January Preview and The Association of Small Bombs

January is usually a good literary month. It represents a clean slate for reading and goals and for starting anew — like being fresh out of the box, which I like. I just need to remind myself there’s plenty of time to read lots of books this year and not to worry about pace. It’s often the case that you can read some of your favorite books in January, I think it’s because many come from Best Of Lists and piles saved from the prior year.

And Ta-Da: I was excited by my first read of this year, which as you can see from the photo at left was Karan Mahajan’s novel “The Association of Small Bombs,” which I first found out about when it became a finalist for the National Book Award and made the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2016 list. No small feat. Karan who? Well I didn’t know either but now after reading his novel he’s forever on my radar. Born in the U.S. but raised in New Delhi, India, Karan’s another young talented author, who I was pretty amazed to learn is just 32, so likely he wrote some of this book while in his 20s. Oh my.

His novel “The Association of Small Bombs” has a fairly straightforward plot: it’s about a bomb set by Kashmiri separatists that detonates in a New Delhi market in 1996 killing a handful of people, including two brothers, ages 11 and 13, and injuring their friend Monsoor. The book explores over a number of years the impact on the boys’ grieving parents, the surviving Monsoor, and the terrorists who planted the bomb. So it starts simply from a heinous act but then branches out into the lives of both the victims and the perpetrators.

They undergo some surprising changes over time and I found Monsoor a compelling character. He feels guilty for his friends’ deaths and seemingly suffers from psychosomatic symptoms. He’s vulnerable and becomes lured into a fate that is not of his own doing. The ending I thought was not what I had hoped for, but overall the book, which takes place mainly in India, has many astute observations about terrorism, different ethnicities, and the times in which we are living. It throws a light on what’s to be made of — or done with — the “small” terrorist attacks that seem impossible to stop and which the world has become inured to over time and frequency.

Admittedly the novel was a little heavy duty and some parts a tad dense for my first read of the year, but I was very impressed by it too. You really get a glimpse into the minds of those who committed the acts — and the story had me wondering if the bright Monsoor would recover and succeed; what would happen to the deceased boys’ parents; and whether the terrorists would strike again. Apparently the novel is taken from an actual bomb attack that happened when the author was young at a market where his family sometimes shopped. Obviously it has stayed with him to a great extent; the details in this story are amazing. Look to Karan Mahajan in the future as he seems to be an author to watch.

As for January releases, such notable authors as Aravind Adiga and Paul Auster (880 pages!) have new novels coming out as does the popular author Chris Bohjalian. But I am looking forward to a few others below that have caught my eye.

“Idaho” by Emily Ruskovich — This debut novel is being quite raved about and is apparently a nonlinear story that comes together slowly over time and can’t be read quickly. It takes place in a rugged landscape of northern Idaho and is about a family whose lives have been shattered by a shocking violent act. The husband’s second wife tries to piece together his past and what happened to his first wife and daughters. Hmm. And here I was interested in it for the Idaho terrain. Shannon over at River City Reading has already read it and says “it’s an amazingly powerful book that’s set an extremely high bar for my reading year.”

“The Girl in Green” by Derek B. Miller — This novel is about two men, a British journalist and an American soldier, who meet briefly in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War in 1991 and then reunite 22 years later in another war in a risky quest to save a girl shown from a video in an insurgent attack. It’s said to have a bit of humor and satire about it combined with being a moving thriller. Somehow I missed the author’s popular debut novel “Norwegian by Night,” but now I am game for this one, especially since it just came brand new to me from the library.

“Human Acts” by Han Kang — Written by the Man Booker prize-winning author of “The Vegetarian,” this new one sounds as disturbing and dark as her first one did. It’s about a violent student uprising in South Korea in which a young boy is shockingly killed. Knowing how grim this one is said to be, do I really want to go there? I didn’t read “The Vegetarian,” but I’m sort of thinking I need to try a Han Kang story. What do you think?

