Book Review: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

My latest read for the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara. This novel, told from the perspective of 9-year-old Jai, tells the story of several children from an impoverished neighborhood in India, all of whom disappear around the same time. Inspired by the detective shows he has seen on TV, Jai decides to investigate the disappearances with the help of his two best friends.

The book: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

One of the biggest strengths of Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is that it compassionately draws attention to major issues in present-day India, including: disappearing children, poverty, wealth inequality, religious tensions, and police corruption. As the novel unfolds, it becomes clear how these issues are interconnected and part of a larger systemic problem. All of this is shown through the perspective of a 9-year-old child who doesn’t quite understand how the world works, but is still impacted by all of these issues.

Prior to reading this novel, I had been skeptical about the story being narrated by a 9-year-old child. After reading the novel, though, I don’t think it would have worked from the perspective of an adult. By telling Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line from a child’s perspective, author Deepa Anappara is able to highlight serious issues of corruption and wealth inequality in contemporary India, without ever seeming preachy or self-righteous. And by developing realistic child characters with unique backgrounds, perspectives, and dreams, Anappara prevents the disappearing children from being viewed as just statistics.

Note: there are potential spoilers in the paragraph below:

While this novel was eye-opening and brilliantly written, the story itself was a bit slow. I thought the plot especially lost momentum around the second half of the novel, when more children continued to disappear but Jai and his friends got no closer to making sense of the disappearances. And while the book’s ending was certainly realistic, it was also disappointing. I think this was intentional: just as I was left wanting more resolution from the story, the families of missing children are left wanting answers about what happened to their children.

All in all, I recommend Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. The characters are compelling, the setting is immersive, and the book draws attention to societal issues in contemporary India (in a compassionate way). The book may leave you feeling unsettled, but it is well worth the read.

Book Review: The Dutch House

This week, in continuing to read the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist, I read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. This novel centers around two siblings, Danny and Maeve, who grow up in a beautiful estate in suburban Pennsylvania. When Danny is 15, the siblings are forced to abandon the Dutch House, leaving them with a trust for Danny’s education, memories of their childhood home, and an unbreakable bond with each other. The Dutch House shows how the siblings’ experiences in their childhood home shape the people they become as adults, and the decisions they make over the course of their lives.

The book: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

I have conflicting opinions about The Dutch House. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Danny reminiscing about his life experiences, especially his shared experiences with his sister Maeve. A lot of Danny’s reminiscing is non-linear, which makes it realistic (who really recounts their entire life history in chronological order?), but a bit hard to follow at first. I also thought that some of Danny’s memories were told boringly – certain descriptions and details could have been omitted or at least shortened.

I also have mixed feelings about The Dutch House‘s main character. Danny was sometimes a frustrating narrator, because he was so oblivious to and disconnected from the world around him. I can’t decide if this was a weakness of the writing, or an intentional reflection on Danny’s emotional stuntedness and the limitations of his memory. Still, Danny’s obliviously selfish behavior was sometimes difficult to read.

Also, because Danny was the narrator, the other characters in the novel could never be well-developed enough. The only deep relationship Danny has is with his sister, Maeve, and even then he often fails to see things about her. I would have loved to see more of Maeve’s perspective, but because Danny is so oblivious that is impossible. I also would have loved to understand the character of Danny’s step-mother, Andrea, better – she is portrayed very one-dimensionally.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Dutch House. Although the main character is frustrating, the novel is very character-driven (which I almost always enjoy). And the novel left a lot for the reader to think about, like: would I characterize Danny as a good person or not? How would the story have been different from Maeve’s perspective? Do “saint-like” people get a pass on being bad parents? The Dutch House clearly raised some interesting issues, and has stuck with me a lot in the 36 hours since finishing it. I just wish that the narrator had been even slightly less oblivious – his one-dimensional view of the world resulted in under-developed supporting characters.

