Category Archives: Atlantic Books

Read 8 of 2023. Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova


I was really looking forward to reading this one, and I absolutely enjoyed it as well. Vignettes of a time gone by, of a place you don’t know, though it could be any place at all in the world, since it is set in a dilapidated cinema hall – a recollection of how it used to be – and how it also is in some parts of the world, where the multiplex culture hasn’t seeped in.

However, having said this, “Children of Paradise” is for me about life and fiction merging beautifully, through a medium we all can relate to – that of illusions, of what we see on the screen, of how that becomes life for those couple of hours, and we get a chance to escape all drudgery, till we realize that the lives on-screen are also pretty much the same.

“Children of Paradise” is an homage to cinema, to the yesteryears perhaps, and also to the people who live on the margins – on the sidelines, watching it all go by, as though their lives are cinematic too – almost fictional, and sometimes way too real. The chapters started with movies that I guess Grudova has loved over time, or as a reference to the protagonist, or in some way connected to the plot, which I could not fathom.

Having said all of this, “Children of Paradise” is simply about the people who inhabit the space “Paradise Cinema” – the ones who were banished to Earth, each searching for their own share of paradise – each of them not wanting to let go, each trying so hard to form their own realities, in a world of smoke and screen.

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

The Last House Guest

Title: The Last House Guest
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1786492913
Imprint: Corvus
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I’d forgotten how much fun it is to read a thriller. I was too caught up reading literary fiction, till I picked up this thriller I had requested from Atlantic Books UK, and couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. That’s the true worth of a great thriller, I guess. You have to read it in one-sitting. The Last Guest House has all the tropes of a good thriller – environment, the right kind of pace, characters that are being looked on with suspicion, police that are clueless and earnest at the same time, and a local detective who seems to know it all.

The Last House Guest is about a wealthy woman named Sadie who dies unexpectedly on a holiday. The destination: Littleport, Maine – a vacation spot for the wealthy, and the people in the town who take care of them. Friendship strikes between a visitor and a local – Sadie Loman and Avery Greer. A solid friendship – that comes to an abrupt end when Sadie is found dead, and well of course the one under big-time suspicion is Avery.

You might think you know how this will pan out (as did I) but you are wrong (as was I). The thriller elements of The Last House Guest , like I said are just about right – including the timeline jump – past to present which works all the time for me as a reader. The twists and turns seemed generic sometimes, but I am willing to let go of that because the story reads in a very straightforward manner and that helps. The book does pack in the right amount of punch (apologies for using this word), just that sometimes you also wish that there was more of the characters’ backstory and motivations. All in all, a great read – a thriller I enjoyed after a long time.

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang Title: Home Remedies
Author: Xuan Juliana Wang
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1786497413
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

It is so tricky to start reading a short story collection. You think: Will I like all the stories? Will I like some stories at least? Will it be the same as reading a novel? What if I want some stories to last longer? That will not happen. Should I then read a short story collection at all? There will always be such thoughts, doubts, and apprehensions one might have before starting a short story collection and yet when you do and the reading is so rewarding, you want everyone else to read the book as well. And this is why I am recommending “Home Remedies” by Xuan Juliana Wang.

And yes, the stories might seem familiar, but trust me they are not. The twelve stories span across China and America, and speak of choices: of immigration, love, sex, and the family structure. The stories challenge the reader – you think hooting for one character and immediately the narrative changes. It also makes you see perspectives – one cannot take sides.

An immigrant family raising its first Americans to a father-daughter relationship involving logic, to a story about a woman becoming a fashion icon after taking a dead girl’s clothes, Wang’s stories are of family, belonging, and displacement. Mostly also unclassifiable, these stories are also quite dream-like. The characters with their unusual sex lives and technology that stunned me are thrown into an abyss, which only Wang knows the exit of. The writing looms large of Chinese cultural undertones, while the American way of life runs in parallel.

Home Remedies is built out of small observations and details. The stories are rendered perfectly, well-done and extremely rewarding. The stories do not have an end in themselves and that works – the unknowable, the speculation, and the way she is almost playing with the readers’ expectations. Home Remedies is a short read, with only twelve stories, and is full of heart and brilliant storytelling.



Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

Title: This Beautiful Life
Author: Helen Schulman
Publisher: Atlantic Books, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0857896230
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Sometimes it becomes very difficult to relate to a novel and at others it is very easy. Not because you have experienced what the author is trying to say, but maybe because you feel it. There is a connect which is rare between a reader and a writer and when that is established, and then it is for life. The same happened to me while reading, “This Beautiful Life” by Helen Schulman.

“This Beautiful Life” is about a family that is at the center of a situation because of the son being involved in a sex scandal. The son in question is nothing but a teenager. Richard and Liz have the perfect life. They have recently moved to Manhattan with their two kids, the fifteen-year old Jake and their adopted daughter Coco, who is six years of age. They are living the American dream. Everything is going right for them. They are climbing the social ladder. They have it all – the money, the status and the friends in the right places. Till a thirteen-year old girl sends a pornographic film of hers to Jake and he forwards it to his friends, till it reaches more teenagers, which then explodes to a scandal. This is the plot of the book.

