Tag Archives: fiction

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 Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons


5/5 STARS!!!!!!!

27239265Well…. that was pretty intense, exciting and enjoyable!
Gibson Vaughn is like the American equivalent of Cormoran Strike – in a refreshing, believable and non-super hero kind of way; and this first book builds a great back story for him. This is not a James Bond / Mitch Rapp equivalent and I’m so grateful to Matthew FitzSimmons for keeping it real. I am definitely looking forward to the release of the next one in October this year.

The story hooks you from the very first page and keeps the tempo up throughout. There is something about surveillance videos of missing persons that just keeps you glued and I’m sharing no more than that. Though I was able to guess the plot before the big reveal, that didn’t spoil it for me, it was still super interesting till the end.

Usually, in this genre, the lead character is either unbelievably ‘uber cool’ or so ‘flawed’ that it doesn’t seem real anymore and I find it hard to relate to. But I liked all the characterizations in this book. They are well balanced, and don’t fall into the usual cliched territory. The other thing that sets this one apart is that while the book is so fast paced, its not a shallow story and makes one care for its characters. It will stick in the mind for a while.

I think this story is perfect for American TV or at least a movie, though I think 2 hours wouldn’t do justice to all the plot lines.

Read it!!

Featured image: Goodreads.com

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Book Review: Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima


Spring SnowSpring Snow by Yukio Mishima

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spring Snow is not a book you can rush through. The very style and period of writing gives it a reserved and restrained feel, as if it’s almost impolite to be reading it any quicker. Considered Japan’s most famous writer, Mishima’s own story is so strange that it almost doesn’t fit with his intellectual and philosophical writing style. But then again, probably only such a man, who so definitively broke cultural boundaries and traditional aesthetics, would have as strange a story as his own.

While the book isn’t a difficult one to read, there are many lengthy philosophical digressions, and some very very descriptive passages about the environment the characters are surrounded by. Sometimes a whole chapter will consist of only the description of the snow, trees, blooms, the sea or procedures of a ritual, often disconnected to the actual story. But what it does do, is that it creates a very detailed picture and mood of Japan in the 1910s.

I felt the need to read a couple of reviews and analyses after finishing the book, probably in an attempt to understand if there was more than met the eye and a deeper essence that I was supposed to have appreciated. In the end, the story was a simple tale of rash youth that ends in tragedy (an avoidable waste of lives), but the mystic setting of early 19th century Japan and the interesting characterizations that appear to be so mute and demure on the outside, but are really so vocal and unquiet on the inside give it a very classic ‘Japanese’ feel – which to me was the main appeal of the book.

View all my reviews

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The 2016 Compulsive Collector’s Reading Challenge


I’ve already set myself a challenge to read 30 books this year (last year I managed 27). But the real challenge I’m setting for myself is to complete this target by reading from the books I already own.

Like most book lovers, I love to collect books – to be surrounded by books on my shelves, in my bag and in my iPad. I labor for hours online, reading several reviews and book lists to find the in best crime, thriller and contemporary fiction, and discover the most interesting true life, historical and autobiographical non-fiction. And while I keep hoarding this absolutely great stack of books (which I also fondly gaze at everyday), whenever I need to pick one to read, I almost always choose a completely new one, that was never even a part of this pile. I am greedy like that, yes. I only seem to want more and I never want to share! 😛

Having 10 unread books sitting in my book rack already, and 44 others in my iPad, did not stop me from bringing 15 more into my heart and home from the Delhi World Book Fair this weekend. Though I will say that I got these at throw away prices and at least I am not guilty about spending the month’s salary on them!

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So with that firm resolve, here’s my 2016 Reading the books I own Challenge.