Book Review: Weather

I kicked off the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist with Weather by Jenny Offill. The novel centers around Lizzie, a librarian and self-proclaimed “fake shrink” who tries to help everyone around her while devoting little time to herself. When Lizzie agrees to answer questions for her ex-mentor’s podcast Hell and High Water, she slowly spirals into an obsession over the changing climate and doomsday prepping.

The book: Weather by Jenny Offill
Genre: Literary fiction
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

I expect that Weather will be a polarizing read due to its writing style. The book is written as a collection of distinct (yet ultimately interconnected) thoughts, a sort of inner narrative. As such, there is not a lot of action in the novel – instead, the reader infers what has happened by reading the narrator’s internal processing of events. I personally loved this, because it allowed me to connect with the narrator in a very intimate way, almost like I was in her head experiencing her thoughts.

I also loved the way author Jenny Offill captured the heightened climate anxiety that is so characteristic of our current time. Through the listener questions that Lizzie answers for the climate-change-focused podcast Hell and High Water, we get a sense of the despair and fearfulness that is overcoming society. That sense of potential impending doom seemed especially poignant and relevant now, as people worldwide are actually panicking and doomsday prepping over the coronavirus.

Bonus picture: my cat reads Weather.

The reason why Weather wasn’t a 5-star read for me is because – although the narrative style largely worked for me – the novel felt a bit boring in places. That being said, I still appreciated seeing the world through the lens of the narrator’s semi-mundane life. And I do recommend this book (while knowing that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea).

Book Review: And I Do Not Forgive You

The last book I read before delving into the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks. This collection of short stories is a contemporary take on fairy tales, myths, and ghost stories – most of which are united by undertones of sadness, bitterness, anger, and redemption.

The book: And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks
Genre: Contemporary fiction, short-stories
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

My favorite thing about And I Do Not Forgive You was that it gives validity to the “undesirable” emotions that women are not “supposed” to admit they feel. The women in Sparks’ short stories are unabashedly sad, bitter, and sometimes enraged. Some want revenge, some long to connect with lost loved ones, and some just want to be left alone. I appreciated that Sparks wholly embraced these “undesirable” feelings that probably all women have felt, yet rarely get to openly discuss.

I also liked that Sparks’ stories featured perspectives from people that society generally ignores: families living in trailer parks, women who were historically important yet barely remembered, cult survivors, children of broken families, and more. Because the characters’ perspectives may be unfamiliar (or even taboo) to readers, I think some of the stories come across as Weird. But I don’t know that the characters in And I Do Not Forgive You are any weirder than me or you or people that we know; they’ve just had starkly different life experiences.

With all of that said, I only liked about half of the stories in the collection. Even though I appreciated what Sparks was doing – and even though I just defended the weirdness of the book – some of the stories were still too “out there” for me. As in, I tried to read them deeply but still had trouble processing and finding meaning in them. Other stories were moving and razor-sharp, though! My two favorite stories were “Everyone’s a Winner in Meadow Park” and “The Language of the Stars.”

Overall, I am glad that I read And I Do Not Forgive You. It was very different from the books I usually read, and it challenged me to think deeply about its various characters and story-lines. If you are looking for something “weird” or different, or if you want a surprising blend of magic/mysticism and contemporality, I recommend this book!

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist Reaction

This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been announced and I am so excited! I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year, when many of the book bloggers that I follow posted their reviews of books on the 2019 longlist. Based on their reviews, I read some of the longlisted books (including ones that never would have made it onto my radar otherwise) and found some unexpected gems! In fact, my favorite book of 2019 was Lost Children Archive, which I heard about because so many of the book bloggers I follow were posting about it as part of their WP longlist review.

