Tag Archive | fiction

Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal

This book was nominated to be our book club selection for this month; it didn’t win the vote, but I had read the book that was selected already, so I decided to read this one instead.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

How interesting!

The story follows Nikki, a young Punjabi woman who lives in London.  She is struggling to find her identity, after dropping out of law school and experiencing the death of her father.  There is tension with her mother, as she works as a bartender and lives in the flat above the pub.  Her mother fears she’s going down the wrong path; throwing her life away.

Nikki reluctantly agrees to post a profile for her sister on the “marriage board” at the largest Sikh temple in Southall.  While there, she finds a posting for an English and creative writing teacher, facilitating a project for women to tell their stories.  She has no experience teaching at all, much less English or creative writing, but she gets the job because no one else applies.

She is in for a wild ride.  A half dozen widows sign up for the course, with varying degrees of interest in learning English, but almost all of them have stories that they want to tell…  And their stories are erotic!  These women are reliving their experiences with their husbands, or dreaming of the experiences that they would have liked to have had.  What becomes apparent is that these women, who are not supposed to have these feelings or desires, have rich imaginations and stories that pour out of them onto the page.  Nevermind that most of them don’t even know how to write…  They will find a way.

Along the way, Nikki finds herself drawn into the culture of her birth, one she has long held at arm’s length.  She learns that these women aren’t backwards or archaic; instead they honor their rich cultural heritage.

I think this novel could have stood on its own, but the author throws in the excitement of a murder mystery too.  I think I would have enjoyed this book either way, but I’m still not sure whether the side story adds to or detracts from the main plot line.

I listened to the book on audio, and found the reader, Meera Syal, to be engaging from start to finish.

4 stars.

Book Review: The Sanatorium

The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse

Le Sommet is a luxury hotel located deep in the mountains of the Swiss Alps.  It is also a converted tuberculosis sanatorium.  Elin Warner is a British police detective who is on a leave of absence from her job after an attempt to apprehend a murderer goes horribly wrong.

The Sanatorium

The hotel has recently opened after an extensive revisioning, fraught with conflict, protests, and the disappearance of the principal architect. 

Elin’s brother is getting married, and she would like to repair their estranged relationship, as he is the only family she has left.  Elin and her boyfriend head up for a week at Le Sommet, where her brother’s fiance works.  While they are there, the road up is wiped out due to an avalanche, and the funicular is stopped due to high winds.  And then, the murders begin. 

The police can’t get there, because all access is blocked.  But Elin can help, by beginning the investigation.  Does she have the nerve?

Sarah Pearse thriller takes the reader on a fast paced murder mystery with a series of twists and turns.  Don’t assume you know who did it!  She weaves the story of the hotel’s prior life as a sanatorium into her novel, making its history an integral part of the story.  Even though this isn’t a genre I typically go for, I was intrigued the whole way through!

3 stars.

 

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

In the years after World War II, the residents of the tiny English village of Chawton are coming to terms with their collective loss.  Husbands and brothers have been lost to the war, and the economy is struggling. 

The Jane Austen Society

However, 150 years previously, Chawton had a resident who, although unknown at the time, is rather famous now.  Jane Austen.  Her distant relatives still live in a deteriorating manor house, with an impressive library of books that Jane Austen would have read during her time here.

Several members of the community decided to try to save the small home where Austen lived while in Chawton.  They were an unlikely band, including a widower doctor, a farmer, a widow, a 16 year old girl, a descendant of Austen herself, an American actress, and a Sotheby’s memorabilia scout.  As they embarked on their charitable cause, they also revived old friendships and formed new ones. 

The Jane Austen Society has parallel stories; the surface story is the mission of the group to save Austen’s home and open it as a museum.  This story is interwoven with the stories and lives of the characters, which provide a rich depth to this novel.  Their stories often parallel the life of Austen, and her connection to family, and also her loneliness.  It is this connection that makes this a fantastic book. 

Natalie Jenner writes believably about literature, friendship, grief, and loneliness.  Her characters are believable, with real trials and victories.  I enjoyed it thoroughly. 

5 stars.

Note: Although there really was an effort to save Austen’s home in Chawton, Jenner explains that her novel’s characters are purely fictional. 

