Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Thing About Thugs

The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair
ARC provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours
Description from back cover of the book:
In a small Bihari village, Captain William T. Meadows finds just the man to further his phrenological research back home: Amir Ali, confessed member of the infamous Thugee cult. With tales of a murderous youth redeemed, Ali gains passage to England, his villainously shaped skull there to be studied. Only Ali knows just how embroidered his story is, so when a killer begins depriving London’s underclass of their heads, suspicion naturally falls on the “thug.” With help from fellow immigrants led by a shrewd Punjabi woman, Ali journeys deep into a hostile city in an attempt to save himself and end the gruesome murders.
Ranging from skull-lined mansions to underground tunnels concealing a ghostly people, The Thing about Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collins or Michael Chabon. Short-listed for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this Victorian role reversal is a sly take on the post-colonial novel and marks the arrival of a compelling Indian novelist to North America.


My take:
The Thing About Thugs is such an interesting book on many different levels.The premise of the book is intriguing and has enough potential scandal to draw the reader in. But there is so much more to this book.  Tabish Khair, the author, uses more than one type of storytelling in the novel. There is first-person narration, third-person narration, personal letters, and newspaper articles - all used to tell the story from different perspectives and in some cases, different versions of the same story. Once I got the various voices straight in my own mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the transitions from voice to voice and really loved the different views of the characters, events, motivations, and the world presented in each different type of storytelling. I especially enjoyed the disparity between the excerpts from the writings of Captain Meadows and Amir Ali's version written in his personal letters.

The mystery of exactly who is killing the members of London's underclass is never a mystery to the reader, but the general public and the authorities jump to all the wrong conclusions in the matter. The way the elites reason and the complete wrongness of their beliefs is quite fun to read. The limited views held by many about class, race, gender, etc. are all dealt with in the novel. While I did enjoy Amir Ali and his quest to find the real murderer, I found that the character I was the most interested in was Qui Hy - an intriguing, mystery of a woman who is more capable than most of the well-educated, wealthy men of the city. I so want to read more about her and her Irish husband. Such great characters!

The Thing About Thugs is a beautifully written book. Khair is a wonderful writer with great skill in descriptive writing. I absolutely loved his many, beautiful descriptions of Victorian London throughout the book. To compare this book to Wilkie Collins is quite apt. The atmosphere is similar and I feel the book should be savored in much the same way as one would savor a Wilkie Collins novel. The book is only 244 pages long, but I read it as slowly as I could to savor the words -- until a certain point in the story and then I just couldn't stop reading until I had reached the end. I would highly recommend this book.


About Tabish Khair





Tabish Khair is an award-winning poet, journalist, critic, educator and novelist. A citizen of India, he lives in Denmark and teaches literature at Aarhus University.Here is his website.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book You can find the rest of the blog tour stops here.






Monday, July 30, 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
review copy provided by Harper Collins via TLC Book Tours
Description from book cover:
The internationally acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Carlos Ruiz Zafón takes us into a dark, gothic Barcelona and creates a rich, labyrinthine tale of love, literature, passion, and revenge in which the heroes of The Shadow of the Wind andThe Angel’s Game must contend with a nemesis that threatens to destroy them.

Barcelona, 1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife, Bea, have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julián, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past. His appearance plunges Fermín and Daniel into a dangerous adventure that will take them back to the 1940s and the early days of Franco’s dictatorship. The terrifying events of that time launch them on a search for the truth that will put into peril everything they love and ultimately transform their lives.

Full of intrigue and emotion, The Prisoner of Heaven is a majestic novel in which the threads of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game converge under the spell of literature and bring us toward the enigma hidden at the heart of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a collection of lost treasures known only to its few initiates, and the very core of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s enchanting fictional world.

My take:

How should I start my review of The Prisoner of Heaven? This is the question that has been plaguing me for days now. I absolutely loved The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - this is the book I always recommend to absolutely everyone.  When The Angel's Game was released, I wanted to read it but I was so worried that it couldn't possibly live up to The Shadow of the Wind that I kept putting off actually reading it. I just really didn't want to be disappointed. But when I was given the opportunity to read The Prisoner of Heaven, I just had to jump at it. As the author says, each book can be read on its own. I think this is true because I had no problem following the storyline and was able to enjoy the book through to the end.

As with The Shadow of the Wind, I was drawn into the story from the first few pages. Once the mysterious stranger shows up and makes it necessary for Fermin to tell Daniel the story he has hinted at in the past, the reader is plunged into a terrific and horrific tale about Fermin's time in prison and fills in many gaps of history and explains a great many things. It also raises many more questions. This is one of the many things I love about Carlos Ruiz Zafon's writing. There are layers upon layers of story here. So much to think about and plots to try to unravel.

