Strange, creative and a little eerie, NAOKO by Keigo Higashino keeps you guessing, literally!

Strange, creative and a little eerie, NAOKO by Keigo Higashino keeps you guessing, literally!

NaokoNaoko by Keigo Higashino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an absolutely odd and strange story. A little silly, a little tragic, a little dark, a little haunting and in the end a little ruthless – but overall creative andĀ completely unpredictable.

More than two thirds into the book, I was still wondering where the plot was going and what conclusion the story was moving to, so in that way it really is mysterious and kept me guessing up to the very literal end. Perplexed is what I felt going through most of the book. I guess that is why they gave it the Japan Mystery Writers Award.

I’m a Higashino fan, I’ve enjoyed all his other books, and loved two especially (Journey Under the Midnight Sun and Malice – both of which are brilliant in their own right). He really is a master story teller.

This one, though, is not a quick read (the reason I give it 3 stars and not 4).

It moves slowly, but pulls you in wanting to understand where things are going and what is going to happen in the seemingly mundane lives of the Sugita family of three. But really, what a strange story it was, until of course it all became clear, near the very end.

After 3 years of having it on my shelf, I’m glad I have finally read it.

The mystery is finally finally over šŸ™‚

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A life trapped in the fetters of India’s social structures and prejudices. BALUTA by Daya Pawar

A life trapped in the fetters of India’s social structures and prejudices. BALUTA by Daya Pawar

BalutaBaluta by Daya Pawar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Baluta is a collection of memories. Memories of a life trapped in the fetters of India’s social structures. The frustration and helplessness of being born a Dalit, and the inner conflict that roils in the writer’s mind as a result of his education, something he thought would be the means to an escape from his downtrodden life, but ends up being the agent of his lifelong distress. At one point, feeling ashamed of living off his old mother’s earnings despite being educated, he says

“What was her work? The hardscrabble of collecting and selling paper? What dignity did society offer her for her labour? The question of dignity had been put into my head by my education. no one around me seemed much concerned by it. When you don’t know that you’re supposed to be unhappy, you can chug along quite well; only I was being hollowed out from within, as a tree by termites.”

The blurb on the book’s back cover describes how the book, when it was first published in 1978, hit upper caste readers and critics between the eyes, with its graphic and candid narrative, holding nothing back. But as I read the book, I realised that even though I sympathised with Pawar’s condition, the details of his plight did not “hit me hard”, and his story did not emotionally move me.

I wondered what that said about me or us as a society living with the privilege of not being born Dalit. Are we so far removed from the oppression of the caste system that we fail to acknowledge or recognise the realities of those who never had a choice in the matter? Or are we so overexposed to these inequalities that it has taken on a normalcy to the extent that we have become numb to its existence? Or is it just an inconvenient truth that we’d rather not deal with until it affects us directly.

I don’t think there is any foreseeable solution to the deeply entrenched and prevailing caste system in India anytime soon; there are too many vested interests and power dynamics that won’t allow it to end. But I do think that books like these have an important role to play, because they force us to see what we’d rather not and compel us to ask ourselves some difficult questions that might in some small way change how we operate in our more privileged lives and contexts, and not contribute to the existing caste divisions and prejudices.

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Just another reading game to entertain myself… The GOODREADS TOP 3 CHALLENGE: FICTION Complete!

Just another reading game to entertain myself… The GOODREADS TOP 3 CHALLENGE: FICTION Complete!

One of the things I’d planned to do this year as part of my Reading Framework was to read the GoodReads top 3 voted Best Books of Ā 2017 in the Fiction, Mystery, Sci-Fi and Debut categories. The idea was to diversify my genres (in this case moving towards more Sci-Fi and Debut), get a chance to catch up with the most popular titles from the year and at the same time also do my own ranking to see if the order of the top 3 changed for me and why.

I love GoodReads and the peer reading community that it supports. So the results of the GoodReads Choice Awards are always something I look forward to (even though there is a small glitch in the voting system that needs sorting, which I talked about here).

