[Mini] (Reviews, book haul and update)

The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan Rating:

Synopsis2Winnie and Helen have kept each others worst secrets for more than fifty years. Now, because she believes she is dying, Helen wants to expose everything. And Winnie angrily determines that she must be the one to tell her daughter, Pearl, about the past—including the terrible truth even Helen does not know. And so begins Winnie’s story of her life on a small island outside Shanghai in the 1920s, and other places in China during World War II, and traces the happy and desperate events that led to Winnie’s coming to America in 1949.

My reviewMost of the immigrant stories I have read are about second-generation American desis, so I loved reading all the intrinsic cultural details of first/second gen Chinese Americans in the Kitchen God’s Wife – both similarities and differences.

A lot of immigrant stories feature and emphasize on the disconnect of the second-gen with their cultural heritage and the consequent tussle with their parents. This book pretty much ticks all the cliche boxes with Pearl not identifying much with her mom’s or extended family’s Chinese roots. I think my problem with this book is the disproportionately large number of pages (more than three-fourths) devoted to Winnie’s life in China. She starts narrating it to Pearl and apart from it coming off as unreal (that she could, as a seventy-five year old woman, remember every little detail so vividly), I also realized I am not a huge fan of such a large chunk of history being told all at once instead of being revealed in phases across the book I wish there were more pages with Pearl’s POV so that we could get a glimpse of how she felt hearing everything her mom has to say. I honestly felt slightly shortchanged because we didn’t get to see enough of how the present-day Pearl-Winnie relationship was affected by the revelations.

The best part of the story were all the women in Winnie’s past life. Each one of them was so remarkable – though conditioned to think and behave in a certain way because of the times they lived in and maybe unjust to one another to favor their own – stood up for each other when times became desperate in the post-war scenario. Wish I could say something for the men too, but most of them were portrayed as weak or evil. Those who weren’t either of them didn’t have much to do in the book.

Another issue I had with the book is that the “suspense” (or whatever little there was of it) was revealed quite early in the book… so the rest of the book was more of a case of “working backwards”. This was the same issue I had with Book Thief too.. and well I have realized, I don’t like this way of structuring the narration.

Despite some issues, I loved the book for not just its cultural insights but also all the historical ones (the book talks about the times in China during the Japanese invasion and it was definitely a learning curve for me .. )

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Furthermore Rating:

Synopsis2A captivating and colorful adventure that reads like a modern day fairy tale, from the bestselling author of the Shatter Me series.

Inspired by her childhood love of books like The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia, bestselling author Tahereh Mafi crafts a spellbinding new world where color is currency, adventure is inevitable, and friendship is found in the most unexpected places.

There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other.

But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. It will take all of Alice’s wits (and every limb she’s got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father, Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

My reviewWith charming randomness and gorgeous evocative descriptions of magical lands, all  of which masks the slight creepiness and gruesome reality behind the colors, this reads like a children’s fairytale. But the thing with fairytales  is that they are short and end before you start getting tired of make-the-rules-up-as-you-write world-building. But at 450+ pages, Furthermore really tested my patience. I loved the writing but by the 100th pages, I got tired of reading about how the sun was raining, the rainlight was glowing and the landscape was lush with colors. Furthermore could have been a sharper novel with a bit of editing, instead of becoming a fairytale that overstayed its welcome.

The biggest strength of this novel is what Mafi conveyed through her characters – about finding within yourself the courage to accept the way you are instead of expecting the world around you to see you through different lens. I also loved how artistry, creativity and unconventional decisions by the characters are richly rewarded (albeit after a lot of hiccups). It was such a cool nod to real life!

Both Alice and Oliver were believable because they acted their age – they were impulsive, distrustful and lied to each other initially to protect their self-interests; and were generally clueless although their ego prevented them from admitting it.

I was wondering whether this was meant to be a wonderland retelling. But, I saw that Mafi recently clarified that it isn’t. Well, retelling or not, this would make for a lovely movie because it has such a picturesque quality to it.

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Finding Audrey Rating:

Synopsis2An anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah, but when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family.

My reviewI would have probably rated this as 3/5 a year ago but I feel like I have read so many books since then with a much better anxiety rep. So this was kind of cringe-worthy to read.

I love Kinsella’s Shopaholic series which is genuinely full of LOL moments. But I found the author so out of depth here. Most of the attempts at humor fell flat and anxiety issues were handled in a way that felt farcical. The romance didn’t work for me either because I have already read similar budding teen love stories in the past year that had more spark. This was just plain dull.

The only person I could probably relate to was Frank (Audrey’s brother) whose incredulous reaction to what was happening mirrored my feeling too. I feel like this book needed more attention and authenticity devoted to mental health than the video game track, because Frank’s gaming obsession just didn’t go well or add anything to Audrey’s story. The details of what caused Audrey’s health issues to get worse is fuzzy and never cleared up. Heck, I am not saying that I always need details about the triggering condition but if you are partially bringing it up then either do it properly or don’t bring it up at all.

