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[personal profile] brigdh
After feeling sick for a while lately, I saw on doctor on Friday and discovered I have bronchitis! Which means this week has mostly been an excuse to sit still and read light-hearted things.

What did you just finish?
The Windfall by Diksha Basu. A light but charming novel about a middle-class Indian family who abruptly become fabulously wealthy when the father sells a website he developed. Mr and Mrs Jha – middle-aged, comfortable, traditional – decide to move from their old family apartment in East Delhi to a brand-new mansion in Gurgaon; the American equivalent might be a couple selling their Queens apartment to set up in a McMansion in Silicon Valley. This, of course, leads to cultural clashes both funny and sad, from broken ties with old friends to an ever-escalating game of financial one-upmanship with the new neighbors. Meanwhile, their son Rupak is attempting to acquire a MBA from an American university. "From Cornell", the elder Jhas like to say at first, when they're showing off their upward mobility; "from the nearby Ithaca College", they say later, when it becomes clear that having a failure of a son is even more of an indication of wealth – after all, only the really rich can support useless offspring! Rupak himself strives to chose between two romantic possibilities: the white Elizabeth (Rupak assumes his parents would never approve of him dating an American, while Mr Jha secretly longs for a white daughter-in-law to humblebrag about) or the Indian Serena (who, despite being the niece of a family friend and fellow Delhite, culturally comes from ivory-tower artists who are possibly even more foreign than the Americans).

None of the characters are particularly three-dimensional, but then, it's not really that sort of book; it's more interested in recognizing certain real-life types of people and having a gentle laugh at them than exploring the deep personal ramifications of sudden wealth. It's also an excellent book for Westerners despite being set almost entirely in India. Basu has a subtle but deft hand at explaining various cultural allusions without exoticifying them. For example, at one point Serena sends a joking text to Rupak:
Have you seen all the places in Collegetown charging $5 or more for turmeric milk? Good old haldi doodh that our mothers make every day. Forget banking, that should be your next big business idea—something from our childhood at marked-up prices. I’m thinking Maggi Ramen. Wait, that might actually be a good idea.
Look at that! Providing a translation and context for "haldi doodh" in very naturalistic-sounding dialogue, adding "Ramen" to the brand-name "Maggi" so that it becomes something recognizable even to someone who's never been to India, and all without alienating a reader who's already familiar with both. It's such a minor thing to point out, but I noticed Basu doing this work in several places, and I'm very impressed at how she manages to speak to two audiences at once.

Anyway! It's fun, it's breezy, and it's not too serious: I recommend it.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole. A romance novel set during the American Civil War. Elle Burns, a black woman with photographic memory, works as a spy for the Loyal League, a (fictional? I think?) network of black men and women working to end slavery. Her first independent mission requires her to travel to Richmond in the opening days of the war, where she goes undercover as a slave in the house of a Confederate senator. She soon meets Malcolm McCall, a confederate soldier who is strangely kind to her – and who turns out to be a spy himself, employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency to gather information for Lincoln. Their immediate attraction to one another is constantly hampered by distrust, the need to maintain their cover stories (which includes Malcolm's flirting with the senator's daughter), rumors of the Confederacy developing a new superweapon, and general social stigma (even without the complications of spies and war, an interracial relationship in the 1860s isn't exactly easy or welcome). There are kidnappings and burning buildings and gunshot wounds and dramatic escapes to add adventure to the love story, but ultimately it is very much a love story.

This was a great book, but unfortunately it wasn't quite as great as I had wanted it to be. I can't quite put my finger on why – maybe I needed slightly fuller characterizations? a longer timespan for the relationship to develop? richer dialogue? maybe my expectations were just too high? – and I absolutely don't want to discourage anyone from reading it. It's great! It's just not, you know, the GREATEST. Although bonus points for including a slightly fictionalized version of the story of Robert Smalls!
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt. A historical romance, set in England in the mid-1700s. Phoebe is the younger brother of a Duke (himself the star of the Regency Batman! romance I read last year) and has slowly been going blind for the last decade. In response, her brother hires a bodyguard, Captain James Trevillion, to follow her around everywhere and keep her from danger. Although since her brother hardly ever lets her leave the house and even then only to specific, sheltered events it seems a bit like overkill, but then overprotective older brothers: what are they for other than giving heroines a reason to rebel? Unfortunately for Phoebe, her brother seems to be proven correct when a gang of men attempt to kidnap her for mysterious reasons.

