Latest Reviews

love is red
pirate vishnu
city of the lost
the nightingale kristin hannah
a murder in time

Book Review: The Yoga of Max’s Discontent – Karan Bajaj

yoga of max's discontent - karan bajajTitle: The Yoga of Max’s Discontent
Author: Karan Bajaj
ISBN: 9781594634116
Pages: 336
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

To everyone around him, Max looks like the ultimate American success story: the child of Greek immigrants who grew up in the projects, who overcame his poor unbringing to be incredibly successful, make a lot of money, and live a fancy life in New York City. But underneath the surface, Max isn’t as happy as he appears. After a personal tragedy and a chance meeting, Max travels to the Himalayas in India to discover his true purpose and find the meaning of life.

Review

I know what you’re probably thinking. I thought it too when I first read the summary of The Yoga of Max’s Discontent. “Oh, it’s another one of those stereotypical books where a white person decides to ‘find themselves’ by going to India.” I was ready to pass this book on by when I saw the name on the cover: Karan Bajaj. And instantly, with the knowledge that this novel was actually written by an Indian man, my interest was transformed. I couldn’t wait to pick up this novel and see what Bajaj had done with this stereotypical storyline.

What I found was a gorgeous meditation on yoga, its place within Hinduism, and Hindu spiritual beliefs cloaked in the novel of one man’s journey to inner peace. I don’t pretend to be an expert on yoga, but I do sometimes become frustrated with the way it is practiced within the Western sphere (without the context of Hinduism and or any understanding of what yoga truly is). Yoga has become a thing people talk about over brunch mimosas, rather than a part of my religion and culture. I don’t begrudge its popularity, but it is nice to see it placed within its proper context, especially considering how easy-to-read and interesting Bajaj makes it.

I also appreciated Bajaj’s depiction of Max’s spiritual journey in The Yoga of Max’s Discontent. There were no fancy ashrams with juice cleanses and spas for Max. He is genuinely looking for spiritual enlightenment, and that quest is absolutely brutal. There are no easy ways to know and understand. Bajaj’s descriptions are just incredible here; you can picture every scene in this book vividly. I would call the prose in this novel lush, except that would be incongruent; the entire novel is spare, almost to the point of agony. The only extravagant thing about it is Bajaj’s beautiful prose.

I’ve talked a lot about why The Yoga of Max’s Discontent meant something to me, but the real question is: Is it enjoyable? And the answer is a resounding yes. There are certainly some difficult parts of the book, as Max faces real suffering, but it’s beautiful and moving, and you can’t help but feel enlightened after you read it. It’s a surprisingly fast read for such a heavy subject, and I highly recommend it.

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Book Review: The Fever – Sonia Shah

the fever shahTitle: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years
Author: Sonia Shah
ISBN: 9780312573010
Pages: 320
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Nonfiction, Science
Source: Personal Copy

Summary

Why is malaria such a modern-day scourge? Why haven’t we been able to eradicate it? And why is it mostly nonexistent in Europe and the United States? In her investigation of malaria, Sonia Shah answers these many questions and many others as she strives to understand how malaria has shaped the evolution of human civilization over the past 500,000 years.

Review

I’m a big fan of pop science–well-researched science but told from a journalistic perspective designed to appeal to laypeople—so when I first heard of Sonia Shah’s books about science and medicine, I was intrigued. I decided to start with The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years because malaria is a disease I’m somewhat familiar with. Though I’ve never suffered from it, I have close friends who have become its victim (and survived to tell the tale, though as this book shows, many others aren’t so lucky) and have taken preventative malaria medicine on trips back to visit my parents’ homeland, India.

The Fever has surprises and interesting facts on every page, but the most surprising to me is how common malaria is in equatorial countries. The question isn’t who’s had malaria. It’s who hasn’t. Its ubiquity made sense when I thought about it, but it was startling nonetheless. I found this deep dive into the disease, and specifically its resistance to eradication and ability to morph based on what we’re throwing at it, fascinating.

Sonia Shah writes in an easy, journalistic style that is very accessible. You don’t have to know a lot about malaria to enjoy this book—you really don’t even need to be overly familiar with what’s going on in medicine. Shah lays the groundwork you need to know without coming across as condescending. I was completely drawn into this book in a way that can be difficult with nonfiction, especially when it comes to somewhat technical topics. I appreciated her writing style, for sure.

Having read The Fever, I’m planning on coating myself with bug spray every time I leave the house (I’m kidding, that comes with its own health risks, but MAN this book is disturbing). I found this account clearly told and eye opening, and I appreciated the mix of anecdote, science, and reporting. Shah’s a talented writer, and I’m glad I have more books of hers to read before I run through her backlist.

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Book Review: Love Is Red – Sophie Jaff

love is redTitle: Love Is Red
Author: Sophie Jaff
ISBN: 9780062346261
Pages: 384
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Someone is murdering women in New York City, and there aren’t a lot of clues to go on. Women around the city are becoming fearful of being out alone, especially at night. Every man is suspect. In the midst of these tragedies, Katherine Emerson meets two intriguing men: David is nice and dependable. Katherine knows she has a solid future with him. Sael is more slippery, harder to predict, and has a darkness to him that Katherine finds it difficult to resist. As Katherine tries to figure out what she wants from these men, she realizes that the more insistent question might be…what do they want from her?

