The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Neil Gaiman

 

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Creatures that morph into human beings but are in reality from the other world were never my thing and hence the book was a mistake.  Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother are benevolent witches that save our protagonist from Ursula Monkton, an other world creatures-turned-babysitter.  A story that ends tragically.  Not my thing, I said, but as writing skills go, Gaiman is great.  If ever I get into the genre, Gaiman it will be.

The Garden of Evening Mists: Tan Twang Eng

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Exquisite setting, multiple conflicts and multi-layered.  Yun Ling, imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese in their occupation of Malaya ends up falling for a Japanese man, full of mystery and intrigue.  Good narration, though you do see the disadvantage of people for whom English is not the first language.

Read.

Bring Up the Bodies: Hilary Mantel

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Two Bookers for Ms. Mantel and well deserved too.  Cromwell carried on from where he left at Wolf Hall.  And this time, it’s even better, as we recognize the characters.  British history is not something I am particularly interested in, but the writing is so beautiful she makes you care.  She draws you in and you can’t put it down.

A must read.

The Big Sleep: Raymond Chandler

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Murder mysteries and detective fiction is not quite my thing, but I wanted to read Chandler.  Writing gurus laud Chandler as the ultimate vivid writer – a magician in capturing visuals.  Sample the opening para of the book cited often in the writing books.  “It was about eleven o’clock…I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with a dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.  I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was everything the well dressed private detective ought to be…there was a broad stained glass panel showing a dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on, but some very long and convenient hair.  The knight had pushed the visor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he wasn’t fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere.  I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.  He didn’t seem to be really trying”

How’s that for imagery and humor!  Amazing indeed.  However, the eye for detail, gets a bit tiresome, surprisingly, particularly if not accompanied by humor.  A simple enough mystery, a few twists and turns – but nothing to shock you out of your socks.  Fast paced, witty and humorous.  Written over fifty years ago, it can’t compete with the complex mysteries of today.  I’d rather read Chandler’s quoted texts in the writing books.

Don’t bother.

Before We Were Yours: Lisa Wingate

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It is indeed the true stories that make for the strangest of fiction.  “Before We Were Yours” tells an engaging true story of poor, disadvantaged children being sold to rich, privileged families.  The sordid details of Tennessee Children Home are indeed provocative and disturbing.  The narrative style of the book – two protagonists, one in the present, the other in the past – works well and the relationship between the two slowly becomes obvious.  The writing is fine, but the pace could be quicker.  What also doesn’t work for me is the build-up of the suspense not leading to something mind-boggling, a long tail that wasn’t required, and an unnecessary love angle.

Read.

An American Marriage: Tayari Jones

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Roy, a black American, is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.  His young wife, Celestial, and his best friend Andre, and Roy’s parents fight to get him released.  However, in the five years that Roy is away, the dynamics between Celestial and Andre change, and when Roy gets out, his world is quite different from how he had imagined it to be.

Let’s start with what doesn’t work in the book.  First, the story is too simple, a love triangle at the end really, and second, the book ends with a whimper.  The climax is weak.  What works for the book is the powerful writing, the insightful characterization, and the distinctive POV of the three main characters.  Roy’s state of mind while in jail, Celestial’s evolution, and their slightly twisted, sweet-salty love is captured really well.  It is a lovely reading experience.

Read.

You Are A Badass: Jen Sincero

 

la-et-jc-jen-sincero-you-are-a-badass-20130506-001.jpgThe author promises a fresh approach to self-help, but ends up delivering the same old advice with a few F-words and other expletives thrown in, as reflected in the title.  As with many such books, there are hits and misses.  Some thing make sense and stick, others don’t.  There was this bit about money that was difficult to digest (spend first and universe would find a way of making sure you have it).

Read with caution!

The Woman in the Window: A.J.Finn

 

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A well-written book that goes through a few peaks and troughs.  An intelligent, but agoraphobic woman, is confined to her home and witnesses a crime.  The book starts amazingly, centered on the woman’s life – that is both intriguing and informative.  It dips mid-way when the crime gets committed, and the book becomes just another whodunit.  It picks up again, three-fourths of the way, when our narrator is shown to be unreliable.  But then dips again.  The ending was disappointing.  Neither satisfying not believable.  What worked for me particularly was the writing – very today and now.  Interestingly there were shades of ‘The Woman on the Train’ in the novel (It’s not just the title that is similar) – an incident only the narrator was witness to, poor credibility of the protagonist and so on.

Read.

Pachinko: Min Jin Lee

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Pachinko is a beautifully written saga spanning five generations of a poor Korean family that moves to Japan.  Lee does a great job on many fronts.  The protagonists change as the story progresses, yet she does a remarkable job in keeping the characters distinctive.  She introduces the readers to Korean culture and the depressingly realistic picture of Koreans living in Japan.  Despite using an omniscent narration, she is able to let the readers  look into the characters’ heads.

A must read.