My 2022 in Books
As I do at the beginning of each year, a synopsis of the books I read in this past year.
1. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
I was told about this book in Creative writing class.
It’s a great premise for writers because we are always concerned about plots and characters. The book basically is about a one book wonder writer who has t teach creative writing to make ends meet since none of his other books meet success. In one of his classes, he comes across a student with a great plot. The student is arrogant and dismissive and apart from one submission and plot outline, he does not attend sessions. A few years later the professor discovers the student passed away within months of the program ending and hadn’t written his book. The writer ‘borrows’ the plot and writes a bestseller. A few years down the lone, he becomes the target of someone accusing him of plagiarism. The rest of the book focuses on him trying to track down the accuser. The book has an amazing twist though I sort of guessed it. It keeps you gripped. I finished it at one go on a flight. Fun read. Spoiler alert; its morbid too.
2. The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia
This book is like a tapestry; lyrical, vivid, beautiful, dense, intense, crowded but comes together as a wonderful whole. I was just enjoying the narrative and not allowing myself to think where I was being led. There were hints dropped from the beginning but didn’t matter. Even the four or five POV’s were suggestive of omens but I was just into the unusual story. A boy surrounded by bees, who has a hole for a mouth and is almost psychic. You have to leave aside rational thought and just read. It is like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel….set over a long period of time. About love, longing, relationships, misunderstandings, revenge and purity. The protagonist, Simonopio, is like an other worldly creature, a fairy, an angel. Mist of the characters are too good to be true. Just one was truly of a bad character but even he ws a product of his times. The underlying story of Mexico, the revolution, the Spanish flu added great details to set us in the time frame. I also enjoyed how the whole story came together at the end and the important role of the bees. Who would ever imagine bees as a character in a story plot? Segovia has written a moving piece of work. Do read it and take your time to enjoy her writing. A great job of translating by Simon Bruni. I’m glad our book club picked this book.
3. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
I finished the book in a day. It’s a thriller with a twist and clever of Michaelides because I had not anticipated the ending at all. It’s a page turner and one that maintains interest all through. It’s also interesting to learn about the world of psychiatry and psychotherapy and the clash between the two. The characters are well fleshed out and plausible. It did give me the chills.
4.The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
I finished the book in a day. It is an eye-opener about the period surrounding the Great depression and the drought in the US South. The book is about grit, determination, fierce love for the land, chutzpah but beneath all that is a book about unspoken love, longing, maternal love, family and strong bonds. I couldn’t out it down once I started and only stopped past midnight after finishing it. The story starts in 1921 Texas. It follows the story of the protagonist, Elsa and the trials and tribulations of her life. It is a shocking story of prejudice showing how it is deeply ingrained in the typical American mind. Californians discriminated against people from Texas, Oklahoma, and other states from the East and South East, despite everyone being ‘Americans’. It is a tale of how government failed the small farmers and how big farms and big businesses have always pulled their weight.It is a stunning story of divides between haves and have nots. It is not an easy book because there are so many squirming moments, so many angst filled tales, so much hardship. But Elsa’s never give-up attitude carries the story. It is historical fiction worth reading.
5.Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell
Crowell has picked the difficult but necessary topics of mental illness, abuse, self-abuse and rehabilitation. Her characters are well ‘etched’. The book design has a Phoenix, a kind of underlying theme in the book about rising out of the ashes like the bird of that name. The protagonist, Lesley, was consistently abused by her father. Her mother did not protect her or take her side. That in itself is enough to throw anyone over the edge. The story begins with her escape from her home and how she navigates social services, harms herself, is institutionalized and slowly crawls her way back to life. Lesley is a clever student and finds a mentor in one of her school teachers as well as one of the social workers. Both women are wonderfully portrayed but their acceptance though heartening, felt convenient. Is it that easy in real life? I’m not sure. Each of them has her issues and Lesley also helps them along the way. Lesley manages to graduate with honors, finds a job, rents a flat and even gets pregnant.Just as she feels life is picking up, she is told her child will be taken away because she is an unfit mother. The rest of the story focusses on Lesley’s fight for her right to raise a child. It is a moving story and one that tugs at heart strings. It is not always an easy read because of the trauma and abuse but it is an eye-opener about the world of psychiatry, social welfare and positive relationships. It’s worth a read.
6. Promise Me by Harlan Coben
It’s funny but as far back as 2017, I have Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books on my wishlist….and forgot! This book was outside my mail room and I remembered the name. Now I’m hooked. They are an easy read, crime fiction thrillers. Myron is an interesting protagonist and his friends have many dark shades but it all comes together. As always I stayed up till the wee hours to finish the book. And almost at the end, I had an aha moment about who could have been behind the entire kidnapping. I was right though I had a few unanswered questions. I know I’ll read more in this series.
7.Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng
This was an interesting book but I have mixed feelings. Feng is a wonderful writer and her settings, descriptions, characters are well sketched. It’s just sad to read the problems that one family has to face. Disabled kid. Still born kid. Unrequited love. Unexpected death. Life is tough and this story is proof. There are many wonderful moments interspersed. The innocence and carefree world of childhood. Even the ability to enjoy music despite communist China playing watchdog. It ends with hope. But even in that there is a poignance. I can’t say I’d not recommend it because it’s a well-written book. But the mood is sombre and maybe it caught me on the wrong foot.
8.It Had To Be You by Georgia Clark
After all the intense books I’ve been reading, I wanted something light. Found this book outside the mailroom. It’s a love story and follows four couples through their relationships, ups downs and then all’s well that ends well. A good beach read. The descriptions of food and wedding venues is well done. She also does a good job of exploring gay relationships, people with colour, extra marital issues, celebrity love, older relationships, jealous siblings etc. There is even a kid with Downs syndrome, which is why at times it felt like we’re getting everything.