Review

Love Is Red is quite possibly the most unexpectedly intriguing book I’ve read so far this year. What seems to be some sort of traditional murder mystery/romance combination becomes something else entirely in the hands of a writer as talented as Sophie Jaff. That’s not to denigrate either murder mysteries or romances—I’ve read and enjoyed my fair share of both genres—but the inability to fit this novel into a neat box is one of its most interesting aspects.

If I had to pick one adjective to describe Love Is Red, I’d say it’s a novel of obsession, in all its forms. Sexual, yes, but also the need to belong, to understand, to protect. It’s a consuming novel, both in terms of what the characters feel and experience, as well as how it grabs ahold of you from the first few pages. I read this in one sitting, intent on understanding the power behind this novel. I can’t tell you exactly why it mesmerized me; in fact, I was pretty close to letting it go unread, but a recommendation from someone I trust convinced me to give it a chance. And man. Am I glad I did.

Katherine is an interesting, imperfect main character for Love Is Red. She makes bad decisions that are completely understandable. She’s impulsive and readers will connect with her quickly; Jaff knows how to get the reader into the head of a flawed sympathetic character. She’s the heart of the novel; readers might pick this up for mystery or romance, but Katherine is why they stay.

By the end of Love Is Red, I was in a place I did not expect at all in terms of plot, but it felt satisfying regardless. Jaff seeds hints of the direction she’s taking the novel over the course of the story, and I’m eager to go back and reread this book, knowing now where it will end up. This is the first in a trilogy, and you can probably tell I’ll be picking up the sequel without hesitation. If you enjoy the unexpected in your reading, if you love intensity and passion in your reads, then you should pick this up.

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Pirate Vishnu + Quicksand – Gigi Pandian

pirate vishnuTitle: Pirate Vishnu (Jaya Jones Book #2) and Quicksand (Jaya Jones Book #3)
Author: Gigi Pandian
ISBN: 9781938383977
Pages: 306
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Henery Press
Genre: Mystery
Source: Publicist

Summary

In the second novel in the Jaya Jones treasure hunt series, Pirate Vishnu, Jaya must discover the truth about one of her ancestors—did he die in the United States, as her family has believed for so many years, or did he become a pirate, with the key to a treasure? In Quicksand, the third and most recent novel, Jaya receives a note from her old flame Lane asking her to meet him in Paris—but once she arrives, she realizes that more is going on than appears and Lane’s past has caught up with him.

Review

I love adventure and treasure-hunt type novels, so when I discovered that Gigi Pandian was writing this type of series with a half-Indian main character, I was incredibly excited. The Jaya Jones mysteries (which start with Artifact) are smart, fun, and engrossing—it’s difficult to not read these in one sitting.

Pandian did an excellent job setting up the characters and their dynamics in Artifact, but she’s not afraid to play around with relationships in her later novels. These characters are fluid, developing and growing as the series progresses—notice I said characters, plural. One of the great things about this series is how much time and effort Pandian spends on the secondary characters. The reader gets to know Jaya very well, but it’s the supporting cast that make these books colorful and fun.

Pirate Vishnu and Quicksand take the reader on an armchair journey, and Pandian excellently writes these different places. These novels aren’t lacking for atmosphere, and the author pays close attention to details, clearly intent on creating a rich reading experience. The plots move at a brisk pace, and there are enough twists and turns to satisfy discerning readers. These books are fun, adventurous, history-filled romps, and I hope there are many, many more of them to come.

Other books by Gigi Pandian:

Artifact

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Book Review: City of the Lost – Kelley Armstrong

city of the lost

Title: City of the Lost Author: Kelley Armstrong ISBN: 9781250092144 Pages: 416 Release Date: May 3, 2016 Publisher: Minotaur Books Genre: Crime Fiction Source: Publisher Summary Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret in her past that she’d like to make sure stays hidden. But when her past catches up with her, and […]

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Book Review: The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

the nightingale kristin hannah

Title: The Nightingale Author: Kristin Hannah ISBN: 9780312577223 Pages: 448 Release Date: February 3, 2015 Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Genre: Historical Fiction Source: Publisher Summary Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, living in France in the 1930s; Vianne is responsible, caring for her husband, child, and younger sister, while Isabelle is flighty and selfish. But war […]

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Book Review: A Murder in Time – Julie McElwain

a murder in time

Title: A Murder in Time Author: Julie McElwain ISBN:9781605989747 Pages: 499 Release Date: April 11, 2016 Publisher: Pegasus Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime Fiction Source: Publisher Summary Kendra Donovan might be young, but she’s making a name for herself at the FBI. That is, until something goes horribly wrong on a raid, and Kendra wakes up […]

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Book Review: Marriage Material – Sathnam Sanghera

marriage material

Title: Marriage Material Author: Sathnam Sanghera ISBN: 9781609453077 Pages: 336 Release Date: February 16, 2016 Publisher: Europa Editions Genre: Literary Fiction Source: Publisher Summary Arjun has returned home to help his mother out with their family’s convenience store after his father’s unexpected death, but he finds himself in limbo. Arjun’s torn between his identities—British and […]

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