The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

There was a buzz on bookstagram about ‘The Hate U Give’ or THUG about a year ago. I kept seeing it and its rave reviews and I somehow didn’t get myself to read it. When I did however, it coincided with the shooting of Stephon Clark and the book felt more real and pierced through my heart even more than it should have. A lot of the times I had to stop because it got too emotional – and I’m not even from the African-American community.

The book is about sixteen year old Starr who shuffles her life between living in a poor, predominately black neighbourhood and a fancy school. While leaving a party, her best friend of her younger years, Khalil was shot by a police officer with no provocation. His death becomes a national headline and Starr is the only witness. However, she wants to hide this fact from her ‘other life’ and that becomes hard for her. The book shows her turmoil – dealing with the repercussions, dealing with the loss and trying to find the balance.

At the same time, this is a story not about a bad circumstance and the way a family and community dealt with it, but it’s also about a African-American family and their friends and how they navigate their lives in the United States. Yes, this book touches a lot of topics including racism, police brutality, drug abuse and systemic violence but it’s also about a regular family.

Angie Thomas has done a tremendous job in showcasing the nuances of being a teenager, a parent, a friend and so much more. I absolutely loved the character development of almost every character. The entire book is written in the voice of Starr which is why the book is so easy to read/simplistic. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. 🙂

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I knew from the very first page that this book was going to break my heart. It kind of reminded me of The Tin Man, where every line, every page oozed of emotion and pain. But the pain wasn’t the kind that made you want to stop, it was the kind that made you want to devour.

The book is about a black family who lives in Mississippi. The mother, Leonie is absent mentally, mostly because of the drugs and also because she misses her incarcerated boyfriend – Michael, a white boy with whom she has two children – Jojo, thirteen and Kayla (Michaela), three. The story is told from the perspective of both her and her son ‘Jojo’- the de facto adult in this trio. The story picks up from when Leonie gets a call that Michael is being released from jail. Leonie decides to take her kids with her to Parchman, the jail that he’s at, for the release. It’s there that Jojo meets Richie, the ghost of a dead inmate from many years ago who brings with him stories of incarceration, racism and the Jim Crow rule of the South.

The book beautifully weaves an intricate story which covers issues such as racism, incarceration, the unjust justice system, police brutality, drug abuse along with the nuances of a relationship between a mother and child, siblings, lovers, and grandparents.

Jesmyn Ward has a gift and I hope she shares more of it to the world. Her writing was lyrical and rich. It’s a real testament to her writing that she could cover such heavy issues in such a free-flowing, beautiful way. Even though I felt a heavy weight on my heart throughout the book, I do have to tell you, there were about four instances in the book where I bawled. Literally, tears rolling down my face, sniffling and bawling. So be prepared.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly. It will definitely stick with me for many many years to come.

A Life Misspent by Suryakant Tripati ‘Nirala’

Pages: 104
Genre: Fiction
Read: April 2018
Rating: 8/10

I did not know what to expect when I started reading this book. What I do know now is that back in the 1930s, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ was WOKE AF.

Okay, sure he might talk a lot of the caste system and mention how he was a ‘brahmin’ at least 40 times, but he still had very forward thoughts for a person from a time back then.

In this little ‘biographical’ novel, Nirala tells us about his life, the times then and in particular his relationship with and the life of a man named ‘Kulli’ – an untouchable from his wife’s village. But as he does so, he comments on sex, sexual orientation, inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, death and dealing with grief, the sheer stupidity of religion and the feudal system, the hypocrisy of people and so much more. All this packed into 104 simple, beautifully articulated pages.

His writing was funny, biting and satirical but also insightful. This book was translated from Hindi to English by Satti Khanna and there were times while reading this book I tried to imagine what the actual words were. Even though this book may feel disjointed, I came out having a lot to think about.

Overall, great short read. And I fully recommend it – specially if you’re trying to read more Indian translated literature which is what my initiative for the month of April is all about. Check it out – #LitWithRegionalLit!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Like many of you out there in the book universe, I had heard high praise for this book and decided it was finally time for me to see what the hype was about. In the beginning, I was a little disconcerted because I didn’t quite like the book as much. But the book is very much like the main character of the book, at first you don’t get it, but give it some time and you warm up to it.

The story is of Eleanor Oliphant, told in her voice. Eleanor is a thirty year old woman who lives in Scotland. She’s leads a very planned out life – goes to office where she’s an account cleric, comes back home. On Wednesday, she talks to mummy and on Friday she gets two bottles of vodka and pizza and drinks through the weekend. But her life takes a bit of change because of two instances. One, she meets the love of her life (well, or she sees him), a musician, and decides she’s going to do something to get him to fall in love with her. Two, her and her office IT guy, Raymond, see an old man fall on the street and decide to help him.