9. A Hundred Sweet Promises by Sepehr Haddad
This is the Bookclub pick for February. It sounded promising, set as it is in Russia and Persia. I enjoyed the history of the period and the descriptions of life but I found the actual narrative style and story tedious. The love did not seem believable even though it is based on a true story. And there was not much suspense because of the way it was written. Its sweet and different from others we’ve read but not my favourite pick. One thing was interesting…the attention to music as a matter of cultural pride.
10.Under A Poacher’s Moon by W. Aaron Vandiver
I saw this in New York Review of Books and the premise is interesting, especially given my love of safari. I loved Kuki Gallman’s I dreamed of Africa and it has shades of that. The book started well and I was transported into the world of safaris in South Africa. But then it went into bizarre territory because what the protagonist did is generally impossible. There was an explanation and one can even go with that but it just kept getting more weird. Anyway after a while I switched off my rational brain and went with the story.Its sad and true and the whole rhino poaching scene was well portrayed. The big wigs get away and the ones who do it live in such miserable conditions that they are also more victims then perpetrators. If people stop wanting horns and bones, only then can this illicit trade be stopped. I didn’t know what to make of the end of the book. I guess it’s for every reader to decide.
11.The Book Of Mother by Violaine Huisman
This is quite a disturbing book because it is a true story written by a girl about her mother. To grow up with a mother like that can be quite traumatic. It is written in three parts. Part one introduces us to life with the mother from the girl’s point of view. Part two introduces us to the mother’s back story. And Part three is back to the girl dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s demise. Part two is what gives this book its weight because it allows us to understand how the mother evolved into her persona. It is a sad story of a woman who strove hard to become someone good but life was a cruel joke for her. It is a story of her daughters who not just tolerated her eccentricities but continued to shower her with love and care. It shows how, no matter what the problem, the maternal bond is special. Could life have turned out different? Absolutely. At the end of the day it is about making choices too. And about circumstances. But above all, until the end, the mum lived a life without qualms and cocked a snook to society. For that she deserves accolades and respect. And her daughters understood even if they didn’t approve.
12.Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
It’s interesting that I followed one book about mother/daughter relationships by another one. The difference is this book spans many generations. It is a bit of a disjointed book and keeps jumping between years, countries and points of views. I had to keep looking at the chart initially to keep things right. The book gives an insight into the life and trials of immigrants into the US. Why they need to come? How they are treated and the fear they live under? For the ones who are legal, there is always the tug of the homeland. In this book, the women are mainly from Cuba though one is from El Salvador and also spends time in Mexico. It is a book where women are mistreated. By men. By masters. They have to fight from their freedom. And it is a book of secrets and miscommunication. And there is an underlying narrative of substance abuse. It is another sad story and though it ends with some hope, it is still just so profoundly sad.
13. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
What a book!! I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t bear to continue. Yes, it’s a contradictory statement but that’s the nature of this narrative. And also, I will never recommend the book to anyone. Having made such sweeping statements, I need to clarify my stand. Yanagihara has written a 720-page tome. It follows the lives of four friends from their initial days as teenagers at University through four plus decades together. The writing meanders between telling, showing and skips months, years and often in the middle of a narrative, he flashes back to something else and then returns to the ongoing narrative. All this can get confusing and after some time, I just gave up keeping the thread and followed his way of structuring the story. The book is intense and borders on being a depressing story. There are many high points but on the whole there is such a sense of desolation, it makes you stop and take stock of life too. What is life about? What is our legacy? Why do people love us, or not? Are we worth the love? What makes us worth it? After I put it down, I just sat still. I wondered if I should follow my dream. Give up everything and retire to write my book, drink wine and enjoy the people who populate my world. Why do we run, chase things. Why can’t we just stop and be in the moment? Life is so short and can end so abruptly. The book isn’t necessarily about all this, but it does throw out these questions. I do not want to reveal much of the story in case anyone is brave enough to read the book. Because you need to be brave to follow the turmoil that is unleashed, especially by one protagonist. But it is also a story of friendships, unconditional love, of support and being there for the people you love. I cried. I laughed. I teared up. I smiled. I screamed, inside of course. I cursed. I gave up. I cheered. It’s a book of hope, dreams, ambition, choices and it really is a little about life.
14.The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey
Sujata Massey transports me to a different era. It’s great reading about Bombay in the early 1900’s and comparing it to Bombay today. It also amazes me how conservative the Parsis were back then. The story often is simple and sometimes not even my main focus. This story had many underlying narratives, which made it more compelling. It is a page turner because you do engage with the story but for me it ended a bit tamely. I still enjoyed the narrative. It’s a light-hearted read.
15.Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a very different sort of book and one I cannot put into a mould. I enjoyed the simplicity of the narrative but beyond that, Ishiguro is also making a judgement. The protagonist is a robot, Klara, known as AF or artificial friend. She inhabits a futuristic world where the privileged children are the ones who have been lifted, aka genetically modified to excel. Klara has been picked to be the AF to Josie, a gifted child. Josie’s friends tease the ones who are left behind, such as her childhood friend, Rick whose mother did not take part in the programme. However, it isn’t that Rick is less intelligent but he struggles to get accepted into good institutions. Ishiguro shows this ‘class’ struggle and it foreshadows a world that we could possibly have in future too. In a sense, that is the part of the book I was saddened by because it feels like a robotic existence where the element of fun is missing. Klara for all her empathy is a machine and comes across as such. At least for me, I identify with people like Rick and Josie’s father, from the old world, from my current existence. The world of the book does not bode well for our future in my opinion. It’s scary and also sad.
