Category Archives: Harper Paperback

A Tale of Things Timeless by Rizio Yohannan Raj

A Tale of Things Timeless Title: A Tale of Things Timeless
Author: Rizio Yohannan Raj
Translator: Supriya M. Nair
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 9789350293416
Genre: Indian Literature
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Some books just make your dreams more vivid. They make you want to fly into nothingness and perhaps stay there. Yes, it is true. Some books have that effect on you. And this is what happened to me when I finished reading, “A Tale of Things Timeless” by Rizio Yohannan Raj.

“A Tale of Things Timeless” will perhaps move you in no other way some books have. It is a story which is very different and yet keeps you hooked throughout, besides being literary to the core. The book is about two people – one dead and one alive and how their lives converge.

Avinash Suvarna – a small-time writer leaves a suicide note – a one-line note at that, and that is seen by Laya Thomas. She is intrigued. She wants to know more about this stranger’s life and this leads her to exploring herself and parts of her life, she thought were buried somewhere. What I love about such plots is that there is so much more to the book.

The book is not easy to read. I had a tough time getting into the plot and the timelines. They were everywhere and spread out so thick that the reader is just lost at times. Rizio knows what she has written. Surpiya, as the translator does a great job of bringing that to fore with an excellent translation. The read though strenuous is a read which should not be missed at all. I mean, Indian literature needs as many readers as it can get.

“A Tale of Things Timeless” is an ode to everything wrong and right with the world and the changes one goes through. It is about experiencing life through death and to such a large extent, it is just about everyday living. The pain, the anguish and the moments of happiness that just shine, if you are lucky.

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Book Review: Long Past Stopping: A Memoir by Oran Canfield

Title: Long Past Stopping: A Memoir
Author: Oran Canfield
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0061450761
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 321
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Oran Canfield’s memoir is part Running With Scissors, part Mommie Dearest. It’s the antithesis of the trite feel good books by his father, Jack Canfield. The Chicken Soup books are supposed to make you feel good, but lack any real substance. Long Past Stopping, on the other hand, makes you feel terrible, but is filled with dense narrative.

Instead of a typically standard timeline, Canfield takes two tracks, simultaneously, and weaves one around the other. In the first, we witness a child slowly becoming a man. His strange journey through oddball alternative schools, summer camps and traveling circuses read like a fantasy gone wrong. It’s Fellini-as-life but the film won’t end. This serves as his colorful background to the second, equally important but certainly less light-hearted track.

The second reveals the man as he goes through an endless and depressing cycle of addiction/rehab/addiction. Creating his book without the first track would be wrist-slitting, leaving readers hopeless. Canfield is just that deeply addicted to nearly every thing he gets his hands on. He crushes our hopes for him ad nauseum. The chapters dealing with his unending, bottomless drug sprees are highly frustrating to read. But the fact that I had to continue on proved he trapped me. I liked him in spite of himself. When a writer can do that, it says something. And the device of two tracks serves as a balance rather than an annoyance.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about initially was the way the chapters were arranged. Each chapter alternates between adulthood and childhood. Initially I found this distracting and disruptive to the pacing of the book, but as I continued to read I found that he intentionally does this to interweave certain childhood experiences with more recent ones. He’ll plant seeds for you in stories of his childhood that you pick up on and become more relevant in a situation he has in his twenties. I later discovered that it makes the pacing genius, as he ends each chapter with a teeth grinding nail-biter that you are forced to wait for two chapters to find out the outcome.

The writing is strong in this very personal saga. You get a realistic, first-hand look at what life is like for someone hopelessly addicted to heroin. It’s not romantic or pretty and it’s heartbreaking. Canfield writes it in a way that keeps our interest levels high, even though the subject matter is downright horrible. Like the video from a crime scene security cam, each chapter is written in gritty detail and we can’t look away. A subtle sense of humor is sporadically injected to help give us a bit of relief. Even his short chapter descriptions are a sign that this is a man who sees the funny side of the crappiest existence possible during his horse latitudes.

While the book does cover a lot of bizarre and painful moments in Oran’s life, it is written well and it is written with an amazing amount of humor. I definitely laughed out loud as many times as I cried. Oran is a very good writer. He has a gift with words. He has definitely found his voice. He has a real talent for writing in a way that keeps you turning the pages–wanting to know what happens next.

