Of Roasted Apples and Warm Winter Evenings #BookBytes 14

Here’s my pick for this week’s Book Bytes.

“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream….. I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting.” 

Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the north American Review

I have never had a roasted apple. Definitely never with sugar and cream. In fact I’ve never had a cooked apple apart from an occasional apple pie or the apple stew I used to make for the children before they started off on solids. And yet this quote makes me yearn for one.

It’s not just the apples, right? All the author does is mention a hearth, a winter evening and the sizzling apple. That’s all it takes to tempt my imagination and it rushes up eagerly to fill in details. It conjures up soft yellow lighting (to complement the fireplace), bright fluffy rugs and soft sink-right-in cushions. I’d also include my grandma and a bunch of my cousins to make this scene picture-perfect for she’s the one who would probably be telling those tales and roasting this apple I’ve never eaten.

It’s even more fun to think that reading that passage (without context) can conjure up a completely different image for someone else. He/She might imagine sitting before a fireplace in an old-fashioned pub telling tales with friends, or maybe roasting s’mores at a campfire.

That’s the power of evocative writing – it takes us to our own special place.

On a side note, do make time to read the excerpt from Mark Twain’s autobiography where he talks about the time he spent at the farm with his cousins. It reads like an Enid Blyton book and makes you long to be there.

Is there a passage from a book that stands out in your memory because it made you nostalgic for an experience you might never even have had?

Before you leave:

Do check out  this post by Anamika, where she picks an interesting quote from The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition is scheduled for September 3rd.

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You Beneath Your Skin – #CoverReveal #BookReview

I am happy to be part of the cover reveal for Damyanti Biswas‘s debut crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin to be published this September by Simon & Schuster, India. I’ve known Damyanti for some time now and have admired her commitment to the written word as also to social causes. Her blog is a valuable resource for aspiring writers.

So, without further ado, here’s it is!

The red and black cover with a partly visible face in the background promises a crime story with plenty of intrigue. One cannot help but wonder who that face belongs to and what story she might have to tell.

Sample the blurb here and get set to be further intrigued.

Lies. Ambition. Family. 

It’s a dark, smog-choked New  Delhi winter. Indian American single mother Anjali Morgan juggles her  job as a psychiatrist with caring for her autistic teenage son. She is  in a long-standing affair with ambitious Police Commissioner Jatin Bhatt  – an irresistible attraction that could destroy both their lives.

Jatin’s  home life is falling apart: his handsome and charming son is not all he  appears to be, and his wife has too much on her plate to pay attention  to either husband or son. But Jatin refuses to listen to anyone, not  even the sister to whom he is deeply attached.

Across  the city there is a crime spree: slum women found stuffed in trash bags,  faces and bodies disfigured by acid. And as events spiral out of  control Anjali is horrifyingly at the centre of it all.

In  a sordid world of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption, Jatin  must make some hard choices. But what he unearths is only the tip of the  iceberg. Together with Anjali he must confront old wounds and uncover  long-held secrets before it is too late.


Since the blurb gives a fair idea of the story and also because there’s only so much one can reveal when it’s a thriller I’ll skip right over to what I thought of the book.

It’s definitely a fast-paced read and it keeps one hooked throughout. I read it in one go.

The narrative etches out the characters so effectively that one begins to care for them pretty early on in the book. Not just the protagonists but also a host of side-characters are all very real. Whether it’s a child from the slums or a teen from upmarket society – the voices are authentic and believable.

Although the book is a thriller I loved how it also touched upon a number of social issues and wove in the complexities of human relationships as well. Most of all as a parent I was shocked and horrified to see how a well-meaning parent can go all wrong simply by not keeping in touch with one’s child’s thoughts and feelings, how strongly peers influence children and how unaware parents often are of what their teens are up to.

Do check out this book if you like pacy reads that also engage with various social issues.

Pre-order YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN here.

For You Beneath Your Skin, all proceeds to the author would be divided between Chhanv Foundation and Project WHY.

About the author:

Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi’s underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

5 ways to become a book lover #NationalBookLoversDay

You have a bunch of friends – all avid readers. Bibliophiles, they call themselves. Bookworms is what you think of them as. It gets to you the way they are always talking about books. They rave about Harry, drool over Darcy and laugh at Bertie Wooster. They rant when Chetan Bhagat judges a reality show and cry when Harper Lee passes away. Even as you are comforting, smiling or simply looking on in perplexity, you wish, fervently, to be a part of it all.

The thing is they’re readers and you’re so not.

Oh you do love a good story but ‘Where’s the time?’ you ask, and ‘Who has the patience?’ There are always things to be done, deadlines to be met, bosses to be pandered to, phone calls to make and chores to be completed. Then there are the books themselves – big and cumbersome. It’s a daunting task. Right?