16.Wintering by Katherine May
I generally don’t like non-fiction but totally enjoyed this book. It’s a mix actually because it’s more like a biography/memoir. Katherine May writes about battling depression as wintering. She sets the book from the onset of Fall until Spring and the mood Winter brings on. Her narrative starts with her husband’s illness, meanders on to hers, even her son’s moods where she pulls him out of school for a while too. She talks about winter creatures, snow, cold water wims, winter holidays. And each one of her experieces is written in an evocative manner. Her gift for creative writing is wat got me hooked to the book. Her book is about healing oneself and how winter is a great time to go within and do just that. This is a book to be read over and over because of the profound messages that fall through the cracks and need to be coaxed out.
17. Freaksburg by John Casey
Casey and I were in the same creative writing group and I was always impressed by his plot ideas and writing style. This is his latest book and though I’m not huge on YA, I can see its appeal. The story follows the protagonist from the time he is a kid to his 40’s. Its abut his tryst with fairies during childhood, his subsequent ‘abandonment’ where he goes off the rail and then discovering them again. It is mainly about good versus evil. The family dynamics, various relationships and trying to bring humans back on track. This is not my type of book, it’s too bizarre for me but the author does reveal an amazing sense of imagination, which is impressive.
18. Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti
What a fantastic niovel for anyone interested in the history of the making of modern India through the eyes of one of its moset pre-eminent families, The Tagores. I am mistaken if I think Rabindranath was the best product from the family. Hie grandparents were formidable and their lineage equally distinguished. Be it painters, the first forceful female writers, the woman who gave India a new way of wearing sarees. This book takes us through a cultural evolution from archaic views to women standing up for themselves and fighting for their rights. The Tagore daughters and daughters-in-law were right there beside their men. Whether it was the matriarch Digambari who refused to accept her husband’s westernization or the mother Sarada Sundari who believed producing kids was her right biut not taking care of the, or the daughter-in-law who split the Tagores. Even Rabindranaths muse, his unrequited love, his brother’s wife, Kadambari. The prose is scattered with poetry, vignettes of life in those days, vivid portraits of dress, food, activities.I would say it’s a must read for people curious about Rabindranath and India in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.
19.Daughters of Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti
This is a follow up to Jorasanko. The difference is this is a bit tragic. While the previous book showcase the family in full regalia, living a privileged life, this book shows the downfall.They had to sell off heirloom,s property and the family basically disintegrated. Even Rabindranath for all his fame, was always struggling for funds, battling bad health and faced immense family angst. His wayward son, incompetent and ungrateful sons-in-laws, unhappy daughters, barren daughters-in-law, he weathered much on the personal front. So its amazing how he produced such amazing poetry. Or maybe that’s why he did. He had many muses. Young and old. Sensational and controversial. He travelled a lot despite illness. And one thing was for sure, he was loved. The book shows the other branches who we saw in Jorasanko and how slowlyt he old day glamour faded. Until there was nothing left to show. One of the saddest parts is that his last wish was not fulfilled because of his fame. He wanted to be cremated at Santiniketan but was taken to Calcutta instead. Santiniketan was his pet project. One nurtured by his wife whose premature death left Rabindranath belatedly bereft. He put his all in the place and even today it stands up as an emblem of his dream.
20. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
I love Backman’s style of writing, simple and easy but with so many profound messages. This story on the surface seems to be about a botched bank robbery. But each of the characters are so well-nuanced. Ans it is great to see how he develops their back stories until they all start linking up. That’s the beauty of Backman. You don’t see it until you do. The story is not as important as the relatable characters. His books are always worth a read.
21. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
This book will be a wip. I ordered it on Kindle, which anyway is a bad idea for me and it’s taking forever to read. Later I realized the print version is 920 pages. No wonder! I feel like the story is meandering. Not going anywhere. The caricatures of people are great but I have no idea what the author is trying to say. Just as I have no idea when I’ll finish it. For the first time I’m reading a book that does not motivate me to continue reading. Even other books, I’ve managed to finish. I hope I manage with this one.
22. Freezing Order by Bill Browder
This is the book for May book club. Interestingly, I ordered a copy on Amazon but when I got it, I realized it was a bad google translation and not the original version. I returned it to Amazon and got it on Kindle but also tweeted Bill Browder about it. He actually responded too. I thoroughly enjoyed the book if that is even possible because I should say it’s more like I was thoroughly horrified by the book. We hear stories. I have my own prejudices about Putin but this book is black and white about his atrocities and crimes. From money laundering, to murder, blackmail, kidnapping, it’s an unending litany. I actually could barely put the book down once I started it and pretty much finished it over a weekend. Browder is seriously gutsy and he’s my age. It made me reflect on what I’ve done with life. And kudos to his family for sticking it out with all the fear and threats. There are so many heroes in the book, I teared up often. Its worth a read not just for the exposé but also as a thriller. I’m sure it will also become a movie/documentary.
23. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
When I started this book, I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d like it. But then I really got into it and enjoyed it. There was initial confusion because Walters jumps around not only in timeline and years, but also between reel and real. Its a book that has many nuances. It is set between Italy and the US but goes through the gold rush, a world war and Hollywood studios. Robert Burton has been cleverly woven into the plot. The scenes are beautifully described. There is unrequited love. There is rekindling of love. There are mother son relationships. There is duty and loyalty. There is work frustration. And everything comes together so nicely at the end. I love a book where all the strings get tied at the end. And the fact that nothing is a coincidence is not even a thought. I’d read more books by this author.
24. Small Great Things by Judy Picoult
This book was given to me by Amanda and is the first Picoult book I’ve read. She seems quite a popular author. What grabbed me is the story line. It’s a well-written book about what it’s like to be black and white in an increasingly polarized world. There is love, death, family, friendships, angst and every other ingredient to keep you glued to the book. I also learnt a lot about nursing and hospitals. I enjoyed it.