“The Dry” by Jane Harper — This one is a fast-paced, suspense thriller, hailed by many as a stunning debut. As Amazon puts it: it’s about Federal Agent, Aaron Faulk, who returns to his hometown in Australia to mourn, and inevitably investigate, his best friend’s apparent suicide. What comes next, says reviewer Penny Mann, is a “series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way until the end.” It’s a nail-biting, highly praised thriller, set in Australia — what more do you want?

“Lucky Boy” by Shanthi Sekaran — I read a couple of great immigrant novels last year, and this one looks to be another in that category. (Per the publisher’s summary): When Soli, an illegal Mexican immigrant working in Berkeley, Calif. is arrested, her child is put into foster care, where he comes to the attention of Kavya and her husband, who try to adopt him. The boy’s destiny thereafter and that of his two mothers teeters between two worlds as Soli fights to get back to him. This emotionally wrenching story is said to be sweeping its readers away, so count me in.

As for movies coming out January, I’m still trying to see the ones I listed in my last post in time for the Academy Awards. By the way, I enjoyed watching the Golden Globe Awards and was rather amazed to see that “La La Land” took home all seven of the awards for which it was nominated. Wow quite a stash — Hollywood seems to love movies about itself — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will win a lot of Oscars. I need to see “Moonlight” pronto though it’s not playing anywhere around here.

Also I realize the movie adaptation of the bestselling book “A Dog’s Purpose” is coming out this month, but I want to read the book first by W. Bruce Cameron. I’m #32 in line for it at the library, ha, sucker! But if it’s a “bad” screwball comedy you need to get through winter and Inauguration Day, maybe check out “Bastards” with Owen Wilson and Ed Helms. A few laughs about now might do us all a bit of good, either that or a good cry and a flask of whiskey.

Finally, in new albums this month, there’s not a lot I see. I’m listening to a country singer I heard on NPR named Natalie Hemby, who’s debut album “Puxico” has just come out. Also one of my favorites Tift Merritt is due out with her new album “Stitch of the World.” I’ll be checking out these more in the days ahead.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums are you looking forward to this month?

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32 Responses to January Preview and The Association of Small Bombs

  1. I didn’t love La La Land and I wondered if it was because I’m far removed from Hollywood. I had no idea A Dog’s Purpose is based on a book.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Kathy, yep apparently A Dog’s Purpose was a huge bestseller, which came out in 2010. I didn’t really know about it till recently and I hope to get it from the library. La La Land sort of reminded me of a Fred Astaire movie, or at least it pays homage to that era of musicals.

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    The Association of Small Bombs sounds very good. I tend to like heavy duty and dense 🙂

    Many of the January releases look good. I wish that I had more time so that I could read them all!

    • Susan Wright says:

      I agree Brian, I’m a bit conflicted on which I’m going to pick up first but I have The Girl in Green ready to go. Yes I think you would like the Small Bombs novel; a lot of thoughts about terrorism & the world today. Very well done.

  3. I have my eye on The Girl in Green! And I’m looking forward to Auster’s novel, though I doubt that I’ll read it right away. I’ve seen The Association of Small Bombs around, but never paid much attention to it. That changed just now, and I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I hope your reading year continues the way it started!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Oh thanks TJ. Yeah The Girl in Green looks to be the one I will pick up first. The Auster novel seems huge! But I’m curious about it. Happy reading to you.

  4. Judy Krueger says:

    I like your review of Bombs. I plan to read The Girl in Green. Though I was blown away by The Vegetarian I am not sure I am ready for another Han Kang book yet. The Tournament of Books short list came out yesterday so I will be working on some of those books for a while!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, yeah Han Kang’s books sort of seem to scare me away, but perhaps I will go back to her first one. I plan to read The Girl in Green too. Enjoy the Tournament of Books!

  5. I read Small Bombs last year and absolutely loved the beginning (esp the writing), but it went off the rails for me towards the second half.

    I also am in the minority on Idaho – had some gorgeous elements, but it really didn’t come together at all for me. I reviewed it last week.

    I’m interested in The Dry – love the Australian setting – Lucky Boy, and Human Acts as well!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Sarah, yeah I’ll stop by your site to get your takes on Idaho and Small Bombs. I guess I was quite impressed by Small Bombs, but I didn’t like the ending which was so bleak for Monsoor. Still I was interested into the author’s views on India and terrorism.