Well, today is Book Lovers Day (aka National Book Lovers Day in the US) and here’s help for you if you want to become one. These five simple ideas might just help you join the club.

Read what you like

That’s the first rule of increasing your reading – Make it easy for yourself – you’re doing it for pleasure, right? Well don’t let it become a chore. No stomach for classics? Let them be. For now. Remember you’re in for the long haul. There’ll be time enough later. Pick a comic, a romance, a thriller, a short story anthology – whatever suits your fancy. Don’t be cowed down by book snobs, don’t go by what’s in and do not be embarrassed of your choices.

Read everywhere

Read at the doctor’s, read as you wait to pick your son from football class, read as you wait for the milk to boil, read on the bus, on the local, in the car. I’ll leave out ‘read in the loo’ in case my mum’s reading. But you know you can. Better than reading labels on bottles of moisturiser, I say. One’s got to keep oneself occupied after all.

Keep a book close by 

Make sure a book is always within easy reach – in your bag, in your top drawer, on the centre table of your living room. And never never leave the television remote on top of your book. You know what is most likely to happen, don’t you? Yeah you’ll pick up the remote to get to your book and will forget to let it go and before you know the television will be blaring and hours would have gone by, your reading time swallowed in one big time-leap. Remotes have a habit of doing that. Stash them away somewhere deep.

Never go ‘bookless’

Once you’ve finished a good book – make sure you have another one waiting. Reading is a habit that feeds on itself. You give yourself a gap and you begin to forget how much fun it is. Before you know it, months have gone by without you having read a thing.

Give technology a chance

If you put in Gone With the Wind in your holiday bag all you’ll end up with is a very painful shoulder. Go for a Kindle. It’s way easier to carry around specially while you’re travelling and want to carry more than one book. Give audio books a chance. It might not be reading but you’re still listening to a book. It might lead you to a real book one day.

That’s it. Vary your reading, mix up genres and keep at it. Once you strike a real friendship with books you’ll find joining in your friends’ book gossip is just the smallest of pleasures. Books will give you much more for they are friends, philosophers and guides all rolled in one enchanting mix.

Importance of Dissent #BookBytes 13

Here’s a quote from my current read The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafaq. This isn’t a book one can rush through and I’m making steady, though slow progress. More on that when I review the book. For now savour this quote.

“To her way of thinking, anyone who can’t rise up and rebel, anyone devoid of the ability to dissent, cannot really be said to be alive. In resistance lies the key to life. The rest of the people fall into two camps: the vegetables, who are fine with everything, and the tea glasses, who, thought not fine with numerous things, lack the strength to confront. It is the latter that are the worse of the two.” 

Elif Shafaq, The Bastard of Istanbul

Wise words, aren’t they?

Dissent is such an important thing for any healthy system – specially for a country, a democracy like India. Dissent implies a thinking, feeling mind.

I agree when Shafaq says so eloquently, if one is ‘okay’ with everything, one is but a vegetable. However, I’m not sure I completely agree with the second part of the quote – is it worse to feel something and not have the courage to stand up for it or to not feel at all? How frustrating it must be to not be able to speak your mind. I’d feel sorry for such a person.

What do you say?

Before you leave:

Here are two must-read posts with some fabulous quotes:
One, by my dear friend Anamika. These quotes need to go up as posters in the rooms of boys and girls. Do drop by her post here.
And the second one is by Nabanita who picked out some powerful quotes on feminism. Do drop by for a read.

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition is scheduled for August 20th.

Have you heard of The Wind Done Gone?

The Wind Done Gone was a novel written by Alice Randall which tells the story of Gone With the Wind from the point of view of Cynara, Scarlett O’hara’s half sister, Mammy’s daughter. She’s a slave too. The names of all major characters, other than Mammy, have been changed. Tara becomes Tata, Scarlett becomes Other, her father, Gerald O Hara becomes Planter, her mom becomes Lady and Ashley becomes The Dreamy Gentleman. Like Scarlett she also falls in love with ‘R’ and after he leaves her, Cynara becomes his mistress.

We all know what happened after the book was published. Margaret Mitchell’s estate sued the author and after much litigation a settlement was reached. The book was branded a ‘parody’ and all but disappeared from public memory.

There are other spin offs to Gone With the Wind. There’s Rhett Butler’s People, which traces Rhett’s journey and there’s Scarlett, the official sequel to the book. None of them could come close to Gone With the Wind.

While spin offs, sequels and series have almost become a norm, I haven’t come across many novels that have tried to tackle a story from a different perspective. Of course copyright issues might be a deterrent.

