Most of the adult fiction I’ve had the privilege to review isn’t mainstream or on The New York Times Best Sellers’ list. However “off the list” it is, each book shown here offers something different – characters, setting, cultural aspects, voice, structure – and the majority of the titles are written by wonderful South Asian authors. The books written by American authors usually have something to do with North Carolina (often called “The Writingest State”): author, setting, characters. You won’t find the book that everyone’s reading, but I believe that you’ll find something appealing.
Click on the title to access the full review.
Books are listed alphabetically by author.
~ A ~
The House of Bilqis by Azhar Abidi • Love and Concession • In 1985, eight years after General Zia grabbed power from Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan was a country in the throes of great change and upheaval with Islamization and Kashmiri insurgency. The House of Bilqis by Azhar Abidi offers an emotionally turbulent parallel of a mother and son in an East-meets-West-stays-East story of love divided and lost.
The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad • Thrills and Chills • The Caretaker is a must-read book, and it’s perfect for summer reading. Tightly plotted and smartly written, it will literally take your breath away. Moreover, it is set on a glacier that never melts and on Martha’s Vineyard in the dead of winter. Plenty of snow and ice will cool you off as things heat up. And in this book, the heat is on!
The Last Taxi Ride by A.X. Ahmad • When Worlds Collide • Following the incidents on Martha’s Vineyard, Ranjit relocated to New York City and has been working as a cab driver and moonlighting as security for a company that imports human hair from India. A chance fare by famed-but-fading Bollywood actress Shabana Shah and an unscheduled reunion with an old army buddy at the famous Dakota, where the actress lives, set Ranjit’s newly-quiet life on an unwanted trajectory.
The Groom to Have Been by Saher Alam •Innocence Aside • What could a modern novel about immigrant Muslims from Lucknow, India, possibly have in common with Edith Wharton’s book about money-and-class-conscious high society in turn-of-the-century New York? Simple: the inherent loyalty to traditional mores by those who also question their validity within their respective societies.
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam • War Hero in a Sari • In a place where nature-born devastation is commonplace, civil war—a choice humans make against humans—must be the ultimate form of devastation. Still, from the ashes of one civil war came the birth of a new nation: Bangladesh. Juxtaposed with the torture, brutality, and suffering of war, Anam gives us the story of a sacrificing mother, a dedicated friend, an unintentional hero.
The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam • Triage • In A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam introduced the intrepid Rehana Haque and her revolution-bound children, Maya and Sohail. Their story ushered us into the war for East Pakistan’s independence via Rehana’s fierce dedication to her children and her unplanned role in the rebellion. The Good Muslim, the second entry in Anam’s Bengal Trilogy, continues the saga with a more critical eye and an edgier tone.
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In Another Light by A. J. Banner • All A.J. Banner novels are page turners. That’s a given; however, In Another Light takes the reader to another dimension of reading excitement. Phoebe Glassman reconstructs faces for a mortuary and cemetery specializing in green funeral processes. A sculptor by trade, she uses her artistic talent and specialized training to help the living remember their loved ones as they looked in life. The job is perfect for her, having lost her husband and child in a tragic car accident three years before. Phoebe has receded deeper into her grief and aloneness, but when a body is brought in that none of her colleagues wants her to see, her life upends. The corpse looks exactly like Phoebe, and there is little more than a familiar tattoo, an unfamiliar name, and a photo of Phoebe to tell her story.
The Poison Garden by A. J. Banner • Damn! I couldn’t put this book down, and it’s A. J. Banner’s fault! Like her previous three domestic psychological thrillers, this newly-published novel is tight and compact. Set on one of the islands of the Pacific Northwest, it has more twists and turns than a mountain road. In under 200 pages, she manages to draw in the reader with a grip that never releases until the last page. If you’re looking for a read that has creepy and shadowy overtones – perfect for Halloween reading without ghosts and goblins – this should be at the top of your list. And oh, yes…I’d be careful of what may be in your coffee. When your life is a lie, the truth can kill.
The Unyielding Clamor of the Night by Neil Bissoondath • A Town Without Pity • To call Neil Bissoondath’s The Unyielding Clamor of the Night a typical story about terrorism and war would not be a fair assessment. It is anything but typical in its intent and approach. Neither a thriller nor a mystery, the story is a panorama of the effects of politics and war on the innocent. The question must be asked, is anyone innocent?
I Never Told You by Bernie Brown • Bernie Brown’s debut novel, I Never Told You, is an emotional mother-daughter story that moves geographically from a small town in Iowa to a competitive art school in Chicago to the glitz and glam of Hollywood in 1965. Anna and her daughter Katya love each other, but there are important parts of their lives they can’t share with each other, moving them apart emotionally as well. The chasm between them deepens, and only tragedy can bring them together.
