Book Review: The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan

Title: The Association of Small Bombs
Author: Karan Mahajan
ISBN: 9780525429630
Pages: 288
Release Date: March 22, 2016
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

The year is 1996 in India, and two young Khurana brothers have just recruited their friend Mansoor to help them run a quick errand. What the Khurana family doesn’t realize, though, is that this small action will change their lives forever. A bomb blast in the market claims the lives of the two Khurana boys—but Mansoor is left alive. This sends repercussions far into the future that no one can foresee.

Review

In the United States, when a bomb goes off, it’s a Big Deal. It makes national headlines, and it’s all we can talk about for days. Of course that’s how it should be—bombs and terrorism should never be a part of everyday life. We shouldn’t have to grapple with these issues to the point where they become routine. However, other countries aren’t so lucky—for many around the world, dealing with terrorism is just another part of living, and that’s what The Association of Small Bombs tries to emphasize. First, that these “small bombs” that only kill a few people are a routine part of life for some, and also that despite the fact that you can consider them “small bombs,” they have lasting repercussions that ripple through time.

This isn’t a huge, earth shattering novel. It doesn’t deal with the effects of terrorism on a global or national scale. Instead it focuses on people—the Khurana family, Mansoor—and how they are affected by this tragedy. It shows how they grow and change, but also how the bombing will cast a shadow over their lives forever. It’s incredibly interesting; Mahajan’s development of his main characters and their complex motivations is fascinating.

There is no black and white in The Association of Small Bombs. The entire novel is told in shades of gray. Good and bad might seem like simple concepts, but through this artfully woven tale, the reader realizes they are anything but. There is a human side of terrorism—both terrorist and victim—and while Mahajan does not try to apologize for terrorists, he does make clear that it is all more complicated than we’d like to think.

The Association of Small Bombs is made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that it’s based on a true story. Even more than that, it’s a story that is happening every day, a cycle of violence occurring over and over again with no end in sight. This is an important book; it’s not always easy, though Mahajan’s brevity and straightforward prose do help, but it’s absolutely worth the time you spend with it.

Note: This review was written and scheduled before Saturday (9/17/16) night’s blasts in New York City and the Jersey shore, but those incidents further underscore the points that Mahajan is trying to make in this novel.

Affiliate Links:

Buy this book from Powell’s Books
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Buy this book from your local Indiebound bookstore

Book Review: Rich and Pretty – Rumaan Alam

rich-and-prettyTitle: Rich and Pretty
Author: Rumaan Alam
ISBN: 9780062429933
Pages: 304
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Ecco
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Sarah and Lauren have been best friends for most of their lives. Now, they both are living in New York in that period of their lives where they are adults, but don’t quite feel like it. Sarah is planning her wedding, while Lauren is happily single; they’ve grown up, but it’s difficult to say whether they’ve grown together or grown apart.

Review

Rich and Pretty was a novel I picked up knowing nothing about, and I have to say it was in no way what I expected. All I did know going in was that the author, Rumaan Alam, is a South Asian man (making this pretty much an auto-read for me), and this novel…was anything but the type of book I expected. I’m not trying to say it’s not well worth reading; I found myself immersed in Lauren’s world. It was refreshing, in fact, to be given something so unexpected. I quickly adjusted my expectations and dove into this novel, eager to learn about the intricacies of Lauren and Sarah’s relationship.

This is one of those novels that is about nothing at all while simultaneously being about the most important things in our lives. Above all, it’s a novel of female friendship; Sarah and Lauren are best friends on the surface, and they know almost everything about one another…but are they really friends? It’s so interesting to see what’s happened to them. They’re friends because they have been their entire lives. If they met today, would they even like each other? There’s an undercurrent of tension that runs though this book and keeps the reader hooked.

