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Book Nook - 09-04-2019

Tuesday, April 09, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Wild Child
It is the stuff of nightmare—a child abandoned by her family, and left to fend for herself. She lives in an isolated area by the marshes, miles away from the nearest town.
The people who should care, either shun her, or try to regiment her life. Six-year-old Kya shuns them right back and escapes the grip of the authorities to look after herself.

Where the Crawdads Sing, the debut novel by Delia Owens, a wildlife scientist, has turned out to be a big bestseller. Reportedly, Reese Witherspoon is planning a film on it, and what a stunningly beautiful film it will be, going just by the location described by the author.

The book begins in 1952, when Kya’s mother, fed-up of her husband’s drunken violence, walks away leaving her five children behind. Kya’s older siblings drift away too, and finally the father disappears.  She grows up alone in a primitive shack, coping with crushing loneliness;  the only help comes from a kindly black couple, Jumpin’ and Merle. It was the time of racial segregation, so a white girl accepting the charity of black people gives the townsfolk more reason to hate Kya, who is referred to as swamp trash or the Marsh Girl.

When she is a little older, in the manner of a fairy tale, she is befriended by Tate, who teaches her to read, and falls in love with her. But he sees her as a hindrance to his career as a scientist and cruelly leaves her too. The other boys in town see her with the eyes of predators, only Chase realizes that she is to be handled with care.

The prologue of the book has Chase lying dead in the swamp, so Kya’s story is interspersed with the cops investigating, and later arresting Kya for his murder. There is a terrific section in which her case is fought by a fierce old lawyer, Tom Milton, who comes out of retirement to defend the young woman.

The novel combines crime and romance with social commentary and a coming-of-age tale. Owens mixes the ingredients well; her descriptions of swamp life are vivid and fascinating; Kya is a girl with superhuman courage and intelligence, and the reader’s feeling of protectiveness towards her soon turns to admiration and awe. It’s not difficult to understand this book’s long reign on the bestseller charts.

Where The Crawdads Sing
By Delia Owens
Publisher: Putnam
Pages: 384

 

Excerpt of Where The Crawdads Sing
The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh's moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog. The palmetto patches stood unusually quiet except for the low, slow flap of the heron's wings lifting from the lagoon. And then, Kya, only six at the time, heard the screen door slap. Standing on the stool, she stopped scrubbing grits from the pot and lowered it into the basin of worn-out suds. No sounds now but her own breathing. Who had left the shack? Not Ma. She never let the door slam.

But when Kya ran to the porch, she saw her mother in a long brown skirt, kick pleats nipping at her ankles, as she walked down the sandy lane in high heels. The stubby-nosed shoes were fake alligator skin. Her only going-out pair. Kya wanted to holler out but knew not to rouse Pa, so opened the door and stood on the brick-'n'-board steps. From there she saw the blue train case Ma carried. Usually, with the confidence of a pup, Kya knew her mother would return with meat wrapped in greasy brown paper or with a chicken, head dangling down. But she never wore the gator heels, never took a case.

Ma always looked back where the foot lane met the road, one arm held high, white palm waving, as she turned onto the track, which wove through bog forests, cattail lagoons, and maybe-if the tide obliged-eventually into town. But today she walked on, unsteady in the ruts. Her tall figure emerged now and then through the holes of the forest until only swatches of white scarf flashed between the leaves. Kya sprinted to the spot she knew would bare the road; surely Ma would wave from there, but she arrived only in time to glimpse the blue case-the color so wrong for the woods-as it disappeared. A heaviness, thick as black-cotton mud, pushed her chest as she returned to the steps to wait.

Kya was the youngest of five, the others much older, though later she couldn't recall their ages. They lived with Ma and Pa, squeezed together like penned rabbits, in the rough-cut shack, its screened porch staring big-eyed from under the oaks.

Jodie, the brother closest to Kya, but still seven years older, stepped from the house and stood behind her. He had her same dark eyes and black hair; had taught her birdsongs, star names, how to steer the boat through saw grass.

"Ma'll be back," he said.

"I dunno. She's wearin' her gator shoes."

"A ma don't leave her kids. It ain't in 'em."

"You told me that fox left her babies."

