My 2021 in Books
MY YEAR IN BOOKS
1.The Bridgertons Happily Ever After by Julia Quinn
I had to read this after beginning the new Netflix series, Bridgertons. I’ve read the entire Julia Quinn series on the Bridgerton siblings so this is very exciting. The happily ever after is a second epilogue of everyone so it’s kind of interesting to see where Julia Quinn places all of them. In a way its predictable because all her books have happy endings. So it was also underwhelming and not necessarily thrilling. Most of the second epilogues focussed on more kids!! They were a prolific bunch for sure. I did enjoy the novella on Violet Bridgerton. It begins when she is 9 and meets Edmund Bridgerton the first time and takes us through their courtship ten years later, their married life, his death and ends when she is 75. The best part if we get an explanation for the bee that we see in the series. Edmund Bridgerton dies of a bee sting. Quinn way of showing he is still with his family. I’m just so excited about this new Netflix series. Great way to start 2021.
2. Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak
I read Book Thief by Zusak and fell in love with the book and Zusak’s writing. However this book was a huge disappointment. I couldn’t get into it and eventually speed read it, skimming over huge chunks. The non-chronological approach is something many writers try and I did get used to it but it didn’t work for me. And later, it felt s repetitious. I was losing my bearings. It would have been a better narrative if it followed a linear approach and would have kept me more engaged in the story of five brothers struggling after their mother’s death and abandoned by their grieving father, who the boys called murderer. He surfaced later, I didn’t get a sense of how much later. And only one son seemed to forgive him and helped his father build a bridge. I never understood why just two of them would do it. That son lost his girlfriend, abandoned the family for years and reunited with them many years later. I was lost in all the back stories and forward stitching. The straightforward story of the mother is what kept me most engaged. Maybe because I also have sons. And she was so well characterized. Though you can’t fault Zusak his characterization and his imagination. The animals and their names. The bridge, art, stories, Michelangelo, piano, horse racing. The way he connects them and diverges away. He writes well. His metaphors are lyrical. Not a book I recommend.
3. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
2021 hasn’t started with a bang as far as my reading choices go. Hopefully my next book will rectify that! Sonali Dev’s book is a fun, light-hearted read. I have been trying to see what’s available in this genre. I’ve not been a huge fan so far. This one is fine to just switch off. There is a plot and sub-plot but it’s quite obvious there will be an all’s well that ends well. At some point, I did want the story to move at a brisker pace. The protagonists are fine. The male one did a volte face that I wasn’t expecting. It was sweet and made him more appealing but came out of nowhere. Anyway it was a nice little deviation from some serious reading.
4.Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I really enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere by Ng and though I haven’t seen it, the book is a hit video series too. That’s why I picked up this book with much excitement. Ng writes well and it’s an interesting story but nothing like the other one. It is a take on the unsaid in relationships. Between spouses, between parents, between siblings. And the series of disasters that ensue as a result. This is further compounded by race issues. A Chinese man who finds it difficult to fit in and then his children suffer too despite the mother being a white American.
The father is unable to express empathy, the wife feels she wasted her life, the children feel overwhelmed or undervalued. The cycle of hopelessness is broken by a devastating death. The family grapples with it and tries to seek answers. Towards the end, there is some coming to terms but I was not wholly satisfied. Since it is set in the 60’s and 70’s, the angst of racism and gender discrimination was a struggle and Ng’s aim is to address these issues.
5.The Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Divakaruni never disappoints it. I finished the book in a day. It’s the story of Ranjit Singh’s favourite wife, the last queen of Punjab and her struggle to fit in, to play politics, to retain the throne for her son, to fight the British and to revive the mother/son relationship towards the end of her life. It’s a story of grit and determination and fierce love and loyalty. Banerjee has an easy writing style that keeps the story entertaining and the plot gripping. The queen has her flaws that the author acknowledges. There’s a fine line between fact and fiction so I couldn’t tell what was real and what was imagined. Some of her digs at the British are clever and ever so subtle. It is a tragic story and makes us realize how the British took advantage of disunity and annihilated a thriving country. As a lover of historical fiction, I couldn’t put the book down.
6.The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
What a well-written account of slavery in the South and the rise of the abolitionists. Monk Kidd not only weaves heartfelt story but her she writes well so it’s a pleasure to read and conjure images. I love the way she narrates two parallel stories. It’s a great style. As one ends, the next picks up the thread and so on. At its heart, it’s the story of a girl from a rich Charleston family and her slave twin. The stark contrast and similarities in their lives is so well narrated. And it’s based on the true life story of Sarah Grimke. The fictional figures are so well crafted, they seem so plausible. I enjoyed this a lot and am keen to read her other books now.
7. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
I was sent this book and decided to read it as a lark. I had not heard of the author and didn’t know what to expect. I have always preferred to read fiction and as I began this book, I realized this is nor of a non-fiction, self-help type of book. The type I generally avoid! Nevertheless my mantra has always been to give a book a chance and so I dove in. I have to admit, I enjoyed most of the book. Some parts were ho hum and too much pontificating. But in the most, it was insightful, honest and refreshing. I have just begun writing my second novel and I found so many take homes from this book. Glennon has a believable voice and she keeps you engaged. Her language is succinct but strikes at the core. She has issues with depression and anxiety. She had childhood bulimia. She was in a miserable marriage. She found same sex love. She is classic therapy material but if there’s one thing you get from this book, it’s not to be judgemental. Think about unconditional love. We all say it. But doesn’t it imply there is something wrong and no matter what, we will love you? There is so much profoundness in the book. Everyone has a right to live life on their own terms. Be true to yourself and no one else. She talks about emerging from a cocoon of grief, about gluing people to glow. About drinking and purging. About loving not controlling people. About going upstream to find out why people fall into the stream rather than just rescuing them. About leaving a marriage but not a family. About responsibility to children and the need for mothers not to become martyrs. About overparenting and under protecting an entire generation. Is there any wonder kids of today have the highest rate of mental illness. So much of it resonated with me. So much in my life could have changed. This book is just WOW.
8. One Arranged Murder by Chetan Bhagat
The last time I read one of his books, I told myself I wouldn’t buy another one. I still bought this one. Bhagat’s stories are interesting but I don’t enjoy his writing. This book proves my point. It was tedious to actually stay the course. And this plot is a bit convoluted and frankly unbelievable. There are some clever things like using the Delhi metro as art of the plot. But cops aren’t as amenable as he portrays them. The ‘fat’ aspect is overdone. The first person account didn’t work for me. And in between he changed POV and never used it again. There seems to be no structure. He hints at something and then pulls back. That’s a good ploy generally but just irritated me. I wouldn’t recommend this book. If it becomes a movie maybe the script writer will do a better, more plausible job.
9.The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel.
I read Station Eleven by Mandel for book club. The book was interesting and highly disappointing because we felt she didn’t close the loops. Glass Hotel is better in that it sort of closes most of the loops. And it is a story that keeps you engaged and reading. It is disjointed. I kept leaping around. There are so many pov’s. And the story did feel disconnected. At the end she ties most of the knots. There was still one or two things I was curious about. But on the whole, Mandel redeems the disaster of Station Eleven where we at Book club were so upset with how she cheated us of an ending. The Glass Hotel is a great insight into relationships, appearances, longings. Her characters are well sketched. And so believable. There is a sese of futile that underlies the book. Pointlessness. Kind of tragi comic. Poignant. So many of her characters float through life, I wanted to shake them. But I also felt for them. Mandel talks about reality, dreams and a counter life. A kind of what if situation. The lines blur eventually. That’s where I felt it was less believable. Ghosts etc are not my cup of tea. Though she writes them into the narrative where you don’t even think it’s not possible. Enjoyable book. Worth reading.
10. Dharma by Amish and Bhavna Roy
I love the books written by Amish but didn’t enjoy this. It’s too preachy. In the guise of fiction, he tries to demystify Hindu beliefs but the problem is he uses his own books as a reference point. And while they were great books, he took a lot of writer’s licence with them so using them defeats the purpose. And he assumes people have read them. The style of using a conversation between an older and younger couple but is too contrived. And all seems to happen in less than 24 hours. That’s too much to digest. There are better books explaining Hindu philosophy but this isn’t one of them.
11.The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Mengiste is a beautiful writer. Her prose is lyrical and her descriptions like art work. Some descriptions come across just by talking about photographs. She uses innovative devices to deconstruct the story like a visual narrative. The story is set during Mussolini’s annexation of Ethiopia, during World War 2. It seems complicated and complex with the ins and outs, the intrigues and the vast cast of characters. She also writes from three or four points of views that make it confusing, At the end, I still had questions. What was the truth? What we read or the sudden hints? Is Aster Hirut’s saviour? Or was she not a well-wisher? What was Navarro really? We feel sorry for him but he then again was he cruel too? His camera was also a weapon. And the whole other story of Haile Selassie. I met him and felt so drawn to her depiction. I felt sorry for him because he had to flee. I was annoyed at him for abandoning his country. And then the Shadow King himself. All the time my question. What is the reality? What I absolutely loved was the sense of being Ethiopian and people wanting to protect the country. The weapons they gathered. The Wujigra gun. Almost an archaic way of fighting but there was no dearth of passion. The role of women in the war is a huge theme. How the Ethiopian men did not want it at first but then accepted their women. How the Italians found it almost amusing and shocking. There are stories of relationships. Between father and son. Between husband and wife. Of lovers, Of co-workers. Of co-dependency.I had to keep reading the book, but hesitate to recommend it because it is not a breeze. It is almost depressing regardless that everything ‘turns out ok.’ Why are the Booker Prize books so difficult?
12.Unfinished by Priyanka Chopra
This is a quick read and while I wouldn’t have bought it, I got the pdf so breezed through it. After everything is said and done, Priyanka Chopra deserves respect for her guts and chutzpah. She lived life on her terms and succeeded. Like she says, she has revealed 90% of herself and held back 10%. Even if that’s not totally true, she has given a candid version of her life. From highs and lows, to personal situations and her struggles. She has not touched on salacious things like her affairs and has cleverly refrained from name shaming anyone. At the end of the day, it is a diplomatic manoeuvre because she is still young and has more of her career ahead of her. Her family support is amazing and comes across in the book. I loved her tattoo idea. For PC fans it’s a book worth browsing. She can certainly inspire a generation of young women.
