Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Married Woman by Manju Kapur

I remember a few bloggers reviewing Manju Kapur's books positively and had wanted to pick something up by her for the longest time. My library had a couple of books by her and for some strange reason I was attracted to this book.Guess it had something to do with the fact that I was intrigued by the storyline- about a relationship an older woman has with a younger one and wanted to see how the subject's been handled by an Indian writer.

Astha is a middle class woman ,who lives in Delhi with her husband, two children and in-laws.She has everything a woman would need, but still has niggles of dissatisfaction bubbling in her. The story is really about how Astha changes from a unsure,college girl who has dreams of a mills and boons-type hero swooping in and carrying her away to a mature ,middle-aged woman who feels a little alienated in her marriage as time passes. Manju's writing is not spectacular ,but she adroitly captures the essence of trials and tribulations of a middle class family in the 80's. She takes time to build characters,but does a good job of keeping the reader glued to the pages. I am sure a lot of people will relate to a lot of things Astha or her family goes through like how they struggle to buy their first house or what is perceived to be the role of a woman in a traditional Indian household.

The beginning of Astha's "rebellion" against conforming to the norm starts when she starts taking interest in conceiving a play about the Babri Masjid troubles. She meets like minded people and drifts off into the world of activism.Her family's attitude towards her activism enrages her all the more and she inadvertently falls in love with Pipee, an NGO worker. Their relationship has friendship as a base and deepens into something more as time passes.The rest of the story is about what happens to the relationship between Pipee and Astha and also how Astha manages a double life- the life of a lover of a woman and that of a married woman with kids and responsibilities.

The intimate scenes between Astha and Pipee have been handled very sensitively by Manju,so have the incidents surrounding the Babri Masjid demolition and riots. At times Pipee came across as an overly selfish, immature person.she would have to be my least favorite character in the book. Hemant(Astha's husband) is portrayed realistically with many idiosyncrasies. Some might feel that Hemant's demands on his wife were excessively unrealistic,but I guess he represents how a lot of Indian men were like in the eighties. The backdrop of political agitation imparts a bitter-sweet tinge to the main story.

Manju switches from a third person narrative to a first person narrative (where she captures Astha's take on the activism directly) somewhere in the middle of the book.The abrupt change seemed a little weird and makes the narrative choppy. Overall, an okay read. Not brilliant,but entertaining and a thought-provoking piece of fiction.

Rating: 3/5 . I'll recommend it people who like Indian writing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blind willow ,sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

My last Murakami outing was a Surreal book,After Dark .But,I loved it to bits. That prompted me to pick this book up. Blind Willow,sleeping woman is a collection of short stories ,that has gone on to garner rave reviews. There are very few books that are exhilarating and depressing at the same time. Murakami's writing somehow manages to be both.After the first few stories,I wondered why the book was so critically acclaimed. After all, the writing didn't seem very proficient,being loaded with superfluous similes, metaphors and dark philosophical undertones . The stories seemed to have a pattern- talk about totally unrelated things and end in a open-ended manned that made me want to tear my head out. Closure, is not something literary fiction brims with ,I guess. Every single story was left hanging in the air, as if waiting for me to figure out the ending. Several times,I wondered if the simplistic and often absurd plots had more depth to them than what I was giving credit for and that it was Murakami's way of secretly mocking the reader.

A few more stories into the book,I could visibly feel my pulse soaring. The strange world Murakami concocted with every single story made me want to read on.I started appreciating the point of all the pointless details he was getting into in the stories. The philosophizing and dark overtones actually started growing on me and I found myself reaching for the book in between chores. Yes,the book is deeply disturbing. Yes,sometimes the plots seemed outright absurd and innane. But, the stories brim with originality.I don't think I have read any compilation of short stories that has the range this book has. Simply superb!. Murakami draws heavily from his love for Jazz and quite a few stories mention obscure Jazz artists and even more obscure records. Paul Gauguin finds mention a few times too.

A word of caution though-if you don't tend to take kindly to depressing books,you might find a strange sense of gloom settling over you as you thumb through the book.The protagonists in the stories are either depressed or indulging in affairs or suicidal or sad or confused. Doesn't entirely make for a wholesome or happy reading.But the visual imagery invoked by the stories is so potent that the words take your breath away. There is a huge degree of truth to most observations Murakami makes. I just wonder how it would have been to read the book in Japanese.Alas,I'll never know,unless I decide to learn the language.

A full on 5/5 for this exhilarating piece of work! I know I've mentioned "exhilarating "a few times in this post,but that's exactly how i felt reading the book. Go grab it !

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Have you read the book,Twitterature?-it describes plots of books for the Twitter-generation. Meh!,if you ask me.But i am technology challenged-so i really don't get warm and gushy about twitter. Now for some quick reviews of books i have read in the last few months.

1. Keep the Change by Nirupama Subramanian

Chicklit.Chitlit.Chicklit- Screamed the cover of the book.I loved it!. Story of B.Damayanti who is sick of her life at Amman Kovil street in Chennai and her employment with SSV and sons. She decides to chuck her job in chennai and get herself a new lifestyle in Mumbai.Makeovers,f new riends and love follows.Plot was cliche,but sometimes,its the execution that matters and Nirupama's book is a breezy ride thats been executed very well. The book is set in a bank and the plot something i could relate to having worked at a bank myself.Purists might pan the book saying it was brainless,but i think i was refreshing breath of fresh air.

2. If it is sweet by Mridula Koshy

GOSH.Thats the only word i can think of after reading a ghastly set of stories that won a spate of awards.Of course the GOSH was accompanied by wrinkling of the nose and was not uttered extolling the virtues of the book. Seriously,if you want to read some spaced out reading,you need to pick up this book.Right from a monkey that is a companion to an old lady to the story of a jeans,the book was a total let down for me. I must give Ms Koshy this much credit- Her words are luscious and the descriptions very visually potent.Other than that, a complete tangential,weird collection of stories.

