Tag Archives: Book reviews

Book Review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s fierce and provocative new novel, the first one to be set in our current times, exposes the damage that adults wreak on children, and how this echoes through the generations.

When Sweetness gives birth to Lula Ann Bridewell, who calls herself Bride, she is unprepared for her darkness. Bride’s blue-black coloring repels Sweetness, who doesn’t want to hold her or touch her. It makes Sweetness unduly harsh, constantly criticizing and shouting at the young Lula Ann, who only wants her mother’s approval – at any cost.

Booker grew up in a large, loving family. Their most sacred time was the weekend, when the whole family gathered around breakfast table, which was dominated by good food and cheerful conversations. While growing up, Booker hero worshipped his older brother Adam. Then one day, Adam disappeared, and Booker’s life took a U-turn.

When Bride’s and Booker’s paths cross, they are drawn to one another almost instantly. In Booker, Bride finds the acceptance she has always craved. In Bride, Booker finds the peace that has been ever elusive since Adam’s death. But will their childhood scars allow them to find the love and peace they both crave? Or will their demons raise their ugly heads and tear everything asunder?

This slim, spare novel is a profound meditation on the wide-ranging impact that a traumatic childhood can have, not only on the child and he or she grows into adulthood, but even on the people around them. Though Bride has grown into a successful fashion industry mogul and flaunts her blackness as a badge of beauty, her personal life is in shambles. And Booker, despite having access to the best of education and wisdom beyond his years, still drifts through life without aim, carrying the cross of his brother.

While this is undoubtedly a compelling read and unlike Morrison’s earlier books, isn’t very heavy on the vernacular, it does have its flaws. The biggest of which is some potentially interesting underdeveloped characters, like Bride’s sinister so-called best friend Brooklyn. Morrison gives her a very fleeting appearance in the book, and those few short chapters narrated in her voice are not enough to do her character any sort of justice. There’s also a sense that she could have had a more pivotal role in the novel, but she’s just not given the importance she deserves. The same goes for Booker’s aunt Queen, who, with her wisdom and her flaws, could have served as a sharp counterpoint to Sweetness. But their stories are woefully short. Despite this slight failing, God Help The Child is a powerful, engrossing read.

Book review: Seahorse by Janice Pariat

Seahorse is the story of Nem, a student of English literature at Delhi University. He drifts between classes, attends off-campus parties with free-flowing drinks and weed, and writes articles for the college magazine. Until one day he crosses paths with an art historian – an encounter that changes the course of his life, steering him into a world of pleasure and artistic discovery. And then one day, without warning, his mentor disappears.

In the years that follow, Nem settles down in South Delhi, earning a name for himself as an art critic. When he is awarded a fellowship to London, a cryptic note plunges him into a search for the art historian – a search that forces him to revisit the past and separate fact from fiction.

At this point, are you thinking that this novel may not have much to offer? That maybe you’ve read other books with similar story lines and aren’t sure if this has anything that will interest you? That you don’t want to waste more time or money looking for an Indian author you may fall in love with? What can I say to convince you?

Maybe I can tell you that this is a beautiful book…a story told with nuance and restraint. I could tell you that the characters are well-drawn, that the novel flows, nay glides, taking you along with it. I could tell you that the prose is luminous, that it will have you gasping at the sheer poetry on the page. But maybe I should just get out of the way and give you a few little excerpts from the book – something tickle your taste buds, so to speak.

On time:

Time is tricky.

You organize it into days. You break it down to a second, build it up to a century. A millennium. You shift, and stack, hoarding time into holidays and long weekends.

You peel away the calendar pages. Carry it around in smartphones and computers. It has shape. A design. Hands and digits. Glowing figured. And yet, it can’t be tamed.

On prophesies:

Isn’t that what we all search for? A sign, a purported signal of things to come, a pointer, a market of how life would unfurl before is.

Prophesies are the most scientific of supernatural phenomena, for they, like science, invest in a single outcome. The one truth.

And yet. And yet the universe is forever shifting, swelling with infinite possibilities and infinite outcomes. The power of prophesies lie in their self-fulfillment.

On cartography:

Stations, airports, and docks are sites of infinite departure, reservoirs of potential journeys, of possible events, the slippery and fleeting, worlds aborted and almost born.

I looked at the train tracks, joining and parting, reflecting light.

How difficult was it to comprehend this web of connections? This complicated intersection of lines.

At some point we feel compelled to account for every decision, every circumstance that places us in a particular moment.

We paint a surface and leave no free spaces. Horror vacui. The fear of the empty.

In the end, we are all cartographers – looking at a map of our lives. Marking out the uneven course of our existence, hoping there’ll be no disappearances, of ourselves and the people we love.

Have I convinced you yet?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Book review: Recipes For Melissa by Teresa Driscoll

Melissa Dance was eight years old when her mother died. They never got to say goodbye.

Seventeen years later, Melissa is handed a journal. As she smoothes open the pages and begins to read her mother’s words, she is instantly transported back to her childhood.

As I write now, you are eight years old – asleep in the bed next door in princess pyjamas, with a fairy costume discarded on the floor.

Twenty-Five. The age I had you. The age our story began. And the age, I hope, that will see you truly ready for the things that I need to say to you…

IMG_0264.JPGMelissa’s boyfriend has just popped the question, but ever since she lost her mother, she’s afraid – of what, even she isn’t sure. So though she loves Sam, she tells him she isn’t ready to get married. Sam is afraid that Melissa will leave him, Melissa is afraid she will lose Sam. And in the middle of this drama, the lawyers call to hand over her mother’s diary. Her mother. Whom she hasn’t really mourned properly. Who died, suddenly, and left her alone – a bundle of nervous ticks and an over analysing mind. Scared of disappearing in the middle of her story.

