Category Archives: Macmillan USA

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper Title: Force of Nature
Author: Jane Harper
Publisher: Flatiron Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250191663
Genre: Thriller and Suspense, Crime
Pages: 326
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I have not read “The Dry” yet. Please do not make a face at that statement. Please do not be prepared to kill me either, or for that matter be a snob about having read the debut of Jane Harper. Having said this (and thank God it is now out of the way), I thoroughly enjoyed, “Force of Nature”, her second book in the Aaron Falk (Federal Agent) series. So, calm down, because I will but obviously read, “The Dry” this month itself. Now back to this one!

I am not the kind to read suspense or thriller novels, but this one sure did catch my attention with its synopsis and I knew I had to devour this and devour I did. At the same time, while I thought it was well-written, I also found it to be quite slow and dragging in most places. So, this is what happens with suspense novels: You want to know what happened so badly, that perhaps it seems that the book is slow, or it may be really is very slow. “Force of Nature” for me belonged to the latter category.

Jane Harper builds the atmosphere superbly but somewhere down the line, I thought that the characters needed some more build-up. The plot is intriguing: Five women reluctantly head out on a forest hike and only four come out on the other side. What happened on the trail? What went wrong? To add to that, these five women are colleagues and know each other and also have some grudges to bear. The hike is arranged by the company (which is family-owned) for five men and five women and in all of this, the action plays out against Australia’s bushland.

Harper is a master of description. There is way too much of it, which only means that she successfully transports you Australia and its landscape. From the trees to the local falls to the animals and birds, you end up going on the hike yourself. In all of this, is the entry of Federal Police Agent, Aaron Falk (made his first appearance in The Dry) who has a vested interest in the whereabouts of the missing woman, Alice Russell, who also happened to be a whistleblower in his latest case involving the company she is working for.

“Force of Nature” starts off fantastically and ends on a high as well, but somewhere along the middle, I really did feel it could’ve ended sooner. At the same time, there is a lot going on in the book – all the interpersonal relationships that are glimpsed into but not spoon-fed (which is again very intelligent), leave you wanting more. I will for sure pick up “The Dry” sometime soon.

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Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Title: Border Districts
Author: Gerald Murnane
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374115753
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written.

“Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend the last years of his life. While he is doing that, he wants to look back at a lifetime of seeing and of reading. Of what he saw and what he read. The images, people and places he witnessed as he grew along the years and the fictional characters he came across, the words he soaked in and the books he cherished. And where memory enters any novel/novella, secrets are bound to make an appearance and that’s exactly what happens, which also play with your head.

Murnane’s writing is soothing and yet I could sense the urgency and the head-rush that came with it. Like I said, I had not heard of him until this read and now I can’t wait to read everything he has written. His prose jumps at you and takes you captive. It is that kind of power. The shifting of narrative between seeing and reading is seamless and maybe that’s why I was hooked the way I was.

“Border Districts” is mostly autobiographical in nature, based on Murnane’s move from Melbourne to a remote town. Australia for me has never come this alive in any book. Sometimes unexpected books and authors jump at you and before you know it, you are in love.

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Number One Chinese Restaurant Title: Number One Chinese Restaurant
Author: Lillian Li
Publisher:Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250141293
Genre: Literary Fiction,
Pages:304
Source ​:Publisher
Rating:4 Stars

A dysfunctional family to the core and their story set against the backdrop of a Chinese restaurant, which of course belongs to them. Nothing in this genre could get better. I couldn’t wait to read this book and now I know why. It is the book that has the right amount of funny and tragedy with so much going on with various people. At times, it was difficult to keep track even, but once you get to know the characters (as it would happen in every book, except those written by Tolstoy), the reading becomes easier to tackle.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” refers to The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland. The one place to go to for hunger pangs and celebrations of any kind. It is world in its own, surrounded by its own people with their problems – be it from waiters, to kitchen staff who love and hate in equal measure to the owner and his family (quite an extended one at that) – a world that has been stable for some time till disaster strikes and people’s lives go awry.

I have always been skeptical of multiple-narration in books. Different voices kind of throw me off the story but surprisingly this did not happen with this book. It felt easy to read it. The beauty of such books (at least to me) is that one can empathize with almost everyone. To me the angst and pain of Jimmy to Annie (Jimmy’s niece) who wants to go back to the past when her dad was around and a young love story that had me hooting and not at the same time.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” is a heady read of parents and children, youth and aging and above all of what it means to be family and how far are we willing to go to give it all up.

Let’s No One Get Hurt by Jon Pineda

Let's No One Get Hurt by Jon PinedaTitle: Let’s No One Get Hurt
Author: Jon Pineda
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374185244
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4  Stars

Sometimes I really wish some books did not have to be this violent – physically, emotionally or mentally. But I also think sometimes we need to show that violence for what the world is and art does imitate life after all. “Let’s No One Get Hurt” is so redemptive and yet somehow seemed so dark as it progressed. The writing is raw, visceral and yet so tender in so many places that you can almost sense the attachment between the young girl and the three men she lives with. We after all make our own home, where we find it.

Fifteen-year-old Pearl lives in an abandoned boathouse with her father – a disgraced college professor and two other men, deep in the American South. All four live on the margins and make do with what they can. There is a sense of weird kind of family but each of them looks after the other and are slowly but surely making sense of the world as days go by.

Enter: Mason Boyd who is also known as “Main Boy” and whose father has purchased the property Pearl and her family are squatting, putting him in a position of power between the two kids, leading to dynamics changing that Pearl never thought of.

The writing is very poetic, to the point of it being poetic-prose and feels very satisfying most of the time. Yet the nagging thought of something bad will happen which keeps haunting the reader. Pearl and her makeshift family (those characters are something else, trust me I can only urge you to read the book to know them better) has been thought of so beautifully, even if the moments of tenderness and grace are not so much, you learn to sit patiently for them to come.

“Let’s No One Get Hurt” captures the essence of power, violence and redemption wonderfully and with parallel stories and layers to the larger narrative. It is a book that will break your heart mostly but will let you heal yourself. A lot of you might think that there is nothing new about it, but you have to read it to believe what Pineda has created – a stunning portrait of loss, love and turmoil in the South.

 

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster

Title: The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
Author: Mallory Ortberg
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-1250113429
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Fairy Tales were never meant for children, I suppose. Over the years, and along the way, they became for children. No wonder there are so many retellings and translations of the true fairy tales from different regions of the world, in order to maintain them for what they were: sinister. “The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror” by Mallory Ortberg is one such book of dark and playful stories based on classic folk and fairy tales, each one told with a twist of feminism, gender fluidity (at least from what I could make out for some of them) and more.

This is not a parody on fairy tales. This is what I thought when I picked it up but it turned out to be way ahead and progressive than that. Mallory not only understands these fairy tales in great detail and with an amazing insight, but she also is aware that cultures, time, and tellers shape the story and hence her stories do not at any time seem jaded. Moreover, her stories seem more real, given the times we live in and rightly so. Again, might I add: not meant for children.

I cannot even discuss these stories without giving away anything, so I will not. What I will say though is that “A Thankless Child” is one story that has stuck in my mind (a retelling of Cinderella if you please) and a very strange one at that. What I loved is that Ortberg is not here to shock you.

The stories are to break stereotypes, to get away from the prejudice and bias we create and above all to be able to think and feel the way you want to. There is also a sense of humour which is evident in the retelling of The Beauty and the Beast. I could go on and on about this one, but all I must say is that you just have to read this collection of stories.