3. Chai chai by Bishwanath Gosh

The writer visits some imporant train station junctions that are never final destinations for most people (like Jhansi or Jolarpet)and attempts to find out what these places look like beyond the stations. a very interesting idea,if you ask me!But the execution is shoddy and the writing very ordinary.The author made the destinations sound as if there was nothing worthwhile or remarkable to share about them..In the end it seemed like he wanted to do nothing more than get sloshed and stay inside hotel rooms.Even the random exploring he does gets boring after a few chapters.DRIVEL.DRIVEL.DRIVEL.Hubby said that the book put him in a nice holiday mood,but other than that it didnt work for him too. The languorous pace almost killed my brain-cells.

4. The Blaft anthology of Tamil pulp fiction- Pritham K chakravarthy

Mad scientists,avenging robots and cleavage touting detectives-what's not to love ?. Translated works of some of the best known Tamil pulp fiction authors. Like any anthology,there were a few odd-balls that were bland and unduly preachy,but on the whole the stories were good fun to dig into.Some of the stories i loved were by Indra Soundarajan and Rajesh Kumar Incidentally,Rajesh kumar has written over 1500 novels and is trying to get into the Guinness book for the most number of novels written by a single author.Find generous servings of sexual fizz in the stories. After all, whats pulp-fiction without a little harmless fun ? :-)

I am currently on the second Blaft anthology and starting Life and times of a thunderbolt kid by Bill Bryson next..Whats on your bed stands?

After Dark by Haruki Murami

Finally..after years of dilly-dallying,i managed to read Murakami. I don't really know if i am a fan of his writing yet ,but i have to accept that i am slightly rattled. After Dark is a deeply dark novel about a bunch of people and the things that happen to them in a span of 7 hours of the night.

Mari sips her coffee in a diner and has a book for company.Soon, a young musician joins her and they realise that they are acquainted through Mari's sister,Eri. After the young man leaves, Mari is jolted from her book by a lady who wants her help in translating the words of a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten in a hotel.The prostitute can't speak any Japanese and Mari can speak Chinese.Mari decides to accompany the lady and help the prostitute.Meanwhile,Eri is sprawled in her bedroom in deep sleep and strange things happen in the room. Actually,Eri is gripped by a strange illness-she has been sleeping continuously for the last 2 months.

As the night unfolds,Mari has several conversations with the hotel manager,the helps and the young man.Everything is so surreal and unsettling that you really start wondering whether some part of the book is fantasy-especially the part where the narrator describes the scenes where Eri is sleeping. This is most definitely not a book for someone who puts the plot ahead of everything else in a book.It is for someone who likes meandering words .A huge part of the book is devoted to vivid descriptions of simple human actions like brushing teeth or unbuttoning of a shirt or some other arcane detail which we normally wouldn't give too much importance to . Infact,the whole book is like some really slick art movie in black and white with the lead characters moving around with bone-wrenching slowness.

Of course,you have huge doses of philosophy thrown in and most of the book is in the form of dialogue between people.I really didnt want to like Mari or Eri or the young man or the other characters.But at the end of the book,I realized that my involvement with the characters had grown and I found myself wanting some form of closure for the feelings and emotions the characters go through.That is probably the strength of the book-it just grows on you. The words are beautiful and pull you into deep pools of contemplation.

Despite the slowness and the gloom,i think i enjoyed the book. Yet a deep,unsatisfactory feeling is lingering on even several hours after i finished reading the book. 4/5 for the master of gloom and surrealism.

Before i picked up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows,i really wondered what a potato peel pie was.After reading the book,i know that it would probably be quirky but yummy-somewhat like the book itself.

The year is 1946. The Place- London.Juliet Ashton is an author who tastes success with her book(collected works of the columns she wrote for a paper during the war). However,she runs into a roadblock and can't think of any new ideas for a new book.At this juncture,she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey who claims to be in possession of a book Juliet once owned herself. What follows is a wonderful exchange of letters and Dawsey tells her about the Guernsey society. Juliet wants to know more about this society and almost every member of the society writes to her telling her about their stories and how things were during the German occupation of the Island during the war. During this period in London, Juliet falls for an American publisher,not heeding the advice of her friends Sophie and Sidney.

I am not going to tell you how the society got its name,because that's a charming story in itself. Each member of the society is so adorable that i had trouble picking my favourite.At times ,it was the sunny Juliet ;sometimes the quirky witch doctor, Isola and at times the strong-willed Elizabeth. The entire book is in the form of letters and notes and telegrams between people-both strangers and friends.

Moving on..Over a period of time,Juliet realises that she has come to care about her new friends and wants to travel to Guernsey to meet them all and also explore the possibility of a book based on the wartime experiences of people in Guernsey. Mark Reynolds,who has been courting Juliet for a while presses her to get married to him and Juliet realises that she doesnt want to get into marriage so early on in the relationship.She spurns Mark and travels to Guernsey to meetsall the beautiful people who had written to her.What follows is more heart warming stories of the Islanders and her friends. As she collects information and interviews people,Juliet finds love and forms meaninful relationships that change her life.

I really didn't think i would enjoy this book,given its saccharine treatment of the world war.But,i was wrong.I loved it. The story tends to sag a bit at times before Juliet travels to Guernsey,but that is only because of the format of the book.It is no doubt a beautiful book filled with spirited,warm charecters who you would want to visit and get to know better. Infact,after reading the book i was gripped with a strong inclination to write long winding letters to people i didn't really know. Ah!..the joy of finding a letter from a stranger in the letter box and tearing the envelope in haste to get to know more about the person!.Email and Facebook has ruined all the fun for our generation.

The book was Mary Ann Shaffer's only book,and look what a masterpiece she's crafted!. Briefly after selling the book,Mary Ann fell ill and the book had to be rewritten according to the publisher's brief by her niece,Annie Barrows. Mary Ann passed away in 2008, a few months before her novel was published, but her words and spirit lives on in the pages of this wonderful book.

4.5/5 for this beautiful book.

I almost forgot ..for the recipe of Potato peel Pie, head here. :-)

Review: We can Pull it off by Suresh Taneja

Rampant corruption in India is most often a topic a lot of us rant and rave about. But, we stop at ranting and don’t really do anything about it. Suresh Taneja’s debut book ,”We can pull it off”published by Leadstart Publishing was apparently written to sensitize people towards dubious means of earning money and the systemic corruption that plagues our society.It was envisioned as an aid towards reducing the problem.

