Archive for the ‘Contemporary Fiction’ Category

Twilight! (Stephenie Meyer: Twilight; New Moon; Eclipse; Breaking Dawn)

Posted by nybookworm on July 18, 2010

Hi, my name is NY Bookworm and I am an adult who loves the Twilight series.  Ok, love may be too strong but I would lend them to you  if you told me you were looking for a gripping commute read (discreetly, of course or perhaps even using a kindle).   The Twilight books, like the Harry Potter books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, are children’s/teen books that have found a wider audience among adults for a good reason – they are well-written, imaginative and entertaining.  As I’m sure many of you know by now, the books tell the story of the “forbidden” romance between a seventeen-year old girl, Bella, and her strikingly handsome vampire classmate Edward.  The romance  is drawn out over four books that introduce the reader to the world of good and bad vampires, werewolves and the rainy northwest.  I have not met anyone who read Twilight but managed to restrain themselves from buying the other three books- New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.  If you manage(d) to read only one I’d like to hear from you in the comments. 

You can buy all four Twilight books at:  http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Saga-Collection-Stephenie-Meyer/dp/0316031844


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Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger

Posted by nybookworm on December 3, 2009

In an interview with Aravind Adiga that appears in the back of the paperback edition Adiga says that the three writers that most influenced him in writing The White Tiger were Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Richard Wright.  If you’ve ever read any of these writers you know they wrote about the black American experience in a segregated post-war America.  The White Tiger, a fitting addition to the legacy of this group of writers, takes place in modern-day India and illustrates the inequality between wealthy westernized Indians and the uneducated poor they employ as their servants.   The narrator, a driver to a wealthy family from a small village, tells his story of desperation and poverty against the backdrop of a rapidly developing and rigidly stratified India in which greed and ambition is prized above humanity and a shadow class of servants and laborers buttresses a corrupt and wealthy few.  The story is not a new one as Adiga himself admits in his reference to a past generation of American writers but Adiga’s narrator is an important voice and one that is crucial to understanding modern India and the often overlooked price of rapid development. 

The White Tiger won the Booker Prize in 2008 and has been widely lauded by book reviewers on several continents but I will just add my small voice to those that have already spoken to say that this is well worth reading and in my opinion one of the most powerful books of this generation of post-colonial writers.

Amazon Link to The White Tiger here: http://www.amazon.com/White-Tiger-Novel-Aravind-Adiga/dp/1416562591

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Joyce Carol Oates: The Falls

Posted by nybookworm on June 9, 2009

JoyceCarolOatesJoyce Carol Oates is one of most prolific authors of our time.  At my last count she has written over 38 novels, 11 novellas, 34 collections of short stories and many other novels under various pseudonyms she uses.  I have read many of her novels, have heard her speak and think she is one of the greatest writers of her generation (she disagrees, BTW).   But it has been a little while since I last picked up one of her books so when I saw The Falls at my local bookstore I had the urge to dive back into the Oates library.

Having said all that, I don’t think The Falls is her greatest novel I have read.   The novel begins around the late 1940s in Niagara falls where Ariah’s new husband commits suicide on their honeymoon. The novel progresses through the 40s and 50s as Ariah meets and falls in love with an influential Niagara falls lawyer who is attracted to Ariah’s tragic story and her frailty in the wake of her husband’s suicide.  The story follows Ariah and her family through the birth and adulthood of her three children with the falls figuring as a prominent character throughout.  Although Oates is known for her portrayal of tragic heroines, Ariah is not her best or most sympathetic character.   She is certainly a product of her time and her experiences and the reader is never allowed to forget that but her frailty and distrust of life make her very difficult to relate to and a hard character to digest.  I generally think it’s admirable to write unsympathetic characters as leads in a story but I think Oates takes Ariah’s melodrama a tad too far in this novel and it infects the rest of the characters and the story in a way befitting of a soap opera not an Oates novel. 

