Book Review: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness – Maddie Dawson

Title: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness
Author: Maddie Dawson
ISBN: 9781503939103
Pages: 372
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

After the death of her mother, Nina Popkin feels alone in the world. On a whim, she decides to go in search of her birth mother, the woman who gave her up for adoption. Will Nina find the family and sense of belonging she so desperately needs, or is that something that can only come from within?

Review

A Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness is a breezy novel featuring a flawed but relatable main character in Nina Popkin. Nina’s life isn’t exactly going smoothly, and she believes that finding her birth mother will solve all her problems. The reader knows that things aren’t quite that simple, and yet it’s easy to see why Nina craves some sort of stability. After the death of her mother, there’s nothing to tether her to the world she lives in. She feels alone. It’s understandable why she’d go out in search of something solid, something she can depend on.

It’s interesting to see how Nina relates to the world in A Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness. She’s so desperate for family, so sure that it’ll lead to some sort of happy ending, and she can’t see that happiness comes from within. It’s interesting to see her on her journey, as much as for her own personal struggle as how she affects those around her. The people in Nina’s life can’t help but be touched by her optimism and hope.

In the end, A Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness is a heartwarming story about the messiness of family. Family is what you create in your heart. It’s big and it’s not always neat and it doesn’t always check the boxes we expect, but it’s worth fighting for, as hard as we can.

Other books by Maddie Dawson

The Stuff That Never Happened

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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: 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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Book Review: The Ramblers – Aidan Donnelly Rowley

the-ramblersTitle: The Ramblers
Author: Aidan Donnelly Rowley
ISBN: 9780062413314
Pages: 400
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Three very different people: Clio, Smith, and Tate. They’re living in New York, and on the surface, it might appear that they have their lives together, but each has ghosts in their past they have to work through to let go of the things that are holding them back. Will they be able to help one another, or will they be stymied by the difficulties they face?

Review

There are a lot of books out there about late twenty/early thirtysomethings being single in the city (New York City, even), and trying to figure things out. They could probably constitute their own genre, there are so many of them. I’ve read quite a few of them, and I’ve seen what they have in common, which is why I so appreciated The Ramblers. While many other novels in this vein that I’ve read feature main characters who are a mess both professionally and personally, in Rowley’s novel, her characters have their lives together on the surface. Their jobs are varied, certainly, and some come from a place of privilege, but professionally they have some semblace of togetherness.

This resonated with me because I’ve never been able to identify with those novels that feature main characters who are in their early thirties and can’t get their lives together enough to get past an internship. I’m not saying that those people don’t exist, but I pour myself into my job, and I can’t imagine being so dispassionate. But with Rowley’s characters, who each feel strongly about their professions, but have personal and emotional issues—I could sympathize with that. Even when the characters were being difficult and unlikeable—which at times they are—I cared about what happened to them and I wanted the best for them.

The setting of The Ramblers is also transporting. Rowley ensures that New York City, with all its highs and lows, is a character in the novel and has just as much of a voice as her three main characters. It’s completely atmospheric and, as someone who loves New York, really drew me into the book. I was as invested in the characters as I was in how New York would shape and mold them. Settings can really make or break a novel, and in this case, it’s exceptionally well done.

I adored Rowley’s previous novel, Life After You Yes, so I was really glad to have the chance to read this one, and I did so in one sitting. She gets the voices of each character perfect, and readers will become emotionally invested in their stories, hopeful that they’ll leave them in a better place than where they started. If you’re looking for a novel to really dive into, add this one to your list.

Other books by Aidan Donnelly Rowley:

Life After Yes

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Book Review: The Sculptor – Scott McCloud

Title: The Sculptor Author: Scott McCloud ISBN: 9781596435735 Pages: 496 Release Date: February 3, 2015 Publisher: First Second Genre: Comics, Contemporary Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: David Smith is a sculptor, but he hasn’t been able to catch a break and he feels like his chance is slipping away. He makes a […]

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Book Review: Together Tea – Marjan Kamali

together tea cover

Title: Together Tea Author: Marjane Kamali ISBN: 9780062236807 Pages: 336 Release Date: May 21, 2013 Publisher: Ecco Books Genre: Cultural Fiction, Contemporary Fiction Source: Personal Copy Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Summary: Mina is fed up with her mother’s attempts to arrange her marriage, but Darya only wants what is best for her daughter—after all, it’s […]

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Book Review: The Accidental Apprentice – Vikas Swarup

Title: The Accidental Apprentice Author: Vikas Swarup ISBN: 9781250045553 Pages: 448 Release Date: July 8, 2014 Publisher: Minotaur Books Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian) Source: Publisher Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Summary: Sapna Singh isn’t thrilled with job at a New Delhi electronics store, but it allows her to support her family. But everything […]

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Book Review: Where Earth Meets Water – Pia Padukone

Title: Where Earth Meets Water Author: Pia Padukone ISBN: 9780778315971 Pages: 288 Release Date: April 29, 2014 Publisher: Harlequin Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian) Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Karom Seth feels that he has cheated death, and that one way or another, it’s coming to claim him. He was supposed […]

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