~ C ~
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash • Stay on Base • Wiley Cash of Wilmington, NC, has not only a Southern-sounding name but a Southern writer’s voice as well – slow and easy, colorful and rolling, which makes his writing a delight to read and a pleasure to experience even when the story is dark and desperate. In his second novel, he conjures up deeply-felt emotions that belong to the unintentional remnants of family and children grasping at whatever might seem stable in their lives.
When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash • Imagine hearing an airplane land in a nearby small airport in the middle of the night, knowing that’s too unusual. Further, imagine being the county sheriff who has to investigate, finding a dead local and the unexpected and crashed plane. Brunswick County Sheriff Winston Barnes determines he has a murder on his hand, and every step he takes from that point on will impact him, his family, and the community he is sworn to protect.
The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain • Inspired by the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Ellie Hockley of Round Hill, North Carolina, forgoes working at the family pharmacy and being with her fiancé in the summer of 1965. Her passion turns instead to civil rights volunteerism with SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Political Education), the purpose of which is to educate Blacks about their right to vote. In 2010, 28-year-old architect and recent widow, Kayla Carter, and her young daughter, Rainie, are about to move into the dream house she and her late husband designed. But a strange old woman who seems to know too much about Kayla—including about her husband’s accidental death in their new home…
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain • Scars and Secrets • As I read Diane Chamberlain’s latest book, “The Secret Sister,” I had visions of the main character, Riley MacPherson, joining a club populated by fixer Olivia Pope from ABC’s “Scandal” and Agent Elizabeth Keen from NBC’s “The Blacklist.” The club would be exclusive and limited to women whose family histories are mysteries that have eluded or been kept from them all their lives. Riley, a 25-year-old middle school counselor living in Durham, has been charged with the daunting task of settling her father’s affairs upon his sudden death.
River of Ink by Paul M.M. Cooper • Double Entendre • History tells stories and those stories about change, upheaval, or oppression should be compelling, as should historical fiction. What often makes them compelling are the words used to embellish settings, define crises, embody characters. In Paul M. M. Cooper’s lush debut novel, River of Ink, words are the centerpiece, the place settings, and the utensils of a table fit for a king—and his ultimate destruction.
Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech • Scents and Sensibilities • Readers who enjoy a touch of practical magic, family secrets, and new love will find that Sarah Creech’s debut novel will satisfy those desires and more. It’s filled with an exotic back story, skin-tingling visions, and a dark curse in direct juxtaposition to a gorgeous, serene mountain setting. Questions are raised about aging, ethics, loyalty, and family ties as separate and interlocking issues. Rituals and potions play against traditions and promises while the bonds of motherhood and sisterhood are tested more than once.
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The Other Man by Farhad Dadyburjor • Gay Rom-Com Celebrates Love in the Time of Section 377 • The Other Man by Farhad J. Dadyburjor offers a rom-com peek into Mumbai’s gay life before the September 6, 2018, repeal of Section 377. Twisted in knots from the emotional to the situational, it is a happily-ever-after comedy of errors. At 38, Ved Mehra has everything. He’s tall, Clooney-esque handsome, stylish, and the VP of his father’s electronics megabusiness. He’s first-class marriage material, and his status-conscious mother knows it. When she wears him down—wanting only the best for him, of course—he agrees to a business-beneficial marriage with the vivacious and accomplished Disha. But Ved secretly grieves for Akshay, his ex-, who four years earlier bowed to pressure, married a woman, and expected the two to carry as clandestinely as before.
For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani • From Mumbai to Manhattan • “My grandmother was married off two days shy of her tenth birthday. My mother found a husband when she was twenty. I thus reckoned that if every generation increased by a decade the acceptable age for marriage, I should have become a wife by thirt
Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev (Book Three in a Series) • The Yin and Yang of Jane Austen Is Alive and Well Thanks to Sonali Dev • Yash Raje, the son of a royal family who’s uncomfortable with privilege, worked his way up the California political ladder. Now, he’s running for governor on a platform of fiscal and social reform, healthcare, and equity. At a rally three months before the election, shots are fired by a white supremacist. Abdul, his trusted bodyguard, shields him but is critically wounded. Yash, too, is wounded, and he’s unable to regain control of himself in order to control the situation. And so begins Sonali Dev’s third well-crafted, grandly-romantic entry to her Jane Austen-inspired Raje Family series.
Bijou Roy by Ronica Dhar • Of Loss and Hope • At some point in our lives, we are called on to do something that we just aren’t prepared for. But we do it, and we move on, often times finding a new perspective or self-revitalization. So it is with the title character of Ronica Dhar’s significant debut novel, Bijou Roy, a study of identity and place, politics and generational differences, loss and hope.
Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni • Educated Women • One day in 1995, Bela Dewan telephones her mother outside of Kolkota, begging her to talk sense into Tara, the granddaughter she’s only seen in photographs. Tara wants to quit college, and Bela, in Houston, is terrified that her daughter is making a mistake and throwing away her future—just as she had. Unable to communicate face-to-face, Sabitri begins to write a letter to Tara, explaining why she should stay in school, and as she writes, memories return of her own life as a servant’s daughter who dreamed of an education.
Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni • Poison and Panacea • Oleander Girl could have been a charming tale of sweet-girl-gets-engaged-to-wealthy-boy-but-needs-to-find-herself-first. However, it’s not. It is, in fact, a showcase for the best-selling author’s ability to maintain her signature, beautifully-crafted prose while creating a complex set of deceptions, ruses, and lies, exposing the dark side of human nature. Twists and turns, suspense and revelations are plentiful, resulting in a novel that cautions the reader to expect the unexpected.
The Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni • COMING SOON!
Seven by Farzana Doctor • Farzana Doctor’s Book Seven Confronts An Abusive Tradition • Some Christian denominations believe a seven-year-old can make spiritual choices. Judaism and Islam hold that a seven-year-old boy is able to participate in fasting and praying. For many, seven is the age at which a child knows right from wrong. For others, it’s simply a lucky number. In award-winning Canadian author Farzana Doctor’s bold and compassionate novel Seven, the significance is painfully different.
The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart • The Saints of Swallow Hill tells the alternating stories of two characters whose personal histories contain compelling incidents that lead to their paths crossing inseparably at a turpentine camp in Georgia. As in her first four novels, those characters battle environmental and economic distresses. “Saints” is set in 1932, a mere three years after the stock market crash, when the country is dealing with the Great Depression and when healing and revival are a distant dream for rural Southerners.
Corner Shop by Roopa Farooki • Dream Catchers • One of the opening quotes of Roopa Farooki’s second novel is attributed to the pinpoint wit of Oscar Wilde: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” This quote is the beacon that guides Farooki’s Corner Shop and makes it a winner, with its honest and serio-comic examination of dreams, desires, and what they both mean when met too soon.
Half Life by Roopa Farooki • Truce and Consequences • “It’s time to stop fighting and go home.” Those are the words that spur a young woman to action, albeit not the kind of action a newlywed wife would take on any given day. Aruna Ahmed Jones, Ph.D., unceremoniously walks out of her home with little other than the clothes on her back, her purse, and her passport. She leaves behind a loving British husband, a physician, whom she believes won’t notice her absence.
The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki • All in the Family • “My mind is not like a neat and tidy garden; it is a vast untidy wilderness, full of irrelevancies, but with lots of places to wander and get lost,” states Yasmin Murphy in recognition of her Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and synesthesia. The 19-year old is the youngest of the three Murphy orphans and the fulcrum of Roopa Farooki’s fourth novel published in the United States, the character-driven The Way Things Look to Me.
It All Comes Down to This by Therese Anne Fowler • COMING JUNE 2022!
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Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda • Adopting a New Attitude • Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s promising debut novel transverses the globe from California to India and binds two women who share the fate of one baby girl. Spanning 25 years from 1984 to 2009, this tale of birth and death, strength and weakness, gain and loss, joy and pain runs the gamut of human emotions, with characters that always astound and relationships that swing from one extreme to the other. From losing a child to gaining a child, and from adoption to female infanticide, Gowda weaves a bold, compassionate story that is difficult to ignore.
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The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji • Bearing Witness • Nafisa Haji’s debut novel stands apart from other multi-generational family sagas. The candid and far-reaching story, written in comfortable, flowing language, is told by Saira Qadar, a young American Muslim born of Pakistani and Indian parents. Her journey from adolescence to a worldly, post-9/11 woman sets Saira’s increasing rebellion against the religious and cultural traditions of her family with discoveries that both shock and surprise.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Moshin Hamid • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a cleverly-crafted tale told in the style of a “self-help” book in the second person. “You” travel from a dusty village to a bustling city with an unnamed narrator as “you” climb from abject poverty to corporate success using his step-by-step method. That method raises soul-searching questions including that of our own destinies. Compelling, witty, and reflective of contemporary life in a changing society, HtGFRiRA lingers long after the last page. (shortie review)
Over the Falls by Rebecca Hodge • Bryn Collins walked away from a life that pierced her, first following a near-tragic whitewater accident and second when Sawyer, her fiancé, slept with Del, the sister she never forgave. To separate her past from her present, Bryn moved to the mountains in Eastern Tennessee, opting for a quieter, slower-paced life in a picturesque setting. Her life changes, however, the day her young nephew Josh shows up her doorstep begging for help, followed by a small-time mob-like former acquaintance looking for her sister because, he claims, she owes him money.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini • Acts of Mercy • A master storyteller, Hosseini reaches deep into the souls of his characters and lays them out raw, bare, and exposed for his readers. In his most complex novel yet, one that spans six decades, Hosseini takes us from Afghanistan to France and to Greece and the United States. He pieces together a family history of pain, separation, loss, and hope. This family, once sacrificed and fully fractured, made their way through war, poverty, displacement, and survival.