In any event, the last thing I would like of this review is to discourage readers from Oates’ excellent works.  I highly recommend the following of her novels which I have read: them (National Book Award winner 1970); Marya (1998); You Must Remember This (1998); Because it is Bitter, and Because it is my Heart (1991)

This is the Amazon link to the “Joyce Carol Oates page” on which you can find all of her novels:  http://www.amazon.com/Joyce-Carol-Oates/e/B000APT3DK/ref=ep_sprkl_at_B000APT3DK?pf_rd_p=478269791&pf_rd_s=auto-sparkle&pf_rd_t=301&pf_rd_i=joyce%20carol%20oates&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1BYEXHV5QZSJGS8G3XCF

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Marina Lewycka: Strawberry Fields

Posted by nybookworm on May 28, 2009

9780143113553Strawberry Fields is the second novel for Lewycka, whose very successful debut novel, A Short History of Ukranian Tractors was nominated for a Booker Prize and generated a lot of favorable buzz when it was first published.  So naturally when I arrived at the house we rented for Memorial Day weekend and found Strawberry Fields, I knew I would have to make it my mission to read it over the long weekend.  Despite serious competition for my attention, including several beer pong games, 9 mile hikes and barbeques, I was able to finish Strawberry Fields and can actually remember enough of it to write this review.  I liked this book- it has the charming immigrant who speaks imperfect English meets the West angle which if done well can be hilarious.  As an added bonus, there is a message there, though, not subtle,about the downside of globalization.  The main characters are migrant workers who come to the UK to pick strawberries from various former Eastern-block countries and end up travelling through the UK through a series of Chaucerian adventures that all go to demonstrate how much it sucks to be part of the shadow economy of a westernized democracy.   I liked this a lot- I don’t think it was too preachy or depressing but it certainly got the message across.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Strawberry-Fields-Novel-Marina-Lewycka/dp/1594201374#

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Gail Tsukiyama: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

Posted by nybookworm on May 11, 2009

fuji-japan-cherry-blossoms-and-mountGail Tsukiyama is actually a fairly prolific author, whose  novels frequently involve Japanese characters and focus on Japanese culture and traditions.  This was my first exposure to her work and I was not disappointed.  In Street of A Thousand Blossoms Tsukiyama explores two ancient Japanese traditions, sumo wrestling and mask making.  The novel spans twenty odd years and takes place before, during and after World War II with two orphaned brothers who are being raised by their grandparents,  Hiroshi and Kenji, as the main characters.   At its heart, this novel is about Hiroshi and Kenji but woven throughout stories of their everyday lives are details of Japanese history, food, sport and culture that enrich the novel without rendering it dry and making it appear self-indulgent on the part of Tsukiyama.   If you are already a connoisseur of Japanese culture, I think you will still appreciate Tsukiyama’s  excellent prose and attention to detail.  I enjoyed this book and it has opened up a whole world of Tsukiyama’s work for me, which I expect to be exploring in the future.

The Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Street-Thousand-Blossoms-Gail-Tsukiyama/dp/0312274823

PS: I believe it is actually cherry blossom season right now, at least in some parts of the world, making this one of those rare timely posts.

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Kiran Desai: The Inheritance of Loss

Posted by nybookworm on May 5, 2009

the-inheritance-of-lossThe Inheritance of Loss took Desai 7 years to write and it is obvious that she thought through every word used.  Desai’s imagery of Kalimpong, an Indian town in the Himalayas and its inhabitants is at times so vivid as to evoke a physical reaction.  She describes the poverty and dilapidated grandeur of both her characters and their surroundings with the ease and imagery of Rushdie or Naipaul and was similarly rewarded with the Man Booker Prize for this novel in 2006.   At its heart, The Inheritance of Loss is the story of post-colonial India and its lingering confusion over its relationship with its British colonizers and their symbols of western culture (think Marks & Spencer, tea, jam, the queen, mutton, mint jelly, etc.)  The main characters Sai, the judge and the cook live in a run down estate at the base of the Himalayas and, at the judge’s insistence, attempt to carve out a “civilized” life for themselves amid the poverty and desperation of the region.  Juxtaposed with their story is that of Biju, the cook’s son who is struggling to survive in the illegal immigrant shadow economy in New York.  This book took me a little while to read because nothing much happens in it but I enjoyed reading it slowly and savoring Desai’s descriptions which unwind slowly to present a larger mosaic of lives and places that are bound together by poverty and colonialism, even as they struggle to escape. 

