The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

association of small bombsThe Association of Small Bombs opens with violence: a bomb explodes in a crowded Delhi marketplace, killing two young brothers named Tushar and Nakul Khurana.  Their friend, Mansoor, survives the blast.  While Mansoor grows up haunted by the deaths of his childhood friends, Tushar and Nakul’s parents struggle to overcome their all-consuming grief.  In a separate storyline, Karan Mahajan introduces Shockie, a bomb-maker from the northern Indian region of Kashmir.

By weaving together stories of those affected by this one market bombing — barely a blip in the fast-paced news cycle — Mahajan untangles the complex, harrowing worlds of those who cause and suffer from acts of terrorism.

Quote:
“Now Mr. Khurana, who had been a troubled, twitchy sleeper ever since he’d become a documentary filmmaker years ago, began to suffer from dreams that impressed him deeply, and he never failed to discuss them with his wife or his collaborators.  He didn’t mention that he was terrified during their nightly unspooling; that he slept in the crook of his wife’s armpit like a baby, his body greased with sweat, his leg rotating out like the blade of a misfired fan. But the dreams were truly notable, and in the first and most frequent one, he became, for a few minutes, the bomb. The best way to describe what he felt would be to say that first he was blind, then he could see everything. This is what it felt like to be a bomb. You were coiled up, majestic with blackness, unaware that the universe outside you existed, and then a wire snapped and ripped open your eyelids all the way around and you had a vision of the world that was 360 degrees, and everything in your purview was doomed by seeing.”

Author:
Karan Mahajan is the author of the novels The Association of Small Bombs and Family Planning.  His writing has been featured in NPR’s All Things Considered, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.  Born in Delhi, India, he now lives in upstate New York.

Published:  2016
Length:  288 pages
Main Setting:  Delhi, India
Secondary Setting:  Kashmir, India

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

little fires everywhereIn the small Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, conformity is the ideal to which most people aspire — including Elena Richardson.  A local news reporter and general busybody, she is also the mother of four vastly different children:  popular Lexie, athletic Trip, sensitive Moody, and troublemaker Izzy.  When the Richardson family rents out one of their apartments to artist Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, these new tenants soon become entangled in their lives.  And with a fresh controversy building in Shaker Heights — the fierce custody battle between an immigrant mother from China and white adoptive parents — tensions between the Warrens and the Richardsons build to a fiery pitch.

Written with a keen eye for character detail, Little Fires Everywhere explores what it means to be a family — and how long-held secrets can fray even the strongest bonds.

Quote:
“Mia looked down at Izzy, this wayward, fiery girl suddenly gone timid and dampened and desperate.  She reminded Mia, oddly, of herself at around this age, traipsing through the neighborhood, climbing over fences and walls in search of the right photograph, defiantly spending her mother’s money on film.  Single-minded almost to excess.  Something inside Izzy reached out to something in her and caught fire.”

Author:
Celeste Ng is the author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.  Her writing has appeared in publications including One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, and the Kenyon Review Online.  She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Published:  2017
Length:  338 pages
Set in:  Shaker Heights, Ohio, U.S.

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Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

tipping the velvet

Born in Whitstable, England in the late 19th century, Nancy Astley has known little more than the drudgery of working in her family’s oyster house — that is, until she sees Kitty Butler perform on a Canterbury stage.  Captivated by Kitty’s delicate face, powerful voice, and masculine costumes, Nan seeks out her affection and the chance to leave the coast for the bustling city of London.  But once in London, Nan’s fortune ebbs and flows from fame and fortune to heartbreak and hardship, leaving her to fend for herself and slowly construct her own identity.  Rich in detail and written with Waters’s distinctive Victorian flair, Tipping the Velvet is a charming, immersive coming-of-age story.

Quote:
“The trip from Bethnal Green to Cable Street did indeed take us through some of the roughest, poorest, squalidest districts in the city, and could never, ordinarily, be very cheerful.  I knew the route, for I had walked it often with Florence: I know which courts were grimmest, which factories sweated their workers hardest, which tenements housed the saddest and most hopeless families.  But we were out that night together — as Florence herself had admitted — for pleasure’s sake; and though it might seem strange to say it, our journey was indeed a pleasant one, and seemed to take us over a rather different landscape to the one we normally trod.  We passed gin-palaces and penny-gaffs, coffee-shops and public-houses: they were not the grim and dreary places that they sometimes were, tonight, but luminous with warmth and light and colour, thick with laughter and shouts, and with the reeking odours of beer and soup and gravy.”

Author:
Sarah Waters is the author of six novels: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, Affinity, The Night Watch, The Paying Guests, and The Little Stranger.  Born in Wales, she currently lives in London.

Published:  1998
Length:  472 pages
Set in:  London, England, United Kingdom

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The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

the dark lakeWhen Rosalind Ryan, beloved high school drama teacher, is found dead in the local lake, detective Gemma Woodstock and her partner Felix are given the case.  Between family fights, tension with her colleagues, and a mysterious event at her previous teaching job in Sydney, many people seem to have motive to hurt Rosalind.  As the case gains media attention and pressure to solve the murder mounts, Gemma must balance her desire to catch the killer with her urge to keep her own secrets hidden — including her own past ties to Rosalind.  In The Dark Lake, Bailey succeeds in writing complex, often unlikable characters and constructing a slow-burning but suspenseful plot.

