Theme was RITA books.  Just last Saturday I was privileged to be in the audience for the RITA awards, on the closing night of the RWA conference in New York City. Sonali Dev was there looking gorgeous in gold sari but sadly she didn't win for best first book, although her book was the only one in the category that I read. 

The Bollywood Affair had been sitting in my TBR since it came out last fall.  It had received enthusiastic recommendations from both Jane and Sarah on the DBSA podcast (a very rare thing) and it gorgeous cover was all over my newsfeed at the time.  But the hype and fear of unrealistic expectations kept dropping it further down my TBR pile. I was scared to read it and not like it, or of not loving it enthusiastically enough. 

I am glad that I waited to read it, so I could judge for itself not the hype.

It was a fun book,  very pleasant with a surprising amount of emotional depth.  The story opens with a mass wedding ceremony in a small village in India.  Mili at four years old is crying desperately through the ceremony as her 12-year old groom wanders away bored.  Twenty years later Mili still considers herself married, even though she doesn't remember the ceremony and has not seen her groom since then.  She has been able to use the privileges of being a considered a married woman to secure for herself an education and a future outside her family's old-fashioned village but still waits impatiently for her groom's return.

Virat Rathod has no intention of ever returning for Mili. Virat believed the wedding annulled till threatening letters from lawyers claiming to represent Mili start arriving.  He fears for the validity of his second marriage and for the security of his pregnant wife Rima's future.  Virat asks his younger brother Samir to track down Mili and make her understand that they have no marriage.  

Sam Rathod, a famous Bollywood writer and director embroiled in tabloid scandal and experiencing serious writer's block, jumps at the chance to leave his own troubles behind and be of use to the older brother he adores. He tracks Mili down to Michigan where she is studying, and soon becomes over-involved in her life, while hiding his true identity and his reason for looking her up.

There were several things about Mili that didn't work for me (she is romance-novel clumsy, unaware of her own beauty, etc) but at her core she is a young woman who turned an awful situation (child marriage and abandonment) into opportunities. Her resiliency, loyalty and faithfulness were truly something to admire. Her internal conflict over her feeling for Sam and her conviction about the trueness of her first marriage was fantastic.  She misjudges her feelings for Sam and the safety of her own heart.

Sam also had many romance hero elements that didn't work for me but I was fascinated by Sam, and Lata Rathod's backstory and relationship. I could have read a whole book about Lata,  Sam's mother, who seemed like a truly remarkable, generous and courageous woman who faced much sadder and uglier choices than Mili ever did as a result of her own childhood marriage. 

The depth of betrayal Mili feels at Sam's hand was breathtaking and even though the resolution was mad-cap in tone, it felt genuine to who Mili and Sam were and I cried happy tears for both of them.

I am looking forward to reading Sonali Dev's next book, The Bollywood Bride.

 

 

 


30 Days by Christine d'Abo

Alyssa buried her husband, her first and only lover two long years ago.  She has slowly and carefully been rebuilding her life, and her identity. Re-entering the dating scene as 35 year-old widow is daunting. Her late husband anticipated her hesitation during the last months of his life and left Alyssa a letter and 30-day challenge to encourage her reconnect with her sexuality as necessary first step before considering chancing couplehood again.

Harrison is Alyssa's new and temporary neighbor and seems like the perfect candidate to help her complete this project without risking getting too attached.

30 Days was very fun but unsurprisingly also very emotional. The book deals frankly with grief, and the long non-linear process of letting go of a beloved spouse.  Alyssa in a sense is trying to balance two relationships. She is in the midst of untangling her experiences of sex & love from her feelings for Rob while slowly falling in love with Harrison.

I really liked how slow Alyssa is to recognize and notice Harrison for himself and not just as convenient sexual partner. While she recognizes he is someone she can trust, is attracted to him, recognizes his skills and charm,  she learns the hard way how little she has tried to get to know him.  The conflict, tensions and hurts that develop between Alyssa and Harrison are believable and were resolved in satisfying and romantic way.

 

 I received a review copy via NetGalley .

 

 


RWA15: Wrapping it up.

Right now my twitter feed is full of people saying goodbye and thank yous to everyone they have met this week and I can't help but want to favorite every post. I had wonderful friendships and connections with people before I came here but the time at RWA affirmed and deepened them.

RWA was exhausting, exhilarating and thought-provoking. Again and again I am struck with how accessible everyone is at this conference. I rode the elevator with some of my favorite authors, shared drinks with others at the bar. I had the fun of seeing authors be unapologetic fans of each other.