The book starts in the year 2030 when a bunch of friends take a 6 hour flight from Delhi to Washington DC. Manisha, Akshay and Yuvika are on that flight along with their families to visit another member of their gang,Vikram,who is currently the Indian ambassador to the US. The friends call themselves G4-Gang of four.India is now the most powerful country in the world and is in a position to grant a relief package to a nation that was once a superpower.The parents of G4 were childhood friends and the families made sure that they met once every year as a tradition. During the 2030 meet,the children pester their parents to tell them all about how India became so powerful and formidable and the G4 oblige.

A string of incidents that highlight the rampant corruption in the society affect G4 and their parents personally on their yearly holiday in the year 2009. This makes the G4(all teenagers then) take notice of the detrimental effects on the society at large and makes them start a revolution of sorts against the rot in the society. They start off with organizing camps in schools,colleges and the Income tax department.What starts off as a small vacation activity gains huge momentum when they are aided by a news anchor,Varsha Dutt. Soon, several school and college children pledge their support .The revolution demands that the children question the illegal ways of money-making their parents adopt and encourage children to shun the ill-begotten money. The rest of the story is about how the G4 succeed in making India one of the most developed countries of the world.

Suresh talks about incidents like the Satyam fiasco and the one that took place in July 2008 in the parliament house,when MPs flashed wads of notes and accused other parties of bribery.Obviously,the passion that Suresh feels for the subject- the need for a morally-correct society free from corruption comes across clearly from the pages of the book. The ideas put forth in the book are relevant and would no doubt make an impact on young, impressionable minds, but the execution could have been better. There is a little humour,in the form of a prank-playing Yuvika and the antics of the gang and that provides the necessary relief from time to time.The tone is sometimes preachy,but then it might be written with an intention to inspire young children. The book is fast paced and is written in simple words.It could have benefited with some more editing to cull out grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Overall an okay book written with passion and the hope for a corruption-free India, which is a noble thought.I would rate it 3/5 for making the reader not just think about socially relevant issues that are normally swept under the carpet,but also for giving some solutions and ideas to the way forward. 2/5 for execution.Overall rating - 2.5/5.

A bit about the author: Suresh Taneja is a chartered accountant by profession and is employed as a CFO in a large listed company. This is his first book.

The book is available online and also in book stores.

This is an author requested review.

The other side of the story by Marian Keyes

The other side of the story by Marian Keyes has to be among the chunkiest books I have read in the recent past. I don’t think I quite understand the concept of a chick-lit running upto 600+ pages. But ,having finished the book,I feel that it was definitely worth it.My previous Marian Keyes outings haven’t been anything to write home about . The brightest star in the sky had quite simply ruptured few of my brain cells in boredom.Angels was marginally better,but definitely not what I had expected it to be.

Then this book happened and I have been made to eat my words and my opinion on Marian’s writing. Her writing is breezy and the flows with ease,but is not dumb either.The book opens with the story of Gemma,an Irish woman who organises events and is quite distraught about her love life.Her best friend has managed to steal the “Love of the life” and Gemma is still carrying a torch for her ex-lover. Not to mention an intense hatred towards her ex-best friend. Most of the story is narrated to us through Gemma’s mail to her friend, Susan and some mails run into 4-5 pages. A little long for an email, but who is complaining when the mails are studded with Gemma’s funny-isms.Her problems don’t stop here.Her father has ditched her mam for a woman who is four years older and her mam refuses to let Gemma out of her sight.She gets to go out only to buy her mam’s prescriptions and bumps into Johnny, the chemist repeatedly. Gemma gets smashed at a party and ends up having sex with a guy whose name I currently forget .So in effect Gemma’s life is not really all peachy. But Susan’s sent her mails to an agent who wants her to write a book about her father dumping her mam.Lets hop over to Jojo’s life in London for a bit.

Jojo is an top notch agent with a London Publisher and is awesome at her job.She is being considered for partnership ,but has a shoddy secret that could ruin everything for her- she is having an affair with the managing partner. Jojo hates herself for having an affair with a married man and really can’t picture ruining another woman’s life. Marian lets us have a glimpse at the lives of authors and agents and the behind the scene action at publishing houses. Bidding wars and petty politics stories kept me enthralled.Jojo is the agent that has received Gemma’s letters and wants to represent her.Lets now step into Lily’s life,shall we?.

Lily is the best friend that stole Gemma’s boyfriend. She lives with the boyfriend and their baby in London and has written a book that’s become a best seller.And you guessed it- Jojo is her agent.However, without much money at hand ,she has gone ahead and bought a house that they can’t really afford.Add to that the guilt of having stolen Gemma’s boyfriend, a huge writer’s block and errant builders to her list of problems and you have a huge cauldron of self-doubt.

The rest of the story chronicles how the three women’s lives get entangled and how they emerge in one piece at the end of it all!. The writing kept me in splits and I can safely declare that have fallen in love with Marian Keyes’s writing.The book wasn’t outright laugh-out-loud Sophie Kinsella type stuff,but is intensely funny at places. More than anything the women with their neuroses were very relatable and real. The length like I mentioned might faze some people,but it’s the same length that makes sure that all the characters are very well etched out.It is almost like 3 books combined into one. The end was a little predictable,but then it’s chick-lit,what else is to be expected?.

A lovely book that I’ll recommend to any lover of chick-lit.I’ll give this book 4/5.

The very thought of You - Rosie Alison

“Of all the people we meet in a lifetime, it is strange that so many of us find ourselves in thrall to one particular person.Once that face is seen ,an involuntary heartache sets in for which there is no cure.All the wonder of this world finds shape in that one person and thereafter there is no reprieve ,because this kind of love does not end,or not until death.

For the lucky ones,this love is reciprocated. But for so many others everywhere,anywhere,there follows an unending ache of longing without relief.Incurable love is a great leveler.Yet I believe that this bittersweet love is better by far than the despair which blights those with a dead heart.”