Quote:
“Rosalind’s death has formed a blanket over Smithson: mixing with the relentless heat, it’s a creeping, vapor-like cover that sticks to everything.  Voices are low and theories are exchanged in clusters outside the newsagent and the post office.  Eyes dart around as if seeking a killer in the shadows.  Beautiful piles of flowers form little mountains of love and grief at Rosalind’s front door, the lake and the school.  It’s true what they say, that death unites us, pulls us together, though I see beyond this primal unity and think that perhaps we pull each other closer to check that we are who we say we are.  We are all trying to work out what went so horribly wrong.”

Author:
Sarah Bailey lives in Australia, where she has worked in advertising for more than a decade.  The Dark Lake is her first novel, and its sequel, Into the Night, will be published in 2018.

Published:  2017
Length:  440 pages
Set in:  New South Wales, Australia

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The Windfall by Diksha Basu

the windfallWhen Mr. Jha sells his company for an exorbitant amount of money, he and his wife begin immediately planning their escape from the cramped housing complex they’ve called home for decades.  As they settle into a spacious mansion in an affluent neighborhood of New Delhi, their lives become an exercise in keeping up appearances. Suddenly, Mr. Jha needs a diamond-encrusted couch, a round-the-clock guard, and a chauffeured car — and doesn’t understand why Mrs. Jha seems unimpressed with these new necessities.  Meanwhile, their son’s promising future at an American business school is slipping away, and his desperation to hide his failing grades leads to greater issues for the family.

Hilarious and fast-paced, The Windfall explores themes of class, marriage, and whether happiness can truly be bought.

Quote:
“The summer heat was getting on his nerves.  The heat in Delhi summers did not just come from the air; it radiated up from the ground and came off the walls of the buildings and pushed you from every direction, making it difficult to move.  What was the point of all this money if he couldn’t escape the blistering midday temperatures?  It should be possible, Mr. Jha thought, to have a small portable air-conditioned Plexiglas cubicle built to walk around in.  After all, he had had a shower installed in the Gurgaon bathrooms so he would no longer have to use a bucket filled with water and a mug to pour over his body.  So maybe he could have a similar contraption — completely sealed and cooled — to take everywhere with him.  It would make life a lot more pleasant.  Maybe something with wheels.  But then that would just be a car.”

Author:
Diksha Basu is a writer and actor. She splits her time between New York and Mumbai, India.

Published:  2017
Length:  295 pages
Set in:  New Delhi, India

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The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka

piano makerWhen Helene Giroux arrives in the small coastal village of Saint Homais in Nova Scotia, her presence is instantly the talk of the town.  As she settles in and begins working as the church pianist, the local people begin to accept her — until the police begin asking questions about her mysterious past.

By turns charming and suspenseful, The Piano Maker is a deftly written historical novel that spans two continents — from World War I France to post-war Canada — and grapples with questions of violence, mercy, and sacrifice.

Quote:
“In the thin white light from the sky and the yellow from the streetlamps she crossed the square to the church and at the side entrance used the key the priest had given her.  She stepped inside.  So quiet and dark at this hour.  Only the eternal flame by the altar and the street-side windows gave some light.  She found her way to a front pew and sat there with her hands in her coat pockets.  She looked at the piano, at the fine shape of it, the classic footed legs and the delicate prop stick, and in her mind she could see each part of it, the cabinet pieces still raw from the milling floor, the key-board and its nerve endings, the fine soundboard with the bridge applied.  The harp so heavy it took two men to raise it and four to set it in its lockpoints.”

Author:
Kurt Palka is a novelist whose books include The Piano Maker and Clara.  He currently lives in Ontario.

Published:  2015
Length:  288 pages
Primary Setting:  Nova Scotia, Canada
Secondary Setting:  Montmagny, France

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Euphoria by Lily King

euphoriaWhen married anthropologists Nell Stone and Fen Schuyler arrive in the Sepik River region of New Guinea in 1933, Andrew Bankson’s entire life is inverted.  Irresistibly drawn to Nell’s intelligence and charm, Bankson finds new purpose in his own ethnographic study of the area’s people.  But as rivalry and jealousy mount, a series of unexpected events unfold — leaving the trio to grapple with their own complicity in the lives of the tribes they live among and study.  Written in compelling and clear prose, Euphoria is a heart-wrenching study of friendship, marriage, violence, and gender roles.

Quote:
“The rain hit the lake water loudly and it took my ears several minutes to get used to the roar. You don’t realize in the dry season how much is held in, but now all the sounds and smells came back, stirred up by the wind and humidity, flowers and roots and leaves exhaling their full flavor. Even the lake itself released a pungent peat odor as the rain dug into it. Nell seemed smaller and younger and I could see her easily at thirteen, at nine, a little girl on a Pennsylvania farm, and all I could do was keep looking.”

