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The Japanese Wife

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An Indian man writes to a Japanese woman. She writes back. Romance blossoms between the two, the pen-friends exchange vows over letters, then spend the next fifteen years as a married couple without ever setting eyes on each other, until the intimacy of words is tested finally by the intimacy of life. Like 'The Japanese Wife', the other stories in this collection are also about residents and non-residents. In 'Grateful Ganga', an American rock queen shares her love tunes with a Punjabi businessman even as she mourns her dead husband; in 'Snakecharmer', a retired Israeli American professor arrives in India with the intention of committing suicide, only to be saved by a snakecharmer's daughter. Father Tito, the émigré Yugoslav of Father Tito's Onion Rings, is haunted by the Holocaust as he intercedes between Hindu and Muslim rioters. The stories here are about unexpected love and accidental gifts; about finding oneself among strangers; about living elsewhere and living in one's dreams. They parade a full cast of priests, whores, rebels, dead emperors, bush soldiers, poachers, conmen and connoisseurs angels and demons rubbing shoulders with those whose lives are never quite as ordinary as they seem.

202 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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About the author

Kunal Basu

24 books48 followers
Kunal basu was born in Calcutta. Raised by unorthodox parents, both litterateurs and political activists, he developed an early love for the arts: painting, acting and writing.

Since 2001, he has published four novels, a collection of short stories, written a few screen plays and (mostly unpublished) poetry.

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5 stars
163 (12%)
4 stars
345 (26%)
3 stars
508 (38%)
2 stars
234 (17%)
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70 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 127 reviews
Profile Image for Aishu Rehman.
817 reviews735 followers
October 18, 2020
আজ এই মুভিটা দেখে কেদেছি,আর নিজেকে বুঝিয়েছি পৃথিবীটা অনেক সুন্দর, বেচে থাকার জন্য এখনো বসবাসের যোগ্য।। যারা মনে করেন ভালবাসা শুধু চোখে দেখে আর প্রতিদিন ডেটিং করলেই হয়,তারা এই ছবিটা মাস্ট দেখবেন , ভালবাসার পবিত্রতা আর গভীরতা টা বোঝার জন্য হইলেও দেখবেন।। স্নেহময় আর মিয়াগী হয়তবা নতুন কিছু শিখাবে আপনাকে........

স্নেহময় এক অজ পারাগায়ের স্কুল মাস্টার আর মিয়াগি থাকে জাপানে কিন্তু দুইজনের মাঝে বিস্তর ফারাক ,এখনও কেউ দেখেনি কাওকে,আর যোগাযোগ টা শুধু পত্র মিতালিতে । একদিন আবেগের বশে পত্র দিয়ে বিয়ে ও করে ফেলে তারা। তারা ঠিক করে এক থাকবে কোন বাধা তাদের আলাদা করতে পারবে না। এভাবে কেটে যায় এক এক করে সতেরো টি বছর। সুধু দুজনের ছবি সম্বল করে আর পত্র বিয়ে করে তার সুখি ছিলো । সুযোগ থাকা সত্ত্বেও কেউ কারো বিশ্বাস হারায় নি।

একদিন মিয়াগী

সত্যিই অসাধারণ। ❣️❣️❣️
Profile Image for Sandhya.
130 reviews366 followers
March 15, 2008

From the moment Aparna Sen announced that she would be making a literary adaptation of Kunal Basu’s The Japanese Wife, one saw an immense curiosity for the book. Not unexpectedly, copies of it were instantly lapped up at literary fests and now when it has finally hit book stores, business remains brisk as ever.
Now, firstly, this is a disappointment for people expecting to read a full-fledged novel on The Japanese Wife because it's a book of 13 short stories. The theme that runs here is that of unexpected, inscrutable love and situations brought on by quirks of destiny. This is of course an interesting premise to base ones stories upon, only that most of them are so isolated, so out-of-the-ordinary and so never-landish in describtion and characters that none of them emotionally engage you. Most of them have strange titles and names –The Pearlfisher, The Last Dalang, Lenin’s Café, Long Live Imelda Marcos and stranger stories, situated in different continents - there's a certain Babel like quality here but just that none of the stories seem wholesome enough.
Some of them start off showing some promise but turn unclear, unexciting and plain tedious after a couple of pages. Given that most stories here are themselves so bizarre, it’s no surprise that the attempted ironic twists fall flat on more than one occasion.

