Sunday, February 05, 2017

Books I read in late December and in January

I took a month long holiday in Jan and traveled to four states. (It was more sedentary than it sounds: I focused on people rather than places and didn't travel a lot within the states. But it was an amazing break.) Pictures, if you are interested, are on Instagram.

Anyway, reading. Since I was staying at friends' and family's homes, most of these books were borrowed. (Very grateful for my friends' well-stocked libraries.) I read a lot, so am categorizing the books into literary, romance, and children/YA.


Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
This was my first Kingsolver, and I fucking loved it. A young woman with two children trapped in a life she doesn't want, a miraculous host of butterflies, and lots of courage and hope. It's very feminist in its centering of women's needs and desires and aspirations. I can't wait to read more of Kingsolver.

The Book of Gold Leaves by Mirza Waheed
With Flight Behaviour, this was one of the two best novels I read in January. It's set (mostly) in Srinagar, and the author gives you an insider's tour of the city. It has the kind of love I usually scoff at -- love at first sight between young people -- and manages to make it powerful, beautiful, inevitable. It makes you empathise with these bright young people and then shows how their lives are been broken down by the forces of the state.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
I finally started on Ferrante. It was gripping, disconcerting... all the things a good novel should be. I'm still processing my feelings. It also reminded me of one of the best books I read last year, Mridula Koshy's Bicycle Dreaming, in its centering of a young girl's relationships, especially a friendship that means the world to her.

Elizabeth Is Missing
by Emma Healey

Told from the point of view of an old woman with dementia, this novel is part psychological thriller, part straight up detective fiction, and all engrossing. It's also full of hope, and not nearly as depressing as I was afraid it would be. Maud is old and has lost much, including a sister who died when she was young and whom she still grieves for, and her husband, yet she has so much love in her life. May we all be as lucky in old age.


Captive Heart and The Bridegroom Wore Plaid by Grace Burrowes
Why had no one told me about Grace Burrowes? Feminist historical romances with kind men and interesting women, and delightful statements like "Men, particularly gentlemen, were prone to the vapors." Of course, the heroes are still dukes or earls and the heroines are ladies, but few of them like dressing up and some are downright shabby. There's also been a bit of murder/attempted murder in the two I've read so far, so quite thrilling (even though the answers were obvious and make the hero and heroine seem quite dim, but then these are romances).

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
Rather a good example of regency romance, though I cannot like the trope that a good brave "virtuous" woman would find happiness with a "rake", a man who routinely treats women as objects and has "the emotional depth of a teaspoon" (thank you, Rowling). But the book was great reading for a quiet winter's night in Gurgaon, a rest stop near the beginning of my travels.

Royally Ever After by Loretta Chase
I apparently read this book late in December and have no memory of it, which tells you all you need to know.

Star Dust by Emma Barry
This was a fun romance about an astronaut and a recently divorced woman in the 1960s. I'd have liked a little more conflict and a little more plot, but it was a nice, light read.

Children's, YA, Comics

xkcd by Randall Munroe
A compilation of the comics, fun to browse through on a lazy afternoon in the sun.

Bhimayana by Subhash and Durgabai Vyam
A biography of Ambedkar in the form of a graphic novel. Informative, simple without being simplistic, and beautifully rendered. Especially suited for young children, a simple introduction to a complex issue -- and to a hero.

Sugar by Dierdre Riordan Hall
A beautiful YA novel that I was somewhat conflicted about. It starts off as a horrific tale of abuse and how it can break down one's sense of identify, especially in a young child. It has some of the usual teenage angst and worries about fitting in, which seem so petty in retrospect but are life-and-death at that age. I loved the first half or two-thirds of the book. Then tragedy strikes, and it seems all too pat - the tragedy, the resolution, the sudden influx of sensible, helpful adults and the spurt in self-confidence in the protagonist.

Is That the New Moon? Edited by Wendy Cope
A beautiful collection of poetry by women, aimed at young readers. I was so glad to stumble across this gem. This is one of my favourites.

Enid Blyton's Six Cousins books
These two were among my favourite books as a child (and we had the book with this cover!), so I returned to them with some trepidation when I found them at my friend's. They had thankfully, little racism in them (because non-white people don't exist), though the misogyny was more obvious than I remembered. They are still fun little books if you can look past that, and I again wanted to get myself a puppy (Enid Blyton is to blame for that thwarted dream I've always had.)

Two Laura Ingalls books: Little House and Long Winter
I never read the Little House books as a child, and it's a bit late to start now. I did find the first book a bit boring and juvenile (though it must be exciting for kids). I liked Long Winter better, partly because the protagonist is older and more relatable, partly because I was reading it in a cold winter myself, with snowfall (nowhere near as cold as it is in the books, though). The books are undoubtedly racist though: I'd suggest getting something better, maybe by Native American writers, for your children.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I'd never read this before, and enjoyed it very much, and wish I'd found it as a child. Dark adventures happening to brilliant young children, with no happy ending in sight? Little emo me would have loved it.

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