Tag: Anita Rau Badami

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2016

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2016. Click the titles for links to the full reviews. Check back on Thursday for my top non-fiction picks.

The Hero’s Walk

ISBN 0-345-45092-2

the-heros-walkSripathi Rao and his family live in the once-grand Big House, on Brahmin Street in the seaside Indian town of Toturpuram. His mother Ammayya, his wife Nirmala, and his unmarried sister Putti all reside under his roof, along with his unemployed adult son, Arun. Absent, but never spoken of, is his daughter, Maya, who went away to school in North America, and then defied her family by breaking off her traditional engagement to marry a white man. It has been nine years since Maya’s exile, but still her father stubbornly refuses to take her calls or allow her to visit. But everything changes when a phone call from Canada brings the news that Maya and her husband are dead, leaving their daughter Nandana orphaned. Apart from the initial upset, the events of The Hero’s Walk are mostly quiet and subtle, though the environs are lively and colourful. The tension comes from the interactions of a cast of idiosyncratic and richly drawn characters who inhabit Big House. Anita Rau Badami has crafted a fascinating and complicated family dynamic that is thoroughly disrupted by Nandana’s arrival. The passing of the grudge against Maya with her death will cause Sripathi, and indeed all the Raos, to re-examine their prejudices and preconceptions. One great tragedy leads to many new beginnings.

Categories: Canadian 

Ruin and Rising 

ISBN 978-0-8050-9461-9

Cover image for Ruin and Rising by Leigh BardugoAlthough I’ve singled out Ruin and Rising here, this is honestly a tip of the hat to Leigh Bardugo’s entire Grisha Trilogy, as well as Six of Crows, which is set in the same world. I read all four over the course of the year, and I can’t wait to read Crooked Kingdom, which completes the Six of Crows duology. The Grisha Trilogy centers on Alina Starkov, a military cartographer who is belatedly discovered to be a sun summoner, a rare type of Grisha who can call and manipulate light. I listened to the audio version of the series, which is excellently performed by Lauren Fortgang, who is also a member of the composite cast for the audio version of Six of Crows. On more than one occasion I found myself sitting in a parking lot, not wanting to turn off my car until I found out what happened next. The action is fast-faced and Bardugo’s world-building is excellent.  Add in charismatic characters like Nikolai and Genya, and grouchy-yet-endearing personages such as Baghra and Zoya, and this series had me hooked from the get-go.

Categories: Fantasy, Young Adult 

Sorcerer to the Crown 

ISBN 978-0-425-28337-0

Cover image for Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoI read Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho as part of the Diverse Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club hosted by Naz at Read Diverse Books. Cho’s tale is set in a magical England during the Napoleonic Wars, and centers on Zacharias Wythe, adopted black son of Sir Stephen Wythe, and the newest Sorcerer Royal following his guardian’s death. Unhappy with his ascension, England’s traditionalist magical families have begun to agitate, blaming Zacharias for England’s long-standing decrease in magical atmosphere. Hoping to uncover the reason for the ebb of magic, Zacharias travels to the British border with Faery. Along the way he acquires a traveling companion, one Miss Prunella Gentleman, the mixed-race daughter of a deceased English magician who brought her to England from India shortly before his untimely demise. In both writing style and setting, Sorcerer to the Crown is very reminiscent of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but Cho’s protagonists are vastly different from Clarke’s, and they are the driving force behind the story. Cho also weaves in a plotline that addresses the colonial society in which the story takes place, revealing machinery that is normally invisible in Regency fiction. Although obviously highly socially conscious, Sorcerer to the Crown is also a great adventure, with a good bit of political intrigue, and even a dash of romance.

