Category Archives: Book review

Book Review: You Will Know Me by Megan Abbot


You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars
Heard this book mentioned on the “What Should I Read Next” podcast a couple of times and decided to give it a go, even though its Goodreads average ratings were pretty low.

Set in a typical American suburban town, this is the story of a family seemingly perfect and yet at edge; and how one incident unravels their flaws and dysfunctional reality. It reminded me in some ways of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, which I loved, though it is nothing like this book. The common theme is that both books explore how we think we know our husband or wife, sibling or child very well, and yet there are times when they reveal their true selves and make us question what we really think we know about who they are and also who we really are.

Interesting storyline around gymnastics, the punishing schedules and commitment it demands and what that can do to a family. Overall, I think readers who have more in common with the American suburban life context will relate to and enjoy it much more. But the writing is good.

A quote I think sums up the essence of the book,


“No one had taught her that the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they’re not what what you thought they’d be. But you still do anything to keep them. Because you’d wanted them for so long.”

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Book Review – The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984 by Vikram Kapoor


4/5 STARS

The Assassinations: A Novel of 1984, is a historical fiction novel based on the 1984 Sikh riots that took place in India after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards. The story takes place in Delhi, the centre of the riots, and follows the lives of two families who are unwittingly drawn into and deeply affected by the event, turning their lives in directions they could never have imagined.

Most non-fiction books on the subject capture stories from the worst affected areas in Delhi – Trilokpuri, Kalyanpuri, Sultanpuri, Seemapuri, Nangloi. In The Assassinations, Vikram Kapur brings the most prime and affluent localities of New Delhi into focus, portraying the immense vulnerability of even those who thought they were, or tried to remain, distant from the worst of the violence in East Delhi and the events that led up to it. The author has weaved key historical facts and events well into the narrative, creating a synchronism in how our story develops and how the characters blend into these events. There is one particular moment in the plot that took me by surprise and is extremely tragic, but it also binds the events happening in Delhi around that time very well.

I enjoyed this book for its simple and fluid expression, and because the story is completely believable and relatable. The characterisations are well done, their emotions and inner turmoils well conveyed. It is not difficult to sympathise with how they feel and why they feel so. I also really enjoyed the descriptive depiction of the Delhi of 1984; it really added to the feel of the period this book covers. There are other small details that add to the picture the author is trying to create in the reader’s mind about how bad the atmosphere in the country had become during that time. For example, there is a passage that describes how a short feature on national integration on television had been modified to include a Sikh boy, though in the past it had only been a Hindu boy and  Muslim boy. To me, this was a really interesting insight.

This is a heartbreaking story of what 1984 did to 8 people, amongst thousands, what they gained and what they lost – and what this one haunting story represents of the pain, loss and tragedy that so many continue to live with even today.

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Book Review – Madhavi by Bhisham Sahni


MadhaviMadhavi by Bhisham Sahni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A play I read on the insistent recommendation of a colleague at work, Madhavi is the story of one woman’s sacrifices in the face of the duty bound  men in her life. The play is based on the story of Madhavi, King Yayati’s daughter from the Mahabharata.

Munikumar Galav is an accomplished disciple of Rishi Vishwamitra, who stubbornly insists on giving him gurudakshina*, even though Vishwamitra does not want any. Galav’s relentless insistence angers the sage and he demands 800 Ashwamedha horses as his gurudakshina. And so begins Galav’s quest to perform his duty and fulfil his teacher’s wish – it becomes a matter of pride that he fulfil the nearly impossible task and won’t give up till it is done.

His search takes him to King Yayati, who is known for his generosity, and now lives in an ashram after renouncing his title and the material life. Upon hearing what Galav seeks from him, he is dismayed, but at the same time not willing to give up his reputation of being the most generous king in the land. His pride takes over and he resolves not to send the man empty handed; he gives Galav the only thing of value that he has left – his daughter, Madhavi.

Madhavi is a gifted being, blessed with the ability to produce sons for kings and magically renew her virginity and youth. She becomes the perfect bargain for Galav to offer to a king in exchange for the 800 Ashwamedha horses. The catch however is that only 600 such horses exist, with three kings owning 200 each.
As Madhavi changes hands from her father to Galav, to the first king, the second and so on, she becomes the sacrificial lamb, fulfilling her duty towards her father’s command and her love for Galav. She is tormented and torn, but her resilience and sacrifices go unrecognised and unconsidered, obscure in the pride and vanity that each man feels – albeit on her account, because without her they could never have fulfilled their respective duties.

