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BOOK REVIEW: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


In an unnamed American city, seven people wait to apply for visas to visit India. When an earthquake rips through the city, two workers from the Indian visa office are trapped along with the strangers: a Chinese teenager and her grandmother who speaks no English; an older Caucasian couple who have little to say to once another; a young Muslim-American man who trusts no one; an Indian graduate student facing family conflicts over her love life; and an ex-military African-American with breathing problems, with only a few puffs left on his inhaler.

As time passes, the smell of gas begins to permeate the office, conflicts arise and supplies of food and fresh water dwindle. Their situation becomes increasingly dire and these nine individuals must overcome their prejudices and fears if they wish to survive. And so they take it in turns to share a story from their life – showing the power of story to transform, heal and sustain a group of strangers.

I should admit right from the start that I have long been a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, ever since I read Mistress of Spices and Sisters of My Heart. Each new novel is a treasure to be savoured, requiring restraint to make it last. So it was with eager anticipation that I began her newest, One Amazing Thing.

Unlike her earlier works, I was not immediately carried away by her words. It required perseverance to carry on reading and my initial reaction was one of avoidance. I was shocked, because Divakaruni’s evocative language still carries power and the ability to transport readers: “The dark was full of women’s voices, keening in a language he did not know, so that at first he thought he was back in the war. The thought sucked the air from his lungs and left him chocking.”

As I read these words I could feel the claustrophobia and fear the characters were feeling and I realized – the “real” world has carried so many images recently of the terrible devastation caused by earthquakes; first Indonesia, then Haiti and now Chile that One Amazing Thing strikes too close to home for me to give an honest review.

I finished the novel in a fairly short period, roughly a week. Some of the stories engaged more than others and her choice to write the novel as a set of connected stories, similar to The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron has great possibilities. I suspect that in six months or a year this will be a novel I read again and find much to exclaim about. For now, I have news footage from Haiti playing in my head.

ISBN10: 1401340997
ISBN13: 9781401340995

240 Pages
Publisher: Voice
Publication Date: February 2, 2010
Author Website:

BOOK REVIEW: Houston, We Have a Problema by Gwendolyn Zepeda


Jessica Luna’s life contains all the average troubles of a twenty-something living in Houston. There’s the man trouble cause by gifted and troubled artist Guillermo who is unable to “commit” and always seems to disappoint. Then there’s her “perfect” sister who married a white man and moved to the suburbs and seems to want to turn Jessica into a suburban clone. Then there’s her boring corporate job and now her parents are fighting. Where’s a girl supposed to turn for help?

Well if you’re Jessica, the signs or answers could be anywhere: her rearview mirror Virgin-de-Guadalupe; the card readings of psychic Madame Hortensia; or in the prophetic utterances of a TV talk show host. Now Madame Hortensia has confirmed that a change is coming in work and love, but Jessica isn’t sure that Jonathan, the rich and successful guy her sister introduced her to, is that new guy. But when Madame Hortensia refuses to come through with answers – and her life starts dissolving around her – Jessica realizes it’s time to figure some things out for herself.

Gwendolyn Zepeda’s debut novel is a fresh voice in the growing “chica lit” market. A sub-genre of chic lit, chica lit first gained notice with the publication of The Dirty Girls Social Club. Author Mary Castillo explains what makes chica lit different: “Family is always involved somehow.” “Unlike early chick lit that kind of created the image that it’s always about single women worrying about their shoes, in the ethnic books they’re trying to balance their ethnicity and being American. How can you be both? The issues seem to be a little deeper.”

It would be easy for people to dismiss Houston, We Have a Problema as a fluffy offering but Zepeda offers an important message about finding your place in the world, and within your own family. Anyone who has ever found themselves torn between two worlds or found themselves floundering and without direction will find reflections of themselves here.

While the writing is sometimes uneven and a few characters are rather two-dimensional, Zepeda shows great promise as a comedic writer. Madame Hortensia’s personality, flair and vibrancy fairly bursts off the page. Perhaps there’s another novel in her future?

ISBN10: 0446698520
ISBN13: 9780446698528

Trade Paperback
392 Pages
Publisher: Grand Central
Publication Date: January 2009
Author Website:

BOOK REVIEW: Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey


n314823Holly Miller is stuck in a dead-end job and lives in a run-down apartment in New York City. While she seems to live alone in reality Holly lives with “The Committee,” the five different personalities that make up her Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Residing in the Holly’s head are the faceless Boy in the red Converse; the ancient meditating Silent One; Sarge, who keeps her safe; whale-size Ruffles, the chip eater, and Betty Jane, the Southern belle. When flirtatious Betty Jane lands Holly a job as a cartoon voice-over artist, her life appears to stabilize and she is finally able to support herself. However, when the directors want to make Ruffles the star of the show, all hell breaks loose.

The first half of Sounds Like Crazy, the debut novel from Shana Mahaffey, reads like a farcical play on fast forward. Personalities rapidly appear/disappear, bizarre events happen and Betty Jane’s Southern drawl quickly feels “like a bad hang-over pounding against [one’s] temples.”

