WWW Wednesday 04/10/2019

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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I’m currently reading…

CaptureThe Last Mrs. Parrish
by Liv Constantine
I just started the audio book for this one this morning. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Wife Between Us, and I noticed that a lot of the less complimentary reviews of that one mentioned that it felt really similar to The Last Mrs. Parrish, but that The Last Mrs. Parrish was better. Fingers crossed that this one does more for me than The Wife Between Us. 

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
by Balli Kaur Jaswal
(ARC provided by publisher)
Jaswal may be one of my new favorite authors. This was my second book by her, the first being Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, which I read for my book club. This novel is about a group of sisters going on a pilgrimage of sorts to India, fulfilling a dying request of their mother, who was born there.

The Invited
by Jennifer McMahon
(ARC provided by NetGalley)
This has a 3.88 average on GoodReads right now, so I honestly didn’t think I was going to like it, but so far this is a fun ghost story. It definitely feels a bit tropey and cliche, but sometimes those kinds of books can be comfort reads. The Invited is about a couple that moves out to the country to build their own house. Some of the locals don’t seem to want them there, and there are rumors flying about a malicious ghost haunting the land they’ve just purchased.

I recently finished reading…

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I totally forgot to do a WWW Wednesday last week because I thought it was Tuesday all day on Wednesday (oops), so I’ve got two weeks’ worth of books here. Lost Roses, by Martha Hall Kelly was probably my favorite of this bunch. It’s a prequel to Lilac Girls. Lilac Girls takes place during WWII, and Lost Roses takes place during WWI and there are some characters in common between the two books.

My Sister, the Serial Killer was also a good one; this is a fun thriller, and the title pretty much gives you the premise. The main character feels bound by family loyalty into helping her sister cover up her misdeeds.

I have reviews posted for Lost Roses, The Wolf and the Watchmanand The Perfect GirlfriendI still plan on reviewing Fight or Flight, Homegoing, and My Sister, the Serial Killer. 

Up next…

Image may contain: text and waterThe Plot to Cool the Planet
by Sam Bleicher

(I was provided a free ARC in exchange for a review.)

“Global warming lies at the center of this gripping speculative fiction involving a murder mystery, a daring secret plot, dangerous international conflict, and controversy over governance of geoengineering.
Available Earth Day, April 22, 2019 on Amazon and at your local bookstore.”

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What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!

 

Lost Roses, by Martha Hall Kelly (Review)

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Lost Roses
by Martha Hall Kelly

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 448 Pages

Release date: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Synopsis: 

The runaway bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. This sweeping new novel, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.

It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorker’s treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov’s. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre’s who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.

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My thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

Lost Roses is a prequel to Lilac Girls, and both books feature Caroline Ferriday, although Lost Roses focuses more on Caroline’s mother, Eliza, than on Caroline herself. the two books can definitely be read in either order and I don’t think it would impact how much you would enjoy either one. Lost Roses follows the interconnected stories of three principal point of view characters:

Eliza – an American socialite who is passionate about charity work

Sofya – a wealthy Russian woman and dear friend of Eliza

Varinka – a teenage girl employed as a servant in Sofya’s home in Russia

Lost Roses feels a bit slow in the beginning. Your mileage may vary, but it took me longer than most books to become invested in this one. I read small bits and pieces of the first half while finding myself sidetracked by other books, then flew through the second half. I think part of the issue was the number of point of view characters and the degree of separation of each of their stories, despite each of the POV characters knowing at least one of the others. I think this format made it take a bit longer to get to know each of these women well enough to become invested in their stories. To a lesser extent, I had the same issue with Lilac Girls, which is set up the same way, but both books feel well worth that time investment by the time they are done.