I'm a sucker for a book about books and, of course, The Shadow of the Wind fit that bill perfectly. I found The Prisoner of Heaven to be about books in a different way. While part of the story is about a writer, I found some of the motivation for much of the horror of events to be caused by the desire of  and envy of the ability to write well -- ambition above talent and total lack of morals. Everything seems to lead back to books and their ability to draw the reader into a new magical world.

After reading The Prisoner of Heaven, I can see that there is a much bigger story being woven here. The books seem to be piecing together the whole picture slowing and beautifully. The writing is absolutely beautiful and the way the story unfolds is masterful. There is just something about these books. I can't get them out of my head. I find myself thinking about them long after I have closed the book. This is always a sign that I've found something worth reading again and again. I will be reading The Angel's Game and anxiously looking forward to the next book in the series.


About Carlos Ruiz Zafon



Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of two critically acclaimed and internationally bestselling novels, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, is one of the world’s most read and best-loved writers. His work, which also includes prizewinning young adult novels, has been translated into more than fifty languages and published around the world, garnering numerous international prizes and reaching millions of readers. He divides his time between Barcelona and Los Angeles.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book. You can find the rest of the blog tour stops here.


Monday, July 9, 2012

The Car Thief



The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner
ARC provided by Blue Dot Literary
Description from Goodreads:
It’s 1959. Sixteen year-old Alex Housman has just stolen his fourteenth car and frankly doesn’t know why. His divorced, working class father grinds out the night shift at the local Chevy Plant in Detroit, kept afloat by the flask in his glove compartment and the open bottles in his Flint, Michigan home.

Abandoned and alone, father and son struggle to express a deep love for each other, even as Alex fills his day juggling cheap thrills and a crushing depression. He cruises and steals, running from, and to, the police, compelled by reasons he frustratingly can’t put into words. And then there’s Irene Shaeffer, the pretty girl in school whose admiration Alex needs like a drug in order to get by. Broke and fighting to survive, Alex and his father face the realities of estrangement, incarceration, and even violence as their lives hurtle toward the climactic episode that a New York Times reviewer called “one of the most profoundly powerful in American fiction.”

In this rich, beautifully crafted story, Weesner accomplishes a rare feat: He’s written a transcendent piece of literature in deceptively plain language, painting a gripping portrait of a father and a son, otherwise invisible among the mundane, everyday details of life in blue collar America. A true and enduring American classic.


My take:
The premise of the novel sounded interesting to me and I looked forward to reading it. When I started the book, I was in for a shock to my system.  This novel is unlike most other "young adult" books I have read in recent years. It has a much different feel to it. I have to say that it has a much older and more literary style than most contemporary fiction.  Believe me when I say that this is not a bad thing. Once I adjusted to the writing style, this was a wonderful read. It seems obvious that it was written about an earlier time and was written during an earlier time - it kind of reminded me of reading The Outsiders for the first time. Does anyone read The Outsiders anymore? Although Alex Housman, the protagonist of The Car Thief, is not a member of a gang, his life is similar to the boys in The Outsiders - absent or ill-equipped parents, dreary homes, poor school attendance and performance, very little to look forward to in life, depressing circumstances, etc.

I found the book to be refreshing in the way the author doesn't try to make Alex into a hero, or a hunky heart throb - he is just a kid who has a difficult life and he tries to deal with things. The story feels authentic, real, not some kind of modern fairy tale. Alex has a tough life - no doubt about that, but Weesner doesn't attempt to make excuses for the things Alex chooses to do - stealing cars, peeping in windows, treating his brother badly, skipping school, stealing money - he just describes the way Alex thinks and what he does. Often Alex doesn't seem to really know why he does things, but he has no other coping mechanism, so he copes the only way he knows, he leaves the school building, sneaks off to the movies, steals cars, follows girls around. Over time, Alex attempts to get his life in order, but he runs into many obstacles and has to learn to cope on his own because his father isn't equipped with any better coping skills and doesn't really know how to be a parent.

This isn't a feel-good book, it is often depressing and just plain sad. However, the simple, eloquent way that Weesner describes Alex's eventual growth and maturing is wonderful. I felt that this was in many ways, much more believable and interesting than many current books about teens today. For the careful, patient reader, this book can be quite a literary treat. It is not fluff and not trite. The sense of hope and promise of a better life at the end felt authentic and satisfying for the reader without being unrealistic or silly. I am quite happy to have had the opportunity to read this fine novel.