My target was to double my goal from last year, so 24 books in 12 months. I finished 3 books from last year, started and finished 29 this year + 7 books from the Young Adult section. I will not lie, some of the Young Adult Books ended up being my favourite reads of the year. At some point, I switched from audiobooks to ebooks and that’s been working well. I enjoyed most of my 2020 reading. A book or two may have disappointed and an other few may not have been as great as the rest, but most were good and some were phenomenal.
The Remains of the Day
A long and sometimes weary tale. This book has been on my to-read list for years now. It didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but it didn’t let me down either. Beneath the stuffiness, it is a softly tragic, but I would not call it a tragedy. What if I told you everything that you put your soul to all your life is meaningless? If you had to make your peace with it and move on, perhaps down the same path?
The Liberation of Sita
I did not like this much primarily because Sita in the beginning is very different from the strong woman I interpret her as, but every woman she, and through her you meet is a revelation. These women are self-assured and hold unconventional views that force you to think. By the end of the book Sita is transformed from a girl giddily in love to a woman loved -worshiped-scorned-castaway and finally a boss.
The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star
This book is like that bad movie you come across by chance and have to finish watching because it could be so much better. It has potential. The story being set in Bollywood is probably just a coincidence, but I am not going to read another book from this series to find out. Also, this book was read in a terrible accent that I have never heard any Indian speak with.
A Brave New World
Brilliant! This book gave me gooseflesh. What made it more real and therefore scarier is how close it was to my own vague imagination of an ideal/utopian world. Shudder.
The Vish Puri Mystery Series
Finally, a detective series set in modern India and a book that gets its bearings right. My only complaint is that the descriptions and dialogues sometimes bog the narrative down. Even so, they are mostly accurate and blend well into the story. The story starts of slow, taking its time to establish the characters and plot. The plot resolutions are akin to yesteryear Bollywood masala potboilers, but the build-up is very enjoyable.
The protagonist’s mother, mummy-ji as the book calls her, is a darling and my favourite character.
(The accents may not be spot on, but they are much closer and less grating. By the second book, I was used to and comfortable with accents.)
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken
I loved the open bigotry/hatred that the protagonist holds for a certain country. I don’t say it is right (or wrong) but it was very refreshing. I wish the writer had not felt obliged to undo this towards the end of this book.
The Case of the Missing Servant
A fast paced, enjoyable installament.
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing
This installment was a bit of a letdown.
The Case of the Love Commandos
Again, not a fan of this installment but it wasn’t too bad.
The Nickel Boys
I had to stop part-way. It was too intense for me. Such tales of horror and brutality affect me deeply. I picked it up again and finished it. There were parts I wanted to reach into the story and warn the child in question, pull him in into my arms and run away to safety. It is a harrowing account but not bleak. It ends beaten but strong.
And then the BLM movement happened, again.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The perfect late night read if it were not so wordy. Haunted, wicked, telling; the story is sinister and melancholic. The problem may not be the book or the premise. The thing is, I have never found carnivals spooky or clowns scary. I have a feeling I might have enjoyed it more as a hard copy. I might read the book this year (2021)
The Family Upstairs
Not so much a murder mystery, but a taut, well-paced thriller. The characters range from lost to odd to psychotic. The book is not perfect and there are a few loose ends, but it kept me engaged. The last page was deliciously devious.
40 Rules of Love
A very sublime read. It is simple and easy but not chic-lit breezy. This is a book written for spring. I read as I ran past flowering trees in full bloom, and soon I had a special flower for each character – Rumi was the delicate white cherry blossoms, Shams was the bigger pink cherry blossoms and Ella was the Magnolia blossoms. It was easy to put myself in the shoes of each character, even the some of the minor ones. It’s an odd book to read while running, but I enjoyed both the book and the experience.