25. French Braid by Anne Tyler
This is the book club pick for June. We wanted something less heavy and the book fits the bill. Its interesting enough but reads almost like a series of short stories. The book spans decades following the Garret family. They’re dysfunctional like all families and through glimpses we see how they evolve. There is continuity in a sense though the years jump ahead and we keep shifting POV’s. At the end I did wonder what the author was trying to accomplish. There is sort of a reveal, which may explain one aspect but it was still not enough to explain the arc of the narrative. Its about life. It’s how families are. We come together. We grow apart. I read it. I wasn’t bored. I finished it. But will I recommend it. Probably not. It will be interesting to hear the book club take.
26. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree
This 725 page tome won 2022’s Booker prize. I was excited to order it and Ma carried it all the way from India. When I started reading it, initially I was flummoxed. Then I got annoyed. And overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep things straight. The relationships were easy. The language was tough. And yet brilliant. Especially considering this book is translated from the original Hindi. I believe its double the size of the Hindi version. Daisy Rockwell, the translator, deserves kudos for this book, that reads like it was originally written in English. It’s a Rushdiesh book considering the bizzare plotting, the side bars and meandering, the colourful characters. I was caught up in the narrative and yet impatient. She sets it up at the get go with an interesting storyline. And then we lose it. So we know we have an end game but it takes 2/3rd of the book to get there. The third part is when I truly perked up. I read it in one go and loved it. And even though the author tries to make it mysterious, we all know what the truth is. Its clever to pretend the daughter is clueless. Keeps the suspense for sure. One thing about this writer, she captures Indian society beautifully. With its modern and ancient juxtapositions. With its posturing and authencities. Family relationships are spot on. It is a kaleidoscope of life in India. But all the time there is that deeper angst of partitioned India. And this is what comes to light in part three. The anguish. The ranting and railing. We feel it to our core. Everyone will identify with it even if they did not live through the gruesome event. This is what made the book powerful for me. Sure her quirky writing style can get tedious. But its also captivating at one level. She describes scenes evocatively, without punctuations, often through the eyes of crows. There is the gone abroad children who suddenly becomes the authority on any and everything. The hijra or shapeshifter used as a way to overcome prejudice. There are very few names and the ones we see are strategic.SO many times, as I read, as a writer myself I wondered how she plotted her story. What a nightmare of sticky posts, charts and mapping. And how clever. Read it at your own peril. You will laugh, cry, scream in frustration. You will emerge scathed but fulfilled.
27. Gratitude Through Hard Times by Chris Schembra
I am not one for self-help books but really connected with this one. The personal examples are relatable. I love the gratitude inquiries. It gives you something to do at the end of each chapter. I was embarrassed that I am probably not as grateful as I believe I am. It’s a thought provoking book and makes you open to being vulnerable. And I know Chris so that makes a huge difference in terms of connecting.
28. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
This is our Book Club pick but actually such a depressing book. Wharton paints a picture of a harsh and unforgiving New York society through the life of her protagonist, Lily Bart, brought up to be ornamental and not utilitarian. She was from a privileged society but her parents lost their wealth and lives too early. Left to be raised as a poor relative but from a prestigious family is complicated. And women in those days had just one job, find a suitable husband. Unfortunately Lily failed in that department. There were suitors but none mat her requitement of love and money and she kept ending up jeopardizing her luck. Until eventually luck deserted her. That’s where it so sad. She had principles and never compromised them but society only saw her as a manipulator and user, which was not quite true and was always misinterpreted by less scrupulous women. There were people who helped and believed in her. Shelden, Gerty, Fanny and even the rejected suitor, Rosedale. But a mix of pride and doing what right never allowed Lily to reclaim her former glory. Case in point being the letters of Bertha Dorset that could have redeemed her. When she had decided to use them, a chance encounter led her to burn them instead. And she left the world just as she had lived in it, by a series of unfortunate events.
29. Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
I picked Sonali Dev because I’m intrigued to see how she writes. She seems very popular and is obsessed with Jane Austen. Her novels are set in an Indian American household but follows an Austen vibe. The story is engaging, sometimes long drawn out. She writes the story of the Raje family and in subsequent books, she continues with the romance of other siblings. I love books like that. This book is the story of Trisha, a neuro surgeon and DJ, a celebrity chef, whose sister’s life is in Trisha’s hands. The family lives like normal Americans but are super privileged and from Indian royalty. Their life is too charmed. There is nothing about prejudice etc or living as people of colour. That seems a bit unbelievable. Ofcourse at the end of the story, all’s well that wends well.
30. Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev
I bought all four of Dev’s Raje series and decided to binge read them so I follow the family in ‘real time.’After Trisha’s romance with DJ, it is time for her cousin and DJ’s best friend, Ashna to find someone. And she resurrects an old love. Her first and forever love, a soccer player, Rico. They are competing on a cooking show as partners. The producer is Ashna’s best friend, China Dashwood. The side story is of Ashna’s strained relationship with her mum who she blames for her father’s early death. The mum’s side story is interesting and relatable. This family is unbeleievable in how supportive sisters-in-la are, how kids adore heir parents etc. Ofcourse Ashna’s story works out eventually. And so does her relationship with her mum.
31. Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev
CHina Dashwood was introduced in Dev’s last book and this time we see her mum and sister. Mum Tara is Half Indian and adopts kids with cleft lips from different countries. Brother Sid, who e don’t meet, is Indian. India Dashwood is Thai and China is from Africa. India falls in love with the Raje heir and older son, Yash, running for governor of California. In fact, they’d felt the attraction a decade ago but unfortunately couldn’t take the relationship further. It seems too good to be true that Yash has a relatively easy run. There is very basic reference to minority issues. The problem here is that Yash has a fake engagement with Naina Kohli and as a gubernatorial candidate, needs to have her as cover so his new love needs to be a secret. India is a yoga and reiki healer and helps Yash when he faces an assassination attempt. As with all her books, there are ups and downs and then things work out. A side story is China’s lesbian relationship with a celebrity Korean actress who she meets during the cooking competition where DJ and Ashna competed. Eventually she hooks up with Yash’s female body guard.All very predictable and convenient. And its so fascinating how she introduces all kinds of communities, colours, genders and always lots of desi food.