What follows is a heart warming story where we get to know more about Eleanor and see her transformation. You cheer and clap as she changes her perspective, takes control of her life, her narrative and starts living a more fulfilling and loved life.

I loved the character of Eleanor. She’s funny without knowing that she is, she’s petty and judgemental but she also cares and tries so hard to get over the unfortunate incidents that took place in her childhood.

The book is extremely well written and I loved the way the author slowly broke down the history of Eleanor to help us understand where she came from. I did love the book but I feel like the high praise I heard for it did make me crave for more. Like this was a two Michelin star, but I expected a three. But it was still Michelin star cooking nonetheless. You know what I mean? 😉

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Pages: 208
Genre: Fiction
Read: February 2018
Rating: 10/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Poignant, heart breaking, elegant, simple

I’m going to find it tough to review this book because I do not think I have it in me to put words together to do justice to what I feel about this book.

At first glance, this is a novel about Ellis, a widower in his early fifties who is deeply lonely. He continues to mourn for his wife, Annie, five years after her death. It’s a heart-wrenching portrait of a sad man. But then we realize that Ellis has lost more in his life than just Annie. He is also missing Michael, a childhood friend who almost became something more. Despite the fact that all three had been quite close, Michael disappeared to London shortly after Ellis and Annie married and was out of touch for many years before turning back up shortly before Annie’s death.

The book is narrated at first by Ellis and then Michael. You see both perspectives and they both break your heart. I do not want to give too much away, you just have to read the book.

A quick read, this book had me gripped from the start. I don’t know if it was me who had this sense of urgency or was it the narration? The words didn’t feel like words, it felt like pictures being painted for me to read. I felt every emotion, every bit of happiness and pain.

This book isn’t about two men being in love. It’s about just love, plain and simple. And about friendship and loss and grief and coping. It’s beautiful. I can’t explain it to you. You just have to read it.

P.S. I’m hosting an international giveaway where you can win this book. Check it out on my Instagram profile.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Pages: 340
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
Read: March 2018
Rating: 5/10

If there was one word to describe this book it would be average. Which is a shame because the plot, even though it was terribly obvious after some time, was actually pretty good. It was the writing that didn’t hold my attention.

Lo Blacklock is a journalist for a travel magazine and is set to go on an assignment aboard a luxurious ship with a select few of society’s top movers and shakers. However, days before her trip, Lo is burgled and that leaves her traumatized. Trying to put it behind her, Lo reaches the ship, ‘Aurora Borealis’ only to play witness to what she thinks is a murder. Why? Because she’s sure she heard a splash of a body hitting the water and she thinks she saw blood but who could have gotten murdered when everyone on the ship was already accounted for.

You see, it is an interesting premise and I did want to rush to the end to know for sure what was happening but the blandness of the writing did turn me off. Oh, and that ending! How very Bollywood-esque.

I do see promise, though it seems like promise unfulfilled. This is an average (I know I’m saying that word a lot) one time read.

We That Are Young by Preti Taneja

Pages: 545
Genre: Fiction
Read: February 2018
Rating: 9/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Brilliant, Mad, Fierce

Retelling of Shakespearean plays in modern-day times is all the rage right now. I appreciate it, but sometimes I’m not too sure what to think of it. I have heard of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, but then I heard via a book podcast that I listen to (Books on Toast), that someone has written a modern-day retelling of King Lear and my interest piqued considerably.

Why? Because King Lear might just be one of my favourite Shakespearean plays. So this book had a lot of expectations riding on it. And hoooo boy, it did not disappoint.

The book is the retelling of King Lear in modern-day India. It really is a play-by-play of the entire play and I loved it for that. A lot of authors, when doing a retelling take just the premise of the play and then run with it, but not Preti Taneja.

The book starts of when Jivan Singh, the bastard son of Ranjit Singh – the right hand man of Devraj – the founder of India’s most important company, returns to his childhood home after a long absence. On that day he witnesses the unexpected resignation of the ageing patriarch and, Sita, Devraj’s youngest daughter, absconds – as she refused to submit to the marriage her father wants for her. Meanwhile, Radha and Gargi, Sita’s older sisters, must deal with the fallout… And so begins a brutal, deathly struggle for power, ranging over the luxury hotels and spas of New Delhi and Amritsar, the Palaces and slums of Napurthala, to Srinagar, Kashmir.

Preti does an amazing job and reminds me of the Arundhati Roy of ‘The God of Small Things’ in a way – with the madness and delirium in her writing. The prose is beautiful and crazy – which is what the play is. I am not disappointed with this book at all – in fact, I’m delighted.

