Tag Archives: little brown and company

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken AngelsTitle: The House of Broken Angels
Author: Luis Alberto Urrea
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316154888
Genre: Family, Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Some books are a treat and such a joy to read. The House of Broken Angels is just that. Essentially about family and what you carry to other generations, this book is also about being human and relationships. For most part, I thought nothing is going on in the book and yet when you take a step back and see the book from an overall perspective, there is needed a lot going on – making the reader feel like a stranger to begin with and before you know it you are a part of the De La Cruz clan.

The House of Broken Angels is about family and the ties that bind us, over and over again, no matter the mistakes or the trials that family go through. At the end of the family is indeed family and one can’t deny that at all. The beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz has summoned the entire family for one last legendary party, in his final days. And in this time, his mother, nearly a hundred years old dies. In all of this there is Big Angel’s (as Miguel is fondly known) half-brother, Little Angel – almost an outsider’s perspective.

The book is really about Big Angel and his mother. The others are merely secondary characters but written brilliantly by Luis Alberto Urrea. The lore, the fantastical tales, the myths are weaved into the narrative so effectively that they become the story, without ever losing track of the bigger plot. The book has all of it – kindness, rage at being discriminated against, hope, zest and the spirit of togetherness which when you think about can only after all come from family.

At times, it may be overwhelming to keep track of so many characters and sub-plots, but you should allow the stories to take over and engulf you. There is chaos, confusion and people walking in and out of the narrative, but it is worth it as it all adds up wonderfully, lending itself to the primary focus. “The House of Broken Angels” is a highly gratifying and charged read – everything happens in a rush, at a break-neck speed and sometimes everything slows down, compelling you to look around.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette USA
ISBN: 978-0316556347
Genre: Mythology, Literary Fiction, Greek Mythology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have never followed Greek Mythology with great fervor. In fact, even while I was in school and college, these myths did not interest me much. Till after, when I started reading The Iliad and the Odyssey that my interest levels peaked and there was no turning back. Also, might I add the various retellings – from “The Penelopiad” by Margaret Atwood to Ilium by Dan Simmons (a lesser-known work but a work of sheer beauty) to also the funny “Gods Behaving Badly” by Marie Phillips and then “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller happened and changed it all, I suppose.

I read “The Song of Achilles” and was floored by it. And now her brand-new book “Circe” – to me is even better. I also tend to think her craft has worked way better when it comes to this one. Circe has always been thought of as the dangerous siren from Homer’s Odyssey who lured sailors to their deaths with her seductive song. Madeline Miller changes that perception and manages to make her more human (ironic, isn’t it?) than just be someone cold and distant.

Madeline Miller makes Circe’s life real, with motivators, with passion, life experiences that made her who she was. There is no justification and no sides are taken. Miller steers clear from all of that. There are shades of grey which are present in almost every character in the book – from Helios – Circe’s father (Titan God of the Sun) or Perse (her mother, an Oceanid naiad), to her siblings who are cruel to her (this was one of the major reasons of Circe being who she turned out to be), and all the other nymphs who are seemingly lovelier than Circe.

Circe turns to witchcraft when she makes Glaucos (a mortal) a god, and even more so when Glaucos falls in love with another nymph. “Pharmaka” or witchcraft is frowned upon by all gods and goddesses and this is how Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia to live a solitary life. It is here that she practices her powers of witchcraft and excels. It is here that her life begins (as is also mentioned in the Odyssey).

I love how Miller uses the story of Circe to make so many points – feminism, alienation, acceptance, loss of love and not being able to fit in. Madeline Miller also didn’t restrict the book to mainly being Circe’s story. It is also about the other mythological characters that Circe encounters – Prometheus, Daedalus, Icarus, Hermes, Athena, Penelope and more and all the other gods and mortals. It is also through them that Miller shows us various emotions and sides to Circe, thus leading her to actively participate in their myths as well.

“Circe” might be a retelling and may not be for everyone (more so if you are a purist when it comes to myths) but it sure did work for me. All in all, it was a great read, with everything falling in place – from the plot to the characters to the way Madeline has written the story – with not a single dull moment. Will sure keep you turning the pages.

 

Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler Title: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
Art: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0316127257
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 368
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I had bought this book last year and since then was struggling with it. I would read fifty pages or so and give it up for another read. It happens most of the time and that doesn’t mean that the book is bad, maybe the timing for sure is. It has happened to me in the past, so I do not think much of it. So when I picked up “Why We Broke Up” again this time, I was enthralled by the plot and more so by the art by Maira Kalman, which by the way is beautifully done throughout the book.

For every time a couple breaks up there are things that are returned. That is almost the unwritten law of breaking up, of ending it all, of finding the so-called state of “closure”. We return things because they are memories – of times of happiness and now evoke only sadness, which is the truth. Min and Ed, two teenagers whose relationship has ended are at the heart of this novel. They are an improbable couple, who had nothing in common and yet they fell in love. They split ways and the story is narrated from Min’s perspective who is now returning “stuff” that she collected (or stuff that was given by Ed to her) during the course of their relationship, explaining why they broke up and what happened between them.

