The Toughest Indian in the World

Sherman Alexie

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From Assimilation, the story of Mary Lynn, a Coeur d’Alene Indian married to a white man, to One Good Man, the story of a good son trying to save the life his diabetic father, Sherman Alexie tells the stories of American Indians of all types. Whether they are trying to do the impossible or simply trying to make it through the day, they speak to us.

I prefer novels, but can’t resist these little gems of short stories by a master storyteller.

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The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri

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Poor Gogol. First he is deprived of a real name because his grandmother’s letter gets lost in the mail, then he is forced to go through life with his “good name” or use name given by his father until the letter arrives. Unfortunately, the letter never arrives, and the grandmother dies. The boy is forced to move through life without a real name. As the first American son of a Bengali family, he straddles two worlds, never fully at home in either one. His periodic months-long visits to Calcutta with his family serve to unbalance him even more. No matter how much he tries, he cannot ground himself either in American or Bengali culture.

Lahiri is a master of exploring the experience of being torn between two worlds, at home in neither.

The Governess Affair

Courtney Milan

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I love that you never know what you’ll get with a Courtney Milan book. Of course, you’ll always get a satisfying story with believable characters and a good plot, that goes without saying, but each one is full of surprises. This one is no different. Serena, a governess, has been raped and impregnated by her former employer, the Duke of Clermont. With no redress, Serena makes a silent protest outside his home. Being a coward, as well as a rapist, he sends his Wolf of Clermont, a tough cookie, to deal with her and send her away.

What could go wrong?

The Duke and the Domina

Jenn LeBlanc

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Oh, boy, did this book ever push my buttons. It had three elements I love: historical romance, time-slip, and light BDSM. Poor Dominatrix Lulu is in the middle of a scene with a client, when she slips and hits her head. When she comes to, she’s exchanged bodies with a Victorian miss, engaged to a duke. We never learn what happened to the Victorian miss, and we don’t care. We are so caught up with Lulu’s relationship with Grayson, the Duke of Warrick.

Fortunately for Lulu, Grayson is a submissive (yes, he wears a corset), so they are able to work things out to their mutual satisfaction, and we go along for the ride.

This book was so engaging and entertaining, I bought another in the series.

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga

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I read this 2008 Booker Prize winner out of order (I’m up to 1978) because I bought it for $1.99. It was a fascinating look at the underbelly of Indian life. Told from the POV of a poor driver for a rich Indian family, it takes the form of a letter from the driver to the president of China, who is planning a visit to India.

The driver tells the story of his rise from a humble servant to the high life of a rich entrepreneur with no holds barred. All the hardships of his life as a driver and the riches of his life as a wealthy entrepreneur are told with honesty and clarity. In the doing, he shares a unique view of India.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy

Rumer Godden

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I remember reading this years ago, so when it turned up for $1.99, I picked it up for a reread. It doesn’t age well, I’m sorry to say. I found it too sweet and sentimental for my tastes, but I understood why it appealed to my adolescent mind.

Elizabeth Fanshaw leaves her English home for WWII France, where she falls into the hand of a high-class brothel keeper. Swept up into the life, she eventually goes to prison for a high-profile murder. While in prison, she encounters the nuns of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany and discovers she has a vocation to the religious life.

This time around I found Godden’s style of telling her story in fragments of dialogue and using flashbacks more annoying than intriguing.

Thirty-Three Teeth

Colin Cotterill

This is the second in the series of books about Dr Siri, a 72-year-old Laotian doctor who has been drafted by the government to be a coroner. One of the few doctors left in Laos, he has no experience being a coroner, but he’s the closest thing that have. In fact, his lack of experience is one of his most desirable traits, as his communist masters expect little trouble from him. They probably would be right if it were not for his pesky curiosity that leads him on to find out what really happened to the people who are brought to him for autopsy. Then there is the problem of their ghosts who hang around until he solves their murder. As usual, nothing is what it seems in Dr. Siri’s world.

Ten Little Indians

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Sherman Alexie

I confess I don’t like short stories very much. I prefer long novels I can get lost in for days or weeks. Sherman Alexie is one exception. His short stories are so insightful, funny, or sad, that they contain worlds. This collection is no exception. From the political lawyer who yearns for his glory days as a basketball player to the broke, homeless wanderer who sees his grandmother’s dance regalia in a pawnshop, these stories take you far away into a world you can get lost in.

Charisma

Barbara Hall

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I loved the TV series Joan of Arcadia, so when I read that this novel by the Emmy nominated writer and producer was on sale for $1.99, I decided to take a chance. Was I ever glad. A most excellen writer and storyteller, Ms Hall gives us the tale of Sarah Lange, a young women suffering from PTSD, who has voluntarily signed herself into a psychiatric facility. She hears ‘guides,’ voices which tell to kill herself and come ‘home.’ We learn her story through her interactions with her psychiatrist and also his own story is gradually revealed.

Altogether a most satisfying book.