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Thursday, June 30, 2016

A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi

Priya and Madhu seem to have it all. There is however one thing which Priya yearns for and which is missing. Her own baby. Three miscarriages and three failed IVF attempts at enormous cost have seen Priya and Madhu saddened by both the process and the result. Madhu is resigned to their childlessness and is frustrated that Priya cannot move on.

The question of surrogacy comes up and they decide upon a home in South India run by an efficient doctor with proven results. A baby is conceived and the plan set in motion.

The story then turns to the surrogate mother. Asha is a bit different to the other mothers. She went into this for the money. They have an exceptionally gifted little boy of five and a little girl. They have no home of their own and Asha and Pratap her husband see this as the only way of going forward. Asha did not expect to have contradictory feelings of guilt and love for the child, distaste and dislike for Priya and her modern ways and to feel that she has not made the right decision but is being swept forward on a tidal wave of other people's needs and wants. In her inner mind, she knows that the net result would bring happiness to another couple, bring happiness to her own small family but still Asha is not happy.

The author Amulya brings all these contradictory strands together smoothly in a story that brings out the best of all the worlds. The problems facing both the surrogate parent as well as the sponsor parents, the fringe around them of lucrative benefits to those who can organise such things such as the clinics and doctors who benefit immensely from these transactions. At the end it is a transaction with benefits to all - but it is a need that is supplied and ultimately satisfactorily to all the parties concerned. In this instance anyway.

The story holds your interest from the beginning  to the end.  Characterization was brilliant and the story was an emotional as well as a balanced one.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Lake Union Publishing. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Millers Valley by Anna Quindlen

This story is one which lots of readers will identify with. Mother has her favourite son. She does not show it openly but it is very well known. The eldest is clever and the daughter of the house turns out to be the cleverest. She is also the one who will sacrifice her personal needs to those of the family. She will also with all the odds stacked against her be most successful professionally.

A very middle class background and strong ties to the area where she was born ties Mimi to her family. She knows she has the brains to do something more with her life than waitressing but she doesn't seem to know the way to reach that point. When she does reach her goals, she is quite firm in what she wants to do and what she doesnt want to do.

The portrayal of Mimi and her entire family was very well done. I loved the strong willed mother, the equally adamant father, the eccentric aunt who hid secrets till the end and all the myriad boyfriends and friends of Mimi who came together in this story.

A family saga, a coming of age, a realisation of dreams, all put together to give one a classic.

Thanks to Netgalley for sending this on to me for an unbiased review, courtesy of Random House Publishing Group - Random House.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning

This was a complicated book which made the reading of it a bit slow. It did not detract however from its worth.

A fragile and again complicated relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his eldest daughter to begin with. Jefferson was a complex character and his statemanship aside it made it difficult for personal relationships to develop fully. The family take on a diplomatic posting in France and after five heady years they move back to Monticello the family home, to take on the politics of the time. America was in the midst of the slavery issue and this overshadows the entire history of Thomas Jefferson and his family and this book. Contentious issues and how it was going to be resolved was never going to be easy and the convoluted lifestyles of having slaves, freeing them and at the same time trying to win over people who were totally dependant on slavery for their livelihood and prosperity was not going to be an easy mix.

Though slavery was the overall story, it goes hand in hand with Martha's own lifestory.  Married very young and ending up with eleven children her life with Randolph was not easy. Having to live up to a father in law of the stature of Thomas Jefferson was also hard and Randolph fell short. Financial woes dogged both Randolph and Jefferson to the end of their days (so far removed from the corrupt politicians of today) and both ended their days bankrupt. Martha had to steer a life in the best way she knew protecting both husband and father and also trying to provide a good life for her brood.

Martha was a woman well ahead of her times. Clear headed, clear thinking, politically adept and able to manage a plantation, a complicated home and keep everything on a balanced keel. Having her father's slave mistress in the family home and dealing with the attendant publicity and mess each time she had a child could not have been easy both in a personal sense as well as dealing with the world at large who made no bones about the precarious position Jefferson was in.  Jefferson in this book never openly acknowledged Sally his mistresses's position in the home and was oblivious to Martha's discomfort. It was only on his deathbed that the provision for Sally was important and dealt with directly.

As I said a complicated story, one that I enjoyed. It showed Martha's sound common sense despite over riding difficulties of a husband and a father who were both difficult. Martha survived both of them and had to make a fresh life for herself.