Author:
Lily King is an American novelist.  Her books include Euphoria, The Pleasing Hour, and Father of the Rain.  Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and several anthologies.

Published:  2014
Length:  261 pages 
Set in:  Papua New Guinea

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Evening Is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan

evening is the whole daySet in Ipoh, Malaysia, Evening is the Whole Day revolves around the Big House on Kingfisher Lane, where the wealthy Rajasekharan family have lived for several generations.  Skipping back and forth through time, the novel creates a vivid portrait of the house’s inhabitants, including Aasha, a curious six-year-old who sees ghosts as clearly as the living; her older sister Uma, desperate to escape to college in America; and Chellam, a young servant dismissed on the basis of unexplained crimes.  Filled with lush prose and a striking sense of place, each chapter of Evening is the Whole Day reveals to its readers the family’s heartbreaking and seemingly endless secrets.

Quote:
“On Kingfisher Lane the sun lies straight ahead, liquid as an egg yolk in the valley between two distant limestone hills, quivering, ready, turning the surrounding foliage to gold.  Closer and closer they draw to its beating light, and then, without warning — in the split second when Appa takes his foot off the accelerator for no clear reason — the sun looses itself, slides down into the foothills, and surges out into the street.  It brings the water in the monsoon drains to a boil and singes the whiskers of stray cats.  It crisps the ants on the asphalt and scorches the grass on the verges.  It rolls all the way down the street and finally, against the windshield of the Volvo, comes to a reluctant rest.”

Author:
Preeta Samarasan was born in Malaysia and moved to the United States while in high school.  Her writing has appeared in The Asian Literary Review, Hyphen, The Michigan Quarterly Review, and EGO Magazine, among others.  Evening is the Whole Day is her debut novel.

Published:  2008
Length:  340 pages
Set in:  Ipoh, Malaysia

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Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

wife of the godsWhen a bright young medical student is found dead outside the small village of Ketanu in Ghana’s Volta region, Detective Inspector Darko Dawson is called from Accra to consult in the investigation.  A loving father and sometimes overzealous officer, Dawson has personal ties to the town — it is where his mother disappeared many years ago after visiting family.

When he arrives in Ketanu, Dawson must juggle a stubborn local police chief; several unlikely suspects; accusations of witchcraft; and an unsettling religious custom in which families give their teenage daughters to priests to become wives of the gods.  As the case deepens and the suspect pool narrows, Dawson struggles to maintain both his subterranean temper and faith in his own investigative skills.

Quote:
“On the way again, Dawson noticed how the vegetation began to change from open bush with isolated skyscraper trees to denser semi-deciduous forest, but that in turn gave way to buildings as Dawson approached Ketanu.  He passed a sign announcing YOU ARE ENTERING KETANU and slowed down over the brain-rattling speed strips.  If Ketanu had been an impressionist painting, it would have been dots and daubs of tan and brown.  Buildings were a cream color or darker, and the rusted tin roofs exactly matched the color of the ground.  Tro-tros and taxis plied the streets, and shops and trading kiosks lined the roadside with entertaining appellations like Nothing but Prayer Electrical Goods and God Is Great Hair Clinic.  Dawson loved these names.” 

Author:
Kwei Quartey is a physician and author of crime novels, including Wife of the Gods, Children of the Street, and Death at the Voyager Hotel.  Raised in Ghana, Quartey now lives and practices medicine in Pasadena, California.

Published:  2009
Length:  311 pages
Set in:  Accra and the Volta region, Ghana

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An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

an unnecessary womanIn a quiet apartment in Beirut, Aaliya Saleh lives alone, surrounded by her books.  Every year, she begins to translate a favorite into Arabic, and, when she is done, she hides the translation away in a box, never to be read by another soul.  Her solitude is only occasionally interrupted by the other women in her building — whom she calls “the three witches” — and by the bothersome demands of her estranged family.  As the days pass, Aaliyah walks the streets of Beirut, reliving her memories and reveling in the words of writers she admires above all others.  And when an unexpected and tragic event intrudes on her peaceful life, she must confront the consequences of her self-imposed isolation.

In An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine has conjured a vivid portrait of a woman retreating gently into her later years, unconcerned by the strictures of society.

Quote:
“Whereas most people will tell you that they prefer the city on spring afternoons when she fills her lungs with briny air, when bougainvilleas, purple and crimson, and wisterias, lavender and white, begin to bloom, or during summer sunsets, when the water is decked with a panoply of gold and hyacinth so vibrant that the city practically rocks on her promontory, I prefer her in this subdued light, under roiling gray clouds, rain-filled but not raining, when the neutral air gives contrast to the authentic colors of the city.  These clouds prevent me from seeing the brilliant new white on the mountain peaks, but they offer spectacular city sights as compensation.”

Author:
Rabih Alameddine is the author of Koolaids; I, the Divine; The Hakawati; An Unnecessary Woman; The Perv; and The Angel of History.  He grew up in Lebanon and Kuwait, and now divides his time between Beirut and San Francisco.

Published:  2014
Length:  291 pages
Set in:  Beruit, Lebanon 

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