And if you are insisting it is a severe anxiety condition, don’t show the “recovery process” going so smoothly by the end of the book. It just doesn’t work that way.

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As I am travelling to India this month, I will be on a bit of a blogging hiatus till March.. I am too excited (and distracted) about my upcoming trip these days to really sit down and review anything.. but I did manage to read a couple of books recently:

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1) This was my introduction to Schwab and I loved it!! It was entertaining, but I felt that some parts (when Kate and August were on the run) were kind of tedious to read. I would liked it if that was cut short and more time was spent on making the dystopian part of the world-building more fleshed out and understandable.

Dark Places With this, I have finally finished reading all of Flynn’s books and : Gone Girl > Sharp Objects > Dark Places > The Grownup .. (or I might feel The Grownup>Dark Places later :p )

I also bought a couple of books which were on the library sale:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown      All the Light We Cannot See

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Since the entire travel time is 24+ hours, I downloaded these books into my overdrive (because I couldn’t decide on one)

13047567      The Impostor Queen (The Impostor Queen, #1)      Into the Darkest Corner

Have y’all read any of these books? Which one of these make for a good flight read? (Psst… had to download the Chaos Walking trilogy because The Knife of Never Letting Go was on hold..)

 

 

 

 

 

Teaser Tuesday #6

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Grownup

I received this book via Megan’s giveaway. This is one of the novellas that has been on my TBR for quite sometime (the other being Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell).

My Teasers:

She called me Nerdy because I wore glasses and read books and ate yogurt on my lunch break. I am not really a nerd; I only aspire to be one. (Page 10)

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Rating:

I loved Gone Girl, and for a long time I was under the impression that it was Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. It was much later that I discovered she had authored two other books prior to that, the first one being Sharp Objects. And you can see her flair for writing psychological thrillers and twisted characters in her first book too.

Sharp Objects starts with Camille Preaker , a small-time crime beat reporter assigned by her boss to dig up the story of what seems to be the beginning of a serial killing spree in Wind Gap, her hometown. Two young girls killed in two years, and both of them are well, toothless when their bodies are discovered. Yup, their teeth are plied out by the murderer, every single one of them.  Sounds like a pretty solid premise to base a decent murder mystery, right?  Well, midway through the book the case just felt like a crutch to explore the three main characters and their dysfunctional relationship – Camille, her mother Adora and half-sister Amma who she has never properly met till date. When Camille gets back to Wind Gap after ages, she is forced to stay with Adora,  Amma and Alan Crellin, her step-dad, so that she can increase her chances of networking and picking up quotes from old neighbours and friends. It ends up proving a bit counter-productive though, as her mom isn’t really pleased or supportive of her daughter’s assignment. The local police, assisted by a Kansas City detective, Richard Willis, aren’t forthcoming either.

As you read about Wind Gap, it’s history and folks; you get the feeling that there is something seriously off about the place. It just feels so suffocating and claustrophobic. And at the very least, quite disturbing. We the readers, of course, view that through the microcosm of Preaker/Crellin household.

Camille is damaged and recovering and loss of her sister and emotional abuse years ago, something she still grapples with and can’t make sense of – Did her mother love her? Did she love her younger sister more than her? Why has she always been so distant with Camille at home, though she is perfectly capable of pampering and nurturing to keep up appearances in the society?

Camille lashed out in her teens, by taking part in debauchery and cutting words into her skin. A decade later, she commits herself into a psych facility to wean away the cutting habit. But her stay in Wind Gap begins to take a serious toll on her as old memories, dormant resentment and hurt resurface. At one point she senses herself being sucked back into her old life with her mother, controlling, dominant and .. forceful mollycoddling. Even more unsettling is the new addition into the family charade, Amma, who at thirteen,  acts younger than her age at home, to get Adora’s attention, but acts out more than her age at school and everywhere else in town. She has a vicious streak and through her, we meet her gang of girls, all unapologetic about bullying, drugs, flaunting sexuality and just general meanness. Amma takes the cake though.

Adora literally treats Amma as a pet doll, and when Camille enters the picture, she isn’t sure how to treat this new development.  Camille can’t figure out Amma either. And to be honest, neither could I. So when, Amma seems to warm up to Camille, and has this candid conversation with her, where she admits she gets a real kick out of hurting people, you realize at that point that, both are, in a weird way, two sides of the same coin. Just that Camille went onto hurting herself.

So how did Camille and Amma end up turning into the people that they are? We also get a whiff of rumour about Adora’s mother being a cold, emotionally distant person. Is it a case of abuse handed down from two different generations and manifested in different ways?

So what about the murder mystery, you ask? Well, Flynn handles that too in parallel, but with lesser finesse than what she exhibited in Gone Girl.  The last few pages were convincing but rushed.  At 250 pages, this book makes for a crisp, sharp read. But if a few more pages would have smoothened those li’l frayed edges….