Though I’d set this challenge for myself quite eagerly, eventuallyĀ I wasn’t too sure if I was going to be able to finish even one category, what with my wildly untamed reading moods and my thirst for new titles that throw me off-track all the time. But 10 books and two months into 2018, I’ve managed to achieve 25% of my GoodReads Top 3 target and I’m so glad because it made for some really great reading.Ā 

So, the GoodReads top 3 voted books in the Fiction categoryĀ in 2017 were:

I LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng with 39,077 votes

IIĀ BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman with 38,268 votes

IIIĀ ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman with 32,156 votes

As you can see, the top two come really close and the third is behind by quite a margin, so there’s a clear popularity choice coming through. All three books are extremely well written and have very unique plot lines, which is refreshing. I was particularly enamoured by both Beartown and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but something about Little Fires Everywhere fell short for me.

So here’s why I think they should have been ranked as follows:














1. BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman

BEARTOWN is a brilliantly translated Swedish novel about an obscure town whose culture and identity is tied to its local ice-hockey team, its only ticket for recognition and validation. When a crucial incident occurs, it threatens to destroy everything the community has worked for – years of sacrifice and dedication, and brings age old loyalties, friendships and ethics into question. The atmospheric characteristics of this remote, freezing town form the backdrop for a really introspective narrative for all the characters in the story.

Though it is not meant to be a mystery, the story is quite unpredictable and has many compelling plot developments that keep you hooked and thinking about what decisions a character is going make. Backman writes with a lot of wisdom, developing extremely complex but relatable personalities for his characters, in a way that you understand the psyche of each one. There are no black or white / good or bad people, everyone has a perspective that they operate from. He captures and expresses some of the most common and obvious though unmindful behaviours that we all practice or observe in our lives but seldom take the time to deeply think about. This is a great piece of contemporary fiction that I would recommend everyone to read.


A story about a misfit, a socially awkward woman who finds a new lease to life when she opens up to an unlikely friendship. This book gave me a fuzzy, warm feeling in the nicest most un-cliched way. I am not one for mushy romances, and this is exactly not that kinda book. Even though it deals with themes of loneliness and depression, it does it with so much sensitivity, and a whole lot of wit, humour and heart. This is a book about emotions, relationships and the importance of being acceptedĀ for who you are. Its a wonderful,Ā Ā meaningful, funny, easy to read and uplifting book that must be read sooner than later šŸ™‚


I am not sure how I feel about this book anymore, even though I rated it 4/5 on GR. The story revolves around the themes of identity, belonging and rebellion, pitching the perfectly planned lives of native AmericanĀ residents into sharp contrast with the lives of Chinese-American immigrants, who struggle to make ends meet but fiercely protect what is theirs. When I think about it now, I am left with a sense of the story being dark and heavy.

Celeste Ng writes extremely well and I’ve been a fan since I read her first book Everything I Never Told You, which was brilliant, but I think with this one, I wasn’t able to form a connection with any of the characters. I also feel that the context was “too American” or “too suburban American” and somehow as more time has passed since having read it, its turned out to be less and less memorable. That said, it has been voted the most popular fiction in 2017 and has also got many rave reviews in America – but for me, it wasn’t better than the other two.

So those were my thoughts on the Best Fiction from 2017. I now look forward to getting on with the other categories. Until next time, happy reading!


A book that is so much more than the sport it is centered on. BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman

A book that is so much more than the sport it is centered on. BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say about this book that won’t sound like an understatement.
I would give it 10 stars if that was an option.

I thought I wouldn’t enjoy a book about a sport much, and that too one on ice-hockey, which I know nothing about and have no interest in. But it was so much more than a book about a sport. It took me by surprise. Backman’s writing is beautiful – some of his lines are statements that hit home like a bullet and some are questions that make you pause and think about your own perspectives.
When a story has more than 20 characters and you end up feeling like you completely understand all of those 20 people, and even really start to deeply care about a few, it speaks volumes about the writer’s abilities. I finished the book under an hour ago and I already miss Beartown, I did not want to leave.