Indian History

  • White Mughals
  • The Blood Telegram
  • Delhi: A Novel

Non Fiction

  • Geisha
  • Daughter of China
  • The Book of General Ignorance
  • Gangs
  • The Girl with 7 Names
  • Quest

Fiction

  • The Seventh Secret
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • That Thing Around Your Neck
  • Jailbird
  • 14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray
  • Americanah
  • The Accidental Tourist
  • Snow Flower and the Secret fan
  • Kafka on the Shore

Crime / Thriller

  • American Assassin
  • Naoko
  • Salvation of a Saint
  • The Case of the Missing Servant
  • K is for Killer
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat
  • Red Queen
  • Six of Crows

Classic / 18th Century

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • Wolf Hall
  • Bring Up the Bodies

Graphic Novel

  • Fun Home

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And that’s it!

I will be working really really hard to stick to this list. I’m sure I’ve missed a few interesting ones, but if I ever want to switch one around, I promise to switch it with one from my existing stack only. Wish me luck!

Do you have a compulsive book collection condition too? I’d love to hear how you deal with it. Until then, Happy Reading!

 

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Journey Under the Midnight Sun – Book Review


5/5 *****

When I wrote my concluding post of 2015, I thought I’d read all the  good stuff I could that year. But little did I know, that I’d end up reading something later that would have most likely made the top of that list. My decision to start reading this book a few days before I left for a holiday was based on the assumption that it would accompany me on my travels and end up being something I finished in the new year. Yet, 4 days later, there I was, marveling at what I had just read.

JourneyIntoTheMidnightSun_firstlook_02

Image Source: Crime Fiction Lover

 

To anyone who has an interest in psychological crime fiction, I cannot recommend this book enough. To those who are looking for an all consuming, remarkable piece of writing, well, what are you waiting for!

Every time I finish a Keigo Higashino book, I am in awe of his imagination, intelligence, depth of detail, his character profiles, the strange stories and plot lines he comes up with, the way he creates Japan in my mind, and his ability to keep me so helplessly glued to them, that even as a 500+ page book ‘Journey Under the Midnight Sun’ is effortless and brilliant. I loved the manner in which this one spans across 20 years, slowing down the passage of time in the story but never losing pace in the telling of it.

When I read ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’, I couldn’t have had a better initiation into Japanese crime fiction or Japanese fiction for that matter, and made a mental note of Higashino as one to watch out for. With ‘Malice’, his brilliance was confirmed and now with ‘Journey Under the Midnight Sun’, he completely satisfies the high bar he has set for himself in each of these books.

While we are quickly running out of translated titles of his novels, I do hope his popularity is picked up with a renewed rigor by translators this year and we find several more titles from this master storyteller hitting the English reader’s market. Both ‘Malice’ and ‘Journey Under the Midnight Sun’ have been among the most memorable books for me in 2015 and in 2016, I look forward to the only two titles in English  I haven’t yet read -‘Salvation of a Saint’ and ‘Naoko’.

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The 10 Best Things I Read in 2015


10best

Its been a good year of reading, better than I had planned for.

I started the year with a GoodReads target of 20 books, a deliberately conservative one because I wanted to make the time to read a lot more outside the book and fiction format.

Must confess – I am a GoodReads geek and give it all the credit for keeping me on my reading toes as well as helping me meet some of the best books out there. The thrill and excitement of looking for my next read never fades and the feeling of accomplishment with every book read is too good to give up.

With FlipBoard as my initial companion and Feedly, a later discovery in the year, there was a whole new world of information that opened up to me. This is also where I discovered #longform journalistic articles, which I am completely latched on to now. I read some of the most moving, well researched and interesting stories here, all brilliantly written and a great lesson in reportage writing.

The best part has been that I ended up reading so much more beyond my fiction fixation. With no pressure to complete my annual target of 20 books, I ended up reading 26! The only side effect was a bit of digital dry eye syndrome, what with constantly staring at my work computer, then at my ipad screen or at a book. But nothing a few eye drops couldn’t take care off – my 20/20 vision prevails 🙂

So with no further ado, here’s a list of the 10 best things I read this year, in descending order of bestness.