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George

Monsieur Perdu is a bookseller in Paris.  Years ago he purchased an old river barge and converted it to a bookshop that is docked in the Seine River.  This isn’t just any old bookshop, and Perdu isn’t just any old bookseller.  You see, he can read people.  He reads his customers and selects for them the perfect book to heal them.  He calls himself a literary apothecary.  

The Little Paris Bookshop

His uncanny gift has helped scores of people along the way, those trying to understand the meaning of life, refocus their goals, deal with change, or heal a broken heart.  Unfortunately, his own broken heart is the one that he cannot fix.  It has been 20 years since she left, and he still has been unable to move on…

Perdu finally is confronted with his loss when he gives a neighbor an old table he isn’t using, and she finds in the drawer a letter that he never opened.  It sets him on a path to finally address his broken heart.

The book shows how the most unlikely people can become friends, and how total strangers can help us on our path to healing.  This novel is absurd, funny, and heart-wrenching in turn.  Nina George weaves her tale in a way that is relatable and whimsical, and leaves the reader wishing to join Perdu on his journey.

5 stars. 

Book Review: The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, was another book club pick…

In 1995, back when email was a new thing, Harvard freshman Selin, a young Turkish-American woman, sets about to discover herself.  She navigates dorm life, takes classes in subjects she never imagined herself studying, and begins meeting new friends.

It all sounds like the beginning of a fabulous adventure, because who wouldn’t expect a novel about college life to be filled with fun and frivolity.  Except this one isn’t.

The Idiot is basically a story about what happens when people are so smart that they can’t actually relate to the real world.  Her conversations with others barely touch on subjects that normal 18 year olds would discuss, instead opting for the nonsensical ramblings of a genius with no real-life experience.

Selin bumbles along, disliking her roommate without ever having a conversation, falling in love and getting her heart broken via email without seeming to display any emotion, and never really finding any joy or sorrow in her surroundings.  The best way to describe her life is academic.

I kept waiting for this book to get better, because a friend said her mother told her it was funny.  I wonder now if she meant funny in the ironic sense.  At any rate, this book, for me, did not contain any funny.  It also didn’t contain any emotion at all…

1 star.

Book Review: The Murderer’s Daughters

The Murderer’s Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers, was a book club pick, and I was thankful that my hold at the library came in just in the nick of time.  Of course, my hold at the library had been ready for several weeks, but pick ups were delayed by violence and protests at a homeless camp that had been set up on the library lawn…  2021 so far seems to be a continuation of 2020!  But that’s a story I won’t get into here.

The Murderer's Daughters

Lulu and Merry were 9 and 5 years old when they witnessed their father murder their mother in a drunken rage.  The family was fractured and dysfunctional, and shortly afterwards, the girls were sent to live in a group home for girls.  They had weekend visits with their grandmother, who inexplicably couldn’t care for them, even though she managed to live on her own, and visit their father in prison every other weekend.  She and Merry had to take a couple different buses and the Staten Island Ferry to get there, but visited him faithfully, while Lulu refused.  The girls spent years in the orphanage before they were finally fostered by an employee of the home for a short time.

Lulu and Merry each developed different coping methods and strategies and built drastically different lives for themselves.  They remained bonded in their trauma, neither effectively dealing with the pain of what happened.  The novel follows them from the time of the murder in the 1970s until the early 2000s; their careers, their relationships and their family bonds.

Randy Susan Meyers draws on her experience working as a domestic violence advocate to frame the story. It was interesting in many ways, with the characters displaying believable attributes.  The manipulative father who holds no accountability for his actions, the perfect child, and the daughter who rebels against everything…  That said, the characters felt one-dimensional and flat to me; they needed more depth to truly immerse myself in the book.

3 stars.

Book Review: Dark Places

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

I’ve read other books by Gillian Flynn, so when I noticed that this one was available at the library website, I decided to check it out.

Libby is a woman in her early thirties, trying to escape her past.  When she was 7, she was the survivor of the murder of her mother and two sisters; her 15-year-old brother was convicted of the crime.  Libby heard her brother in the house that night, even though he told police he was not at home.

Dark Places

The sympathy money that has kept her going all these years has finally run out, and Libby is forced to accept the fact that she is broke and in need of a job.  She receives an offer to appear at The Kill Club, an unfortunately named convention of sorts, where amateur sleuths convene to swap tips and try to solve their favorite cold case murders.  Libby learns that there is a significant group of followers who believe that her brother is innocent.  But why?

