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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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.)

Book Launch & Review: Dark Diamond by Shazia Omar

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Date: 9th September 2016
Time: 6 PM
Venue: Oxford Book Store, Connaught Place, New Delhi

There, I was, strolling in CP, enjoying Naturals Ice-cream while awaiting the watch to indicate 6pm. However, I couldn’t wait as much and was at Oxford at 5:30. I glimpsed through books and looked around until the launch finally started at 6:30pm.

The ever-charming Willliam Dalrymple started off the event with asking Shazia Omar about her experiences of 9/11 and how they made her shift from her well-paid career in NY to social work and finally to writing books.

Shazia described being influenced by Jack Kerouac’s work. She went on to talk about how it took  her 4 years to complete her first book. Her first book Like a diamond in the sky  was a narrative about addicts in Mumbai. She also told us about how both her books have males as the main character and it’s spontaneous how that comes to her rather than being the voice of a female character.

She further told us about how 12 writers came together in Bangladesh to form a critique writing group and she was one of them.

Shazia remembered how she was aiming at bringing the perspective from a negative Bangladesh to a positive one. She elaborated that although its image may be negative now, it hasn’t always been so. She reminisced about a time when it was full of literature, culture, and deep rich history and legacy.

She talked about the main character of Dark Diamond, Shayista Khan whom she has set in the image of Indiana Jones. She went on to talk about the early Aurangjeb of 1685 and how we should take a look at history to see what it can teach us. History repeats itself. She talked about how with the radical Islam, artisans were unable to sell their goods. The battle we are fighting is still the same as the one he was fighting then.

Questioned about the title, she replied that diamonds were earlier used to trade in large measures. Heroin used to be bought in exchange for diamonds. She wanted to draw a parallel between the material and the spiritual. Kohinoor brought misery to whoever owned it and she spinned  a tale around the same.

The launch was splendidly spearheaded by William Dalrymple as he asked question after interesting question making for a lively session.

Published: August 23, 2016
Publisher
Bloomsbury
Pages
252
Source
Review book by Bloomsbury
Format
Paperback

Goodreads Summary: The hero of Dark Diamond is Lord Shayista Khan, the Mughal Viceroy of Bengal, who in 1685, during Aurangzeb’s rule, was the most powerful man on Earth. Under Lord Khan’s governance, Bengal became the epicenter of commerce and culture – a veritable treasure chest with greedy enemies: Maratha warriors, Arakan rajas, Hindu zamindars, fanatic Mullahs, a diabolical Pir with occult powers and the East India Company. Not only does Lord Khan have to keep them at bay but also he must neutralize the curse of the Kalinoor, the dark diamond sister of the famous Kohinoor that now adorns the British Crown.

Buy it here – Amazon India |  Add on Goodreads

My View: Frankly, historical fiction isn’t up my alley for the most part. However, the book launch sparked my interest and I decided to give it a read. The story flowed effortlessly from page 1, taking you along with it. The characters are well-etched and I found myself rooting for them. The parallel story lines worked wonderfully, weaving a web of mystery.

Thrill was apparent in every page of the book, making me want to read on to know what happens next. The book takes you on a journey through the lands of Bengal, mesmerising and enchanting. Shayista Khan, despite his age, appears as the charming, handsome hero he is portrayed to be. The romantic sub-plot also works well.

Some of the things that I did not like included the use of too many big looking words which seemed more to be there to prove the vast vocabulary of the author rather than serving any purpose. They seemed straight out of a thesaurus and could have easily been done without.

I did not, in particular, like the beginning of each chapter. In trying to ‘show rather than tell’, the author lost relevance for the description of a landscape in the beginning of each chapter. Its presence seemed futile and the result of a planned chapter beginning. It could have surely been given a miss.

In all, an exciting one-sitting read.

3/ 5 stars – I liked it. 3 stars

(All opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced.)

Huge thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing the review copy.

Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson & Lauren Myracle

Published: October 1, 2009
Publisher: Speak
Pages: 365
Source: Owned
Format: Kindle ebook

Goodreads SynopsisAn ill-timed storm on Christmas Eve buries the residents of Gracetown under multiple feet of snow and causes quite a bit of chaos. One brave soul ventures out into the storm from her stranded train and sets off a chain of events that will change quite a few lives. Over the next three days one girl takes a risky shortcut with an adorable stranger, three friends set out to win a race to the Waffle House (and the hash brown spoils), and the fate of a teacup pig falls into the hands of a lovesick barista.

A trio of today’s bestselling authors – John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle – bring all the magic of the holidays to life in three hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and kisses that will steal your breath away.

