Random Reviews: August

Back to short reviews: Here are a few of the books I’ve read over the last few weeks, in no particular order. I’ll be back with more in a few days.


Sonali Dev’s A Distant Heart is a follow up to her previous novel, A Change of Heart, not quite as dark, but continuing the story of the organ theft ring which figured in that book. A A Distant HeartDistant Heart, set in contemporary Mumbai, tells the story of Kimi Patil, a heart transplant recipient, and Rahul Savant, a police officer working on the organ ring case. Kimi and Rahul met as children, and the novel switches back and forth between their growing friendship in the past (“a long time ago”) and current events (“present day”). The novel includes elements of romance and suspense, but remains mainstream at heart, beautifully written but rather slowly paced.


I downloaded up Joseph Egan’s The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s because I enjoy early Hollywood tales, not because I know much about Mary Astor (I think I’ve only seen her in The Maltese Falcon), and I didn’t know much about her The Purple Diariesdiaries or her custody battle. Not much from the notorious “Purple Diaries” is reprinted in this book, and most of what was printed at the time was forged, but the story is interesting and kept me reading. It’s fascinating to see how the testimony at the custody hearing became wilder and wilder, and rose to the level of a national newspaper obsession for a few weeks in 1936. The writing is repetitious at times, and the proofreading mediocre, but I found the book entertaining.


I picked up Hoax: A History of Deception, by Ian Tattersall and Peter Nevraumont, at my local Half Price Book store. Broken into 50 chapters, the book covers everything from harmless and amusing exploits to wild conspiracy theories to the downright dangerous (such as homeopathy and anti-vaccine Hoaxhysteria, two bits of nonsense I find very disturbing). Faked photographs, faked deaths, successful and unsuccessful forgeries, scams and con games, flat and hollow earth ideas, military trickery and so on all pop up in the book. In this age of “fake news” and apparent willingness to believe Big Lies, there’s a lot to be learned from hoaxes of the past.


Very little is known about the life of Kate Warne, the first female operative with the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, but Greer MacAllister has done an impressive job of giving her a story in Girl in Disguise. The novel begins with Kate applying for the job,Girl in Disguise answering a newspaper ad that no one, least of all Allen Pinkerton, expected a woman to respond to. Earning the trust and respect of her male colleagues is no easy feat, but Kate perseveres, working on cases of all sorts, until the Civil War turns her into a spy. Along the way she meets characters both fictional and real (including Abraham Lincoln), contemplates the moral lines she may or may not be crossing, and confronts ghosts from her past. MacAllister draws a fascinating picture of the mid-nineteenth century, of the Pinkerton headquarters in Chicago, and of Washington society during the Civil War.


I actually downloaded Girl in Disguise over a year ago and promptly lost track of it among the hundreds of books in my Amazon cloud. Now and then I open the Kindle app on my computer, which gives me a wide screen, full color view of my electronic library, and browse. The cover of Girl in Disguise caught my eye, and I’m glad it did. I will, however, never catch up.


Sonali Dev: A Change of Heart

A Change of Heart is Sonali Dev’s third novel, and it is far darker than her previous novels, A Bollywood Affair and The Bollywood Bride. It tells the story of two terribly damaged people with a faint but real change of overcoming pain and deception to heal each other.


Dr. Nikhil Joshi (whom we met in Bollywood Bride) has spent the past two years as medical officer on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, wallowing in grief, guilt, and Jack A Change of HeartDaniels since the death of his wife, Jen, who was brutally murdered on the street in Mumbai. One night on the ship he sees a woman who resembles Jen. Her name is Jess, and she tells him that Jen’s heart is beating in her chest; she has the scar to prove it.


Unlike Nik, who grew up in a comfortable and loving Indian American family in Chicago, Jess has moved from Kathmandu to Calcutta to Mumbai, fleeing poverty and violence, not always successfully. Now she has a decent job as a chorus dancer in Bollywood films, a seven-year-old son who must never know how he was conceived, and a mission to find the evidence of an organ theft ring that Jen had gathered and died for, no matter what it takes.


Nik and Jess’ relationship, from the cruise ship to their search for the missing evidence among Jen’s belongings in Chicago, is painful and hard. The novel depicts violence against women as well as the organized organ theft Jen had discovered.


A Change of Heart is a far darker book than I usually enjoy, but it is deeply emotional and beautifully written, and I couldn’t put it down until all its mysteries were untangled.

Random Reviews

The cover of Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun caught my eye, so I took it home, stuck it on my TBR-soon shelf (alas, some books only stay there until they get demoted to the TBR-eventually shelves—I can’t keep Girl Waits With Gunup), but didn’t read it until a friend raved about it on Facebook. I had picked it up expecting a mystery, but this is actually a rather slow-paced novel about the three Kopp sisters (who were real people, as were many of the supporting characters and the situation), told in first person by the eldest, Constance. The three sisters are delightfully distinct, and rather eccentric, characters, whose adventures over a year or so in 1914 New Jersey swing from terrifying to exhilarating. A well-written, imaginative, and thoroughly enjoyable look at the lives of three unusual women a century ago.


Ria Parkar, the heroine of Sonali Dev’s second book, The Bollywood Bride, is a woman with one foot in Bollywood–and one in Chicago. In India she’s a movie star; in Chicago she’s one member of a large, loving Indian-American family, gathering to celebrate a wedding. But Ria has secrets she has guarded since she was a little girl, secrets that tore her away from the man she still loves, Vikram Jathar.


By the middle of the book I was growing a little impatient with Ria’s insistence on keeping her secrets to The Bollywood Brideprotect other people, never giving them, and Vikram in particular, a chance to make their own decisions, but then I got caught up in her past and sat up way too late reading the second half of the book straight through.