A murder mystery set in Bangkok. I quite enjoyed it, but online reviews suggest it is as inaccurate about Bangkok and as insufferable to locals as The Strange Disappearance of the Bollywood Star was to me. It has an obvious plot hole. What I thought was very obvious right at the start was completely ignored while the story took off on a different path and came to the same conclusion many many ages later. Even so, it’s not a bad book for a rainy afternoon, as long as you are looking only for some fun and not any authenticity.
Why Not Me?
I picked up this book by thinking it to be a funny book with sharp American Indian woman insights. It turned out exactly like the author says an Amazon reviewer wrote about her previous book – “meh”. It was only four hours long and I really tried, but I had to give up ¾ through the book.
I went back and finished it a few months later, not because I was intrigued or I wanted to, but simply to finish it.
The Other Americans
I picked this up thinking it was a thriller, a murder mystery. It is not. That is not to say it’s not a good book. It is engaging. It is the story of immigrant life. It shows the struggles and showcases discrimination, subtle and overt. It is this and more. It is the story of a daughter and that of the parents. It is the story of the land they come from and the land the choose to settle down.
I do not know what to make of this book. It is a story of a community. To me, it seemed like the story of any small-town community. It is lyrical and takes its time unfolding. So much happens, yet not much changes. So much changes, yet everything is the same. It is hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time.
Our Moon has Blood Clots
A hard-hitting, powerful story of more than loss. Coming straight off Number the Stars, it hit me harder. While that story restored my faith in humanity, this one took that restored faith and smashed it. This is a story of personal trauma and the anguish of an entire community. It is history, unvarnished. After a long time, I had in my hands a book that I simply could not put down. It explores identity, violence, and healing. It does not dwell on the dark aspects – the plunder, torture, killings and subsequent poverty, nor does it skim over any of it or use poetic euphemisms to sugarcoat hard truths. It does not let its quest for truth-telling get bogged down by the burden of producing proof and dumping it all on the readers. The book is taut and well-paced. It states facts and spares no one. It is harsh and unforgiving, yet it is not rabid in tone. It seeks retribution, without baying for blood. It braids together the sense of identity, place, and belonging. It is a collection of stories that deserve to be written, and a book that deserves to be read.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
This book has been on my to-read list for a long time. I thought it was a collection of poetry; it is, and it is not. It is Maya Angelou’s autobiography. Her journey from daughter to mother. The stories are poignant, and the voice powerful; prose that is beautiful enough to be poetry.
If They Come for Us
Another very poignant book – a collection of poetry. Poems that I instantly connected with on a soul level. Her pain is tangible, but her poetry is anything but despondent. Her spirit is fierce. In her poetry she invokes her queer identity, her being an orphan and her rootlessness among other things. Her words celebrate every aspect of her identity. When she writes of the family fleeing Kashmir during the partition, the sadness is as palpable as Rahul Pundita’s family fleeing Kashmir in Our Moon has Blood Clots. He was present, a witness with memories; she was unborn, unconceived. Hiraeth is a Welsh concept of longing for a home which you can’t return to or one that never existed. It can be loosely translated as ‘nostalgia’, or, more commonly, ‘homesickness’ for a place in the past to which you can’t return. She captures it perfectly.
The Goodman Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
A beautiful exposition on religion. The book subverts the idea of organized religion and the church, Without discounting God or Jesus. I have tried to read The Dark Materials Trilogy. I finished the first book and made some progress the second before completely abandoning the series. I did not particularly care for it or understand the deeper meaning. This book is far more obvious. If I were to ever write a book, I think it would be ideologically similar.
The Blood Telegram
An excellent narrative of the events that led up to the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan and its impact on world realpolitik. However, the facts get repetitive and the book could easily be edited down to 1/3rd of its current size (excluding notes, references, etc.).