This year, it is my goal to read every longlisted book before the winner is announced on June 3rd. Before I announce my reaction to the books that were longlisted, I wanted to mention a few books that didn’t make the longlist:

  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: this book is critically acclaimed, but has a low rating on Goodreads. It has been on my TBR for almost a year now, but I can never seem to get to it. I had hoped it would make the WP longlist to give me the push I needed to read it!
  • Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid: this is another critically acclaimed book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while! This book is topically relevant in 2020, and I’ve heard great things about it from other book bloggers.
  • Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson: another topically relevant book that is really hot right now. I’m in the minority of people that didn’t like this book (it was “meh” for me). But I thought that given the novel’s takes on feminism and the future of humanity, its positive reception, and its Booker Prize nomination, that it would end up on the WP longlist.
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I didn’t care for The Handmaid’s Tale when I read it 10 years ago, and I don’t care to read the sequel now. I’m glad this book didn’t make the longlist because it doesn’t need any extra hype.
  • Death in Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh: I had wishfully hoped this book would make the WP longlist because 1) this book is already on my priority TBR, and 2) I love Moshfegh’s writing.

And now…the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 longlist!

  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: I’m cautiously optimistic about this book. I absolutely loved Circe, which was also a feminist re-imagination of a Greek classic. And more generally, I love books that give voices to those who have previously been silenced. So this sounds like something up my alley.
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: I was so pleasantly surprised to see this on the WP longlist! I already read this book and really enjoyed it. It is a story about a young 20-something trying to find herself and heal from a traumatic childhood…and it is really well-executed. So happy to see this novel getting more well-deserved attention. (PS – you can read my review of Queenie here)
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel: I am not going to read this book. It is historical fiction that takes place in 1500’s England AND it is close to 800 pages AND it is the 3rd book in a trilogy that I haven’t read. Hard pass.
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: this is another “cautiously optimistic” one for me. It is a WWII book, but it is more about the aftermath of the war on a family relationship, which could be really interesting. I have also heard great things about Ann Patchett’s writing, so I’m excited to read her for myself!
  • Actress by Anne Enright: I’m neutral about this book. For some reason, I usually don’t like books about actors or writers…but I did like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (a book about an actress). Could work for me, we will see.
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie: another book that I feel neutral about. I don’t quite know what to expect based on the official description, so we will see.
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara: I am pretty excited about this mystery/thriller novel that takes place in contemporary India. It sounds unlike anything I’ve read before, in a good way. My only potential reservation is that it is written from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy; whether or not this works will depend on the author’s execution.
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee: I’m not sure how I feel about this book. It sounds like it will be a difficult read (because of the subject matter), but since the novel is written about Singapore by a Singaporean author, I think the book is more likely to be written from a compassionate perspective than an exploitative one.
  • Weather by Jenny Ofill: another book that I’m excited for. Based on what little I know about it, the characters sound compellingly complex, which is something I love in a novel.
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo: a multigenerational book about family relationships and secrets, this one could go either way for me. I am intimidated by the book’s page count (532), but hopefully it will be a good read!
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz: another “cautiously optimistic.” The novel is about a woman who enters into a loveless marriage for the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, and what comes of her life after she moves. It sounds like this book contains a lot of elements that I typically like: socially-relevant themes, complex characters, and morally difficult decisions.
  • Girl by Edna O’Brien: I am pretty hesitant about this book. It is a story about Nigerian girls who were abducted by Boko Haram…and it is written by a white author. Major red flag for me, as books about marginalized people written by non-marginalized people often end up in the realm of exploitation/trauma-porn.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, it is a 1500’s period piece, which is not at all my thing. But on the other hand, it is a re-imagination of history from the perspective of Shakespeare’s wife, which sounds like it has the potential to be amazing!
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: lukewarm about this. It low-key sounds like the debutante ball episode of Gilmore Girls, but spun into a novel.
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: cautiously optimistic? I think I’m the only person who isn’t mad about this book making the WP longlist. I love a novel with an unlikeable main character, and books where unrealistic characters are forced to change their way of thinking. So it sounds like this book has a lot of potential to work for me.

Are you following/reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction? What are your thoughts on the longlist? Do you agree or disagree with any of my takes? What books are you most excited for? I’m so eager to discuss!