Categories: Fantasy

Station Eleven

ISBN 978-0-3853-5330-4

Cover image for Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelAt a production of King Lear in Toronto, paparazzo-turned-paramedic Jeevan Chaudhary charges onstage in the middle of the show to perform CPR on lead actor Arthur Leander. Unbeknownst to everyone, this is the last night of the old world; even as the show goes on, recent arrivals on a flight from Moscow are flooding into local hospitals, stricken with the Georgia Flu. Fifteen years later, Kirsten Raymonde, who played the child-version of Cordelia in that long ago production of King Lear, is a member of the Traveling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors that trek between the far-flung settlements the post-flu world playing music and performing Shakespeare. Station Eleven is intricately woven from multiple perspectives and shifting timelines, beginning with Jeevan’s take on the early hours of the epidemic. The non-linear timeline and complex array of characters will undoubtedly be off-putting for some, but for fans of this type of story-telling, Emily St. John Mandel has handled it masterfully. Mandel does not linger on the terrible first days of the pandemic when survivors were fleeing the cities in search of somewhere safe. Instead, for the most part, the focus is on what comes after, and how that reflects on what once was. Pop culture remnants form an important touchstone for those who are old enough to remember the pre-apocalypse world, and these memories are juxtaposed with the many productions of Shakespeare in the text. Station Eleven sits alongside other literary takes on the apocalypse, from Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake to Chang-rae Lee’s  On Such a Full Sea, but it wins me over by effortlessly balancing comic books and Star Trek right alongside Shakespeare.

Categories: Canadian, Dystopian, Science Fiction

Uprooted

ISBN 978-0-8041-7905-8

Cover image for Uprooted by Naomi NovikAgnieszka and Kasia have been best friends throughout their childhood in the village of Dvernik, bonded by the fact that they are both Dragon-born girls. Every ten years, the Dragon—the sorcerer who protects the valley from the dark magic of the Wood—takes a seventeen-year-old girl to live with him in the Tower, and both Agnieszka and Kasia will be seventeen the year his next servant is chosen. Everyone knows that it is Kasia, beautiful, and graceful, and competent, who will be chosen. But when the Dragon comes to make his choice, it is not Kasia who attracts his attention. Uprooted is full of complex characters with individual motivations. The Wood is a terrifying arch-villain, but it is the smaller antagonists that add depth to the tale. I also really enjoyed the fact that Naomi Novik continued to centre Agnieszka’s friendship with Kasia, even after Agnieszka is taken to the tower. Uprooted also has definite flavours of my favourite fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, where a young woman is taken into the castle of a monster—or in this case a man with a monstrous reputation—and held there alone.This is a dark, lushly imagined fantasy that hits all the sweet-spots for a fairy tale retelling.

Categories: Fairy Tales, Fantasy

Honestly, this was a hard list to compile. I read around 150 books this year, and a lot of them were excellent. If you love vampires, don’t skip Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Sylvain Neuvel’s sci-fi debut Sleeping Giants is not to be missed. I adored The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, and I am enjoying Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series tremendously. Maybe I needed to do a Top 10 this year?

What were your favourite fiction reads of 2016?

Diverse Books Tag

The-DiverseBooks-Tag Naz over at Read Diverse Books has been doing killer work with his #DiverseBookBloggers tag. Check it out for great conversations about diversity in the book blogging community, and find lots of great new people to follow! Now he has also started a meme to get bloggers to promote their diverse reads, or challenge themselves to add books that fit certain criteria to their TBR. I’ll let Naz explain:

The Diverse Books Tag is a bit like a scavenger hunt. I will task you to find a book that fits a specific criteria and you will have to show us a book you have read or want to read.

If you can’t think of a book that fits the specific category, then I encourage you to go look for one. A quick Google search will provide you with many books that will fit the bill. (Also, Goodreads lists are your friends.) Find one you are genuinely interested in reading and move on to the next category.

Everyone can do this tag, even people who don’t own or haven’t read any books that fit the descriptions below. So there’s no excuse! The purpose of the tag is to promote the kinds of books that may not get a lot of attention in the book blogging community.”

In most cases I had a ton of books to choose from. When in doubt, I tried to err on the side of #ownvoices authors and their books. But as you will see, I also found a gap in my reading the size of a continent. If I’ve already read the book, you can click the title for a link to the full review.

