From Twinkle, With Love

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Hello, namaste, buenos dias, and bonjour, Mira Nair!
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, and lots of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Twinkle is a budding filmmaker. She loves looking at the world through the eye of her camera lens, and it’s what she wants to do with her life. She has a YouTube channel (though not many subscribers), and a dream. The rest of her life isn’t so hopeful: she’s not really high up on the popularity totem pole at her prep school, her best friend has begun to ditch her for other girls (who are higher up in popularity), and her parents are often gone. Thankfully, she has her grandmother and her crush on the most popular kid in school, Neil.

Then comes the Midsummer Festival. Popular guy’s twin brother, Sahil, talks Twinkle into making a film — they decide a gender-swapped Dracula — and that fact sets a whole lot in motion.

I wanted to like this. It’s got everything that should hit for me in a summer romance: a cute guy, some conflict, a lot of swoony situations… it feels like a Bollywood film with kissing. I should have loved it.

But, I didn’t. I was talking to a co-worker about it, and she said that Twinkle was annoying — and she was, being so obsessed with being popular and getting her friend “back” that she didn’t realize what was right in front of her — and because of that, she couldn’t get into the book. I think that’s a lot of it. Twinkle was very human, and very much a teenage girl, and I appreciated that. I thought the relationships, at least between the girls, were very realistic. Maybe what didn’t sit well with me was the juxtaposition between the friendship arc and the romance arc. The romance was all very “true love”-y; Sahil’s had a thing for Twinkle since they were 11 and he’s finally on it (that’s what came off as unrealistic to me!) and he’s all “you’re my One True Love”, and I think that’s (for a high school book) what didn’t work for me. I understood the friendships, and Twinkle’s desire not to have things change, but when you put that in the same book as a meet-cute, fluffy summer romance that you’r trying to make weightier with declarations of True Love. Maybe that’s also what didn’t quite sit well with me. If Menon had just kept it fluffy, Bollywood-like (with kissing!), then maybe I would have liked it better.

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Aru Shah and the End of time

by Roshani Chokshi
First sentence: “The problem with growing up around highly dangerous things is that after a while you just get used to them.”
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Release date: March 27, 2018
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some complex names, a little violence, and hints of crushes, but I’d give it to anyone reading the Percy Jackson series. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

When we saw Rick Riordan, and he was talking about his imprint, Rick Riordan Presents, one of my husband’s concerns is that the writers of these books on this imprint will just basically be telling Percy Jackson stories, superimposed on people of color and their mythologies.

And, after finishing Aru Shah and the End of Time — with its Hindu mythology — I can say that’s partly true. Aru Shah felt like a Percy Jackson book: a girl finds out she’s the daughter of a god (in this case, Indra, the god of Thunder), goes on a quest with a new-found friend and a sidekick to save the world (from the demon The Sleeper, which has awoken) , in a book full of humor, pop culture references, and non-stop action. So, yeah, in a sense that’s true. But Aru Shah is also wholly its own thing. Aru is more conflicted than Percy ever was: she, inadvertently sets off the crisis she has to save the world from, which fills her, not unexpectedly, with guilt. And while the quest part feels the same, there are notable differences: primarily being the mythology; there are a ton of stories in Hindu lore, and while I’m not familiar with all of them, I do know some, and I liked the spin that Chokshi put on them. I liked that Aru and her friend Mini’s relationship was complicated: they were reincarnated souls of former brothers, which makes them sisters, though they have different god fathers and different families in the human world. It gave a deeper, richer layer to their relationship, which I really enjoyed. Everyone in the book seemed more complex and mulit-faceted than I was expecting, which was nice.

In short, while this does feel familiar, and will to anyone who has read the Percy Jackson books, Choski has also put her stamp on the stories, which is a refreshing, welcome thing.

You Bring the Distant Near

by Mitali Perkins
First sentence: “The swimmers have finished their races and are basking in the sun.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

This one is a difficult one to describe plot-wise. It’s a slice of life, looking at three generations of women in an Indian family as they move to America and make a life here. It starts with the mother, Ranee, and her two daughters, Sonia and Tara, as they move from London to New York in the early 1970s. Each of the daughters reacts differently to coming to America, each looking for their own way to cope. Ranee isn’t as adaptable: she complains about their apartment in Flushing, she complains about her husband sending money home. Then he passes on, and Ranee is forced to adapt to this country as her daughters grow up and get married, one to an Indian, the other to a black American man.