13.The Torchbearers by A M Majmudar
Since I research Hindu mythology and am creating videos for kids, this book tweaked my interest. It is a fun read and kids will find it interesting. The author has cleverly woven stories from mythology and made it into an adventure. Its modern and will appeal to today’s kids. My interest was to see how she makes the ancient stories plausible but I didn’t see that come across. The narratives have limited stress on significance, symbolism and science and more focus on the tales. Nevertheless, the story is enjoyable.
14.A Long petal Of The Sea by Isabel Allende
I have always enjoyed historical fiction so this book is no exception. I spent ages furiously googling dictators, fascist regimes etc after I finished the book. Allende’s story is absorbing and I got a real sense of the history of those years. She does tend to indulge in some telling. And towards the end, the plot raced ahead. After the slow pace in the beginning, I was stumbling and trying to keep facts straight towards the end. I have to admit, there was one clear account that kept me gripped. I knew one incident was not as narrated. I was expecting that to be revisited and it came towards the last few pages. I would have liked that to have played out differently but was happy my instinct was correct. And without any foreshadowing. This happened a couple of times. Sometimes story tellers are a bit obvious. I guess I fall into that category too. We like to tie the knots and become predictable. I guess readers like that too. Life has its pitfalls, at least books can help us overcome them. I enjoyed the description of Chile as a long petal of the ocean. So apt. Good read.
15. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
So much to gain from this book. Caste system has been vilified in India but it can be seen in so many different ways. The treatment of African Americans in the US, the holocaust in Germany. Wilkerson highlights eight pillars of discrimination. She talks about people being players on a stage set by our ancestors. It was another era, different perceptions but we have not risen above them. Racism is a combination of bias and power. How true this is can be seen through her narrative. She gives many examples, which makes her style engaging. She pulls the book our of boring academic narrative and makes it real life. It is amazing to see how Germany has learnt its lesson. The Indian caste system and US racism still persists and have not taken a page out of the German book. Ambedkar has said caste is a notion, a state of mind. Wilkerson shows it can be changed if we want to make the change. People like Albert Einstein did it when he escaped Nazi Germany and moved to the US. Sympathy is not enough nor is empathy. Empathy needs to be more radical, more humble, making a real connection. The world is ruptured and we need to open up to the pain of others to understand it. Everyone needs to challenge their assigned roles and make up their own minds of whether or not to accept age-old perceptions and practices. Everyone needs each other and we need to be there for each other. ends with the profound but apt statement, A world without caste would set everyone free.”
16. Orgasm by Helen Gary Bishop
This is an ongoing endeavour in my desire to educate myself. A friend gave me this book written in 1976. It is a bit dated but still had many eye-opening suggestions. How the world has changed in perceptions since then and now. Most glaring is about same sex relationships. Interesting read.
17.Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This is for our March book club and is a bittersweet book but one I would recommend. The protagonist has lived a traumatic childhood and is going through the paces as an adult. Until slowly and steadily, she awakens to a different way of living. And it shows how she re-enters society. The unfolding is beautiful and the back story is woven in gently. We feel for her, root for her all through the book. Since the title is self-explanatory, we are prepared for all’s well that ends well, which is why we are not unduly fearful. But it’s nice to see how she is nudged and supported. It’s also interesting to see the different types of people who make up the world. We see good and bad. We also see that some relationships like between a mum and her daughter can be toxic while strangers can be nurturing. It is a fine book.
18. Malgudi Days by R.K.Narayan
I picked this classic to take a break from other types of reading K Narayan is an institution and I even studied The Guide at university in Calgary. It’s a simple story about a mythical town in South India. Even though its more for kids, it is interesting for adults in terms of the subtle commentary on life from a child’s point of view. It’s also a reminder of simpler times. And set in an India ready to break free from British rule so there is that clash too. Today’s kids will not relate but it would be so interesting for them to read and get perspective.
19. Nothing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer
Archer really is a master story teller. I forgot how much I enjoy his novels. He crafts them so well and keeps you at the edge of your seat. He is so clever in weaving stories together so they’re all connected. And always at the end a cliff hanger making you itch to read the next one. I realized the antagonist in this book has to continue on in the next ones too so its going to be a story of Warwick vs Faulkner. A great, light read.
20.Child’s Play by Danielle Steele
Always a light read to take the mind off heavy contemplations. I breezed through the book in a day and even speed read some pages. It’s typical Danielle Steele type family drama with an all’s well that ends well finish. Widowed woman raises a perfect family. Kids are prodigies and then things begin to unravel. Mini rebellions, friction, discovering love, revealing secrets and then voila they all hug and make-up. It’s a holiday read.
21. Besotted by Ashwini Abhyankar
I had to get this book since I know the author. I was impressed she wrote a book because I didn’t know that side of her and it is her second book. Having said that, the story is average and I didn’t feel the tension that much. It’s a sweet love story where the protagonists’ face displeasure from their families. There is some complicated history, which in all honesty does nor resonate but we can take poetic licence. Her writing style is straight forward and simple. There are some classic Indianisms, which made me smile.
