Bread and Chocolate by Philippa Gregory

161852.jpgGenre: Short Stories

Date Published: Jan 1, 2000

Pages: 256

Source: Owned Books

Goodreads Synopsis: A  collection of short stories from one of our most popular novelists – the perfect gift. A rich and wonderful selection of short stories. A TV chef who specialises in outrageous cakes tempts a monk who bakes bread for his brothers; a surprise visitor invites mayhem into the perfect minimalist flat in the season of good will; a woman explains her unique view of straying husbands; straying husbands encounter a variety of effective responses. Just some of the delicacies on offer in this sumptuous box of delights…

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My View: I am not much for short stories so when I pick one up, I am either in the mood for something short or am not in the mood for anything and can’t decide. But this, my my, was a brilliant choice. I finished it in less than 20 hours on a workday which is saying a lot for a 250 page book.

I probably read one book by Gregory long long back. Oh wait, after a quick check on GR, I apparently haven’t read a single one by her. I think something is fishy here. I have 4 books from one of her series adorning my shelves. And I thought I had read atleast one  by her and loved it to justify buying these 5 but oh well, maybe the GR reviews did me in.

The title story, which is also the first, reeled me in by its smell of warm bread fresh out of the oven and the deliciously dark, melting chocolate. Can you visualize it yet? Taste it? Mmmm.. like a beautiful sin it goes…

This book is a mix of stories with some sad like ‘The favour” or “The if game” but also several clever ones like “The visitor”, “The conjuring trick” and “Theories about men”.

One of my favorites was ‘theories about men’. It’s so clever and funny at the same time. I also really enjoyed ‘the wave machine’ and ‘the magic box’.

All in all, I would say the stories are women-centered and play on the power of females. However, I am pretty sure if you are not a staunch believer in patriarchy, you will enjoy these as a male too.

Gregory weaves magic with a solid punch packed in the stories. Her writing is delicate and fragile yet visual and emotional. She makes her women characters capable and clever, just the kind of women I like to read about (and encounter in the real world unless they are the evil sorts then I would rather they be dumb :p).

The book makes for a quick read and I highly recommend it.

4/5 stars – I really liked it
4 stars

Author Bio:

Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the novel The Other Boleyn Girl, which was made into a TV drama and a major film. Published in 2009, the bestselling The White Queen, the story of Elizabeth Woodville, ushered in a new series involving The Cousins’ War (now known as The War of the Roses) and a new era for the acclaimed author.

Gregory lives with her family on a small farm in Yorkshire, where she keeps horses, hens and ducks. Visitors to her site, www.PhilippaGregory.com become addicted to the updates of historical research, as well as the progress of her ducklings.

Her other great interest is the charity she founded nearly twenty years ago; Gardens for The Gambia. She has raised funds and paid for 140 wells in the primary schools of the dry, poverty stricken African country. Thousands of school children have learned market gardening, and drunk the fresh water in the school gardens around the wells.

A former student of Sussex University, and a PhD and Alumna of the Year 2009 of Edinburgh University, her love for history and her commitment to historical accuracy are the hallmarks of her writing. She also reviews for US and UK newspapers, and is a regular broadcaster on television, radio, and webcasts from her website.

Philipa’s Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/PhilippaGregoryOfficial

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

35504431.jpgGenre: Young Adult

Date Published: 2017

Pages: 286

Source: Owned kindle copy

Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

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My View: My journey with John Green started 6 years back with Looking for Alaska  (my review) which also happened to be my first audiobook. I gushed and went ga-ga over it. It was my favorite book of 2011 and I also bought a paperback later just because I wanted that book in my possession and possibly for a re-read later. After that, I really wanted to read more by him. And so I did. Barely two months later, I read The Fault in Our Stars (my review) in a 4.5-hour reading marathon being awake until the wee hours of the morning. However, the downhill ride had started, I gave this one 3.5 stars.

Three years later, I read Paper Towns (my review) which went further downhill with 3 stars and my long rant about the book being un-John Greenish. And then a year and a half later I picked up Let it Snow which had a story by John Green (my review) – “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle”. This story hit me hard and I felt Green was at his lowest. It was my least liked story in the book. The plot, the characters, nothing appealed to me at all. And after that reading, I had written I will be cautious in buying John Green books from hereon as he can’t always deliver what he did once. But did I remember it for long? Uh huh. That lesson kind of blew away in the wind when more than a year later, I saw this brand new book by Green and sparkling 5 star reviews and it’s getting a place in Goodreads finalists. And I fell for it. I am ashamed to say I did.