Month in review: February 2020

February is officially over and, even though it was only 29 days, it seemed to stretch on forever! I felt this way about January, as well, so now I wonder if winter months always seem to last forever in colder places? Or maybe it was because of the extra day in the leap year? I don’t know, but I hope that March won’t drag on the way the past two months did. Anyway, I read six books and cooked and baked some things during this seemingly endless month!

Books read:

Books in progress/goals for March:

I haven’t started anything new yet! The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced tomorrow, though, so my reading goal for March (and April and May) will be to read all the books on the list. I can’t wait!

Year of Yeh!

In February, I baked five more recipes from the cookbook Molly on the Range! They were: spinach-feta rugelach, pizza, cardamom cupcakes, cauliflower tacos, and a meatless version of chicken tot dish. Of these recipes, the two that I would most highly recommend are cardamom cupcakes and cauliflower tacos.

Notable blog posts:

A few of my favorite blog posts from February were:

Favorite quote of the month:

“The thing about slow learners is they do eventually learn.” – Bryan Washington, Lot.

Some February photos:

Book Review: Catch and Kill

This weekend I finished the mind-blowing book Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow. Through telling his account of uncovering the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Farrow exposes the way that the wealthy and powerful control the media and therefore the public narratives about themselves – even when their abusive behavior is an “open secret.”.

The book: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Catch and Kill was an addictive read. Although it is a non-fiction book, the story it tells is so gripping that the book reads more like a thriller. Farrow weaves together two main story-lines throughout the book: the first is the story of his attempts to investigate claims of sexual assault and harassment against Harvey Weinstein, and the second is the story of Weinstein’s lawyers blackmailing and stalking Farrow to prevent him from going public. The way that Farrow moves back and forth between the two (obviously very connected) stories adds so much thrill and suspense to the book.

Also, the degree of corruption exposed in this book is absolutely insane. Obviously, the Harvey Weinstein scandal was huge news when it broke – yet it wasn’t until reading Catch and Kill that I internalized just how much bribery, blackmail, and general corruption it took to keep the scandals quiet. Harvey Weinstein – and powerful people like him – basically controlled media outlets, forcing them to keep his scandals quiet while publishing character assassination pieces about victims who spoke out against him. Understanding this (sickening) detail makes me so much more appreciative of the fact that the Weinstein scandal was reported at all. It also makes me wonder what other scandals news outlets are sitting on. Some information that was exposed toward the end of the book strongly suggests that the Harvey Weinstein scandal is just one of many examples of institutions knowingly protecting predators. It is harrowing.

One thing about Catch and Kill that didn’t quite work for me was Farrow’s attempt to weave into the book stories about sexual assault cases against Donald Trump. These stories show up in the last quarter of the book, but the transition from the Weinstein scandal to Trump’s scandals feels sudden and bumpy. That being said, I understand why Farrow included this section. The book demonstrates the disgusting, predatory, unethical, and oftentimes illegal behavior of powerful people; and it shows how Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer were exposed for their crimes…yet the United States has a president who is guilty of the exact same type of behavior, and hasn’t really faced consequences for it. I think it was important for Farrow to make this point, even if the execution fell a bit short.

Also, there were moments in the book were I felt annoyed by Farrow. As someone who was born to famous parents, attended Ivy League schools, and became a high-profile reporter, Ronan Farrow isn’t always the most relatable narrator. This shows up from time to time in the book – like when Farrow mentions someone’s Ivy League schooling as a testament to their superiority, or when he tells an anecdote about not getting the internship he wanted in law school and having to “slum it” at a second-tier law firm. That being said, Farrow has obviously done a lot of good by taking seriously the claims of sexual assault survivors, and publishing their stories (and this book).

Overall, I loved Catch and Kill. The story is thrilling and harrowing, and I am so grateful that someone was brave enough to tell it. This book changed my life, as it opened my eyes to the insane degree of corruption among the wealthy and powerful. Even the criticisms that I have of this book only bring my rating of it down to 4.5 stars out of 5. I can’t bring myself to lower the rating any more than that, because the book was that good.