Very well written, told clearly so that it made me an outsider understand the complexities of American politics and life at the time.

Sent to me by Edelweiss.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Girl who Came Back by Susan Lewis

This is every parent's worst nightmare. A friendship which goes wrong which turns into a revenge killing of the most brutal kind. On top of it all, the murderer gets away with it with just a tap on the wrist and three years in jail.

Daisy was bright, sparkly, in love with everyone and the apple of her parent's eye. Her friendship with Amelia was not a happy one but Daisy's temperament was such that she was ever willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the other party and let it go. In hindsight her parents did realise that they should have been firmer, more definite in her choice of friends but by then the worst damage was done.

The blight on Jules and her entire family and in fact the entire village was profound. That Amelia and her high handed father continued to live in the village and that Amelia decided to flaunt her freedom in Jules's face seemed to be the last straw.

How this murder unravels and how the effects of one act are so wide and startling are very well told in this story.

My first read of this author and I certainly hope I can track down all her other books.

I found the story fast paced and intense and enjoyed every minute of it, heavy and dark though it was.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Random House UK Cornerstone. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

All Summer Long by Dorothea Benton Frank

All Summer Long

My first read of this author and I am so glad I got to her books finally.

The story is reminiscent of a lot of older people - who want to get back to their roots and then find themselves perplexed that things are not quite what they expected. We have Olivia and Nick moving back to Charleston - he is delighted that after fourteen years he is coming back. This was a promise he extracted from his wife that they will return. She is not so taken up with the move though she does keep her reservations to herself. It is not her place of birth, she is an urban being and delightful though Charleston is, she has her doubts as to living permanently there.

Side by side with this story is one hidden from Nick. Olivia has overextended herself in business and is now on the verge of bankruptcy. Unless she gets new clients and new projects they are done. Living the lifestyle they do they need it fast.

Another aspect of the story is the very hi fi lifestyle of Maritza and Bob. A taste of this is tempting and then you begin to think that private jets, unlimited champagne and private yachts with the attendant trimmings are very attractive to have as a lifestyle.

The different strands of the story eventually mesh but they are individual stories all separate and interesting on their own. The core is the subject of relationships - how people manage them, how we need them and what we do to keep them going.

The descriptiveness was amazing - not just the country around you but the places and people who occupied the story. Characterization was marvellous and you could from the descriptions imagine how each person stood in the story and their contribution to it.

This book was sent to me by Edelweiss.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Living by Anjali Joseph

Two alternate lives - Claire working in a shoe factory in England and Arun working as a chappal maker (which is featured on the cover) in Kohalpur. He is just doing what his father and grandfather before him did. Both characters lead humdrum lives and both wonder what would have happened if things had worked out differently in their respective worlds.

I unfortunately did not understand that the book was portraying the two lives and the workings of the mind of the characters till the very end. The portrayal of daily life, the humdrum and the extraordinary were both depicted in detail.

The book was sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Harper Collins UK 4th Estate.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard

I initially thought this was going to be like a travel memoir (which I like) and in a setting which I adore but it turned out to be slightly different. At the same time it held my interest and I was always wanting to know what was going to happen next.

The story is fairly routine. A young couple living together for five years have got into a serious rut. With an idea of reviving their relationship, putting a spark into it more likely they or rather she thinks a holiday in the South of France in a beautiful gite would be ideal. What she does not account for is the landlord's wife with a roving eye. 54 year old Gloria and Nathan her partner who is bored out of his skull with their relationship and just waiting to leave.

What follows is sad for Emmy and Rupert who are left bewildered and in Rupert's case all alone with a guest house to run, guests coming in and going out all the time. Emmy steps in to help and finds that she likes the work, the people and the village. Throw in a dash of romance in the form of a gardener and a lawyer, beautiful scenery, idyllic countryside and we have a captivating story.

The other characters are also equally colorful and add a certain spice to the story. Emmy's parents, the other people in the village all add dimension. I loved the reading of this story.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Bookouture. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh

Selena Cole a perfectly rational woman disappears for twenty hours. She leaves two very little children in a playground and disappears. She reappears none the worse for wear with no idea what happened to her during those hours.

A lawyer is found murdered with a stab wound to his neck on a lonely road. His car is missing and there are no clues as to who could have done this.