So with all that background, you are now equipped enough to understand where I am coming from and how my preceeding rant is justified. When the book began, I felt that Green wanted to change his usual choice of genre. It seemed like I was in for a mystery-thriller. A couple of pages in it felt like probably he was aiming for fantasy. And then some more and I was like yes, maybe he is after romance this time. With all these grappling to understand where the hell this book was going, I was beginning to get impatient. Half way through the book, I felt like throwing it against the wall but sadly I was reading on my phone and had no intention of breaking it. Another thought was to abandon it. But my being a John Green loyalist despite what he has led me through all these years as well as someone who hates leaving books unfinished, went on with it in the hopes that Green will redeem himself in the end. Boy, could I have been more wrong! This book just went from worse to worst. I appreciate and applaud Green for trying to spread awareness about mental illness through the book but really going on and on about it actually does not help to be empathic. In fact, it made me get tired of the protagonist and I am a clinical psychologist! I am supposed to empathize with her but I just couldn’t because he has made Aza a shadow of who she should have been despite the mental illness. I am not sure if it really gives out the right picture. Yes, OCD is horrible, really horrible illness and people have their daily lives taken over but they are certainly not one-dimensional. I did not like a single character in this book. And the amount of liberties Green has taken with his imagination this time around makes this more fit for fantasy than YA. Hundred thousand dollars and tarantua! Oh dear, what were you thinking? No, really! It took you 6 years to write this book! Even though I want to really stand by you and appreciate your hard work and patience, I can’t, I just can’t. This book just does not work. I have been a fan but I can’t be blind nor biased.

The plot, I don’t get what the plot really is about. Nothing catches my attention. I did not feel any emotions during any part of the book. The characters are not well-developed, the storyline is very shaky and the book is just plain bland.

The most scary thing this book has done is made me question my love for Looking for Alaska. I am scared to give it a re-read for the fear that maybe I was mistaken earlier, perhaps it is not such a good book. I am scared to re-read it for the fear I would hate it. And after all those hundreds of people, I recommended this book to. Well, perhaps I should let sleeping dogs lie and be content with the memory of a favorite book and not stir the graves.

Others have loved this book and you may want to give it a try at your own risk but me, I really will have to be more cautious about his books now. I still have to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson and An Abundance of Katherines. Should I? Let me know what you think.

2/5 stars – It was okay.
2stars

Author Bio: 

John Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award presented by the American Library Association. His second novel, An Abundance of Katherines, was a 2007 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His next novel, Paper Towns, is a New York Times bestseller and won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best YA Mystery. In January 2012, his most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, was met with wide critical acclaim, unprecedented in Green’s career. The praise included rave reviews in Time Magazine and The New York Times, on NPR, and from award-winning author Markus Zusak. The book also topped the New York Times Children’s Paperback Bestseller list for several weeks. Green has also coauthored a book with David Levithan called Will Grayson, Will Grayson, published in 2010. The film rights for all his books, with the exception of Will Grayson Will Grayson, have been optioned to major Hollywood Studios.

In 2007, John and his brother Hank were the hosts of a popular internet blog, “Brotherhood 2.0,” where they discussed their lives, books and current events every day for a year except for weekends and holidays. They still keep a video blog, now called “The Vlog Brothers,” which can be found on the Nerdfighters website, or a direct link here.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

6632785.jpgGenre: Classics/ Play

Date Published: 1955

Pages: 124

Source: Owned Books

Goodreads SynopsisCat on a Hot Tin Roof first heated up Broadway in 1955 with its gothic American story of brothers vying for their dying father’s inheritance amid a whirlwind of sexuality, untethered in the person of Maggie the Cat. The play also daringly showcased the burden of sexuality repressed in the agony of her husband, Brick Pollitt. In spite of the public controversy Cat stirred up, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics Circle Award for that year. Williams, as he so often did with his plays, rewrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for many years—the present version was originally produced at the American Shakespeare Festival in 1974 with all the changes that made Williams finally declare the text to be definitive, and was most recently produced on Broadway in the 2003–2004 season. This definitive edition also includes Williams&rsquoi; essay “Person-to-Person,” Williams’ notes on the various endings, and a short chronology of the author’s life. One of America’s greatest living playwrights, as well as a friend and colleague of Williams, Edward Albee has written a concise introduction to the play from a playwright’s perspective, examining the candor, sensuality, power, and impact of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof then and now. 

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My View: I have never been a person who reads plays. I would rather go and watch one. But when it is one which has won a Pulitzer Prize, has an interesting title and pretty book cover, you end up buying it during an online sale. It resides prettily in your bookshelf until almost 3.5 years when you decide to pick it up for a Goodreads challenge to read books with pages 100-200 and it just fits in.

I know people love descriptive terms and all the words about non-verbal body cues or setting the scene so as to say. I, however, am not one of them. I will go with it for a while and then just skim over until I find the real deal. So even though people appreciate how vividly Williams has each character imagined, to the extent of how the character is walking, I tend to skip it. Don’t get me wrong. I love him for what he has done and it would come as a great help when directing the play or the movie but it isn’t so pleasant to read all that is written in the brackets. It deflects my attention from the actual story.

About the plot, certainly, Williams has a lot going on in those short 91 pages to be precise. So much of societal oppression and themes to do with greed, animosity and loads about human nature, truth be told. He brings out the characters to be in-your-face. They aren’t hiding their faults and human vices but it is there for everyone to see. And that is what strikes me most, not the human nature per se, which we see around ourselves day in and day out but the alarming presence of it amidst everyone for all to see. And it is then that it hits you hard, for what we are. It’s clever, the people, the play. It comes rushing down on you with so much going on in such short a time and the play ends before you have time to grapple with them all.

