Latest Reviews

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BookTube: Anatomy of a Little Free Library Takeover

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In today’s BookTube video, I discuss my Little Free Library (and even give you a glimpse of it!) and the Anna Quindlen takeover (thanks, Random House!)

Book Review: A Bollywood Affair – Sonali Dev

A Bollywood Affair coverTitle: A Bollywood Affair
Author: Sonali Dev
ISBN: 9781617730139
Pages: 304
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Kensington Books
Genre: Romance, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Mili Rathod was married when she was just four years old, in an illegal Indian village ceremony, to Virat Rathod, but she hasn’t seen her groom since her wedding day. Mili is certain that, one day, her husband will come for her, and in the meantime, she’s devoted herself to being the best wife she can. Mili has always been fascinated by psychology, and now she’s received the opportunity to pursue graduate studies in the United States. Samir Rathod is a “bad boy” director in Bollywood, India’s infamous film industry, but he’s also a devoted brother to Virat. And when Virat needs a divorce from Mili, Samir is only too happy to oblige his brother, to find Mili once and for all, and put an end to her sham of a marriage.

Snapshot Review:

A Bollywood Affair is a dramatic novel, with its premise of child marriage, but it’s also a sweet romance full of culture. Mili is a great main character, and readers will root for her and Samir as they encounter obstacles on their road to eventual (if inevitable) happiness.

Full Review:

The romance genre is often bemoaned for its lack of diversity; while I don’t read a lot of romance novels, I certainly hear this a lot from my friends who are widely versed in the genre. Well, Sonali Dev is trying to change that with her adorable romance novel A Bollywood Affair, with two very different Indian characters at its center and a core that is about family, values, and culture.

Mili is a sweet, wonderful character who carries A Bollywood Affair on her small, if strong, shoulders. She’s self-deluded, to be sure: she really believes that, after all this time, Virat is coming for her. The reader knows very well that he isn’t (and not just because they see things from his point of view), but after awhile, the reasons why Mili has been deluding herself become clear. She has lived her entire life being told she is Virat’s wife; it is her identity, and she doesn’t know who she is if not that, so she clings to it with everything she has. It makes for interesting character development over the course of the novel, especially because Mili is such a sweet person who really captures the reader’s heart.

Samir is a different story in A Bollywood Affair—a brooding hunk of a man who has a soft side that no one but Mili can see. Is his storyline unrealistic? Yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely sweet and wonderful. There are many aspects of this novel that require leaps of imagination, but Dev is a talented enough author that they aren’t difficult to make. Readers want to go along with her story because it is so enjoyable and she creates such rich, vibrant characters.

If you’re a fan of romance, then A Bollywood Affair should absolutely be on your list. If you haven’t given the genre a chance, this might be a great choice with which to try it. The culturally diverse aspects give it an extra layer, and it’s really just a well-written and engaging novel. One thing is for certain: you’ll be rooting hard for Mili and Samir, and won’t be able to put this book down until you find out if they’re going to have a happy ending.

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Book Review: I Am China – Xiaolu Guo

I Am China coverTitle: I Am China
Author: Xiaolu Guo
ISBN: 9780385538718
Pages: 384
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Genre: Cultural Fiction, Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Iona Kirkpatrick works out of her London flat, working on freelance projects as a translator. One day, she receives a packet of letters from a publisher; the publisher makes it clear that he has no idea what these contain, but that there might be enough within for a book. Iona quickly becomes obsessed with the story that emerges from these documents, of Chinese revolutionary musician Jian and his love, Mu, and the difficult choice he must make between the music he idealizes and the woman he loves.

Snapshot Review:

Xialolu Guo has created a vivid portrait of music in modern China in I Am China, juxtaposing Jian’s fascinating story against the personal journey of Iona. Guo balances between these two narratives well, crafting fascinating personalities that leap off the page and draw the reader fully into this immersive tale.

Full Review:

I Am China tells the story of two very different people who are worlds away, yet so much closer than they could ever realize. At the beginning, it’s unclear why Guo chose to frame the story with Iona’s narration. She seems superfluous, a flat character among the vivid color of China. But as the novel progresses, Iona takes on a fully fleshed life of her own. Her story of self-discovery juxtaposes against Jian’s narrative; what’s more, Iona provides the narrative tension necessary for the novel, as she searches back and forth, trying to piece together Juan and Mu’s story. Though it takes a little time to come together, in the end, these dueling narratives are well done and each tells its own story within the larger sphere of this novel.

It’s Jian’s and Mu’s story that is at the heart of I Am China, though. He’s an angry young man, to be sure, insistent on bringing about change in China through his punk rock. He believes in the power of music, that it can bring about monumental changes. He’s young and idealistic, to be sure, and Guo builds him into a fascinating character. As the novel progresses, the reader sees Jian becoming more and more jaded. China isn’t tolerant of his message, and Jian becomes a political prisoner. He loses all connection to the world, except through Mu.