In the end, everyone has fulfilled his duty, but what does this mean for Madhavi? Is she rewarded for her patience and suffering? What does she settle for? Who does she settle for, in this world of proud and conceited men?
Read to find out.

I read the play in Hindi (a rare occurence), the language it was originally written in. But I believe the translated version (in English) is also very well done. Definitely worth a read.

*Gurudakshina – the teacher’s fee

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Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah


Born a Crime: Stories from a South African ChildhoodBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars
I’ve been watching Trevor Noah on The Daily Show a lot this year. I like his sense of humour, which is funny but also ruthless. Most of the content on the show is about Donald Trump and all thats going to hell in the American government under his presidency. It is well researched and Noah does a really good job of talking about issues and calling out a bluff with that twisted smile on his face.

So reading this book had been on my agenda for a while; and when I found an audio version read by the author himself, I decided to listen instead of read.

Trevor Noah’s story is surprising because it is difficult to imagine someone transitioning from the life he describes in South Africa to his current persona we see on TV. And that is why, his story is also inspiring. In this book, Noah shares his story of being born biracial in a country under apartheid, when it was literally a crime for blacks and whites to have sexual relations, let alone have children together. Being exactly one of those children, Noah was brought up almost like a secret until apartheid was outlawed, by which time he was 7 or 8 years old.

Being a colored person in a county where segregation by race was the only way people classified or identified themselves, Noah was always maneuvering situations where he had to constantly establish his identity, not just to himself but also to everyone else around him. What I like about the book is that even though he had a really difficult life growing up, the expression is honest and candid, and without a hint of self pity. Its a story proudly told.

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Book Review – Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport


Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted WorldDeep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book with a lot of expectation and interest. The point Cal Newport makes is very valid, but it is not a new point, and he doesn’t claim it to be.

In my opinion, the deep work approach is most applicable to “thinking work” – such as research, academics, writing, etc. The point is simple – work in larger chunks of time un-distracted and uninterrupted, to see your productivity and creativity soar. Make it a routine ordered by rules.
The book tries to offer these set of rules as a path to set yourself up for deep work.

One of its major points is – stay as away as possible from social media – which I tend to agree with to an extent, as it can really take over your life and time, once you’re hooked – and when you really come to think of it, it adds very little value to anything of depth. Its basically a superficial time guzzler that we need to be more mindfully careful of.

While I enjoyed reading the first half of the book, after the 60% mark I lost interest completely. It became a long winding narrative that I felt was repetitive with nothing new to share. I mostly skimmed through the rest of it.

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Book Review – I Accuse-: the anti-Sikh Violence of 1984 by Jarnail Singh


I Accuse-: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984I Accuse-: The Anti-Sikh Violence of 1984 by Jarnail Singh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remember the journalist who threw a shoe at P Chidambram at a press conference a few years ago? That journalist, Jarnail Singh, is the author of this book. He was just an 11 year old kid, a resident of Lajpat Nagar, when he witnessed the vicious violence against the Sikhs in Delhi in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Many books have been written on the incident and the long pending justice that is still awaited by its victims and survivors more than 30 years later. I have not read most of those books, but there is something very emotional and personal about this one. For Jarnail Singh, this is too close to heart. The narration of first person accounts is simple but direct. It is difficult not to picture the carnage, the brutality and inhumanity of the unimaginable attacks. Men turned to monsters.
More than 30 long years later, the victims’ families continue to live in the long shadow of the attacks , their lives upended, their futures ruined, relegated to peripheral rehabilitations, survivors still struggling to survive, though many have succumbed.

The administration’s evident involvement and yet painfully slow and reluctant action to bring justice is outrageous. Khushwant Singh writes in his foreword to the book, that it is a must read for all those who wish that such horrendous crimes do not take place again.
And yet we see more examples of the same things happening today. Human life continues to hold little value in the face of what is manufactured belief, asserted boundary, wrenched legitimacy.

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Book Review – Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa


Rashomon and Other Stories (Tuttle Classics)Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short stories have always been a a challenge for me, and this is probably the most cryptic set of stories that I have read yet.