~ J ~
Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James • Art, Lies, and Sisterly Love • Tania James’s Atlas of Unknowns is a debut of grace and maturity. It is a story in which girls, and later women, find their strengths when they are on the verge of giving in to that which engulfs them. Each colorful character is unforgettable, deliciously fashioned, and fully determined. They stand up to deceit and desires, changeable relationships, and the nasty realities of the immigration process, with aplomb and a sense of humor.
The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James • The Elephant Never Forgets • Taking the reader into the jungles of South India, James’ writing continues to refine in her third book and second novel. In it, she takes on the reprehensible slaughter of elephants for the ivory trade. James tells three stories that alternate and converge, and the book begins with beautifully-written chapters that ooze with the promise of continued excellence: “The Elephant,” “The Poacher,” “The Filmmaker,” each introduced in succession, and as it happens, each in their proper order of accomplished storytelling.
Serious Men by Manu Joseph • What Price Genius? • “The sky’s the limit” is a familiar phrase, but in journalist Manu Joseph’s prize-winning first novel, the sky is simply a work space for a group of highly-regarded Brahmin scientists and one surreptitious assistant. India’s participation in the space race is of less concern to these scientists than is testing and proving their personal hunches, hypotheses, and highfalutin hopes. But for all their education and intellectual focus, it is a devious Dalit who manages to instigate and orchestrate much of the chaos that invades their work place and private lives.
~ K ~
Transmission by Hari Kunzru • Uneasy Cure for a Viral Infection • Technology has not merely come of age; it rules the world. The completion of code. The click of a mouse. The blink of an eye. The world can now change that quickly. In the follow-up novel to his critically-acclaimed debut, The Impressionist, British author Hari Kunzru seduces his readers and takes them around the world via a cute and perky computer virus in Transmission.
~ L ~
The Lowlands: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri • A tale of two brothers, as different as night and day, is the foundation of Lahiri’s absorbing new novel. It is the late 1960s, a time of political upheaval in Calcutta. One brother soars with his continuing studies in America while the other descends into the Naxilite underground. Complex and penetrating, The Lowland dissects the moral issues that come with headstrong conviction, violent revolution, inexorable grief, the unbreakable bonds of family, and yes, love. Lahiri’s precise and inspired prose grabs the reader’s attention. (shortie review)
The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt • When One + One = Zero • In 1913, G.H. Hardy, one of Britain’s preeminent mathematicians at Trinity College, Cambridge, received a strange package from India. This package contained page after page of curious mathematical scribbling that on first glance looked ill conceived; however, once Hardy studied the documents, he saw that these were the notes, calculations, and theorems of a genius. This genius, Hardy learned, was a poorly educated young man from Madras whose passion was mathematics. His name was Srinivasa Ramanujan.
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The Strike by Anand Mahadevan • Growing Pains • For 12-year-old Hari, life in 1987 Nagpur, Central India, is a relatively happy one. He lives a carefree existence with his closest friends, and holidays are spent happily taking the train—Hari’s passion—to visit family near Madras. Life would continue to be so effortless except that the typical mysteries and confusions of adolescence in a turbulent adult world creep into Hari’s life. It is not until a complex matter of national concern occurs that Hari’s childhood is quickly snatched away from him.
The Abundance by Amit Majmudar • The Business of Life • When author Amit Majmudar tells a story, he chooses a unique approach. In his dramatic and touching debut novel, Partitions, he examined the effects of partition through the posthumous eyes of a Hindu father, husband, and doctor watching his children on their journey to be reunited with their mother. In this second novel, Majmudar’s narrator is a woman diagnosed with cancer. Written with compassion, charm, and wit, The Abundance is less about the effects of illness than about the healing between aging immigrants and their American-born children.
A House for Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi • Pregnant Pause • Celebrities have embraced gestational surrogacy in increasing numbers. In India, Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan as well as Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao have had children through surrogacy. In America, Jimmy Fallon and his wife Nancy have had two children through surrogacy, and Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban have had one. But what of the couples who aren’t celebrities and have no other option to have a family of their own? What are the social, emotional, and moral implications of the procedure?
The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi • Sweet, Ripe, and Juicy • In her second novel, Malladi provides us with yet another female character who fights her own battles and emerges scathed but victorious. Priya Rao is a 27-year-old headstrong, opinionated, educated woman who is independent and self-sufficient. After seven years of going to school and working in the U.S., she cannot escape the prospect of returning home to Hyderabad for a visit. It is mango season, her favorite time of year, but the intoxicating sweetness of the mango may not be enough to see her through her own “pickle.”
