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Book Nook - 18-12-2017

Monday, December 18, 2017
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

Perils Of Perfection
“Most communities just happen; the best are planned,” is the motto of the town called Shaker Heights, in Celeste Ng’s acclaimed second novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

In a clean and orderly town, with its perfectly manicured lawns, homes with coordinated paint jobs and matching trees, the first fire is lit by the arrival of a Bohemian photographer, Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl.  The literal fires are, however, lit by the disgruntled Izzy Richardson, who is the black sheep of her family;  when the book opens, she has set her home on fire and disappeared.

The novel is set in the 1990s, when the Jerry Springer show on TV and pagers are the hot favourites among teenagers. The affluent Richardson family-- lawyer dad, journalist mom Elena and their four kids, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy-- live happily, till Mia and Pearl appear to rent an apartment from Elena. They live like nomads, packing their meagre belongings into a small car and moving whenever Mia thinks she is done with a place. Their clothes are from thrift shops, their mismatched furniture from junkyards. Elena tries to do good and offers Mia a job as he cook and housekeeper, which she reluctantly accepts so as not to appear ungrateful.

Moody immediately befriends Pearl and she becomes like an extra kid in the house full of youngsters.  Meanwhile Izzy is besotted with Mia, and wishes her family was as laidback.

As the relationships between the kids get complicated, Elena starts to resent Mia and digs into her past—the book digressing into the birth of Pearl and the reason for Mia’s unsettled life. Meanwhile the two families end up on opposite sides of the town’s latest cause célèbre.  A childless white couple, the McCulloughs, take in a Chinese infant abandoned by her impoverished mother, Bebe.  But when she gets a job, she wants her child back—Mia supports her while Elena stands by her friend Linda McCullough, and her husband fights the case on their behalf in court. The Richardson’s believe they are not racist – Lexie has a black boyfriend—but scratch the surface and their hidden class and race prejudices surface. Only Izzy is surprisingly clear-sighted and vociferous, for which her family labels her as crazy.

Ng’s portrayal of shiny suburban Americana is sharp and satirical; she may not be too disparaging of the strictly regimented Shaker Heights, but her sympathies clearly lie with those who break out of set moulds, whether it’s Mia, her teacher and mentor Pauline Hawthorne, or the rebellious Izzy.

The book turned out to be a bestseller and news is that Reese Witherspoon has selected it for a Big Little Lies-style adaptation.
Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng
Publisher:  Penguin
Pages: 352


Excerpt of Little Fires Everywhere
Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down. All spring the gossip had been about little Mirabelle McCullough—or, depending which side you were on, May Ling Chow—and now, at last, there was something new and sensational to discuss. A little after noon on that Saturday in May, the shoppers pushing their grocery carts in Heinen’s heard the fire engines wail to life and careen away, toward the duck pond. By a quarter after twelve there were four of them parked in a haphazard red line along Parkland Drive, where all six bedrooms of the Richardson house were ablaze, and everyone within a half mile could see the smoke rising over the trees like a dense black thundercloud. Later people would say that the signs had been there all along: that Izzy was a little lunatic, that there had always been something off about the Richardson family, that as soon as they heard the sirens that morning they knew something terrible had happened.

By then, of course, Izzy would be long gone, leaving no one to defend her, and people could—and did—say whatever they liked. At the moment the fire trucks arrived, though, and for quite a while afterward, no one knew what was happening. Neighbors clustered as close to the makeshift barrier—a police cruiser, parked crosswise a few hundred yards away—as they could and watched the firefighters unreel their hoses with the grim faces of men who recognized a hopeless cause. Across the street, the geese at the pond ducked their heads underwater for weeds, wholly unruffled by the commotion.