32. The Emma Project by Sonali Dev
This is the final installment in the Raje famile saga. The youngest son, Vansh, is mentioned in the last book during Yash’s election campaign. He is the prodigal son who has been travelling the world on various projects and has now returned home. He believes it is temporary but ofcourse he meets the love of his life. This book is a little different in that it is the only one where sex takes centre stage and Dev wrotes very well about sex, orgasm and making out. Also, the twist is that Vansh falls in love with Naina or Knightlina, his brother’s ex-fiancee albeit fake. If that is not enugh, she is also twelve years older. So Dev is breaking many taboos in this book. She also portrays chauvinism, feminism etc. There is also a side story of the romance between the oldest Raje, Esha and the oldest Dashwood, Sid. Esha has visions and had never left the faily grounds in three decades. Sid changes everything. There is some implausibility but hey it’s a story. So by the end of this book, all siblings are accounted for and everyone is happy. I binged all four books and that’s why it was more fun to read. Taken one at a time she does tend to drag the story. I wish she could keep a tighter pace. It is interesting how she has two or sometimes three plot lines. And she keeps switching POV’s so I like that too. If you are looking for light reading, go ahead and read these.
33. Anywhere for You by Abbie Greaves
Interesting premise and suddenly turns into a book dealing with mental illness. I didn’t see that coming till three fourths of the way in! This is a story of Mary, a timid Irish woman in Belfast who finds the love of her life at age 27 and moves to London. They seem to have the best of everything. Chemistry. Respect. Warmth. Similar wants and needs and no desire to marry and procreate. The man, Jim, Has episodes where he falls off the agon, gets moody but Mary decides that love is about being together through thick and thin and supports him. One day, after 6 years, Jim disappears and Mary spends the next seven years grieving and hoping he returns. She holds a board outside Ealing station, where they lived, asking him to return home. A viral video of hers causes some of her colleagues to step in and help her find Jim. She works at a super market and also at a suicide hotline. The book sweeps between Mary’s prevous life and her current one and then also gets into the POV of her colleagues. Everyone has some or the other hidden story they are trying to come to terms with. Some of the men are battling depression, some people deal with abandonment. There is poverty, redundancy and desperation. There is an alls well that ends well. It’s not a heavy book and an easy read. Summer vacay read.
34.A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Phillip Sendker
I’m not surprised that I enjoyed reading this book because I loved the prequel, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. There is something about the lyricism of Sendker’s writing, the setting of Burma, the gentleness of the narrative that is soothing. You need to put aside your scepticism about hearing voices, just like you had to when the protagonist in Book 1 heard heartbeats. There is no judgement and the zen world of the people in Burma, accepting of their fates is quite contagious. The profound statements. Just questioning what is important to you, has so much relevance. Julia has to come to terms with much but she had to do it on her terms, in her time. The narrative of a mother and her sons. The narrative of soldiers and prisoners in Burma. The narrative of a love found, a love lost and a love that cures. There are so many interwoven messages. So many stories. Each one leaves us craving answers. Longing for another. So much beauty and sadness. But still so uplifting. The book teaches you to accept grief but not stop living. It makes you want to find your own person who can tune your heart so all bitterness falls away and only equanimity remains. Another masterpiece of a book.
35. The Heart Remembers by Jan-Phillip Sendker
I had to read the sequel immediately because why not!!?? And ofcourse its beautiful with so much ‘profoundness’ though my favourite is still the first book. This is more the story of Julia and Thar Thar’s son. He lives with her brother, U Ba, and not with his parents. The book unravels the mystery nehind why this is the situation. But deeper still is the underlying theme of love. A love that’s so deep. A love that nurtures. A love that heals. A love that separates families. I found it a bit dissatisfying because I had more questions than answers. But it’s the author’s prerogative to leave stuff untold and for readers to make of it what they may. He has created an arc and stayed within that structure. As always, his characters are nuanced and explicit. We see them clearly, the new and old. I’m glad I read this.
36.Keya Das’s Second Act by Sopan Deb
The book was being promoted on Facebook calling out as a must read for all Fredrik Backman fans. I couldn’t resist the shout out considering not only do I love his books, but this is by an Indian American so there’s curiosity too. It is a simple story and well written. Sopan Deb has done a great job of portraying the local Bong community in NJ. And true to the hype, there are Backmanian moments as everything ties up in the end. The purpose. The cast of characters and the unexplained side stories. It is an enjoyable read.
37. Answered Prayers by Danielle Steele
I needed a break from serious literary works to something mindless. This book was just that. I found it in the VRBO we were renting in Scottsdale and finished it in a day. It is predictable that the protagonists would end up together and they do, but it was dragged out to the final chapters. There are some great NYC moments and some lovely pages set in Zambia. But I did speedread it because so much of it is understood. Answered prayers is because the main character is actually a Catholic and goes to church etc. So it’s like her prayers are finally answered and alls well that ends well. Good time pass.
38.Pharaoh by Wilbur Smith
Wilbur Smith never disappoints. This book has all the pace and action of Smith and is set in the time of Ramses Egypt. I googled furiously while reading because I just couldn’t tell fact from fiction. Taita is obviously not a real character but what of Lostris, Ranses, Serrena etc. I still can’t tell. But the story is awesome and I cant wait to dig into his New Egypt series.
39.Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
This is a beautifully nuanced book about relationships and sacrifice. It spans a lifetime of friendships, deep loyalty and filial love. A mum dies and leaves a voice note for her children that reveals a person they never knew. It is almost like a betrayal but the deep love shared by the family is a note that runs beneath the whole narrative. Misunderstandings. Regrets. Love. Sadness. Hardship. Tragedy. All of them come together beautifully in this narrative. And riding high throughout the story is the iconic Black Cake of the islands. A must tread.