Fast forward to our investigative team who very early on clue on to the fact that the two are somehow connected. Selena claims to only know who the murdered lawyer is but his office turns up detailed literature on the Cole business of ransom and rescue. Selena and her late husband who died in a a bomb blast were the founders of a very successful highly risky business. Selena has now roped in her brother in law and sister as she finds herself too traumatized to take part in this delicate work.

Told in alternate stages of both investigations, the detail of police work and the fact that you can miss a vital clue which seems so insignificant in the greater part of things was very well told. Characterization of each person was also very well done.

An author I will be looking for in the future.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Random House (UK) Cornerstone. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Tea Planter's Bride by Janet Macleod Trotter

Sophie has only very vague memories of her mother and father. She knows she was born and brought up in India till the age of six and her parents died of dysentery. This is what she was told. She was brought up by her aunt who loved her dearly but now Sophie's life is at a crossworld.

The year is 1922 and Sophie and her beloved cousin are looking for love. Both of them find it in very different ways but strangely they do end up together back in India. Tilly not very happy to return but for Sophie it was like coming home. Having to get accustomed to marriage and two men who were not what they seemed to be like when they were in England is part of the difficulty. Tilly is now heavily pregnant but for Sophie there are many hidden facets to her husband which is discovering, and none of them are very pleasant to know.

At the same time there are cross currents despite Sophie being very much in love with her husband. Her attraction for the forester Raafi is very strong and one she feels she has to fight against as it is morally not right to even feel like this. Tilly is trying to cope with a new born on the other side and also deal with her husband's aversion to the Robson's who have looked after Tilly so very well all this time. Secrets on her husband's side also disturb Tilly who is also questioning many aspects of her husband's solitary life in India.

So many strands coming together, keep the story alive as you know that something different but connected to either Sophie or Tilly is going to turn up on every page. How they all inter-connect and bring closure to several issues in Sophie's life particularly is very descriptively told.

Again like her previous book, the characterization is spot on and adds so much dimension to the story.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Lake Union Publishing.'

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Last Thousand by Jeffrey E. Stern

Marefat is a school but not just a school. It is a school under siege as it is in Afghanistan which on the whole views education with a rather wary eye. Boys and girls being educated together is bad enough but these children are not learning by rote. That is what is unusual for Afghanistan. They are being taught to think for themselves, to question, not to accept as truth what is being told. The man behind the venture is a bold soul and he faces many hazards in first setting up the school and then maintaining it.

Behind the school is the concept of persecution of a minority. The Hazaras are looked on with suspicion, have been for decades. They look different from the others in Afghan and they have always been at the butt end for everything and anything that has gone wrong. The situation continues todate and it was this marginalization that drove Aziz to start this school.

The story told from the point of view of different characters adds to the roundness of the story telling.
From Aziz its founder to the mother of five who knows that despite whatever odds she faces, she must send her children to school and then also get herself educated to some degree, and to the many girls and boys who get emancipated as a result of their education.

This was an eye opener - the extent to which discrimination, marginalization and lack of education exists today.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

Friday, June 10, 2016

My Husband's Wives by Faith Hogan

The unravelling of Paul Starr's life only begins after his death. Dead in a car accident he is found with a young pregnant woman by his side. Not his wife, not known to anyone Kasia is the victim here. From this point on the double or triple or quadruple life of Paul is told in painstaking detail.

There is his first wife Evie - much older than him and there are no children. That is the crux of the problem. He leaves her for Grace who gives him a daughter and then decides surreptitiously to be on the pill as she cannot cope with pregnancy or the life that follows having children. The moment he discovers this he moves on to Annaliese with whom he has two boys. He has just left her when the accident happens. At the same time Paul is able to juggle the relationships because he is in constant touch with all the women, all the children and maintain a fairly decent relationship with all.

The story gets really interesting only after his death and this is where the complications set in. The story of family support and love, actually in this case extended family and of four outstandingly strong women and how they cope with an unusual situation thrust on them.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Atria Books.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne

Littlefield is considered one of the top places to live in America. The statistics are a bit puzzling though. Apart from the restaurants and pizza parlours, the nail spas and the salons, we have a huge huge proportion of people who are psychologists and psychotherapists. Is this indicative of something hidden?

The stories that go behind the lives of seemingly middle class fellow citizens -the average Jo are always  detailed and anything but mundane. Everyone has a story and Littlefield has its fair share.