The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You by Amulya Malladi • Asmi Verma is a high-profile corporate woman, single and nearly 40 (much to the dismay of her beleaguered Indian mother). She loves her work with a passion. Alternatively, she constantly questions–as do all women–if she’s good enough for the VP promotion being dangled in front of her and her colleague, the misogynistic Scott Beauregard III, a card-carrying member of GTech’s “boys’ club.” Despite pitfalls and challenges designed to break both her spirit and the heels of her designer shoes, Asmi does her job around the world at the drop of a boarding pass in the only way she knows how: with thoughtful leadership and unwavering professionalism.
The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey • A Defining Life • Sujata Massey, award-winning author of the Rei Shimura series, has stepped confidently out of her mystery mode and into the realm of historical fiction. Her novel breathes new life into both the well-worn tale of an orphan against the world and the always popular coming-of-age narrative by utilizing unusual settings and unconventional challenges. The narrator, given a succession of names representing the four major changes in her life, must recognize her situation, use her wits to find a solution, and learn from her mistakes more than once.
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Book One in a Series) • Mistry Mystery: Solved in New Series • Sujata Massey, the award-winning author of the Rei Shimura mystery series, The Sleeping Dictionary, and India Gray: Historical Fiction, debuted a new legal mystery series in January that is certain to please a wide range of readers. Set in 1920s Bombay, the series launched with The Widows of Malabar Hill features intrepid Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer/solicitor in India. As fate would have it, wherever Miss Mistry goes, murder follows.
The Satapur Moonstone (Book Two in a Series) and The Bombay Prince (Book Three in a Series) by Sujata Massey • Historical Mysteries of 1921 in India Resonate a Century Later • Oxford-educated Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female solicitor, is a clever, spirited young woman working for her father’s respected law firm in 1921 Bombay. Unable to fully practice because a woman can’t earn a law degree, her father relies on her exacting skills with contract law and her nimble mind for additional legal assistance. Introduced to readers in Sujata Massey’s 2015 novella, Outnumbered at Oxford, then launched in The Widows of Malabar Hill (Book 1) of the author’s Mystery of 1920s India series, the success of the second and third installments shows no sign of Perveen’s career being dismissed.
Life After Life by Jill McCorkle • Memories and Discoveries • Life After Life, Jill McCorkle’s most recent novel, has nothing to do with religion or the afterlife. Instead, it has everything to do with the living of life and, in particular, those later years in which living can be the most difficult and the most precious. With life, however, comes death and the importance of remembrance.
The Silent Raga by Ameen Merchant • Raga-Time Blues • Where do middle-class Tamil Brahmin girls go when they turn eighteen?” asks Ameen Merchant in his debut novel. The answer is not simple. According to his story, some blithely move their indentured servitude from their father’s house to their husband’s house. Others exchange despair for freedom, leaving their family a goodbye note. Still others reach their destination at the end of a rope hung from the tree in the back yard.
Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj • Seductive and Inviting • On a rare occasion, a novel comes along that breaks rules, tears down barriers, and is a joy to read. Bodies in Motion is such a novel. This collection of 20 stories spans 63 years and weaves three generations of two Sri Lankan families into an intricate and sexual braid of culture and tradition pitted against desires and needs. What the author hopes the reader will take away from the collection is the complexity of life.
Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore • COMING JUNE 2022!
The River Turned Red by Nirmala Moorthy • Historical Tale • Lies, deception, trust, and hope; courtesans, royalty, thugs, and villagers; soldiers, informants, spies, and servants; intrigue, mutiny, sacrifice, and survival. Universal in representing the struggles, annihilations, oppression, and uprising of peoples all over the world at any time in history, Moorthy’s title is a sad reminder that blood in the water is too often an ingredient when dignity and independence are at stake. In this case, the historic event tackled is the touchy and significant relationship between the conquered and their conquerors: India’s Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott • The novel concerns a thirty-eight-year-old unnamed author referred to only as _____. He has a condition—his imagination is alive and well and overactive. And _____, as did Mott, left the tiny rural town of Bolton, NC, and became a bestselling author. The novel also concerns a young boy, who is so dark-skinned that the bully on the school bus calls him Soot. “Black as shut eyes. Black as starless nights. Black as stovepipe soot.” And then there’s The Kid, who appears to _____ on his book tour of, yes, Hell of a Book, and can be regarded as the moral voice, the imaginary friend, the byproduct of _____’s life experiences as a Black man.
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee • Family Stories • Neel Mukherjee’s 2014 Booker Prize nominated novel is a wholly-absorbing work that is both ambitious and exhausting. The novel opens with a raw, heart-wrenching prologue set in 1966. A farmer, at the edge of desperation and starvation, kills his family and then himself. We are then tossed into 1967 and the daily goings-on in the Ghosh family household with prose that soothes and seduces, whisking the reader away from extreme tragedy and into the world of those who inhabit this great house.
