Category Archives: 100 Must-Read Debuts

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine by Christine Mangan
Title: Tangerine
Author: Christine Mangan
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062686664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Suspense
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I am a sucker for literature in an exotic setting. Also, when it is a thriller that is set in a location so removed. That was the case with “Tangerine”. It is racy, sparse and written the way a noir novel should be – atmospheric, dark and gritty to the bone. Having said that, there are also portions in the book that seem to drag and not go anywhere, but the prose is just as brilliant.

“Tangerine” is a story about Alice Shipley, who has moved to Tangier with her new husband John. Enter, her once upon a time close friend and roommate Lucy Mason who she least expected to see there, given the circumstances in which the fallout occurred. Things but of course go haywire with Lucy’s presence. She is as usual controlling. Alice sees herself dependent on her a lot more. One fine day John suddenly disappears and Alice finds herself questioning everything and everyone around her.

This is the plot of the book. Sure there is more, but I am not going to give any spoilers. The writing has its moments of brilliance and then sometimes you think it isn’t going anywhere, but it redeems itself right back. Mangan creates and builds on an entirely new Tangier in tandem with where the story is set. It is that of the mind – place is again of great importance in Alice’s mind and even Lucy for that matter, which shines through the book.

“Tangirine” when I started reading it felt like just another book that I had read in the past. Thakfully, it wasn’t that. You need to give it a chance past fifty pages for sure for the book to grow on you. It is the kind of book that builds on everything rather slowly, but once it does, it sure does make an impression and stays.

 

 

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A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place For Us Title: A Place For Us
Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Publisher: SJP for Hogarth
ISBN: 978-1524763558
Genre: Literary Fiction, Family Life
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So, here it is. I read this book almost in one sitting. That’s right! There was something about it that compelled me to and it isn’t that I didn’t savour the book because I read it in one sitting. It is the kind of book that moved fast and yet made you think so much about what was going on.

“A Place For Us” is about a family trying to make sense of what is and is not in a different land. It is an Indian-Muslim family who has come to America and have made it home. Rafiq and Layla are parents of Hadia, Huda and Amar. The story opens with Hadia’s wedding, where Amar appears after many years of being estranged with his father. What happened and what will happen next makes the story what it is.

This is of course just the plot very loosely put as I do not want to give away anything, but “A Place for Us” is so much more than family drama or a family saga, so to speak. Mirza going back and forth into the novel (the timelines might get confusing, so pay attention when you are reading), speaks of identity, immigrants, nationality, what it means to be a Muslim woman in a first-world country, and a husband, father and son. At times I felt the story wasn’t going anywhere but when it did, it knocked my socks off!

The sections that describe the siblings’ relationships were my favourite. I could relate to them the most. Hadia’s love and resentment toward Amar (for being the coddled child by their mother), Huda’s indifference toward family dynamics and yet somewhere the need to be accepted by Hadia and Amar and Amar’s sense of loss (terrifying by the way).

“A Place for Us” is a book that is so all encompassing that you might even feel that more was needed when you reach the end . It took eight years for Fatima Farheen Mirza to write this book and you can understand why only when you read it. The landscape of emotions and the way the characters shift territory when it comes to matters of the heart is beautifully told through moving prose. Mirza in a very subtle manner gets into the skin of her characters, exposing their wounds, scars, warts and all. No one is perfect and no one is expected to be. I was in parts greatly bothered by Rafiq, but that also somehow found its way to redemption in the last one-third part of the book.

“A Place for Us” rightly so is a debut you should not miss out on. It will be difficult to get into it initially but I recommend you persist, because it will be worth it. A debut that doesn’t read like a debut at all. A book that is more than what meets the eye. Do read it, whenever you can.

 

 

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Self-Portrait with Boy Title: Self-Portrait with Boy
Author: Rachel Lyon
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1501169588
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

2018 is already turning out to be an exciting year for books. I say this because all the books I’ve read so far, the ones published this year, have been superb reads. And “Self-Portrait with Boy” is the latest addition to that list.

Lu Rile is a young photographer struggling to make ends meet. She has an aging father. She has no permanent house. And then one fine day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures on film a boy (Max) falling past her window to his death. This picture turns out to be perfect – the best that she has done. This picture could change her life for the better. At the same time, the boy was her neighbor’s son and soon enough Lu forms a bond with Kate like no other. The question then is: Will Lu use the picture to advance her career or not? For that, you would just have to read the book.

I loved the premise of “Self-Portrait with Boy”. It is intense, profound and heartbreaking. While it is one of those conundrum plots, it is also about empathy, loneliness in the city and the relationship we share with death and redemption. You know at one point, the plot may also not seem original to most, but what does stand out for sure is Lyon’s writing.

Lyon is no-holds-barred with this novel. She is all guns blazing. I love the setting of the book – the ​early 90s in Brooklyn. The world is on the ​ significant brink of change and amidst all of that, anything can happen and it does. Lu and Kate aren’t easy characters to deal with. The other residents of the building are beautifully etched.

There are so many questions that need to be answered while reading the book and there comes a point when you are strangely okay as a reader at those not being answered. It has a lot to do with Lyon not finding the need to those being addressed and making you comfortable as a reader, while turning the pages. Part-mystery, most parts literary, “Self-Portrait with Boy” is a book with so much empathy and loneliness of the human heart, that you will find yourself weeping and stunned by the prose.

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.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby Title: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby
Author: Cherise Wolas
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 9781250166586
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

All Joan Ashby has ever wanted, since she was thirteen in fact, was to focus on her writing, write books and live independently without the care or concern of a husband or children. At the height of her fame and just when she is working on her full-length novel (up until now she has only written short stories), she meets Martin and falls in love with him. They seem to believe in the same things – kids are off the table and that their careers will always be placed above everything else. But of course, things aren’t what they seem. They get married and Joan accidentally becomes pregnant.

Martin then is ecstatic and Joan can sense the betrayal. The shift that takes place because of her pregnancy and how she is just there to raise a family and has to wait for years to work on her novel and what happens when she finally manages to finish the book is the plot of this book, “The Resurrection of Joan Ashby” by Cherise Wolas. It is about the small and the big betrayals of life, of hope, dreams, despair and how the choices you make end up impacting you for the rest of your life.

Let me just go on record and say this: I loved this book. I absolutely loved it. I loved the idea of a book within a book but more than anything else I loved Joan. Cherise Wolas has created a character that will be etched in people’s minds (if they read this book) for a long time. She is almost the new classic heroine who just wants to reclaim her life, one way or the other. The plot may seem pedestrian but it isn’t. Trust me, there is more to it than meets the eye.

The writing is super taut and yet with over 500 pages, it doesn’t seem too long at all. There is so much going on in the book that all I wanted to do was literally gulp all of it and could not stop wanting more. The heroine is just that – a heroine who wants to change her life – Joan wants that resurrection and goes after it at any cost, even if secrets start tumbling out of the closet. Is it a feminist novel? Sure, is and I am glad that it is to a very large extent. Wolas’s prowess is just showing and I hope her next one is out soon enough.