The book presents two versions of Act 3 and I am tempted to go with Williams on his version. It seems truer to fact. I agree with his observations and why characters are behaving in the way they are.

I can guess why this won the Pulitzer. It brought on quite an uproar for its bold theme during that time. I think I should watch the movie now. The play is so short, I am sure the director would have taken creative license to extend this to movie length.

The title is very innovative but the author makes sure you get the meaning, not once but twice and it fits like a glove. A bit hillarious if you have a good visual imagination though. 😉

Apart from the play, I absolutely loved Williams’ essay on author and director. It told me more about his thought process and writing than the play did. It’s beautiful and gives an insight into the author-director duo at work. This and not the play itself, makes me want to read more by him. You got any suggestions?

3.5/5 stars – Between ‘I liked it’ and ‘I really liked it’
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Author Bio:

Thomas Lanier Williams III, better known by the nickname Tennessee Williams, was a major American playwright of the twentieth century who received many of the top theatrical awards for his work. He moved to New Orleans in 1939 and changed his name to “Tennessee,” the state of his father’s birth. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In addition, The Glass Menagerie (1945) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards. His 1952 play The Rose Tattoo (dedicated to his lover, Frank Merlo), received the Tony Award for best play.

Characters in his plays are often seen as representations of his family members. Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was understood to be modeled on Rose. Some biographers believed that the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is also based on her.

Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was generally seen to represent Williams’ mother, Edwina. Characters such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer were understood to represent Williams himself. In addition, he used a lobotomy operation as a motif in Suddenly, Last Summer.

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. These two plays were later filmed, with great success, by noted directors Elia Kazan (Streetcar) with whom Williams developed a very close artistic relationship, and Richard Brooks (Cat). Both plays included references to elements of Williams’ life such as homosexuality, mental instability, and alcoholism. Although The Flowering Peach by Clifford Odets was the preferred choice of the Pulitzer Prize jury in 1955 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was at first considered the weakest of the five shortlisted nominees, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., chairman of the Board, had seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and thought it worthy of the drama prize. The Board went along with him after considerable discussion.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

11224.jpgGenre: Classics

Date Published: 1963

Pages: 325

Source: Library

Goodreads Synopsis: In this classic of the 1960s, Ken Kesey’s hero is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women, and openly defies the rules at every turn. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into a grim struggle, an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Nurse Ratched, back by the full power of authority, and McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will. What happens when Nurse Ratched uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story’s shocking climax.

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My View: This book was on my TBR list for so long. The very first reason being it was set in an asylum. Being a clinical psychologist by profession, I try and read as many fiction books on mental illness as I can, a) because they interest me, b) I am hoping they give a real picture of the situation and the illness to create awareness among the laymen, c) I want to keep re-sensitizing myself so that I don’t become a technician and forget the person across the table has emotions and to empathize truly with what is going on with him/ her (though this isn’t very likely but sometimes I find that knowing how it feels like from the point of the person involved really helps keep me rooted and be motivated again and again to do my best at work). Anyhow, I had picked it up around 5 years back, couldn’t get into it. Finally gave up and watched the movie first, which is usually not what happens. I keep postponing the movie until I read the book (no wonder I watched Shutter Island last year and am still to watch Lord of the Rings and so many more movies!). But I wanted to try yet again and hence issued this book out of my library.

When I began reading, this book felt like a lot of work. I just couldn’t get into it. But I was determined to finish it this time around. The book dragged on till around 80 pages! After which it really picked up and my perseverance paid off. There really was no looking back. Am I happy to get it out of the way? You bet. Did I like it? I did, I really did. Am I going to pick it up again for a re-read? Umm, I doubt that very much. Not because it doesn’t deserve a second read but because it’s sad. In fact, I would go ahead and say this book is downright depressing. I didn’t feel this way after watching the movie (if memory serves me right). However, I understand that with a book, you feel more close to the character than a movie because you can read their thoughts and know them better than a movie ever allows. At times, I felt like abandoning the book in between, not because it wasn’t interesting but because I felt this was not going to go where I wanted it to. And I almost wanted to hold the author’s pen and drive it away from where he was taking it. The characters are so breathlessly etched that I felt so close to them. They were like family whom I wanted to save from anything and everything. No wonder after I finished reading, I just lay on my bed for 2 hours and did absolutely nothing. I felt like all my energy had drained, I felt really sad and I just wanted to move onto another book to distract myself from what this book had led me through.

Not to say, the book is all sad. There are many moments when I laughed. It’s quite funny at times, really. It’s interesting to know that Kesey got inspired to write this book after his time spent as a part-time aide at a psychiatric hospital. The book really does give you food for thought although it doesn’t represent the true picture of mental illness but perhaps it does portray the true reality of asylums during that time.

I do recommend giving it a read but not if you are already feeling low or have no intention of wanting to feel sad.