The only story to recommend here is the title one –The Japanese Wife, which is truly admirable.

It talks about a Maths teacher Snehamoy Chakrabarti, who through a series of letters befriends a Japanese girl, Miyage and even marries her without seeing her. Neither of them consider it consequential to meet and it’s a proposal that is merely kept hanging in balance. Snehmoy lives with his ageing aunt and carries on his wholly epistolary relationship for more than 20 years feeling mostly content to have a wife who he can share his feelings with, without actually having to take on the pressures that come with marriage. Now, it’s easy to read this as escapism but the bond of love he feels for his Japanese wife is real. The village is enchanted with the colourful kites and other gift packets she sends him by post.
Meanwhile, Snehamoy’s house has an unexpected guest – the same girl who he was supposed to have married, now widowed with a son. Physical proximity with her leads him to develop some feelings but he quickly restrains himself knowing he’s married.

The story has an unexpected twist but this is one that rings true inspite of it being a rather peculiar love story. That the bonds of love transcend every conceivable boundary and matters of heart follow a rhyme and rhythm of their own is an intensely poignant theme. Also, there's a certain lyrical, surrual beauty to the story here.
Wish one could say the same for all the others.

Profile Image for Sharayu Gangurde.
157 reviews41 followers
January 4, 2012
First book of 2012. Imagine my huge disappointment when I saw the index itself! Its a collection of short-stories. I love short stories. Tagore's Tales inspired and mesmerized me. So did O.Henry. I built up a giant empire of goodness over them.
The cover art(photograph) of the book is beautiful. The Japanese wife promised a lot and delivered too little. The title story enthralled me with the husband and wife's letter writing scenes and the little gifts she sents him. The writing is magical. It possessed me and then the story abruptly came to an end. It could have been more. I am so curious to see the movie now.
And the other stories, Long Live Imelda Marcos- what's with the title? Just something that would entice the reader in going through the story first. I am so very disappointed. It could have been pleasant- all the stories- everything fell flat though. All the titles are so beautiful- Lenin's cafe, Snake charmer, Lotus Dragon- i wish the content lived up to its hype! Grateful Ganga- oh, it evoked all memories and images of the Ganges in my mind and where did it fit ultimately? The author could have easily used a better editor and being a much better narrator in the first place.

Mr. Basu! Why did you do this? You made my mind and heart fly high and then cut the strings so brutally! All bengali writers that i've read of, except Gurudev Tagore and Amartya Sen, have so far disappointed me! *Sighs*
Profile Image for Teresa.
47 reviews23 followers
December 14, 2012
Absolutely horrible.

So so boring.

Basu tries to make his stories - ugh, how should I describe it - quietly poetic, with a relaxed but strong appeal to aesthetics. He strains to create the same atmosphere and attraction predominant in the movie "Hero" (sorry, I can't think of a book reference, forgive me ... great movie, by the way), failing utterly. Almost every line can be equated to a fluffy filler.

And the endings! Ugh! The endings are preferentially melodramatic, predicable, ridiculous, or a combination of the three. They are also abrupt, as though he spent so much time 'filling,' desperate for poeticism, that when he happened to realize the desired word count had been reached he just slapped on a conclusion - usually, "oh, and they're dead now."

0 (ZERO) STARS! and a time-out for bad literature. Naughty Basu.
Profile Image for Achala.
90 reviews7 followers
April 14, 2015
I can't put my finger on what was unsatisfactory about this book. It may have been the writing, which is a little on the heavier side. It may be that after investing time wading through the narrative, the ending seems rather abrupt and vaguely anticlimatic.
It may be that despite being short stories, you can't jump from one to the other immediately, because they're not light reading. Resulting in you hanging on to a library book for a lot longer than intended.
If you felt this review was pointlessly verbose, consider it a prologue to the book.
Profile Image for Pooja Banga.
804 reviews83 followers
January 25, 2019
An Indian man writes to a Japanese woman. She writes back. The pen-friends fall in love and exchange their vows over letters, then live as man and wife without ever setting eyes on each other – their intimacy of words tested finally by life’s miraculous upheavals.