If you loved reading these lines, you’ll love Rosie Alison’s book,The very thought of you. I picked up this book from the library when I spotted a list of accolades and awards the books has been considered for. It’s been shortlisted for Amazon Rising Star award 2009, Long listed for RNA Romantic novel of the year 2010 and Le prince Maurice prize and for Literary short stories 2010.When I spot a book has been nominated for a bunch of literary awards,I involuntarily wonder if I should be reading it, because a lot of such winning books seem to be filled with sad,lonely protagonists.Actually, Rosie’s book is no exception to this rule.But I must confess that it is an immensely readable book.

It is 1939 and the world is in the brink of a war. Thousands of children are evacuated from London to protect them from the bombings that everyone anticipates, with Hitler gaining momentum. Anna sands is an eight year old girl, who is displaced and is sent off to a school for evacuees in a large Yorkshire estate called Ashton Park along with 80 other children.There she meets Mr Ashton, the owner of the estate,a cripple who teaches them Latin ; Elizabeth Ashton, a beautiful ice queen; Ruth Weir ,the plain-Jane teacher who has a lovely way with children among many other minor characters. Ashton park,a rambling house with gardens and sculptures and secret nooks acts as a brilliant tapestry for the undercurrents that run in the household. Anna is a quiet, introspective child,who prefers keeping her own company rather than playing with the other children.

The Ashtons are a childless couple and both pine for a child of their own. Their marriage is on the rocks with both of them having receded into their private shells. They really need a baby to revive the marriage.Elizabeth gets anxious and lives a bohemian double life which nobody knows about. It is her way of escaping her soul- less, passionless existence. Then there is Roberta, Anna’s mother who lives alone in London .With Anne away at Ashton park and her husband away in Egypt in the army, Roberta feels the need for male company and starts seeing a man. Meanwhile at Ashton park, romance is on the cards for Elizabeth as a new guest enters the household.

Suddenly, Anna becomes a witness to things a girl her age shouldn’t witness and in a strange way gets drawn to Thomas and her teacher, Ruth. Will Elizabeth fall in love again? Will she leave Thomas? Will Anna go back to her mother? Will Thomas find love of his own ? Well, for answers to these questions,you need to read the book.

What could have been a wonderful, flowing narrative from the word go, sags because of a lot of flashbacks The book is an essay in melancholy and flows slowly letting us delve more into every character. The 3rd person POV doesn’t work for this book and after a point gets choppy and repetitive as you have all the main characters talking about their loneliness and inadequacies.

The language is beautiful and serenades you, making you fall in love with it. With the war on, the need for comfort in another human being is so heightened that morality and the question of being right or wrong becomes secondary to the guiding emotion itself.The book makes you realize this at every juncture.That a wife is not just a wife, but a woman with hot-blooded passion.A cripple is not just a cripple,but a wounded man who is grappling with questions about his self-worth.

Overall, a lilting book that left its haunting mark on me, despite some minor complaints.

3.5/5 for this lovely, brooding tale.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy thornton

To me a book is a window into possibilities, people and customs that exist elsewhere –something that I would never have had an opportunity to knowing otherwise. So, when Rosy Thornton mailed me about reviewing her book, The Tapestry of Love, I was thrilled. I had never read a book based in the French countryside before.I fell in love with the book right from the minute I opened the package and set my eyes on the cover of the book: An old door painted white with splotches of greenery around it.

The book starts languorously with Rosy describing the Transhumance, a bi-yearly ritual common to the mountain regions of France where sheep are herded up and down the slopes of the mountains depending on the time of the year.During the autumn transhumance sheep are herded from the grasslands in the mountains down the slopes to the valleys and during the spring transhumance the process is reversed. Catherine is a divorcee who moves to a hamlet in the Ce'vennes Mountains from London.She is an empty Nester with her children, Lexie and Tom grown up and busy with their own lives . She decides to start her own business as a seamstress in the idyllic rural environment.

At the Ce'vennes, Catherine has to contend with loneliness, stiff neighbors and horrible weather. We are introduced to the Bouschets, Madame Volipere, the Merriels and Patrick Castagnol. Her neighbors are gracious and invite Catherine over for tea and meals , but their requests are formal. Catherine strikes up an easy friendship with Patrick as their conversations cover subjects as varied as bee-keeping, boars ,lepers and saints. As paragraph upon paragraph rolled by describing Catherine’s life, I could feel her loneliness myself. But the narrative is not depressing at any point.I loved Catherine’s character-strong and warm.Despite her divorce, she is not bitter about her husband seeing another woman .

Catherine embraces her new life selling her cushion covers and upholstering furniture to the locals . Everything rolls by smoothly until her sister, Bryonne decides to visit her. Now, Bryonne is everything Catherine is not- perky and leads an extremely successful life as a partner in a London law firm.During Bryonne’s visit Catherine realizes that both of them are falling for the same man. But the man has secrets that he holds close to his heart himself. The rest of the story is about how Catherine befriends the neighbors, becomes an integral part of the neighborhood, how she strives to get her enterprise registered and makes sense of the feelings she has towards Patrick.

The strong points of the book are the depth with which each character is etched out,Rosy’s lovely words and the information on life in the mountains. I particularly loved Lexie,the journalist daughter who tires of her writing jobs in a jiffy and constantly seeks something else to excite her. Somehow, the neighbors didn’t make much of an impression on me and I wonder if it was done on purpose.Rosy’s love for good food and the mountainside shows through the pages of the book.

My only issue with the book was the length-400 odd pages.Somewhere in the middle the narrative sags a bit . I would have also wanted to learn more about the finer points of making tapestries.But things soon heat up and to know more you need to grab the book and read it :-).

Let me leave you with one of the passages I particularly loved

“Catherine inhaled.It was the smell of the valley always had in snatches, the acidity of woodsmoke and behind it everywhere the darker, mellower scent of what had been there before the settlement of man.Earth and water and rock , and spent leaves returning to the earth.”

Overall, a simple love story set in a beautiful pastoral background. I’ll give it a 3.5 /5. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good love story and am looking forward to reading more of her work.

Thanks Rosy for sending me this book to review.

A bit about the author: Rosy Thornton teaches at Cambridge University and lives with her daughters and partner in a village near the University. She also has three more books – More than Love Letters, Hearts and Minds and Crossed Wires to her credit.