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

My View: I have been wanting to read this book for ages. It’s no secret that I love John Green, especially after Looking for Alaska (Read my fan-girling review here). The Fault in Our Stars was nice too (Read my review here). So when I was looking for books to read during Ho-Ho-Ho Read-A-Thon, I immediately grabbed onto it.

I was almost tempted to skip to the John Green story first but I am glad I didn’t. The stories are to be read in sequence to make sense. I guess I went in with too many expectations. It was a John Green book after all! As far as the other authors are concerned, I have never read Lauren Myracle. I have read The Name of the Star (The Shades of London Book 1) by Maureen Johnson (My review here) which I thought was okay.

The book starts off with “The Jubilee Express” by Maureen Johnson which was the best of the three.  It had a good plot, believable characters, various twists and turns and a nice end. If it had been for this story by itself, the book would have gotten 3 stars.

The next to follow was “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle” by John Green which was surprisingly the least liked story by me. It had none of the usual John Green magic. I felt it was stretched where it wasn’t necessary and cut short where it was. The plot lacked depth, the characters didn’t really get me to root for them and the story lacked lustre. A complete fail and a blow to my expectations.

Finally came “The Patron Saint of Pigs” by Lauren Myracle. First things first, I want myself a teacup pig. Well, I wanted until I read all about it. Nope, I can’t be cruel to animals and under-feed them so that they remain cute and little. Plan aborted. As far as the story is concerned, the plot had some depth, the characters although superficial were make-do and the story derived its own happy end.

Overall, my hopes from this book were dashed. I might be a bit overcautious in buying John Green books from here on. A favorite author does not necessarily lead to a good book, I have realized.

2/5 stars – It was okay but nothing special.

2stars

Dear Kalam Sir by Saji Mathew, Jubie John

31189204Date Published: July 27, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Pages: 224
Source: Review Copy provided by Bloomsbury Publishing
Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis: Based on the dearkalamsir community art project by LetterFarms, the book is an original convergence of art, articulation and passion, using the simple yet powerful tool of postcards. Inspired by Dr. Kalam’s exemplary life and words, it delves into the dreams and aspirations of contemporary India, especially the youth, uniquely handcrafted with a humane touch.

Underlining the extraordinary power that lies with ordinary people, this book is a first-of-its-kind anthology of handwritten postcard tributes for a public leader, ever.The messages are filled with endearing sentiments and echo India’s profound love for Dr. Kalam and its unparalleled unity.

Kalam sir continues to live in the hearts and minds of India’s future, and dearkalamsir is a handwritten compendium of that spirit for generations to witness.

Buy it here – Amazon India  | Add on Goodreads

My View: Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has had this unprecedented hold over everyone from children to adults to elderly. His President-ship was the most peaceful, non-conflictual one India had ever seen. He was rightly named the People’s President. He was loved and respected and endeared by all. His books were downright motivational and had hundreds of readers.

Last year, India lamented the death of Dr Kalam with waves of sorrow. It was then that LetterFarms, a Kochi-based NGO decided to pay him a tribute. An art project was launched inviting people all over India to write postcards on his 84th birth anniversary. Postcards poured in from 200 cities all over India.

The chosen few that have found a place in this anthology are mind-stirring and sentimental. Some wrote his quotes, other drew his portrait while still others expressed his ideals through pictures.

The anthology is full of colors and feelings that reverberate in your mind long after you have closed the book. Sometimes we forget the legendary figures and this book served as an awakening call for me to remember Dr Kalam and his life-long work for our nation and its people. It is a glaring testament to how motivational his life has been for the people especially the youth. The way his words have captured the thoughts and feelings of people all over is unbelievable.

The book itself along with its cover is a beautiful piece of art to behold. The star-speckled sky on the cover leaves way for so many interpretations to its relation to Dr Kalam and what he represented.

A must-read and keep for every personal library.

Here is a sneak peek-

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

(All opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced.)

Huge thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing the review copy.

Have you been to this booklover’s paradise yet?

So I mentioned I would tell you about this super amazing place I visited last month. Same time last month I was in Japan at a place I want to scream about from the rooftop. Although I am a very planned kind of person when it comes to my trips, this time I didn’t get much time to do that. However, thanks to a friend who recognizes my hunger for books, I came to know about this wow place. The thing is she had no idea I was visiting Japan in July but something made her send this my way in May of this year. I would call it sheer good luck and destiny on my part. And that’s how I came to know about Book and Bed, Tokyo.

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That looks like a beautiful cozy library, doesn’t it? But it’s so much more than that! Right behind that bookshelf are beds. Yes! Little comfy beds, your own type of a nook inside of a bookshelf. Did you gasp yet? I thought so. I booked one the moment I came to know because I saw them filling up pretty soon. And there I was on 28th July 2016.