Phoebe's need for independence and James's need to protect her provide a nice set of conflicts for them to resolve as they slowly start to see one another as friends (and more!) rather than obstacles. Phoebe's youth, status, and cheeriness are contrasted with James's age, cynicism, and working-class-ish origins, so that even once they finally admit their feelings they can't immediately hop into marriage. They have nice chemistry, but my favorite part of the book was Phoebe herself. Here's a scene I feel captures her character very well (she and James are pretending to be married for the purpose of traveling together):
“And, just for you, I’ve ordered a mild ale instead of wine,” he said.
“Have you?”
“Much against my better judgment. It’s a common drink, my la—ahem, wife, and I cannot think it’ll be pleasing to your palate. Although,” he added under his breath, “considering where we are, the beer is probably better here than the wine.”
She brightened at the prospect of a new experience. “Then I must taste it at once.”
“It’s right here.” He took her hand and placed it on a pewter tankard.
“To your health, husband,” she said solemnly and took a sip.
Or rather tried to, for her nose seemed to be buried in foam. She inhaled in surprise—not the best thing to do—coughed, and then sneezed.
“I do beg your pardon,” Captain Trevillion said, and she couldn’t help noticing that his voice was oddly muffled.
Phoebe sneezed again—rather violently—dabbed at her eyes and nose with her handkerchief, regained her breath, and immediately demanded, “Are you laughing at me?”
“Never my… wife. Never,” he assured her, his voice shaking.
He was. He was most certainly laughing.
She sat up straight, threw her shoulders back, and brought the tankard to her mouth again. This time she kept her nose out of the way and delicately sipped through the foam. The beer was… well, sour. And oddly prickly on her tongue. She held it in her mouth for a moment, thinking, and then swallowed.
She held up a finger and took another sip. Sour. Yeast. Something earthy. And those funny little prickles. She swallowed and took another sip. Did she like the aroma? She’d smelled it all her life—most of the people of London drank beer—it was the common man’s water. That sour tang, so warm and strong.
She plunked down her tankard. “I think… I think I shall have to experience it more.”
“Why?” he asked. “If you don’t like it, then drink wine.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it.”
“Nor did you seem overcome with your enjoyment of it,” he pointed out drily.
“It’s… different—very different—from anything I’ve ever tasted before,” she said, her finger tracing the cool metal of the tankard. “I’d like to try it again.”
“If you wish to do so, then I’ll certainly obtain you beer at our meals while we travel, but I don’t understand. Why force yourself to drink what you don’t like?”
“But I’m not forcing myself,” she returned, tracing the edge of the tankard, feeling the bubbles pop against her fingertip. “Don’t you see? I want to explore different things—food, places, people. If, after several tastings, I find I cannot stomach the beer, then I shall give it up. Often something tasted for the first time seems foreign to us—strange and off-putting. It’s only after repeated tries that one realizes that this new thing, this once-strange thing, is quite familiar now. Familiar and beloved.” Phoebe inhaled, her breath coming too quickly with the force of her argument. “To only try but once and declare a thing lacking… why, that’s quite cowardly.”

Of course I love a character who is devoted to tasting new things! The scene also shows how Phoebe's blindness is handled narratively, which I was very curious about before reading. Would Hoyt pull out some weird stylistic device to get around describing things visually? No – as here, there's usually so much dialogue that the lack of visuals hardly makes a difference. Overall I think the issue of Phoebe's disability was very well-handled; it's easy to sympathize with her desire for autonomy, and yet she's very much not defined by her blindness. One could write the exact same book starring a sighted character without needing to change one detail of the plot – overprotected younger sisters are not exactly a rare character type. The blindness feels simply like a realistically-presented detail.

The multiple kidnapping attempts and their ultimate resolution are a bit silly, but eh, it's a historical romance; I don't need the plot to be all that serious. I had fun and enjoyed the characters, which is all I ask, and this is an excellent example of the genre.

Mount TBR update: Still at 15!

What are you currently reading?
The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke. Nonfiction about a murder in 1890s Ireland.

Date: 2017-05-12 12:07 am (UTC)
tsarina: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tsarina
Bronchitis is the worst uggggggh. It takes forever to go away. Did they send you home with the little plastic thing you have to breathe into to test your lung strength? The absolute pits.

Date: 2017-05-12 07:09 am (UTC)
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
From: [personal profile] sovay
After feeling sick for a while lately, I saw on doctor on Friday and discovered I have bronchitis!

Jeez! I am glad you have fun novels to help you recover.

Date: 2017-05-12 09:05 pm (UTC)
cloudsinvenice: woman resting her head on her hand, thinking (Default)
From: [personal profile] cloudsinvenice
I hope your recovery is peaceful and involves lots more nice books!

I like the sound of that first one; I always enjoy seeing how writers solve the 'talking to two audiences' problem, too...

Date: 2017-05-13 08:36 am (UTC)
cloudsinvenice: woman resting her head on her hand, thinking (Default)
From: [personal profile] cloudsinvenice
I wish I could remember; it's the sort of thing I catch in passing when it's really clever and then promptly forget about other than "Wow, I wish I could write that smoothly!"

Date: 2017-05-14 03:26 am (UTC)
katsue_fox: (Default)
From: [personal profile] katsue_fox
Feel better soon - bronchitis is horrible!


brigdh: (Default)

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