One of the best things about this novel is the way Martha Hall Kelly brings interesting, morally grey characters to life. Varinka was particularly interesting to me; I don’t want to get into spoilers, but the hardships of her life certainly play a part in some horrible decisions she makes and her total lack of empathy for certain people. She is pitted against Sofya by events which are outside of either woman’s control. Sofya, conversely, seems totally blind to the strife in her home country until it begins to impact her personally. Most members of the Russian aristocracy definitely give off a bit of a Marie Antoinette vibe at times, far more concerned with the luxuries of their daily lives than the fact that the common people are starving.

It’s clear that Martha Hall Kelly did a lot of research to get the time period right. Depending on your taste, you may feel this adds a lot of texture to the story or it may feel overly detailed. As a big history enthusiast, a loved the detail and thought it helped the reader to get to know the characters better by giving a very full sense of their environment, particularly the anxieties brought on by the political chaos of the time.

All in all, despite the slow start, I definitely recommend Lost Roses. Fans of Lilac Girls will absolutely want to grab a copy of Martha Hall Kelly’s latest work.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read any of Martha Hall Kelly’s work? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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The Perfect Girlfriend, by Karen Hamilton (Review)


The Perfect Girlfriend
by Karen Hamilton

Genre: Thriller

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: March 26, 2019

Publisher: Graydon House

Synopsis: 

YOU’VE NEVER READ A LOVE STORY AS TWISTED AS THIS.

Juliette loves Nate.

She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline so she can keep a closer eye on him.

They are meant to be.

The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.

She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

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My thanks to Booksparks and Graydon House for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

I’ve said a lot on this blog that I’m overly picky about thrillers, and when I need to write a negative review of one, I tend to preface it with that information. It’s my little “Dear Book, it’s not you, it’s me,” disclaimer. In this case, though, I really don’t think it’s me. This was… rough. Despite the interesting narrative choice of choosing a villain as the point of view character, The Perfect Girlfriend is simply the one thing it’s unforgivable for a thriller to be: boring.

The novel follows Juliette, who is hardcore obsessed with her ex boyfriend. The story opens with a traumatic event from her childhood; I don’t know if this is meant to make her more sympathetic throughout all of the awful things she’ll then go on to do, or if it’s simply there to give a “reason” as to why she’s a bit… unbalanced. In any case, something about it feels very tacked-on, as if the author realized she needed to give Juliette some meat to her personality other than an all-consuming obsession with Nate, but it certainly doesn’t have the impact of making her feel multi-dimensional.

After the breakup, Juliette gets a job as a flight attendant in order to be closer to Nate, who is a pilot. With the two of them now working for the same airline, she now simply has to wait to “coincidentally” bump into him and leap on the opportunity to rekindle the old flame. The whole flight attendant job is (part of) what I’m talking about when I say this book is boring.

I checked the author’s GoodReads profile to confirm a nagging suspicion and, lo and behold, she formerly “worked as cabin crew for a major airline.” The sheer amount of rambling about the ins and outs of being a flight attendant left the impression that the author was itching for a way to work some of her insider information into the novel. Unfortunately, it was just a bit much, and seemed particularly unnatural given that the story is told from Juliette’s perspective, and Juliette doesn’t care about being a flight attendant; she’s simply using the job as a means to get to Nate.

But beyond the surplus of tangential information, there was simply nothing surprising in the plot. Towards the end, there is a confrontation on a plane which leads into what I’m assuming is meant to be a “big reveal,” but even at that point I was just left thinking, “Well… yeah, clearly.”

Furthermore, I’m simply sick to death of stories about a woman obsessed with a man. Yes, I know, this was a stalker story, so I knew what I was getting into going into it, but can we please do away with female characters who have nothing to their personalities beyond their acute fixation on a man? We are not little baby ducks who imprint on the first one to give us the time of day. I promise.

Needless to say, this one was not a hit for me. However, the GoodReads algorithm says fans of this book also enjoyed: The Perfect Girlfriend to fans of Beautiful Bad, by Annie Ward, The Rival, by Charlotte Duckworth, and I’ll Be Watching You, by Courtney Evan Tate, so if you’ve read and enjoyed any of those, you may have a very different experience with this one than I did.