For more info hop over to Rosy's website here.You'll be pleasantly surprised to see a lot of traditional Ce'vennes recipes there.

Bala Takes The Plunge by Melvin Durai

If there was a genre called guy-lit, Melvin Durai’s debut novel Bala Takes the Plunge would easily qualify as one. A few pages into the book and I was guffawing at Melvin’s play of words and funny observations. Rajinikant-lovers will be thrilled to encounter some of his famous dialogues in this clever and extremely witty book.

Balasubramaniam Balasubramaniam aka Bala is a big fan of Rajinikant.His ambition is to become a director and make a movie starring the Superstar. Alas, practical aspects push him to pursue an engineering degree at Thiru Harichandran University of Technology (THIT) in Chennai and get “exported” to the US.THIT!! ha ha ha!.In the US, he becomes Bill Balasubramaniam and the director of a company that produces exercise machines. Well settled in a cushy job in a company that excels in deceiving people with infomercials on their exercise machines, Bala realizes that he needs to move on to the next step in life and … gets a dog, which he names America .I know what you are thinking.Cheeky, right?. Hilarious and crazy is what I thought.

Bala wants to get married as he approaches his big 3-0 and takes the help of “How to find the perfect mate in 30 days or less with no help from your parents in India.” He fancies a white girl who works at a store nearby and is secretly thrilled when she makes polite,but random comments. But before he can take things to the next level, disaster strikes and Bala is left stranded on the highway of love.The rest of the story is about how Bala joins activity groups, matrimonial sites and seeks parental intervention to find his“perfect mate”. Funny stuff ,really!

Melvin takes digs at things as diverse as exercise machine commercials,the staggering amounts of waste that America (not the dog;-))generates,role of American dogs,attitude of Chinese suppliers,people who buy Salman Rushdie books just to appear erudite,functional purpose of butts,matrimonial ads ,the SMS lingo and many more random things. Infact, for the first 60 odd pages,there was barely any dialogue and movement in the story ,with the pages filled with wry,witty observations.The book mentions that part of Melvin’s humour columns have been incorporated into the book. Maybe, a huge chunk of the material drawn from the columns went into the first 70 pages. However, after the 70 pages, the narrative gets fast-paced and breezy.

The book’s strength is its unpretentious-ness and Melvin has done a good job at fleshing out Bala’s character-Bala is as believable as it can get.Melvin’s wit shines through the pages and he peppers the book generously with mini-jokes and one-liners. Some of the situations are thoroughly funny like the one in which Bala stands in the queue outside the Chennai American Embassy to get his H1 stamping done and contemplates the prospect of buying a two rupee Bonda. He imagines the Bonda traveling from hand to hand down the queue finally to him, coated in sweat and other “suspect” fluids. I almost fell out of the chair laughing.

Sample some more goodies from the book..

“Your appa and I walk 6 kilometers a day.He walks five kilometers in the morning and I walk one kilometer in the evening.”

American flags arrive at Walmart from a manufacturer in China bearing 53 stars .When demanded an explanation,the Chinese manufacturer says “We give you a good deal-53 stars for the price of 50.” LOL,seriously !.

Overall, a funny book that loved reading.I’ll rate it 3.5/5 and will recommend it to anyone who loves a good no-holds barred laugh. The book is really slim and can be finished in a few hours.I loved the illustration on the cover.So witty,like the rest of the book !

A big thanks to Melvin for sending me the book to review.Looking forward to his next novel.

About the author : Melvin Durai lives with his three Children and Wife in Winnipeg ,Canada and has written hundreds of humour columns in newspapers and magazines.For more information and to read his columns ,head over to his website

War on the Margins by Libby Cone

When Libby Cone mailed me about reviewing her book War on the Margins and told me that it was a prequel of sorts to the Guernsey Literary and Potato peel society, I wanted to get my hands on the book.Her mail also told me that I would like the book if I had liked the Guernsey book. I expected a saccharine sweet account of the war and was pleasantly surprised with the way Libby has tackled the subject.

France has fallen to the Nazis.Britain is under siege.As BBC bulletins grow bleak,residents of Jersey expect invasion and begin to abandon their homes.When the Germans take over,they bring Nazi racial doctrine with them and the handful of Jews left on the island are forced to relinquish their livelihoods. Marlene Zimmer, a shy clerk at the aliens office, tries to conceal her Jewish ancestry but is forced to flee, and transforms herself into a resistance member under the protection of female artists and lovers, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore.

The book spans five years (1940-45) and chronicles the lives of a bunch of residents of Jersey during the Nazi upsurgence. The narrative is interspersed with original letters, ordinances and notices that were circulated during the period. Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore were surrealist artists and propagandists who lived in Jersey during this time period and put up a resistance against the Nazis in their own subversive way by writing anonymous letters. The book talks of the wonderful relationship between the two artists and their efforts at undermining the Germans. Libby has drawn on the experiences of several Britons and her research that she did for her MA in Jewish studies to write this book.

Narrated from several viewpoints, the book is a gritty tale of the difficulties that normal civilians and Jews faced during the war.I don’t think I will ever take a piece of soap or a bar of chocolate for granted ever again ,now that I’ve read of how these were a luxury during the days of the war and that average civilian meals consisted of scraps of potato bread and pieces of wrinkled swedes. The narrative did seem a little choppy at times with the narrative switching between viewpoints of Marlene;the surrealist Artists; Peter,a prisoner and Mrs Erica Richardson, another inhabitant of the island.However,I must confess that I liked the book immensely.

I found the parts where Peter and his comrades are tortured by the Nazis and description of the sub-human conditions under which they lived heart-wrenching. It just made me wonder about the amount of hatred Hitler had stored up inside him to inflict such horror on fellow humans.I am not sure if any character stood out enough for me to like him/her more than the other,but all of them served their purpose of furthering the story. The book is cleverly written and is full of examples of bravery shown by normal people.When,at the end of the book the war ended and people could walk out in broad daylight and buy a loaf of bread ,I almost cheered.As you read about the BBC radios spewing music to kindle hope in people or about the planes roaring overhead,you’ll be transported back in time to a world that not only brimmed with hatred(thanks to the Nazis) ,but also with hope and bravery.The letters that the surrealists wrote to each other while in prison appear here for the first time.Love the cover!

