mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Su30267604mmary from Goodreads:
For readers of Akhil Sharma, Mohsin Hamid, and Teju Cole, a haunting, masterly novel about a family splintered by success in rapidly changing India.

A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. Things become “ghachar ghochar” – a nonsense phrase uttered by one of the characters that comes to mean something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can’t be untied. Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings – and consequences – of financial gain in contemporary India.

Ghachar Ghochar is a fascinating short novel, barely longer than a novella, about the peculiar inner-workings of a family in Bangalore who started out lower-middle class then suddenly became fabulously wealthy when the father’s younger brother makes a fortune in the spice trade. Things are not always as they seem, though, as the unnamed, diffident narrator puzzles through his family’s suspect foibles at his favorite Coffee House. I only wish it were longer.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy of this book that I bought because it was selected as part of the BN Discover program.

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mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke by Maya Rodale (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #4)

33783879Summary from Goodreads:
In the fourth novel of Maya Rodale’s tantalizing series, a newly minted duke spends one night with his perfect woman…but can he win her for a lifetime

Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke—while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms…and in his bed. Soon he must choose—between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

I liked the first book in this series, Lady Bridget’s Diary, because I loved the layering of the retellings of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary (it was like 16 walls of meta-fiction, I loved it).  I was also intrigued by the idea of the series in general: the four books will take place more-or-less simultaneously over the same time period. Now, I haven’t read the second and third books in the series – I just didn’t get to them – so I thought that I’d squash down my “but it’s out of series order” objections and read It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke because it’s a holiday weekend and new romance galley and blah blah blah.

However, even with the intervening time since reading book one, the structure of the book felt repetitive. I’d seen the same drawing room scenes already. I knew when Bridget fell on her butt, or Claire went to the boxing match, or Amelia ran away for the day or that James danced twice with Meredith. I don’t know if I would have even made it to book four had I read two or three as well – we don’t see enough plot outside what has appeared in previous books.  Which is a shame, because I really liked Meredith as a character. The prologue between Meredith and James was very good, and set up their relationship nicely but it pottered along until we got to the expected conclusion (which I’d guessed long before, because it is an expected historical plot twist) with no surprises in between. A good romance, but I wanted more spark.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Odyssey by Homer (transl. Emily Wilson)

34068470Summary from Goodreads:
The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty, and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.

In this fresh, authoritative version—the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman—this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

Wilson’s Odyssey captures the beauty and enchantment of this ancient poem as well as the suspense and drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, from the cunning goddess Athena, whose interventions guide and protect the hero, to the awkward teenage son, Telemachus, who struggles to achieve adulthood and find his father; from the cautious, clever, and miserable Penelope, who somehow keeps clamoring suitors at bay during her husband’s long absence, to the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this translation as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.

Do you want a new translation of The Odyssey? Specifically, do you want a new translation of The Odyssey by a woman, which would make it the first known, published translation by a woman?

img_9314Yes, yes you want this new translation by Emily Wilson, if at minimum for the 90 page Introduction/Translator’s Note. Wilson gets into the particulars of Greek society and history, to provide basis for her language choices (particularly relating to the status of women in society), then also provides some context for her choices compared to previous English translations.

It is so good. From the opening line “Tell me about a complicated man” Wilson makes it clear that she’s not presenting Odysseus as the ultimate hero, that she isn’t going to glorify the events of the poem. Odysseus has done some really not-great things, and has really awful things visited on him, and Wilson makes us think about what actually makes up “a Hero”. The laguage of the poem itself is very readable, set in iambic pentameter, so it keeps the formality of the original while the rhythm is familiar to most of us in Western literature who have read Shakespeare. Notes and a list of names at the back (plus a few maps) will help out if you feel lost. This is a translation that will last for a while.

Thanks to Kyle at W.W.norton 😽😽 for sending this copy to review. I enjoyed it even more than I had anticipated.

Dear FTC: I tried to get a paper galley, but got access to a digital galley which was kind of hard to read, and then I got the surprise of my life with a finished review copy from the publisher.

mini-review · stuff I read

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

29875897Summary from Goodreads:
The astonishing, powerful debut by the winner of a 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award

WHEREAS her birth signaled the responsibility as mother to teach what it is to be Lakota therein the question: What did I know about being Lakota? Signaled panic, blood rush my embarrassment. What did I know of our language but pieces? Would I teach her to be pieces? Until a friend comforted, Don’t worry, you and your daughter will learn together. Today she stood sunlight on her shoulders lean and straight to share a song in Diné, her father’s language. To sing she motions simultaneously with her hands; I watch her be in multiple musics.

—from “WHEREAS Statements”

WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations. “I am,” she writes, “a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation—and in this dual citizenship I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.” This strident, plaintive book introduces a major new voice in contemporary literature.

WHEREAS poetry should not only exist as easily digestible sound bites there exists Layli Long Soldier’s collection Whereas – which is beautiful, and heartbreaking, and absolutely one of the best books of 2017. Long Soldier takes the language of the official “apology” to Native Americans from the US government and proceeds to shred the complacency and racism of that same document as well as all previous treaties and “apologies” made to Native American and other indigenous tribes over time. The poem “38”, which ends the first section, is a masterwork and destroyed me for days after reading it.

I’m pulling for this one at the National Book Awards this month.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn copy of this book.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

For Real by Alexis Hall (Spires Universe)

25500803Summary from Goodreads:
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

After whetting my appetite with M/M romances written by straight ladies (which I liked), I was casting around for M/M romances written by gay men. I got several recommendations for authors (Santino Hassell for one) but then I got a rec for For Real by Alexis Hall, which was pitched to me as the sweetest, filthiest, May-December D/s romance. BDSM, etc. are not really my bag (it’s interesting to me from a philosophical/ideological standpoint, but it doesn’t turn my crank, if you know what I mean) but I was intrigued by the sweet/filthy/age difference idea.

And it’s really good! The recommendation was spot-on. If you are looking for a sweet-but-very-very-very-hot m/m BDSM romance (edges toward erotica maybe?) this is for you. I loved the development of the relationship between Laurie and Toby. There’s a seventeen year age gap between the two, so combined with the basic romance plot are some growing pains, some old broken-heart issues, and the complications that arise when the Dom is the younger of the couple and still working out how to go about with his kink. (How do you even find your people to learn how to do that safely if that’s your thing?)

Laurie’s super-snarky inner monologue had me from page 1; the book opens as he’s trying to gain admittance to a dungeon (dungeon? private sex club? terminology?) where his friends are waiting for him, and he’s had a long day and he’s come straight from work (he’s a trauma surgeon) and he is REALLY annoyed that the doorperson won’t let him in bc he’s not wearing “the right” clothes and he’s pissed that he has to put on a costume to get his rocks off as a sub. I loved him (and he’s right – does it really matter that the D or the s is wearing leather pants?). Toby is also a good cook, so be prepared for serious foodie envy, plus there is a scene in the kitchen that gets so filthy… (I was reading that scene on break while doing an overnight shift at the bookstore and I actually had to tell one of the other booksellers not to look at me because I was sure I was about seventeen colors of “omg this is the hottest thing I’ve ever read but I’m in public and OMG” tomato red), also the trip to Oxford….

Dear FTC: I bought the copy I read on my Nook.