22. We Are That Young by Preti Taneja
The book started with so much promise but somewhere along the line, I began struggling. It’s based on King Lear but it’s so convoluted. And some situations are not only bizarre but downright appalling. I didn’t want to stop because there is tension. And there is curiosity to see how the story will end. There are five main protagonists from whose view point the entire narrative is woven. And then there is the patriarch’s point of view interspersed every once in a while I began thinking he is crazy and he continued being so. I think when he clubbed a man to death at his mum’s instigation is when I slowly began losing grip of the novel. The extended stay of one of them in a slum and his experiences made me grimace. I disliked the book because it made me upset. It did not appeal to my sensibilities. But on the other hand it is a book that makes you think about the life of the privileged. It gives you a comparison to the less privileged. It is very well written even though it is all over the place and I was so often confused. Towards the end I literally speed read to find out how it ends. I never studied Lear so maybe if I had, I’d have a better appreciation. But one thing is for sure, Taneja is a great writer. Some of the descriptions are poetic. She is one to be watched. And who knows, I may read her next book. It’s a question of setting your mind to appreciate her story telling style and not expect a nicely tied up narrative. It will disturb and unhinge you but don’t give up.
23. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
Our book club chose this novel for April. I found the violence unbearable and depressing. But I kept reading because Jones has a unique style of building a story. It went between so many years. Between so many different points of view. But slowly she built up the story and the whole picture becomes clear at the end. Did I enjoy the book? Absolutely not. Is it a well-written book? Absolutely. Is it a necessary one? I believe it is. I didn’t realize it is set in Barbados and just imagined an island country in the Caribbean. As the book progresses, the tale emerges of class and privilege. Of chauvinism and sexuality. Of violence and suppressed love. Of mothers and daughters. Of victims and perpetrators. Of rape and rape. The various versions of sexual assault are sickening. And the good people are helpless. The ones who aren’t good, have a veneer of good. There are so many layers. Murky ones. Polished ones. Sad ones. There is a crime committed. But we know the truth from the beginning. And we wonder how it will be handled? Who will pay the price? At the end its poetic justice. Some win, some lose. And some win even by losing.
24. The Book Of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
I read The Invention Of Wings by this author and enjoyed her story telling. Ditto for this book. Se weaves a totally plausible tale, which readers know is untrue. This is because she tells the story from the POV of Jesus’s wife, Ana. But what a story. She brings in Biblical characters, situations and sets it in the loose time frame when Jesus is said to have been on Earth. As someone who doesn’t know much about the Old Testament and stories from that time, I was reading and googling and trying to wrap my head around this brilliant piece of story-telling. Some important incidents are told from Ana’s point of view and indicate her role in them even though we know she’s fictitious. Meanwhile, it’s a great glimpse into life in those times. Into the Jewish religion. Into the clash between Jews and Rome. Into the fantastic world of Egypt and how advanced they were in education and to some extent in how they treated women too .Above all this is a book that speaks to women. To stand up for themselves. To follow their passions. To claim their voice.
25.The Searcher by Tana French
I love Tana French’s novels and enthusiastically wait for her new ones. This one was different. Initially I couldn’t get into it. The story took ages to build. I couldn’t see a plot. It got interesting in the last fourth of the novel. But after I finished it, I saw the bigger picture. She writes psychological thrillers and in this case, she perfectly profiled her two protagonists and their support crew. It was a coming of age. An acceptance. A deep dive into emotions. It was about intense love and apathy. A man escapes from his past and moves half way across the world tries to rebuild his life only to get pulled into local politics and enmities. His friendship with a kid makes him re-evaluate his own relationship with his daughter. It’s about growing up, Growing to realize. And moving on. French shows yet again how she can re-invent herself and cannot ever be boxed into a genre.
26. The White Album by Joan Didion
I struggled through this book for book club and often found my eyes drooping. I think it’s mainly because I prefer fiction and have never liked short stories. Having said that, some incidents were interesting to read like the stories of women, on travelling etc. And she is a phenomenal writer. It just isn’t my cup of tea.
28.The Arts of Seduction by Seema Anand
I was really excited to read this book because we interviewed the author for our podcast. Seema Anand is an amazing woman and a captivating story teller. The book topic is extremely interesting, its well written and I particularly like that she ends each chapter with her advice. But following the Kamasutra is not for me. It sounds ever so painful and too complicated. Some chapters are worth trying out, but scratching etc…OUCH! Having said that, many pointers are thought provoking if you want to up your love gam. I would say, dip into the book and get pointers to spice up your sex life. And that last chapter, the 64 essential tools as per the Kamasutra….maybe time to brush up on a few.
29.Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
This is an intensely powerful book about being Muslim in the US. The ones born in the US identify as American but their culture is constantly thrown in their fac. The ones from other countries are always pulled between their ‘love’ for their adopted country and the draw of their homeland. What is really their homeland? Is it the country they left? The country of their ancestry? Or is it the country they were born in or made their home? Akhtar draws out the narratives with incidents from his own life. And the dilemma presents itself through the eyes of various people who peppered his life including his parents, uncles, girlfriends, mentors etc. He has been ruthless and is not always presented in the best light himself. It could be partly fictional but it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Names are changed because I tried to google them and couldn’t find some. It’s a fantastic read and he is a super writer so it makes it more ‘enjoyable’ though it really is a darker book.