I arrived pretty late and it took me quite some time to find it even though it’s in a very prime location in Ikebukuro and hardly 2-3mins walk from the nearest subway. Extremely well located, with lots of places to visit nearby, this is a gem of a place.

It’s on the 7th floor, I was greeted by a receptionist who was from Bangladesh! Yeah, in Japan, you run into people from so many different countries as they work to pay for their education in Japan. She was very friendly and helped me with the formalities. And then I saw my bed. Do you see that girl up there? No, that’s not me but my bed was the one on the left of her, that night. Perfectly located!

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Later, I went around the place taking a tour. The shower was compact but comfortable. You need to make sure you open the washroom door slowly else you end up hitting the person walking outside in the narrow passing way. However, they were the least of my worries. The place doesn’t have a kitchen except you can make yourself a cup of tea or coffee for a charge. I browsed through the bookshelves and spied some English books amongst lots of Japanese ones. That was a bit of disappointment. A lot of these were Japan travel books while others were popular and not so popular English ones. I picked up this stack to read through and settled at the far end of that sofa, looking down at the road 7 floors down from that window on the right.

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I started off with The Gift of Nothing, the cute children’s book and finished it within minutes. Then I moved onto the Japan Travel guide. Flipped through it for around half hour before moving onto Birthday Stories by Haruki Murakami. I have read two of his books, Kafka on the Shore and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage. And before coming to Japan, I tried to locate him down because I had so many questions from Kafka on the Shore that I needed answers to. However, I couldn’t find his address. While reading the preface of this book where Murakami talks about his place in Tokyo and looking out the window, I was looking out the window on my left trying to find his place amongst the high rise buildings of Tokyo. It was such a surreal feeling to read Murakami in his own country where he may be sleeping just a few miles away from me. I read through a few stories before getting into my comfy bed and reading away until 1:30am when my eyes couldn’t keep open and I let myself fall asleep.

Sadly, next morning, I had to vacate by 11. I awoke late, had a shower and left, already missing the place a bit.

If you aren’t short on cash, I would recommend booking a couple of nights here. One night was too less.

Do not miss this when in Japan! Highly recommended!

Who, Me? by Tina Sharma Tiwari

Date Published: April 2015
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 262
Source: Review Copy provided by Random House India
Format: Paperback

Goodreads SynopsisIs love only about how you look? Will a makeover change Tara’s life? Can it change anybody’s life? When plain Jane Tara is dumped by her fiancé at the altar for a stunning rich heiress, it shakes her confidence. However, she’s not ready to give up. She will do whatever it takes to win her Arun back. Even if it means undergoing a complete makeover!

The school reunion is her big chance. So when Tara turns up there, completely transformed glamorous and sexy-she gets more than her fair share of attention, especially from Arun. It seems her plan is working. But soon the unexpected begins to happen and Tara finds herself in a dangerous situation. She stumbles upon secrets she’d never known. Life shows her how unpredictable it is!

Buy it here – Amazon India | Flipkart | Add on Goodreads

My View: If you read my blog diligently, you know my strange habit of being wary of Indian authors for the most part. I do like some of them like Jhumpa Lahiri and I did like Mohsin Hamid (read previous review). But most of them I don’t get along with in terms of the writing.

Since I had the pleasure of going to the book launch of this one, I decided to give it a go. Also, the fact that the author is a journalist helped me take that brave decision. So was my decision right? Let’s see.

I didn’t like the cover at the first glance, it was only when I held the book in my hand was I able to appreciate that dual dressing bit and realised it was very clever and tastefully done. Well done, Pia Hazarika. I wonder why her name sounds familiar. Will look that up later.

Going past the cover, as is the norm, it took me some time to settle in with the writing. Over time, I didn’t find it difficult to traverse my way through. There were absolutely no typos, no grammatical errors as was expected of a journalist cum writer and I am glad for that.

The book is set in chick lit genre and I believe I knew that when I started reading it. Over my reading though, the book seemed to have transcended its genre from chick lit to thriller. I am not sure how I felt about it though.

The things that I liked about the book includes its being error-free and some very comical situations that had me smiling if not laughing out loud. Well done on that, you author, you!

Things that I would have liked to steer clear of – I understand chick lit does assume some innocence and stupid acts on the part of the protagonists but sometimes it got on my nerves (am I becoming a feminist by the day?). I know one shouldn’t compare books but I am reminded of Janet Evanovich series and how one tends to laugh a lot when reading her books but there are no hard feelings and no way-beyond-stupid acts. I think I had major issues with the book’s plot because I see women as strong and intelligent. Although I did see glimpses of those in another character, I somehow wanted the protagonist to have those too. I wanted to shake some sense into her. But, oh well, if I am feeling strongly for the characters, the author has done her job well, hasn’t she?

