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review 2017-08-22 21:23
A kaleidoscopic novel about India, gender, politics, class, society, and humanity, demanding of its readers but rewarding in the same measure
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A novel - Arundhati Roy

Thanks to NetGalley and Hamish Hamilton (and imprint of Penguin Random House, UK) for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This is not an easy novel to review. So far I’ve found that with all the novels longlisted for the Man Booker Prize that I’ve read so far. They all seem to defy easy categorisation.

I know the author’s first novel has many admirers and I always felt curious when I saw it (be it at the bookshop or the library) but as it was also a long novel I kept leaving it until I had more time. That was one of the reasons why I picked up this novel when I saw it on NetGalley. I thought it would be a good chance to read one of the author’s works (and I know she’s published more non-fiction than fiction), and I must admit I loved the title and the cover too.

As a starting point, I thought I’d share some of the fragments I highlighted as I read. Some because of the ideas expressed (that made me pause and think), some because of the author’s powers of description, some because they were funny, some beautiful…

I’m not Anjum, I’m Anjuman. I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everybody is invited. (This one I added at the end, when I reread the first chapter, that had intrigued me but at the time wasn’t sure exactly of who was narrating the story, or even if it was a who, a what, a ghost, a tree…)

And she learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.

Then came Partition. God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred.

Saddam had a quick smile and eyelashes that looked as though they had worked out in a gym.

He spoke like a marionette. Only his lower jaw moved. Nothing else did. His bushy white eyebrows looked as though they were attached to his spectacles and not his face.

…a mustache as broad as the wingspan of a baby albatross…

When the sun grew hot, they returned indoors where they continued to float through their lives like a pair of astronauts, defying gravity, limited only by the outer walls of their fuchsia spaceship with its pale pistachio door.

Normality in our part of the world is a bit like a boiled egg: its humdrum surface conceals at its heart a yolk of egregious violence.

She walked through miles of city waste, a bright landfill of compacted plastic bags with an army of ragged children picking through it. The sky was a dark swirl of ravens and kites competing with the children, pigs and packs of dogs for the spoils.

These days in Kashmir, you can be killed for surviving.

In Kashmir when we wake up and say ‘Good Morning’ what we really mean is ‘Good Mourning’.

I think the first quotation (and one I mention later on), in some way, sum up the method of the novel. Yes, it is the story of Anjum, a transgender (well, actually intersex) Muslim woman from India who, from a very young age, decides to live her life her own way. She joins a group of transgender women (who’ve come from different places, some who’ve undergone operations and some not, some Christian, some Hindus, some Muslim, some young and some old…) but at some point life there becomes impossible for her and she takes her things and ends up living in a cemetery. Although she starts by sleeping between the tombs, eventually, with a little help from her friends, ends up building up a semblance of a house (that incorporates a grave or two in each room), where she offers room and boarding to people who also feel they don’t belong anywhere else. Her business expands to include offering burials to people rejected by the official church. But the story (yes, I know it sounds weird enough with what I’ve said) is not only Anjum’s story, the story of her childhood, her struggles, her desire to be a mother at any price, but also the story of many others. People from different casts, religions, regions, with different political alliances, professions, interests, beliefs… The story, told in the third person, also incorporates poems, articles, entries from a peculiar dictionary, songs, slogans, pamphlets, in English, Urdu, Kashmiri… The telling of the story is fragmented and to add to the confusion of characters, whose connection to the story is not clear at first, some of them take on different identities and are called by different names (and many difficult to differentiate if one is not conversant with the names typical of the different regions of India and Pakistan). Although most of the entries in other languages are translated into English, not all of them are (I must clarify I read an ARC copy, so it is possible that there have been some minor changes in the definite version, although from the reviews I’ve read they do not seem to be major if any at all), and I clearly understand why some people would find the reading experience frustrating. All of the fragments of stories were interesting in their own right, although at times I felt as if the novel was a patchwork quilt whose design hid a secret message I was missing because I did not have the necessary key to interpret the patterns.

The settings are brought to life by a mixture of lyricism, precise description, and an eye and an ear for the rhythms and the ebbs and flows of the seasons, the towns, and the populations; the characters are believable in their uniqueness, and also representative of all humanity, observed in minute detail, and somewhat easy to relate to, even though many of them might have very little to do with us and our everyday lives. But their love of taking action and of telling stories is universal.

There is a lot of content that is highly political about the situation in Kashmir, religious confrontations in India, conflicts in different regions, violence, corruption, class and caste issues, gender issues, much of it that seem to  present the same arguments from different angles (all of the people who end up sharing Anjum’s peculiar abode are victims of the situation, be it due to their gender, their caste, their religion, their political opinions, and sometimes because of a combination of several of them) and I read quite a few reviews that suggested the novel  would benefit from tougher editing. I am sure the novel would be much easier to read if it was thinned down, although I suspect that’s not what the author had in mind when she wrote it.

