Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors

by Sonali Dev

HRH’s take on it was this advice to his children: “This is our home. This country is yours. Take everything you need. Give everything you have. From the beginning of time, humans have migrated. We’ve claimed land and let it claim us. Don’t ever fulfill anybody else’s definition of your relationship with your country. How many generations ago their forefathers got here may be how some people stake their claim, but I stake mine with how much I give. How wholly I love. This place called to me, I’m here, it’s mine. And now, it’s yours.”

I’m a soft touch for novels that are re-imaginings of or sequels to Jane Austen‘s works in film or on the page. I have a soft spot for even ones that are not all that good. This is one of the best ones. Sonali Dev did a masterful job of using P and P as an inspiration for similar themes while making it wholly her own. The looseness of the adaptation worked very well. A reader who enjoys contemporary romance or women’s fiction would enjoy this even if they haven’t read Pride and Prejudice. There are many characters in Dev’s novel that are not in the original and many characters and situations Austen’s classic that are not in Dev’s novel. Yet while they diverge in interesting ways, they also mirror each other in the essentials. There is the prideful, arrogant, but socially inept aristocrat (Trisha), the formidable love interest from a suspect background (DJ), victimized loved ones past and present, the evil opportunist, The cold and powerful head determined to “protect” the family from scandal, and the sweet and good sister. But they are deliciously shuffled up. A few scenarios are faithfully and delightfully reset in today’s times. One of the highlights of Austen’s work and this one as well is when Trisha (Darcy) pours out her heart to DJ (Elizabeth) and is rejected.

“I have absolutely no interest in you, Dr. Raje,” meeting the wild pleas in her eyes…it hadn’t struck her for one instant that he might not lap up her proposition or whatever this was.
“This might baffle you, but despite not being a physician, I do have some pride. Although most certainly not enough to withstand the kind of beating you’re capable of dealing to it. The kind of beating you’ve repeatedly dealt it from the first time we’ve met. You’re right, I value honesty, so I’ll tell you that I make it a practice not to find women who insult me at every opportunity attractive.”
…she looked entirely devastated. Had no one ever denied her anything?

One thing I really liked about it was how the black hero in the book was portrayed. Too often, lately, it seems like authors are using diverse ethnic characters to make a political statement but they are ethnic in looks alone. In one book I read recently, we’re told that the swoony successful love interest looks like Barack Obama, but other than that, he might as well be a white guy. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but it’s like the author wanted points for having a diverse cast of characters but didn’t want to make her mostly white readership too uncomfortable. Kind of like the Hallmark channel checking the boxes. Oh well, baby steps. In this one, Trisha, although “brown” has always had power and privilege. Unlike DJ who knows very well what is probably going to happen if a white cop sees him breaking into his own luxury car.

“Are you laughing because you think you taught me some sort of lesson?” Because he had, he had pulled the world from beneath her feet…DJ had stood there helpless as a cop reached for his gun for no reason other than fear based in prejudice…Trisha didn’t want him to be standing there in that inequitable ocean, unable to do anything about it. She wanted to live in a world where the waves hit everyone the same way, where everyone could choose how they surfed them. Where the only thing that mattered was ability. And she had allowed herself to become oblivious to the fact that they did not live in that world. 

I was not too impressed with the first book I read by Ms Dev. This one also slowed to a crawl in several places. It was repetitive (the constant rhapsodizing about food got old and kind of creepy in places, to me) There were a little too many tangents explored and too much detail which did little to advance the story. But even so, it kept my interest. Sometimes the sentence structure seemed a little off and sentence meaning was a little obscured at first. But this book was a really good novel and a superbly creative riff on Pride and Prejudice. I love books about interesting families and especially ones I have to do a family tree to keep everyone straight. 4 stars for the novel and 5 stars for the Pride and Prejudice connection. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 16, 2020

The Huntress

By Kate Quinn

We don’t hunt the helpless, luchik. We hunt the killers. Is like villagers going after a wolf gone mad. Only when the wolf is dead, villagers go home and we find the next mad wolf.

Ian Graham, a former British war correspondent teams up with Nina Markova a former Night Witch, one of the legendary female Russian night bombers. Their mission is to find and bring to justice a vicious Nazi predator, The Huntress, with whom Nina has a personal score to settle. They track her to Boston, where Jordan, a young budding photographer’s widowed father has just brought home Anna, his serene and reserved new fiancée, and her traumatized daughter, Ruth. From Germany.