Another thing that irked me was the kind of mixing of genres, not that I mind it. But in this book, it seemed more of a forced entry than casual sneakiness. And somehow the reality was lost and the book became a hugely fictional, impossible account of a main character. That was when I realised I didn’t connect with the book any more.

Fantasies are all around us and we want to live in one. But for books termed any other genre than fantasy, I expect realistic situations and thus wasn’t too happy with the way the book advanced. The plot wasn’t for me, personally. The characters, however, were well etched and thought out. And the writing was smooth and flowing.

If you’re into chick-lit and love some thrill mixed with it, you would like this easy, breezy read. I finished reading it in two days, so that’s something.

2/5 stars – It was okay. 2stars

(All opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced.)

Huge thanks to Random House India for providing the review copy.

Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London by Mohsin Hamid

Date Published: November 27, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 252
Source: Review Copy provided by Random House India
Format: Paperback

Goodreads SynopsisFrom “one of his generation’s most inventive and gifted writers” (The New York Times) , intimate and sharply observed commentary on life, art, politics, and “the war on terror.”

Mohsin Hamid’s brilliant, moving, and extraordinarily clever novels have not only made him an international bestseller, they have earned him a reputation as a “master critic of the modern global condition” (Foreign Policy). His stories are at once timeless and of-the-moment, and his themes are universal: love, language, ambition, power, corruption, religion, family, identity. Here he explores this terrain from a different angle in essays that deftly counterpoise the personal and the political, and are shot through with the same passion, imagination, and breathtaking shifts of perspective that gives his fiction its unmistakable electric charge.

A “water lily” who has called three countries on three continents his home—Pakistan, the birthplace to which he returned as a young father; the United States, where he spent his childhood and young adulthood; and Britain, where he married and became a citizen—Hamid writes about overlapping worlds with fluidity and penetrating insight. Whether he is discussing courtship rituals or pop culture, drones or the rhythms of daily life in an extended family compound, he transports us beyond the scarifying headlines of an anxious West and a volatile East, beyond stereotype and assumption, and helps to bring a dazzling diverse global culture within emotional and intellectual reach.

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

My View: To tell the truth, the only reason I picked up this book in the first place was because the author was famous for having written The Reluctant Fundamentalist which went on to become a major motion picture. Otherwise, a book with a title like that would have been easily glossed over.

The book has been divided by essays into three parts – Life, Art and Politics. It’s difficult to choose which part I liked the most. But yes, I found the first two parts more easy to read and interesting while the final one was heavy and dry on the palate.

I liked the way the essays have been structured. It starts with giving us a glimpse into the author’s life which makes it easier to appreciate what comes later on. We see the world through his eyes and experiences and it lends itself a different voice than the world might see from their side of the spider’s web.

The author’s journey through his career changes, his personal life and travel within the three countries makes for an interesting narrative. In seeing the world-view through his eyes, one finds oneself wondering at the objectivity and its absence in all things meaningful.

The essays in the Art section also made for a gripping read. With my interest in all things related to books, I could identify where the author was coming from. His essays about rereading books, likeable characters, Murakami, great American novel and the change of reading experience through ebooks found a resonance within me. They made for a page turning read.

Let me now talk about the Politics section. Frankly, I have zero knowledge and/or interest in politics. But every so often, with the help of books like these, I try to keep myself abreast of the goings-on in the world. And that’s precisely where this section stepped in. The essays give a plethora of events to think about, to reflect upon. Looking at the drones and war from an insider’s perspective lends it an air of honesty and raw brutalism that makes one shudder. It’s easy to read about it in the news than to hear someone who has been through it and knows the ins and outs. It would be easier to side with the US on its drones and air strikes when its labelled as a fight with terrorism but when you hear it from the horse’s mouth do you realise it carries within it so much more than just that. The essays give a refreshing albeit heart rending stance to the whole situation. Frankly, it was difficult to go through it. It was unsettling and as is easier, one tends to pass by what is uncomfortable or evokes disturbing emotions. But I needed to know the bird’s eye view of things and not just what the newspapers tell me and hence I read it, every single word of it. It didn’t help settle my perturbed emotions but surely helped me realize that one can never see the panorama from just one side. And now that I have touched on the philosophical, let me give it a rest. And you go read the book.

Highly influential and well-written. Would definitely be trying the author again.

4/5 stars – I liked it. 4 stars

(All opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced.)

Huge thanks to Random House India for providing the review copy.