Indeed, this theme of love as a thin thread that binds a person to the real world is one that permeates I Am China. Both Iona and Jian are lost souls, floating through a world that doesn’t have the time to understand them and wouldn’t seem to mind if they disappeared. The only thing that keeps Jian a part of the world is his connection to Mu, one that expands and contracts over the course of time. Meanwhile, Iona’s link to the real world is tenuous at best; she has broken up with her boyfriend and works out of her flat. She is isolated, to be sure, and it’s only though love that Iona can become reconnected to the world around her. Guo is intent on portraying love as, quite possibly, the only thing that can save us.

If you enjoy cultural reads, Guo presents a fascinating picture of present-day China in I Am China. She does a great job developing her characters, and readers will feel a connection to them. It’s this emotional investment that will keep readers hooked on the book, intent on discovering the fate of Jian and Mu, as Iona scrambles to find out what happened to them and whether they found each other in the end.

Other books by Xiaolu Guo:

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth

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Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

Book of Strange New Things coverTitle: The Book of Strange New Things
Author: Michel Faber
ISBN: 9780553418842
Pages: 512
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre: Science Fiction, Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

Peter has just been given the chance of a lifetime—preaching to the Oasans, an alien race on the planet Oasis, where the company USIC has set up a base. Earth is devolving into chaos, and Peter must leave his beloved wife Bea behind him, but he can’t pass up the opportunity to bring this alien race closer to Christ. But Peter isn’t prepared for what awaits him on Oasis, nor how his experiences will change him completely.

Snapshot Review:

Faber has written a gorgeous novel in The Book of Strange New Things, full of intriguing characters and questions of faith, set on a distant world where nothing is as transparent as it seems.

Full Review:

The Book of Strange New Things is a strange and wondrous science fiction story that reads almost like a history. Peter is a missionary going to a strange new world, eager to spread his Christian religion to the native Oasans. However, this isn’t a Christian novel by any stretch of the imagination. Peter fervently believes in his religion, but this is a character-driven story first and foremost. It’s about Peter’s journey with the Oasans and how he’s irrevocably changed by his experiences on Oasis. While it will certainly appeal to devout Christians, the story isn’t preachy and those who don’t follow the religion, such as myself, will not feel put off by it.

Faber’s descriptions in The Book of Strange New Things are vivid and evocative. Oasis isn’t a beautiful planet upon first glance, but Peter come to appreciate its uniqueness; the Oasans are much the same. These aren’t the human-looking aliens that are usually depicted in science fiction. They are almost grotesque in their appearance, but underneath that shell are gentle souls. It’s so interesting to watch the Oasans become people in Peter’s eyes, as he struggles to get to know them, versus the way they are spoken of by the people on the USIC base. Peter really comes to know and appreciate the Oasans, their culture, and the way they accept him into their community.

Though Peter is a religious leader in The Book of Strange New Things, he experiences his own crises of faith, especially through his letters with Bea, Peter’s wife, who grows increasingly frantic as the world as she knows it crumbles around her. Peter becomes distant, unable to relate to the woman he left behind, as it feels as though her troubles are far removed from what he is experiencing with the Oasans. It’s interesting to see how she pulls on him from home, and how her letters affect Peter. What happens when, because of your work and what you see as your calling, you can’t emotionally support or help the people most important to you? It’s certainly a fascinating conflict.

It’s difficult to really express why The Book of Strange New Things is so good. It would be easy to try to categorize it as science fiction or a religious novel, but it transcends any genre classification. What it is is a character driven story set on a distant planet, with a culture that is different from anything the reader has experienced. Peter must grapple with the difference between the Oasan settlement and the base, the different people and problems he encounters on that base, his own personal crises, and maintaining his relationship with his wife, who is having difficulties dealing with Earth’s breakdown on her own. It’s a well-balanced novel with many different aspects, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

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Book Review: You – Caroline Kepnes

You cover

Title: You Author: Caroline Kepnes ISBN: 9781476785592 Pages: 432 Release Date: September 30, 2014 Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books Genre: Psychological Thriller Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Joe works in a bookstore, which he finds is the perfect place to meet women. And indeed, that’s where he meets Guinevere Beck, a gorgeous and smart […]

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Book Review: The Republic of Imagination – Azar Nafisi

The Republic of Imagination cover

Title: The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books Author: Azar Nafisi ISBN: 9780670026067 Pages: 352 Release Date: October 21, 2014 Publisher: Viking Genre: Nonfiction, Social Studies Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: In the fashion of Reading Lolita in Tehran, author Azar Nafisi turns her sharp literary eye to her adopted country of America, […]

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BookTube: On Reading Diversely and Diversity in Books

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  On today’s BookTube video, I take a few minutes to talk about reading diversity and why it is SO IMPORTANT to me. Other BookTube videos on reading diversely: Book Riot Unputdownables Rincey Reads

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Book Review: The Lost Book of Mormon – Avi Steinberg

lost book of mormon cover

Title: The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri Author: Avi Steinberg ISBN: 9780385535694 Pages: 288 Release Date: October 21, 2014 Publisher: Nan A. Talese Genre: Nonfiction, Travel, History Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: In this memoir/travelogue, Avi Steinberg goes on a […]

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