  6. Carmen says:

    Small Bombs sounds right my alley, so I’ll likely check it out. For movies, I’m waiting as they get slowly released on rent. This weekend I’ll probably watch The Dressmaker with Kate Winslet.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Carmen, yeah some of last year’s movies should be making it to rental soon. I’ll be interested to hear if The Dressmaker is any good. I still have a long list to see and I’ll keep checking the rentals myself to see if they’re available.

  7. Great photos – so nice to see you! The Association of Small Bombs has gradually slid down my tbr list as I added new books. After reading your thoughts, it’s getting bumped up higher again. I was initially very excited about Idaho, but have seen some mixed reviews this week that have tempered my expectations.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks JoAnn, I know what you mean — I try to keep low expectations on hyped books, though I’m still curious about Idaho. I’m not rushing to get to it though. I think I will pick up The Girl in Green first. Happy reading to you!

  8. I liked your in-depth book review. I plan to read L’Étranger” by Camus. Have a great Sunday ; )

  9. I love the beginning of the year because of the carryover of the previous year’s best books. Thanks for sharing these.

  10. I downloaded The Dry this week…looking forward to it! And yesterday, I downloaded Idaho.

    I hope to enjoy them both, in addition to the many others I added to my shelves this week.

    Thanks for sharing your reading and your new books.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Great Laurel. I think The Dry will be a good thriller, and I’m not so sure about Idaho now as reviews seem to be mixed, but I’m still a bit curious.

  11. Naomi says:

    I pretty much want to read all of these! I’ve been hearing mixed things about Idaho, though, so I’ll be curious to hear what you think of it.
    It’s nice to get the year off to a good start, isn’t it?

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Naomi, starting a new year off well is quite a great feeling. I’m starting to hear mixed things about Idaho too. Does it have enough of a story — is my main concern. I will see if I can get to it.

  12. Bryan says:

    I liked Norwegian by Night quite a bit wand will have to look for The Girl in Green. I saw that our library was getting The Dry but didn’t have any idea what it was about, but now that I know I’ll have to put that one on hold. Bastards: Hmmm. Hadn’t heard of that, but I like both actors so I’ll have to look for that.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Bryan: Yeah I think if I like The Girl in Green — I will probably want to read Norwegian by Night too. I heard it was good. It seems like The Dry will be popular. I’m on the waiting list for it. Not sure about the movie Bastards, but I think I could use a good laugh about now. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Ti says:

    First time hearing about Association of Small Bombs. I have to admit you made it sound really good.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Oh thx Ti. Yeah Karan’s novel impressed me. I liked hearing about terrorism from someone in India. I learned a bit about India too in the book, and I felt for the characters.

  14. I hope Idaho ends up working for you – it’s seemed to be a divisive little read here in the blogosphere 😉

    And I hope you get a chance to see Moonlight! It’s my favorite movie of the year by far…just so incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah I guess views on Idaho are a bit mixed. I think I plan to start The Girl in Green first. I have both from the library. I really want to see Moonlight but not sure why it disappeared here. We saw the foreign film Elle over the weekend & didn’t like the storyline! too weird or disturbing.

  15. Rebecca says:

    I’m highly interested in The Association of Small Bombs. I’m hoping I can get my trusty book club to vote for that one soon.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Rebecca: Yeah it might make a good book club book. It’s not a fast read, but it’s full of thoughts on our terrorist-ridden world.

  16. Rachel says:

    I love the Oscars and try to see all the nominated movies too. The two I want to see for sure are LaLa Land, which I’ll hopefully be seeing this weekend and Hidden Figures, which I’ll see after I finish the book.

    I had a major reading and blogging slump the last half of the year but I also feel like the new year gives me an opportunity to start fresh. I actually wrote two reviews yesterday. Hopefully I can keep it up!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Rachel: I’ll be interested to hear what you think of La La Land and Hidden Figures. Best wishes to your blogging in 2017!

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