40. The Magicians Of Mazda by Ashwin Sanghi
I love Ashwin Sanghi’s book. He is the Dan Brown of India. Sanghi uses ancient symbology, beliefs and ties them to modern times. There is intrigue. There is history. There are good guys and bad guys and always a cleverly woven thriller racing towards a conclusion. This book is a bit different in that he deviates from using Hindu symbols and focusses on Parss aka Zoroastrians. Ofcourse, the India/ Hindu angle is always subtly interwoven into the plot. The best part about his books is that it is so thoroughly researched and he makes so many claims, you actual;ly cannot figure out what’s fact and what’s fiction. According to Sanghi it is to be read as fiction. That’s all well and good, but if you google stuff, so much of what he writes is out there already. So he does get away with murder in his books. A lot of what he wrote was eye-opening and I learned a lot. For example, about quants. About scriptures. About etymology. And the whole history of Zoroastrianism is mind-blowing. I had no idea how badly they were treated until I read the book. This book is a little different from his other ones because it is also like a history lesson. We get that in other books but not in as much detail. If you’re a fan, get it. If you like history, read it. If you enjoy thrillers, get it.
41.The Second Life Of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore
This book is an eye-opener at many levels. You learn about Hansen’s disease or leprosy as it is better known; the stigma attached to it in the 1920’s and in fact till date. It is based on a real leprosy home though the story is fictional. The ups and downs, the way people are with each other, their worries, frustrations are very plausible. It also teaches you about stopping and enjoying the small pleasures in life because you never know what’s going to knock you off course. The book club questions at the back also provide much food for thought. There is a protagonist and I admired her but she was not my favourite character. It’s a long book, it’s not easy to read because it’s not light-hearted though it has its moments. However, it makes you renew your faith in humanity, teaches you about acceptance and rethinking prejudices. This book is worth picking up.
42.When Stars Collide by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
I found this book outside my mail room and picked it up. It seemed perfect for a light read and that’s exactly what it was. Easy to read. I whizzed through it. A love story with some plot twists. All very nicely wrapped up and everyone’s happy at the end. It brings a smile to the face even though it seems so removed from reality. Summer beach read.
43.The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
It is getting more difficult to read Hamid. Exit West was a bizarre concept but I ran with it because Hamid shakes us out of our comfort zone. He does that again with The Last White Man. A white man goes to bed one night and wakes up as a black man. The very idea is thought provoking. But he does not go down the route I expected. It is nothing about prejudice. Cops pulling you over. Racism etc. It is not a lesson for white people about what it feels like to be black. Instead Hamid goes down another path and by the end of the novel everybody has become black. The last white man was the protagonist’s father who dies. I was looking to understand what Hamid is trying to tell us but no big picture stands out at the end. There are interesting vignettes throughout the book. There are honest reactions of people to blackness of loved ones. But finally it is like all’s well that ends well. In a black world. There are times that Hamid makes it appear like how the world had become paranoid during the pandemic especially by the reactions of his love interest’s mother. It’s a clever way of dwelling on that period. Small instances like how the protagonist looks at the janitor as a white man and then as a black man make for compelling reading. The book is an easy read but I’m not sure how quickly I will read him again. The world is strange enough. I don’t need to be reminded in the books I read.
44.The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto
This is like a lyrical narrative. Its meanders. Stops. Throws us some crumbs. Then continues. Somewhere we get a thread of a story. Then it vanishes. And a few pages down, a tantalizing glimpse again. The protagonist feels it. She articulates it. But is fine with it. It’s a story of how life takes unexpected turns. How traumas can haunt you your whole life. How you can slowly rebuild a life. It’s about filial love. And about how love does not have to be intense. It can be like a train, slowly moving between stations until you reach the end. I’m not ready to give up on Banana Yoshimoto and want to read another book before I decide whether this different style of narrating a story works for me.
45.Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Oh my God, this book is brilliant. I was pulled in to it and didn’t want to stop reading. It appeals at so many levels. As a woman. As a non-religious person. As someone who is a humanist. As a mother. Its set in the 50’s and 60’s so attitude towards women is a huge part of the book. The characters have been sketched to perfection, including the dog. The protagonist is a formidable, utterly brilliant and totally misunderstood woman who nevertheless had me fawning over her from the get go. It’s a love story. It’s a story of parenting. It’s a story of women fighting for their rights. It’s about caving in and then not. It’s about believing in yourself. It’s about fitness and misogynists. It’s about friendships and mentors. And as a non-science fiction novel it’s about lessons in chemistry.
46.The Taste of Ginger by Mansi Shah
I got this book in my ongoing research on who publishes South Asian writing. I feel this is close to a publisher who might consider my work. But in any case the book was interesting. It did drag a bit because the issues are addressed so often, there was a repetitiousness that became a bit demotivating. However, I was amused by some interesting observations that I believe a fact checker needed to have spotted. Saying there are no cars with trunks in India is ludicrous. Some of the views are of an India of thirty years ago, not today’s India. I’m not from Ahmedabad but I don’t think it is as backward as the author makes it out to be. And the obvious caste system issues, maybe it’s a small town, but as a Gujarati, nothing my family or I have faced either in India or the US! She grapples with immigrant issues, fitting in to both the country of birth and of choice. Much of what she says is true but I do feel Indians have come a long way and for a book written in 2022, a lot did not ring true. But it could be the writer’s experience so I took everything at face value. There are many moving parts and a lot to digest in the 300 odd pages. Arranged marriages. Losing a child. Broken engagements. Societal pressures. Discrimination. Caste system. It’s worth a read but taken with a large pinch of salt for its relatability to today’s India.
