The House We Grew Up In – Dysfunctional Much?

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I picked up The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell based on a recommendation on Twitter. The story starts promisingly enough with the eldest daughter of the Bird family arriving at the family house after her mom dies. Weaving back and forth over a period of 20 – 30 years, the story traces the Bird family as it disintegrates following the suicide of the youngest child on Easter Sunday.

I love books that takes a hard, gritty look at issues beneath the polished veneer. Most of these books also end with hope or redemption. However, Jewell puts together every conceivable dysfunction possible in a family and then ends the book on an all too predictable note. I do not ever recall feeling angry at a protagonist as I did with this book. At over 400 pages, the book could have cut 100 pages and would have been tauter for that.

Not my kind of book. Pick it up if you are in the mood for something that will make your life seem beautiful by comparison.

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The Golden Son by Shilpi Gowda – A well crafted story

  
The book has been on my desk for a few weeks now. I follow the author and her agent on Twitter and won an autographed copy in a giveaway. Waiting for my laptop to finish updating, I picked it up and started reading. 

Getting to bed well past midnight, the thing that struck me about the book was how well crafted it was. On the surface, it is about theimmigrant dilemma. It uses many of the same tropes that we see related to Indian American authors. There is the nod to family, to complex sibling relationships, to past loves. What I loved about the book is how well Gowda strings those threads. The characters are optimally used, and when you think the events are tending towards the stereotypical, she uses them to explore feelings and move the story.  Most importantly the book does not linger where we would expect it to. The writing is fresh and real. Gowda paints the semi rural India well and I put the book down thinking this will translate to the screen well. 

In the mood for a narrative that spans cultures, touches upon immigrant dilemmas and is refreshingly real? Pick this book. 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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A book club I am part of picked this book for our next meeting. I was thrilled as it was on my TBR pile. Also, I follow @CelesteNg and love her take on most things related to race and diversity.

I read the blurbs, the front and back cover synopsis and settled myself comfortably with a throw on me. The first chapter reeled me in and kept me hooked until I turned the last page around midnight. The one word that kept repeating in my head as I went to bed was powerful.

The book is powerful in many ways. On the surface it is about teen suicide. On the surface it is about standing out in a world that demands integration. On the surface it is about a dysfunctional family bound by fragile threads of which their daughter is the center. But that is not all.

The characters have lived in my head for a day now. Lydia, Nath, Hannah, Marilyn, James. They are now placeholders for the many things in my life. Perhaps I related to the book so much because I am Asian too. Perhaps it is because our family stands out as transracial. Maybe. Maybe not.

The book is as much about aspirations and pressures to live up to another person’s dreams as much as it is about assimilation and wanting to be like others. Most of all the book is about being othered and othering.

Specially in the times in which we live now, where words like diversity are bandied about as appeasement, this book takes a family, rips them apart and lays their heart and soul on a platter. It is raw, gripping and definitely a book that will haunt you for days.

Read it if you are a person of color. Read it especially if you are not.

A powerful, powerful debut.

Yatrik – The Traveller – Interesting Premise

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I have followed GreatBong for years on his blog, cherry picking the posts I read. When his first book May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss came out, I made a note mentally to read it but never really got around to it. This past week browsing Kindle Unlimited, I saw that some of his books were available. I skipped the Mine because it promised horror and gore and I was not in the mood for that. Yatrik however promised what seemed like veiled philosophy and I was game.

I started the book and had to put it down when my child woke. I finished it yesterday night and lay awake for a long time pondering the questions the book raises.

“What if in the afterlife you get to take a peek at actions you were not part of that have a consequence on your life?”

“What if things are not really what they seem?”

All existential questions and rhetorical too.

As far as the book itself goes, I found the premise interesting but the characters seem like props to further the story along rather than take lives of their own.

I am not sure if it is because I am trying to learn the craft (writing) but throughout the story, I felt like I heard the voice of the blogger rather than the protagonist. The language is good and the pacing could have been better.

If you are in the mood for something that makes you look back on your life and wonder if there are things you would like to change, pick it up. You will not be disappointed.

Kite Strings – Well Written, Niche Story on Relationships

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I signed up for a trial version of Kindle Unlimited and picked up a slew of books by Indian authors. Kite Strings by Andaleeb Wajid was one of them.

The story is set in Bangalore and Vellore and features orthodox muslim families. I started the book in the evening and finished it by night. The story moves quickly along, lingering just enough on each character to whet our appetites. By the time I was midway through the narrative, I was invested and rooting for the protagonist Mehnaz.

The language is good, the pacing superb and the locales painted with refreshing imagery. What I liked best about the tale was that this story was not written for an audience. It feels like a story that had to be said and probably flowed from the author’s fingers. I imagine her hunched over her laptop typing away trying to keep up with the pace of her thoughts. There is no sense of stilted conversations or labored over plot devices.

Pick it up if you are looking for a good book by an Indian author. Definitely recommend.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing – Hypnotic and Brilliant

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I stumbled across a book recco on Twitter that suggested The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing. The title was intriguing enough for me to pull the Amazon listing. That the author’s name sounded Indian was enough to make me read the blurb and the reviews. I hopped over to my library’s online portal to place a hold and was surprised when it said I was next in line.

The book begins with a prologue that takes you right into the Eapen’s home. The characters are introduced in turn and before you know it, you are traveling with Amina as her mind takes her on journeys to her father’s homeland and back. You sit back and enjoy as she paints the arid earth of New Mexico and the moisture laden Seattle. Even as you settle in and think you know where the book is taking you, you are shaken as she is as life hands out one blow after another. Yet, you journey through it all because you want to.

You are part of the family as they grapple with the unknown. You are sitting there with Amina, Akhil and Dimple smoking as Sanji Auntie bears in. You wince as Jamie shows up unannounced at Amina’s home. You sit with bated breath in the doctor’s office as the test results come in. You hold your breath and weep unabashedly when it is all over.

The power of her writing is such that you do not read the story. You are a part of it. I am not sure if it is because I am Indian that the nuances of sibling relationships so fraught with angst, envy and emotion hit me square in my gut, but every situation she paints rings with authenticity.

Long after I finished reading the book, the characters stayed in my mind. Most times after I finish a book, I remember passages, I relish the writing, I go back and look at the construct of the story arc. With this book, the story is all that remains in my head. Mira Jacob is an author to watch out for.

This book is a keeper.

The Girl on the Train – Fast, Vivid Read

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“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.”
― Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train

I placed a hold on the book (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins) after seeing it on the many lists that I follow. After months, I got notification the book was available for checkout on my Kindle. In the middle of my fifth read of Harry Potter, I started this book. To say I was hooked by the first page is an understatement. Hawkins’ language is compelling. She makes you travel with her on the train. She takes you inside the head of Rachel. She makes you smell the smells and feel the dank, depressing side of human nature.

The book itself took all of one day to read. In between making lunch, doing laundry, folding clothes, I read. The kindle propped up against the wall, the pillow and the back-splash. I read because I could not stop. Halfway, when Tom says “Don’t expect me to be sane, I can’t be, not with you” you know. Yet, you read because you want to see how the story hurtles to its inevitable conclusion.

This is a book I will not buy for it to grace my bookshelf, but it is one of those books I can have animated conversations about. About the author’s style of writing, the prose, the way the novel is constructed, about the frailties of human nature. It is a book I am sure I will read again as I set out on the path to write my own. To take it apart to see why it works. To analyse the weave of the story. To pay homage to the author whose debut is so strong.

A definite read. Pick it up when you have a block of four to five hours and zip through it.