The twelve stories in this collection are about the unexpected. An American professor visits India with the purpose of committing suicide, and goes on a desert journey with the daughter of a snakecharmer. A honeymooning Indian couple is caught up in the Tiananmen Square unrest. A Russian prostitute discovers her roots in the company of Calcutta revolutionaries. A holocaust victim stands tall among strangers in a landscape of hate.

These are chronicles of memory and dreams born at the crossroads of civilizations. They parade a cast of angels and demons rubbing shoulders with those whose lives are never quite as ordinary as they seem.
Profile Image for Neha.
280 reviews182 followers
October 28, 2014
All tragedies are finished by a death, all comedies are ended by a marriage.

The tragedy best summarises these short stories. Tragedies are sad but the charm of reading or watching one is beautiful. The loss, the impending doom, the wait, the life goes on feeling, they underline each story subtly and strongly.

Basu clearly adds soul to his stories, characters, and words. His stories are about gushing rivers, raining monsoons, strange meetings, subtle emotions, music and sounds, love and loss.

The highlight of course is the title story of The Japanese wife - soulful, serene and beautiful love story between two cultures which are more similar than different. The author does full justice and leaves you with a warm feeling that love is a feeling which no one can explain but only feel. It's beyond society, traditions, marriage, physical needs and proximity.

Kunal Basu has travelled widely and he uses his experiences to create this marvellous collection with stories based in Russia, Beijing, Indonesia, Yugoslavia, Philippines, Chad and our very own India from Kolkata-Sunderbans, to Delhi- Agra, to Pondicherry and Kerela. He clearly presents himself as a traveller-narrator who meets new people and characters on his journeys and shares their stories and lives. He beautifully presents the lifestyle, traditions and cultures of these places through these stories and you get to feel the historical, political, social and economic state in these far off places. The link between Communist revolution of Russia and Kolkata, Ramayana thru the eyes of Dalang the puppeteer in Indonesian wayang performances, Indian roots in French occupied Chad, Russian dancer in Bengali theatre .. the versatility of Mr Basu's creativity and ability to find and weave pearls of stories and anecdotes is brilliant.

I am always searching for good Indian authors and good Indian fiction. Kunal Basu's 'The Japanese wife' meets all my requirements plus it is a short story collection - my favourite form of fiction!!

My next step is of course to catch the Film adaptation of The Japanese wife by Aparna Sen and Rahul Bose playing Snehamoy. I am sure they both would have taken the story a notch higher. It would be interesting to know who R is to whom Mr Basu has dedicated this book to... someone special of course.
Profile Image for Lester.
458 reviews
June 3, 2014
I thought I would try a smattering some other contemporary Indian authors to contrast with the well known (Kushwant Singh, Sheshi Deshpande, etc, not to mention the Canadian geniuses such as Mistry), and I was pleasantly surprised and moved to discover Kunal Basu. This book is a collection of short stories. At first, I was attracted to the quirkiness of them: an Indian man whose Japanese penfriend becomes his wife, an Indian-American professor on a suicide mission getting entangled with the family of a snakecharmer, a honeymooning couple finding themselves in Tiananmen Square. But from the first story on, Basu demonstrates a sensitivity to language and character which is strangely moving. In each short story, the reader is drawn very quickly to empathise with the characters, and feels their moods, from depression to elation.

I raced through the book as fast as I could, because the stories were all so interesting, as well as moving. Most were historical fiction, some taking place amidst known events like Tiananmen. There, we are given exactly the viewpoint we would have had in the situation - a visitor, not knowing the depth or meaning of what was going on, but perhaps drawn in to the events, whilst worrying about personal safety. Two other telling tales take the reader into close contact with revolutionaries who want a communist India - a political side of India not as well known as that based on religion.

Basu also focuses a lot on some of the geography of the stories where they are relevant - starting with the flood-prone Matla, to the Sunderbans and the griminess of Calcutta. In his stories, the land comes alive.

