bookrecommendations

All the Rivers (Book Review)

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I came across All the Rivers by way of social media. In one of the many interviews the brilliant Rami Malek gave while promoting Bohemian Rhapsody, he mentioned reading a book that was about a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man and what a beautiful story that would be tell as an actor. I didn’t hear him mention the title but a few months later, almost by chance, I saw someone reference this title in relation to Mr. Malek. Hurray for power of Instagram! I looked up the description and downloaded the book in seconds. I’m not exaggerating when I say that from the get-go, it took my breath away. I can only dream of ever being able to write in a way that flies off the page like this even when translated to a different language.

I have always clicked with literature translated from the Hebrew language. I’m not sure if this has to do with my relation to and interest in the Middle East and if it’s just self-fulfilling that way, but it’s true! Ever since reading short stories by Savyon Liebrecht in college, something about the thematics in Hebrew literature drew me in. Much like foreign TV shows and films, these feel different in an intriguing way. This novel, however, left me completely and utterly destroyed (and I say that with highest praise). It’s an autobiographical novel, with many elements of the story being lifted straight from the author’s life. For example, Dorit Rabinyan really did have a Palestinian boyfriend who was an artist and…oops, I almost revealed a spoiler! So perhaps it was this aspect that gripped me so. Or maybe it’s because this book served as a reminder that no matter how much we have in common, no matter how much we love each other as people/friends/neighbors/lovers, our political interests are so at arms with each other that they take precedence over personal interests, and frankly, that just hurts. It could also be because the action takes place in New York, in 2002-2003—a time when I myself was 20 and in college and tried to love desperately and hopelessly, just like you’re supposed to at that age. Whatever the reason, this book stands alone when it comes to a work of fiction taking ahold of me so tight and making me feel an ache so physical, it was beautifully terrifying. I can’t say I’m not a crier, but I rarely cry at movies, and I literally have never cried at written work of fiction. This says a lot, or at least it should.

Read this book. It was will hurt, but it will also teach you some valuable lessons not just about the impossible conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but also about yourself. Please let me know if you do.

An Anonymous Girl (book review)

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Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo of sorts. I mean, I hear they write together in real time! Having read The Wife Between Us last summer, I could not wait to get my hands on their next collaboration. Expectations were high given that I devoured Wife at the time (see my review here). So how did it fare?

Well, here is the thing about expectations—they are a double edged sword. On one hand, you write an awesome book, you get a new fan! Hundreds, thousands of new fans. Hurray for you! But then all those fans expect to be wowed each and every time you put pen to paper. And it’s difficult to wow each and every time. It’s legitimately difficult.

This was the problem here—my expectations were way too high after The Wife Between Us. All the twists and surprises there were truly unexpected, the pace exciting. An Anonymous Girl , on the other hand, was perfectly satisfactory. Good, even! But it was no Wife. Herein was its problem. None of the twists were unexpected and the novel fell a little flat for me. The characters didn’t ring true and the dialogue didn’t flow as naturally as I expected from these brilliant authors. Some of this may have had a little bit to do with the fact that I listened to the book on Audible; narration, after all, makes a big difference. Perhaps the voices given to the main characters did my perception of the novel a disservice. If you read this one, please let me know what you think. I give it 3.5-4 stars.

Second Person Singular

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I met Sayed Kashua once. A friend of a friend, we were introduced after a screening of Write Down-I am an Arab, a documentary about a renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. I found him intimidating. Kashua, not Darwish. His mood that day can easily be explained by the timing of our meeting—we’d just come out of the discussion about the film and the life of Mahmoud Darwish, and inevitably, the conversation had turned to the life and status of Arab Israelis. My friend Mira Award (who’d adapted Darwish’s poetry to her original music for this project) and Sayed Kashua (who himself is an Israeli Arab journalist and novelist, writing primarily in Hebrew) were poised and polite in the face of some rather ignorant questions, but when it was over and we all headed over the a nearby bar somewhere around NYU, Sayed was visibly shaken and annoyed. By way of context, he had apparently recently moved to the United States with his family, vowing never to return to Israel. He spoke very fast, mostly in Arabic and Hebrew (neither one of which I speak), and I remember feeling very intimidated. He smoked a lot and left before anyone else did. I was relieved! Needless to say, I didn’t even think to mention that I am a writer—a title I still feel insecure about throwing around by way of a self-descriptor. Now, half a decade older, I realize what a wasted opportunity this meeting was! Not because I regret not making a “contact” in Mr. Kashua, but because, had I been braver and not allowed myself to become so easily flustered, I could’ve learned something from such an accomplished author! I’ve been kicking myself and wanting to read Sayed’s novels ever since.

I proposed reading Second Person Singular to my Facebook Book Club, MR. BOOK CLUB, but it lost to American Like Me. I, of course, knew that, win or lose, I was going to finally read this novel, and I have to say, I am glad that I did. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first work of fiction I’ve read that was written by an Israeli Arab. I’ve read literature by Jewish Israelis leaning to the left of the local political spectrum, of course, but obviously that is not the same thing.