3.5/5 stars – Between ‘I liked it’ and ‘I really liked it’
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Author Bio:

American writer, who gained world fame with his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest(1962, filmed 1975). In the 1960s, Kesey became a counterculture hero and a guru of psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary. Kesey has been called the Pied Piper, who changed the beat generation into the hippie movement.

Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, CO, and brought up in Eugene, OR. Kesey spent his early years hunting, fishing, swimming; he learned to box and wrestle, and he was a star football player. He studied at the University of Oregon, where he acted in college plays. On graduating he won a scholarship to Stanford University. Kesey soon dropped out, joined the counterculture movement, and began experimenting with drugs. In 1956 he married his school sweetheart, Faye Haxby.

Kesey attended a creative writing course taught by the novelist Wallace Stegner. His first work was an unpublished novel, ZOO, about the beatniks of the North Beach community in San Francisco. Tom Wolfe described in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) Kesey and his friends, called the Merry Pranksters, as they traveled the country and used various hallucinogens. Their bus, called Furthur, was painted in Day-Glo colors. In California Kesey’s friends served LSD-laced Kool-Aid to members of their parties.

At a Veterans’ Administration hospital in Menlo Park, California, Kesey was paid as a volunteer experimental subject, taking mind-altering drugs and reporting their effects. These experiences as a part-time aide at a psychiatric hospital, LSD sessions – and a vision of an Indian sweeping there the floor – formed the background for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, set in a mental hospital. While writing the work, and continuing in the footsteps of such writers as Thomas De Quincy (Confessions of an English Opium Eater, 1821), Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, 1954), and William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch, 1959), Kesey took peyote. The story is narrated by Chief Bromden. Into his world enters the petty criminal and prankster Randall Patrick McMurphy with his efforts to change the bureaucratic system of the institution, ruled by Nurse Ratched.

The film adaptation of the book gained a huge success. When the film won five Academy Awards, Kesey was barely mentioned during the award ceremonies, and he made known his unhappiness with the film. He did not like Jack Nicholson, or the script, and sued the producers.

Incest by Marquis de Sade

 

16115259.jpgTranslated by: Andrew Brown

Genre: Classic

Date Published: 1800

Pages: 128

Source: Owned Books

Goodreads Synopsis: One of the most powerful and shockingly controversial novellas by Marquis de Sade.

When the immoral libertine Monsieur de Franval marries and fathers a daughter, he decides to inculcate in her a sense of absolute freedom, an unconventional education that involves the two becoming secret lovers. But Franval’s virtuous, God-fearing wife becomes suspicious and confronts him, setting off a tragic chain of events. Part of de Sade’s The Crimes of Love cycle, this shocking tale tests the limits of morality and portrays the disastrous consequences of freedom and pleasure.

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My View: Would you believe me if I told you I had never heard of this writer nor the book when I bought it? Of course, I hadn’t read the blurb as always. Now don’t go asking me how do I choose my books without reading the blurb! It’s a secret I am not going to divulge. It requires a lot of strategizing and plotting and planning so not your cup of tea, I am sure. :p

So when a Goodreads group presented a monthly challenge to read books that have pages between 100 and 200, amongst hordes of books, this came up in my search. This book often sat peeking at me from behind the other books in my shelves (with that cover, it can’t get the front space, ya know) and I was afraid of picking it up because it looked like a classic (yeah didn’t bother to check the genre either, classic me! Pun intended). However, I believed this was the right moment to get this book out of the way. And I did.

To my pleasant surprise, it read smoothly and quickly. In fact, I started it a bit after midnight and wanted to finish it. But the thought of getting up early for work, made me give up halfway through the book. The first thing I did after getting back from work was to pick it up and read, read, read until I finished. *Sigh* The 100ish pages helped. It really is ideal to be read in one sitting.

Now, what did I think of it? Phew, tough question. Good thing I was warned a bit of strong content by the introduction. So there wasn’t much that really took me aback or shocked me. I kind of went with the flow. Of course, the subject is cringe-worthy. It may come across as downright disgusting or nauseating for some so caution is advised. Absolutely not for below 16, better 18. The subject is an interesting one. The language is simple to comprehend yet beautiful in the way it flows. I especially appreciated the debates between Franval and the clergyman. Some food for thought really. And a glimpse into the manipulating, cunning nature of humankind to get what it wants, whatever the costs be and to whomever.

It certainly made for an interesting read. It also piqued my interest in Sade. I was astonished to read he spent 32 years of his life in prisons and asylums and wrote most of his work in prison. Wow, what a sad life, really. I will definitely be reading more by him although I have been sufficiently warned.

P. S. Heard about ‘sadism’? He’s the one from where the term originated-after his name.

P. P. S Whatever the book may have you believe, no, a father marrying a daughter is not permissible on the banks of Ganges!! And to my best knowledge never was. Ugh.

4/5 stars – I really liked it
4 stars

Author Bio:

Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, and writer famous for his libertine sexuality and lifestyle. His works include novels, short stories, plays, dialogues, and political tracts; in his lifetime some were published under his own name, while others appeared anonymously and Sade denied being their author. He is best known for his erotic works, which combined philosophical discourse with pornography, depicting sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence, criminality, and blasphemy against the Catholic Church. He was a proponent of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion or law.