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Find a book starring a lesbian character

Cover image for Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara FarizanTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Leila Azadi is a lesbian, but she has done a pretty good job of keeping this fact a secret from her friends and classmates at Armstead Academy. Everyone thinks her best friend Greg is her boyfriend, and this allows her to fly under the radar. If only Greg didn’t want to actually be her boyfriend, everything would be perfect. But with the arrival of Saskia, a beautiful and sophisticated student from Europe, Leila finds herself with a crush on a classmate for the first time. he harder she falls for wild and independent Saskia, the more difficult it is to keep her secret, not just from her classmates and teachers, but from her traditional Iranian parents, and her perfect older sister, Nahal. Confused by Saskia’s mixed signals, Leila begins to reach out to friends and family, but as the truth starts to spread, Leila finds herself losing control of her coming out process.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist

Cover image for Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Seventeen-year-old Naila is the model daughter of two very traditional Pakistani immigrants in Florida. She makes perfect grades in school, and has been accepted to a selective six-year medical program for university. She doesn’t complain about not being able to attend soccer games, or birthday parties, or even her senior prom. But Naila has a secret; for the last year she has been dating Saif, a fellow Pakistani-American from a family that has been shunned by the community because his parents allowed their daughter to marry an American. When Naila’s parents inevitably discover her relationship, they decide a month in Pakistan will help her reconnect with her roots and forget about Saif. But it eventually becomes clear that her parents have another purpose for the trip; they are looking for a husband for Naila, and they want her to be married immediately, regardless of her wishes.

Find a book set in Latin America

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra Well, I think we just found a big gap in my reading. While I could find books on my blog with Latin American characters, I couldn’t find one actually set in Latin America. So then I dug through my embarrassingly large pile of unread books. I found a couple titles by Latin American authors, but again, none set there. Ditto my Kindle. As far as my bookshelves are concerned, Latin America is a giant gaping hole. I wracked my brain to think of books I read before I blogged, and came up with State of Wonder by Anne Patchett and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even finish that last one because the audiobook expired before could get through the whole thing.  So I have requested a copy of Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra from the library. It is set in Chile, and includes an author-narrator, which is what grabbed my interest.

Find a book about a person with a disability

Cover image for El Deafo by Cece Bell El Deafo by CeCe Bell

When four-year-old Cece suddenly becomes violently ill, she wakes up in the hospital unable to hear, and has to be outfitted with a hearing aid. The next year she starts kindergarten at a special school for deaf kids where she learns lip reading. But when first grade rolls around, it is time for Cece to go to her neighbourhood school, where she will be the only deaf student. Trying to fit in at a new school is challenging enough, but Cece also has to wear the phonic ear, a large, two-part hearing aid that allows her to hear her teacher so that she doesn’t have to lip read all the time. Cece desperately wants to be taken for normal, but the phonic ear constantly draws attention to her deafness, and makes friendship complicated. Trying to make sense of her difference, Cece conjures up the character of El Deafo, who turns her disability into a superpower. Then Cece’s dream becomes a reality when her classmates realize that Cece can hear their teacher wherever she is in the school thanks to the microphone component of the phonic ear.

Find a Science-Fiction or Fantasy book with a POC protagonist

Cover image for Binti Nnedi Okorafor Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Sixteen-year-old Binti is Himba, from the indigenous peoples of northern Namibia. She is a brilliant mathematician and master harmonizer, destined to take over her father’s astrolabe shop thanks to her masterful manipulation of math current, and her ability to tree. But Binti has been accepted to Oomza University, the top school in the entire Milky Way galaxy. Only five percent of the population is human, and no Himba as ever gone. Binti is prepared to defy tradition, destroy her prospects of marriage, and venture out on her own for the first time in order to fulfill her dream of attending. But the trip to Oomza Uni is dangerous, taking the spaceship within the territory of the Meduse, ancient enemies of the Khoush people of Earth.