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Thank you for reading! This book hit some of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to fiction. What are some of yours? Let me know in the comments!

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The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt och Dag (Review)


The Wolf and the Watchman
by Niklas Natt och Dag

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Length: 384 Pages

Release date: March 5, 2019

Publisher: Atria Books

Synopsis: 

In this breathtakingly bold, intricately constructed novel set in 18th century Stockholm, a dying man searches among the city’s teeming streets, dark corners, and intriguing inhabitants to unmask a ruthless murderer—perfect for fans of Perfume and The Alienist.

It is 1793. Four years after the storming of the Bastille in France and more than a year after the death of King Gustav III of Sweden, paranoia and whispered conspiracies are Stockholm’s daily bread. A promise of violence crackles in the air as ordinary citizens feel increasingly vulnerable to the whims of those in power.

When Mickel Cardell, a crippled ex-solider and former night watchman, finds a mutilated body floating in the city’s malodorous lake, he feels compelled to give the unidentifiable man a proper burial. For Cecil Winge, a brilliant lawyer turned consulting detective to the Stockholm police, a body with no arms, legs, or eyes is a formidable puzzle and one last chance to set things right before he loses his battle to consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity, encountering the sordid underbelly of the city’s elite. Meanwhile, Kristofer Blix—the handsome son of a farmer—leaves rural life for the alluring charms of the capital and ambitions of becoming a doctor. His letters to his sister chronicle his wild good times and terrible misfortunes, which lead him down a treacherous path.

In another corner of the city, a young woman—Anna-Stina—is consigned to the workhouse after she upsets her parish priest. Her unlikely escape plan takes on new urgency when a sadistic guard marks her as his next victim.

Over the course of the novel, these extraordinary characters cross paths and collide in shocking and unforgettable ways. Niklas Natt och Dag paints a deliciously dark portrait of late 18th century Stockholm, and the frightful yet fascinating reality lurking behind the powdered and painted veneer of the era.

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My thanks to Atria Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

The Wolf and the Watchman is a slow burn mystery set in 1790’s Stockholm and it is dark and gritty, to stay the least. The story opens with the discovery of a body which has been badly mutilated over what seems to be a long period of time, then dumped unceremoniously in a river. The mystery at the heart of the novel is intriguing: what could possibly lead a person to commit such a heinous crime? This was thought out and unspeakably brutal, the exact opposite of a crime of passion.

18th century Stockholm is brought to life in the pages of The Wolf and the Watchman, but the portrayal is overwhelmingly dark and dreary. Niklas natt Och Dag seems fascinated with the dark side of human nature, and the story explores the myriad of ways that people exert power of one another: for personal gain, for revenge, out of fear, or for the simple gratification of the act itself. Despite the presence of characters investigating the murder in the hopes of bringing justice, the overall impression is quite morose. (As of this writing, this novel has a 3.95 average on GoodReads, so I think it’s worth noting my rating is a little below the average. This may be less due to quality than it is to personal taste; I found the book a tad too dark.)

The major characters were very well developed, and I was particularly intrigued by Kristofer Blix, a young man who worked as an apprentice surgeon during the war. His role in the mystery is not immediately clear, Kristofer’s sections are told in the form of letters to his sister detailing his downward spiral culminating in his connection to the larger story.

The Wolf and the Watchman is a great choice for fans of dark and gritty historical fiction and slow burn mystery novels.

Content warnings for graphic violence and sexual violence. 

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Thank you for reading! Have you read The Wolf and the Watchman? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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March Wrap-Up and April TBR

Welcome to another monthly wrap-up and TBR post!

March was a great reading month for me! Check out this stack I finished!

And a few more that are missing from the photo:

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Some of my favorites this month were:
American Princess, by Stephanie Marie Thornton
Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Huntress, by Kate Quinn
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, by Ruth Emmie Lang

Let’s jump into all the reviews that went up in March!

I also posted some other content you may have missed this month.