I hovered between 3 stars and 4 stars for this one. I re-read the ending pages again, and 4 stars it is. Part of the problem, if 3 stars is a problem, was that I didn’t really take to Nina or her lengthy story while she was in Russia. It wasn’t until she came to the United States that I really warmed to her.

“Is a Russian thing. Sit around, drink too much, talk about death.” She pushed her empty plate away. “It makes us cheerful.”

I guess it was because I just prefer light over dark. I was much more intrigued by Jordan’s domestic adventures with Anna and Ruth on the home front.

I hope there is a sequel someday. I would like to see all of the characters again and read more of Ruth, all grown up. I would also like to see more Nazis caught.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 14, 2019

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

“Imagine you’re a fish, swimming in a pond. You can move forward and back, side to side, but never up out of the water. If someone were standing beside the pond, watching you, you’d have no idea they were there. To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond. You see that what you thought was the entire world is only a small pool. You see other ponds. Trees. The sky above. You realize you’re a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of.” Daniela leans back in her chair and takes a sip of wine.

Dark Matter is an original concept that delivers a lot of suspense, wonder, some shocks, and twists aplenty. Jason, an ordinary physics professor with a wife, Daniella, and son, Charley, is knocked out and kidnapped. He wakes up to learn he is really a celebrated world-renowned genius who has cracked the code to other worlds and alternate realities and how to go there. But Jason loves the only other life he knows. He loves his wife and son. Can he find that life again in the infinite other parallel lives he has lived and is living?

It was hard to get my mind around the science so I didn’t even try. I just went with it. I must give it all the stars, even though It didn’t affect me very much emotionally and it wasn’t funny which are two qualities which are usually very important to me in books. There were times that I didn’t like Jason, the hero, very much. But it was well-written and kept me reading. There were several difficult concepts and Mr. Crouch handled them very well and very believably. It is a real page-turner. I did figure out what Jason and his family were going to have to do to stay together. I loved the way his wife Daniela cut through the mess and took charge at the end. I wish Mr. Crouch would have figured out a way to involve Amanda, his fellow traveler through their alternate lives, at the end. Primo sequel material there!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 5, 2018

Apples Never Fall

By Liane Moriarty

Going OFF-GRID for a little while! I’m dancing daffodils 21 Dog Champagne to end Czechoslovakia! Spangle Moot! Love, Mum.’ Heart emoji. Butterfly emoji. Flower emoji. Smiley face emoji. ‘Off-grid’ was in capitals.” The beauty therapist’s mother used a lot of emojis in her texts too. Mothers loved emojis. She wondered what all that “dancing daffodils” stuff could possibly mean.

Moriarty once again has written an engrossing exploration of a dramatic family dynamic. I guess every family has its dark undercurrents, resentments, secrets, and challenges, but this is a family whose potential for both everyday and cataclysmic blow-ups is turned up more than a notch. First of all, although affluent and successful, they are a family of former athletes that never quite attained their dreams. The father, Stan, is a successful local tennis coach who had the potential for worldwide fame and greatness. The mother, Joy, gave up her own tennis career to raise 4 challenging kids and build the family business. As energetic and loving as she is she has had her plate more than full throughout her whole life. Like so many wives and mothers of her time, she feels cheated and unappreciated.

When the children were little they always called it “Daddy’s office” even though Joy was the one who handled all the business of the business. Yet they all had to maintain the pretense that because Stan was the man, whatever he was doing was automatically more important and deserved priority over any contribution from the little lady. Well, fuck you, Stan.

And then there’s the 4 kids: Amy, the oldest, who has all kinds of mental health disorders. Pick one. Logan, rather ordinary and scruffy, just broke up with his universally adored girlfriend, Indira, and is confused and miserable. Troy, a wealthy trader, and reformed drug dealer is now divorced from his lovely wife whom he cheated on. And Brooke, outwardly stable, has suffered from debilitating migraines since childhood. She too is divorced and trying, so far unsuccessfully, to start her own physical therapy practice.