With a breath and depth of narration I had not expected, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and look forward to reading his novels.
179 reviews
April 10, 2009
10 April 2009
I'm now more than mid-way through Kunal Basu's The Japanese Wife, another collection of short stories by another Bengali writer (they are India's most literate. Just think Tagore . . . ). This time the writer is based in Oxford -- the Indian writers' diaspora goes far and wide.
I think the collection builds up and particularly enjoyed Lenin's Cafe as it brought the Asian expat life of Moscow alive -- I could just see the apartments of Vavilova where most of them live! & his story on Filipina maids in Hong Kong reflected much of my feelings.
Basu is more than just a keen observer of human nature. He takes on the intricacies of the life of the expat in different settings and manages to make it real and not contrite. I can say this as I am familiar with a few of his settings.
So far, I have found the title story the weakest. Perhaps the hand of a good editor would have made it a little better, and thus excellent. But it's still being made into a movie, so what do I know?
Profile Image for Pete.
246 reviews4 followers
May 24, 2009
Twelve short stories, some easy to connect to, many poignant images, characters and situations, but some stories had a form I had difficulty in grasping.

Many stories deal with the implacable rules of life that defy reason, barriers that seem to be crossed but finally are not - between family and maid, or between american widow and village girl.

I enjoyed the pearlfisher and Long live Imelda Marcos the most.

I'm very curious what the Japanese Wife (first story) would be like as a film, I have liked all the previous Arpana Sen films I have seen - hopefully this new film will be available outside India - anyone seen it?
1 review2 followers
August 13, 2010
A lovely book. After reading what others have to say - am not much bothered about the caste, state and creed of the writer. what matters to me is that Basu has vivid imagination, knowledge about cultures & relationships, and has narrated it in simple language. I liked more or less all the stories, the one which touched my heart was the Snake Charmer, followed by Long Live Imelda Marcos and Japanese Wife.
Profile Image for Ravina P.
75 reviews27 followers
March 21, 2022
A compilation of short stories, the first story is so magically beautiful but as I kept reading on I did not connect with each one of them. Some seem hurriedly written and concluded, and some don't click with you. But yet few stories carried diaspora and beauty of various culture.
Profile Image for Dhwani Swadia.
256 reviews50 followers
February 1, 2021
The Japanese wife is a wonderful story.. I just couldn't relate to any other story.
Profile Image for Vidhi Shah.
94 reviews4 followers
March 11, 2021
The twelve stories in this collection are about the unexpected. These are chronicles of memory and dreams born at the crosswords of civilisation... Every story will leave u in moment of awe..
Profile Image for Sundeep Supertramp.
336 reviews55 followers
May 19, 2015
It is pretty lame why I chose to read this book (just like most other times). There are two reasons. One: it is adapted to a movie. I have taken this pledge long ago: to read the printed word first. And two: it is hard cover. Hard covers have their own pleasures bound with them.

It is only after I started reading, I realised that it is a collection of stories and Japanese Wife is just a story among others.

This is my first by Kunal Basu, a Bengali. I hold Bengalis pretty high in standard. They are born artists, one Bengali friend told me. So I was pretty excited when I started reading this book............................ (Read the whole review on my blog.)

The original review of this book is posted on my blog...

To read the original review of this book, click here...
Profile Image for Neha.
36 reviews27 followers
December 31, 2020
I'm a few stories into the book & I've decided to give-up on this one. I cannot read this anymore. I'd rather read something I love and be merry! :)

When I had first picked up "The Japanese Wife" I expected to get to read a full-fledged novel on the story. Aparna Sen's brilliant literary adaptation to a film of the same name had really moved me. This book by Kunal Basu is actually a collection of short stories. It was a delight reliving the title story. The narrative did not impress me much though. There sure is soul in the stories and the characters but the writing fails to leave a mark.

Profile Image for Gracelinvidya.
51 reviews1 follower
May 30, 2018
Japanese Wife is a collection of short stories. The first story, titled Japanese Wife (which is also adapted into a movie), stands out from the rest of the stories. The title story is about a Bengali school teacher and his Japanese pen-friend. It is a beautiful yet unbelievable love story. Each of the stories deal with immigrants, mostly Indians in different countries. Some stories are difficult to grasp. Long live Imelda Marcos is another short story which I liked, apart from the first story.
Profile Image for Pauline McGonagle.
138 reviews18 followers
May 3, 2009
The cover promised more than the book offered. It is very hard to tell that this is in fact a book of short stories and 'The Japanese wife' is only one of them......... and in my view the best one and strongest narrative .
The others were a motley mix of vaguely interesting stories which somehow I have completely forgotten.
Profile Image for Pari.
150 reviews1 follower
August 5, 2011
Barring a couple of stories, the book did not appeal much to me. The characters and the scenario was described very well by Basu. However, I found a hard try to amalgamate different cultures and scenario in each story; I could not relate much to it.
Profile Image for Pallavi.
957 reviews171 followers
July 5, 2012
This book is a collection of 12 stories. "The Japanese Wife" being the best one, all the stories just pull a strange string in you. "Lenin's Cafe" was the story which went above my head, may be because it has to do something with communists:)...
Deep and thoughtful i finished the book.
Profile Image for Neha.
18 reviews16 followers
July 15, 2014
Most of the stories were heartrending, but the first. oh.
The quaint mixture of indigenous quirks and foreign Characters makes it so believable.