This is a challenging and ambitious novel that creates a kaleidoscopic image of India, an India made up of marginal characters, but perhaps truer than the “edited” versions we see in mass media.  I have no expertise in the history or politics of the region so I cannot comment on how accurate it is, but the superficially chaotic feeling of the novel brings to mind the massive contrasts between rich and poor in the country and the pure mass of people that make up such a complex region. Although stylistically it is reminiscent of postmodern texts (made up of fragments of other things), rather than creating a surface devoid of meaning to challenge meaning’s own existence, if anything, this novel’s contents and its meaning exceed its bounds. The method of the novel is, perhaps, encapsulated in this sentence, towards the end of the book, supposedly a poem written by one of the characters: How to tell a shattered story? By slowing becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.

As I’ve written many times in my reviews, this is another book that I would not recommend to everybody. Yes, there are plenty of stories, some that even have an end, but it is not a book easy to classify, nor a genre book. There is romance, there are plenty of stories, there is poetry, there is politics, history, war, violence, prejudice, friendship, family relationships, but those are only aspects of the total. And, beautiful as the book is, it is not an easy read, with different languages, complex names, unfamiliar words, different styles and a fragmented structure. As I have not read Roy’s previous novel, I don’t dare to recommend it to readers who enjoyed her first novel, The God of Small Things. From the reviews I’ve read, some people who liked the first one have also enjoyed this one, but many readers have been very disappointed and have given up without reading the whole book. I’d say this is a book for people who like a challenge, who are interested in India from an insider’s perspective, don’t mind large doses of politics in their novels, and have the patience to read novels that are not page-turners full of twist and turns only intent on grabbing the readers’ attention at whatever cost. Check the book sample, read other reviews too and see if you’re up to the challenge. I know this is a novel that will stay with me for a very long time.

 

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review 2017-08-03 15:23
Review: Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index - Julie Israel

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This wasn’t necessarily a bad book, I certainly didn’t flat out hate it, it just did nothing for me. I wasn’t’ wowed by the storyline or the characters. The novel tells the story of teen Juniper who is trying to cope with the death of her older sister Camie. Juniper’s parents aren’t really coping well at all, her mom is in a state of zombie like shock, and her dad seems quite passive. All understandable given the circumstances. Juniper copes by writing down the positive things about her day on a series of index cards she keeps hidden.

 

I remember very little about the plot really, nothing about it stuck with me. It felt almost like this was something in some variation or another I have read before. Juniper wasn’t a bad character really. A reasonably nice girl though she did have some anger issues and was a bit sneaky in some respects even though she was trying to help others her actions wound up doing needless emotional damage to other people.

 

She finds a letter her sister wrote to someone addressed as You. No names. The bulk of the novel centers around Juniper trying to work out who You is and how to get the letter to them. As well as dealing with her own actions the night Camie died. The other storyline involves one of Juniper’s index cards going missing which sends her on a hunt to find it which involves going through the school dumpsters. She winds up connecting with a troubled bad boy with a snarky sense of humour who becomes more of a friend than she would have thought possible given the way they seem to antagonise each other at the start of the novel. She meets another cute boy in joining the school Booster club. She makes a few other friends. There’s a mean girl who keeps popping up being nasty.   The search for her index cards leads her to learning some things about other students’ secrets. She tries in her own way to help the more troubled students. Which of course goes wrong at some point.

 

The end was quite touching when she finally figures out how to do a tribute to her sister’s memory.  

 

Not bad, as I said, but just kind of okay. There was nothing remarkable about the story that stood out for me as a reader.  

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photo 2017-07-31 01:29
The Devil's Star - Jo Nesbo,Jo Nesbø
Hector and the Search for Happiness - François Lelord
The Leopard: A Harry Hole thriller (Oslo Sequence 6) - Jo Nesbø,Don Bartlett
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill (6-Nov-2014) Paperback - Joe Hill
How to Catch a Star (10th Anniversary edition) - Oliver Jeffers
Die Trying - Lee Child
The Wrong Side of Goodbye - Michael Connelly
By Lemony Snicket The Dark (Bccb Blue Ribbon Picture Book Awards (Awards)) (First Edition) - Lemony Snicket
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances - Neil Gaiman
Nemesis - Jo Nesbo
Booklikes-opoly
1st roll : ?8
2nd roll - Main street 14
Paradise Pier 30
Tomorrow land 36
Main Street 10
Cars Land 16
New Orleans 19
Monorail 29
Frontierland 2

Started on 15 April already. So I am a few days late. 