Dr V. Srinivas, an eminent urological cancer and robotic surgeon and author of over a hundred scientific papers in international medical journals, as well as a surgical textbook, writes his first book of fiction, based on real events and so relatable because of the author’s observation and understanding of life in India.  As the summary states, “This is a fictional narrative based on real events at two ends of the spectrum, playing out concurrently:a) Living in Mumbai and trying to build a house in the Nilgirisb) Facing the prospect of the house one is living in being demolishedPeople without any experience in house construction would be considered foolish to try and build a house in the mountains thousand kilometers from where they live. People living in a building which has been earmarked for demolition would be on an emotional roller coaster ride as the tension of not having a roof over one's head is unimaginable. This story intertwines the two events with anecdotes and flashbacks. The practical difficulties and adventures of buying the land, choosing an appropriate name, deciding on what to do with the property and finally building the house are one side of the coin, while the legal tangles, web of intrigue, mental stress that is unique to a high profile building demolition is the other side.These two aspects form the basis of this story which does not follow the principles of "textbook creative writing."
A Tale Of Two Homes
By Dr V. Srinivas
Publisher:  White Falcon
Pages: 235




By Renata Pavrey
“Bright marzipan shapes, chocolate twists dusted with sugar, sticky millefeuille layers oozing with cream, tarts brimming with frangipani, coffee éclairs lined up like fat fingers, red berries piled high and tumbling off crème pâtisserie tarts. Dark glossy liqueurs with cherry stalks poking out of the top, dusty truffles and striped caramels, fudge coated in ganche. Strawberry creams shaped like tiny fruits perched next to pralines wrapped like presents in gold.”

This is a book about food. French food. Rachel Smithson is a nursery school teacher from England. Her mother was an accomplished baker, and Rachel has spent years helping out at the family bakery. When her mother passes away, Rachel gives up baking, focusing on teaching instead. One year, her colleagues send out an application for a baking competition, and Rachel is selected to participate. The week long event set in Paris is an apprentice competition, the winner of which is chosen to work as an apprentice for a month with the great Parisian baker Henri Salernes. Henri is coming up with a new book, and the amateur competition is part of the publicity campaign.

Rachel is quite skeptical initially. She has never done any baking professionally, except for helping her mum bake, and the little baking treats for school events. But since her colleagues and her students have high hopes (plus most of the town folk knew how great a baker her mum was), she decides to give it a go. Thereby, the impromptu Christmas trip to France. Rachel had lost her mother on Christmas day years ago, and is almost phobic about the season. The trip acts as a good diversion from the festivities.

In Paris, she settles in as a boarder with Madame Charles and the housekeeper Chanal. Henri Salernes is known to be as temperamental as he is passionate about baking. The competition has been dreamed up by his publishers, and Henri doesn’t seem to think too much of the amateurs. The venue is on the floor above his pâtisserie and is a delight by itself.

“Fluffy shell-shaped madeleines, rainbow-colored macaroons, bite-sized lemon cakes, sticky rum babas and teetering piles of profiteroles. Crème pâtisserie piped into the center of perfect choux pastry balls drizzled with the darkest melted chocolate.”

Definitely a sight to behold, as also devour desserts accompanied with a cup of coffee, and oh so wonderful to get to work there, and learn from the master himself.  Henri is a big name in Parisian baking, along with his equally famous chef brother, Philippe. The sweet and the savory as they are known. There are eight participants who have been shortlisted, including Rachel. Each day they get to work on a theme – petit fours, savory, breads etc. Chef demonstrates in the morning session, and post lunch they have to cook something for him. And at the end of the day they receive the theme for the next day, to ensure they practice at home and are not completely clueless in front of him.

The story follows Rachel’s journey through the demanding week, getting back to her first love of baking – the skill, the craftsmanship, the smells, the textures, the familiarity, the talent, however rusty. And confronting the demons that haunted her after her mother’s death; even sensing her mother guiding her at every step of the competition. Initially, Rachel doesn’t think too much of the competition and wants to get it done with and go home; sooner the better. But on seeing how good her craft turns out, the other participants get envious – it is a competition after all and there can be only one winner. Now Rachel wants to fight, though not necessarily dirty, but fight she must. There are side stories featuring Rachel’s drummer boyfriend Ben, a romantic angle with Philippe, the other half of the Salernes brothers, Rachel returning to England with her newfound love for baking, but nothing takes away from the central premise of the Parisian baking.

The Parisian Christmas Bake Off
By:  Jenny Oliver
Publisher: Carina
Pages: 352

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