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa

Cover image for Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

After fifteen years in the United States training to become a psychiatrist, the nameless narrator returns home to Lagos, Nigeria to visit his relatives and reconnect with the city where he grew up. Resisting his family’s efforts to shelter and protect him as if he was truly a foreigner rather than a returnee, he ventures out on foot and by public transportation to commune with the place he once called home and debates about one day calling home again. Teju Cole’s narrator seeks the Lagos he remembers from his youth, and has longed for in moments of homesickness, amidst the corruption that has taken deep root in his absence. Though he has heard about it, there is nothing quite like seeing the change for himself.

Find a book written by an Aboriginal or American Indian author

Cover image for Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Sixteen-year-old Franklin Starlight has spent his life on a farm in British Columbia’s remote interior with the old man, who raised him and taught him to hunt and fish, and get by in the backwoods. He has never known his mother, and his father Eldon is an alcoholic who left him with the old man when he was a baby. His father has only ever hurt and disappointed him, but when he receives word that Eldon is dying and wants him to visit, duty still compels him to answer the call. In a tiny, mouldering mill town, he finds his father wracked by liver failure. His dying wish is to be buried on a ridge a three day ride from anywhere, and Frank is the only person who can get him there. Frank has never been able to rely on Eldon for anything, but now it is Eldon who must count on his estranged son in his final days.

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.)

the-heros-walk The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

Sripathi Rao and his family live in the once-grand Big House, on Brahmin Street in the seaside Indian town of Toturpuram. His mother Ammayya, his wife Nirmala, and his unmarried sister Putti all reside under his roof, along with his unemployed adult son, Arun. Absent, but never spoken of, is his daughter, Maya, who went away to school in North America, and then defied her family by breaking off her traditional engagement to marry a white man. It has been nine years since Maya’s exile, but still her father stubbornly refuses to take her calls or allow her to visit. But everything changes when a phone call from Canada brings the news that Maya and her husband are dead, leaving their daughter Nandana orphaned. With no other family in Canada to care for her, Sripathi must fly to Vancouver and bring her home to Toturpuram, unaware of how much one small girl, stricken mute by grief, will disrupt the status quo at Big House.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist

Cover image for Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Orphaned as teenagers, Beena and Sadhana lose their mother just when they need her most. Their mother has no living relatives, and they are largely estranged from their father’s Indian family, who disapproved of his marriage to a white woman. Nevertheless, their uncle, who they have previously known mostly as the proprietor of the bakery formerly run by their father, becomes their guardian. He proves to be an awkward surrogate parent, a first generation immigrant stymied by the strangeness of his mixed race, Canadian-born nieces. As the girls vent their grief and push back against their uncle’s traditional views about gender roles, they make choices that will have irrevocable consequences for the rest of their lives.

Find a book starring a transgender character or about transgender issues

Cover image for George by Alex Gino George by Alex Gino

George loves Charlotte’s Web, so when her school decides to put it on as a play, George immediately knows that she wants to play the part of the wise and beneficent Charlotte. And maybe if she can play Charlotte on stage, everyone—from her mother to her teachers to her friends—will finally be able to understand that George is a girl, not a boy. But her teacher refuses to let George try out for the part because she says she can’t give the role of Charlotte to a boy. So George and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan to help everyone finally see George for who she really is.

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If you think this sounds like fun, or want to find the gaps in your own reading history, consider yourself tagged!

Canada Reads Along: The Hero’s Walk

the-heros-walkby Anita Rau Badami

ISBN 0-345-45092-2

“Ghosts frightened him now. He had become more aware than ever that the world was full of unseen things, old memories and thoughts, longings and nightmares, anger, regret, madness. They floated turbulently around, an accumulation of whispering yesterdays that grew and grew and grew.”