Sade was incarcerated in various prisons and in an insane asylum for about 32 years of his life; eleven years in Paris (10 of which were spent in the Bastille) a month in Conciergerie, two years in a fortress, a year in Madelonnettes, three years in Bicêtre, a year in Sainte-Pélagie, and 13 years in the Charenton asylum. During the French Revolution he was an elected delegate to the National Convention. Many of his works were written in prison.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

4796

Genre: Classic

Date Published: 1961

Pages: 336

Source: Library

Goodreads Synopsis: Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of Steinbeck’s last novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With Ethan no longer a member of Long Island’s aristocratic class, his wife is restless, and his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.

Set in Steinbeck’s contemporary 1960 America, the novel explores the tenuous line between private and public honesty that today ranks it alongside his most acclaimed works of penetrating insight into the American condition. This edition features an introduction and notes by Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw.

Buy it here – Amazon India | Amazon US | Flipkart | The Book Depository | Add on Goodreads

My View:  More than 5 years ago, I happened to come across ‘Of mice and men’ while searching for the shortest possible classic (don’t judge me! :p) and happened to love it (read my review here). So it was just as well, I came across this book (which again I had never heard of before but knowing Steinbeck I thought it was worth the risk) during my monthly visit to the library.

Imagine my delight when the book had me in its clutches from Page 1 and never let go. I would read till late night, read while commuting to work, try to sneak in glances at work (dear boss, if you’re reading this, I am just making this up, ya know!), read on my way back home and pick it up as soon as I reached home and read till my eyes closed of their own accord. The result? I finished it in 3 days flat (during weekdays!) which is a big thing for me when reading a 300+ page book. But I couldn’t/ didn’t want to stop reading. It was addictive and I had to know what would happen next.

In a way, it’s a thriller because you know where things are leading to and you’re expecting it to happen. You’re lying in wait for just the right opportunity for it to happen and you’re anxious about it. You don’t know if you want to go with Ethan or steer him away from his path. In some ways, it reminded me of crime and punishment. I know I might be crazy to draw comparisons between these two books but there’s this thing about morality and honesty and what should be and shouldn’t be done and I think both books sort of have an ongoing debate on this theme (if my memory serves me right or else I am indulging in retrospective falsification).

I loved the characters from the beginning. I felt for Ethan. He made me laugh like crazy. His sense of humor is amazing. I kind of fell in love with him a little bit although he does have his faults. Mary, his wife is the backbone of the household and holds her own fort. The children have such vivid personalities. Steinbeck brilliantly sketches his characters. Each person shines through and it’s like you know all of them intimately.

Steinbeck’s writing is so powerful and thought-provoking. If I had a kindle copy, it would be filled with 100 highlights, I am sure. His words are just magic and when put on paper, they sprout wings and fly away into the eternity, resonating within the reader long after the book has been closed.

Here’s a sneak peek into his writing-

“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen… When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you’ve got two new people.”

“So many old and lovely things are stored in the world’s attic because we don’t want them around us and we don’t dare throw them out.”

Steinbeck, I think I am in love with you.

I will be picking up other books by him and you should definitely pick this one up! (Note to self- Need to buy this asap and re-read it sometime.)

4.5/5 stars – Between ‘I really liked it’ and ‘I loved it’!
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Author Bio:

John Steinbeck III was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and the novella Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories.

In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley region of California, a culturally diverse place of rich migratory and immigrant history. This upbringing imparted a regionalistic flavor to his writing, giving many of his works a distinct sense of place.

Steinbeck moved briefly to New York City, but soon returned home to California to begin his career as a writer. Most of his earlier work dealt with subjects familiar to him from his formative years. An exception was his first novel Cup of Gold which concerns the pirate Henry Morgan, whose adventures had captured Steinbeck’s imagination as a child.

In his subsequent novels, Steinbeck found a more authentic voice by drawing upon direct memories of his life in California. Later he used real historical conditions and events in the first half of 20th century America, which he had experienced first-hand as a reporter.

Steinbeck often populated his stories with struggling characters; his works examined the lives of the working class and migrant workers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. His later body of work reflected his wide range of interests, including marine biology, politics, religion, history, and mythology.

One of his last published works was Travels with Charley, a travelogue of a road trip he took in 1960 to rediscover America. He died in 1968 in New York of a heart attack and his ashes are interred in Salinas.

Seventeen of his works, including The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Cannery Row (1945), The Pearl (1947), and East of Eden (1952), went on to become Hollywood films, and Steinbeck also achieved success as a Hollywood writer, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Story in 1944 for Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.

Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #3) by Alexander McCall Smith

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Date Published: November 12, 2002

Pages: 227

Source: Owned Books

Goodreads Synopsis: Botswana PI Precious Ramotswe investigates the alleged poisoning of the brother of an important government official, and the moral character of four beauty contestants. When her business has money trouble, and problems arise at her reliable fiance Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s Speedy Motors, she finds he is more complicated then he seems.