See details here. 

 

http://blog.booklikes.com/post/1552561/wanna-plan-a-game-it-s-booklikes-opoly-created-by-moonlight-reader-obsidian-blue  

 

Rolled dice 1st on 17 April and got 8 .  Landed at Question 8 on the board. 

So a mystery novel. Started with Jo Nesbo "The Devil's Stars" 

 

Collected $20 at Start. 

 

See how it goes. 

 

Update: 24 April.  Finished reading The Devil's Star. 522 pages. Collected $5.

 

New Total = $25

 

2nd roll dice of 7.

 

 

Get me to Main Street 14. Read a book that involves oversea travel or has a suitcase on the cover. 

 

Hector and the Search for Happiness 192 pages. 

 

30 April 2017. Read the book. Collected $2. 

 

New Total = $27. 

 

3rd roll of dice. A 10. 

 

Landed me at Water Works. "Read a book with water on the cover, or where someone turns on the waterworks (i.e., cries) because of an emotional event." 

 

 

 

Rain is water. Picked "The Leopard" by Jo Nesbo. 740 pages. 

 

Finished the book on 4 May. Collected $5. 

 

4th Roll the dice on 4 May.: 8

 

Landed in Paradise 30 Suspense book over 555 pages.  

 

Picked NOS4R2 by Joe Hill. Supernatural suspense story 692 pages. 

 

New total: $32

 

Read the book on 9 May. Collected $5.

 

New total: $37

 

5th roll on 10 May: 6 

 

Get me to Tomorrow land 36 

 

Read a book with space in the cover. 

 

Picked How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers. 32 pages. 

 

Read this book. Collected $1. Roll again. 

 

New Total: $38. 

 

6th roll 12: Landed Main street 10. 

 

Select Die Trying by Lee Child happened in small town USA. 557 pages. 

 

 

15 May. Finished Die Trying. Collect $5.

 

New total:$43

 

7th roll: 6

Land at Cars Land 16 

 

Picked Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly, story happened in LA California. 400 pages. 

 

2 June: Finished the book. Add $5 

 

New total: $48

 

8th roll: 4

 

Landed in New Orleans 19 

 

Pick a children book as I don't usually read horror. The Dark by Lemony Snicker. 40 pages. 

 

New total: $49

 

3 June 

9th roll :8

Landed Adventureland 27

Picked Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman 308 pages

 

 

13 June 

Read Trigger Warning and collect $3 

10th roll:11

New total$52

 

Landed Monorail 29

Have difficulty picking a book. Do not want to read Girl on a Train. Interpret that a book with car on the cover also fit. Pick "Nemesis" by Jo Nesbo 706 pages 

Collect:$5  

New total: $57

 

22 June 

Read "Nemesis". Collect $5.

11th roll:10

Landed Frontierland 2

Finished "Redbreast" by Jo Nesbo 636 pages

 

New total: $62

 

25 June 

12th roll 7

Landed in Fantasyland 9 
Fiinished The Unadultered Cat by Terry Pratchett 160 pages

Picked the Son Jo Nesbo 656 pages. $5

 

New total:$64

 

11 July 

13 roll 9 

Landed ?17

Finished  the Son Jo Nesbo 656 pages. $5 

New Total:$69

 

 

17 July 2017

Finished Headhunters by Jo Nesbo 384 pages. $3
roll 14:12
Landed Free Parking
Roll again. Got a 3. Odd number sent to WaterWork

Picked Blood on Snow 192 pages as there is enough water in snow.

 

New total $72

 

22 July 2017

Finished Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo. $3
Roll 15: 7
Landed The Monorail

Travel by air. Picked Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo 224 pages.

 

New Total $74

 

23 July 2017

Finished Midnight Sun. Picked up $3. 

Roll 16: 10

Landed in Frontierland 2
Maincharacter is a shooter.

Picked Stand by, Stand by and Zero Option by Chris Ryan 416+374= 790 pages.