I recommend this book 100%. If you have read King Lear before then you’d appreciate the effort and nuance and if you haven’t, you’re in for a ride!

P.S. I’m hosting an international giveaway on my Instagram page. Make sure you check it out and take part! 🙂 

 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Pages: 325
Genre: Fiction
Read: January 2018
Rating: 8.5/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: A book of the ages, ‘the immigrant experience’, family oriented

I had been wanting to read The Joy Luck Club for a while now, but I decided to throw the hammer down and actually do it when I heard that Amy Tan, the author, would be a speaker at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year. And boy am I glad I did that.

The book begins when June Mei Woo, following her mother’s death, has to replace her mother Suyuan at her monthly mah jong game. Suyuan had started this game and Joy Luck Club when she first immigrated to the United States as a way to maintain her Chinese culture in a new country. The other families who joined her– the Hsus, Jongs, and St Claires– became like family.

Through this book you hear of stories from both the generations – stories of the older generation of their childhood and life in China, the way they migrated to the United States and their experience trying to raise first generation children there and the stories of the younger generation (of the daughters) who grow up trying to achieve their bit of the American dream and navigate their space in the world.

The book is wonderful and insightful. It rings with a voice of power, grace and a sense of pain. Having lived in China for years, I was really excited to read of the Chinese culture and how people lived and perceived things back in the day. At the same point of time this book seems like the quintessential book on immigration to the United States – specially for the Chinese immigrants, but honestly I think it will ring true across all nationalities.

I see this book transcend all generations (and genders – just because it’s a book with women protagonists at the core doesn’t mean men shouldn’t read this book!) and be a book for the ages. Why? Because at it’s core it’s about family and that strikes a chord with everyone. So yes, go ahead, read the book. It’s delightful and a must read.

Leila: A Novel by Prayaag Akbar

Pages: 205
Genre: Fiction
Read: January 2018
Rating: 7/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Refreshing, Easy Read, Dystopian

What I loved about this book is how the author took a simple but common prevalent issue of communities building up walls around each other and made it the central theme of his book.

The world depicted in this book is a dystopian world of the future in India where communities, obsessed with purity of air and race among other things, have built up walls dividing each other and separating themselves from the rest. For example, there’s a Bohri Muslim sector and a Syrian Christian sector. The story follows Shalini, a widow persecuted for her ‘wayward ways’, now marginalized and is in the search for her daughter who she was separated from.

While this is meant to be dystopian, this seems eerily just a step ahead of where we are right now in India. In Bombay, where I live, I see buildings of a single community and them not wanting any other sort of caste or religion living around them. It’s this new sense of ‘nationalism’ and ‘me’ that’s taken over our nation and it’s interesting to see that translated into a book.

The story is very compelling and Prayaag Akbar does a great job in building the characters not just as black and white, but as grey and human. The book goes back and forth from the present to the past and shows the regression and how the world has come to where it is today.

I thought the book was a quick read and well written – especially for a first-time novelist and I look forward to reading more of Mr. Akbar’s work.

Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House by Michael Wolff

Pages: 310
Genre: Non Fiction
Read: March 2018
Rating: 6.5/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Gossipy, Controversial, Tabloid-esque

People told me this would be an interesting read. I however counter by saying it is also an infuriating one not (only) because of the author but because of the content. Interestingly written – like a crime novel almost, you can, however, tell it was rushed with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

For the first part of the book, I really was dragging my feet. I almost found myself yearning for something better. But it got better in somewhere in the middle.

The book itself is just a deeper dive into things we already knew. It’s shocking though how the inner workings of the White House is. What this book does is give you a glance into the key players brains, workings, woes and thought process and let me tell you, it’s bat shit crazy! Jarvanka, The Comey dismissal, Bannon and his antics, it’s all insane.

What I have gleaned from this book is that there is no ‘method to the madness’ with Donald J Trump. There is only chaos and on occasion, there is ‘fire and fury’ that comes out via his media appearances and more often than not, his tweets. He is basically an impetuous child who only wants ‘likes’ and to be loved by one and all and if he doesn’t get it, he throws a tantrum.

The book is written more like a gossip column, tabloid-esque if you may. Wolff would write about someone and then bring unrelated gossip/information about them – for example how Tony Blair was rumoured to have had an affair with Murdoch’s wife – Wendi or how someone had resigned after news of a scandalous affair. It really felt like I was at a kitty party with catty people just dishing gossip.

So would I recommend this book to anyone? Sure. The Trump presidency is stranger than fiction, as they say, and this book proves it. Just steady yourself for some eye rolling, a bit of shock and just an overall feeling of incredulity.