Thanks to Libby for sending me this book to review.Looking forward to your next book now.

Overall, I liked the book, despite the choppiness. Libby Cone’s book is an intimate account of the war that lovers of historical fiction will enjoy.I am not very sure if people who liked Potato peel book will like this as War on the Margins is most definitely more real with real people.3.5/5 from me for the book.

A bit about the author and the book : Libby cone eared her MA in Jewish studies in 2006 and lives in Philadelphia. This book was initially self-published and found a publisher (Duckworth) after being championed by UK bloggers (YAY!!). The book has been nominated for People’s book Prize for 2010 .The US paperback as well as a kindle version has been released recently. You can find more information on the book here

The book is available on Amazon.Click here to access the Amazon page. They also have a Kindle version. The imported edition is available on Flipkart.

A concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Title: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Chatto & Windus (first published 1981)
ISBN :0701180382 (ISBN13: 9780701180386)

Synopsis from Good reads

Twenty-three-year-old Zhuang, the daughter of shoe factory owners in rural China, has come to London to study English. She calls herself Z because English people can’t pronounce her name, but she’s no better at their language. Set loose to find her way through a confusion of cultural gaffes and grammatical mishaps, she winds up lodging with a Chinese family and thinks she might as well not have left home. But then she meets an English man who changes everything. From the moment he smiles at her, she enters a new world of sex, freedom, and self-discovery. But she also realizes that, in the West, “love” does not always mean the same as in China, and that you can learn all the words in the English language and still not understand your lover.

Drawing on her diaries from when she first arrived in the UK, Xiaolu Guo winningly writes the story in steadily improving English grammar and vocabulary. Freshly humorous, sexy, and poignant, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is an utterly original novel about language, identity, and the cultural divide.

My Thoughts:

Sometimes when you read a book that makes you laugh and cry all at once and you wonder what kind of a book that is- a good one, I have realized .Xiaolu's book is a poignant ,yet funny tale of a young Chinese girl who arrives in London with shiny eyes and unending reserves of curiosity to learn English.Written in the first person narrative,almost like a diary,the first 100 odd pages almost reads like a chicklit - breezy and funny. As the protagonist, Z tackles English breakfasts,the infamous" English weather" ,dodgy lodgings,intricacies of English grammar and hosts of other "English" things, Xiaolu will enthrall you with her wit and funny observations, all written in deliberately bad English.

I fell in love with the protagonist,Z,whose earnestness made the book all the more special for me.Gradually,as Z settles into her life in London and falls in love with a man, the tone changes. What starts off like a borderline chicklit starts getting deeper and more philosophical and you can certainly sense the metamorphosis Z goes through from the wide-eyed carefree foreigner to a self-introspecting ,slightly jaded individual.Understandably, as you progress through the book,you can see the change in Z's language and her grammar.As Z discovers Sex ,love and independence,she struggles to find a balance between her Chinese sensibilities and the expectations of a western civilization.

The book took me on a nostalgic trip ,where several years ago I found myself in a strange country,struggling to grapple with my new life and battling strong feelings of "taking the next flight back home". Xiaolu captures this sentiment rather well and Z's loneliness comes across clearly. I absolutely loved the way every chapter started with the meaning of a word that Z encounters- these entries are from the dictionary she carries with her at all times.

Overall,a beautiful book that I would recommend to everyone. Towards the end,it might get a little bleak with more philosophical overtones,but on the whole you'll love the journey the book takes you on. 4/5 for Xiaolu's book.Doesn't the cover look fab? LOVE IT!!

The Lolllipop shoes by Joanne Harris

Book :
The Lollipop Shoes (Published as The girl with no shadow in the US)
Author: Joanne Harris

ISBN: 978-0-385-60948-7
Publisher : Transworld
Pages: 459

My rating : 5/5

Synopsis from Goodreads
Since she was a little girl, the wind has dictated every move Vianne Rocher has made, buffeting her from place to place, from the small French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes to the crowded streets of Paris. Cloaked in a new identity, that of widow Yanne Charbonneau, she opens a chocolaterie on a small Montmartre street, determined to still the wind at last and keep her daughters, Anouk and the baby, Rosette, safe. Her new home above the chocolate shop offers calm and quiet: no red sachets hang by the door; no sparks of magic fill the air; no Indian skirts with bells hang in her closet. Conformity brings with it anonymity and peace. There is even Thierry, the stolid businessman who wants to take care of Yanne and the children. On the cusp of adolescence, an increasingly rebellious and restless Anouk does not understand. But soon the weather turns . . . and into their lives blows the charming and enigmatic Zozie de l'Alba. And everything begins to change.

My Thoughts
I started this book with a lot of expectations and i am happy to report that I enjoyed it thoroughly. Joanne Harris's Lollipop shoes is like dark,creamy chocolate with a hint of spice-totally heady and difficult to resist. Narrated from three POVs(Yanne, Anouk and Zozie), the narrative flows seamlessly. I loved how Joanne let a huge chunk of the narrative be told from Zozie's perspective- I don't really think i have read too many novels that have been narrated from the Villain's point of view.Also,even the minor characters seemed etched out and the writing exceptionally vivid.Despite being a sequel to Chocolat, this one reads like a stand-alone book.I don't think not reading the first book before tackling his one matters much.

The spells,totems,fables and stories about faeries and witches that Zozie and Yanne mention make the book more exotic and fascinating.It's no secret that I am a huge fan of magic realism-Joanne's book is a fine specimen of that genre.The writing is measured,yet intimate and warm,just like the characters in the book. There is something dangerously appealing about a slinky,chameleon-like villain and I loved Zozie's character the most(even more than Anouk and Yanne.). The bullying and name-calling that goes on in schools also forms a huge part of the story -atleast when the narration is done from the perspective of the eleven year-old Anouk.

Joanne's writing is breathtaking and flows beautifully.This has to be one of the best books I have read in a long, long time and I don't think I can rave enough about it. People who are fascinated with the art of chocolate-making will love the details that Joanne shares with us and the book is about good food as much as it is about anything else.

Sample some of her writing ..