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Inheritance-Loss-Novel-Booker-Prize/dp/0871139294

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Geraldine Brooks: People of the Book

Posted by nybookworm on April 17, 2009

sarajevo-haggadahPeople of the Book (2008) is the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah (Jewish prayer book for Passover) and its 500 year history in  Southern Europe.  Conveniently, the narrator is an Australian antique book expert who has been asked to evaluate and restore the haggadah.  Each clue to the origins of the haggadah she finds leads to a new chapter in which the reader learns an additional piece of the haggadah’s history.   We start in 1996 in post-war Bosnia, pass through World War II, pre-war Austria, the Spanish Inquisition and end up with a Moor in Seville in 1480.  The book is clearly fiction but the Sarajevo Haggadah does exist and some of the details Brooks uses to craft the story are real.   People of the Book was actually another book club selection and while I enjoyed it, it’s not one of those books that made me think or feel any differently.  I like that Brooks stays away from historical themes that could be trite and really focuses on her characters and their lives rather than on the bigger events surrounding them.  I recommend this book if the topic is right up your alley but I would not be heartbroken if you didn’t jump up to buy it this second.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/People-Book-Novel-Geraldine-Brooks/dp/067001821X

PS: Apparently, the picture to the left is of the actual Sarajevo Haggadah.

Posted in Contemporary Fiction | 3 Comments »

Maeve Binchy: Tara Road

Posted by nybookworm on April 13, 2009

tara-roadThis was another airport bookshop purchase but one I did not regret.  Maeve Binchy is, of course, the Irish-born novelist whose fictional stories of life in Ireland have become bestsellers all over the world, and in some cases, made into successful Hollywood movies (see Circle of Friends).  Tara Road (also made into a movie) is much like her other novels, set in Ireland and filled with Irish characters, many of whom are almost caricatures of Irish protagonists you might imagine populate Dublin and its surroundings.  Tara Road’s main character is Ria, a petite dark-haired woman, who goes on to marry a good-looking, fast talking real estate agent and build a life with him in a house on Tara Road, an upscale residential street in Dublin.  Tara Road  is the story of Ria’s life which, of course, does not turn out exactly as planned.  I like Binchy’s books for vacation and leisure reading and they really are an interesting glimpse into modern Irish life.  Binchy herself has lived in Dublin her whole life, so I have to assume her potraits are fairly accurate .  If you saw The Holiday (the movie where Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet exchange houses for Christmas) you’ll see some similarities.  Warning: this is a long book but it goes fast and was difficult to put down.  Another warning (or not?) this was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. 

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Tara-Road-Oprahs-Book-Club/dp/0440235596

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Indu Sundaresan: The Twentieth Wife

Posted by nybookworm on April 11, 2009

twentieth-wifeI was a history major in college, partly because I got to college and was amazed by how much of world history is entirely neglected in high school curriculum.  High school world history is a requirement but very little, if at all, is taught about Asian and African history and even less about the Indian sub-continent (none for me, but that may have changed since I graduated high school).  Which is partly why I loved The Twentieth Wife,  a fictional account of some of the major figures of the Muslim Mughal empire in India around the 16th and 17th centuries.  In particular, it is about the Mughal emperor’s imperial zanana (harem) and one woman, Mehrunissa (known as Empress Nur Jahan), who emerged to be Emperor Jahangir’s closest advisor and a huge influence in Mughal affairs.  Mughal emperors had several wives over a lifetime and each lived inside the palace in the zenana, an all woman (and eunuch) living quarter where they vied for the power and attention of the emperor.  Mehrunissa was the twentieth wife and, at the age of 34, already considered too old to be the wife of an emperor.  She shocked the empire and the emperor’s closest advisors by becoming Jahangir’s favorite wife and his most valued political advisor.  The novel is fascinating portrait of one of the most opulent times in Indian history and Sundaresan’s vivid description of the wealth and extravagence of palace life is very engaging.  Oddly enough, though Mehrunissa was the most powerful of the Mughal wives, it is her niece Arjuman who married Jahangir’s son who lives on in history as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. 

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Twentieth-Wife-Novel-Indu-Sundaresan/dp/0743427149

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Nick Hornby: Slam

Posted by nybookworm on April 5, 2009

tony-hawkI guess Slam (2007), Nick Hornby’s latest novel,  is supposed to be for “young adults” but the airport book shop didn’t tell me that so I read it anyway.  This book is about a teenage Tony Hawk devotee (famous pro skateboarder for those of you as uncool as me) who impregnates his also teenage girlfriend.  Don’t worry I didn’t just give away the ending.  The story is told from the point of view of Sam the impregnator and has that naive narrator angle  that works so well when addressing uncomfortable adult topics.  Although the plot is about as cliche as you can imagine (broken home, lonely teenager, no experience with sex, etc.)  since this is geared toward “young adults” the story is cute and fun to read.  It makes for good airplane reading and it’s not like you’re reading Twilight or anything so don’t be embarrassed to buy it.

Amazon link to Slam here: http://www.amazon.com/Slam-Nick-Hornby/dp/0399250484

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