I loved that everyone wants to know what was the last book you loved.

 

I had the chance to smile and share with people just starting out writing Romance and people with 30+ plus years and dozens if not hundreds of novels to their name (or names) and every one of these people were impressive to me.

 

They are navigating a very tumultuous and ever-changing market.

 

They are trying to figure out how to hone their craft, how to best market their stories and how to cope with the pressures and stress of it all.

 

They do it because they love these stories. They love to read

 

& write them and they want to share them.

I was struck by the incredible variety within Romance. All the little nooks and niches people write in and for. I only had a chance to attend a fraction of the panels offered and I think depending on your track and interest you could walk away with a completely different conference expereince than mine.

 

Outside of the Keynotes, people had the opportunity to engage in the conference in different ways, and will take away different impressions.

 

I was happy to see a larger conversation about diversity and for that conversation to spill out of the sessions into the general conference.

 

When I was among other bloggers and readers I took part in a lot conversations about how fragmented and specialized the blogging community has become. There has been a lot of turnover and shifting of the conversation to different platforms away from traditional blogging. I'm a newcomer to blogging romance so a lot of the older voices were before my time, but it was still fascinating to see how the community has evolved and changed.

Many of conversations I had this week with writers centered on how much there is to do as a romance writer. Most people have day jobs and families to support.

 

They squeeze in writing around the fringes. Yet there is incredible pressure to produce, produce, produce.

 

The keynotes

 

spoke again and again of slowing down to think, slowing down and refocusing on their love of writing, slowing down and connecting with others. As a reader, I know that I always want a new novel or work from an author I love but I am always happy to wait for it. I rather have a late novel, that has been well edited, and produced than one that was rushed out. I can wait for quality. But it is clear that writers feel pressured to give readers what they want as soon as possible.

 

The panel of depression was incredibly powerful. Again and again the reminder to love and care for yourself, by knowing yourself and doing for yourself what you would do for a friend really stuck with me.

 

I am so glad I came. I hugged so many people

 

(probably a couple who didn't want to be hugged, sorry Erin!) and I laughed a lot.

 

I've gone to lots of conferences with booklovers but it was such a treat to be at conference with people who don't even question but instead celebrate the very things I love to read the most.

I hope everyone had as good of an experience as I did. I know I will be back for another. Safe travels home everyone!

 


RWA15: First Impressions

People tell you that everyone at RWA is super nice.  They are not lying.  It is really hard to articulate my experience other than to squee.  

I came into this with a lot of nervousness, few expectations and a lot of hope.  I hoped to meet a lot of my twitter people. I hoped it would be fun.

And it has been all those things.  The panels I've attended have been interesting and well done. The signings have been overwhelming.  The amount of books and goodies I've acquired is seriously mind-boggling.

I've had the opportunity to hug or say hi to so many people that I've wanted to meet for so long and not to mention all the ones even I've only spotted in the crowd.  Talking about books is just seriously fun. 

I attended yesterday's Librarian's Day event  because while I read romances at night (and any other non working hours) I am school librarian.  The event was very nice. We were greeted by a huge stack of books on tables, a gift from the authors and publishers present at the event.

The panels were interesting, often funny and insightful. As book blogger over invested in the Rom community, not much was new to me, but I think it provided good content for collection development-minded librarians.

I was adopted by a band of Long Island Librarians I was sitting with who were funny, passionate about romance and deeply invested/knowledgeable about libraries. They made sure I didn't sit with a table of strangers at lunch. Romance people are awesome.

After all my official librarian's day stuff was done I headed over to a little cocktail party with a bunch of authors I've known from twitter, Audra, Laura, Alexandra, Tamsen, Jenny, Mindy plus Elisabeth.  It was a fun way to kick of the start of the conference.

I then took a break from it all and my husband and I hiked out to Williamsburg to play trivia with my old college roommates.  We laughed and laughed & even won 3rd place.  We crawled home exhausted but happy to reconnect with such awesome old friends.

Today, started with a mad crush of people at breakfast, and a very interesting speech by Barbara Freethy.  There was a wonderful excited buzz in the room.  I then filled yet another tote bag with books  and enjoy the opportunity to hug authors whose books were my introduction to Romance.

I've hardly had a chance to attend panels but the ones I've gone to were fabulous. Both panels on diversity and multi-cultural writing were fantastic. Great materials, insightful potent arguments. Of course I am the choir but I just wanted to cheer.

