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Review: The Storyteller’s Secret

Recap: It’s after Jaya’s third miscarriage that her marriage falls apart. A journalist in New York, she is at a loss. She no longer has her husband to turn to for support, and her relationship with her mother has always been difficult, lacking love and support. It’s around this time that Jaya learns the grandfather she never knew is dying. He lives in India, where her parents were born, but her mother has no interest in returning home to see her father. Confused and alone, desperately seeking comfort and support in her family, Jaya decides to visit India, to get away from her own problems and to meet her grandfather and learn why he sent her mother away to America many years ago.

By the time she arrives, he has already passed. Inside her mother’s childhood home, she instead finds Ravi, her mother and grandmother’s servant. Ravi welcomes Jaya instantly and over the course of several weeks shows Ravi around India and tells her about her grandparents. It’s a long saga about love, secrets and finding one’s own path. It’s a story that even Jaya’s mother knows nothing about. It’s a story that changes her perception of her life, world and family forever. In looking to the past, Jaya is able to better understand her present and re-shape her future.

Analysis: In its simplest form, the plot of The Storyteller’s Secret sounds like the start of Eat, Pray, Love: woman’s life falls apart, woman sets out on journey across the world, woman finds herself. But Secret also adds the element of the past. The story also changes time periods and storytellers, switching back and forth between Jaya and her grandmother, Amisha, decades earlier. It gives the story an extra layer of depth and mystery that the read is dying to uncover. I found I could not put this book down, desperately wanting to know what happened in Jaya’s family history and how it affected her today.

The title of the book is a reference to so much storytelling that’s happening here: the narration from both Jaya and Amish, the story of Jaya’s past as told to her by Ravi, and the storytelling that Jaya does as a journalist and that her grandmother used to do as a writer and writing teacher. The parallels between Jaya and her unknown grandmother are beautiful and help to deepen the bond between Jaya and her mother. The story is moving in its statements about different cultures and especially womanhood: relationships between women, the strength of women and the sacrifices they make for their families.

The Storyteller’s Secret is a powerful, unstoppable read that makes you laugh, cry, think and feel. A truly excellent story.

MVP: Ravi. While the women are the focus of this book, Ravi may be the real star, the glue that binds together the woman of generations past and present, telling the stories that Amisha is unable to tell in her death. His generosity and love knows no bounds.

Get The Storyteller’s Secret in paperback now for $8.97.

Or get it on your Kindle for free.

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Review: The Lost Family

lost familyRecap: The years during WWII were no easy feat for Peter Rashkin and his family. In New York in 1965, he has opened his own restaurant, named after his wife who was killed in the Holocaust along with their twin daughters. Peter finds comfort in food, but he also uses it as a mechanism to keep his wife alive; she, too, was a cook. It’s in his restaurant — a place more home to him than his apartment — that he meets June Bouquet, a beautiful starving model. He is astonished by her beauty and surprised to find that he feels more strongly toward her than any of the other women he’s dated in the years since his wife was murdered.

The story then jumps to New Jersey in 1975, where we follow June, who’s left the modeling industry to be Peter’s housewife and mother to their daughter Elsbeth. The whirlwind romance that brought Peter and June together is fizzling out, leaving June to seek out love and attention elsewhere. She longs for her career of yesteryear and chases after the experiences and emotions she felt ten years earlier.

Finally the story takes us to New York and New Jersey in 1985, when Elsbeth is now a teenager, becoming a woman and searching for her truth. As her parents’ relationship has worsened, so has her relationship with food. Her father constantly uses her as a guinea pig to try out new recipes, but her mother still picks at her food like she did during her modeling years. Elsbeth’s strange introductions to food lead to her own battle with her body.

Analysis: Not having initially realized the structure of this book — the ten-year time jumps and changing points of view — I initially found it a little jarring and definitely surprising. I got so lost in Peter’s story, I wasn’t ready to leave it. But once I understood this was going to be the book’s format, I absolutely loved it. Switching between the decades and characters simultaneously allowed for powerful and engaging generational and societal commentary.

I was also surprised to find that a book I wholly expected to be about the Holocaust — and much of it was — was really a story about a family and their relationship to food. Each person in this book has a completely different view about what foods means to them emotionally and physically, allowing food to serve as a metaphor for each of the characters’ relationships to each other.

