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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Before We Visit The Goddess – A Nuanced Read That Will Linger

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Before We Visit The Goddess by Chitra Divakaruni is a book I have been looking forward to since I saw the pre-release publicity on Twitter. I got it over the weekend from the library and savored it over the course of this afternoon.

The book opens ominously to jackals howling in the night and dives right into the life of Sabitri now penning a letter to her granddaughter Tara. As she mulls the kind of wisdom a grandmother can convey across generations and oceans, we are teased into her life and the life of her daughter Bela. Three women. Three generations. Three lives. The books jumps across time and continents and threads them together in piece that is compelling.

The language is evocative, the book plays like a series of montages spotlighting mom, daughter and grandmother. The other characters appear in and out, pay their role and bow out. You watch from the sidelines and ache for each of these women. The tropes are plentiful and before you worry that it might head to its cliched end, they morph and deliver something of value. You have the aging senior who needs a sitter, you have the visiting professor, you have the masseur boyfriend, you have the gay friend. Each of these characters are delightful making you wish they would linger on, yet the story teases you and playfully jumps on to the next scene.

At a time when novels tell you more than you want to know and spend agonizing hours on showing what the characters feel and do, Before We Visit The Goddess is crisp, leaping between plot points making you pay attention. A lot is left unsaid letting you the reader pontificate. It leaves glimpses of things that happened, the future that could be and lets you fill in the details.

This is a book that I may be tempted to read again or suggest as a book club selection. Definitely a keeper!

Jerkbait by Mia Seigert

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I met Mia Seigert on Twitter in the process of growing my writing community and was blown away by how easy she was to talk to and how much she gave without reserve in terms of experience and tips to a newbie like me. I was planning to buy her book when it comes out later this year as a show of support to a fellow writer but was surprised and happy to receive an ARC.

Young Adult as a genre is something I am new to so I have been trying to read different titles over the past few months. I started Jerkbait late last night and was hoping I would finish it in a day. Instead I lay in bed reading way past midnight. When the book was done and I closed my eyes, I had the feeling that I had finished watching a movie.

The book features twins Robbie and Tristan who are seniors in High School. Robbie lives and breathes hockey while the arts call to Tristan. On the surface it seems to be a book about gay athletes and the immense pressure and bullying they are subject to but dig a little deeper and it is a story that any high schooler can relate to. Parental pressure, bullying, the struggle to balance career aspirations with following the heart and of course love. At the base of this complex story is one of sibling relationship.

Given the multiple threads the story handles, I half expected gaps in the story and plot holes but happily surprised to see it all tied up well.

If you love young adult fiction or if you have a high schooler at home or know of someone who can relate to this, pick up a copy. A fast, thrilling read.

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.