Highlight of the day however was sneaking away for lunch at French restaurant and just talking books again about what works and doesn't for us with another group of writers, editors and bloggers who were just so damn interesting.

Part of me wants to rush downstairs and hang out at the bar and meet another hundred awesome people but I'm remembering this is marathon not a sprint.  I'm recharging now and heading down to dinner with my husband in a little bit. If I haven't seen you yet, hopefully we will get a chance to connect tomorrow because it is the people who are making this experience wonderful.

 

 

 

 


Never Loved by Charlotte Stein

23433442After spending most of her young life held captive by an unstable and abusive father, Beatrix is finally free. She is free to live a normal life & do normal things, and forget everything that came before, starting over and building a new life in a new town & new country. That she doesn't quite know how to be normal is not going to stop her, she is going to fake it till she makes it and hope that no one ever learns of her messed up past.  When her troubled brother goes missing, Beatrix finds an unlikely knight in a large, surly street-fighter named Serge. Serge is an inexplicably kind and soft-spoken giant of a man. He intervenes on Tommy's behalf and is always there to protect and rescue Beatrix.  But Serge holds himself apart from Beatrix.  Although clearly attracted and protective of her, Serge is baffled by Beatrix's interest in him.

In Never Loved, Stein brings together a young woman learning to be normal with a man who has never had that option. I found myself wanting to have Serge's POV instead of Beatrix's, which is the first time I have ever felt that way reading a Stein novel. The story as it was told was still very interesting but I found Serge's struggle to accept and see himself as worthy of Beatrix's desire more compelling.  I did enjoy how enthusiastic Beatrix is about everything that Serge thinks should scare her away, from his rough appearance, his crazy hair stripes and his almost uncontrollable desire for her.  By claiming Serge, Beatrix claims herself and her desires for the first time, inspiring her to build authentic relationships with other people. 

 

I received a review copy of Never Loved from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

 


My Only Sunshine by Mary Ann Rivers

25610235A long time ago Mallory Evans and John Lake were friends. Their friendship was a secret to most everyone.  At night they would keep each other company in the dark talking through Mallory's window, but during the day at school they would walk past each other without acknowledgment in the halls.  Their secret friendship came to a dramatic end when it was discovered by Mallory's vicious and abusive step-father.  Mallory moved away and became a celebrated writer & John abandoned his parents' dream of a classical music career for alternative rock success. More than a decade has passed and their friendship is not a secret to anyone anymore because it was the subject of Mallory's second and highly regarded memoir.

This novella follows John and Mallory as they reconnect after years of estrangement. The story alternates between Mallory's memoir of their past friendship and their current day conversations and encounters where they finally consummate their once unspoken romance. The story is bittersweet and tentative. For love to bloom, John has to deal with his feelings of failure and guilt and Mallory has to risk accepting his desire.

I didn't find their current day romance convincingly urgent.  It felt like they were working out their past feelings for each other as they have yet to get to know each other enough in the current day to establish a credible HEA. Their love could grow and rekindle but it did not feel sure or certain. They might have been unknowingly waiting for each other and for this moment, but to me it was only a start.

It was pleasant to re-enter Rivers' Lakefield again and see familiar faces and locations again but I wish we had more time to spend with Mallory and John and see their current day relationship develop. 

P.S. Olivia Dade in a comment below reminded me of something I probably should have addressed in my review. Brain Mill Press made a big deal about doing a special photo-shoot to make sure their cover model accurately represented their vision for Mallory as plus-size woman. I thought Rivers did a wonderful job depicting and presenting a plus-sized heroine without making the story about her weight or body shape.  John is attracted to Mallory and finds her plus-sized body pretty and beautiful. He loves her breasts, shape and softness.  I thought it was erotic without becoming fetishistic. Mallory loves who she is and any self-consciousness she feels is just a natural part of becoming involved with someone she used to have a huge crush on. 

 

I received a review copy of My Only Sunshine from Brain Mill Press.

 


In the Fast Lane by Audra North

25664257Kerri Hart knows she is an oddity on the track but racing is her passion and family legacy.  She will do almost anything to keep Hart Racing alive in the wake of her father's untimely death. She is blindsided however by the extent of the financial bleeding and is livid when she discovers her brother has sold a majority stake in the team to Colt Hardware, whose previous sponsorship offer had been offensively sexist.