Yes, Amy had her mental health challenges, but she was as tough as nails at her core; Logan pretended not to care about anything but cared about everything; Troy acted so superior because he felt so inferior; and Brooke liked to present herself as the most grown-up of them all, but sometimes Joy caught the fleeting expression of a frightened child crossing her face.

Things come to a head when a stranger knocks on Stan and Joy’s door seeking shelter and doesn’t leave. She worms her way into their affections and they become almost dependent upon her. Their kids are bewildered, worried, and start investigating. What’s her scam? When her lies and motives are exposed, she leaves, leaving seeds of destruction behind her. Some months later Joy disappears without a trace except for a perplexing text message to her children. Unbelievably, It starts to look to the police, his children, and the reader that her loving but complex husband of 50 years might have murdered her.

The build-up is slow but fascinating as we get to know each member of the family. I alternatively sympathized then despised then liked them again all at many points in the novel. That is a measure of Liane Moriarty’s talent and skill in constructing her characters. And we are mystified by Savannah. Who is she really and what is she up to? Things really start to pop shortly after the halfway point and the revelations come fast and furious.

In my experience, Lianne Moriarty really knows how to end a book. All is revealed and tied up in a very satisfying conclusion with happy endings, beginnings, and hope for all of the Delaney family.

Nico said there were good floorboards waiting beneath the vile carpet in the house they’d just bought. Amazing to think something beautiful could lie beneath the ugliness and all you had to do was peel it away. 

Then we get a shock of a second bonus ending which I read with simultaneous horror and guilty amusement.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 5, 2021

The Thirteenth Tale

By Diane Setterfield

I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nice and neatly. Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels.

I had very high hopes for The Thirteenth Tale. I was very intrigued at the beginning and thought the ending was excellent, with the fates of the secondary and bit players nicely revealed and loose ends tied up (see quote above.) It was very well written and had some beautifully written and thought-provoking passages. I should have loved it. I dealt in out-of-print and collectible books for years and there was so much that I definitely enjoyed and related to. However, sad to say, I found the middle a bit of a slog. The stories told by Vida Winter telling of her past were deeply unpleasant and disturbing. They were not enjoyable to read and seemed just setups to establish mysteries to be solved later.

I was never invested in Margaret Ley’s anguish over her lost twin and the dampening effect it had on her life. I guess maybe you have to be a twin to fully appreciate what she was going through and to also understand the key relationship between Adeline and Emmeline. But I just wanted to tell her to get over herself, you were just a baby and didn’t even know about her until you were 10. It was interesting, but I was not emotionally invested in her angst. The refreshing Dr. Clifton says it best, 

“You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits…. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. No tuberculosis, no childhood polio, no unhygienic living conditions. You’ll survive.”

The final reveals were sort of compelling and surprising, but the reader knew something of the sort was going to be coming since twins were involved.

I had some major questions about some of the key developments in character. Many were answered in the course of the book, but many were not. The characters were deftly drawn but didn’t always hold up to scrutiny. 

**spoiler**

Hester arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air and brought hope and renewal. But then she turned cold, heartless, and abusive. She and the doctor treated the children like laboratory rats. However good their intentions started out being, they ended up just using them as an excuse to be together without guilt. Then back into a positive character in the postscript. The fact that she had a happy and successful marriage and career at the end seemed to come out of nowhere. Could she really be happy with the patronizing Dr. Maudsley, her intellectual inferior?
Why was young Vida so passionately taken with the placid and dull Emmeline?
Could the violent and uncontrollable Adeline really be kept hidden all those teenage years?
Why was John the Dig so hostile to Hester? Yes, if she found out about Vida, she probably would have brought her out into the open and sent her to school. But would that have been such a bad thing? And why was the present-day elderly Vida so devoted to Adeline who was responsible for so much evil and tragedy? (Assuming it was Emmaline who died in the fire.) 

**end spoiler**

 I would have enjoyed some more closure between Margaret and her mother. I would have enjoyed reading more about the very likable Dr. Clifton, a beacon of sense and sanity. I feel like we should have seen much more of him and learned more about him.

The Thirteenth Tale is definitely a book that would benefit from a “knowing what I know now” reread, but once was enough for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 21, 2021

The Heir Affair (Royal We #2)

By Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

We put on our Pleasant Walking Faces as we entered the museum through its gift shop, before switching to our Pleasant Greeting Faces as we shook hands with the gallery director.