Here is my discussion on the ethical consumption of media. What do you do when you have problems with an author’s personal beliefs or actions? Does it impact your likelihood to purchase their work? This was prompted by an exposé about A. J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window, outlining a long history of alleged dishonesty.

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I also shared my list of inspirational women in honor of International Women’s Day.

And now on to April…

Here are some of the NetGalley ARCs I’m hoping to finish this month:

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Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
Lost Roses, by Martha Hall Kelly
The Farm, by Joanne Ramos
The Invited, by Jennifer McMahon

And some of my physical ARCs:

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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention, by Donna Freitas
Whisper Network, by Chandler Baker
They All Fall Down, by Rachel Howzell Hall

(All advance reader copies pictured on my TBR were provided by the publishers at no cost to me in exchange for a review.) 

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading! What was your favorite book that you read in March? Are there any new releases you’re anticipating in April? Share in the comments!

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Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, by Ruth Emmie Lang (Review)


Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
by Ruth Emmie Lang

Genre: Magical Realism

Length: 368 Pages

Release date: December 4, 2019

Synopsis: 

Through the story of Weylyn Grey, an orphaned boy who grew up with wolves, Lang weaves a mystical tale about life, love, and the ability each of us has to change our own story.

Finding magic in the ordinary…

The day that Weylyn is born is the largest snowstorm the South has ever seen. As he grows older, so does the legends of Weylyn Grey, his horned-pig Merlin and their magical abilities. But the true magic is in the way that he transforms the lives of those around him. As anyone who’s met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you’ll wish he’d never leave.

Told from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Ruth Emmie Lang’s Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance teaches us about adventure and love in a beautifully written story full of nature and wonder.

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“Why do you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Take something beautiful and vandalize it with skepticism?”

I’ve been finding myself increasingly drawn towards stories with magical realism lately, and this book was such a welcome treat. I think Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance can best be described as a fairy tale for grown-ups, and every chapter is just so cozy and magical.

Weylyn Grey, despite being the main character, remains a bit of a mystery throughout the novel. We get only fleeting glimpses into his own point of view, and the majority of the story is told through the eyes of those who encounter Weylyn at different points in his life. His story begins (chronologically, at least) with a little girl who runs away from home to join a wolf pack with Weylyn. Weylyn has been living with the wolves since the sudden deaths of his parents threatened to put him into the foster care system.

Weylyn has magic powers which he can’t fully control and definitely doesn’t fully understand. The magic in this novel is relatively understated for most of the story, and the reader never really gets much in the way of an explanation. Weylyn has magic powers because magic exists in this world, and it’s simply expected that you can suspend your disbelief long enough to go on an adventure with Weylyn.

There is a bit of romance within the novel, but I don’t think I would characterize it as the major focus of the novel, despite its heavy involvement with the plot. Readers who aren’t fans of romance probably won’t find the plot line overbearing, and those who do enjoy it will find that the love story adds to the magic.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is Lang’s debut novel, and it’s such an incredibly strong start to what hopefully proves to be a long and successful writing career.  Judging by this Goodreads page, she has something else in the works already, but not much information is available yet. Regardless, I’ll be first in line to get a copy!

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Thank you for reading! What’s your favorite story that incorporates magical realism? Let me know in the comments!

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WWW Wednesday 03/27/2019

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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I’m currently reading…

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The Perfect Girlfriend
by Karen Hamilton
(Free copy provided by Booksparks)

I just started this one sitting in the parking lot before going in to work this morning, so obviously I’m not very far into it. The Perfect Girlfriend is a thriller told from the point of view of a woman stalking her ex.

The Wolf and The Watchman
by Niklas Natt och Dag
(Free copy provided by Atria Books)

This is a historical fiction / murder mystery novel. I find it difficult to judge how I feel about mysteries until I’m done with them, because the resolution is so important, but I’m definitely intrigued by this one so far.