The title The Lost Family can be interpreted in so many ways. It refers to Peter’s first family who he lost in the war. But it also refers to his new family, who loses themselves in their own drama. But the journey to them finding themselves makes it all worth it.

MVP: Peter. When he attempts a second shot at life with a new family, he doesn’t put in enough effort to strengthen their bond. But the difference between him and June is that he loves his daughter so deeply that she has the power to make him realize what’s missing and what he needs to do to find himself. His journey is sad and long, but uplifting in the end.

Get The Lost Family in paperback for $16.99. 

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: When the Future Comes Too Soon

51locs0rbnl-_sy346_Recap: World War II is taking over the talk, minds and happenings of British Malaya, and the people there are starting to fear for their lives. Young mother Mei Foong realizes things are heating up once Malaya is bombed. As the war worsens and the family must temporarily flee their home for safety, Mei Foong gets to know several other families from her town, including a man named Chew Hock San, who makes her feel things she’s never felt before. But Mei Foong is also married with four children and a fifth on the way. Her relationship with her husband is not ideal. She provides children and a wealthy status for him, and he provides financially for her, but the chemistry has dwindled over the years.

Mei Foong and her family are able to return home, but soon after that, the Japanese take over. People are getting killed, the prices of good skyrocket and Mei Foong’s husband becomes sick. He must go to a hospital far away where he can get the care he needs, but while he’s gone, Chew Hock San starts popping up yet again, offering to help Mei Foong with whatever she needs. The mixture of her fear of the war, her sick husband, her desire for Chew Hock San and her love for her children push Mei Foong to the limit in a time of desperation.

Analysis: As a person who loves World War II novels, I couldn’t put this one down. It’s a war story I’d never heard before; it wasn’t about the Holocaust or Jewish people being persecuted. To read about another persecuted group’s experience, the Malayans, and the evil they faced was eye-opening. More interestingly, Mei Foong’s family wasn’t directly impacted by the war in terms of being killed or tortured. In fact, in many respects, her family was one of the lucky ones — and yet, the war still so badly severed her family and relationships with others. It’s proof that WWII did more than just kill people; it caused an astronomical amount of stress that affected people in unexpected ways. Fresh perspective on something that happens 75 years ago isn’t easy to do, but it’s done here.

MVP: Mei Foong. For a wife who at first is so submissive, Mei Foong ultimately stands up in the only way she can. Because of this decision, her life does not go the way she wanted or planned, but her strength and stubbornness in her decision is undeniable and awe-inspiring.

Get The Future Comes Too Soon in paperback for $10.25.

Or get it for free on Kindle Unlimited.

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Review: The Never Never Sisters

Recap: For marriage counselor Paige Reinhardt, summer couldn’t come soon enough. She rented a home in the Hamptons, and is looking forward to spending some alone time there with her workaholic lawyer husband, Dave. But something happens at Dave’s office that causes him to be suspended. As his world spirals out of control, and he works to keep Paige out of it, Paige’s estranged sister plans a trip into town to visit. Sloane has been out of the picture for twenty years, since her drug addiction got the best of her.

Suddenly Paige’s relaxing summer becomes a stressful one, as she works to uncover why Dave was suspended and to get to know the sister she lost so many years ago (not to mention Sloane’s new fiancé, Giovanni). As the summer continues, Paige realizes more and more how many secrets the people close to her have been keeping. What happened at Dave’s office, and why won’t he tell Paige? Who is Sloane, and has she gotten her life together? Can she really be trusted? As a marriage counselor, she tries to practice what she preaches, but that proves easier said than done as she’s faced with her own marital problems.

AnalysisThe Never Never Sisters is a family drama, a good beach read, the perfect chick lit novel for right now, since its story also takes place in the summer. It hooked me because it wasn’t easy to map out exactly which direction the story was headed. Compared to other family dramas I’ve read, this certainly wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst either. Most of the characters came across as sketchy, so it was hard for me to understand why Paige so badly wanted to make things work with Dave and her sister. It was hard to believe there was ever much love in Paige and Dave’s relationship, and while I was curious to learn what Dave did to get suspended and why he kept it from Sloane, I didn’t necessarily care. And the fact that Paige is a marriage counselor and couldn’t even see the problems in her marriage was slightly concerning to me.

