Tag Archives: HarperCollins

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur Title: Heart Spring Mountain
Author: Robin MacArthur
Publisher: Ecco
ISBN: 978-0062444424
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

What is home and what does it mean to you? For the longest time, I have asked myself these questions and gotten nowhere with knowing the answer. Maybe I don’t want to anymore. The idea of home if ever, is just people and memories, I suppose. The place you perhaps can go back to every time you feel out and down in the big, bad world. Isn’t that home?

“Heart Spring Mountain” is to be read with all this in mind but at the same time, it demands to be read without judgment. Robin MacArthur’s book is full of sub-plots and characters that are easy to judge and bracket and yet we forget – the terrain of the human heart is constantly changing. There is no room forjudgment​t. It is what it is.

August 2011. Tropical Storm Irene has wreaked havoc on Vermont. Vale receives a call in New Orleans about her mother Bonnie’s disappearance. Vale has long been estranged from Bonnie and yet decides to go home in search of her. Vale then rediscovers herself and the relationships she ran away from – the three generations of women who live on Heart Spring Mountain – the land that belonged to her forefather, leading her to a secret that she could never think of.

So here’s the deal with Heart Spring Mountain: You might get confused initially, given multiple narratives (that happens to me quite a lot) but once you do manage to sink your teeth into the book (which will happen very soon given the prose of MacArthur that shines and breathes life on almost every page), reading this book is a joyride.

While Vale is one of the central characters, and I hoped to have read more of her, I nonetheless enjoyed the different narratives and how lives merge at the end of it all. The pull of the land is strong on this book and to me it is all about the stories – where we grow up, the same place where we depart from and how it all comes back together in some way or another – we then learn to find our way back.
“Heart Spring Mountain” is emotional. It isn’t sentimental. MacArthur captures the rural lay of the land stunningly and adds so many moments of joy and tenderness that everything seems right with the world. It is also quite hard to imagine that it is a debut. Read it one Sunday afternoon and be mesmerized.

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The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn Title: The Woman in the Window
Author: A.J. Finn
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062678416
Genre: Literary Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of thrillers. I do not read them so often, however, I wanted to read “The Woman in the Window”. Although it would be shelved under thrillers or mystery, it is definitely more than that, according to me. It is extremely literary and not in the hard-kind-of-way-to-read literary. It is a very easy read but it keeps you engaged. Pages may not fly as they do when you read a thriller but let me also tell you that you have to immerse yourself in about one hundred and twenty pages or so till you get to the juicy parts and it is worth every turn of the page.

“The Woman in the Window” also has an unreliable narrator and I am for one not big on this form of writing, however, this might it seemed to work for me. Dr. Anna Fox is a psychologist (child psychologist) who peers through her camera at the neighbours in 212, stuck in her agoraphobic world in her very expensive apartment, estranged from her husband, Ed and young daughter Olivia. She also plays chess online and is a part of an online forum to help other agoraphobics. She goes by the ID thedoctorisin.

At the same time, Anna isn’t one of the most reliable people you know of (that’s why the unreliable narration). She drinks red wine and in copious quantities. She also overdoses her medication. Her psychiatrist Dr. Fielding, comes to check in one her once a week and all her time if not spent snooping in others’ lives, is spent watching old crime noir films. Till one fine day, Anna notices something happening in 212 and life is never the same.

A.J. Finn creates a sense of claustrophobia most of the time (guess it is intended) for his readers and that lends extremely well while reading the book. I often found myself looking over my shoulder to see if someone was around and most often just to breathe, as I thought I was out of breath. Having said that, the writing is light but not without being intelligent and witty (in some places).

The entire book almost feels like a Hitchcock film – you can almost visualize it and to add to that there are these references (and sometimes scenes as well) of the movies Anna loves to watch and watches when the action is going on. I loved the references! What I also liked about the writing is that A.J. Finn doesn’t spoon-feed you with the sub-plots or characters. It flows as the story ambles along. The pace I did have a problem with initially, but that sorted itself early on.

“The Woman in the Window” is a thriller that will make you fall in love with the way characters are sketched, plots are intertwined and unravel and the overall plot structure. A.J. Finn has created a book that is clever as it shows itself to you, page after page. A read not to be missed out this year.

 

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman

We Crossed A Bridge and It Trembled Title: We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria
Author: Wendy Pearlman
Publisher: Custom House
ISBN: 978-0062654618
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It isn’t easy to write a book about ordinary people. It isn’t easy to make their voices heard, no matter what and when people who write such books and give us a chance to read it, it means a lot, to me. “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria” by Wendy Pearlman is one such book which has impacted me a lot this year. It is definitely about the content, but it is also about rights – human rights that get violated and stories of ordinary Syrians that go unheard, which Pearlman has brought out in this fierce and poignant collection, basis her interviews with ordinary men and women over four years across the Middle East and Europe.

“We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled” is a collection of first-hand accounts. Like I said earlier, because it is of ordinary people – you empathize, cheer, and hope that life is kinder to them. It is also a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the tragedy that is the Syrian War. It is about the revolution and its aftermath, the war that began and how it has become political in every sphere of the ordinary Syrian’s life, sometimes way too sensitive because they weren’t expecting all of this to begin with.