Min is studying to be a filmmaker, so the entire process and atmosphere of the book is rather dramatic, but only fair, since it is about heartache. There are a lot of references to old films which is brilliant, because I now have to watch most of them. Love also needs so many mediums to speak through. In this case, it is movies.

Heartache at any age is counted for and should be. It is not easy, more so when you are young. I found the story a little too biased, as it was only from Min’s perspective, but that was compensated more so by the plot and writing. What will take you in the most about the book is also the illustrations, which are beautifully and masterfully done so by Maira Kalman. I loved the book so much in most parts and I also thought that maybe I would have loved to hear Ed’s point of view in all of this. After all it is only fair. The secondary characters – the best friends and ex-lovers make for some quirky characters in the book as well. Ed’s sister Joan is a vital character and it is not difficult to fall in love with her.

I do not like reading Young Adult fiction all that much, however as I have said again and again in this post, I loved this book. It is but the nature of love and heartbreak, its universality that would resonate and strike with anyone who reads about it. One more thing: You cannot read it in an electronic book format. The effect and sentiment will not be the same, given the illustrations and also the quality of paper. I recommend you read it, get your heart broken, mend it and then read it all over again.

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Book Review: My Ideal Bookshelf : Edited by Thessaly La Force and Art by Jane Mount

My Ideal Bookshelf Title: My Ideal Bookshelf
Authors: Edited by Thessaly La Force and Art by Jane Mount
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316200905
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Nothing gives me more pleasure than reading a book about books. The bibliophile in me is overjoyed at the sight of such reads and what makes it even better is when these books come with pictures or art. For this year, the book on books has to be, “My Ideal Bookshelf”, edited by Thessaly La Force and illustrated beautifully by Jane Mount.

This book is an experiment of sorts. The editor of the book asked over 100 people from various fields – architects, writers, chefs, painters, and the rest to compile their list of favourite books and write something about them. The spines of the titles selected were then beautifully illustrated by Jane Mount, resembling a book shelf, with watercolors and ink. This then is the book that I read and cherished.

I guess what connected me to the book was the titles I recognized on most shelves which also happened to be my favourites. The connection that a reader has with other readers is the one that no one can take away. Thessaly and Jane have created something beautiful here for the book lover, something he can go back and refer to again and again. I for one intend to choose books for my next purchase from here. There is so much I haven’t read and so much that I have discovered while reading this book.

The illustrations are something which I still thought of way after I had finished reading the book. In fact so much so that I wanted my very own illustration from Ms. Mount, however that would not be possible. However, there is a space for the readers at the end of the book to create their own “ideal bookshelf”, which I already have and loved the experience.

I love the almost close to perfection of the spines drawn by Ms. Mount – it is a different experience to go through every bookshelf. With some bookshelves, the personal artifacts of the person are also drawn, which gets you closer as a reader to the collection.

I love reading about books that feature in books. The collection or the books closest to someone’s heart are always something that I want to know, because I honestly believe that you are what you read. “My Ideal Bookshelf” is a fantastic book for someone like me and also for you, if knowing what stands on someone’s bookshelf interests you. I would say pick up the book, even if others’ bookshelves do not interest you, because after reading and going through this book, they sure will.

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Rescue by Anita Shreve

A born storyteller, Shreve does a beautiful job in her description of a family in distress, a relationship crippled by a tragedy waiting in the wings. When Vermont EMT Peter Webster first sees Sheila Arsenault, she requires emergency assistance at the scene of an accident. Her blood alcohol signals trouble, but what young man in love reads the signs of impending disaster? Without much thought, Webster and Sheila embark on a love affair, for Webster a wonderful and unexpected gift, for Sheila a time out in a chaotic life. Pregnancy leads to marriage, baby Rowan the center of the couple’s lives until the attrition of time and too many sacrifices causes Sheila once again to seek solace in a bottle. A near-tragedy and the course of a Webster’s future is altered. Eighteen years later, a happy, well-adjusted daughter becomes a moody, angry teenager, Webster unable to communicate with the daughter who has become a stranger.

Shreve explores the territory of single parenthood and the loss of what might have been with her usual deft touch, capturing the difficult choices of a man desperate to protect his daughter from her mother’s excesses, his work as an EMT contrasting the dangers in a quiet Vermont town with the previous serenity of his home life. The real villain of the piece is, of course, Sheila’s alcoholism, the reason for the domestic disharmony, the marital arguments and a daughter’s resentment of her mother. Since Webster never really understands Sheila’s drinking, he has no tolerance for Rowan’s experimentation, as though good intentions could keep such a nightmare at bay. Alcoholism is the elephant in the living room, the source of all Webster’s grief and the threat to his confused daughter.


Whether writing historically or of contemporary life, Shreve has a facile touch, her prose fluid and believable as her characters face the unpredictability of choices that deliver hope and pain in equal measure. The responsible Webster, the tragic Sheila and the dangerously rebellious Rowan are vividly portrayed and culturally relevant. No monsters here, only vulnerable humans who stray from the bright promise of youth into the ragged detours that leads to forgiveness.

Rescue; Shreve, Anita; Little, Brown and Company; $26.99