ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
1. Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India

Anjali Bose is a small town girl in rural India who has big dreams. Her teacher, an ex-pat American, encourages her to make something of herself by heading to Bangalore, which they both see as the best new city in India. Anjali eventually heads there, and ends up in more trouble than she anticipated.

The writing in this novel is quite good, very poetic, in the first few chapters, but gradually heads downhill and becomes very pedestrian by the end. The problem, I think, is that there is just way too much plot in this book. The main characters deal with rape, international terrorism, false charges of murder, police brutality, arranged marriage, teenage runaways, divorce, gay men in India, botched back-alley sex change operations, prostitution, art theft, suicide, the role of outsourcing in the Indian economy, riots, the art of photography, homelessness, telecommunication centers, and more. By about the fourth major plot twist, there's no time for poetry anymore, and even for much of a reaction from the characters, because there's just too much happening. I think it could have been a much better book if it had just focused on a few of these issues instead of all of them.

That said, many of the characters here are quite appealing, particularly Anjali. And it certainly seems to be a very current look at Indian society (I learned, for instance, that the cool new dessert is cold coffee with ice cream, which I promptly went out to try, and I can inform you that it is delicious). Overall a fun read, but not a particularly deep one.
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
I swore I wouldn't get behind this year, and look at this. I'm already lagging. I suck at New Years resolutions.

#2: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander)

The Devotion of Suspect X )


#3: Villain by Shuichi Yoshida (translated by Philip Gabriel)

Villain )


#4: The Other Side of Paradise: a Memoir by Staceyann Chin

The Other Side of Paradise )
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

A sort-of fantasy novel about Tilo, a 'Mistress of Spices'- immortal, mystical women, trained in magic and secret knowledge, sent out into the world to help people. Tilo is sent to Oakland, California, where she slowly becomes personally involved in the lives of the people around her, and begins to reveal her own backstory.

This novel is very hard to describe, because it doesn't have much of a plot for most of its length. Instead, it's full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of spices and food, magic, Oakland and imaginary places like the Island where Mistresses are trained. Some parts are very realistic; others involve rampaging pirate queens or singing sea serpents. It took me a while to get into this book, because the beginning is very slow, but by the end I was in love. The language is incredibly evocative, and the resolution felt just right. I really grew to like the characters, particularly Tilo, who shows herself to be much more of a flawed human than any mystical fairy.

Highly recommended.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
Sarwat Chadda, Devil's Kiss

The Knights Templar are still present in modern-day London (though there's not many of them left), and they have a secret mission to fight the forces of evil: vampires, ghouls, ghosts, and so forth. Billi's dad, Arthur (a white British Christian), is the head of the Knights Templar, and ever since her mom (a Pakistani Muslim) died as a result of the Templar's work, he's been cold and closed off to her, focused only on the mission. Billi feels pressured to follow in his footsteps and join the Templars, but she wants her own life, her own friends, and for her dad to pay attention to her.

I really liked this book; it's fast-paced, with an exciting plot (involving the Ten Plagues of Exodus), and interesting characters (including appearances by the Angel of Death and Lucifer), and some genuinely scary moments. I was a bit confused by the fact that everyone in the Templar has a name from the Arthurian legends, some of which are names you would expect to see in modern London (Arthur, Kay) and some which you wouldn't (Gawain, Percival). But this patten is never mentioned in the book, and Arthurian legends have nothing to do with the plot, so I didn't understand what was up with that. There's a sequel that's just come out that I haven't read yet, so maybe it plays a part in the next book.

My favorite parts were moments when the characters dealt with issues regarding Knights Templar in the modern world. For instance, there a long-running argument between Arthur and Gwaine on emphasizing the "demon fighting" aspect of their mission over the "killing people of other religions" part of it. It's mentioned that Billi was raised as a Muslim, but had to convert to Christianity to join the Templars. This isn't a major part of the book, but for me, it made the whole thing feel much more real. I would have liked more exploration of how the Templars have changed and adjusted to the present, actually. Again: maybe in the sequel!

A fun read, and one I recommend.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
11. Farahad Zama, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Mr. Ali, a recently-retired Muslim man living in a city in South India, finds he has too much time on his hands. So, what to do but open a marriage bureau? It's sort of like a dating service, but with an emphasis on caste instead of personality-matching quizzes (emphasis on looks and occupations are universal, though). Secondary characters include Mr. Ali's estranged son, Rehman, who is a human rights activist; Aruna, a poor Hindu girl he hires as a secretary who is secretly worried about her own marriage prospects; and, of course, Mrs. Ali.

This book is being marketed to fans of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, and I have to agree that if you like them, you will almost certainly like this new book as well. They share a similar simplistic-but-charming writing style, a focus on traditional values, and evocative descriptions of the beauty in rural and natural scenes. Zama's book is a bit marred by a heavy reliance on "As You Know, Bob" language to convey information about Indian weddings and marriages to the reader, but hey, if you don't know much about that topic, it's certainly an easy way to learn.

A fun, breezy book, with a very predictable happy ending. However, it's clearly aiming itself at an audience who's only looking for light reading, and it achieves its goal of being pleasant read.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
10. Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games

If you ever wanted to know the Mumbai slang terms for 'motherfucker', 'ass-fucker' 'sister-fucker', or just plain old 'fucker', well, this is the book for you!

More seriously, this enormous novel is the story of two men: Sartaj Singh, a world-weary, slightly corrupt, recently divorced, low-level policeman; and Ganesh Gaitonde, the head of an organized crime syndicate, and probably one of the most powerful and wealthy men in India. The novel opens with Singh receiving a phone call from an unknown source, who tells him that Gaitonde is in Mumbai and gives an address. When Singh arrives, he finds a strange building, a sort of concrete bunker; a short conversation between the two men via intercom later, the police break down the door and inside find Gaitonde, dead by his own hand.