The book is in tune with the age that we are living in today. Internet sex scandals are dime a dozen and the impact they have is humongous. What I loved about the book was how Schulman has shown each member of the family dealing with the crisis at hand and what it takes to hold on together as a family in times such as these. At the same time, I liked how there is this balance of ideas running across the book – the moral dilemma of what was done and its guilt to the intent behind the action.

Helen Schulman’s writing keeps the reader on the edge – not the sort that is present in thrillers, but the kind that makes you wonder about life and what can happen in an instant. This is clearly the age of technology and what Schulman does is make us realize that what technology can also do at times – it can take a life apart and make a family take different stands – maybe sometimes against each other.

“This Beautiful Life” shatters myths about the easy and comfortable life and makes us see how it can all fall apart. The writing is crisp and to the point. It is descriptive and much needed for a book of this caliber. I would recommend this one a lot in the coming days to a lot of people.

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Book Review: Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Title: Snowdrops
Author: A.D. Miller
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Genre: Literary Fiction, Thriller
ISBN: 978-1848874541
Pages: 273 pages
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5/5

The first novel by the author of “The Earl of Petticoat Lane”, an engaging family history set in London’s East End, was always going to be good. But “Snowdrops” is astonishingly good. Think Isaac Bashevis Singer crossed with Dashiell Hammett and just a hint of Dostoievsky, all translated into the idiom of a modern Moscow marinated in sex and corruption. It is atmospheric; it is painful; but it is also, surprisingly often, extremely funny.

The central figure is an English lawyer in his 30s–not really a star, more a wannabe who finds himself with a shot at the big time. He is engaged in a massive oil deal of some murkiness. He falls heavily for a seductive Russian girl he meets, apparently by chance, in the Metro. In a third plot line, a neighbour tries to get him to look into the disappearance of a friend. The strands twist together over the course of a long, cold, vodka-soaked Moscow winter, revealing their true pattern as the spring thaw reveals the frozen corpses which give the book its title.

Two things in particular make “Snowdrops” an addictive pleasure to read. One is its precise and evocative description of physical surroundings, from the psychedelic Moscow nightlife to the cold purity of the dacha and the thawing of Moscow’s river, “a vast snake sloughing off its skin”. The other is a keen ear for speech. “Respected Nikolai Ivanovich,” says his courtly old neighbour as Nicholas edges away with platitudes from undertaking a potentially disturbing assignment, “only an idiot smiles all the time.”

The story is written as a flashback, a letter from Nicholas, now back in London, to his fiancee there–a pale reflection of Masha, it would seem–clearing the decks before they marry. How and why he chooses to close his eyes to what is going on around him, how he loses his moral bearings, is the central question. We the readers know there is skulduggery afoot: signposts begin to cluster as the pages turn. Unease niggles increasingly at Nicholas, but he pushes it away rather than change direction. Is it passion for Masha? Love of life in the Moscow expat fast lane? Can he simply, ultimately not be bothered to make the effort to find stuff out?

Miller’s Moscow is a place where money can buy the most outlandish forms of fun, sex, and pleasure (all neatly detailed in Nick’s narrative); it’s an environment where some people become enmeshed in the atmosphere of corruption that permeates the place, and it’s a place where the sheer lack of morality is a normal way of life; not a place for the faint of heart. As one of Nick’s friends puts it:

“Russia…is like Lariam. You know, that malaria medicine that can make you have wild dreams and jump out of the window. You shouldn’t do it if you’re the kind of the person who gets anxious or guilty, Nick. You shouldn’t do Russia. Because you’ll crack.”

Nick’s infatuations take him over to the point where he doesn’t see what’s so obvious to the reader and to his well-meaning friends; his lack of common sense and moral bearing seems to have been absorbed through some sort of weird osmosis from the wider environment in which he lives.

Snowdrops is one of those books where the reader knows exactly what’s going on, or if not exactly, has a sort of premonition that there are bad things brewing. What I liked about this novel is that the author managed to set up the situation by dropping hints here and there that all is not what it seems, so that the reader has the anticipation of watching things unravel as the story progresses. The story is dark and often claustrophobic — there were times when I couldn’t wait to put the book down and take a breath of fresh air.

On the other hand, it’s hard to find any respect for Nicholas, and after finishing it, I remember thinking something along the lines of “that’s what happens when you think with the brain in your pants rather than the one in your head.” To be honest, though, I know quite a few people who’ve entered into some sort of self-deception that rules their lives for a time, sending their respective moral compasses or just plain sense spinning out of control for whatever reason, so I can sort of understand Nick in that light. It doesn’t mean I like him. I do have to wonder if this is Miller’s little “gotcha” to his readers.

What I didn’t find at all plausible was the letter format — way too much dialogue for a letter; way too much descriptive language. This novel would have worked much better without the author thinking he needed to resort to this literary device. And the character of “The Cossack” was a bit too over the top to be real, but then again, Miller’s lived and worked in Russia so maybe he knows someone like that guy. After reading this book, nothing would surprise me.

Overall, it’s a good read; it’s a psychological study as well as a look at a city that went a bit crazy after the Wall came down and communism went away, taking with it the safety net for some and leaving a seemingly lawless society in its wake. The plot is a bit obvious, but you will definitely find yourself turning pages to see what happens.

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Snowdrops: A Novel