Sripathi Rao and his family live in the once-grand Big House, on Brahmin Street in the seaside Indian town of Toturpuram. His mother Ammayya, his wife Nirmala, and his unmarried sister Putti all reside under his roof, along with his unemployed adult son, Arun. Absent, but never spoken of, is his daughter, Maya, who went away to school in North America, and then defied her family by breaking off her traditional engagement to marry a white man. It has been nine years since Maya’s exile, but still her father stubbornly refuses to take her calls or allow her to visit. But everything changes when a phone call from Canada brings the news that Maya and her husband are dead, leaving their daughter Nandana orphaned. With no other family in Canada to care for her, Sripathi must fly to Vancouver and bring her home to Toturpuram, unaware of how much one small girl, stricken mute by grief, will disrupt the status quo at Big House.

Apart from the initial upset, the events of The Hero’s Walk are mostly quiet and subtle, though the environs are lively and colourful. The tension comes from the interactions of a cast of idiosyncratic and richly drawn characters who inhabit Big House. Sripathi is unhappily, and somewhat precariously, employed at an advertising agency now largely staffed by younger and more credentialed staff. But his responsibility for his family, and his son’s refusal to give up his social activism in favour of a paying job, forces him to continue. He finds satisfaction and self-worth in his secret, second life, writing pithy and impassioned letters to the editor under the pen name Pro Bono Publica.

No less well drawn are the various women of Sripathi’s family. His mother, Ammayya is a bitter, miserly old woman. She has been torn apart between maintaining the dignity of her role as the widow of a wealthy Brahmin lawyer, and the very public knowledge that he died deeply in debt because he was keeping a mistress. Her unwillingness to let go of anything once she has it is most evident in her relationship with her daughter, Putti, who is still unmarried at the age of forty-two. Largely an obedient daughter, Putti has begun to chafe at her mother’s unwillingness to accept any of the suitors the matchmaker brings them. Sripathi’s wife, Nirmala, has long been the patient peacekeeper of the household, but her daughter’s death seems to have broken something in her, and she refuses to be passive any longer. It is a fascinating and complicated family dynamic.

Nandana lands in the middle of all this, still not quite comprehending that her parents are truly dead and gone. She has not spoken since their deaths. In her, Sripathi sees a second chance to do right by his granddaughter where he failed her mother. But he must also come to see her as her own unique person, quite different from his memory of her mother as a child. This complicated cast of characters must readjust their lives to accommodate the new arrival. And the passing of the grudge against Maya with her death will cause Sripathi, and indeed all the Raos, to re-examine their prejudices and preconceptions. One great tragedy leads to many new beginnings.

This week on Canada Reads, The Hero’s Walk has been eloquently and passionately defended by actor and filmmaker Vinay Virmani, who also announced that he has optioned the film rights from author Anita Rau Badami. The final day of debate asked the panelists to delve into what they loved about each book, where they found courage in them, and touched back on the theme of “starting over.” They were also asked to identify the book that, if read by all Canadians, would help get us to the kind of country they hope to live in. A key point of Virmani’s defence against The Illegal was that we cannot overcome our fears and welcome refugees until we challenge prejudices inside our own homes. The writing in The Hero’s Walk received unguarded praise from many of the panelists, but when asked to identify a powerful moments and instances of courage, most of the panelists spoke to The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. With each of the two remaining defenders voting against their opponent, it was down to the three free agents to crown the winner. After her own book was eliminated on day two, Farah Mohamed seemed to cast herself behind The Hero’s Walk, and she held to that today, voting to eliminate The Illegal alongside Vinay Virmani. Along with Clara Hughes, Bruce Poon Tip cast his vote against The Hero’s Walk, as he did on day three. This left the deciding vote in the hands of a very torn Adam Copeland, who in today’s debate admitted that Virmani’s defence had helped him see more layers and depth in The Hero’s Walk than during his initial reading. Earlier in the week, he said he could picture The Illegal as a 1990s Will Smith action flick, a comment which he clarified today was not derogatory, but rather spoke to the intensity and pacing of The Illegal. Ultimately, he voted off The Hero’s Walk.

Check back tomorrow for my review of the winning title, The Illegal by Lawrence Hill.

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Canada Reads Along logo It’s not too late to catch the reruns of the Canada Reads debates on CBC!