Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Wife by Alafair Burke

the-wife-burke Title: The Wife
Author: Alafair Burke
Publisher:
IBN: 978-0571328185
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“The Wife” by Alafair Burke is perhaps one of the best thrillers I’ve read this year. I say this right at the beginning, because I loved it. There is no unreliable narrator concept (I don’t like those by the way). A plot that is so racy that you cannot stop to even take a washroom break. The story might seem quite ordinary and plaid on the surface, but Burke sure knows how to turn the story on its head for the reader and leave us guessing more and wanting to know more. Also, what I loved the most about “The Wife” is that it doesn’t try to fit too many plotlines in one book. It follows one trajectory and sticks to it.

Angela meets Jason Powell, while catering a function in the Hamptons and does not make much of their romance. Jason is a brilliant economic professor at NYU. The marriage means a new beginning for Angela, to put her past behind and she moves with her son and Jason to Manhattan in search of a new start. Six years pass and something related to Jason comes up which Angela cannot make sense of and doubts every single moment of her marriage. Things change suddenly. Life is never the same.

Burke doesn’t waste time at all in developing characters, places or time lines given the situations that surround Angela, since she is the titular character. I loved the character of Angela and how she is reduced to being a wife from being such a success at her work. This was something I could not ignore. Having said that, Burke doesn’t let go of your concentration for one single moment and that too me for a thriller writer (or so it seems) is a feat in itself.

Read, “The Wife”. You will not want to touch another book as you read it.

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists Title: The Immortalists
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0735213180
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

What would you do if you knew the day of your death? How would you live your life differently, or would you? What do you think it would be like for you? Also, what would it be if each of your siblings also knew the day of their death? Would your relationships be any different? How would life then play out? These questions and more haunted me as I was reading, “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin.

“The Immortalists” might seem like that one book which you read a while ago but it isn’t. There is so much and more to the book that you cannot compare it with anything you’ve read before, so I suggest you don’t even try and read it with an open-mind at the very best.

The story starts off in New York in 1969, when we meet the Gold children – Varya 13, Daniel 11, Klara 9 and Simon who is 7 years old. They belong to a religious Jewish family and are close to their parents. A psychic is heard of by one of the children – someone who has set camp nearby and four of them head out to meet her, who is known to predict the date of someone’s death. She individually tells them each the day they will die. This is where the story begins.

The novel is divided into four sections, each for one child, and we traverse through their lives, trying to understand what happens to each of them as they live and whether or not the prediction comes true.

I am not going to give away any spoilers here but all I can say is that this book has the power to leave you stunned and asking for more answers. Who was the psychic? What happens? What does not happen and why? All of this makes you turn the pages anyway but Benjamin’s writing does not seem new. She doesn’t write like a debut novelist. The craft is so precise – every scene comes alive; every emotion wrenches you and you can’t help but mull over it.

The dynamics of the siblings with each other and their mother is another thing that will make you relate to the book to a very large extent. Also, what they choose to share with each other and don’t forms such a major part of the book. What I also loved was the role time plays this book – with it hanging so severely on their heads and yet it is in a way so subtle – moving at its own pace and making the siblings realize the value or life or not.

“The Immortalists” is the kind of book which will have you thinking about life, more and everything in between. This book is hard to put down once you start it. Benjamin will literally make you cry (be prepared for it) and smile almost in the same page. It is a book which truly deserves all accolades and more this year. Read it. You will not be disappointed.

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe

Reckless Daughter Title: Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
Author: David Yaffe
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-0374248130
Genre: NonFiction, Biography
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating:

It was the forty-fifth episode of Ally McBeal. Ally is questioning true love and in the background a cover of “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell starts playing. Sung by Vonda Shepard I think. This was the first time I heard the song and fell in love with the words. I was too young but I was growing-up gay (only known to me then) and somehow this song meant something. Something so much more. A year or two passed and then I realized that the original singer was Joni Mitchell. I fell in love with her, with her voice and with the way she is. The next time I heard a song of hers was “The Circle Game” and this time again it was through pop-culture, a movie called, “Married to It”. I have never looked back on not being her fan since then.