Ranger Colt is sick of his estranged father's meddling and manipulation. He is annoyed and angry to be pulled from his successful European projects at Colt in order to rescue Hart Racing but he will do what he has to do to earn his promotion. He might not know anything about racing but he will do everything he can to turn the Hart/Colt Racing team into winning and money-making venture.

In The Fast Lane smushed together two of my favorite tropes, enemies to lovers/fake relationship story and did good job with it. There were a couple of eye-rolling moments where the hero and heroine wonder to themselves about their uncharacteristically strong reactions to those "fake" kisses but generally it sold the attraction and conflict between the hero and heroine.  I did believe that Ranger and Kerri had every reason to mistrust and resent each other while at the same time having every motivation to work together.   Although I was unfamiliar with racing as a sport, North was able to exploit Ranger's outsider status to provide the necessary introductions to the lingo and conventions of NASCAR. 

North did a great job with Kerri. I loved that Kerri knows and loves NASCAR, but at the same time is frustrated by the double standards and casual sexism she runs into everyday. Individually the male racers can be her old friends, but collectively she is always excluded and set apart. She has to contend with expectations, demands and repercussions that don't affect them.

I was less convinced by Ranger's single-minded quest to best his father and his last-minute change of heart. Overall I didn't connect as much with Ranger and Al's conflict and I was relieved when they eventually talked it all out. 

So while car racing is not my favorite sport, I still enjoyed In the Fast Lane primarily for Kerri and her conflicted feelings about falling for the wrong man at the wrong time.

I received a review copy of In the Fast Lane from the author via NetGalley.


High Country Spring by Genevieve Turner


Francisca "Franny" Moreno loves ranch work, she shoot, ropes & handles the cattle at her father's ranch with the same or better skill as his hired hands. Her friends & sisters have all married, started families and established their own households. The further she gets from childhood the greater the pressure of her mother's disapproval grows. 

Felipe Ortega can't stop frowning or scolding Franny.  The risks she takes with such casual bravery make his blood run cold. But when Franny is banished to the house and limited lady-like tasks, he can't stand to see her trapped and agrees to a "mercantile marriage"  even though he knows that was he feels for her is not business-like in the least.

I loved the push and pull between these two.  Their passion, their fear, their repression.  Their marriage starts as unconventional arrangement, matures into a partnership whose fragility is exposed by near tragedy.  I love how much they struggled to say what they need to say to each other. I loved the how Turner flipped around the dynamics of the most important relationships in Franny's life giving her new found appreciation for qualities and people she had resented. Franny and Felipe have to rebuild their relationship and face up to the fears they have both tried to ignore.

I think this the strongest of Turner's novels to date and I can't wait to read more from her.

I don't usually give out trigger warnings but this book does deal with some topics that might be triggering to some: Miscarriage, Infertility, Depression & Anxiety.

I received a review copy from the author via NetGalley.

 


Recent Reads, great books by Lauren Dane, Rachel Aaron & Kristen Ashley

Opening Up (Ink and Chrome #1) by Lauren Dane: I read Dane for her heroines. She also writes complex, sometimes heavy family relationships, hot & interesting heroes but her heroines are just amazing. PJ is the grand-daughter of a racing legend and the black-sheep of her car-parts selling family. At work she is marginalized by her sexist asshole father and managed by her siblings. PJ follows her heart out of the company and launches her own car customizing business. PJ might be young but she is smart, tenacious and knows what she wants, and she wants Asa. Asa is gorgeous and sexy. He respects her work and finds her delightful but doesn't want to saddle her with his demons (abandonment issues & hardscrabble childhood). There was relatively little relationship angst in this book after their initial dance around each other as PJ's family/work conflict dominates but the romance was sexy and satisfying. I can't wait to read more Ink and Chrome books,

Nice Dragons Finish Last (Heartstrikers 1) by Rachel Aaron. Julius's mother is a legendary and powerful dragon. She rules her large family through fear and manipulation. Impatient with Julius's lack of ambition, she drags him out of his room and away from his video games and drops him in the middle of the DFZ (Detroit Free Zone), without his powers and money and tells him he has a month to prove himself worthy of his family name or he dies.

Marci is almost a certified Mage, only a few week away from her degree when her father's vicious employer kills him and sets out to kill her too.

Both Marci and Julius are trying to stay alive in the DFZ and build a unlikely partnership as they team up to track down a runaway dragon.

