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Childish Antics, Time & Wisdom, and Word Play: 6 More Novels To Read

‘The Starless Sea,’ ‘Hark,’ and more

Using her own experiences as a journalist writing on education & children, or by virtue of his fascination with comic books and superpowers, these two authors offer up novels worth their weight in gold—levitated or otherwise.


With these two novels, the concepts of Time and Wisdom go hand in hand.


Two novels that dream big; one, with a labyrinth of stories, and the other with a million clucking hens as the target.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Anappara has worked as a journalist, writing about the impact of poverty and religious intolerance on the education of children. Wanting badly to send a message across, she imaginatively turned to the concept of putting her thoughts in the form of novel; about children disappearing in the poorest slums of the big cities in India, and using a trio of nine-year olds playing detective—seeking to find out what happened to their missing friends, and why.


A big fan of the TV show Police Patrol, Jai recruits his friends Pari (the smartest girl in his classroom) and Faiz (a Muslim child who has to work to help make ends meet, even while studying), to get to the bottom of what’s been going on in their ‘basti’. Child slavery, human trafficking, harvesting body organs for sale; it seems there’s all sort of illegal business going on. And as these children come from families below the poverty line, the police and local government officials seem to be callously indifferent. It’s an adventure/mystery novel that carries a lot of social commentary.


The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford

Psychokinesis is Teagan Frost’s secret ability; and she’s been recruited by a mysterious woman named Tanner to work with a group of operatives to expose the illegal activities of persons in LA, who have covered their tracks well enough to elude capture by the regular law enforcement agencies. It’s when Jake shows up on the scene, in possession of the same abilities, and perhaps even of a greater magnitude than Teagan, that our plot thickens.


On his own covert mission, Jake has more lethal and deadly use of his powers, and he ensures that Teagan is framed for the murders that ensue. What works with this novel is the breakneck pace with which things happen and develop. There are twists and turns in the plot, and Ford does a good job giving life to the cast of characters, so we invest in what’s happening not only to Teagan, but to her covert associates as well. This is comic book high jinks properly making the transition to novel form.


Hark by Sam Lipsyte

If you’re looking for a satirist at the peak of his powers, Lipsyte and his latest novel will fit the bill. Hark Morner becomes a reluctant guru when his ‘mental archery’ becomes the rage of those who regularly depend on self-help books to get through Life. There is no message, no purpose that Hark wants to expound on; he’s all about focus, focus, and more focus—and archery becomes the conduit (he hates the use of the word metaphor) by which he imparts his learnings.


Through Hark and his mental archery, Lipsyte takes potshots at today’s Society—how so much of what is just common sense or obvious truths are masked and monetized by Marketing to look like wisdom and keys to living. The Morner journey is both hilarious, and tragic. And lucky us, to be taken on this wild and wooly ride of trenchant social commentary! The more ridiculous the story gets, the more real it becomes; and it is to the author’s credit that this is achieved, reflecting how crazy and easily duped we all are.


Tuned Out by Keith A. Pearson

The premise here is an obvious nod to Back to the Future; so kudos to Pearson for making this one come to us on its own terms. Toby Grant was born in 1989, now works in Digital Marketing, and is in his very late twenties. His life has so far been one disappointing mess; and ironically, he thinks his parents and their generation had it easy—typical Millennial delusion. After a public indecency conviction, Toby elects to do community service at a retirement home. And that’s where the sci-fi premise rears it’s hilarious head. No explanations on the tech side, and time travel just happens.


Toby gets off the floor and soon discovers, to his confusion, that it’s 1969. This is not only pre-digital, but pre-decimal Britain. Tasked to save a young woman from her untimely death, Toby soon gleans that while you may now have Time on your hands, it’s an altogether different matter to control it. Forging to make the most of his life in 1969, Toby discovers the charms of living in that period; but once again, Fate rudely intervenes. There’s some twists and turns that could be deemed predictable; but you’ll still appreciate how Pearson executes them.


The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Author of the much-loved The Night Circus, this is Morgenstern’s latest; and off the bat, I can say this is one dense, ambitious, labyrinthine novel that has layers of stories as the root of the novel’s exposition. There’s the world we know and live in, as represented by gaming aficionado and post graduate Zachary Ezra Rawlins; and then, there’s a complex subterranean world where Keepers, Acolytes, Innkeepers, Harbour, and the Starless Sea exist, and where stories and books are the most valuable of objects and currency. And then there are those moments when excursions between the two worlds happen.


With Night Circus, the fantasy elements retained strong interest because we invested in the main characters; and it’s on this count, that I’ll venture to say this new work falters. If you’re fascinated by the world-building, the random (yet interconnected) stories that populate these pages, you won’t be disappointed. It’s with the over-arcing narrative, how Morgenstern attempts to connect all the dots that you may leave the novel with a tinge of disappointment, and missing the magic of her earlier work.


Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

Here is one very unique take on Meaningful Action and opposing animal cruelty. The two central characters at the outset are Janey, a teenager who lives in New York with her single mother, and goes on her own to the Midwest to meet her bio-Dad. It doesn’t end up well, as she discovers why exactly her Mon had left the Midwest. Unfortunately, a terrible accident happens and Janey loses her mother, and gets shipped right back to her father. A woman who as a child was raised by Janey’s mother is a Savior of sorts, giving Janey a job as an egg Auditor.


From this premise, we’re gifted with a story about animal husbandry, commercial poultry and egg farming—and the history of how right-minded individuals have been frustrated in trying to bring a halt to this unnatural form of food production. Saving this from being a polemic, are the back stories of the people involved, including an heiress to the egg farm. There’s humor, there’s a ludicrous heist story, and there’s wry observations about human nature; plus smart chickens! A wonderful read.


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Lead photos from Amazon