1 Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

5/5 – – – – One of the best books I’ve read this year, EINTY had me hooked from the very beginning and kept me absorbed with the same (if not increasing) level of interest and involvement throughout. Being a debut novel, this is an accomplishment. As The Guardian put it very well, “By the third of the 12 chapters, it is apparent that there is much here that might impress Pulitzer and Man Booker judges as much as the panellists of an online bookseller”. The book topped Amazon’s 2014 list of top 100 best sellers of the year.

The story of a mixed race family that snaps, cracks and splinters when Lydia, the apple of their eye daughter, is found dead. The narrative runs back and forth in time, lending perspective and background to how the family has shaped into its present form over the years. What expectations, insecurities, failures and disappointments have culminated into this one dreadful and tragic event and the desperate attempt they make to explore and question everything and anything that may have led to it.

All of the 6 main characters are very well developed. Their perspectives, flaws and feelings, even the ones they don’t express, come through so clearly, it is not difficult to empathize with each one and to understand their motivations and impulses. The desperation of both parents in trying to mold their unfulfilled ambitions into one child is unsettling. Hannah, the youngest member of the family was the most endearing character for me, I wished many times to be able to re-assure her.

In the end, the book is about so many things. About love, ambition, identity, loss, fear, security and individuality. #HighlyRecommended #AMustRead

2 Attachments – Rainbow Rowell

5/5 – – – – My first 5 starrer of the year, I thought this one deserved 6! I’m not a sucker for romantic stories, but this one was so well done, so smartly written and super witty, that I just loved it and couldn’t stop recommending it to every second person I met.

Epistolary novels are one of my favorite kinds, especially the contemporary ones, which take place mostly on email. Rainbow Rowell’s writing is witty, hilarious and so practically real that I could totally believe this story to be true. I can only imagine how funny she must be in real life, to spare enough for Beth and Jennifer to have their own individual senses of humor and such funny email exchanges, they make you giggle and smile throughout. Two people, best friends, who totally get each other can totally have conversations like the ones in this book – drifting between funny and sad and supportive and grumbly.

It lead me to read Rowell’s two other books – Landline and Eleanor & Park, but neither makes the cut like this one.

An ideal single sitting book – for the beach, for a plane ride home or just for a quiet Saturday afternoon.

3 Malice – Keigo Higashino

4/5 – – – – I can’t decide if I actually like this book better than The Devotion of Suspect X. There is something about it that lingers and it’s definitely a more complex plot. Keigo brings out the true meaning of malice in such a brilliant twist that it’s literally like a tangled mess of knots being unravelled. Just go read it.

4 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – Anne Tyler

4/5 – – – – As I began reading this book, I pictured the author to be an older person, someone mature with experience and the patience that comes with it. The story unfurls gently, as if you are listening to her tell you about this family she once knew, over her knitting needles on a winter afternoon.

I was surprised to discover that the book was written over 30 years ago in 1982, but less surprised to see that it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1983 (also the year i was born, wow).

Set in the mid-20th century, this family saga of sorts follows Pearl Tull who is a proud, old fashioned woman whose world is limited to her husband and three children – – a result of her own choices, priorities and outlook on life, and her three children, outlining their personalities, their manner of dealing with the lemons life gives them, and their persistent denial in accepting the truth or giving in to a difficult situation.

Anne Tyler tells this simple story of deep emotions very well. Its definitely a book worth reading. You are likely to identify with most of these characters, if not with yourself then then definitely with someone you know…

5 People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up – Richard Lloyd Parry

4/5 – – – – Many readers called this a true crime, high drama, psychological thriller all wrapped into one and I couldn’t agree more. At the same time it is well written and well researched.

Being a journalist, with the power to make a very sensational publication on the event, the author seems to have successfully steered away from that temptation and maintains a dispassionate (yet considerate) tone to the story. While the writing is very factual and unfolds in chronological order, it remains gentle in describing the events, not lending a bias to any characters one way or another and not really aiming to shock the reader with grim descriptions.