Aside from the rekindling romance between Ria and Vikram, Dev paints a fascinating picture of Indian culture joyously preserved in the suburbs of Chicago. I want to go eat in Uma’s kitchen!


I really loved Fannie Flagg’s I Still Dream About You, the story of Maggie I Still Dream About YouFortenberry, former Miss Alabama (forty years or so ago), one-time model, never married, now a real estate agent in an office that seems to be sliding down hill. Maggie has decided that it’s time to leave this life on her own terms (but this is NOT a depressing book, far from it) and has devised a detailed (complete with to-do lists) suicide plan. But Maggie is so responsible and conscientious, socially and financially, that her obligations keep getting in the way. She can’t bear to leave a bill unpaid, an account unsettled, or a friend in need.


This is a delightful book about a woman of a certain age finding unexpected meaning in life and in the future, and coming to terms with the past. It’s full of quirky characters, the history and culture of Birmingham, Alabama, and even an entertaining historical mystery involving a steamer trunk and a skeleton. Alternately hilarious and touching, this is a wonderful novel. Highly recommended.


Fair Play, Deeanne Gist’s second book set at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (following It Happened at the Fair) follows Dr. Billy Jack Tate, a female physician who finds herself working at the Women’s Building atFair Play the Fair, where she meets (and treats) Hunter Scott, a Texas Ranger spending six months as a Columbian Guard. When Hunter finds an abandoned baby on the Fair grounds, the two of them team up to find the baby a refuge at Hull House, where they learn of the terrible conditions of tenement living and the sad fate of so many children. Their desire to help the children brings them together, but will Billy’s career drive them apart? Another sweet romance from Gist, tempered with heartbreaking descriptions of life in the late 19th century slums of Chicago.

Sonali Dev: A Bollywood Affair

Sonali Dev’s delightful debut novel, A Bollywood Affair, begins with a wedding, a wedding that will complicate several lives and cause no end of emotional turmoil. The wedding takes place in a small rural village in India. The bride is four years old, the groom twelve. The groom’s ten-year-old brother watches the festivities with more interest than the groom displays, and tries to comfort the sobbing bride, at least until his ill-tempered and dictatorial grandfather drives him off.

A Bollywood AffairTwenty years later Mili considers herself a married woman, although she hasn’t seen her husband, Virat, since the day of the wedding. She dreams of the day her husband will return to claim her, but in the meantime her married status has allowed her to go to college, and she’s about to embark on a new adventure, an eight-month graduate course in sociology—in Michigan.

While Mili has been dreaming of her husband, now an officer in the Indian Air Force, he hasn’t given her a second thought, believing the barely remembered child-marriage has long since been annulled. When he finds out it hasn’t, his younger brother Samir, now a well-known Bollywood director (and equally well-known playboy) heads for Michigan to persuade the naïve little village girl to sign the annulment papers.

Of course what should be a simple task proves not to be. Mili may be a naïve village girl, but she’s also smart, educated, and determined to honor her obligations. Samir may be a cynical playboy, but there’s something about this girl, this unexpected sister-in-law, that forces changes he never expected in his view of life. While Mili tries to figure out what the future holds for her, Samir finds himself face to face with the past he has done his best to forget.

A Bollywood Affair is a charming and emotionally satisfying romance. It is also a fascinating look at various facets of Indian culture. We see life Mili’s tiny rural village and Samir’s in the sophisticated circles of Mumbai. And then there’s Ridhi, Mili’s Michigan roommate, happily balanced between two cultures: American enough to insist on marrying a man her family would have considered unsuitable back in India, but Indian enough to delight in an extravagant Indian wedding (in Columbus, Ohio).

I thoroughly enjoyed A Bollywood Affair—my only complaint is that I can’t taste any of the delicious-sounding Indian food Mili, Samir, and their friends enjoy throughout the story. I’ll be looking forward to Dev’s next book, The Bollywood Bride, due out in 2015.

Bollywood Books

The Lucky 13s group was abuzz last week with the news that one of our sisters, Sonali Dev, had made the Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014 e-originals list with A Bollywood Affair, a book that hasn’t even been released yet (look for it in a few days—official release date is October 28). I haven’t read it yet (I’ll be A Bollywood Affairsnapping up a copy when I can), so all I can tell you is that it’s a contemporary romance with Indian characters set in Michigan.

When I went to look at the list, I was also pleased to find Susan Kaye Quinn’s Third Daughter on it as well. Although Library Journal mysteriously tags the first volume of Quinn’s Dharian Affairs Trilogy as historical romance, it is actually Indian-flavored science fiction/steampunk/romance (Bollypunk?), set on a world with two moons, six-legged animals, and three Queendoms.

The Dharian Affairs

I read Third Daughter this summer, enjoyed it thoroughly, and reviewed it here. Last Monday, while spending the day at the local Toyota dealership while they performed the 30,000-mile maintenance rituals on my car (no complaints—they must be doing a good job, the car is still serving me well after more than ten years and 186,000 miles), I finished Second Daughter, which ended on such a cliffhanger that I immediately started on First Daughter, the third book in the trilogy (immediate gratification, thanks to my Kindle).

The books are so full of twists and turns that I don’t want to give any of them away. Aniri, the Third Daughter of the Queendom of Dharia, is the protagonist of all three books, and her bumpy romance with the Prince of the mountainous northern Queendom, carries through the trilogy. Her sister Seledri, the Second Daughter, is married to the First Son of the Queendom of Samir, and her dangerous situation, and Aniri’s attempts to help her, drive Second Daughter. Seledri will be Queen of Samir one day—if she survives long enough. As problems mount, Nahali, the First Daughter and future Queen of Dharia becomes involved—but whose side is she on?

All three books are full of romance, adventure, swords and blunderbusses, and skyships. Buy all three—you won’t want to wait for the next one.