30.A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
On page 378, the book made me tear up. We reach the father’s POV at the end, and it makes you realize the person you blames was equally vulnerable. This book tears you apart and heals you in many different ways. It’s a confusing read because there are multiple points of views and they come at random times. It’s a book about family relationships. But it’s also a book about being a Muslim in America. So it’s about external difficulties and internal, cultural adjustments. It’s about misunderstandings and how some actions, stemming from love, even jealousy and society pressure, leads to unforeseen actions. How if any of those situations had gone a different way, the man could have been saved. It’s a sad book with uplifting moments but at least it ends with hope.
31.A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
This book left me confused. I enjoyed the narrative but I’m not sure exactly where Millet is taking us. Is she trying to say the older generation has destroyed the world and we should let kids take over? Or, the way I see it, is she telling us there is hope because the younger generation is more mature and will save the world? It was weird reading the book during a pandemic where life has been upended? It’s almost like we are living what she has described. I did enjoy looking at adults from a child/teen’s perspective. As a parent myself, I can see how they would label us the way these kids do. Millet takes us through so many different scenarios, ones we are familiar with, except we get a different view point. And that’s an eye-opener. Whether it’s a vacation, living alone, meeting criminals, taking matters into their own hands, benevolent adults, mature people, not judging people. Many subtle lessons to be learnt.
32.Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf is an amazing author and quite a powerhouse. We wanted to read a classic and chose her book. But this was a tedious read. It took me so long to get into and I kept falling asleep I finally picked a day and powered through it. Once you get in the grove, it gets interesting because you don’t keep forgetting the characters. She introduces so many people and her style is such they move from one POV to another so fluidly, it’s confusing. I kept wondering what her point is. I still wondered that at the end. All the scenes occur on the same day, but the characters remember and travel to different times in their lives. What is the book about? Compromises? Keeping up appearances? Suppressed sexuality? Mental illness? Failures? Pompous society people? It’s all there, Stuffed into the pages. The thing is to unravel it. And maybe reconstruct situations differently? In our heads? It’s not an easy read.
33. Close to The Bone by Lisa Ray
This book stunned me. I guess I hadn’t expected her to be a writer. I began reading the book because I might be interviewing her for the EkWomen podcast. What an incredible story. What a brave woman. And what honesty. She is truly inspiring. I didn’t make notes while reading, which I should have because she makes so many profound statements. And her descriptions are so evocative. Some of her metaphors are unique. The number of times I stopped and thought, wow I wish I wrote like that! And her never give up attitude. Man, she fought a fatal cancer and lived to tell the tale. Not only that, found love, got married and has kids too. I had no idea she’s so close to Jerome and Wendell. But I see how her bohemian spirit would be so in tune with darling W’s. I read Priyanka Chopra’s pandemic memoir. It was good and she impressed me but she still kept parts of her life to herself. Lisa has laid everything bare. Her relationships (often sans names), her faults and her worries. She says it as it is, no holds barred. Her eating disorder, her Bollywood career, how she bungled and managed it, her relationships with friends, folks, loved ones. And how meditation, Buddhism keeps her grounded. This book is definitely an inspirational read. Very recommended.
34. The Night Watchman by Louise Eldrich
This was our book club pick for August. I’ve not read much about the indigenous Indians of America so this was an interesting book. And poignant in highlighting the injustice meted out to the tribes. The book is written from the point of view of two protagonists, an older man Thomas Wazhuzsk and Patrice/Pixie Paranteau. They are Chippewa Indians mixed with French blood. The narrative style is lilting and meandering. Eldrich has an unusual descriptive style which is evocative and moving. Sometimes I found it difficult to follow what she was trying to say and at other times she had me gripped. And all the time I felt incredibly sad at the injustice. And admired how well the Indians were handling the assault on their land, their dignity, their livelihood. There are ghost. There are spirits. There are visions. There is love. There is lust. There is fear and uncertainty. There is intense love and longing. And fierce pride. Relations between spouses is touchingly written and shows how husbands and wives not only love each other but also respected each other. There are so many instances showing how Indians were taken advantage of. Whether their women were rapes, tortured or sold into prostitution. Whether their men had to leave their lands and take on menial jobs. Even how white people viewed them and even while trying to be unbiased, showed bias. The fact it’s based on a true story makes it even more touching. Eldrich is a wonderful writer and it’s a must rad for this alone other than knowing the history of this incredible Turtle Mountain Indians.
35. Wild Child by Eloisa James
Found this book outside my mail room and got tempted because I needed something light after all the heavy books I’ve been reading. And I love these regency romances. However, this book was boring. It follows a family, The Wildes but I’m not even tempted to read the others. And that’s unusual. I loved The Bridgertons. I think her style is not engaging and the story didn’t resonate. The ‘dilemma’ did not even resolve itself in a plausible manner to me based on the problem it was set out to be in the beginning. June’s unsuitability to be a duchess because of her illegitimacy. Why did it suddenly not become a problem? Anyway it was good time pass.