47.The Wife by Alafair Burke
It’s a page turner alright. Book club picked this book for October because we wanted something ‘spooky’ for Halloween. Its not scary but it is a mystery/suspense book and you don’t know the truth till the very end. She keep up the pressure and we vaccilate between whodunits. There is a lot of back story and many characters who are suspect. I have to admit, I even wondered at one time whether or not the real culprit was IT. She sets the scenes well and you can picture the whole thing and ofcourse its being made into a movie!! I read that at least one of her characters features in another book so want to read that. And she also collaborates with one of my fave suspense writers, Mary Higgins Clark. So want to read that series too. The author, Alafair Burke, did blwo off our book club after having said she’d love to join the Zoom call. Oh well.
48.People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry
I’m getting good at this book in a day or day and a half. I need to try and sleep earlier!!! But today I managed because I took my book during Jury Duty selection. It’s a fun. Light read. Sure there are many deep issues lurking beneath the surface. About love, relationships and what you really want out of life. Its also a great travel journal and gave me more places to add to my bucket list. I enjoyed it but I also wanted it to be over. Like I knew what tehend was. I knew what had happened to them. And so I was not really invested. She tries to make it seem like it’s over, but how can they call it quits? Alex and Poppy are the invariable, mismatched, ideal couple. It gives people hope. It also is a shout out to NYC. And yes, it makes you think about issues like burn out. Acceptance, fear and responsibility. But its still a great beach read so ack it in your bags the next time you plan to spend time worshipping the sun.
49. The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
The premise was really interesting and since I’m also checking out publishers of South Asian writing, I had to get this book. What a brilliant concept using books to unite a community. Using books to overcome grief, Using books to make friends. Using books as life lessons. Ms Adams certainly has hit on a great concept. I enjoyed the book in fits. Mainly because the number of characters zooming in and out were confusing. The timelines had me wondering. Ofcourse it all ties up in the end and ofcourse it had to be that way. So 100% to her for keeping us in limbo. However there is sadness and some of it totally unexpected. I see why she needed to do it but I also screamed in disbelief. There were signs ofcourse but I had hoped they’d be resolved. Anyway, that’s why there is a slice of life to this book. The characters are authenticity and ofcourse probably based on the author’s experience. I enjoyed the typical Gujarati interactions and even pronunciations. It amused me to see Gujus as an intrinsic part of this book and totally taking over the cuture of Wembley. I wondered how the white folks really treated them because here everyone is friendly and accepting. And there were no black people. But that’s not the point of the story so I also get why she doesn’t dwell on that. It just makes it seem a bit of a fairy tale. And some of the old-fashioned attitudes in today’s day were surprising. Maybe that’s how it is in England. The list of books is a delight and I’ve read all except Beloved so I enjoyed the analysis and how it impacts everyone differently. Definitely a book worth reading.
50.Legacy of War by Wilbur Smith
I love Wilbur Smith and now that he’s passed away, its depressing to know there will be no more continuing stories of Courtneys, Ballantynes or even ancient Egyptians. This one continues with Saffron Courtney now married to Gerhard Meerbach. There are are different story lines about pursuing Nazi war criminals, highlighting the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya and at times it gets quite gruesome. However, it does end well and in a way that liberals and people who want justice and fairness will be satisfied. Having said that, the world today with rise of fanatics and also the way kenya slid, makes you wonder why people fight but then the old ways resurface. It’s disheartening. Not the book. Smith is in his element lying out raw Africa for us to embrace.
51. This Side of Paradise by F.Scott Fitzgerald
This is our book club pick for December but I read it on my way from NYC to India and finished it in Poona, in October itself! We picked a classic because it seemed appropriate for a classic time of the year. I chose it because the cover looked like it was an original edition but unfortunately it is one of those pdf printed books and when the book arrived it looked more like a text book. I think the chapter titles etc are totally different from the original book. I thought it may take away from the appeal of the book, but was pleasantly surprised that it did not. Au contraire it helped me understand the book better. Because the book is not easy to follow. On the one hand it’s like a coming of age of a young chap but sometimes it meanders pointlessly. I guess the idea being that it was a generation that was purposeless. All they focussed on was the pursuit of pleasure. And so much of it lies in childhood experiences. Amory Blaine did not have an ideal childhood. His mother treated him more like an adult than a child. And later virtually abandoned him. His father was absent. He grew up wealthy but his parents lost all their money so he spent the rest of his life struggling. That because he had been made to believe he is exceptional and never actually thought work was an intrinsic part of his life. His Princeton days are interesting in how different they are from college life today. And it appears there was a change made in how clubs were viewed on campus. It’s also a glimpse into life in NYC in the years post war. Amory’s various amores are indicative of superficialities and how money is an intrinsic part of marital decisions. In a sense, the book ends when Amory is in his early twenties, a time most people are still finding themselves. So the end where he knows who he is, is appropriate but unsatisfactory. It’s for the reader to decide how his life will continue or not. Is he going to become a socialist? Will be follow his mentor into church life? Will he ever find his true love or is he too selfish for that? Fitzgerald’s descriptions of that period are evocative. It is a literary book and you need to be in a certain frame of mind to enjoy it.
52. War In Lanka by Amish
This is book 4 of the Ram Chandra series after Ram, Sita and Ravan. It is the culmination with all three protagonists meeting and the war that led to Sita’s rescue and Ravan’s demise. I finished it over three nights of jetlag!!! It is a page turner as all Amish’s books, though I kind of speed read the war scenes. They are quite clever. Amish has made so many interesting points where he has taken legend and made them more plausible. Like when Hanuman gets the herb to cure Lakshman, he takes the Pushpak Viman. And the bridge built to Lanka uses engineering and science. An interesting twist is that Vibhisan is made to be a bit conniving. Ravan and Kumbhakaran are given a depth and generosity of character. Sita has long philosophical discussions with him. Mandodari is seen to hate Ravan and actually gives Indrajit great advice. The war is fought according to Dharma, which is a novel ides. And all along Ram is noble and always does what’s right. It all comes togther cohesively. But the saga is not over. It is to be continued and in a clever arc, is going to be connected to his Meluha series.