Some authors like Chitra Banerjee and Kavita Kane have explored other POVs in Indian epics and I’ve loved most of them.

I find different POVs fascinating. For instance, I’d love to read a book from the point of view of an upperclass wife in The Handmaid’s Tale. What did she feel as she watched her husband bed another woman? Did she, even for one small moment, feel a pang of sympathy for the Handmaid? Or did jealousy and insecurity chase away all other feelings?

I’d love to read Rebecca from Maxim’s point of view. The backstory leading up to her murder and then his encounter with the new Mrs de Winter would have been quite a roller-coaster.

So tell me, which popular book would you like to read from an alternate point of view?

Ghosts and Writers #BookBytes 12

I am currently reading Eating Wasps by Anita Nair. Here’s a quote that caught my eye, specially as a writer.

“Ghosts and writers are more alike than you think. We can be what you want us to be. We can hear your thoughts even if you don’t tell us. We can read the silences and shape your stories as if they happened to us. And I was both: a ghost and a writer.

Eating Wasps by Anita Nair

I firmly believe that observation is the most important tool of a writer. Do you agree? Do you see the stories behind people, even strangers? You might not know the stories but do you shape them in your imagination?

When you’re travelling in a bus or a train do you watch the man standing with an impassive face and understand the turmoil of his mind? Do you look at the vivacious group of giggling teenagers and smile at their naive thoughts? Do you watch a couple sitting together and know the relationship they share?

Do you weave stories about the people you see around you?

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition is scheduled for August 6th.

Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta #BookReview

Book: Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta
Author: Amish Tripathi

I have a soft spot for this series by Amish Ramayan series because it was with the first book  Scion of Ikshvaku that I kicked off this blog. I loved that one. I was curious about how Amish would handle this multilinear narrative and that was what made me pick up Sita and now Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta.

The story

The book traces the life of Ravan, son of Rishi Vishrava and Kaikesi. Disliked by his father and not particularly fond of his mother Ravan, is a lonely child. He has a streak of cruelty that makes him torture small animals and watch them die.

If he has one tender place in his heart, it is for his baby brother Kumbhakaran. Ravan leaves his father’s ashram with his  mother, his uncle Mareech and Kumbha to protect his (Kumbha’s) life.

He knows he is made for great things and he sets out to achieve what is rightfully his, Kumbha and Mareech by his side. From a small-time smuggler he turns into a pirate and powerful trader. Unfettered by the values and principles that hamper others he forges ahead.

However, there is one pure, unsullied memory from his childhood that refuses to leave him – a face, a voice that could potentially steer him away from his reckless path. He seeks out that face but on the verge of turning over a new leaf it is snatched away from him. Filled with rage, he unleashes it on the Sapt Sindhu. Ravan thus emerges as the quintessential villain. He challenges the authority of Kubaera the businessman ruler of Lanka and displaces him to become king.

As he notches up victory after victory he is unaware that he is part of a larger plan, a cog in the wheel rolling towards a greater goal, orchestrated by the great rishi Vishwamitra. 

Ravan was a disappointment

First there’s the voice of Amish. He speaks the language of the millennials and that gets jarring, specially in a mythological setting (Remember Hanu Bhaiya in Sita?). I get that it’s his style and I did love Meluha though it had the same voice. Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve grown up listening to the Ramayan and so find it tough to adjust to this pop-version.

My biggest complaint however is that the book turns plain boring in bits. There were too many and too detailed explanations and descriptions – of the Sapt Sindhu, the caste dynamics, the trading system, of traditions and palaces. There are too few dialogues, slackening the pace of the story.

Then there’s the story itself. Amish is known to give his own twist to every tale. I’ve liked his twists, I’ve liked how they tie in neatly with the original familiar story. However here, without giving out spoilers, all I’ll say is that Ravan as an angry lover-boy didn’t seem believable at all, more fantasy than mythology.

Then there’s the reference to Sabarimala. In his previous books he brought in references to a gory rape and then Jallikattu, this time it was Sabarimala. Perhaps that’s an attempt to weave in current events but it seems like a forced addition to the narrative.

The saving grace was the portrayal of Kumbhkaram – the endearing, good-natured giant. He is Ravan’s conscience and emerges (almost) as the hero of the book.

Also, I’m a little curious how Amish will take the story forward now that Ravan knows who Sita is. I’m hoping with all the war-action the next one won’t be a disappointment.

Perhaps the author should stick with lesser-known mythological re-tellings. He certainly has the knack for bringing alive mythological settings, of building up strong characters and of springing surprises.

Last thought: Read it only if, like me, you’ve committed yourself to the series. You might find yourself skipping pages though.