Buy it here – Amazon India | Amazon US | Flipkart | The Book Depository | Add on Goodreads

My View: This year I have been in the mood for easy, quick reads and this series fits the bill. Plus it helps me get a couple of books read from my shelf. 😉

I applaud how the author subtly sneaks in important life lessons and observations about morality without sounding preachy or judgemental. This book had a lot going in it. A mystery that I couldn’t put my finger on (which is cool considering the mysteries in this series are usually easy-going and not difficult to unveil), several laugh out loud moments, as well as touching upon an important issue.

I also really liked how Mma Makutsi’s character got further chance to develop and astound us with her capabilities. This book was comparatively fast paced and there was one thing or the other going on. It never ceased to excite my interest and warmed me with its easy flowing language and hot cups of bush tea.  😀

I think I should have picked up more of this series books for my shelf. I only have around 5, I think. I am really enjoying reading through the series especially when I want to cozy up in my blanket and read for pleasure.

3.5/5 stars – Somewhere between ‘I liked it’ and ‘I really liked it’!images-25

Author Bio:

Alexander McCall Smith is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland.

 

Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #2) by Alexander McCall Smith

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Date Published: August 7, 2003

Pages: 217

Source: Owned Books

Goodreads Synopsis: Tears of the Giraffe takes us further into the life of the engaging and sassy Precious Ramotswe, the owner and detective of Botswana’s only Ladies’ detective agency. Among her cases are wayward wives, unscrupulous maids and a challenge to resolve a mother’s pain for her son, who is long lost on the African plains. Mma Ramotswe’s own impending marriage to that most gentlemanly of men, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, the promotion of her secretary to the dizzy heights of Assistant Detective and new additions to the Matekoni family, all brew up the most humorous and charmingly entertaining of tales.

Buy it here – Amazon India | Amazon US | Flipkart | The Book Depository | Add on Goodreads

My View:  After I read the first book in the series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency more than 5 years ago, I have been kind of collecting this series on my visit to the annual book fairs. I really liked the first one (read my review here). Even though the genre mentioned is mystery, this series is not one of those tipsy-turvy thrillers that would have you on the edge of your seat. It’s more like one which you cozily enjoy with a cup of tea. No wonder this genre has found its name as a tea cozy mystery. It aptly fits the book of this series.

Having known the characters in the first book, this one settles you down with more happening in the personal life of Mma Ramotswe rather than a whole lot of cases to solve. But that is good because we need some action to happen in the life of our favorite detective when so much is happening on the outside.

If you happen to have cake and tea (even better bush tea!) around, they would go well this book and even the entire series because the characters would make you hungry and thirsty with their constant rounds of bush tea. I always find myself having atleast one cup of green tea while reading the series! Temptations, ah. Good that green tea is considered healthy. 😉

Anyhow, the book is heavy on Mma Ramotswe with a lot happening in her life but as always she manages to work out everything. The book is a tad bit sad with not all coming to a happy end but well that’s how life goes, right?

Pick this one up for a lazy sunday afternoon. Grab your cuppa and relax.

 

3/5 stars – I liked it!3 stars

Author Bio:

Alexander McCall Smith is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland.

Let’s get you published!

Lets Get You Published Updated

The hunt for India’s fresh writing talents has begun.

Times Internet, and star authors like Jeffrey Archer and Ruskin Bond, are all set to uncover India’s story-telling potential in the second season of Write India campaign.

Times Internet’s flagship news platform timesofindia.com has launched Write India campaign Season 2 to uncover India’s great story-telling potential. It is an unprecedented crowd-sourced short story contest for which TOI sets up an eclectic line-up of world-renowned authors to inspire, encourage and evaluate budding writers and amateurs. This year’s panel includes celebrity authors– Sir Jeffrey Archer, Ruskin Bond, Sudha Murty, Twinkle Khanna, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Anand Neelakantan, Shobhaa De, Manu Joseph, Namita Gokhale and Nikita Singh.

The entire campaign will be run for a period of 10 months, until 30 April 2018. Each month, one of the celebrity authors will share a passage for budding writers to weave a short story around, stories will be curated by Write India team and then, top winners will be selected by the author of the month. To begin the campaign on a high-note, Anand Neelakantan, author of the famous Bahubali trilogy, has been announced as the author for the month of July.

The winning stories created during Write India campaign will later be compiled in a book and published by TOI. At the end of the year, TOI will also organize a workshop for the winners where they will be mentored by celebrity authors.

Write India was created as part of the Times of India brand’s changing philosophy from just being a nationally social responsible brand to becoming a platform that provides an opportunity for young Indians to showcase their talent in various creative fields. The first season of Write India program was a grand success with around 1.5 lakh registrations and 25,000 short stories received in a span of 11 Months. It discovered top writers from across the country and 36 winning stories were published in the form of a book in November last year. So, what are you waiting for?

Log on to www.toi.in/writeindia to submit your story and live your dream of becoming a published author.

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Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

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Translated by: Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

Genre: Short Stories

Date Published: May 9, 2017

Pages: 240

Source: Penguin Random House Review Copy

Goodreads Synopsis: A dazzling new collection of short stories–the first major new work of fiction from the beloved, internationally acclaimed, Haruki Murakami since his #1 best-selling Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.

