Tag Archives: February 2018 Reads

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale Title: The Toymakers
Author: Robert Dinsdale
Publisher: Del Rey, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1785038129
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

It might feel that you have read something like this before and some might also say that this book is like “The Night Circus” but don’t be fooled by that. “The Toymakers” is really perhaps nothing like what you might have read before (apologies for using the word might a lot). I remember constantly turning the pages and staying way through the night to finish this one and yet reading it with caution, should it finish too soon.

 

“The Toymakers” could also become a drag in some places but then it also picks up pace very quickly and stuns you. I doubt you can go back and reread it (given the genre and the fact that some of the mystery that is in the book ends eventually) but when you are reading it, you will for sure cherish the experience.

The book is set in a toy shop, taking place in 1917 and traversing some years in the past and in the future. The book ends in the 1950s. Cathy, a young girl, pregnant and single, runs away from home in Leigh-on-Sea to London and comes across a rather odd advertisement in the paper. Cathy becomes winter help in Papa Jack’s Emporium – a toy shop which is most extraordinary and also eerie at times.

I will not tell you more about the book. There are secrets, there are wars, scars from those wars, loss, of parents and children, brothers and sisters and how one finds solace in what one does. Might I also add that the magical element of the book will surely take you by surprise.

Dinsdale’s writing is smooth at times and at others, he just oscillates between the past and the present and I loved the book for it. The language is immensely poetic, the experience immersive and your imagination will be tested on almost every page. A novel not to be missed out on.

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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.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

When They Call You A Terrorist Title: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Authors: Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978-1250171085
Genre: Non-Fiction, Social Rights
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This book will not be an easy read. Not because it is written in a difficult to understand manner, but because the lives spoken of haven’t been easy. So, if you get squeamish easy, then this book isn’t for you. This book is about the world and how it is, how it always was – how racism is so deep-rooted that it might take ages before it is wiped out completely. And yet, this book does not only deal with the issue of racism or schizoaffective disorder, it deals with identity and the basic right to live, which should not be taken away from anyone at all.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors life has not been an easy one at all. Being sheltered and fed wasn’t easy while she was growing up. As I have mentioned, her brother who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and a mother who works from dawn to dusk, just to ensure the kids are fed and clothed.

What upsets me the most is the involvement of the police when it comes to mental health organizations when it comes to checks or emergencies. I mean how would they know what it means to be mentally unstable and what one goes through? But that is just one part of the story.

The crux of the book is what it means to be black in today’s world and how unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality causes havoc in people’s lives. Patrisse outraged the most in 2013, when Travyon Martin’s killer went free, which led to the formation of Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele give you insights into how it is to survive in the face of violent racism. We think nothing is going on, that we live in evolved times, but that is all well and good in the comfort of our homes. What happens in the world is simply horrific.

“When They Call You A Terrorist” hits hard (like it should) and will make you think twice about how sometimes we behave when it comes to people who are different from us. This is a book that is most needed for our times. The situations and people will always remain the same, till an entire culture changes, the one that says Black Lives Matter.

Beautiful Days: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

Beautiful Days Title: Beautiful Days: Stories
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062795786
Genre: Short-Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

You just don’t read a book by Joyce Carol Oates. You experience it like no other. You soak in the words, till their brutality cuts you deep and then you use the same words to be work as balm and heal those wounds. That is the beauty of the writing of Joyce Carol Oates, it just doesn’t let you be and at the same time you feel so distant from it after you are done reading it. Only to realize that you will go back to it at some point.

I discovered the writing of Oates on Oprah Winfrey Show when she picked “We Were the Mulvaneys”. That was in early 2000s I think and since then I have not stopped reading Oates’ writing. I cannot thank Oprah Winfrey enough for this.

“Beautiful Days” is a new collection (well, some of them have been published earlier) by the American master of story-telling. Let me just start by saying that Joyce Carol Oates’ characters are so broken that you might find it very hard to relate to them and yet as the story progresses, you start seeing them around you.

“Fleuve Bleu” examines an adulterous relationship and how the people involved in it are overcome by guilt, heartbreak, love, passion and sometimes plain apathy. This was one of my favourite in the collection, only because of the way Oates describes it all – the anger, the frustration of being together and sometimes not being together, of letting go, of having let go and its consequences. While on the other hand in “Big Burnt” a professor cunningly manipulates a woman, who is in love with him. The pathos, the helplessness and moreover the humour (sardonic but there) of being played by someone shines through superbly in this story.

So, I realized one thing while reading this collection, which is, you cannot take sides when it comes to reading any Oates’ story or book. She doesn’t let you take sides. Maybe that is the intention after all. “Undocumented Alien” however made me take sides. I had to. I was so involved in it, that there was nothing else to do. The story is about a young African student enrolled in an American university who is suddenly stripped of his student visa and that’s when all complications begin.

These are just some of the stories that I have loved, but I cannot possibly go on about all of them. The idea is that Oates’ writing only grows better with time (if that can ever happen). There is no best time to start reading her. You just have to start. Perhaps start reading her short stories. Oates’ landscapes are also quite brutal. It is almost that they match the characters’ lives, inner turmoil and sense of irresponsibility (sometimes). Her characters are careless, also callous, and often don’t know what they want or know quite well what they do not want. They strive, they fight demons and sometimes emerge victorious. Most times, they are only human.

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Sourdough Title: Sourdough
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: MCD, Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374903343
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

If you’ve read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one. If you haven’t read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one again. “Sourdough” is a mix of almost everything – fantasy, science fiction, satire, literary fiction and a profoundness to it like no other book I’ve read in some time. Robin Sloan somehow manages to roll everything in one and does a pretty good job of it.

“Sourdough” follows the story of a young computer programmer (again), Lois Clary from Michigan into something so dark that it takes you by surprise and also shock in so many places. Lois does nothing but code – all night and sleeps all day. Her human contact is limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood joint from which she orders food every evening. The brothers close shop and it is to Lois to keep their sourdough starter alive. She basically has to learn how to bake with it, which she clearly doesn’t know.

The book is weird. From here on it takes turns and twists that you wouldn’t believe (much in the vein of Mr. Penumbra’s), however, if you read deeper (which I am sure you will at some point), you will find elements of alienation, immigration issues and what it is to be American and not be starkly evident. This book is so weird (I know I am being repetitive but I have to) that at times I didn’t know what I was reading or why. You have to be patient with the prose to be involved so you cannot let go. And might I also add that you would crave sourdough while reading this book, so be prepared.

“Sourdough” cannot be classified into a genre but I have to because I have no choice, really. All I can say is that if you like your reading a little over the edge and funky, you must try this one for sure.