Lost Roses
by Martha Hall Kelly
(Free copy provided by Ballantine books through NetGalley)

I’ve been making slow progress on Lost Roses. I enjoy it while I’m reading it, but I’m finding it difficult to pick it up. This is WWI historical fiction and a prequel to Lilac Girls. 

I recently finished reading…

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A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea
by Masaji Ishikawa
I really dislike reviewing memoirs, because I don’t want to critique someone’s expression of their personal experience, particularly in a case like this where there is trauma involved. So while there won’t be a review posted of this book, I can say that I highly recommend it. Mr. Ishikawa’s experience is important and heartbreaking. I read a lot of history and historical fiction, so I’m used to reading about tragedies, but it becomes a very different experience when you’re reading about something that is ongoing, like the situation in North Korea.

Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across
by Mary Lambert
I don’t read much poetry in recent years, but I adore Mary Lambert. If you like her music at all, you will like this poetry collection. Some trigger warnings for sensitive topics: rape, self harm, body hatred.

This Cruel Design
by Emily Suvada
This was the sequel to This Mortal Coil, which I thought had a lot of promise. Unfortunately, this installment fell a bit flat for me. I do read and enjoy some YA, but I can only describe this as painfully YA. 

Me for You
by Lolly Winston
(Free copy provided by Booksparks) Me for You was trying to do a lot, but it felt a bit like it was floundering to me. Despite tackling some rather heavy topics like death of a spouse, death of a child, and mental illness, the overall impression was of a book that didn’t have much substance. Yes, it’s a romance, but it threw in these heavy story-lines and didn’t really seem to know what to do with them. Full review here.

The Leavers
by Lisa Ko
This sat unread on my shelf for I don’t even know how long, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. The Leavers follows the story of a young boy named Deming living in New York City. When his Chinese immigrant mother disappears, he is adopted by a white couple. Deming is the main point of view character, although we occasionally get glimpses into his mother’s perspective as well. I loved the novel’s handling of culture clash, interracial adoption, and also just plain character development.

Up next…

40908064The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
by Balli Kaur Jaswal

(Free copy provided by the publisher through the Girly Book Club for their blogging program.)

The author of the Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows follows her acclaimed America debut with this life-affirming, witty family drama—an Indian This Is Where I Leave You—about three Punjabi sisters embarking on a pilgrimage to their homeland to lay their mother to rest.

The British-born Punjabi Shergill sisters—Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina—were never close and barely got along growing up, and now as adults, have grown even further apart. Rajni, a school principal is a stickler for order. Jezmeen, a thirty-year-old struggling actress, fears her big break may never come. Shirina, the peacemaking “good” sister married into wealth and enjoys a picture-perfect life.

On her deathbed, their mother voices one last wish: that her daughters will make a pilgrimage together to the Golden Temple in Amritsar to carry out her final rites. After a trip to India with her mother long ago, Rajni vowed never to return. But she’s always been a dutiful daughter, and cannot, even now, refuse her mother’s request. Jezmeen has just been publicly fired from her television job, so the trip to India is a welcome break to help her pick up the pieces of her broken career. Shirina’s in-laws are pushing her to make a pivotal decision about her married life; time away will help her decide whether to meekly obey, or to bravely stand up for herself for the first time.

Arriving in India, these sisters will make unexpected discoveries about themselves, their mother, and their lives—and learn the real story behind the trip Rajni took with their Mother long ago—a momentous journey that resulted in Mum never being able to return to India again.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is a female take on the Indian travel narrative. “I was curious about how different the trip would be if it were undertaken by women, who are vulnerable to different dangers in a male-dominated society,” Balli Kaur Jaswal writes. “I also wanted to explore the tensions between tradition and modernity in immigrant communities, and particularly how those tensions play out among women like these sisters, who are the first generation to be raised outside of India.”

Powerful, emotionally evocative, and wonderfully atmospheric, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is a charming and thoughtful story that illuminates the bonds of family, sisterhood, and heritage that tether us despite our differences. Funny and heartbreaking, it is a reminder of the truly important things we must treasure in our lives.

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What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!