I like to read Indian authors when I can and was surprised to find this much liked book in the library. However, it did not live up to all the outstanding reviews I had read. It is not a bad book. Human life is complex, and this book makes a valiant attempt at capturing it. It does well in setting up the story and lighting layering it. Some of it is lost in translation, but that is understandable. The only point I could not buy was the heir apparent to a small family business is not encouraged to participate in the family business and is instead given a nominal title, pay and allowed to never show up at work. It’s not like the heir apparent is gainfully employed elsewhere either. This being one of the key causes of conflict within the story, left me rather unsatisfied.
My first Murakami. I’ve been wanting to read and have been putting off reading Kafka on shore for a good part of this year. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and se what the fuss around Murakami was all about. Instead of reading Kafka on the Shore, I picked the smaller Sputnik Sweetheart. I hate the term chic-lit, but this is probably the best form of it. It has all the basic ingredients – a girl, a male best friend who loves her, a rich stranger she falls in love with and exotic locales. The protagonist is possibly the most realistic MPDG. She is angsty but not shrill. She does not have teardrops inked on her cheeks but is beautiful to those who love her. She is not here to show some lost boy the meaning of life and the importance of chasing after dreams, though dreams play an important role in the book. Love and loneliness are the main themes of this book. It’s not just the protagonist, the narrator/best friend and the love interest are also familiar tropes, written with graceful twists. I found each character, fantastic as they were, oddly relatable. The book was unusual, fast paced and all in all a very satisfying read.
Born A Crime
I kept putting it off thinking it would be going to be a serious read, but when I did pick it up, I was in for a surprise. It was so entertaining that I had to finish it in one go. The book touches on very serious topics like apartheid, domestic violence, violence, poverty, crime, unemployment but it does so with a sense of humour and without ever trivializing any of it.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape
This is more like a collection of essays on the topic of rape. All very well written and objective and each approaching it from a different angle. Because they are all on the same topic and similarly dispassionate in tone, after a bit reading fatigue set in.
The Night Circus
A phenomenal book that perfectly creates a surreal world, a challenge that drives it and love story set in it. The book progress at a good pace and at no point did I feel like putting it down or taking a break.
Young Adult Fiction
A graphic novel for young adults by an Indian American writer, about an Indian American teen and heritage. I only took it up because I was looking for Indian graphic novels and came across it. I wanted to read it first to make sure it was worth recommending to the almost young adults in my life. While it is mostly free of sex and violence, I found it completely mixed up in geography and culture. In India, region, religion, names, cultures everything is tied intrinsically this book messes it up in its attempts to give you a taste of “all India”.
The Rickshaw Girl
A simple, heartwarming tale from rural Bangladesh. A tale that introduces you to the magic of microfinance and the changing face of life in a village on the Indian sub-continent.
Number the Stars
A holocaust book for children. While it is a work of fiction, I love that it is rooted in truth, and that the truth is so beautiful. I did not know about the how the Danes rallied around and protected their Jewish population during WWII. The common people as well as the political will was with them. It is a very heartening tale.
Earwig and the Witch
A very fun children’s book with a few lose ends.
The Prince and the Dressmaker
This book is meant for children, but I think everyone should read it. It’s fun and it’s meaningful. It deals with gender expression and the angst associated with it so maturely.
Another children’s graphic book I enjoyed reading. The struggles of an immigrant child that Pashmina only touches on, are explored a little more in this story. The spooky levels are just right for young readers and the horror elements are palpable.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
This is a immigrant child coming of age book. It is not a bad book. The intended audience might find it relatable and enjoyable. I found it full of cliches.
Continued from last year
Another solid book about race, identity, and the struggles of immigrants by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
I had mixed feeling about this book while I was reading it. By the time I finished it, I knew I liked it. The generally positivity of the book coupled with the strength and optimistic outlook of the characters is what did it for me.
A non-modern version of The Princess Bride which is one of my favourite books. It took me a long time to finish Volume 1 and I don’t know if I am ready for Volume II, which is supposed to be a more serious look at the same subject. It is a long and not very easy read, but it is amongst the funniest books I have read. I laughed so much. I love this book.