by Anjali Banerjee
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Berkley Books - Fiction with a touch of paranormal
296 pages, incl. Reader's Guide
" . . . Books are more than commodities to sell. Books hold our culture, our past, other worlds, the antidote for sadness."
--p. 73 of Haunting Jasmine
For some people, reading means the difference between happiness and grief, hope and despair, life and death.
Jasmine Mistry is freshly divorced and still reeling. When her Auntie Ruma calls her home to Shelter Island -- a small island off the Washington coast-- to run her bookstore while she goes on an emergency trip, Jasmine does it as a favor for an aunt she loves.
She arrives from L.A. hesitant and heartbroken but ready to work hard. Housed in a Queen Anne Victorian home, filled with books new and old, and coated with dust, the bookstore is charming but Jasmine can't see the charm in it; she hasn't even read a book in years.
Jasmine is a terrible mess. Pragmatic to a fault, she begins making suggestions for improving the store practically the moment she walks in the door. Auntie Ruma warns Jasmine that she must stay in the store or it will become cranky. Naturally, Jasmine laughs that off. A cranky store? What Jasmine doesn't realize is that the store is haunted by the ghosts of authors past. And, they're trying to tell her something. Will Jasmine learn to listen to the ghosts and soften to the attention of a handsome and magnetic stranger? Can a rickety old store full of ghosts help Jasmine find a way to mend her broken heart? Or will she keep driving perfectly good customers away?
Haunting Jasmine was a serendipitous read -- perfect for the moment. I was tired and in search of a light-hearted story and it fit the bill; Haunting Jasmine is really quite a lovely story, a total delight. While Jasmine starts out bitter and is every book shopper's nightmare with her lack of knowledge of and respect for books, she does gradually begin to listen to the spirits in the store and reevaluate her attitude. The ghosts can be a little too real (as in "close to corporeal" -- able to touch her with a warm hand, for example); they test the boundaries of fiction and you really do have to let go of preconceived notions about the spiritual realm. But I was so captivated by the story that in this case I simply set such thoughts aside and just let the author carry me away.
I should add that by "light" I don't mean the book was a total piece of fluff. Take this passage for example:
Kipling's image formed the way dreams form, a mere simulacrum of what is real. The island itself, blustery and rocky, wet and inhospitable and unyielding, is what's real.
Oops, vocabulary word!
–noun, plural -cra [-kruh]
1. A slight, unreal or superficial likeness or semblance.
2. An effigy, image or representation: a simulacrum of Aphrodite.
The bottom line:
The pages flew. Haunting Jasmine is lively, bookish fun and highly recommended for light reading; it would be a terrific book for traveling (or, for whenever you want a break between all those heavy classics you snowbound folks are no doubt reading). Readers will want to kick Jasmine in the shins, at first, but will stay for the joy of reading about an enchanted store. Fortunately, the heroine isn't completely hopeless; once she begins to get into the swing of things, you can't help but love the changes in her. The characterization is well done and there's plenty of humor. There are some pretty predictable little twists but I don't think the author intended to make anything too deeply secret, so that didn't bother me too much. I'll be looking for more books by Anjali Banerjee.
My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy.
A side note:
Auntie Ruma is a Hindu who believes her life's path has been the work of a Hindu god, the elephant god, so there's a good bit of talk about her Hindu beliefs and some really fun shopping for things like saris. I had fun looking up bridal saris and imagining how the characters would dress for a wedding (Jasmine's parents live on the island and her engaged sister comes for a visit, now and then).
In other news:
We're allegedly at the beginning of an ice storm. Things look a little wet and shiny, but I don't see anything coming down. However, we're supposed to get up to 1/2" of ice and that means crashing trees and power outages, if the predicted weather does materialize. Because I haven't yet loaded this week's kitty pics, that means Fiona Friday might end up on a Saturday or Sunday. We'll see. I suppose you'll survive an extra day or two. Right?