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Ladies Coupé by Anita Nair • Tales on the Rails • “The problem is, I wish to live by myself but everyone tells me that no woman can live alone.” Can’t they? To 45-year-old, single Akhilandeswari, it is a question worth asking and a lifestyle worth investigating in Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupé.
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~ R ~
Someone Else’s Garden by Dipika Rai • Ground Cover • Now and then, along comes a novel that I truly want to enjoy. The cover is intriguing. The synopsis draws me in. But for any number of reasons, it disappoints. Dipika Rai’s debut novel is one such book. Mamta, the oldest of seven in a rural family in turn-of-this-century India, is despised and ignored by her father because of her gender. Barely fed, overworked, and not yet married at twenty, she is considered by her father to be “someone else’s garden” that he needn’t care for. Forced into a last-ditch marriage opportunity, Mamta is sent to live with an abusive husband.
The World Made Straight by Ron Rash • An Unrelenting North Carolina Past • Old conflicts die slow and hard, and Ron Rash’s 2006 novel, The World Made Straight, tells a raw, mountain home tale stretching from 1974 to the Shelton Laurel Massacre of 1863. The historic marker for the event stands at the intersection of North Carolina state highways 208 and 212. The graves of the 13 kin who were slain rest in a cemetery just off N.C. 212.
Raiders of the North by Alex Rutherford • Empire State • The Taj Majal. The Koh-i-Noor diamond. Conquests from north to south, east to west. One of the most sumptuous periods of history was the 300-year life of the Mughal Empire. Attempting to capture that piece of the past, Alex Rutherford (husband-wife non-fiction authors Michael and Diana Preston) begins a five-part fictional series with Raiders from the North, the story of Babur. Pulling heavily from Babur’s own writing, the book succeeds in knotting and unknotting family ties, but it falters in its representation of the man and the birth of an empire.
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China Room by Sunjeev Sahota • Sunjeev Sahota’s China Room Reclaims Family Generations Later • In 1929, while freedom fighters scour the country for new recruits, fifteen-year-old Mehar is married, one of three brides to three brothers. Neither she, her family, or the other brides know which of the brothers is whose husband. The girls, mostly sequestered, live and work in the “china room,” a small, suffocating place with their mother-in-law’s unused dowry on display. Alternately, it’s 2019. A young man whose name we only know as S- reminisces about 20 years earlier when he seeks to escape the ever-present racism in his northern England town and the demons of his addiction. On his family’s near-crumbling farm in rural Punjab, he wonders about the barred windows on the property.
Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal • Little Boy Blue • Whether pre-teen years are recalled with fondness or fear, Rakesh Satyal’s debut novel, Blue Boy, illustrates with near-equal parts of humor and sadness that adolescent angst is universal. With a passionate message of self-discovery, acceptance, and making choices, Satyal presents a bittersweet look at how culturally and sexually marginalized children find strength through adversity. Kiran Sharma, the book’s sixth grade narrator, is wild about Whitney Houston, adores Strawberry Shortcake, goes crazy for ballet lessons, and relishes the color pink.
The Prayer Room by Shanthi Sekaran • California Dreamin’ • A few rules: never wear shoes in the puja room. Never go in dirty, or before taking a shower. Never enter during the first three days of menstruation. Refresh the flowers and water daily. Sit with your legs crossed or tucked beneath the body, but never with your feet stretched forward. Never blow out the flames of the oil lamps—wave them or snuff them out. The left hand shouldn’t be used unless absolutely necessary.” Those are the rules established by Viji Armitage in Shanthi Sekaran’s satisfying and congenial debut novel,The Prayer Room.
The Last Song of Dusk by Siddarth Dhanvant Shanghvi • Joy and Sorrow in Balance • This tale of 1920s Bombay explores the substantial lives of a family and its extensions. Anuradha, who is so beautiful that peacocks line up to bid her adieu as she leaves her home for her impending marriage, is the anchor of the story. Through her zest for life and understanding of sacrifice, she offers us a life both lived and survived.
The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddarth Dhanvant Shanghvi • Wide-Angle City • Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi surprises with everything he creates. In his second novel, Shanghvi attacks the socio-political system of the city that journalist/author Suketu Mehta termed “maximum” and inspects how relationships survive against the odds. Four individuals linked by need, art, and fate remain united through tragedy and circumstances in a city fueled by crime, corruption, fresh affluence, and political maneuvers.
Chef by Jaspreet Singh • Kirpal “Kip” Singh, a former military chef, is summoned to Kashmir to prepare a perfect, politically-correct wedding feast that he hopes will save his life. Having left service there 14 years earlier, Kip now embarks on a return journey filled with the painful baggage of his past and the pressing burden of his newly-diagnosed brain tumor.
Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh • Deranged Marriage in Kali-fornia • The quickest path to parental approval? Be the living incarnation of a goddess on Earth. It was that simple. Who knew?” Whether ethnic “chick lit” as a genre finds a readership or not, Singh should easily find fans because of her breezy, just-this-side-of-bawdy writing. The book’s humor is like sweet, pungent garlic pushed through a press and then ground with the most sizzling chili peppers.
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith • Sand and Seasickness in a Pretty but Thin Tale • Oh, would that Katy Simpson Smith had told a story of post-Revolutionary America that rocked with swashbuckling, colorful characters, and Beaufort, North Carolina. Her debut novel could have been something more than strings of beautifully written sentences. But it wasn’t. The ocean town of Beaufort is the primary setting of this early American tale built on gloriously written language that sweeps the reader away to a bleak and dreary time in America’s history.
Guests on Earth by Lee Smith • Welcome Guests • Lee Smith of Hillsborough, NC, is a preeminent Southern author. Her latest novel captivates, enthralls, shocks and draws vivid pictures of Western North Carolina as the backdrop of an unusual setting: Highland Hospital in Asheville. The hospital, still in operation today, is the centerpiece of the novel, a place to which Evalina Toussaint, the charming but self-effacing narrator, and Zelda Fitzgerald, fascinating wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, return as a matter of home.
The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan • Shining Light • In January 1850, Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General of India, boards a barge down the Indus River to Karachi. Having just left Lahore, Dalhousie has stealthily taken one very precious item with him from the treasury of the heir to the Punjab Empire, eleven-year-old Maharajah Dalip Singh. To keep this safe, Lady Dalhousie stitches a leather bag with a loop which goes around Dalhousie’s belt. He keeps it on him day and night, and when he sleeps, two massive dogs are chained to his camp bed.
Shadow Princess by Indu Sundaresan • Trapped in the Shadows • In a successful bid to remove historical fiction from the doldrums of names, dates, and places, Indu Sundaresan presents the lives, culture, and consequences of the Mughal Empire with a you-are-there point of view in her Taj Trilogy. The Twentieth Wife and its sequel, The Feast of Roses, told the story of Mehrunnisa (Nur Jahan), the twentieth and most beloved wife of Jahangir. Jumping a generation forward in Shadow Princess, the story centers around Jahanara who, as the favorite child of Shah Jahan, was afforded as much wealth and power as her great-aunt/step-grandmother.
The Splendor of Silence by Indu Sundaresan • The Silence of a Lifetime • With the Quit India campaign providing texture to The Splendor of Silence, Indu Sundaresan weaves a colorful tale of forbidden love, revolutionary fervor, and covert military operations. In this, her third novel, the author leaves the Mughal Empire behind and leaps almost to the present, to a time in which the British were trapped between surviving World War II and holding onto India. Set during a four-day period after the Japanese have invaded Burma, this novel is filled with well-built characters, explosive events, and undeniable intrigue.
City of Devi by Manil Suri • Love Is in the Aril • What if a Bollywood film was the genesis for what threatens to be the end of the world? Manil Suri’s third novel explores that possibility with romantic passion, humanitarian distress, and twisted humor. He has a keen eye, a sharp wit, and a blazing pen with which he delivers the tale of a goddess, three lovers, and the impending annihilation of the world as they—and we—know it.
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The Alchemy of Desire by Tarun J. Tejpal • Misguided Desire • “Love and desire. To question them is to question life.” But what happens when they are confused for one another? Such is the case in Tarun J. Tejpal’s debut novel which follows the lives of a young married couple, the unnamed narrator and his beloved Fizz (Fiza), who cannot get enough of each other until a wedge is inadvertently driven between them slowly and unsuspectingly.
The Tide of Darkness by Joseph L.S. Terrell • Sun on My Face, Sand in My Shoes, Blood on My Hands • On a particularly rainy weekend, I found myself browsing Downtown Books in Manteo on Roanoke Island, just one bridge from the Outer Banks. There, on the shelf reserved for local authors, was exactly what I had been looking for. Terrell’s first in a series was the perfect prelude to the beach season: a knock-down, small town, tightly constructed murder mystery complete with wind, sand, surf and a true sense of both suspense and place. The fact that the story is related to a still-unsolved murder that had happened July 1967 catapulted its standing on my Reading List Intrigue-O-Meter.
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a wonderful retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, one of my favorite comedies. Tyler has captured Kate perfectly in this update, and the characters that orbit Kate’s crazy world are quirky but real in true Anne Tyler fashion.
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Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar • Surviving Themselves • In her debut novel, Thrity Umrigar takes us on a journey through the lives of a group of friends who live in Wadia Baug, a Parsi community apartment building in Bombay. Like her characters, Umrigar is a Parsi, and while she is acutely aware of their strengths and their shortcomings, she brings compassion and reservation to the writing rather than indictment and judgment. Set around and during the wedding reception of Jimmy and Zarin Kanga’s son, two grades of alcohol flow, tongues loosen, and memories come pouring forth of lost youth, hopes, and dreams.
Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar • Race, Privilege, and Politics • Nine-year-old Anton Vesper—beautiful, bright, biracial—finds himself in the foster care system after having spent a week alone and locked in a stifling apartment waiting for his crack-addicted mother to return. However, his new foster father, David Coleman, a judge with a political pedigree, will do anything to keep the boy and his mother from reuniting, even if it means doing something shrouded in deceit and corruption. He feels it’s his duty and, in the Coleman family, duty outranks justice.
Honor by Thrity Umrigar • COMING JANUARY 2022!
The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar • Unnatural Spaces • Thrity Umrigar returns with another compelling novel that is a must-read for those who appreciate first-rate writing, solidly drawn characters, and social commentary that stimulates self-reflection. Her first novel, Bombay Time (2001), introduced readers to an entire Parsi community of longtime friends. In The Space Between Us, she zeroes in on two dissimilar women and how they relate to each other because of, and in spite of, imposed class boundaries.
The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar • Talking Heads • Telling stories is a method by which we preserve our histories, relate to others on a personal level, and learn from each other. It is also how we divulge secrets and heal our emotional injuries. In The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar brings together two dissimilar women who, through storytelling, forge an unconventional friendship that is tested more than once.
The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar • The Clarifying Principle • Rewind: Laleh, Kavita, Nishta, and Armaiti were college students in Bombay during the late 1970s. They, plus the men they married, came from different classes, family environments, and religions, yet their idealism bound them together. Optimism colored their vision. Equality fortified their goals. Their future was destined to be better, ameliorated by their political activism. Fast Forward: Now they are approaching 50. Their ties have loosened. Their worlds are different from each other’s. And they never expected the unexpected.
The Guru of Love by Samrat Upadhyay • Mid-Life Crisis in Kathmandu • Kathmandu, Nepal. Does it conjure up exotic and mysterious images of a place far away and little known? If it does, beware the stark reality of Samrat Upadhyay’s novel. This Kathmandu is anything but exotic or mysterious; it is instead a crowded, dirty, confused city where people merely survive during uncertain political times. It is 1990, and while the city teems and swells with immigrants and villagers seeking work and shelter, Nepal itself stirs and brews in anticipation of political change and transformation.
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Homespun by Nilita Vachani • In Love and War • In her first novel, Nilita Vachani, émigré filmmaker and one-time assistant to director Mira Nair, covers more ground than many military conflicts would hope to claim. Vachani tackles three generations of intermingled families while painting the adversaries of the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War as having subscribed to political and media biases. They issue murky declarations of victory based on a patriotic need to keep the opposition’s story unbalanced and the home team cheering. In short, Vachani has posed the question of truth in war while searching for truth in the conflicts between family members.
The Shaadi Set-Up by Lillie Vale • Second Debut Novel Gives Second Generation a Second Chance at First Love • Lillie Vale’s debut adult novel overflows with internal angst, situational humor, and the oft-dreamed-of second chance at first love. It also examines the struggles mid-twenty-somethings encounter when finding their grown-up groove and combining business and romantic relationships. The result is positively entertaining friction-fiction.
Murder Between the Lines by Radha Vatsal (Book Two in a Series) • Murder Mystery Goes Back 100 Years • It’s 1915, before the United States entered what we now call World War I and became a superpower. Women were cared for by their fathers or husbands, and those who wanted to work were allowed to choose from a handful of socially-acceptable jobs. Women could neither vote nor sit on juries as peers, yet women were speaking out and marching for their rights. It was an exciting time for America as the country was changing socially and politically. This is the world of Capability “Kitty” Weeks in a two-book-old mystery series written by Radha Vatsal.
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The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White • A quick review of a wonderfully-exhausting book. During a recent week at the beach, I allowed myself to fall deeply into a world created by five-book-old local author Barbara Claypole White, the self-proclaimed “Mad Brit.” Barbara, a petite and bubbly, gin-loving, red-wine-loving woman who lives a few towns over from me, makes me laugh with her Facebook posts, gives wonderful author visits, conducted one of the best writing workshops I’ve ever taken, and writes beautiful, all-consuming novels that not only shred the reader’s sympathetic heartstrings but also educates them about mental illness.
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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin • A.J. Fikry is a bookseller and a cantankerous, persnickety one at that. Since his beloved wife Nic died in a car accident, “cantankerous” and “persnickety” have earned capital letters. If you looked up the term “literary curmudgeon”, you would, of course, find A.J’s picture. The only thing he enjoys (aside from short stories) is matching books with readers. On New England’s fictional Alice Island, Island Books is a necessary fixture despite its owner, but when a precocious two-year old girl named Maya is left alone in the store one evening, A.J.’s world changes dramatically.