What is it about these enormously acclaimed Japanese authors of the earlier 20th century. The first I read was Yukio Mishima, who over and above being known for his controversial novels, is most remembered for his ritual suicide by sepukku; and now Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who is called the “father of the Japanese short story” and has Japan’s premier literary award named after him, is also remembered for having killed himself at the age of 35.
Their literature and writings seem to have a cult following, because they definitely aren’t mass market material – and this is what attracted me to read some of their works.

This is a set of 6 tales that essentially explore dimensions of human nature. I don’t want to summarize the stories here, but I have to say that after reading each one of them, I looked up analyses online to understand the latent meanings that were clearly evading me – and in some cases I was surprised that I had almost completely missed the point – which in itself was amusing.

These are good stories to be read aloud, discussed and ruminated over. A good choice for book club reading. They are not very long, but some of them are complex.

The movie Rashomon was made based on two stories from this set and is highly acclaimed even today – with a rating of 8.3 on IMDb. That will be an interesting followup to the book.

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Book Review – Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori – Book 1) by Lian Hearn


Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori, #1)Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed this book. I don’t usually pick up “fantasy fiction” unless I am really convinced. There seems to be some mental block from when I may have read a really bad one, and I’m always weary of picking up another. Anyway, I decided to give Tales of the Otori a try because stories set in “Japanese” environs are always attractive, with the hope of magic and mysticism and some smooth samurai action – and I must say I wasn’t disappointed.

In a gist, the story follows Takeo, an orphaned boy from a remote village who is forced into the complicated lives of ruling factions in the region, jostling and plotting for power, and finds himself tied to his destiny of defending the honor of those who have looked after him and his obligation to those whom he owes his lineage. Takeo is a respectably likable protagonist, who has a pretty impressive set of skills that he himself discovers and sharpens through the book. He is grounded and humble and quite believable, which really helped me connect with his character.

What I really appreciated was how the reader is instantly plunged into the story – its like you hit the ground running and there’s hardly ever a dip in the pace henceforth. The background is revealed as the story progresses and makes enough context to understand the motivations of the various characters, but also reveals hidden aspects gradually, so that the true nature of a character comes as a bit of a surprise.

Liam Hearn’s language and writing style has that Japanese “feel” – the dialogue is very restrained and to the point, in some parts poetic. It makes for simple reading – not complicated or weighed down by complex or elaborate text.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something light but not meaningless and with enough emotion and depth to continue reading the series. Ultimately, it’s a story about love, loyalty, power, politics, illusion and revenge – and with that combination, you can’t go wrong.

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Book Review – Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris


Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The danger with reading something that comes with such high praise is that you set yourself up for disappointment.

Crime fiction / psychological thrillers are my antidote, my cure for a reading slump, something that consumes my mind in the most deliciously twisted way, that I come out of satisfied and happy – marveling at the author’s ingenuity, intelligence or creativity; their timing; their ability to bring out the worst in human nature in the most believable way.

Probably, for many readers, this book delivered that. But for me, even though I was hooked to see what happened next, a large chunk of the story got very tiresome and there were many moments of impatience where I just wanted them to get on with it. The story tries hard but lacks depth. The villain is portrayed far too evil to be believable.

So even though I found myself reading it in every free minute I had, I also wanted to get done with it a.s.a.p. to be able to move on to something more meaningful – so its been a bit confusing to understand whether I liked it or not.

I can however say for sure that I did not “enjoy” it. I did not come away with a feeling of being on a roller coaster ride that was over too soon, or with an overwhelming feeling to make my friends read it 🙂

I think I’ve been #muchtoocritical on this one. But it is how it is.

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Book Review: Unraveling Oliver / Lying in Wait – Liz Nugent


Unravelling OliverUnravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t remember where I read about Liz Nugent’s novels, but I don’t think it was on any of the popular / conventional thriller lists. So I am very glad I came across them.

I read both her books, “Lying in Wait” and “Unraveling Oliver” back to back and this is almost like a joint review of them. Both books base their stories on a foundation of human depravity and auto-centric conniving characters. I like that every chapter is narrated by a character, moving the story forward, revealing differing perspectives and conclusions on the same event. This is especially interesting when one of the characters fails to understand / discover the depths of another character’s deceit or duplicity.

The story begins with a powerful hook and you cannot help yourself but read on, because the reveal is so gradual – the event itself becomes less important, its the reasons that lead to the event that become much more interesting. There is something satisfying about the author’s unrestrained depiction of her low-life characters.

This is not a ‘whodunnit’, but more of a ‘whydunnit’ – and that is what makes it psychologically thrilling.

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