Alam is great at writing unlikeable characters that you still sympathize with; both Sarah and Lauren aren’t easy to like in Rich and Pretty. They’re both selfish and difficult. Yet, you care about what happens to them (even as you sometimes revel in their mistakes) and you want to see them, in the end, overcome their differences and see each other as flawed wholes, rather than the narrow perceptions they have of one another steeped in their mutual history.

This is not a book for everyone; I enjoyed reading it and, in fact, read it in one sitting. But it’s also a book that is very much about nothing; it’s about daily life and relationships and growing together and apart. If you need a lot of plot to keep you reading, if you aren’t interested in nuanced books about relationships (and it’s okay if you’re not—like I said, this book isn’t for everyone), then you should skip this. But if you enjoy peeking into others’ lives and understanding relationships and personalities (and want to see more unlikeable women in fiction), then give this a try. You might just love it.

Affiliate Links:

Buy this book from Powell’s Books
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Buy this book from your local Indiebound bookstore

Book Review: The Hopefuls – Jennifer Close

hopefuls jennifer closeTitle: The Hopefuls
Author: Jennifer Close
ISBN: 9781101875612
Pages: 320
Release Date: July 19, 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Beth loves New York City, so it’s with some reluctance that she moves to Washington, DC, for her husband Matt’s career. And from the second she arrives, she hates everything about the city—the humidity, the political culture, the name dropping. As she tries to make a home for herself in DC, Matt finds himself increasingly unsatisfied with his job. The two connect with a Washington, DC, couple on the rise, but the jealousy and professional intrigue may end up tearing Matt and Beth apart for good.

Review

The Hopefuls was a hard read for me—a great read—but a difficult one because of my circumstances when I picked it up. I’d lived in Washington, DC, for 11 years, and was in the process of moving. I hadn’t told most of my friends about leaving yet, and I was having mixed feelings about leaving the city I’d called home ever since college. And then I read this novel, that pinpointed so many of the things I don’t like about DC in such a smart, witty way. It felt like my last, frayed nerve endings being stomped upon, but it was incredibly worth it.

The culture of DC is hard to describe and baffling to most people who haven’t experienced it. The optimism and hope, the earnest belief in public service, mixed with a grating culture of name dropping, games of who-do-you-know, and the stories you hear over and over and over again from the same people. Close nails her portrayal of it; anyone who’s been baffled by the way DC culture operates has been Beth. They remember the strangeness, feeling like an outsider, not sure of the social norms in this entirely new world.

And yet, the novel itself is compulsively readable. It might be an easy conclusion to draw from my reaction to The Hopefuls that I didn’t enjoy the book, but that isn’t the case. I actually thought it was incredibly well written, and in fact, I read it in one sitting. Close develops her characters in such an interesting way—Beth is the only fully developed character in the novel, but that’s on purpose. Close wants the reader to feel Beth’s sense of isolation from those around her, trying to fit into a world she doesn’t understand or particularly like. It’s very well done.

I certainly winced more than once when reading The Hopefuls, and that’s why I can recommend it so wholeheartedly (though, let me say in defense of the city I called home for so long that there is a lot to love about it that isn’t portrayed in this novel!) These characters are far from perfect. They make bad decisions. They are horrible to each other. But you can’t help but root for Beth, to hope that she finds belonging in her marriage, and in the city she wants to call home.

Other books by Jennifer Close:

Girls in White Dresses
The Smart One

Affiliate Links:

Buy this book from Powell’s Books
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Buy this book from your local Indiebound bookstore

Book Review: My Last Continent – Midge Raymond

my last continentTitle: My Last Continent
Author: Midge Raymond
ISBN: 9781501124709
Pages: 320
Release Date: June 21, 2016
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Deb Gardner has been coming to the Antarctic for years to study penguins, and it’s the only place she feels at home. It’s where she met the love of her life, Keller Sullivan, and where she feels fulfilled. The travel season for the Antarctic has recently begun, and Deb is a naturalist aboard a small tourist expedition ship. She discovers that Keller is a naturalist aboard a giant cruise liner, too large and unwieldy in the icy Antarctic waters, and when that ship encounters distress, Deb knows this season will be unlike any other.

