Category Archives: women

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.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

All Systems Red Title: All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries
Author: Martha Wells
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765397539
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“All Systems Red” is such a brilliant novella that I wished it never ended, but it did and I was only too happy knowing there is a sequel which I can get to later. It is a space-thriller, a science-opera like nothing else you would have read before. At least I hadn’t earlier. Can a droid have emotions? Can robots think for themselves and be empathetic? Is that even possible? Martha Wells asks these questions in her first episode of The Murderbot Diaries (I love the name of the series by the way) and makes you think as a reader if something like this could be remotely possible in the near-future.

Our protagonist is SecUnit, an AI robot who is not only shy but also quite self-aware. The world is being run by corporates and everything needs to be approved by The Company. These androids belong to the Company and on a planet which is quite distant from ours, a team of scientists are conducting tests. SecUnit is a part of the unit that is conducting these tests. It hates humans and all it longs for is to be left alone. It also refers to itself as Murderbot (now you get the link?). And of course, a mission that isn’t theirs goes wrong and it is up to the scientists and Murderbot to work together to get to the truth.

I am overwhelmed by the writing of Wells. It doesn’t read as science fiction and it so does that you are confused what you are reading at some point, which to me is a great quality to have in a writer. The novella is also funny by the way, more so because of what Murderbot thinks and never says out loud. I found myself laughing in so many places and yet the pace of excitement never dies. The plot is tight and the conclusion doesn’t disappoint at all. Read it for sure! Get the second part as well. You would want to read it right after.

A Conjuring of Light: A Novel (Shades of Magic) by V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring of Light Title: A Conjuring of Light: A Novel (Shades of Magic)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765387462
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 624
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

And now to the last book in the Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab, “A Conjuring of Light”. I was so taken in by the earlier two books that I had to read this one soon after I had finished the second one. The balance of Four Londons is clearly at stake in this one, after the black power rises so to say.

Might I also add, that contrary to popular opinion, this was my favourite book in the series, even though it was nothing short of a tome at six hundred plus pages. Just that the characters of Kell and Lila were fully developed in this one and you could so clearly see different shades to them, that I couldn’t help but hoot for the writing.

So here is a brief summary of the plot: An ancient enemy returns to claim a city, as a fallen hero tries very hard to save a kingdom, almost in ruins. And then there is the twist of Lila knowing magic but she doesn’t know how to control it. This is the part of the book that I loved the most. Schwab clearly knows how to spin a tale by bringing in a surprise element and enthralling the reader with it.

The entire excitement of four Londons being involved and equally so in the plot makes this one racier and almost on the edge of your seat fantasy thriller, so to speak. Yes, the writing seems dull in some places, but that was only a minor hindrance as far as I am concerned, given how much I enjoyed reading this one. Schwab clearly has ended the trilogy with precision, closed all open angles to the plot and has given us characters that I certainly would like to know more of, if there is a spin-off series, one which I am most certainly hooting for.

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The Book of Memory Title: The Book of Memory
Author: Petina Gappah
Publisher: Picador
ISBN:9781250117922
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source:Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Book of Memory” is the kind of book that creates ripples in your heart and you will not be able to control how you feel. I think that happens to me the most when I read books that have unreliable narrators. There is this sense of thrill and caution and at the same time, a strange sense of empathy that emerges for such characters. I like books that the central character is so strong and yet doesn’t overpower the entire book. This one is that sort of a read.

Memory is an albino woman who is in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. She has been convicted of murder and as a part of her appeal, she has to write exactly what happened. And this is where the unreliable narrator angle begins (coupled with the wordplay on the name Memory, which as one goes along in the book means and stands for so much more). She has been convicted of murdering her adopted father, Lloyd Hendricks. Why did she kill him? Did she kill him at all? What exactly happened?

Gappah creates a book that might seem repetitive in terms of plot but isn’t when it comes to her writing for sure. And then again, once you are about half-way into the book, the plot also doesn’t seem repetitive or something you have read before. The characters are strongly etched and to me beside all this, it was only the writing that took the cake and more. What is also strange according to me is that Memory’s parents send her away when she is eight years old and that is not brought up again in the entire book. I thought it was oddly weird.

Having said that, “The Book of Memory” sometimes reads like a thriller and sometimes just a literary fiction book which has so much to give. The mutable nature of memory is there throughout the book – that is what makes it so unique and mysterious at the same time. All in all, this one was a hugely satisfying read.