Category Archives: Books & Reading

Review: Ghachar Ghochar

#ReadingIsResistance

Ghachar Ghochar
by Vivek Shanbhag

Title: Ghachar Ghochar
Author: Vivek Shanbhag
Published: 2013
ISBN-13: 9780143111689
Publisher:Penguin Random House
Twitter: @VivekShanbhag0

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Penguin Random House’s blurb:

A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes almost overnight. As the narrator—a sensitive, passive man who is never named—his mother, father, sister, and uncle move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a large new house on the other side of Bangalore, the family dynamic starts to shift. Allegiances realign, marriages are arranged and begin to falter, and conflict brews ominously in the background. Before he knows it, things are “ghachar ghochar”—a nonsense phrase meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can’t be untied.

Driving home after work one evening, I caught Maureen Corrigan’s review on NPR.  So taken with it, I ordered it the next day.  And I was not disappointed.  My summation comes to this, “Money changes everything.”  And when you don’t have it, and all of a sudden get it, life changes in unexpected ways.

In 118 pages, Vivek Shanbhag spins the story of how money changes everything for one family in Bangalore.  Of most interest to me were the emotional changes sudden riches wrought.  From the overspending, possessively jealous women to the carefree narrator who simply doesn’t understand why his bride finds pride in earning her own money, when he doesn’t need to work at all.

The ghost of no money hovers over this family like a foul-smelling cloud.  Money does not bring peace, the way many of us think it would/should.  In Ghachar Ghochar, all it does is bring chaos.

I love this little book so much that when our CEO announced his departure, I knew he needed a copy.  From someone who loves great stories to someone who also loves them.  This is a book I wish I could buy for all my readerly friends.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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Review: Metatropolis

#ReadingIsResistance

Metatropolis
edited by John Scalzi

Title: Metatropolis
Author: edited by John Scalzi
Published: 2009
ISBN-13: 978076532710-9
Publisher:Tor
Twitter: @Scalzi

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Tor.com’s blurb:

Five original tales set in a shared urban future—from some of the hottest young writers in modern SF

More than an anthology, Metatropolis is the brainchild of five of science fiction’s hottest writers—Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and project editor John Scalzi—-who combined their talents to build a new urban future, and then wrote their own stories in this collectively-constructed world. The results are individual glimpses of a shared vision, and a reading experience unlike any you’ve had before.

A strange man comes to an even stranger encampment…a bouncer becomes the linchpin of an unexpected urban movement…a courier on the run has to decide who to trust in a dangerous city…a slacker in a “zero-footprint” town gets a most unusual new job…and a weapons investigator uses his skills to discover a metropolis hidden right in front of his eyes.

Welcome to the future of cities. Welcome to Metatropolis.

The reason I don’t read book reviews, or listen to book podcasts, etc. is simple.  They lead to adding to my already never ending want to read list.  And, as I get older I realize, I have enough books to last the rest of my life on hand.  I have this save squeamishness with anthologies.

And yup, as often happens, two more authors go on to the list.  It should go without saying, by now, that John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors.  His name is the reason I read the book.  And his story is my favorite, having to do with pigs and pig shit and politics, and a slightly lighter take on the dystopian themes that run through the book.

Elizabeth Bear‘s story “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood” about a counterculture which offers its protagonist, Cadie, a safer life caught my attention almost immediately.  Then the words Ukrainian mob got me.  I need more please.

I also need more Tobias Buckell.  “Stochasti-city” features a bouncer who becomes a military strategist for a group of people aiming to build a better community right under the existing power structure’s nose.

My fondness for subversive protagonists and complex emotional situations was satisfied by the stories in this anthology.  And, in my mind, it’s never wrong to want more.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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Review: The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Blind Assassin
by Mararet Atwood

#ReadingIsResistance

Title: The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: 2000
ISBN-13: 9780385720847
Publisher: Anchor Books

[My bones] ache like history:  things long done with.

An elderly lady writes her memoirs, revealing dark family secrets.  Within those secrets is the book The Blind Assassin, a science fiction novel.  Surrounding this novel within a novel is that tale of two lovers who meet surreptitiously and spin yarns.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors.  I often feel like there’s something just skimming below the surface in her stories, but if I look too hard it will skitter away.  And the sheer perversity of this outlandish science fiction tale in the middle of a story of two mystery lovers wrapped in the memoirs of an elderly lady looking back can be fascinating at times.

This was my second read, and found it didn’t hold as well as the first.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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Review: Blackbirds / Mockingbird

#ReadingIsResistance

Blackbird
Chuck Wendig

Mockingbird
Chuck Wendig
Title: Blackbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-85766-230-9 (This ISBN is for a paperback no longer available from the original publisher)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Title: Mockingbird
Author: Chuck Wendig
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-4814-4867-3
Publisher: Saga Press

I like my protagonists dark and flawed, and Miriam Black is as flawed as they come.  I wouldn’t want to be me if my super power was being able to know how the person whose skin I’m touching is going to die and when.  That’s agony.

In Blackbird Miriam earns her living by hitching rides and ripping off the drivers.  Until she gets saved by Louis, a truck driver who rescues her from four college boys bent on having the good time they think Miriam is offering.