Review

I’m going to try very hard to talk about why I loved My Last Continent. I already know I’m going to fail; the reason is that I have never been able to put into words why I love the Antarctic. It feels like it’s a part of me. When I was there last year, it felt as though I was reunited with a piece of my soul I never knew I’d been missing. I know what it is to be homesick for a place I’ve never been; now I am homesick for a place I probably will never go again. And the reason I loved this book so much is that it put all these difficult unexplainable feelings into words. Midge Raymond, through Deb Gardner, was able to write about these feelings I can barely make sense of, much less explain.

But that is why I loved My Last Continent. That doesn’t tell you why you should read this book, though trust me, I think you should. This isn’t your typical travelogue, an explorer’s narrative of the white continent. This is beautiful, lyrical, suspenseful literary fiction. You can get lost in Raymond’s words, her incredibly vivid descriptions. She writes about climate change without making the reader feel like she has an agenda (though, of course, she does. Anyone in love with the Antarctic has an agenda about climate change). She melds incredibly vivid descriptions with science, a love story, and a tale of suspense. I don’t know how she managed to spin such a complicated, intricate, yet beautiful and compulsively readable tale, but here it is.

My Last Continent jumps back and forth through time; Deb is the central character and narrator, and we see her past, present, and future with both the Antarctic and with Keller. Though it might be easy to classify this novel as a love story between Deb and Keller, it is much more complicated than that. This is the love story of Deb’s torrid affair with the Antarctic, a place that takes and takes and takes until you think you have nothing left to give. It is merciless and cruel, but it also provides the briefest moments of clarity and wonder that make it entirely worth it. It’s incredibly well done; over the years, the reader gets to know Deb and understand her relationship with this mysterious place; underlying all of this, though, is the tension of what exactly is going to happen with Deb and Keller and the shipwreck. Raymond lays the pieces of her story masterfully; her words are a precision instrument, taking the reader exactly where she wants them to go. It is excellent.

I could honestly go on for days about why I loved this novel so much, but trust me: I’ll never truly be able to put it into words. My Last Continent spoke to me on a fundamental level. But even if you don’t have that connection to the Antarctic, even if you know nothing about it, this novel is worth a read. It will introduce you to the white continent, give you some sense of how a minority of people feel about it, all while providing a gripping and thought-provoking read.

Affiliate Links:

Buy this book from Powell’s Books
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Buy this book from your local Indiebound bookstore

Book Review: Marriage Material – Sathnam Sanghera

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 […]

Continue reading →

Book Review: A God in Every Stone – Kamila Shamsie

Title: A God in Every Stone Author: Kamila Shamsie ISBN: 9781632864154, Pages: 400 Release Date: February 9, 2016 Publisher: Bloomsbury Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction Source: Publisher Summary It’s the summer of 1914, and Vivian Rose Spencer is working on an archaeological dig in Turkey alongside Tahsin Bey, a friend of her father’s. When she […]

Continue reading →

Book Review: The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

Title: The Buried Giant Author: Kazuo Ishiguro ISBN: 9780307271037 Pages: 336 Release Date: March 3, 2015 Publisher: Knopf Genre: Literary Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Summary: Axl and Beatrice are a happy elderly couple living in post-Roman Britain. But Axl notices there are things around them that don’t appear to be quite right. […]

Continue reading →

Book Review: Don’t Let Him Know – Sandip Roy

Title: Don’t Let Him Know Author: Sandip Roy ISBN: 9781620408988 Pages: 256 Release Date: January 20, 2015 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian) Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: When Amit finds an old love letter written by a man in his parents’ home, he figures that his mother, Romola, must […]

Continue reading →
Before the tag in the Genesis footer: !-- Quantcast Tag -->