This is a ‘human’ story about friendship, loyalty, family, community, ambition, loss and love, about the emotions, and secrets that people carry around in their hearts, about suppressed silences, the things they say and everything they don’t and the extent to which they find themselves go to take a stand when a community’s ethics are tested. I marked endless passages in the book, re-reading them over and over.
There were many wow moments.

Some quotes that gave me pause,

There are damn few things in life that are harder than admitting to yourself that you’re a hypocrite.

Hate can be a a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.

There are few words that are harder to explain than “loyalty“. It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.

Having gone through such brilliant writing, I am at a loss of being able to properly articulate what made this book so awesome, but the one thing that really made this book shine was the excellent translation by Neil Smith. Its so good that it feels like it was written in English.
This is not one to miss!

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Reading Plans for 2018 – THE FRAMEWORK!

Reading Plans for 2018 – THE FRAMEWORK!

I think I’m in trouble.

Because every passing day, the intensity of the “pull” from books I’m pining to read escalates. So much so, that the other important things I’m supposed to be doing in a day (like work!!) are now seeming like an annoying distraction. The only motivation to carry on working is so I can make enough of a living to feed this feverish and frenzied but oh so fulfilling habit.

Like I cannot wait for the weekend to get here, because the annual book fair is finally happening and I’ve already got my backpack cleaned up and ready, to stuff with all the loot I don’t deserve but have to have to, oh have to have!

This really is getting out of hand, or…. is it too late to worry now?

But wait, isn’t 2018 supposed to be about celebrating books?Ā Of course it is! Thank you very much for the reminder!

My target for the year is 50 books – and here is how I am going to make the most of it!

The idea is to keep it structured but also allow enough room for those impulsive choices that are inevitably going to be made. I’ve learnt this about myself and I’ve stopped fighting it – because in the end, the discipline really sucks away a lot of the FUN that books and reading are supposed to bring. (The #unreadshelfproject, which I am following via Instagram, is a fun way of bringing in that tiny bit of discipline though!).

So after browsing numerous reading challenges from all over the web, this framework is what I’ve come up with. Finishing 50 books is itself a challenge for me so I am not making the framework too schematic or overly defined. I’m happy with the direction its Ā taken, and also because it will serve as a reminder to not miss the kind of genres I generally overlook.

I’ve already identified a bunch of titles for these categories, but I think it would be wiser to add those after I’ve actually read them. Lets see where I get in 6 months time.

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 6.02.24 PM

I’m so excited to begin and see how this goes!!

Are you also following a reading strategy this year? I’d love to hear Ā how you plan to do it.

Happy new year and happy reading!

Best of 2017: Fiction

Best of 2017: Fiction

On the 2nd last day of 2017, I am much too excited about getting together my reading lists, plans and challenges for 2018, than about the fiction I read in 2017. The most frustrating bit about this whole reading business is not being able to read enough; I can never stop bombarding myself with book lists from Twitter, Feedly, the Guardian, Goodreads and what not – and there is always just too much to read but too little time and too slow a reading speed to do it with!

I guess this is probably the most bitter-sweet of all frustrations in the world and like Ann Patchett said,

Its always better to have too much to readĀ than not enough

So I will try and hold back the ranting for a bit šŸ˜› and celebrate the good stuff I was actually able to read in two-oh-one-seven!

Oscar Wilde

I embarrassingly admit that it was in 2017 that I finally discovered Oscar Wilde, and it was probably the best thing to have happened in all the good things that happened this year. And what fun it was to read all three plays aloud and dramatically – funny, witty, layered and oh that punchiness that comes with the refined language and dialogue! So artful, so satisfying.