36. The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
This book makes me realize just how privileged I am. It was a disturbing book on many levels. The utter desperation of the protagonists was just so tragic. The desire to improve lives. The obedient kids who will do anything to help their families. The pull of religion and reality. The pull between friendship and necessity. There are so many different situations. No one is bad. And illegal behaviour is endorsable. I can’t say I enjoyed the book but I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know how it ends. And Sahota did end it with a hopeful note. For that I’m grateful else it would have haunted me even more. However, many situations seemed too contrived. Too coincidental. Sure there’s writers licence but I don’t think it ends so well for most people. It’s not so simple to hoodwink authority in my opinion. However, it is such an eye-opener about illegal immigration and their suffering. About the need to migrate. About their pathetic lives that necessitates such drastic action. He’s been nominated for a Booker this year. I want to read the book and still don’t. I’ll end up reading it.
38.When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
I had to read this seeing its set in Brooklyn. As I got further into the book, I began wondering if this was really a thriller. It seemed so much more about relationships, anxiety, coping with life, underprivileged life etc. And then BOOM, the ‘thrilling’ part began. It was building to it but it’s a total side swipe. I was not too hot on the violence but guess it made for drama. It’s a book worth reading just because of the gentrification taking place. It may be fiction but who’s to know how much is true and how much not. It is food for thought. I live in one of those buildings that displaced a neighbourhood. The twists and turns are intriguing. And Brooklyn is a great backdrop to the narrative. It’s an easy read and actually a light one too.
39.A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
I had read this book years ago after enjoying Kite runner. I remember enjoying the book and given the current scenario, we picked it for Book Club. I enjoyed it as much the second time round and surprisingly, had forgotten a lot of the story so it felt like it was a fresh read. The book is set in Afghanistan when the Mujahadeen and then the Taliban take over the country. It ends when the Americans come to rescue the country, because the mood seems to be of hope making Afghanis return. It’s ironic that twenty years later, the scenario is so devastating. The narrative tells the story of two women who seem to be living their own lives until their lives collide. It highlights the plight of women in Afghanistan. It shows how emancipated women also had to toe the line. It shows how men dominate the women and how women fight back. It shows that there are men who can change the narrative if they are allowed. And there are women who give in to their lot and perpetuate suffering. The story shows how various tribal factions also turn against each other. It is a region fraught with violence and politics and has been since the beginning. The protagonists show grit and determination and never seem to stop fighting. The book ends on hope. Except we know how that has gone down. The title is from a poem and is reflective of the love Afghanis have for their homeland. The places are described so beautifully and its heart wrenching to know this is a land torn apart and destroyed by war. Like the Bamiyan Buddhas. Why do humans unleash this on themselves?
40.Menaka’s Choice by Kavita Kane
I enjoy the stories written by Kavita Kane, since they are based on Indian mythology. Kalidas wrote Shakuntala, a popular Indian mythology. Menaka’s choice is the story of Shakuntala’s parents. What is interesting about Kavita’s stories is how she weaves other narratives into the original story and makes it plausible. The whole Kabandh narrative, the story of Menaka giving her first daughter, Pramadvara, part of her immortal life, Rambha’s rape by Ravana etc are not part of the original mythology. Kavita’s interpretation makes the story more interesting and I look forward to her books. The only issue I have is that her style is repetitive. She makes the same point in many different ways and sometimes repeatedly through the novel. It gets kind of tedious. I also found a number of typos, which points towards a poor editor.
41. A Murder on Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
I finished this book in less than a day. Maybe jetlag assisted but it was an enjoyable read, recommended by Inty. The Story is set in 1920’s India, which in itself is interesting since it’s a period setting. Apart from the narrative, it’s a fascinating insight into Parsi and Muslim households. And it is also amazing to notice the change in mindset in a hundred years especially the attitude to women. I always imagined Parsis were evolved but they were even more orthodox. The isolation of menstruating women being a case in point. The research to create an authentic setting is impressive. I plan to get more books by Massey. It’s a fun, simple and light read.
42. Exits and Entrances by Satish Khot
This book has been written by my friend, Satish Khot. To start writing after 70 is commendable and he has shown where there’s a will, there’s a way. The stories are simple and easy to follow. The breadth of his work and thoughts is amazing. I feel there are situations that could have been expanded. Many serious issues are touched on and then left. I guess these are short plays but I was looking for a little more. I just loved the literary references, poems and quotes.
43. China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
I enjoyed this book more than The Runaways mainly because it was less distressing and an easier read. It seems to be based on Sahota’s family. I hadn’t realized women were not even aware of their husband’s identities in those days. We sure have come a long way in India. It was also interesting to see how little the Independence movement meant to some farmers. It wasn’t all India that was fighting for freedom. The book has been nominated for a Booker. It’s worth a read.
44.The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan
The book was entertaining enough with plot twists and bizarre scenarios but not my cup of tea. Fiction does not need to be realistic but I did not enjoy the spoof element of a baby elephant as a detective. And the double story line was disorienting. I kept expecting them to merge. The coincidences and convenient explanations were too expected. It was like a farce. There was not much tension even though there was meant to be, which made the story less appealing. Maybe I’m just getting very picky with my books but of late I haven’t enjoyed too many. I read them. They’re fine. But not necessarily something I’d reread or continue with other books of the same author.