Wendy serves it as is. There is nothing censored. The voices are raw and let the story teller and readers connect. In this case, then, the author distances herself and does not provide a point of view. She acts only but as a medium and yet that in itself is such a humongous task to undertake. The writing can be nothing but simple, from the heart and definitely the one you can connect with instantly.

“We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled” is a book that should be read. A must-read if you ask me. It is the book that demands to be read and will fill you with some hope and courage, just like the Syrians have for themselves, despite how things are.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008185220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while, you read a book that makes you angry. Very angry. And you cannot help but cheer so madly and wildly for the underdog. The book takes over your life till you are done reading it and while it is hopeful (in small doses and so not enough), it also leaves you exhausted, frustrated and contemplative about the world you inhabit. “My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent is one such book and it is very hard to believe that it is only his debut.

“My Absolute Darling” is the kind of book that will in the most brutal manner stay with you long after you’ve finished it. It is one of those books that you wouldn’t even want to stay with you and yet it will. It is the dark “Lolita”. Nabokov’s “Lolita” looks like a bird in front of this one. The book is of the coming-of-age genre in the most raw, terrible manner. The one that no child must go through and perhaps the ones that do, mostly emerge to be the stronger ones. But as the blurb says, “Sometimes strength is not the same as courage” or “Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape” – this book lives up to it in so many ways.

Julia (Turtle) Alveston is a survivor. She is all of fourteen and has grown-up isolated since the death of her mother. Her father, Martin, is tortured and believes that Julia is the best thing that has happened to him. So much so that he doesn’t want to let go of her. She is after all his, “absolute darling”. Turtle is physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Turtle’s social existence is confined to her school, and sometimes meeting her grandfather, who she is most fond of. She doesn’t have friends. She is angry, miserable, and all she knows is how to survive and that her daddy loves her very much (she also deep down just wants to get away from all of this).

In all of this, Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who reads, is funny and lives in a big clean house with his parents and sister. For once, Turtle feels some kind of normalcy in her life and starts forging friendships. But she now has to find a way to escape her old life and start anew. She wants to leave her “devoted” father. And thus begins the story of Turtle (almost more than halfway through the book). She becomes her own hero and I as a reader often found myself just hooting for her, cheering, interacting with her, wanting to hug her and tell her that it will all be okay, to reach out between the pages and scream at Martin, to perhaps even kill him.

The emotional complexities of this book are of another level. The setting of the book is the outdoors (woods along the Northern California Coast) – where Turtle lives with her father. This adds another layer of fierceness and subtext to the novel. Of how sometimes even though circumstances aren’t just about right, you can still seize what is yours if you want to. But this book thankfully, isn’t preachy. It is real. Sometimes too real.

The story is gripping. You cannot help but turn the pages and yet you don’t want to. Tallent takes you to the heart of darkness (multiple times) and leaves you hanging with what will happen next. He takes you through the maze in Turtle’s head – her confusion, her loss of expression, her self-doubt (always thinking she isn’t pretty and not worthy of anything good), self-loathing and finally being resilient to it all. There are times when words that need Turtle’s expression aren’t there and yet you know it all. The writing is that surreal and empathetic. The prose is measure, even though laborious at times, but it is worth it. Tallent has also referenced so many authors and books in this book, which to me was nothing short of brilliant and each reference made so much sense in the larger sense of the plot (I will list those down soon). There were technicalities with weapons which I didn’t get at all, but I let it go. The characters that Tallent creates are frighteningly real. Such an incident or series of incidents could be happening in your backyard and you wouldn’t know of it.

This one sentence stood out for me as an explanation for the entire book, however the entire book is peppered with so many of them: “Her moments of happiness occur right at the margin of the unbearable”.

Read this book only if you can stomach it. But read it. Make yourself stronger and read it. The prose demands to be read. The emotions most certainly do. Tallent is one author to watch out for. I loved reading this one.

Kevin by Rob Biddulph

Kevin Title: Kevin
Author: Rob Biddulph
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780008207410
Genre: Picture Book, Children’s Books
Pages: 32
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Kevin” is a book for children written by a child at heart. Did I tell you that I absolutely love and adore picture books or board books? In my opinion, they are some of the most profound books you will ever read. That’s true at least in my experience of reading them all these years. Children’s books are also very soothing. They help lift the weight of the world off your shoulders and live a little. To see the world afresh with a new pair of eyes and that’s what is needed these days, given the times we live in.

Sid Gibbons is in trouble yet again. He is always making a mess and his mum is always losing her patience with him. So this time when he makes a mess of the house and things (yet again) he blames it on Kevin, his big furry, vanilla and pink friend. And while he thinks all is well, he is in for a surprise as Kevin just might not be an imaginary friend after all.

I absolutely loved this picture book. It is extremely beautifully illustrated by Rob and the words are just as impactful. The book is joyful and uplifting. In a world surrounded by hate and misery, we need more books such as these to make us understand and realize that perhaps all is not lost. Most adults I know think children’s books aren’t meant for them but that’s just an adult who refuses to pander to the child within. Don’t be that person. Read widely. Read diversely. Read picture books as well – all the time.