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Book Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

Title: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Author: Nina Sankovitch
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0061999840
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256 pages
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I would never be able to forget the day I lost my father. He died in his sleep, so I was thankful for that. That he did not feel pain, though I would never know. And after he died, I felt something snap in me. The loss of a parent is irreplaceable. No one can take the space. No one can fill the void. Not the surviving parent, even. It is something you need to deal with. Something you need to grieve about for the rest of your life and that doesn’t change anything. You know that he will not return. To fill the void, I read. I read and I read and I read. I ordered books, I bought, I borrowed and I read, till the gaping hole had narrowed a little.

The reason I am mentioning this on my review is as I am reviewing a book called “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: A Year of Magical Reading” by Nina Sankovitch. I picked up this book as it came heavily recommended through various online book clubs and mine as well. I settled in bed with the quilt draped over me and started reading.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, besides being a love letter to Books and Reading, is a personal account of the authors’ attempt to make sense of why she was alive and why she lost her sister to Cancer. She chose to find answers in books, in reading one book a day for 365 days and posting a review every single day. The book travels back and forth in time – full of memories – from Nina’s childhood to her teenage and adult years and to the bond she shared with her sisters. And with each memory and each time the healing is taking place, there is a book that Nina is reading – one every day. With four children and a life that was constantly lived amidst chaos and tasks, Nina worked for a year – a work of a different nature – she read.

When she began what she dubbed “The 365 Project” and launched its corresponding website (readallday.org), Sankovitch chose to read books that were an inch in width, assuring her that she would be reading no more than 250-300 pages total and could finish it in just a matter of a few hours (she can read 70 pages per hour), leaving her plenty of time to write a review of what she’d just read and attend to other matters (housework, children, etc.). She read many places but one of her favorite spots was an old chair in her living room that had been reupholstered over the years with a dark purple fabric, a chair that always carried the faint smell of cat urine from a beloved pet having repeatedly marked it as its own in years past.

Coincidentally, “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” is a pat 222 pages, making it easy for someone who can match Sankovitch’s reading velocity to finish it in just over three hours’ time. Though I don’t read as expeditiously as she does, I was enraptured by her journey and found myself glued to her memoir all throughout the day, finishing it in two days time between meeting the demands of two small children and a house in constant need of cleaning. My “purple chair” ended up being my bed, my couch, a sofa at the library, and a park bench.

I was amazed at how deep in the heart the book reaches to one who is hurting. There are good, solid examples of ways to handle your grief, not be crushed forever by it. I am still thinking about the idea of actively remembering and keeping memories close at heart because allowing those memories to take you back also allows you to move forward. I liked using quotes from books as inspiration – “always within never” from “Elegance of the Hedgehog” is one of my favorites. “The weird world rolls on” is another. My favorite chapter includes author Bernhard Schlink’s quote, “I realized it was my decision whether I would interpret the ending as unjust and unsatisfactory and suffer because of it or decided that this, and only this, was the fitting ending.” The chapter includes mesmerizing stuff about mysteries, questions, answers, endings and some great things to think about (you can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control your response).

Sankovitch provides her reading list in its entirety in the back of her book (all 365 of them!), putting into action her stance on the importance of sharing books with others. She says: “My book-a-day project affected not only my life but those of everyone with whom I shared my reading. I spread the gratification of reading through discussing books, much as authors create bliss by writing them. What a gift, to share the joy and the comfort and the wisdom! Everything I shared, I found first through the simple act of sitting down in my purple chair and reading a book.” (pg. 211) As a result, I have now added several titles to my “to be read” list (which grows larger by the day – ack!) due to the loving and often moving explications she gives on the stories’ central themes (“The Assault” by Harry Mulisch is an example that immediately comes to mind).

Bottom line: Poignant and meditative, “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” is an exquisite homage to a beloved woman, encouraging healing and cogitation through one’s passions. Sankovitch is bound to inspire many who read this work, whether it is the motivation to find their own bliss, or simply the recommendation and subsequent power and enjoyment of a great book. I am grateful to this book. I cried. I laughed. I cried some more. Most of it were tears for my father. To books and to the healing power of books.

Reading is an Anti-Dote to almost everything. Yes, everything. – The Hungry Reader.