45.The Red Sari by Javier Moro
This was a compelling book recommended by Aunty Anu. I have never supported the BJP in any of its avatars and am personally not a fan of Modi. Having said that, I am not a blind follower of the Congress party or the Gandhis. I believe the power structure in the Congress needs to change and not rely on a dynastic family. (Though I agree with the author, Priyanka can be a game changer) My immediate take away is how, other than Indira, Sanjay and Jawaharlal, the others have been reluctant players. We have read all about the corruption, but it doesn’t come across. Maybe it’s there but its everywhere. On the whole I think they come from a place of inevitability and a desire to make a difference. I think Modi has it or at least had it, but on the whole most politicians are in it for fame and power. The writing is easy to read but slips tenses so often, it’s strange no editor caught it. I feel for Sonia. And what a transformation from simple Italian girl to this dynamic Indian foreigner.
It’s worth reading.
46.Saraswati’s Gift by Kavita Kane
I love reading Kavita Kane’s books because she has a knack of picking obscure/unusual characters from Hindu mythology and weaving an interesting story. However, her writing style is repetitive and that makes it monotonous. She repeats the same points in many different ways so I speed read the book, or skip parts. But the stories are amazing. Why this preamble? Because this latest book actually disappointed me. It was more a manual on Hindu philosophy being force fed to the reader. The story was snippets of narratives. There was no flow. No comprehensive story. The overwhelming feeling was of being lectured. And of a not too subtle support for feminist thought. Saraswati’s views, her obstinate streak, her independent way of thinking is something women today fight for. As Saraswati fought. That’s commendable but she does come across as unreasonable too. I was not convinced by some of the justifications or explanations. Hindu mythology is so complex and there is not obvious reason or explanation. This book highlights this fact. And one eye-opening realization for me is the relationship between Brahma and Saraswati. I always thought it was calm, amicable and seamless. This book made it fractious bordering on incompatibility. I know its fiction, but is there any truth? Kane has made me question that for sure.
47.The Stationary Shop Of Tehran by Marjan Kamali
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Maybe because I feel a sense of belonging for that part of the world. Also because I like history and there was so much I learned from the book about the problems, in Iran, about Persian food, culture, customs. About the US/UK conspiracy in the Middle East for oil. I had no idea how many words Indians share in common with Arabic/Farsi. The book is not only an eye-opener but the underlying thread of intrigue and the beautiful love story makes it entertaining. Kamali writes evocatively. I can visualize this book as a movie. It would be so moving. It’s a great light read.
48.The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
I love Elif Shafak and she rarely disappoints. Three daughters of Eve unnerved me but I probably need to reread it. I haven’t read a few of her other books too and each time I finish a book by her, I make myself a promise to read all the others. With Shafak, there is so much under the surface. She tells a good story. But beyond that, so many life lessons. This book is amazing. On the one hand it talks about the tensions between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus. It talks about families. Relationships. Misunderstandings. Communications failures. Friendships. Forgiveness. Eternal love. But the way she approaches these topics. Through an over narrative of humans. Through the reminisces of a Fig tree. Through innuendo and the final twist seems so natural and obvious. Shafak likes to throw a surprise element at the end and while this one is more subtle, it is still the thread that ties the book together. It is why the book suddenly makes sense. And the learning from this book is unbelievable. About nature. Ecosystems. About food. About the need for humans to live as one with nature. About betrayal and prejudice and how sometimes letting bygones alone is great but sometimes issues need to be addressed. I think I will have to read this book again. Because there is so much left unabsorbed. She truly is a master storyteller. A true artist with words.
49.The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
This book was recommended by Goodreads. We decided to read it for Book club. It is a very interesting premise and an easy read. There is much to mull about because it is about regrets in life. The simple story is the protagonist is fed up and decides to end her life. But she enters a halfway place. A midnight library. As long as the clock shows 0000, she can decide whether she really wants to die or choose another life. It’s all about choices we make. How one choice takes you on a different trajectory. The protagonist takes many different paths in a bid to decide which choice would have been best for her. If she finds one she likes, she can stay there. She comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t want to die and ultimately lands on the best life for her. It’s the different lives. The regrets. The relationships. The contemplations etc that make this book an interesting must read.
50.Summer Water by Sarah Moss
This was an unusual book. Very well written. Many gripping vignettes. But the end is shocking. And unexpected. I read the review on The New York Review of Books and it looked very interesting. Each vignette was so plausible. Each story so gripping. Unconnected families stuck at a Loch in Scotland over a summer holiday. They observe each other from their windows. Each of them with his or her own drama. I have my suspicion about who started the calamity at the end but won’t be a spoiler alert. However talk about bratty young girls. Read it for the amazing writing. And the ode to nature in between all the vignettes.
51.The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abe Dare
I really enjoyed this book and the writer’s voice. It’s the story of how young Nigerian teenage girls are abused and one girl’s fight against injustice. There are so many layers revealing how Nigeria is a patriarchal society and women are badly treated. I wonder how much of the story is autobiographical! I learnt so much about Nigerian life and facts. It’s such a nuanced and well-calibrated story. And all through you are rooting for the protagonist. I recommend this book.