The reason I say this is anything to do with Joni Mitchell and I am putty. I am a softball, a mush-man who can cry at the drop of a hat. And only because she is a genius (at least to me she is). So, when a biography of hers released last year, I just knew I had to read it and when I did, I was astounded. Yaffe’s style is not only readable but also straightforward and he presents anecdotes with such ease and comfort, that you are almost transported to living Mitchell’s life with her.

He covers both her personal and professional life in equal measure, never favouring one over the other. This was the first time I was reading a book by him, but I am glad I did as this will not be the last. There is no excessive psychoanalysis of her life. There are facts and then there are her songs and music. To me her lyrics are of utmost beauty and Yaffe covers almost each song with ease and in detail (which is most needed). Yaffe also touches on her relationships and this connects very well with the person she is and how solitude was best suited for someone like her.

“Reckless Daughter” is a brilliant portrait of a legend when it comes to music and songs and singing. This book is almost a dedication to music and its forms, and no one better to represent it than Mitchell, in my opinion. Even if you haven’t heard her or know anything of her, I would recommend you go and read this book. It will make you listen to her and that will change your life.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishree Title: Wishtree
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250043221
Genre: Children’s Fiction, Nature, Tolerance
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You need to read books for children. I think that because sometimes profundity and really how to live life is simply told in all the chaos of adult literature, only in children’s books. Whether it is, “The Giving Tree” or it is lessons learned from, “Charlotte’s Web”, books written for children are in fact meant for adults, because we need to learn how to be empathetic and compassionate, so we can pass it to kids. “Wishtree” is the third book I read by Katherine Applegate and as usual I finished it with a lump in my throat and a smile on my face.

The book is narrated by Red – a wise old tree. He is obviously cool, steady, and calm. He is a couple of hundred years old and is home to many birds and animals, all of whom communicate. Applegate’s writing then just doesn’t become about the Wishtree Red, but about the entire neighbourhood, people related to the tree, the ones who want to cut it down (not a spoiler really) and the ones who want to save it. At the heart of the book though, is a story of racism, acceptance and finding one’s roots and calling it home.

I am not going to speak about the plot all that much but I will tell you that sometimes, simple books such as these end up being so layered and impactful that you are stunned by its seemingly simplicity. “Wishtree” simply put is a story of a Red Oak Wishtree who watches over the neighbourhood and thinks he has seen it all, till a new family moves in and not everyone is welcoming to them.

Gift this book to children. Make them understand the need for empathy and kindness, needed more than ever in the world we live. Let them know that you care that they care. Applegate’s books are all about empathy and work beautifully. Read it.

You can buy the book here

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Title: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
Author: Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House
ISBN: 978-1911215721
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The year is 1785 and merchant Jonah Hancock has to cope with the tragic news that one of his captains has sold his ship in exchange for a mermaid. Sounds intriguing, isn’t it? I was sold at this premise. But wait a minute. There is more to this story which is more fascinating to me. The side story of Angelica Neal that quickly comes to fore. Neal is London’s most beautiful courtesan who wants to marry rich and secure a future for herself. And who better than Mr. Hancock who has a mermaid to be put on display and make easy money? And all of this is possible through Mrs. Chappell’s brothel (there is more to what meets the eye really) and given she has a soft spot (or so it seems) for Angelica.

Phew! That is not it by the way. There is a lot more going on in the book and let me tell you, that despite its size (500 pages), this is one racy romp of a read. There is a lot of decadence in this book (which I love by the way), there is misery, power, envy and fantasy. If not for the mermaid angle, I would classify this book purely as historic fiction, but let the two merge and work its magic on the reader. Also, might I add the magic of London (and its claustrophobia, its stench, lecherous men and grotesque women) is brought out beautifully by Gowar.

Angelica Neal’s character is so strong that she overpowers everyone else (in some bits and parts) and in a very good way because you’d want her to appear more as the book progresses. There is also a surprise in the form of Polly but I won’t ruin it for you by talking about her. You might want to discover her yourself.

“The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is set in a vivid and uproarious time. It is the kind of book that must be read again and more than anything for its female characters that stand out and well-deservedly at that. Mrs. Chappell, Angelica and Polly (there is also Mr. Hancock’s niece who makes a brief appearance) are the heroes of this book in all honesty. This is the kind of book that will keep you up all night and you wouldn’t want it any other way. “The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is all rolled into one – a comfort read (yes, at most times) and a thriller, literary fiction with the much-needed historic setting.