I must say, I don’t remember the last time I felt like I truly learned something from a novel. For example, I had no idea about the friction between Israeli Arabs from the Galilee vs those from the “triangle,” the Christian and Muslim Arabs etc. The way I see it, underneath it all, this book is about insecurity. On all levels—personal, cultural, political. No wonder I can relate! The writing is crystal clear, despite the translation from Hebrew, and truly pulls you in. On the whole, this is a fascinating and rewarding read and I highly recommend it.


Nine Perfect Strangers

I’m just gonna say it—I love Liane Moriarty. Granted, I was a little late to the party, only giving her books a try two years ago; I, therefore, may be overcompensating a bit. I read Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot, and My Husband’s Secret. Ms. Moriarty’s voice is unlike anyone else’s and I cannot get enough. I’ll be honest, Nine Perfect Strangers is not my favorite novel by Ms. Moriarty, but it is a worthy, enjoyable read. It was my on-line book club’s official November/December selection. Join us here: MR. BOOK CLUB.

Currently, I am wrapping up a manuscript with multiple points of view so getting my hands on a book with that many POVs written by one of my favorite authors was godsent. Quality writing is indeed inspiring. On this front, Ms. Moriarty did not disappoint—nine characters were introduced effortlessly and naturally. Lots to learn from the master! The multiple voices were not overwhelming and it was helpful to hear inner dialogue and different perspectives on the previously introduced conflict. This, of course, was the highlight of the book for me.

Each character was distinct and different and developed to a different degree, but Masha stood out to me for a rather obvious reason. I’m naturally hypersensitive to representation of Russian-speaking characters in books and movies, and here is Masha—the gorgeous, know-it-all, arrogant health resort owner. Naturally, I was on guard from the second I read her name. I need not have been, as it turns out. Not because Masha was portrayed as a highly relatable, likable starlet, but because she was not. Highly educated and of enviable will power, Masha doesn’t hide her distaste for those around her. She feels superior to them not because she is naturally better than them but because she fought and worked hard for everything in her new life in Australia (despite immeasurable trauma, as it turns out). I’ve met women like Masha in my local immigrant community. She’s well-written. She’s believable. I didn’t like her but I understood where she was coming from.

The ending was the only thing that truly bugged me about the novel, to be honest. And even that’s only because it seemed to drag unnecessarily, with multiple updates on the characters in the future.

All in all, I recommend this book to anyone who likes an easy but quality read.

2017 in Books

2017 was the year I discovered Audible, which changed my reading life forever. Below is a list of the books it has allowed me to read this past year, along with some short notes. I hope you can find something that piques your interest for your own 2018 reading list!

Happy New Year!

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different was the last novel I actually "read." I was about to say it was my last paperback, but that would be wrong-I read it on my beloved Kindle. I love Maria Semple. Where Did You Go, Bernadette? was genius, and Today Will Be Different did not disappoint. A relatable, flawed and troubled protagonist is everything for me. I highly recommend this novel to those seeking literary fiction at its best.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 was my first Audible book and also my first Stephen King novel (yes, yes, I know!). The creativity and the attention to detail of this one blew me away. Just to think of all the research that went into this novel! Highly recommend to thriller lovers.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I've resisted reading Liane Moriarty for a while. The rebel in me sometimes winds up missing out on something fun just for the sake of being contrary. But HBO was coming out with an adaptation (I don't have HBO), so I decided to give it a try. Holy crap, was I immediately hooked! Liane Moriarty is one of my most favorite authors now. The way she writes her characters is impeccable. They are nuanced, they are relatable. Loved Big Little Lies.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Pretty much "read above." Highly recommend to those who love quality women's literature.

In the Woods by Tana French

I've heard a lot of buzz about the Tana French mysteries and finally decided to give this one a try. It was good, and I certainly wanted to know what comes next, but it didn't click that much for me. I'm curious about the background of the main character, but I'm not sure I'll continue with the series for now. I may get back to it.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I'm sorry to admit this but The Couple Next Door is my least favorite book this year. This doesn't happen often, but try as I might, I still can't find much to say about it. There is too much telling, barely any showing, and the whole thing is riddled with stereotypes on every level. This is a well ranked and reviewed book so this was quite a surprise.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

After having such a negative experience, I simply had to cleanse the palette with some more Liane Moriarty. What Alice Forgot wound up being my favorite book by the author. Alice and I share quite a lot in common.

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

A highly suspenseful novel! I can't wait for the next installment. 

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I don't read much YA but this was such a thoughtful book. Simply lovely. It does a wonderful job at attempting to renew your faith in mankind. Highly recommend to fans of the genre.

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

This is probably my most favorite thriller. I could not turn it off (an Audible equivalent of being unable to put the book down). Great imagery, great foreshadowing, a great story. It's #4 in the series but I read it as a standalone book and it totally worked.