The rest of the novel follows two threads. The first is (mostly) Singh's, who is given the assignment to figure out why Gaitonde was in Mumbai and what he was doing in that building. This half of the novel is a crime thriller, particularly as it picks up speed near the end as consequences and meanings start to come clear and events take on an urgency (I admit, I didn't figure out the mystery at all, and once the truth comes out, it's genuinely scary and exciting). Despite that, other characters occasionally speak, ones usually related to the plot, but who fill out the world of the book. I found a chapter from Singh's mother, remembering her childhood during Partition, particularly moving. Partition and the violence then show up repeatedly throughout the novel as a recurring theme. The second half of the story is Gaitonde's; he speaks in first person, directly to Singh, though it's never clear if this is meant to be a ghost, the proverbial "life flashing before your eyes as you die", or what. He retells the story of his life, beginning as a child without a name or past, up through his struggles to get his first few followers, the growth of his mob, gang-wars with rival organizations, several stints in jail, advancing to become an international figure, his dabbles with Bollywood, his struggle with faith, and finally the explanation of how he ended up in a small building in Mumbai and why he killed himself. I liked the Gaitonde sections better than the Singh ones, if just because Gaitonde appealed to me more as a character; he has a incredibly engrossing voice and point of view. And his story is just more exciting, at least until the discoveries Singh makes at the end. The tone of the novel ranges from melodramatic gun shoot-outs or spy adventures to high-minded discussions of religion and the meaning of good and evil. There's lot of sex and violence, but just as many epiphanies and golden moments, and some seriously beautiful turns of phrase.

Highly, highly recommended, though be warned: this is seriously a massive tome of a book (my copy had nearly a thousand pages), so don't start it if you're on a deadline for something.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
8. Anne Cherian, A Good Indian Wife

Leila is a teacher in a small South Indian town, who's beginning to worry that she might be too old to find a husband. Suneel is a doctor in San Francisco with a white girlfriend and no interest in returning to India. However, when Suneel goes to visit his sick grandfather, family machinations arrange a marriage between the two almost before they know what's happened. Now Leila has to adjust to her new husband and life in America, while Suneel strives to change as little as possible (including continuing the relationship with the girlfriend) and plots ways out of the marriage.

This book is a bit of a fairy tale, but despite that, it was a fun, quick read. I never felt very sympathetic to Suneel (HE'S TOTALLY A JERK, COME ON, HE DIDN'T BREAK UP WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND), but Leila is a great, interesting character, and I really enjoyed spending time with her. The writing is very good, and I was okay with the predictable plot for the sake of the vivid descriptions of food, clothing, sight-seeing, and Leila's gradual adjustments.

Not a deep book, but an enjoyable one. Recommended.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
7. Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

This very short novel (though apparently heavily based on Kincaid's real life) follows Lucy, a young woman who moves from the Caribbean to New York City to become a nanny for a wealthy white family. There's little plot, and instead the book reads like a series of vignettes about Lucy's life, interspersed with memories of her childhood. The mother Lucy works for treats her more like a friend than an employee, leading to difficulties; Lucy adjusts to life in a new country; Lucy makes friends and has relationships. Despite relatively little happening, this is a powerful book. I found Lucy to be an insightful, cynical character, and really enjoyed her voice.

I actually read this book back in January and just have been terribly lazy about getting around to posting this review, but one scene in particular has stuck with me all this time: in New York, one day Lucy sees daffodils for the first time. However, as a child, Lucy memorized a poem about daffodils to recite at a school assembly, despite never having seen the flowers and their not growing in her country. This metaphor for the insidious results of colonialism and the ways it affects people really hit home.
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Beware of spoilers:

This novel will cut you.

There are only a handful of novels that I can remember affecting me so strongly that I had to put them down while I was reading them, the words on the page too much to handle. One of them was Alice Walker's The Color Purple. The most recent is Sapphire's 1996 novel Push.

The basic plot of the book should be familiar to anyone who was paying attention during last year's Oscar season when the movie adaptation, "Precious" swept through the awards circuit. A young teenager named Precious who is illiterate, unloved and sexually abused, pushes through her circumstances in order to find, if not happiness, then a little bit of hope, a sliver of light in a well of darkness.

Continue... )
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
6. Paula Yoo, Good Enough

Patti is a Korean-American high school student who plays classical violin but has a secret obsession with boy band Jet Pack. Her parents expect her to study hard, go to her church youth group, and not date, but she's interested in new student Ben Wheeler, who teaches her about groups like the Clash and encourages her to apply to Julliard instead of HarvardYalePrinceton. I really enjoyed both Patti's problems and their resolution; it felt very true to me. Just as a personal note, I always love it when I find a well-written intelligent character, and Patti very much is. Many books will tell the reader that a character is smart, but it's rare for me to find one that can actually show it.

This isn't a deep book, but it's fun and engaging. It had some very funny parts, particularly the silly chapter titles (like "How to Make Your Korean Parents Happy") and spam recipes (which, uh, actually sounded really tasty, and I hate spam). A great read for when you want something light but enjoyable.
[identity profile] holyschist.livejournal.com
I haven't been doing as well about either reviewing or cross-posting as I'd like, but here are some books I've read in the last few months:

SF, fantasy, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction--mostly young adult--7 reviews )

(Additional Tags: Muscogee Creek Nation)

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