Buy it here – Amazon India | Amazon US | Flipkart (40% off on hardcover!)| The Book Depository | Add on Goodreads

My View:  Ah, well, here I find myself again. Around three years back, I read my first Murakami. You can read my hair-pulling review here. And it was then I decided to take a break from Murakami until I had wisened up or tracked down Murakami and sat him down to find some answers. I did try that last year when I was in Japan at a booklover’s paradise and reading Birthday Stories by him but I couldn’t track him down. Anyhow, I did find myself with another Murakami in the beginning of last year, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage which was comparatively easier for my dull mind to grasp. So when I saw this opportunity to read another Murakami a year and a half after my last read by him, I thought it was enough of  a break (not to mention the 1Q84 which is lying in the deep, dark corners of my bookshelf waiting to be discovered but I guess it will have to wait).

This book could not have come at a better time. With my mind unable to concentrate for long right now (ah! life), I guess short stories were just what I needed. And thanks be to Murakami, he did not mess with my mind too much this time. In fact, I have to give it to him for this masterpiece (and here is when I’m rethinking the rating but let’s go with that for now). After reading Murakami you know he can’t do without his cats and they make their presence felt. In fact, a reviewer who had the chance to ask him a question asked precisely this ‘What’s with the cats?’ and he answered  that when he was a child he had no brother and  no sister, but he had a cat, and he talked to his cat, and the cat talked back to him. They somehow entered all his stories, and he felt his writing was the better for it. Ah, atleast one question answered. Woohoo!

In fact, you may draw some associations between the stories with a character being repeated in another. I could only draw one such comparison but I was reading 5 books at a time so may have missed the others. A thing which I really appreciated is that even though the theme of ‘men without women’ pervades all the stories, the meaning is strikingly different in all which is no mean feat to accomplish. All the men in the stories are in completely different circumstances and the absence of a woman is presented in a unique manner in each, with varying consequences. But the theme of each is made clear without having to say it in those many terms.

I also like how the women are portrayed in these stories (although some may beg to differ). Murakami gives them wings to fly, he sets them free. They are just themselves without having to follow patriarchal rules and be set in a mould. They are strong and do not need men to complete them. On the other hand, as the title reveals, it’s the men here who miss the women in their lives despite their not being ideal or perfect which is actually a relief!

It’s difficult to come up with my favorite of all the stories but I guess it would be ‘Scheherazade’ which was the first one I read (yeah I love to randomly open up stories and start reading). It just spoke to me. If you have read the book, don’t judge me but something about her made me feel that I would like to be free like her. Without attachments, without concern yet not without feelings. It would be a good place to be in.

Murakami does magic when he writes down his characters. It is even more evident in his stories because you have known 2 characters in just 20 pages and yet you feel for them, you want to know more about them, and to know them personally. It’s not an easy thing to do certainly. People write whole books about characters you don’t give a damn about so making you feel for someone in a short story is just wow.

‘Samsa in love’ would give a good laugh to all those who have read and re-read ‘Metamorphosis‘ (yep, that would be me). Gregor Samsa has finally found his way back as a human but how. The stories have a touch of dry humor that would sometimes make you smile and at others, laugh out loud.

Murakami’s writing is lyrical and something to savor and relish with delight. I had to sadly read this book in a few days in order to write this review but I would advice you to read a story (and not read any other book concurrently) and let it mull over for a couple of days while your brain does its own thing and comes up with themes and secrets that Murakami always sprinkles around in his books.

So if you’re still deciding on whether or not to pick it up, let this make up your mind-

“It’s quite easy to become Men without Women. You love a woman deeply, and then she goes off somewhere. That’s all it takes. And there’s very little we can do about that. And that’s how you become Men without Women. Before you even know it. And once you’ve become Men without Women, loneliness seeps deep down inside your body, like a red-wine stain on a pastel carpet. No matter how many home ec books you study, getting rid of that stain isn’t easy. The stain might fade a bit over time, but it will still remain, as a stain, until the day you draw your final breath. And you are left to live the rest of your life with the gradual spread of that color, with that ambiguous outline. “

All right so you made your decision? Go off then, buy the book and get reading.

4/5 stars – I really liked it!
4 stars

Author Bio:

Haruki Murakami is the author of many novels as well as short stories and non-fiction. His books include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, The Strange Library and Wind/Pinball. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages, and the most recent of his many international honours are the Jerusalem Prize and Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award.

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(Many thanks to Penguin Random House for sending this book my way. All opinions are my own and completely unbiased.)

Interview with Tanuja Chandra

Whoever has not heard of Tanuja Chandra? She was the screenwriter of Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and directed Dushman (1998) and Sangharsh (1999), all of which I happen to adore and some I have watched more than once. So when I got to know that she has penned down a book, I was all ears. I was also curious to know about her journey from a screenwriter to a director to an author and wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. So here it is.

Me: How did this transition from a film maker to writer come about?