This is the first book in a fun, imaginative and engaging Urban Fantasy series. I loved the whole thing, from Julius and Marci's fledgling flirtation to Julius large, dangerously unpredictable family.

Ride Steady (Chaos #3) by Kristen Ashley : I devoured this book. I think it is the best of the series so far. As a kid, Carson grew up learning how to take a hit, and keep his head down. He learned to plot, plan and keep his dreams to himself. Eight years after leaving town after one last confrontation with his father, Joker is where he wants to be. He is brother in Chaos, where he turns his art into customized bikes. He thinks he has left his past behind till he runs into his teenage crush Carissa on the side of the road.

Carissa was a cheerleader and the quarterback's girlfriend, but she didn't play the mean girl games and always had a smile for Carson. While Joker's life has been in a upward trajectory, Carissa has fallen far from her high school glory. After the loss of her sister and her mother's death, all Carissa has ever wanted was to have a family. So she held on to her jerk boyfriend for dear life. Eight years later she has been dumped by her lawyer husband who has replaced her with an even younger fiancée, she is desperately trying to make ends meet, working overtime as grocery clerk, caring for her toddler son while trying to figure out how to hold on to custody. Her ex wants to scrape her from his life and take their son with him. While Carissa is initially wary of getting help from a biker, she soon recognizes what a good man Joker is, even if she doesn't realize, this beared, lean and shaggy haired man is her old crush, Carson.

There a great versions of familiar KA motifs, fun cameos by other KA characters, and a surprisingly mature and beautiful romance, where the hero and heroine solve problems and share concerns with each other. It is one of those rare books that at 640 pages I was left wanting more.


The Dark Space by Mary Ann Rivers & Ruthie Knox

DarkSpace-500x750I've read all of Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox's previous books, but I really didn't know what to expect from The Dark Space. I particularly didn't know if Brain Mill Press's "love books for humans" could actually satisfy my romance loving heart.

The Dark Space is the story of Cal and Winnie, college seniors at a nameless smallish midwestern liberal arts college. Winnie is a wallflower, quietly observing but not belonging, bitter that all the things she wanted to happen and expected to happen to her at college never have.

Cal is a skinny, pushy professor's kid, too at home on campus, killing time till graduation and his dream of aimless slacker life in California. For their last semester they are both taking an extremely popular elective open only to seniors, Contact Improv, colloquially known around campus as "the Make-out class". Cal is eager, obnoxiously so, for the opportunities this class might give him. Winnie is reluctant and skeptical. The class is and is not what they expect it to be but it transforms them. The story takes a metaphysical/woo turn, when Cal and Winnie's energies collide and they become somewhat psychically linked, able to transmit their desires to each other. This bond, that Winnie terms The Dark Space, draws them toward each other, and other people. Their exploration of that magic, of its boundaries, its mutability, its permanence becomes the spark of their love story.


I'm in love with Cal Darling, and my love isn't beautiful or good in itself, but our love will lead us to beauty and truth. Our love will be the helper of our better natures.

Plato said it.

Professor Darling said it.

But what matters is that when I said it, Calvin Darling said yes.

The Dark Space veered off well-trod romance paths to become a different kind of story but I still enjoyed it for the most part. Although the story has a romantic arc, it did not feel like a romance, even if the climax of the story was a climax. It was really a story about self-discovery and self-love fueled by a love affair.

While Cal and Winnie are together happily at the end of the story, that was not the HEA. The HEA is the transformation they have experienced, the assurance Cal and Winnie have within themselves about how to move through life & the joy they have chosen to experience together.

The Dark Space occasionally got too woo and abstract for me, with its talk of energies, and inner lights and reflections on the nature of love. I was turned off by how privileged Winnie and Cal are in their college experience and how little acknowledgement of that is given by Rivers and Knox even when Cal and Winnie continually reflect on their college experience.

The Dark Space does captures well the fantasy of the final college semester, of a time that is supposed to be both the ending something and the beginning something and people search for ways to make it meaningful.

My favorite part of the whole book was Becky Mailer Darling. Becky is Cal's mom, who tells somewhat uncomfortable, somewhat awkward yet tender comforting stories. No one in the book really deserves how much she loves them, and I was a little heartbroken when she breezily summarizes her somewhat painful life, into brief paragraph. I wanted to pick her up out of this story and give her a better one.

In the end The Dark Space was an interesting, somewhat challenging book that had a stronger romantic arc than I expected.

I received a review copy of The Dark Space from Brain Mill Press.