52.If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
This book is revelatory and disturbing at the same time. We hear about Koreans obsessions with beauty but this book opened my eyes to how deeply ingrained it is in their culture. My judgemental side feels it’s unfortunate to lace so much emphasis on superficial beauty but then again when a whole society is based on this concept, who am I to judge. Women go through surgery upon surgery to get that perfect look. And the amount of drinking they do seems untenable. True, the novel is based in Seoul and one cannot base all of Korea on the goings on in the city. The story follows four women from various careers and how they navigate life. The narrative can sometimes be depressing and morbid, even hopeless but the author does end on a positive note. Nothing promised. But there is hope. Her writing is vivid with descriptions painting a picture but not sure if I can recommend this book. Read it if you are curious.
53.A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
A sick day meant I finished this book in literally a day. It was left outside my building mail room and I’m a sucker for a book, especially a free one!! The story was interesting. A bit predictable but the descriptions of Wisconsin’s winters makes me never want to go there in that season. It is bleak and stark and very well portrayed. The three protagonists are very well captured. I felt each of their emotions. I did like the female protagonist despite her ‘evil’ ways. It’s a case of how circumstances makes things happen. In fact the whole book is based on that. And is also an important reflection on how happy or sad or neglectful or abusive childhoods can make or break a lifetime. Well written. Engaging. Good pastime.
54.Same Beach Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank
I borrowed this book from a family member but have mixed feelings about it. It’s a chick flick kind of book but it explores different relationships. I feel it’s a bit contrived. And almost too easy at times. But despite that, it does have some depth and makes you think. About spousal relationships, about raising children about parents, about life, about giving up your way of life for a spouse, about taking back control, about friendships and misunderstandings and above all the importance of communication and how it’s done. Frank writes amazingly well about food and places. Her knack is such, you are immediately transported. You smell the food, You see how it looks. You enjoy places. It’s a talent. And if you don’t feel like travelling or hungry while reading this book, I’ll be surprised. It’s a fun summer or travel companion.
55.Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
What an absolutely brilliant book. Phil Knight has grit, determination and. Whole lot of chutzpah. The book shows how he bootstrapped his company and made it into Nike. He gives credit where due. He lashes out at times. And he is honest about his own drawbacks. In fact, one huge selling point for Nike’s origins as Blue Ribbon, is that they never lied and were always honest with their bankers, their vendors. There were times he fudged, or did some underhanded stuff and he makes it clear he did it. And even admitted it in court. He is candid about his failings as a father and to some extent, a husband. Work consumed him and trying to make a success of his shoe business. It also shows how fathers shape sons. Like his dad His colleague’s folks. Even his mentor and first partner, Bowerman. It’s also amazing how the initial Nike were all designed by running coaches and enthusiasts. It was like a Mom and Pop business. Phil Knight is under the radar. I didn’t even know who he is. At the end of the book, he talks about meeting Gates and Buffet. We all know them but he is only worth a modest $10 billion while they are 16 times that amount. He talks about how wealth initially turned his and his wife’s head until they quickly came back to their senses. This book is a def must read. It shows the importance of following your passion and your intuition.
56. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
Residents of my building often leave books they’ve read outside our mail room. I found three books from Mary Stewarts Arthurian saga and ‘borrowed’ them to read. While I can never let go of my books, as always, I will return these to the place I found so others can also benefit, since that was the intention of the original owner of the books. I am a sucker for historical fiction and the book didn’t disappoint. The first is centred around Merlin’s early years and how he became the wizard. It ends with the implication of Arthur’s future birth. The existence of Arthur and Merlin has never been verified and has always remained in the realm of conjecture. Stewart writes this half fiction, half mythology based narrative in a plausible manner that I was totally captivated. For people who enjoy such genres, it is worth a read. She tells a compelling and colourful tale.
57. The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
I’m really enjoying this Arthurian saga. This follows Merlin after Arthur is spirited away and then once he reunites with young Arthur. There is intrigue, deceit, shocks and strengthening bonds. I keep googling so I can keep fiction straight from ‘fact’ because Arthur’s life is all about conjecture. I really like Arthur’s character. Surprisingly teared up a couple of times too. I can’t wait to start book three.
58. The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart
This book was the last in Stewart’s trilogy before she added Book four following the story of Arthur’s bastard son, Mordred and how he led to Arthur’s downfall. I speed read parts of this book because I wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible and glossed over descriptions or escape efforts. I did find the first two books kept me more gripped but not to say that this book doesn’t have its fair share of intrigue and action. SO much is centred on the women, Arthurs two sisters and his wife as well as Merlin’s love interest. That was a shock to me. And interestingly, I am on the fence about the women because I found their actions more devious and self-serving. Including Ninué, who took over as enchantress from Merlin. I guess I will eventually get the last book, but for now I am Arthured out.
59.The Gift of the Magi and other selected stories by O Henry
We read The gift of the Magi for book club because it is a fitting one for Christmas. It is about selfless love, though the traditional roles of man and woman did jar a bit. However, it is set in a different time. I finished the rest of the stories, basically different situations of people going through bad times, coincidences, relationships, hardships, love etc. Some are quite short and others a bit longer. Easy read. Could easily be developed into novels.