The Importance of Being Earnest is the first one I read and it is my favourite, though An Ideal Husband and Lady Windermere’s Fan are super too. After having read the plays I craved for more and found a couple of film versions, which are apparently pretty popular. I watched these two – and I must say, I was NOT IMPRESSED – at all!.

Neither of these are even half as good as the written play. So, if you’ve seen the movies but haven’t read the plays, I would highly highly recommend you read the plays and enjoy how brilliant they really are!

Madhavi by Bhisham Sahni

madhabi_hbAnother brilliant play I read this year, in Hindi, was Madhavi. Written by renowned writer, playwright and actor Bhisham Sahni, Madhavi is the story of one woman’s sacrifices in the face of the duties that all the men in her life must fulfil.

The play is based on the story of Madhavi, King Yayati’s daughter from Mahabharata and brings out the notions of how male pride and honour often, if not always, supersedeĀ female sacrifices – that go unrecognised and unconsidered, obscure in the pride and vanity that each man feels – even though, without her, they could never have fulfilled their duties.

Read my full review on GoodReads.

Unravelling Oliver and Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

I really really enjoyed reading both these books by Liz Nugent and read themĀ back to back. Unravelling Oliver was her first book (so brilliant!) and won the Irish Crime Fiction Book of the Year Award in 2014. It has also been translated into 7 languages. Lying in Wait is also pretty brilliant.

Both stories are based 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 the depths of another character’s deceit or duplicity.
Both stories begin with powerful hooks and after the first sentence, you can forget about doing anything else for the rest of the day. Isn’t that the best kind of thing ever! here are the opening lines of both these books:

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’ – Unravelling Oliver

‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’ – Lying in Wait

The reveal is so gradual that the event itself becomes less important. It is the reasons that led to the event that become much more interesting. There is something satisfying about the author’s unrestrained depiction of her low-life characters.Ā Just go get them!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman


I closed the year with this sweet, warm, funny, touching, witty book. By the end of if, I just wanted to give Eleanor a few hugs and tell her, she really was completely fine šŸ™‚

Another great debut – I don’t know how people are so good at writing their first book, but who’s complaining eh!

If you’re looking for a meaningful, funny, easy to read and uplifting book, then I highly recommend this one. I waited nearly 6 months to get a copy and when I finally did, it was absolutely worth it.

Read my full review here.

And that wraps up the Best of 2017: Fiction edition! I’ve really enjoyed thinking about all of these books again and I really hope you will give some of these a shot.

Officially looking on to 2018 now, and all theĀ amazing, stunning, astounding, astonishing, awe-inspiring, stupendous, staggering, extraordinary and incredible books that I will get to read!

Happy New Year!!! And see you in 2018!!!Ā 

šŸ˜€ šŸ˜€ šŸ˜€

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Eleanor Eleanor Eleanor, can I give you a hug and then a few more!

My reading luck seems to peak at the end of the year, every year, because the most enjoyable book somehow happens to be the last one I squeeze in before the year wraps up, usually after the obligatory reading target has been met.

Iā€™d been waiting to get my hands on this book since July and when I finally did I was afraid of being left disappointed because of all the wanting and expectations I had built up over the months. Luckily though, I absolutely loved the book and Eleanorā€™s character and I loved the voice that the author created for her; she is so unusual and endearing. Also, the vocabulary in this book is enough to get you half way through your GRE preparations! But thats just Eleanor being Eleanor, youā€™ll see.

There were so many passages I highlighted and saved through the book. Some of them deadpan but hilarious, like this one where Eleanor talks about fast food,

I wondered why humans would willingly queue at a counter to request processed food, then carry it to a table which was not even set, and then eat it from the paper?

and others which were heart breaking but so well put, like the one where she describes ā€˜lonelinessā€™

These days loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.

This is just a great debut novel and Iā€™m gonna be watching out for Gail Honeymanā€™s next one. If you want to close the year on a meaningful, funny, easy to read and uplifting book, then I highly recommend this one.

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