"That red-orange flare as the fire spread ,leaping and tumbling and sommersaulting like an evil acrobat from a rail of scarves to a trapeze of dreamcatchers and finally to a stack of books."

"The problem is me.I just dont match.I'm the wrong shape,somehow the wrong colour.I like teh wrong books.I watch the wrong films in secret.I'm different whether they like it or not and I sont see why i should pretend otherwise."

Overall,an awesome book I'll recommend to lovers of good fiction.A full 5 on 5 from me.I am going to hunt down and read every single book written by this incredibly talented lady.

Monster by Jonathan Kellerman

Book name : Monster
Author : Jonathan Kellerman
Genre: Psychologoical Thriller
ISBN : 0345413873 (ISBN13: 9780345413871)
Book source: Own copy

Synopsis from Goodreads

Consulting psychologist Alex Delaware has a novel approach to crime-solving: he uses his training to unlock the secrets in the minds of the victims and jiggles the clues he finds there until the right scenario emerges. So when Alex's LAPD buddy Milo finds the hacked-up body of a woman psychologist named Claire Argent in an abandoned car trunk--the second such murder in eight months--Alex heads for her place of employment: the Starkweather State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

One of Argent's patients at Starkweather is Ardis "Monster" Peake, imprisoned for the unbelievably brutal murders of his mother and the family she worked for, including a small child and a baby. There's at least one eerie similarity between the mutilation of their bodies and Argent's: in all the bodies, the eyes were taken or destroyed. But Peake, diagnosed as schizophrenic and psychotic, is a well-behaved vegetable due to a steady diet of Thorazine, and he hasn't left the hospital since his incarceration 15 years before. How is it, then, that Claire Argent's assistant, Heidi Ott, swears she heard Peake say, "Dr. A. Bad eyes in a box" soon after he hears only the bare fact of her death? And why does Alex find Peake so empathetic, in spite of his violent past and chillingly vacant mind? When other mutilated bodies turn up, Alex and Milo begin to suspect that the real monster is very much at large.

My Thoughts
Monster is the third Kellerman novel I've read and with every book read,I like his writing even more. I picked up this book at a bargain at a second hand store as i don't normally buy my copies of thrillers and borrow them from libraries.Faintly reminiscent of The silence of the lambs and more of ,Hannibal Lecter, I found the book spine chilling and gripping.The pace is not really high-adrenaline inducing,but Alex Delaware and his LAPD buddy Milo chip away industriously at uncertainty to make sense of madness behind Monster's random babble. Narrated from Alex's point of view,Monster is 13th in the row of Alex Delaware books.I was surprised at Jonathan's style of writing -vivid descriptions and flowery words somehow don't normally get associated with crime writing,more so with a psychological thriller,but you'll find that in this book.What I find fascinating about books like these is the psychological profiling that unravels during the course of the investigations.The book gives you a sneak peak into the workings of an institution for mentally unstable criminal-Starkweather hospital in this case.It also made me wonder about the safety of the carers and the techs that man these facilities.Either they must be highly motivated or paid very well to take up a job that is fraught with so much risk.

Character-wise I can't choose between Milo or Alex and say who I liked better.I also liked the way how Kellerman lets us see a bit of Alex's personal life in between the investigations.The murders that take place are slightly disturbing and not for the faint-hearted and in most cases Kellerman describes the crime scene almost clinically,going over details of the onslaught on the victim.Almost 200 pages into the book,we get to know who the possible murderer might be and its more a question of the duo locating him.

Overall ,this might not be the best psychological thriller I've read till date, but it was good nevertheless.4/5 for this book. I recommend it to people who like reading psychological thrillers.

A Child called It by Dave Pelzer

Book name : A child called it
Author: Dave Pelzer
1558743669 (ISBN13: 9781558743663)
First published in 1992 by HCI
Genre: Memoir
My rating : 3/5

Synopsis from Goodreads

This book chronicles the unforgettable account of one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history. It is the story of Dave Pelzer, who was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played tortuous, unpredictable games--games that left him nearly dead. He had to learn how to play his mother's games in order to survive because she no longer considered him a son, but a slave; and no longer a boy, but an "it."

Dave's bed was an old army cot in the basement, and his clothes were torn and raunchy. When his mother allowed him the luxury of food, it was nothing more than spoiled scraps that even the dogs refused to eat. The outside world knew nothing of his living nightmare. He had nothing or no one to turn to, but his dreams kept him alive--dreams of someone taking care of him, loving him and calling him their son.

My thoughts
A child called It is by no means an easy book to read.I had read reviews about the book and had wanted to pick it up for the longest time. Now that I am done with the book,i don't know what to think about it. It is a brutal book and definitely not something I would recommend to the weak-stomached. The language is simple and the narrative linear. Dave's description of the abuse his mother puts him through is graphic and cringe inducing many times.My stomach heaved as i read about Dave's mother treating him worse than a dog by starving him and asking him to drink ammonia and other insanely inhuman things.It read like a manual on torture 101. How can someone be so inhuman to do that to her own child ,I wonder. She had to be severely damaged person .

What I also wonder about is why did it take so long for the school's management to catch up on what was wrong with a kid that routinely came into school with bruises all over him.I read elsewhere that a huge controversy was kicked up with some people accusing Dave of imagining the abuse.Whatever the truth is,I just hope that Dave has healed.
The best thing about the book ,according to me was the matter-of-fact narration .Dave story abuse and recovery has been broken up into 3 books ,when it could have been easily condensed into a single gripping book. Hope is a thread that runs through most of the book and despite the inhuman things Dave's mother puts him through,I could see his spirit shining through.

In a strange way, the more Dave's mother abused him ,the more he craved for her attention.This is something I've read about elsewhere as well as a ploy abusers make use of to make sure that the circle of abuse continues,because all he needed to do was to tell someone about his mother's abuse for his ordeal to end.
Overall,a short,gripping read.Depressing too,but definitely a book I would recommend. I'll go with a rating of 3/5 for this book and would definitely want to grab a copy of the sequel just to read about how Dave managed to put back his bad childhood behind him and forged ahead with his life.

