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Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

The book in two sentences: It’s 1921 and Parveen Mistry joins her father’s law firm as one of the first female lawyers in India. Her past comes back to haunt her as she investigates three widows who left their entire inheritance to a mysterious charity.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short: I had a great time reading this book. While it was a little slow to start, the pacing picks up after the first few chapters and I found it difficult to put down.

Parveen is a wonderful protagonist, and as the story jumps back-and-forth between her past and present selves, she grows as a character. The plot is also very intriguing, and introduces readers to the eccentric blend of ethnic and religious communities in 1920s Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Having spent childhood summers in that city, it was exciting and emotional to imagine myself and Parveen going to the same places decades apart.

This book is the first in a new series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next when it’s out in early 2019. Have you read The Widows of Malabar Hill or another work by Sujata Massey? What did you think?

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Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The concept is something right up my alley, both interesting and enthralling, and featuring strong characters, but the pacing is too slow and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some great action and suspense sequences throughout the book, places where I could feel my heart pounding and goosebumps forming, but the ending left me feeling adrift.

Annihilation is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, but I’m not motivate to read the next two books. I watched the movie and have mixed feelings about it, too. Have you read or seen Annihilation? What did you think? Does the rest of the trilogy flesh out the story some more? Is it worth reading?

Reading progress

I found a solution for my next-book indecision. When I’m having trouble deciding what to read, all I have to do is pull a title out of this kimchi jar. Voilà! Problem solved.

What are you currently reading?

Review: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Brief synopsis (back cover): When prototype models for a dream-invading device go missing at the Institute for Psychiatric Research, employees soon learn that someone is using these new machines to drive them all insane. Brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba—whose alter ego is a dream detective named Paprika—realizes she is in danger. She must venture into the dream world in order to fight her mysterious opponents. Soon nightmares begin to leak into daily life and the borderline between dream and reality grows unclear. The future of the waking world is at stake.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: Science fiction and mystery are two of my favorite genres, and I really enjoyed the way they intersect in this book. Other things this book does well:

  • It is convincing. The new technology that allows people to enter each other’s dreams is legitimized in the book in the form of buy-in from the scientific community. Even without their endorsement, the concept is weird and “out there” enough to be believable. Also, considering the book was first published in 1993, it has aged well.
  • The plot moves along. Though a little slow at first, it picks up about a quarter of the way in and is a thrilling ride till the end.
  • It offers some social commentary. While it focuses on the challenges of scientific research, asking questions like Who is research for? and Can you have research for research’s sake?, it also explores the way in which we treat mental illness and therapy.

Some minor critiques:

  • There is some sexual exploitation and violence. However, it is not necessarily gratuitous; that is, it speaks to characters’ mindsets and serves as an explanation for their motivations.
  • There are a lot of characters. Not quite Game of Thrones style, but at times still distracting.

My next step is to watch the anime movie based on this book that came out in 2006. Have you read the book or watched the movie? What did you think?

Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short: It’s not every day that I spend precious study hours reading for fun (okay, it’s most days, but usually not the few before a midterm).

This book has everything I enjoy in a good story: a new and unpredictable plot, suspense, interesting and relatable characters, and vivid imagery. It’s also one of those books that I simultaneously wanted to finish and hoped it would never end (to be honest, I’m a little sad that it did).

Since it’s past my bedtime, I’m only going to add: go read this book.

wildwood

Review: Feeding a Yen: Savoring Local Specialties, from Kansas City to Cuzco

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Calvin Trillin has never been a champion of the “continental cuisine” palaces he used to refer to as La Maison de la Casa House. What he treasures is the superb local specialty. And he will go anywhere to find one. As it happens, some of his favorite dishes can be found only in their place of origin. Join Trillin on his charming, funny culinary adventures as he samples fried marlin in Barbados and the barbecue of his boyhood in Kansas City. Travel alongside as he hunts for the authentic fish taco, and participates in a “boudin blitzkrieg” in the part of Louisiana where people are accustomed to buying these spicy sausages and polishing them off in the parking lot. In New York, Trillin even tries to use a glorious local specialty, the bagel, to lure his daughters back from California. Feeding a Yen is a delightful reminder of why New York magazine called Calvin Trillin “our funniest food writer.”

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: I enjoyed stepping into Trillin’s whirlwind foodie world, where he visits and revisits cities around the globe for the sole purpose of eating his favorite dishes. As a traveler and food connoisseur, I can relate. However, the stories lack depth, and they miss the opportunity to make larger connections between humans and food that would have been interesting to explore, like why we cook what we cook, how food connects us across cultures, and what transformations in food science mean for the future of humanity, to name a few.

This is a good travel book or lighthearted read, but don’t expect to get much out of it (much of the information is dated and few specifics are given re: restaurant names and places). Have you read Feeding a Yen or any other work by Calvin Trillin?

saturday morning

Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Brief synopsis (Goodreads)Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): I first read this book when I was in high school. I remember really enjoying it, so it was a little bit of a surprise that I didn’t feel the same way this time around.

What I liked:
1. The protagonist, Maisie, is a complex character that grows throughout the course of the book.

2. The story/plot is original and interesting: it features a female lead in a non-traditional profession during a time when that was very uncommon, and it has a good amount of intrigue and the mystery is set up fairly well.

What I didn’t like:
1. The pacing is bad. The story starts off in the present, then spends a good chunk of time in the past via flashback, then it’s back to the present, then the past again, and finally the present. The back-and-forth didn’t let me fully immerse myself in the story.

2. Dialogues between characters seem awkward, forced, and sometimes superficial. Even those between Maisie and the 2-3 people she’s closest to lack depth.

3. Aside from Maisie, none of the other characters were fleshed out completely. It felt like their descriptions and actions barely scratched the surface.

I think that the first time I picked up Maisie Dobbs I hadn’t found many books I liked that featured strong female leads, so I was especially drawn to this one. After having read other similar books, this doesn’t seem like the best representation of that category. I do own at least the next two books in this series though, so will be continuing my way through unless they turn out to be really bad.

Have you read Maisie Dobbs or other books by Winspear? What did you think?

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