Book review: Five Roses by Alice Zorn

A young, naive girl with no social graces; an aging hippie whose baby daughter was kidnapped; a hospital operator whose sister committed suicide; a young, talented pastry chef who hides her talent behind the counter of a patisserie. All linked, somehow – as friends, neighbors, blood relations.

The novel unfolds slowly, and as each character’s tale unspools, you get glimpses of their connection. Not everything is spelled out in black and white, and that’s a good thing. A lot is left to the imagination, which is at should be. And as the story slowly progresses, you find yourself more and more invested in the lives of these ladies.

The novel is set in the 1980s, in the backdrop of Montreal’s historic Pointe St-Charles, a rundown neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification. Against a backdrop of abandonment and loss, Zorn deftly interweaves the rich yet fragile lives of three very different people into a story of strength and friendship.

The characters are beautifully rendered, the plotting is excellent, and the story flows along beautifully, keeping you fully gripped despite its slow pace.

I hadn’t heard of Alice Zorn before I read this book, but now I will definitely look out for her work. Highly recommended!

Think you might like the book? Buy it from Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NetGalley, but the review and opinions are mine.
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Book Review: Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Have you ever heard of supernovas? They shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly, a short burst of extraordinary energy. I like to think you and Ben were like that . . . in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime.”

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins ReidBen and Elsie are your average 20-somethings. He’s a graphic designer, she’s a librarian. They meet at a pizza takeout and fall in love. The chemistry between them is instant and electric – so much so that Ben can’t even wait 24 hours before asking to see Elsie again. Within weeks, they’re crazily in love. Within 6 months, they are married. And nine days later, Ben dies in an accident. Leaving Elsie to face Susan, a mother-in-law she has never met and who knows nothing at all about Elsie.

As Susan grapples with the fact that her son died without even telling her that he was getting married, Elsie is plagued by the very thought of having to live a life without Ben. She also worries that after just nine days of being married, and with her marriage certificate still to come, maybe people will think that she has no right to grieve…that she is a fake…that she hardly even knew him…

Reid alternates between Ben and Elsie’s love story and Elsie and Susan’s grieving process, and this works really well because it ensures that the book is neither sugary sweet nor too bitter a pill to swallow. If you look at the two stories as distinct and separate, the love story will leave you feeling a little giddy and misty-eyed, and sighing wistfully at the perfect love that Ben and Elsie have found. The second part, which deals with grieving and healing, is a compassionate and wise portrayal of the stages of grief, and of how Elsie and Susan, as the two most important women in Ben’s life, can find healing and closure by supporting one another.

This is an eminently beautiful and believable story – yes, even the love-at-first sight bit (what, you don’t believe in soul mates?) and the part about Ben not telling Susan about Elsie. You will fall in love with these characters and you will find yourself wishing that a love like that could have lasted forever.

Poignant, heart warming, funny and wise – Forever, Interrupted is the one of the books that you really have to read!

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.