It's also heartening to learn about Dave's efforts at educating school children about abuse by visiting schools and interacting with children. One out of five children being abused is a statistic that makes me shudder.Dave is contributing in whatever small way he can and I salute his spirit.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Teacher Man - Book Review

Book Name : Teacher Man
Author : Frank Mc Court
Genre: Memoir
My rating:3/5

I have raved and raved about Frank's earlier books,Angela's ashes and Tis'. I find his style of writing irresistible with dollops of self-deprecating wit. It's really surprising that this slim book took me almost 2 years to finish.Some books are just destined to get read in snatches , I think.

Synopsis from Goodreads

The author of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis has been winning such superlatives since he broke onto the literary scene as a self-proclaimed "old man." In this third volume of memoirs, the Pulitzer laureate turns to one of his first loves, teaching. He describes his sometimes-bumpy coming-of-age in the classroom and explains its integral relationship with his writing career. McCourt's ability to fine-tune even short anecdotes eventually makes readers feel like partners in his apprenticeship

What I thought of the book:

I wouldn't say I loved it.It was entertaining in snatches and Mc Court's legendary squabbles with the corridors of power at schools gives a lot of scope for humour.Somehow,the book falls flat in stretches and was self-indulgent to the point of irritating me. Let me tell you more about the book. Mc Court reminisces about his teaching career spanning almost 30 years-a career that was spent among pimply teenagers surging with adrenaline in some of the meanest vocational schools in New York.Now,teaching teenagers is one heck of a challenge and more so if they are from some of the shadiest neighborhoods where education really isn't priority. Traditional methods of teaching English and creative writing would definitely not work with these kids.

Frank talks of the unorthodox methods of teaching he used like letting a class sing recipes ,taking his students to a potluck picnic (to introduce new gourmet related words in their vocabulary),asking the kids to write excuse letters and many such "fun" things.Oh,how i wish I had a teacher like Frank.Infusing fun into classrooms is a laudable idea ,but at times I really wondered what the point was. Was it just Mc Court's way of rebelling against the principals and review boards.Teachers have to stick to a teaching plan that is normally filed in beforehand,something Frank didn't believe in.He freewheeled in his classes and told the students stories of his Irish upbringing and his childhood impoverished conditions.

Frank has never shied away from exposing his deepest thoughts .In his first book Angela's ashes ,he barely manages to disguise the contempt he had for his father.In Teacher Man he takes us through his crumbling marriage and how one fine day after teaching hundreds and hundreds of kids for years,he finds himself in a dead-end job and in a rut. His hate-hate relationship with the Catholic church obviously gets mentioned (many, many times) in the book.What did impress me was Frank's unwavering belief that education was not about letting kids cram pages and pages of literature only to have them vomit it out in the exam,but was about equipping them to find their footing in the world- something Mona lisa smile and The dead Poet's society also talk about. Whatever Frank was not,he loved his students as individuals and not just as random kids sitting at random desks in a classroom.

Despite an engaging narrative,the book somehow didn't work for me in the way his first two books did. Frank just came across as a self-absorbed writer who just wanted to fill the pages of his book. Not as entertaining as his first two books.Maybe,I can't read books by self-absorbed writers any longer.. Overall,its an okay read. Not earth shattering,but a decent read that delves into the "business of education". I would recommend it to teachers and people who work with adolescents and would rate it 3/5.

I am off on vacation for a week and wont be able to read your posts. Have a super week and stay safe ,people.

Anita and Me- Book review

Book name : Anita and Me
Author: Meera Syal
Genre : Fiction (semi-auto-biographical)
Awards won: 1996 Betty Trask Award ; Shortlisted for Guardian 1996 Fiction Prize
Publisher: Harper Collins ( Flamingo)
My rating : 4/5

Synopsis from Good reads

The prize-winning coming-of-age novel about a young Indian girl in northern England. Winner of the Betty Trask Award and finalist for the Guardian Fiction Award, Anita and Me, which has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the story of Meena, the daughter of the only Punjabi family in the British village of Tollington. With great warmth and humor, Meera Syal brings to life a quirky, spirited 1960s mining town and creates in her protagonist what the Washington Post calls a "female Huck Finn." The novel follows nine-year-old Meena through a year spiced with pilfered sweets and money, bad words, and compulsive, yet inventive, lies. Anita and Me offers a fresh, sassy look at a childhood caught between two cultures

What I thought of the book :

Oh,I loved this book!. The comparison to "To kill a mockingbird" is not misplaced,but the style of writing is different.Anita and Me ishillarious,irreverant,refreshing and poignant at the same time. This semi-autobiographical book by Meera Syal is about a young immigrant girl growing up in a British mining village in the 60's. Meena (the protagonist) is torn between two cultures: her Punjabi roots and the need to fit into the mainstream Tollington culture. She prefers Fish and Chips to Chappatis ; Christmas to Diwali. The narrative is slow and idyllic ,but is spiced with exceptionally cheeky writing by Meera. Her take on her parent's friends-the uncles and aunties that visit them and her parent's relationship with one another is heart-warming and funny at the same time. The way she describes the neighborhood and her neighbors is chuckle-inducing.

Meena's life changes when Anita walks into her life.Anita is brassy and in-your-face and everything Meena is not.This is precisely what fascinates Meena and she desperately wants to be Anita's friend. Meera expertly paints the relationship between the two girls in not just blacks and whites but in shades of grey. Meena and Anita become the best of friends,despite several undercurrents that run between them and Meena finds herself doing uncharacteristic things like lying and stealing. She knows on some level that Anita is bad influence on her,but continues to toe Anita's line,listening to her whims and fancies.Rest of the story is about what happens between the two girls and other members of their "gang". Meena learns hard lessons in life about love ,friendship ,bereavement and "grows" up in the process.

The narrative is not fast-paced,but it felt like every word in that book was there for a purpose . You can find oodles of witticisms thrown liberally in the book .A must read for anyone who likes witty, coming of age stories. I am so glad i picked this book!. My last book was also a coming of age story (The secret life of bees), which I didn't like too much This book is feisty and spirited,whereas I found secret life of bees needlessly meandering and(a little) boring.

Anyway,pick up this book- you won't be disappointed.

My rating : 4/5