Any of the stories could be going on in your crowded city gali or silent rural backyard.
October 14, 2009
I expected a long indepth story about a Japanese bride/wife...only to encounter a short story nd many short stories thereafter....its ok book-pass time, nothing great to write home about !!!!
Profile Image for Selva.
333 reviews56 followers
March 17, 2016
It is collection of stories. The titular story is totally awesome. The movie based on the story was amazing too.
Profile Image for Bookishbong  Moumita.
401 reviews79 followers
March 13, 2019
কিছুটা অন্যরকম। গ্রাম বাংলার আর মানুষের প্রত্যন্ত রূপটাই তুলে ধরা হয়েছে।।
Profile Image for Ashok Krishna.
345 reviews53 followers
June 4, 2017
Recently, when I was talking to a friend of mine about my love for the almost-lost art of letter-writing and my desire to recreate that habit among my friends, she told me about the movie 'The Japanese Wife'. It is the story of a simple school teacher from Bengal, who befriends a Japanese woman over letters. They strengthen their bond through letters and soon end up exchanging marital vows through letters. They don't come to meet one another and live together even after their 'marriage' through letters. After spending almost a long time thus, the woman whom the school teacher should originally have got married to, were it not for his love for his foreign wife, arrives back in his house, with her son borne through another husband. The subtle emotional changes that happen in the relationship between the long-distance couple and the eventual 'end' are the rest of the story.

The moment my friend from abroad described this tale, I felt quite moved and immediately searched to find whether the movie was based on any book. The moment I found that it was, I ordered the book. But only then did I find out that it was only a short story. Well, if such an intense plot could be offered in such a tiny package, won't that make an even more interesting read? Also, if the first tale itself could be such a beauty, won't the rest of the tales in the book make for a feast?! It was with these expectations in my mind that I bought the book. But it turned out to be one of the most insipid books that I have read in recent times.

Except the titular story and to some extent another tale - The Accountant - the rest don't tug much at the reader's heart at all. Of course, the tales are all unique and portray a whole gamut of human emotions. But it is the writing style that fails the book. There are some tales that feel too lengthy to hold your attention throughout. The author's attempt at making the reader feel in place of the plot by making use of various cultural references and jargon is a failure too. Some of the stories sound like either they are incomplete or run-of-mill melodrama.

Some interesting, some OK-ish, but mostly insipid. To sum it up, this is a book that I would not buy for my friends.
August 18, 2018
The Japanese Wife is a collection of 12 short fiction stories by the author Kunal Basu who is a renowned Indian author of English Fiction. The title story of the book has also been depicted in a film by Film maker Aparna Sen.
To summarize the contents of the book, the stories speak of interactions between people from a foreign culture and the ones who are pretty much Indian.Kunal Basu’s stories cover locations in India which adds an authentic touch to the novel. The titles of the stories are eye catching as well ranging from ‘The Last Dalang’,’Tiger! Tiger!’ etc. All the stories in the book have remarkable twist in the ends which leaves the reader satisfied. The stories are pretty straight forward and the initial story ‘The Japanese Wife’ is confronted with so much of details that you realise that the succeeding stories hold a lot of potential.
I personally found this book interesting even though this book is not among the genre I prefer. The book is a perfect blend of people from other countries and India, how they tend to meet and the link established among them is appreciable. Though the second story ‘The Greatful Ganga’ is filled with minor grammatical errors and wrong positioning of punctuations which leads to the poor editing of the overall plot but apart from that the other stories hold lot of potential.
My favourite story from the book is ‘The Japanese Wife’ which is an unusual love story or rather a pen love story between an Indian man and his Japanese wife whom he had never met. The story took a twisting turn in the end with lot of details in it.
Thus, this is the best book to enjoy few good relaxing stories different from your routine reads, if you are not a story reading person like me.
Profile Image for Shukar.
17 reviews
May 28, 2017
Forget Chekov, forget Munro, try Basu, if short stories catch your fascination.