"Yeah, but that vixen got 'er leg all tore up. She'd've starved to death if she'd tried to feed herself 'n' her kits. She was better off to leave 'em, heal herself up, then whelp more when she could raise 'em good. Ma ain't starvin', she'll be back." Jodie wasn't nearly as sure as he sounded, but said it for Kya.

Her throat tight, she whispered, "But Ma's carryin' that blue case like she's goin' somewheres big."

 

Caribbean Interlude
Irene Steele thinks she has a perfect marriage, and a gorgeous home that will keep her afloat as her career as a magazine editor starts to slide towards a younger rival. She is shattered when news comes of her husband Russell’s death in a plane crash; worse, is the discovery that his long business trips were cover for a secret life on a beautiful Caribbean island of St. John.

Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter In Paradise, the first in her proposed ‘Winter’ Trilogy, then takes Irene and her sons—Baker and Cash-- to St John, where they are ushered into a palatial villa that belonged to her husband, known as “Invisible Man” to the locals, who knew of his existence, but never saw him—none except his lover and her daughter.

Irene’s attempts to find out what really happened are stonewalled, and his mysterious employer is impossible to track down. There is no trace in the villa, of her husband or his girlfriend Rosie, who also died with him, in the same crash, leaving a grieving daughter Maia, stepfather Huck and best friend Ayers.

The town has a close-knit community that cares for Maia and Huck. Baker and Cash both fall for Ayers, who has broken off with her unfaithful boyfriend, and there is some romantic tension going on there, while Irene forms an unlikely friendship with Huck.

It’s a lightweight beach read, which ends with a tantalizing hook that leaves the reader guessing about the truth of the crash, which will, hopefully, be revealed in the next book.

Winter In Paradise
By Elin Hilderbrand
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 272

 

Excerpt of Winter In Paradise
It’s the first night of the new year.

Irene Steele has spent the day in a state of focused productivity. From nine to one, she filed away every piece of paperwork relating to the complete moth-to-butterfly renovation of her 1892 Queen Anne–style home on Church Street. From one to two, she ate a thick sandwich, chicken salad on pumpernickel (she has always been naturally slender, luckily, so no New Year’s diets for her), and then she took a short nap on the velvet fainting couch in front of the fire in the parlor. From two fifteen to three-thirty, she composed an email response to her boss, Joseph Feeney, the publisher of Heartland Home & Style magazine, who two days earlier had informed her that she was being “promoted” from editor in chief of the magazine to executive editor, a newly created position that reduces both Irene’s hours and responsibilities by half and comes with a 30 percent pay cut.

At a quarter of four, she tried calling her husband, Russ, who was away on business. The phone rang six times and went to voicemail. Irene didn’t leave a message. Russ never listened to them, anyway.

She tried Russ again at four thirty and was shuttled straight to voicemail. She paused, then hung up. Russ was on his phone night and day. Irene wondered if he was intentionally avoiding her call. He might have been upset about their conversation the day before, but first thing this morning, a lavish bouquet of snow-white calla lilies had been delivered to the door with a note: Because you love callas and I love you. Xo R. Irene had been delighted; there was nothing like fresh flowers to brighten a house in winter. She was amazed that Russ had been able to find someone who would deliver on the holiday, but his ingenuity knew no bounds.

At five o’clock, Irene poured herself a generous glass of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, took a shower, and put on the silk and cashmere color-block sweater and black crepe slim pants from Eileen Fisher that Russ had given her for Christmas. She bundled up in her shearling coat, earmuffs, and calfskin leather gloves to walk the four blocks through Iowa City to meet her best friend, esteemed American history professor Lydia Christensen, at the Pullman Bar & Diner.

The New Year’s Day dinner is a tradition going into its seventh year. It started when Lydia got divorced from her philandering husband, Philip, and Russ’s travel schedule went from “nearly all the time” to “all the time.” The dinner is supposed to be a positive, life-affirming ritual: Irene and Lydia count their many, many blessings—this friendship near the top of the list—and state their aspirations for the twelve months ahead. But Irene and Lydia are only human, and so their conversation sometimes lapses into predictable lamentation. The greatest unfairness in this world, according to Lydia, is that men get sexier and better-looking as they get older and women… don’t. They just don’t.

“The CIA should hire women in their fifties,” Lydia says. “We’re invisible.”

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