53. Indra by Utkarsh Patel
My fascination with disseminating Indian mythology plus the fact I know Utkarsh Patel is what led me to get this book. The writing is a bit repetitive but the short chapters make it easy to read. Patel has out a spin on how we view Indra and made it plausible. He was always flawed but there is justification to his actions, which I admire. Especially gripping is the Ahalya incident because it’s certainly not how the narrative is understood from other sources. I prefer Patel’s version! I did not understand Vishnu’s role in Indra’s life because it is unambigious. He was a friend who disappeared and then returned as Krishna but no one knows he is Vishnu’s avatar. Indra was replaced by Vishnu in the pantheon but is Utkarsh trying to say it was a deliberate ploy by Vishnu? I couldn’t tell. I also enjoyed the epilogue because it puts into perspective how Hindu Gods are created and destroyed. Their rise and fall so to say.
54.Girls Burn Brighter by Shoba Rao
I really enjoyed this book. It’s one of those which makes me wonder why I think I can write. Her descriptions, the story, her narrative style, all comes together so beautifully. And despite the heart-breaking story there is so much strength. Its chronological though told from different perspectives and that’s why the end is touching. It can go either way but you just know, you just hope it ends the way you want. It’s a story of two friends, entrenched in poverty but who create an inseparable bond. Life wrenches them apart but they remain in each other’s hearts. One of them by thought and the other never veers from her effort to find her friend. The ease with which they travel can either be overlooked in the context of the narrative or else it’s an eye-opener that such movements are not that difficult or unusual. I recommend the book, even though it is distressing and makes you uncomfortable at times.
55. Best Of Friends by Kamila Shamsie
I enjoy Kamila Shamshie’s stories. There is a delicious desi flavour to them but they are also so relatable. This book is about two friends. The incident that separates them seems so irrelevant. But for young girls can also take on larger proportions. The trajectory of their life is interesting. I enjoyed the narrative. It doesn’t end as I expected but then that’s life. I think her books are always a good read.
56.The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Vishwanathan
This was on my wishlist for a while and I finally ordered it. It’s a big tome but I enjoyed reading it. It is set during British India but also at a time of the freedome struggle. But whats interesting is that the protagonists are not as concered with that. There are rumblings that remind us of the time and the issues. But the book mainly deals with the rigidity of Tamil Brahmins and the pressure to change the old ways.The two main protagonists are Sivakami who is almost a child widow and her ‘servant’ Muchami, a lower caste. The changes in their families are seen thorugh their eyes and also through the eyes of a few chosen family members. Sivakami’s inability to express her emotions results in a fractious relationship with her son, who is actually a harbinger of change and modernity in their family. And her inability to chastise her son-in-law who is a cause for so much angst. It is a fascinating insight into family dynamics, changing family structures and a wonderful peep into the Indian joint family system. The many names and relationships can initially be confusing but soon the reader also becomes a part of the extended familu. Vishwanathan has a wonderful way with words making the descriptions very vivid. If you have time and are not scared of big books, this is a delightful read.
57.The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka
Each time I read a book nominated for the Booker, I promise myself I won’t do it again but sucker that I am, I invariably buy it. Having said that, this book is not awful. It’s just a difficult book to read. It has a really interesting premise and it is a political discourse on Sri Lanka, written as a satire but with hard hitting facts. It is almost sad. The various characters are confusing and I had to keep refreshing my memory. I know there would be a proper ending, which would tie up all the dangling parts and so I persevered. But it took me three weeks to read this book when normally I devour books. And I read a good fourth of the book in one sitting at the end!! He writes well and has a wonderful imagination. Sure he is cynical but he is also hopeful. Read it but be warned.
58.Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos
After spending all December trying to finish one book, it was a relief to know I haven’t lost my ability to read more books in a month. I finished this in two days. I cheated and picked a light read and itw as interesting enough to want me to keep reading and finish it. I guess between work, weddings and travel, I just didn’t have the band width to read more this month. I’m now in Alibag and relaxed and so picked my ‘bad’ habit of just wanting to read, read, read. This was a book about relationships and circumstances. How someone can just walk nto your life and change its trajectory. It’s a love story with a twist. Between kids and adults. Between parent and child. Between siblings and non. It is told from the point of view of two protagonists. A 30 something woman and an 11-year-old child growing up fast. In fact, it was written in 2005 bt is still current and relevant. It’s a book worth reading. At least for me it was thought provoking and led to introspection.
59.Going Loco by Lynne Truss
I guess this will definitely be my last book for 2022. And I finished it in a day. It is ok. Bit bizarre and many complicated twists and turns and the end is weird. Anyone reading it will definitely go loco. I wanted to finish it so ploughed on but by the end was speed reading. Because you cannot take a book like this seriously. Its hilarious and spoofy. And total time pass.
60.Beyond Indigo by Preethi Nair
Surprise surprise, I sneaked in an extra book to end the year. The author is an Indian living in Britain so I was intrigued to continue my experiment of the kind of South Asian authors being published. The book is totally based in the UK and that is where my problem must stem since my book spans different countries. Anyway I will persevere. It was a light read and I managed to read it in a day. Its about an Indian girl living in Croydon, being pushed by parents to follow a certain career track, have an arranged marriage and how her life slowly begins unravelling but on the other hand she finds success as an artist, her real passion. She begins a series of deceits/lies but as is expected, alls well that ends well at the end. It was a fun read to end the year despite the series of improbable incidents.