 

New Total $77

 

30 July 2017
Finished Stand by Stand and Zero Option by. $5
Roll 17: 7
Landed Fantasyland 9
Picked The Land of Stories Worlds Collide 434 pages

 

New total $82

 

 ******************************************

Summary

************************************

 

Started with $20

1st roll 17 April -8
Landed at ?8
Read "The Devil's Stars" by Jo Nesbo 522 pages.
Finished on 24 April and collected $5.
New total $25

2nd roll 24 April - 7
Landed on Main street 14.
Read "Hector and the Search for Happiness" 192 pages.
Finished 30 April. Collected $2.
New total $27

3rd roll 30 April - 10
Landed at Water Work.
Read "The Leopard" by Jo Nesbo 740 pages.
Finshed on 4 May. Collected $5.
New total $32

4th roll 4 May -8
Landed at Paradise 30.
Read "NOS4R2" by Jo Hill 692 pages.
Finished 9 May. Collected $5.
New Total $37

5th roll 10 May -6
Landed at Tomorrow Land 36.
Read "How to Catch a Star" by Oliver Jeffers. 32 pages.
Read it and collected "$1".
New total $38

6th roll 11 May - 12
Landed Main street 10.
Read "Die Trying" by Lee Child 557 pages.
Read on 14 May. Collected $5.
New total $43

7th roll 15 May -6
Landed at Cars Land 16.
Read "Wrong Side of Goodbye" by Michael Connelly 400 pages. $5
New total $48


8th roll 2 June - 4
Landed at New Orleans 19
Read "The Dark" by Lemony Snicker 40 pages. $1
New total $49

9th roll 3 June - 8
Landed Adventureland 27
Read "Trigger Warning" by Neil Gaiman 308 pages, $3
New total:$52


10th roll 13 June: 11
Landed Monorail 29
Read "Nemesis" by Jo Nesbo 706 pages Collect $5.
New total: $57

11th roll 22 June: 10
Landed Frontierland 2
Read "Redbreast" by Jo Nesbo 636 pages Collect $5.
New total: $62

 

12 roll 25 June:7
Landed Fantasyland 9
Finished Unadultered Cat 160 pages Collect $2

New Total 64

 

13 Roll 11 July: 9 

Landed ?17 

Finished The Son by Jo Nesbo  656 pages. $5

New Total:$69

 

14  roll 17 July: 12

Landed Free Parking 

Roll again. Got a 3. Odd number sent to WaterWork

Finished Headhunters by Jo Nesbo 384 pages. $3

New total $72

 

15 Roll 22 July 2017:7

Landed The Monorail

Finished Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo. $3 

New Total $74

 

 

16 roll 23 July 2017:10

Landed in Frontierland 2 

Finished Midnight Sun. Picked up $3. 

New Total $77

 

17 roll 30 July 2017 :7

Landed Fantasyland 9

Finished Stand by Stand and Zero Option by. $5

New total $82

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review 2017-07-25 04:12
Pieces of Happiness
Pieces of Happiness - Anne Ostby

Title: Pieces of Happiness
Author: Anne Ostby
Publisher: Doubleday
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
Rating: Five
Review:

"Pieces of Happiness" by Anne Ostby

My Thoughts ...

This author really give the readers quite one interesting read..."Piece of Happiness." I thought is was really one good read having these six people, five that had been friends since high school in Norway come visit and then live together [after the death of her Niklas, her husband] on a cocoa plantation in Fiji in the South Pacific with each one having there own story that was really intriguing to say the least. Oh, the sixth woman was Kat's housekeeper...Ateca who was so very understanding of each of these ladies. I loved her prayers for God to watch over everyone as the prayers seemed to 'mark the change in the chapters and even the narration from each of the women.'

I loved the invitation that was sent to each one of these ladies who were know in their sixties....

 

“I’ve planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset. Why don’t you join me? Leave behind everything that didn’t work out!”

 

Will they be able to 'leave their worries, mistakes and problems back in Norway?' No, they hadn't stayed in touch but know would they be willing to start all over and 'come up with plans of a new future in this beautiful cocoa plantation?' How different this would be for these ladies who had difficulties of their own to come to this beautiful place that had much to offer with many highs and well as lows but in the end the readers will give one good story that will give one reason to ponder long after the read. I loved the characters...Kat, Ingrid, Maya, Sina and Lysbeth who all had 'secrets and hopes that had been keep hidden' so will they be able to stop and redefine just what they wanted in their life now? Will they be willing to rediscover their past friendships and even themselves?
All while I was reading this novel I keep thinking what would it be like to have friends like these!

This was definitely a wonderful and enjoyable read about a enduring 'friendship and second chances just to be happy' that I would definitely recommend. In the end all that is left to say is that hopefully we can all have this in our lives. This story was very well done by this author.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for a pre-publication copy to review.

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photo 2017-07-15 03:38
Knife Creek Audiobook

I am so thrilled!  I won this in a giveaway on Goodreads.  When I saw the giveaway I thought, "Wow, it would be great if I won that one." I got the email that I won the very next day.  I was planning to get the book even if I didn't win.  It is the 8th book in the series so I'm looking for the first book now.  I have to read them all!  

bwahahaha!

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