A spate of dog poisonings random and not targeting a particular segment of people indicates that everything  is not quite right in Littlefield. An off leash debate for dogs is having its opponents and supporters in equal measure and it has become quite vociferous and seems to be dividing the town. The story is also a commentary on society and the characters that form this close community and is done with a touch of satire as well.

Interesting reading on small town America.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Simon & Schuster. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons

I like English settings especially those of the countryside. It may seem idyllic and a fantasy but I like to imagine that scenes like this still exist in pastoral Britain.

The story told in the present and past dovetail beautifully, almost seamingless as they blend the past and take us into the present. Both stories are relevant and one depends on the other. Three brothers a very stern father and a crumbling mansion of a house. This forms the backdrop and the past. Going forward we have a single brother surviving in the house surprisingly (I thought the house would have crumbled and decayed), but the heir to the house is very far away in Florida. The split between the brothers was over a girl - naturally - and now we have come to a stage when the two brothers are elderly men almost at the end of their days.

Fast forward to the present and Harry is despondent, sad and empty. He has lost his wife Edie and is totally bereft. Help comes in the form of a four year old grandson who has obviously inherited his talent for music, not just talent but is a prodigy whose talent goes far beyond Harry and who becomes the spark that would ignite Harry to want to even live.

The family background rich in detail post WW and descriptive of an English countryside coupled with the interests and peculiarities of each brother especially Harry's aptitude and interest in song collecting which forms the main backbone of the story makes this book such a good read. Characterization was excellent and the family structure and the relationships which develop, break and re emerge are told wonderfully.

This was a book that could not be put down. I finished it in one go. Sad when it was over and especially sad because I do not know when I will get to another book by this author!

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Tea Planter's Daughter by Janet Macleod Trotter

Being associated with tea so very much both titles by this author attracted me and I was very happy when Netgalley sent the books on to me.

Set in the hills of Assam during the waning period of the British Raj we have a family who love India as their own and very different to the majority of the English settlers who always felt it was them and us. Clarissa is having the whole burden of Belgooroo on her young shoulders. Her father cannot cope with the unending financial burden of the estates, is unwilling and does not have the know how to modernize and bring a better return to the fields and she has to find a way out not just for the estate but for herself and her younger sister Olive, very frail and totally dependant on the strong willed Clarissa.

Moving from colorful busy India to the teeming town of Tyneside is a culture shock for Clarissa and Olive. Bereft of their father, they have to turn to their cousin Jared and his wife Lily who treats the two as the lowest of the low - menials of the lowest order and extracts from them every ounce of work she could.

An emotional story of the hardship that both sisters face while Clarissa plots how to get away from the grasping Lily and make a life for both of them.

A story of survival against many odds, this was a stirring tale of enduring love as well so the romance element added a nice flavor to the story.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Lake Union Publishing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Paris Protection by Bryan Devore

The Paris Protection

A free download from Amazon this was an absolutely wonderful book and for someone who is not very familiar with American Presidents, the Secret Service and all the ramifications of American security, this was an eye opener.

There is a plot to assassinate the American President (a female - married with two children) and it is to take place in Paris. Despite all the security build up before and during the visit there are loopholes
and always something overlooked and this time it is the catacombs of Paris which are being used as an entrance and exit by the assassinates to gain access to the hotel, bypass the massive security operations in place and to carry out their task.

The masterminds behind the entire operation are absolute professionals, willing to die in the process. Very similar to the President's own security detail. Who gets the better of whom is the story told in amazing detail.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Abbess of Whitby by Jill Dalladay


Hild's life was dictated by the gods. Chosen as handmaid to Eostre she was to serve a period of service and then be married. Her father's death changed all that. She found her sister married to the boy she was in love with, the King changed the religion of his kingdom from the fertility gods to Christianity and she found herself in a totally different world, having to adapt to new conditions and a new way of life.

How Hild adapted to this new Christian life so wholeheartedly, founding missions in bleak, difficult areas, converting people to a religion that was new to them, advocating Christianity as a totally different way of life to what people were used to is the story in this book.

Descriptive of the places where Hild lived and worked, equally descriptive of the people and the politics and the feuds of the region, this piece of historical fiction was a fascinating insight into a period of history which was bloody, feudal and also shows the beginning of Christianity in Britain - against outstanding odds how people like the monks and Hild founded institutions, churches, and missions which looked after and nurtured the people.

A close look at seventh century Britain this would be a good book for lovers of historical fiction of this era.

Sent to me by Netgalley, for an unbiased review courtesy of Lion Hudson PLC.