Category Archives: fiction

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 – 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 – 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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Book Review – Belonging by Umi Sinha


5/5STARS!!!!!!!!

Probably one of the most undiscovered and underrated books from the past year. I would never have discovered it myself, but for a completely unplanned (impulsive) trip to the local bookstore where I made a very poor choice and was back to exchange it for something better. And this time too, with the bookshop owner waiting to close shop, I almost randomly picked up ‘Belonging’. The cover was beautiful, but the author and book were completely unheard of, and a quick check on GR told me that with a 4+ rating it was a safe buy.

But I was not prepared for this book to be as fantastic as it was! Why hasn’t it showed up on any lists!? And I am surprised that even the Guardian hasn’t done a review on it, when it seems to review every new book that comes out! – – especially since this one has such a contextual British-Indian theme.

I seldom describe a book as “well crafted”. Many are well written but this one has something beautiful and intricate about it, much like the fine embroidery that adorns its cover and is a pivotal part of the story. As a debut author, Umi Sinha has set the bar very high and admirably demonstrates, by example, her background as a creative writing mentor and manuscript appraiser.

There is something about epistolary novels and I loved this one even more because nearly two-thirds of it is written in the form of letters and diary entries – making the reader so much more involved and engaged with characters and their deepest emotions. Sinha treats her characters with a lot of compassion and sensitivity and one comes away understanding each one – why they became who they were, what shaped their lives.This is a book worth reading again. Beautiful and elegant.

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Book Review – The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham


4/5 STARS

The Killings at Badgers DriftA classic mystery thriller that takes you back to those quaint English villages, where time seems to move slowly, everyone knows everyone, and everybody has something to hide. Yet, while the story seems to be set in a conservative time, it brings out a most sinister and twisted plot and a range of characters, all of whom seem to have a motive to kill.

The writing is so different from how books are written today, refined in a way that you cannot rush through the book, and definitely something that can build your vocabulary. Reminded me a little bit of Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories where you are always guessing till the end and this one definitely keeps the final revelation hanging to the last.

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Book Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz


The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium, #4)The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel bad to rate this book anything less than 4 stars, especially since I was rooting for Lagercrantz, a writer of such established precedence, to bring back the Lisbeth Salander magic that was created over a decade ago. But sadly it did not happen.

Too much seemed to be going on. There were too many parallel narratives from varying viewpoints and most of them ended on a hook that surprisingly got frustrating after a point. I got lost in names and the multiple associations across characters and by the time Lisbeth Salander showed up in the flesh, I realized I was half way through the book already.

I think the trap here is that there is only so much you can milk from her background story, which I thought was well done in the second and third book, conclusively. Only her evil twin remained the hanging link to be carried on in subsequent volumes. But then even that, I felt, wasn’t well developed or exploited in this book. I think there was so much more scope for Lisbeth and Camilla to come face to face and really bring out the fierceness in both their characters, but I came away much more disappointed than expected.

The other reason could also be that the fourth book may seem better when read in continuity to the other three. Because after ten years, when you’ve forgotten the details but only remember the impression the trilogy made on you, the time gap is too long to recover the same intensity. Lisbeth herself seems to have lost a lot of her characteristic singularity.

I remember tearing through second and third Millennium books and at the same time trying to slow down so they didn’t finish too soon. But here I was constantly checking my progress after the 85% mark, just to wrap it up and be done. I appreciate the author’s effort and probably its too much to expect of him to deliver the same experience as Steig Larsson did in the first three books, but then that was why the fourth book was even attempted I presume.

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Featured Image: Goodreads.com
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Book Review: The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie


5/5 STARS!!!

Its amazing that I found this book three years ago, slotted it in my to-read folder, and only happened to finally read it now. I guess I was ordained to meet His Holiness’ Cat now more than ever. This is a wonderfully written book that brings forth the basic tenets of Buddhism and the whole point of its philosophy very gently and subtly through small day to day examples with a handful of characters in Jokhang and McLeod Ganj.

The author, David Michie, is very convincing in telling this story from the intimate confines of the Dalai Lama’s own residence and you can almost feel the positive and glowy warmth of his presence and the kindness, wisdom and patience of his words. I marked so many passages from this book on my kindle app. A happy book that must be read.

15805413

Source: Goodreads.com

“The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed; the deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings … As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.”

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

In Rinpoche’s own words – “This is exactly that kind of book.”

 

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