What with the holidays and my mission to look at every Christmas TV movie ever made, It took me forever to finish this book. Meanwhile, I had developed a hankering to read one of my favorite author’s still unread backlist books so I tried to skip ahead but whenever I came back to it, it just wouldn’t let me do that. That’s a sign of a good book. It was just as good as The Royal We, I thought. The two authors have a real knack for patterning their fictional characters with enough verisimilitude in their personality and situations and events that it gives the reader a sense of being behind closed doors. At the same time, they put the characters in fresh and fascinating situations and dilemmas. Yet I never thought, “Oh that could never happen!” It is very well written, if a bit too long, with lots of intrigue, romance, humor, a mystery, and a shocking development that leads to some suspense. The book is chock-full of characters and it’s hard to keep them all straight. Their nemesis does not get any comeuppance. And one intriguing character from the last book does not make an appearance. Maybe a setup for a third novel? This one ends with everything tied up pretty neatly though, which I very much appreciated. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 1, 2021

31 Dream Street (Roommates Wanted)

By Lisa Jewell

When Karen had left him fifteen years ago he’d filled his house with people from all walks of life, people with stories to tell and journeys to share, but instead of learning from them he’d used them to insulate himself from the world. And now that he was finally unpeeling all the layers and revealing himself, it was very disappointing to see that he wasn’t an eccentric struggling artist with a fondness for unusual people, that he was just plain old Toby Dobbs, the tallest boy at school, the disappointment to his father, the man whose own wife hadn’t wanted to live with him for more than a month.

I wanted to try a Lisa Jewel because of the good reviews and because I was intrigued that she started off writing chick-lit type books but has more recently become known for her psychological thrillers. I chose a chick-lit type because that is a genre I am more comfortable and familiar with. I chose 31 Dream Street, (aka Roomates Wanted) because the story intrigued me. It had lots of diverse characters coming together and seemed to have more to offer than a more romance-oriented novel.

Toby, the main character of the ensemble owns a beautiful unusual old house which would be worth around 1.000,000 pounds with some refurbishment and redecorating. It was a gift from his absent and uncaring father. Toby starts off as a loser with a capital L. Through the years he has rented rooms for rock bottom rates or sometimes no rates to various people who needed a helping hand. In order to sell the house and jump-start his life, he needs to get rid of his current tenants. But he is so soft-hearted, he will not just kick them out until they have gotten their lives in order and have someplace to go. Thus, he takes the advice of his appealing next-door neighbor whom he gets to know: find about about them and do what you can to help them settle elsewhere.

Along with Toby, we get to know his 4 tenants and eventually uncover the pasts and secrets which are holding them back. We also get to know Toby and Leah, his next-door neighbor and eventual friend, both of whom also need some guidance and rehabilitation in their own lives. Throughout the book it is a matter of two steps forward, one step back, or vice versa, for all but one, who is all steps back, until the very conclusion.

Lisa Jewell is an excellent writer. The narrative voice drew me into the story. Her descriptions and dialogue were sharp and evocative. The success of the story rested on whether the characterization of the players hit home. They did. The characters were involving and interesting. Unfortunately, they usually were not very likable except for Leah. My emotions were not engaged. With some, I went back and forth as to whether I cared for them at all depending on their actions. Toby especially was bothersome. Even though his looks, outlook for the future, love life, and general well-being go through many positive changes, he continues to be a wet noodle. His reaction to a bad setback in his house renovation, his reaction to his unintended make-over, his lack of resolve overall, but especially with Leah. He was a constant disappointment after seeming to finally grow up over and over. It was Leah was the catalyst for positive change throughout. I also regretted the lack of closure with his father. His father standing him up at the end was a message in itself, but I didn’t want a message. Especially considering the long setup. I wanted drama, emotion, and maybe an epiphany. 

The fates of the tenants had positive outcomes, but three were bitter-sweet, and the one totally positive fate seemed contrived and unearned. Actually one of the bittersweet ones did too. Toby and Leah’s fate was nothing short of idyllic, which left me with a positive impression of the book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

September 17, 2021

The Feast

By Margaret Kennedy

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy is not a romance, romantic comedy, or a mystery or a thriller or “women’s fiction” or any other type of book I usually gravitate to. It is a novel-length character study of over 20 players. They are all gathered at a family estate turned vacation guest house on the Cornish coast at the base of a cliff. The evil, the disgusting, the pitiable, the contemptible, the good, the innocent, the admirable, the irritating, the heroic, the strong and the weak are all dissected and revealed with a surgeon’s expertise.