She’s convinced there’s no way to change what she sees, and that makes her even more bitter.  What’s the point of knowing if you can’t do anything about it?  She’s tried before.  But now that she’s met Louis and knows he’s going to die in 30 days saying her name, she has to try again.

And wow, get ready for a tough ride.  Blackbirds is rough, coarse and thrilling.  Wendig pulls no punches in setting this world up.  Miriam isn’t likeable, but she is understandable.  And the questions brought up by having a power like hers is fascinating..  Then there’s the question of who is worth trying to save, and who gets to make that decision.  There’s some true existential stuff going on in this book.

If Blackbird is about changing the destiny of one man, Mockingbird is about changing the destiny of many.  It’s about catching the serial killer preying on the girls who go to school in what is essentially a private, upscale juvenile detention center.  And the truly dark secret of this school is shocking, yet unsurprising.

Just as dark as Blackbirds, and possibly even more terrifying, Mockingbird has Miriam confronting her power, her past and the lives of others more deeply than before.  How does one come to grips with all the destruction she’s had wreaked upon her and has caused?

Chuck Wendig has joined Richard Kadry in my list of favorite urban fantasy writers.  They’re as terrific as their characters are bleak.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

 

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Review: Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia

#ReadingIsResistance

Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia
by Jean Sasson

Title: Princess – A True Story Of Life Behind The Veil In Saudi Arabia
Author: Jean Sasson
Published: 2001
ISBN-13: 9780967673745
Publisher:Windsor-Brooke Books
Twitter: @JeanSasson

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

No matter what we do, our future is linked to one prerequisite:  the degree of kindness in the man who rules us. (p. 138)

In some ways, Jean Sasson’s Princess reads like a breathless, salacious tell-all.  A behind the scenes story of life as a princess in the Saudi royal family.  But beneath the glamorous veneer are stories of torture, rape, and misogyny.  It confirms every horrible thing we Westerners have ever heard about the treatment of women in the Middle East.

The princess in this book is called Sultana Al Sa’ud who met Sasson in 1983 while Sasson was living in Saudi Arabia.  They became friends, and Sultana began to tell her story, which then became the book.

Behind the veil, Sultana is said to be smart and funny, and beautiful.  She wants the freedom to choose her destiny, the right to decide how to live her life.  But in front of the veil, Sultana is confronted with the reality that a woman’s life is never her own.  Especially a woman of the royal family.

The men are controlling.  Marriages are arranged.  Women and children are treated as nothing more than pets and toys.  Sultana’s brother gets all the attention and is allowed to do heinous things with no regard or reprimand.  He is after all, male.  And males of the royal family are given free rein to do as they like with the riches made available to them.

Females, on the other hand, are only allowed to do what the males allow.  And females are monitored closely.  There’s little that comes as a surprise in Sultana’s story.

Given this rich background, Sasson’s gossipy writing style  gives Sultana’s story a more fictional flavor than Sultana deserves.  There are many other reviews available which call into question the veracity of Sultana’s story.  I don’t quite know what to make of this so-called controversy.

My take away from the book is what one is supposed to take away.  Women are treated horribly in the Middle East and the world has much work to do in ensuring the civil rights of women.  I’m not sure Princess does much to advance that cause.  It reads more Jackie Collins than anything.  I’d suggest giving Princess a pass and read Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant science fiction series, Binti  or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which are both more entertaining than Princess.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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Review: Cut Both Ways

#ReadingIsResistance

Cut Both Ways
by Carrie Mesrobian

Title: Cut Both Ways
Author: Carrie Mesrobian
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-234988-0
Publisher: Harper

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Home feels like Angus, and it feels like her [Brandy] and I wish I could tell him that – tell both of them that.  (p. 116)

Will Caynes is torn.  Between his upscale mom, and his down and out dad.  Between Brandy and Angus, his best friends and lovers.  Most of all, Will is torn about his sexuality.

I read Cut Both Ways in one overnight sitting.  My tumultuous emotional life keeping me from rest, Will’s struggle kept me engaged.  As I’ve said in other reviews, I identify with the confused.  The not quite one thing, but not quite the other either.  These stories fascinate me not only because I want to see how the characters navigate this in-betweeness but because I identify so closely with their struggles.  Being turned against by people who don’t want to understand, being afraid to be our own in-between selves, that’s my entire life.  The fear is ever-present.  We just want to be accepted by those we love.

As I write this, I keep thinking of the other books I read with bisexual protagonists. Etta in Not Otherwise Specified is the only one who comes to terms with her sexuality.  She finds her strength in owning who she is, a performer who also happens to be bi.  Austin in Grasshopper Jungle and Will in Cut Both Ways, both struggle mightily.

In her Author’s Note, Carrie Mesrobian writes:

Bisexual erasure is the willful disbelief that people can be attracted to both genders, as well as the tendency to emphasize sexual identities in people that fit the observer’s own narrative, e.g. a man who is bisexual is really a gay man in denial; a woman who is bisexual is just doing it for male attention.  Bisexual erasure can be perpetrated by gay or straight people.  (p. 342)

Life is complicated enough without having to battle other people’s prejudices.  Will’s life is certainly complicated by the many lives he has to navigate, and while nothing in the end is resolved for him, he learns life does go on, and the complications will work themselves out.  Eventually.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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