The second half of Sounds Like Crazy is the stronger, as Holly focuses on her therapy and layer after layer is pulled away to reveal the events that led to Holly’s development of DID. The pace of the novel slows, Mahaffey’s writing style becomes clear and concise as she delves into a subject that clearly fascinates her, how the human mind works. While her narration is evocative (“…the familiar rattle of a Volkswagen Beetle…that sounded like a bag of rocks and sand shaking…”), the character of Holly remains quite undefined for a novel of this length (400 pages).

The comedic tone in the first section of Sounds Like Crazy stands in complete opposite to the rest of the book, so much so that one is led to suggest the book has multiple personalities. This attempt at levity and slapstick detracts from the strong voice that resounds from the second section. Like many debut novelist, Mahaffey tries to do too much in one novel and ultimately this detracts from the power of Holly’s story. If Mahaffey focuses her writing on other topics that interest her as much as the human mind, she should enjoy success as a novelist.

ISBN-10: 0451227913
ISBN13: 9780451227911

Trade Paperback
400 Pages
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Author Website:

posted under debut, fiction | 1 Comment »

BOOK REVIEW: A Bridge Back by Patrick M. Garry


bridgeNate Morrissey has spent the past eighteen years trying to forget the tragic events of a stormy night in Mount Kelven. The decisions he and his Mormon girlfriend Laura made that night, set off a tragic train of events which culminated in their parents’ cars going off a bridge and landing on a boat full of children.

Nate, now a lawyer for a high price firm in New York City, has been sent by his boss to Mount Kelven to undertake some delicate investigations. His firm’s client, a prominent government official, was involved in the case Nate’s father was prosecuting at the time of his death and is now under investigation by CBS’s “60 Minutes” and new evidence may have been uncovered casting new light on the events of eighteen years ago.

“All he wanted, for now, was to feel the presence of some vague and undefined possibility.” p. 76, A Bridge Back

Patrick M. Garry’s new novel, A Bridge Back, is a novel about remorse and redemption. For the past eighteen years, Nate has floated along where life took him. Rather than being an active participant in his life, his focus was on achieving professional success and the rest of his life just happened. The result was predictable; even though he has achieved professional acclaim, emotionally he has remained frozen at the day of the accident.

Garry has crafted an emotionally stunted character who, despite blustering bravado, is an appealing, optimistic child. A naïf swept up in events he would prefer to remain buried, Nate realizes that “the tasks of repairing the past [are] unlimited.” Now that he has returned to Mount Kelven, the past has resurfaced and he is emotionally thawing. Readers will be caught up in this story of redemption and will struggle along with him to untangle the affairs of eighteen years ago.

Tragedy, especially when it involves children, can destroy both people and a town. Garry provides insight into the various ways human deal with traumatic events and the long-term ramifications. As an exploration of guilt, redemption and regret, A Bridge Back provides an engaging read, even though this reader wishes that some secondary characters were more fully realized.

ISBN10: 159299332X
ISBN13: 9781592993321

Trade Paperback
232 Pages
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Publication Date: February 18, 2008

posted under small press | 1 Comment »

BOOK REVIEW: The Late, Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow


The Late, Lamented Molly MarxMolly Marx’s death happened suddenly and police are trying to determine the cause of death. Last seen riding her bike through Riverside Park, her body is found on the bank of the Hudson River and it is uncertain if her death was accidental, suicide or murder. While Detective Hicks tries to uncover the truth about her death, Molly tries to adjust to life in Duration and learn the rules governing the recently deceased.

When Molly learns that she can watch those she’s left behind and that she’s been gifted with a preternatural bullshit detector, she is delighted. Her observations of her four-year-old daughter Annabel, her twin sister Lucy, her husband Barry and her best friend Brie lead Molly down memory lane and, as readers learn more about Molly’s past, the mist begins to clear on her present and her death.

Sally Koslow’s new book The Late, Lamented Molly Marx is an exploration of marriage, family life and friendship. Molly and Barry’s marriage was far from perfect. Despite the fact that he never ceased his infidelities, there was love within their marriage. As Molly reflects on her life and the months prior to her death, readers learn that marriage and fidelity are never black and white issues.

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx could easily have slid off the rails into a morass of self-pity but Koslow imbued Molly with strength of character. Instead of wailing “why me,” Molly reviews her choices, accepts responsibility for them and slowly finds peace in the Duration (Koslow’s concept of the afterlife).

While Molly rightly occupies centre-stage in Koslow’s novel, the secondary characters’ (her friends and family) growth, presented through Molly’s evolving perception and omniscient narration, is fascinating. Detective Hicks is dogged in his pursuit of the truth and what started as a standard template characterization becomes fully-fledged and commanding of reader’s empathy.

The only serious complaint that could be made about The Late, Lamented Molly Marx is Molly’s twin sister Lucy. The incident at Annabel’s day-care felt awkward and Lucy felt flat. Koslow could have explored the twin connection more, instead of keep Lucy as sharp angles that appeared to fight the narrative.

ISBN10: 0345506200
ISBN13: 9780345506207

320 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: May 19, 2009
Author Website:

posted under fiction | No Comments »

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