We know from the beginning that a portion of the 23 now lies crushed to death by the fallen cliff. By the end, we know that the dead are not innocent victims of chance. They were the authors of their fate. As were those who were spared. The choice they made to attend “the feast” sprang from some goodness within them. It is beautifully written with many beautiful descriptions and thought-provoking passages.
Describing the sadness and isolation of one of the characters towards the end of the book, Margaret Kennedy writes,

This was the second evening she would spend all alone up here, shut in with her troubles, while the light sank away….Dusk, in this room, had no soft and lingering tints; it was merely the failure, the death of day. And the silence of this room had no peace, no repose. It was sterile and empty.

I wish I had read this on Kindle because of its highlighting capabilities and ability to search and find certain parts about certain people. This is one of those books that one can reread again and again and find more meaning and insight each time. I learned of this book a couple of years ago thanks to the wonderful blog, http://anotherlookbook.com/ which seeks to uncover and restore some of the “really-good-but-almost-entirely-forgotten books that “languish on library book shelves for decades” or “yard sales after someone’s grandma passes away.” But fair warning: do not visit this website unless you have a couple of hours to spare.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

September 8, 2019

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

By Grady Hendrix

“The devil is loud and brash and full of drama. God, he’s like a sparrow.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about the friendship and loyalty of Abby towards Gretchen. Of course Gretchen was Abby’s friend too, as we see especially in the concluding pages, but for almost half of the book, Gretchen wasn’t there. She’d been replaced.
I loved the humor in the face of the horrific. Not especially the gross details of some of the fates of the teens involved and of course the possession and exorcism, but really the uselessness and terrible behavior of the adults. That was the scariest evil in this book.

“Families like that don’t listen to other people,” Mrs. Rivers said. “You get in the middle of whatever this is and you’ll be giving them an excuse to blame you for everything.”

Mrs. Rivers, Abby’s mother, was not a good parent and was a bitter person although not without good reason. But she was right in all of her observations. Her portrayal was fascinating and unpredictable. One of many gripping characterizations in the book.

Of course, some of the events just could not have played out the way they did for real. When confronted by the sights and smells and devastation that Gretchen’s possession caused, including what happened to one friend in particular, surely at least one parent, teacher, doctor, law enforcement, or clergyperson, would have stepped in, Like in The Exorcist. Denial caused by cognitive dissonance can only continue to a certain point. But that would have defeated the purpose of the book, I guess.

Someone had to do something. Someone had to say something. Teachers weren’t doing it. Her mom wasn’t going to do it. The Langs wouldn’t do it. That left Abby.

This was a real page-turner and one which was emotionally satisfying as well.

P.S. As I always do, I went on Google Earth to find some of the stomping grounds of the characters. Amazingly, Gretchen’s street not only exists, but her exact house is right there too. As are all of the other locations as well. I loved that authenticity.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 20, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens

“Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.”

Where the Crawdad Sings was a book that was out of my comfort zone. I’m not automatically drawn to lush Pat-Conroyish prose or anything with a whiff of Southern Gothic. But I have read and enjoyed such and I was won over by the glowing reviews that promised tragedy, cruelty, and sadness, yes, but also triumph, romance, and victory. The fact that it was a Reese Witherspoon book club selection sealed the deal. The novel delivered on all points. I didn’t read one glowing review that I disagree with.

I didn’t give it 5 stars. The resolution to the murder mystery did not seem supported by the facts, logistics, and evidence. Maybe I should re-read some parts, because I felt like the author kind of went behind the reader’s back. But it might just be me. The red herrings were excellent. I wish there had been a more satisfactory outcome with Kya’s lost family. One loose end was tied up very sadly, but there were more left hanging. The trial was good, but lacked some drama. The ending with Tate seemed to be a little rushed and easily won.

So it’s not perfect, but I would recommend it to almost anyone. It’s a better book than many I have given 5 stars to, but it aimed high so my bar was set high

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 24, 2018