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Tanuja Chandra (TC): I was a writer first. In school and college, I wrote poetry as well as small pieces for newspapers and magazines. Even after joining films, I first wrote
screenplays before starting direction. For me it was simple – as a director, I had to be a writer as well. But yes, writing a book took a long time even though I had wanted to write one many, many years ago. I guess it was just too scary! When the opportunity to do it came by, this idea of short stories of Uttar Pradesh which I had nursed for a while, seemed just the most natural thing to do.

Me: Haha, you are right, the idea to pen down a book is downright scary! Where did the idea for Bijnis woman come from?

TC: The stories I had heard from my parents as well as several members of my extended family from Uttar Pradesh, always stayed with me. They were funny, strange, bizarre, touching, but always memorable. Unique tales of ordinary people in specific situations, when life sort of took over. So appealing to me, so interesting, and most importantly, stories that would be lost in the haze of time if they weren’t recorded. Who cares for ordinary people, right? The fact that I was able to do this is wonderful and I feel lucky.

Me: I am glad you could do this because it would give us readers an opportunity to know those stories. Bijnis woman will appeal to which readers?

TC: I would like to think – all kinds! The stories are dramatic and entertaining and very unusual, they’re all about a time gone by – so I would think they would appeal to younger readers who would never be able to experience that kind of life, while for older readers, I imagine the book would be a nostalgic trip. There are several stories about women so I would hope female readers would enjoy and relate to them, but at the same time, there are some really unique male protagonists which I hope would appeal to all kinds of readers.

Me: Wow, that does take into consideration all readers. Does Bijnis woman give a message to the society? What is it?

TC: I didn’t start out writing this with the intention of putting a message out there. However, what is important to me as a writer is to look at the characters in these stories with affection. Even the most annoying, small-hearted, sad sort among us need to be looked upon as human beings, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I suppose this also came from the narrators telling me these stories – they had a tone of affection and that is probably what percolated down to my writing. If I’ve successfully been able to do that, it would be very fulfilling to me personally.

Me: That indeed is a message worth remembering. No matter who we are, we need to be treated as humans. What is your favorite book and why?

TC: IMPOSSIBLE to put down one favourite. But if you were to ask me for three, they would be To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, and My Little Friend by Donna Tartt. Interestingly, all three female authors! It’s difficult to say why I love these books – I guess the fact that I can go back to them anytime and come away enriched is the most telling. There are plenty other books I love as well, but there’s something special about these three.

Me: Haha. I know. When I was penning down this question, I was like, Tanuja will kill me! But glad I took that chance. I still have two of them to read. *adds to TBR* What do you think are the prerequisites for becoming a writer?

TC: To live. To feel. And then, to be resilient and hard-working, because the craft of writing is a skill that you can spend a lifetime trying to master, and never be able to master. Thinking about writing is useless, one just has to get down to it.

Me: That is some really good advice right there. It is indeed a skill you can keep improving upon but one must start. Are there any other books in the pipeline?

TC: Yes, a novel which I actually began work on before Bijnis Woman. For me, that one is a bigger struggle because it’s a story that was born inside my own heart, not something I had heard from family. But hopefully, I should be able to finish it soon. (Best laid plans of mice and men!)

Me: Well, I do hope you finish it soon so that I can read it! I have loved your movies so I am sure a story born inside your heart is something I am all ears for. Thank you for being at Reviewing Shelf, Tanuja. I hope to see more of your writing out there.

Buy it here – Amazon India | Amazon US

Here’s an excerpt for you to get a flavour of the book before you dig in.

“They never discovered where Ranvir was through the night; he would step to the front door the next morning, hardly aware where he had been. He slept right through the desperate screams which went on for an hour as his family watched, shamefaced. Thakur Rajpal couldn’t help but feel pity for this girl in her crazed, unhinged state, shouting so

Thakur Rajpal couldn’t help but feel pity for this girl in her crazed, unhinged state, shouting so violently he thought she would faint. The blame would be his to shoulder if something were to happen to her; would she be at his gates still when the sun was up, wasn’t it wrong, shutting his door on a helpless girl, alone in the night? He had never faced such embarrassment. Her inconsolable, unstoppable screams unnerved him, and his own son’s doltish, stupor-filled, insensible state angered him. The family was now gathered inside the second-floor library, watching the scene at the gates below, exchanging troubled looks with pursed lips as a cluster of villagers gathered around Amrita.

All of a sudden, from behind him, Thakur Rajpal heard another loud voice. It was Jwala. ‘If anyone opens the gate for this girl, I will kill myself,’ she yelled. ‘I will kill my children and then I will kill myself. Everything will be ruined. Everything.’

Now, with their backs to the gates, they gawked at Jwala, open-mouthed. This small, frail, nervous girl, to hear whom one had to strain one’s ears even in an intimate conversation, stood there bellowing ultimatums, her body shaking with white-hot anger. ‘Don’t you dare move, any of you! Let her shout till she drops dead,’ she growled. ‘He will never hear her, never!’ And then, they heard the commotion at the gate. Everyone turned back towards it. What they saw made their blood go cold. Amrita had broken through and would soon be riding towards the front door.”