The book then picks up when Ranee’s granddaughters, Anna and Chantal, are in high school. They are dealing with their own issues: Chantal is bi-racial and is trying to figure out her own identity. And Anna, though American, was raised in Mumbai where her mother is a Bollywood star, but has recently moved back so she could go to high school and college in America.

Perkins handles all this admirably; giving us a taste of Bengali culture, as well as the things immigrants do in order to fit in. One of the more interesting parts of the novel, for me, was set after 9/11, when Ranee goes through her own transformation as a reaction to the terrorist attacks. She figures out what “American” means to her. And that sentence may be what’s at the heart of this delightful novel: what does “American” mean? Perhaps it has become an individual expression for everyone, and there isn’t a “norm” anymore. (That was probably always the way it was, but we pretended otherwise.) Which is, as posited by this book, a very good thing.

An excellent read.

Audiobook: The Bollywood Affair

bollywoodaffairby Sonali Dev
Read by Priya Avyar
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Content: Oh there’s some sexytimes in this one. One on-screen, and a couple of off-screens. Not to mention being littered with f-bombs (one character in particular!). It would be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore if we had it.

I was in the mood for something Indian, and this one had been on my radar thanks to the YAckers (even though it wasn’t our book group book) and I got an unexpected credit on Audiobooks.com, so I thought I’d use it for this. I had no idea what I was getting into.

Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in 20 years, not since their wedding when she was 4 years old. She’s spent her whole life working to be the best wife, serving his family, being a dutiful daughter-in-law. Now she has an opportunity to go to America for an eight-month class, and she takes it, thinking it will help make her a desirable, modern wife.

Samir Rathod is a hotshot Bollywood director, and playboy, not really caring about the hearts he breaks. The only people in his life he truly cares about is his foster mother and his half-brother. And so, when his half-brother sends him to America to get an annulment from his “wife”, Samir willingly goes, thinking it will be an easy task.

But once in America, Samir gets pulled into Mili’s orbit, and ends up taking care of her (she falls off a bike fairly early on), cooking for her, helping her help her friend elope, falling in love with her. And soon, their lives are so intertwined that they realize that they just can’t live without each other.

On the one hand, this was SO bad. Mili’s a cry-er (seriously: SO. MANY. TEARS.) and I swear if I ever hear “his bulging muscles” or “her tender golden eyes” or “flashed with anger” again, I might just scream. It’s totally a bodice ripper with saris. But, perhaps, that’s what saved it. I loved all the little details from the food (yum!) to the culture to the interactions between the characters. (Not to mention the narrators spot-on Indian-English accents, all of which were different and unique.) And yes, I did find myself (in spite of the sappy language) rooting for Samir and Mili, wanting them to put aside their differences, their cultural hangups, and just GET TOGETHER ALREADY.

Even with all the tiring romance-y language, it was a ton of fun. And I’m glad I read it.

 

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

by Gabrielle Zevin
First sentence: “On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy is the one that’s being passed around the bookstore staff.
Content: There’s a lot of language, including a handful of f-bombs. I would give it to a bookish teenager, if they expressed interest.

A.J. Fikry is the owner of Island Books on Alice Island (off the coast of Massachusetts), and it’s not something he’s terribly fond of. In the twenty-one months since his wife’s accidental death after an author event, he’s become increasingly more reclusive and cranky. Then two things happen: someone steals his first edition copy of Tamerlane, by Edgar Allen Poe and someone leaves a two-year-old girl on the doorstep of the bookstore. The first is significant because selling Tamerlane was A. J.’s retirement fund. Without it, he’s stuck on the island, running this bookstore, for the unforeseeable future.  The second is significant because it changes his life.

He is a reluctant father, mostly because his wife was pregnant when she died, and he hasn’t quite gotten over the loss. But his daughter, whom he names Maya Tamerand Fikry when he finally adopts her, gets under his skin and the skin of the community. It’s through concern for her (and for A. J. as her father) that the bookstore finds a second life. As does A. J. Through taking care of Maya and getting involved in the community, he finds that running a bookstore isn’t half bad. Even if you sometimes have to sell pulp fiction in order to carry the literary fiction.

It’s really a love song to community and to bookselling, and the connection between the two. And even though I didn’t find it to be deep or meaningful, I did (as a bookseller) relate to it, finding it charming. It was one of those books where you like everything, wanting to live next door to these quirky characters because they’re so interesting. However, it lacked the emotional punch at the end that I think Zevin was going for; I wasn’t even the tiniest bit sad. (Maybe that’s more me than Zevin. Even though I liked the characters, I didn’t feel emotionally connected enough to be moved.)

In the end, though, it was simply delightful.