But as she starts to read her mother’s words, the photographs and recipes pry her childhood memories lose. Memories she had buried deep within her, so much so that she isn’t sure if they are real, or if she is just imagining the scenes presented by the pictures and the words in the journal. As Melissa slowly makes her way through the book, Driscoll alternates between the past and the present – between Melissa’s mother Eleanor’s last days and Melissa’s current worries and fears.

As Melissa slowly makes her way through the book, the entries start to take a darker turn as Eleanor shares some details about the incidence of cancer in her family and the possibility that she may be genetically predisposed to cancer. As Melissa grapples with the implications of this information, she is

also shocked to learn of her mother’s secrets – secrets that if shared, could change Melissa’s world forever.

Featuring some simple, hearty recipes and some beautiful snippets of advice from a mother to a daughter, Driscoll builds up a beautiful, uplifting novel. She makes you feel Melissa’s pain and fears; her father, Max’s heartbreak and eventual healing; and Eleanor’s desperate attempt to try and find all the pieces of the cancer puzzle in time.

This beautifully crafted novel with its poignant legacy from a mother to her daughter makes for a perfect summer read…but it might just stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NetGalley, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft

far_end_happy_Kathryn_Craft Imagine, if you will, a small farmhouse. A store that sells produce grown at the property. A husband-wife team who run the show. Let’s go over to the house – it’s old. But when you enter, you see that each room is lovingly restored. The husband’s built all the furniture in his workshop. The wife has helped strip and paint the walls. It’s homely, comfortable, and has character. Running through the house are their two sons, Will and Andrew, and their dog Max.

Isn’t that a pretty picture? One of love and joy, togetherness and companionship. But, look a little closer, and you’ll see that the woman, Ronnie, isn’t entirely happy where she is. She has a major in journalism, but gave up her career to marry Jeff. Somewhere along the way, she found herself adrift, alone in the marriage, and questioning her very identity. Look even closer, and you’ll see the darkness of depression lurking there in the background. A darkness that is about to come out front and centre and destroy the very fabric of this family, and of the small town where they live.

Ronnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.

The police manage to get the family out of the farmhouse and away from harm’s way. While they wait for the police to make contact with Jeff,

The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments.

Tensions build in the firehouse, where the family can do nothing but wait to see how the day will play out. It is from this point on that the story starts to move back and forth between the present and the past. Craft does a masterful job of weaving the back story with events as they are unfolding in the present, so you never feel like you’re being jerked around between the past and the present. The narrative is compelling enough to grip you around the heart, even though you know how the story will end. Given that it is based on a real event from the author’s life, the insight and raw emotion she brings to the story is palpable on every page.

Craft has woven together a wonderful story, one that is likely to linger with you long after you turn the last page. Highly recommended!

Three books, three genres, three great reads

Les Miserables manga book coverLes Miserables – Manga classic

Gorgeous artwork for a classic story adapted into a Manga edition – what more could you ask for? If you’ve never read Les Miserables, or even if you have, you’ll love this book!

Beautiful, expressive character drawings, incredibly detailed scenery, and a true love for the original classic shine through on every page. Of course, not every facet of the classic could be explored in the Manga version, but if you’ve never read the original, chances are, after reading this, you’d want to run out and get your hands on Victor Hugo’s original classic. That, to my mind, is the biggest victory of this beautiful book.

Highly recommended!

Vanessa and Her Sister Priya ParmarVanessa & Her Sister – Priya Parmar

London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer. Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.

The story unfolds through Vanessa’s diary entries, interspersed with postcards between Lytton and Leonard, painting a picture of a young Vanessa as she breaks away from stiff formality, embracing a bohemian, non-conformist way of living and entertaining. While she worries about not knowing how many people to prepare sandwiches for and experiencing a slight pang at breaking away from tradition, Virginia seems mostly caught up in her own madness, craving everyone’s attention and going to any lengths to get it.

But since the entire story is told from Vanessa’s point of view, none of the other characters are substantial enough – we see them primarily through her lens. Nor is her “diary” a particularly interesting read. Sure, there are times when she philosophizes a bit, or delves deeper into a problem, but it’s more like reading a chronicle of her daily activities – Julian (her son) was sick; she had to pack up her house and manage the finances even while traveling.

As individual vignettes, there is a lot of interesting detail about life in the early 1900s in London. But as an overall novel, it leaves something to be desired.

When Mystical Creatures Attack! By Kathleen Founds

When Mystical Creatures Attack! Kathleen FoundsThe book opens with essays from Ms. Laura Freedman’s high school English class. They’ve been asked to writes essays about how mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. And the responses – random, occasionally vague, unique, mysterious, eccentric, magical – set the tone for the rest of the book.

Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.

The lives of the main cast of characters – Janice, Cody, Ms. Freedman – are revealed through class essays, journal prompts, letters, emails, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, television transcripts and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook.

It’s wholly original and utterly delightful. It has its laugh-out-loud moments and its serious ones; some random ramblings and some crazy teenage hormones. It’s deep and philosophical, profound, strangely moving, and irreverent all at once. Overall, it’s absolutely brilliant!

Highly, highly recommended!