Led along by the small sums of cash offered by the group, she agrees to meet with her brother for the first time in almost 25 years, and begins to harbor a nagging doubt that her brother murdered her family.  What if Libby’s testimony was wrong?  She had to find out the truth…

As is the case with all of Flynn’s books, the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride of ever-changing facts, opinions and realities.  As she weaves in the stories of Libby, her mother and her brother, both then and now, the reader begins to realize that nothing is as it seems.  A well-planned thriller that kept my interest, if not somewhat unbelievable in the end…

3 stars.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I feel like I might be the last woman in the world who hadn’t read this book…  Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L James…  It was available on the library’s website, so what the heck?  People were raving about it; why not see what the hype is all about?

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

Anastasia Steele is a bright, young woman just about to graduate college when she does her roommate a favor and interviews rich, handsome, CEO Christian Grey.  She can’t shake the physical attraction, and neither can he.  However, Mr. Grey, in his late 20s, has acquired a taste for the BDSM lifestyle, and only wants to date Anastasia if she will agree to his kink.  As a 22 year old virgin, this is her first foray into any type of romantic relationship, let alone one with so much risk…  Of course, he is gorgeous, and so sexy, and rich… What will she choose?

The majority of this book is Christian and Anastasia’s two-steps-forward, one-step-back relationship progression, with Anastasia falling hard and getting way, way, too worked up about this jerk of a man…  Love?  I mean, she barely knows the guy.  Yet she agrees to sleep with him on their second date?  And don’t get me started about how a young woman with no sexual experience whatsoever is able to feel mind-numbing pleasure within 5 minutes of her first encounter…  Guys in their 20s just don’t deliver like that…

This novel is really just a vessel to deliver a story of kink and BDSM, wrapped up in a mainstream package with a red bow…  If that interests you, you will like it.  Otherwise, you will probably agree with me, that it’s one to skip…

2 stars.

Book Review: The Flight Attendant

I recently finished The Flight Attendant, by Chris Bohjalian.  It had been awhile since I’ve read one of his books, but I have liked them in the past, so I was game when this one came up as available at the library’s website.  I’m always looking for good audio books!

The Flight Attendant

Imagine being a flight attendant, traveling around the world and spending nights in fabulous cities all around the world.  Like Dubai.  Now imagine you have a bit of a drinking problem, and a bit of a memory problem to go along with it…  Cassandra Bowden’s love for drink, and her love for men lead her to the worst possible scenario.  She wakes up from a drinking binge in a man’s hotel room.  Only he’s dead, soaked in a pool of his own blood, and she can’t remember what happened… 

What would you do if you were alone, in a foreign country, in a dead man’s room?  Cassandra does the only thing she can think of…  She begins to lie. 

This novel leads the reader into a fast paced thriller as Cassandra tries to learn the truth of what happened before the FBI charges her with murder.  Only along the way, she does just about everything a rational person would not do, leaving the reader practically shouting, “you stupid, stupid woman!” 

The twist ending is interesting, although not truly believable, and the novel held my interest until the end.

3 stars. 

Book Review: City of Girls

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Vivian grew up in a rich family in a small town several hours outside of New York City.  She had just been kicked out after her freshman year at Vassar College, basically for not going to class.  Her parents didn’t know what to do with her, so they sent her to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg in New York City.

Peg owns and runs the Lily Playhouse, a run down theatre in a working class neighborhood of Manhattan.  They operate on a shoestring budget, with simple performances for simple working people.

Vivian makes herself useful by designing and sewing costumes for the girls from thrifted clothing, and quickly immerses herself into the party scene of New York City.  She goes down the rabbit hole of booze and men, learning that her desires aren’t those of ‘nice’ girls.  Vivian’s life is set against the backdrop of World War II, with her brother volunteering for service in the Navy.

The book is narrated by 95 year old Vivian, who is looking back and reflecting on her life, filling in the blanks for the daughter of a man who meant the world to Vivian.  She is honest and candid about her non-traditional life, lived in a time when women were expected to conform…

As usual, Gilbert’s character development and fluid descriptions allow the reader to fully immerse into the story, feeling the full sadness, rage, pain and joy of the characters.  It is well worth the read.

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

5 stars.