Book Review: Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon

Title: Don’t Breathe A Word
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
ISBN: 978-0061689376
PP: 447 pages
Price: $14.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Don’t Breathe a Word is the third Jennifer McMahon book I’ve read. I loved Promise Not to Tell and was highly disappointed by Dismantled. So, this really could’ve gone either way for me. Not only because of my previous thoughts on her book, but also because I’ve been going through a bit of a reading slump lately, so it’s been taking a lot longer than usual for me to be impressed by a book. Luckily for everyone involved, I loved Don’t Breathe a Word (and am completely cured from my reading slump).

Don’t Breathe a Word is a novel that is VERY hard to classify because it has a little bit of everything. It’s a mix of horror, fantasy, psychological thriller, fairy-tale, and so many more things. Usually when an author throws everything but the kitchen sink in a book I get annoyed because very rarely is it done well. But in this book, it was done extremely well. I enjoyed all of the elements embedded in it and it didn’t make the book seem like the author couldn’t choose which direction she wanted to go in and just decided ‘to hell with it’. While all of those genres are my favorites, I definitely enjoyed the horror and the psychological thriller aspects of it.

This novel is creepy. Seriously, chill up your spine type of creepy. The weird thing is that Don’t Breathe a Word didn’t affect me when it got all dark and shadow-like at night, but it freaked me out during the daytime. I was alone in the house and getting a pen from my bedroom when I heard this huge, house-shaking type of grumbling sound. My first irrational thought was “Oh my God, it’s Teilo, the King of the Fairies.” I kid you not. I think I was so creeped out because we’re taught as little kids that fairies are these cute, sweet, yet somewhat mischievious magical creatures (Tinkerbell, anyone?). Yet in this book, they seem very malevolent and for some reason, that scared the hell out of me.

However, my absolute favorite part of the book (in that whole “what the hell? Can this be more disturbing?!” kind of way) were the family dynamics between all of the characters. It was seriously twisted. So much that I had no idea what the hell was going on most of the time and what imagined was not even half as bad as what actually occurred. In fact, that may have been more creepy than the evil fairies.

All in all, I highly recommend Don’t Breathe a Word. It’s creepy, twisted, unpredictable (and this is coming from someone who tends to predict everything that happens in these types of novels), and one hell of a page-turner. If you’re going through a particular brutal reading slump, pick this up. If you’re not going through a particular brutal reading slump, pick it up anyway. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner

Title: Jerusalem Maiden
Author: Talia Carner
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0062004376
Genre: Fiction
PP: 464 pages
Price: $14.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Spanning the 20th century from 1911 through the 1968 epilogue, “Jerusalem Maiden” is a fascinating story which focuses on the life of a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman. Talia Carner draws the reader into the life of Esther Kaminsky, the “Jerusalem Maiden”; and, in doing so, provides insight into the history of Israel and the cultural differences among its diverse citizens. On a deeper level, the novel presents the reader with dilemmas that many individuals face. That is, whether to follow your own dream or whether to follow cultural dictates and the expectations of your society. Further, the heroine, as do many individuals, experiences deep turmoil with respect to her faith as she strives to ascertain the direction Hashem (God) would have her choose for her life.

“Jerusalem Maiden” highlights the internal conflict that Esther experiences as she struggles between those choices. In developing the storyline from Esther’s perspective, Talia Carner opens a view of Jewish culture and world history that may be unfamiliar to many readers. However, the novel never loses the focus on Esther’s conflict – whether to pursue art, effectively abandoning her religious upbringing and her family, or whether to follow the path of marriage and motherhood as is expected of young Haredi women. Seeking to know God’s will, Esther must make choices that conflict with her upbringing.

Talia Carner has developed “Jerusalem Maiden’s” characters with rare skill. One finds they are drawn into the characters’ personal conflicts, caring deeply that the outcome will be favorable for a particular individual. The women are very much alive in the pages of this book. The male characters are as well drawn as the female protagonist, her sister Hannah, or her friend Ruthi. Nevertheless, the men’s lives and personalities are not as fully described as those of the women. However, Carner does furnish sufficient detail to provide the reader with insight into the male characters’ mindset – which exacerbates Esther’s conflict between fulfilling personal desires and bowing to the dictates of societal expectations.

I recommend “Jerusalem Maiden” to any reader who is looking for a fascinating read. It is a well written, deeply personal portrait of a young woman struggling to follow her dreams without sacrificing her family or the principles by which she has been raised. You will find yourself hoping that she can do so.