To be honest, I was more interested in the relationship between the sisters. The book spent a fair amount of time on them, but in my opinion, not enough, considering the book is titled for them. I expected and wanted to see more their relationship develop more. The fact that much of what they bonded over and discussed was Dave seemed to cloud the focus of the novel. But the ending was unexpected — in a good way! — though I wish the climax and resolution hadn’t felt so rushed.

MVP: Giovanni. Sloane’s fiancé brought to The Never Never Sisters the light-hearted, happy parts of the novel. While some found him to be annoying, he knew how to right a wrong situation and bring out the best in Sloane.

Get The Never Never Sisters in paperback for $12.34.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Review: Seating Arrangements

Recap: The wedding between Daphne Van Meter and Greyson Duff is expected to be the upstanding New England social event of the summer. The two are delightfully perfect together, two beautiful, Ivy League graduates; twenty-somethings that come from the same stature of well-off New England families. One problem: the bride is pregnant, very pregnant, seven months along to be exact. Another problem: on the weekend of the wedding — during which the novel takes place — all of Daphne’s bridesmaids are staying at the Van Meters’ New England beach house with Daphne’s parents, Winn and Biddy. Included in the bridesmaid bunch are Livia, the bride’s sister; Dominique, the exotic former roommate; Piper, the meek friend; and Agatha, the friend who also happens to be a sexy tease to all men everywhere. Oh wait — another problem: the bride and groom’s families are getting together during the two nights leading up to the wedding, and also included at those events are the groom’s four brothers the bride’s drunk aunt.

From the beginning, the reader is informed that Daphne and Livia’s father, Winn, may be harboring feelings for Agatha, the sexy bridesmaid. We also learn Winn once dated the groom’s mother. We then learn he also once kissed his sister-in-law. Throw in the three brothers of the groom, and it’s unclear which will be more of a disaster — the night before the rehearsal dinner, the night of the rehearsal dinner or the night of the actual wedding. Can the wedding planner keep the clandestine scandals of the weekend separate from the weekend’s marital plans? Debatable.

Analysis: On the surface, Seating Arrangements sounds like an exciting, juicy, scandalous beach read, and it is. But it’s so much more than that. It feels like a classic, and is scandalous in the way that Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence, released in 1921) novels are scandalous. Author Maggie Shipstead writes the novel in such a literary way, I kept questioning whether it takes place modern-day or in an earlier time period.

As much as the story seems like it would be about a wedding, very little is about the wedding or the bride and groom. We learn more about the bride’s father, Winn, his relationship with his wife, and his relationship with his younger daughter, Livia. This is the story of a man who’s a little neurotically insane, a man who’s trying to understand all the women in his life as he — even at age 60 — is still working to figure out what kind of man, husband, and father he wants to be versus what he should be. It’s a story about family, growing old, growing apart, letting go, and learning to love the people you’re obligated to love, even if it hurts.

MVP: Livia. She is such a sad little creature, and she has so much growing up to do. But there’s something there — a natural sense of defiance and strength that makes the reader believe, especially at the end, that she’s going to be okay.

Get Seating Arrangements in paperback for $8.48.

Or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Controversy Over Book Using ‘Modern Family’ Photo

When you think of the TV show Modern Family, you don’t typically think of the show’s families as an accurate portrayal for religious Christian people. Modern Family, of course, portrays families with gay couples and adopted children.

So when Christian preacher and author Doug Sehone used a photo of the cast for the cover of his e-book Bible Principles of Child Discipline, it caused quite an uproar. According to TV Guide, Doug Sehorne used the photo, featuring actors Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen, not knowing that they were, in fact, actors from a television show. His friends pointed out to him that the family on the cover was from a TV show that didn’t necessarily emphasize strictly religious Christian values. He took to Facebook to explain exactly what happened:

“1. I do not even have a TV and have not for 35 years.

2. I never heard of the TV show.

3. I got the image from a search on Google Images, which I assumed were not copyrighted, etc.

4. Anyone who knows me, knows I would never condone such wickedness as sodomy or even TV.”

Sehorne is now removing the book and changing its cover.

Would love to hear your comments on this one!

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