What I liked about it was that the author doesn’t dwell too much on the crime but focuses on the events that led to it and how the dynamics of a country can greatly affect the progress of solving a crime like this one. Just like the reader would, the author is also digging deeper and trying to rationalise why a person would commit such a crime. Rather than place a quick conclusion on mental / psychological imbalances, there is an attempt to explore the backstory of the person to gain some perspective that might make this more palatable….

Different people process grief differently and this comes through very well when one reads about Lucie’s parents and their diametrically opposite actions / reactions and conduct to her disappearance and death. In the end, losing a loved one to such violence alters the lives of those left behind so drastically and enduringly, and while the legal process may finally bring them “justice” and respite in the sense of it, it never can or will make up for that loss as expected, even though the families hang on to it like the last thread of hope.

This is a sad story of an unfortunate series of events and a tragedy waiting to happen, which may have been avoided had the law and order system been more sensitive to the signs and very direct leads they received long before this happened. But it is also a very interesting insight into a parallel world that most of us live such insulated and ignorant lives from.

6 American Horror Story: The Cecil Hotel #Longform

It started out as a routine missing persons case. But by the time the internet was done with her, Elisa Lam had become a macabre celebrity, a conspiracy magnet—and the inspiration for a TV series.

This story had me thinking about it for several days, so I can understand the internet frenzy it created around the mysterious circumstances that Elisa Lam disappeared under; and the inexplicable recorded piece of evidence that is eerie, disturbing and mystifying all at once.

7 The Outcast #Longform

For almost twenty years, Greg Torti has lived the life of a convicted sex offender: monitored by the authorities, unable to go near schools or parks, forced to make his home on the outskirts of a tiny town. It’s exactly the kind of miserable life a pervert deserves, he would tell you—if he were one.

A #mustread story about how one incident changed a man’s life and the heavy price he continues to pay for it. Even if he wasn’t guilty as charged. Reading this story made me realize how most of us live blessed lives, and how the complexities that overwhelm us are so insignificant in comparison to what some people face.

A quote that stayed with me,

“Everybody gets dealt a hand in life, and it’s not always a fair one”.

8 Lost Girls #Longform

Women, sex, and the Arab Spring

Another great article from Morocco, telling us Meriem’s story, who became a prostitute because she lost her virginity – because in Morocco it is still culturally and socially imperative that a woman be a virgin before marriage. Many marriage contracts include a clause stipulating that the bride produce a certificate of virginity before the wedding can take place. A falsified certificate is grounds for divorce.

An excerpt from the article:

“I received frequent unsolicited advice on how not to be confused for a prostitute. The lessons were delivered so often that I came to see the issue as a national obsession.

If you smoke cigarettes in public, people will think you are a prostitute. Do not put lipstick on in public, not even lip balm. Don’t put anything on your face in public at all. Don’t overly wax your eyebrows — you can have them waxed, but not too waxed. See? Don’t sit on the ground. Don’t spread your legs even a tiny bit while sitting and especially not while sitting on the ground. Don’t chew gum in a solicitous manner. Don’t chew gum at all. Don’t go to nightclubs. Don’t go to bars. Don’t go to cafés. If you must go to cafés, at least go to the right kind, and go with a girlfriend, never a man. Never be seen alone with a man, never, not anywhere. Don’t wear anything that shows your knees. Don’t show your feet, don’t show your upper arms, don’t wear red. Don’t walk alone after the sun has gone down. Never go out alone, and especially not at night — I mean, you can do whatever you want, you’re a foreigner, but not even prostitutes go out alone at night.”

9 They Burn Witches Here #Longform

And then they upload the photos to social media. A journey to an island caught between the ancient world and 2015.

A cringe worthy account of the reality of our times.

10 Memoirs of a Revolutionary’s Daughter #Longform

A daughter reconstructs the events that led to the execution of her father under the new Islamic Regime in Iran in 1983.

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