This collection of short-stories titled 'The Japanese Wife' was actually added to my book catch for that day back in 2013 by the bald-headed owner of a book-store in Patiala, who insisted that I buy this book. I liked the books his frail son recommended to me, or the round assistant with flowing hair parted in the middle suggested. But father’s (the shop owner) choice was horrible!! Few weeks before that he had slipped another book called Black rose to my catch, which i verily hated. Anyway, I ended up buying it.

Gave it it’s first shot the same week, February 23, 2013 as it is marked on it’s first page, didn’t find it much to my liking, abandoned it for good for next four years. This April, it was given another chance and without losing any time it struck that literary chord in me that only few author strike.

It a collection of twelve different stories. Reading reviews of this book I found that many people are of the opinion that only the first story, after which the book is named is worth reader’s time, and rest are pure crap. So I made mind to start with crap, found crap to my liking, and read the first story, ‘The Japanese Wife’ right at last, and found it no different than others. I mean there are many more stories, for instance, Lotus-Dragon, Long Live Imelda Marcos, The Accountant, The PearlFisher, that are equally fascinating.

So now you wanna know what sort of reader would like this book, eh? Answer is simple: people who like the mix of prose and travelling, as every new story takes you to a new place. Russia, China, Switzerland, Chad, Hongkong, Indonesia…
Profile Image for Ankit Dua.
Author 4 books8 followers
September 30, 2019

Its an extraordinary love story of a couple who fell in love without seeing each other, highly improbable most will say, but I firmly believe this fiction is very close to reality. I guess this is what they call PURE LOVE which is not corrupted by physical attraction.

I read it again, and to my surprise, I felt the intense emotions because of his simplistic writing style which is touching and intriguing . Especially the character's connection with the surroundings and his dilemma's to explain his feelings in his second language and his trauma to maintain the long-distance relationship with Miyagi and their blind trust towards each other, everything is so marvellous. Lastly, how things change because of his proximity to the widow and her son, and he continuously dreamt about the life he never lived!

I was full of disgust because of the realistic ending, but every word is so apt and meaningful, which makes it a Must-Read for all my reader friends.

Profile Image for Vijaya Lakshmi.
57 reviews1 follower
May 21, 2020
Book Name: The Japanese Wife
Author: Kunal Basu
Genre: Fiction

The Japanese wife is a collection of 12 short stories by the renowned Indian author Kunal Basu.
The first story, set in the year 1970 is about an Indian teacher “Snehanmoy ” and a Japanese women “Meyage” .
An unconventional love story of two individuals who fall in love through exchange of letters and finally marry each other. It is an enthralling story which warms your heart and makes you wonder if people such as this actually exist I thoroughly enjoyed the first story which set the tone for the next ones coming.
In all its stories, the book takes you to different parts of the world and rejoins those parts back to India through the characters.
The first story is an absolute stellar. Some of the other stories are good too.
My only complaint from the book is that its best piece ends too soon.
Overall the book is likable.
Happy reading!

Profile Image for Jey.
92 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2021
Life's too short to read this book.

I picked it up on a whim from the library- because why not-ain't spending too much cash on it!
I'm also doing this new point where I don't stalk the author/book on Goodreads before I pick it up, because then I have fewer expectations from a book. I've discovered some gems this way.

Now I realised I was just lucky. I couldn't even finish this book. I read the first two stories, skipped the third, and was sitting with the page of the fourth open- and I realised it felt like a chore.

Nothing in this book made sense to me. I felt there was no story and worse- it was just off putting. Felt like something meant to be deep that ended up being a shallow puddle. A puddle that got my nice boots all wet and squishy and icky.

I digress. Anyway I dumped this book SO hard, and I don't regret it one bit. My place is in lockdown again (thanks 2021, you're being a real peach so far) and now more than ever, life's too short to read a shitty book.
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