Books, movies and I

Is there anything more satisfying than bullying a bully? For that pleasure alone, if I had to choose a film character to play, I would pick Matilda Wormwood from Matilda.

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You know her, right? From Roald Dahl’s novel, if not from the film of the same name?

I fell in love with the idea of this little girl standing up to the biggest bully of them all – Thrunchbull, the evil headmistress who would grab girls by their pigtails and fling them away or pick boys up by their curly mops and drop them down without batting an eyelid.

Oh she was brave. However, that is just one of the reasons why I would like to be her. Matilda was a prodigy. She was a self-taught reader and found her way to the library when she was just four. I love her love for books. At four she was reading Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Hemingway, Kipling and Austen. That image of a tiny girl sitting with a book almost as large as herself, a glass of hot chocolate by her side, lost in the pleasure of reading is just  adorable.

I could do with some of her telekinetic powers too. The wonderfully exaggerated, over the top, typically Roald Dahl film where good, well and truly, trounces evil would be a dream to be in.

The other choice (which would actually have been my first choice if I hadn’t already spoken to death about it) is Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail – the sweet, self-deprecating Storybook lady. I love her. I love everything about her. Her passion for books and reading, her cosy little Shop Around the Corner, her story-telling sessions, her personal connect with kids… just everything. I love that she finds it difficult to be nasty, even to people she quite dislikes. That’s a lot like me. Yeah I’d definitely want to play Kathleen Kelly.

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That she bumps into a handsome, funny, rich, book-shop owner would only be a cherry on a  cake that was perfect already.

Rather coincidentally, the book she’s reading out to the kids during the story-telling session in the film, is by Roald Dahl.

Which film character would you like to play?

If you want to check out some more fun posts hop on across to Jaibala’s blog. She picked Hermione and Katniss, by the way, two of my other favourites.

#TadkaTuesday

Rita Just Wants to be Thin – A Review

Rita Just Wants to be Thin by Mary W Walters

I stumbled upon this book at bookbub.com. It caught my eye obviously because of its title. Perhaps because I started off with hardly any expectations, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

(If you don’t know what bookbub.com is do go take a look. It’s a resource for ebooks, either at no cost at all or at a very minimal cost. If you’re a reader of light romantic fiction this is an absolute goldmine)

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The story

28-year-old Rita was young, pretty and thin before she got married. Marriage brought her a husband, Graham and two rather unpleasant step-children. She also has to contend with Graham’s dead and quite perfect first wife who she can never measure up to. Graham is a work-from-home journalist. He isn’t really a bad sort but is self-centred and inhumanly insensitive.

Overworked, undervalued, exhausted and lonely, Rita finds solace in food. As the pounds pile up she begins to hate the way she looks. She tries out new diets regularly but fails to stick to any of them, fuelling rounds of self-loathing and more bingeing.

Things come to a head when her mother-in-law comes to stay with her until finally one day she decides to walk out.

What I liked

Rita’s struggle with weight is something common to a lot of women — the constant awareness of one’s weight, the acute self-consciousness due to it, the self-loathing that comes after a binge and yet not being able to find the will-power to do anything about it — all of that made the book extremely relatable.

Later the rush Rita gets when she begins to walk, the way she learns to disengage herself from her situation and make time for herself – I loved all of that.

Also, her story isn’t just about her fight with fat. It is about how she learns to assert herself, how she decides that she will be the one in charge of her life. It is a reminder for anyone stuck in a rut that they alone can change their lives.

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That quote is only too true

What I didn’t like

Rita’s struggle is so long that it gets tedious and depressing. The turnaround comes after a long long time.

The book ends right at the beginning of Rita’s new journey. I would have liked an epilogue, at least. I will always have the niggling feeling that she slipped back to her old ways and that takes away from the perfect ending.

Last thought: Some books aren’t great literature but you like them because you find you can connect with them. This was one of those for me.

The Devil’s Prayer – A Review

The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

I picked up this book because it promised to be a thriller with a dose of history and religion – a mix I have come to enjoy since I got hooked onto read Dan Brown’s books. It doesn’t disappoint.

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But first

The story…

The Devil’s Prayer opens with the suicide of Sister Benedictine before thousands of revellers. It is revealed that six years ago she had disappeared from her home to become a nun. News of her suicide reaches her family in Australia. Her daughters, Siobhan and Jess, and her mother Edith are devastated. 23-year-old Siobhan is most affected. In search of closure she decides to go to the monastery in Spain where her mum Denise had lived as Sister Benedectine.

She is surprised at the less than hospitable welcome she receives. Despite being advised to go back she stays long enough to find her mum’s confession. As she starts reading it she is intrigued and then shocked. Even as she is going through the confession she realises that she is being followed by some extremist monks. With no clue what the monks want from her Siobhan makes her roller-coaster way across Europe to reach the sanctuary of home.

At the end of the confession her mum entrusts Siobhan with a task which, if not completed, could destroy the world.

What I liked

It is hard to categorise this book. All I will say is that it is an interesting melange of history and religion with some super natural element thrown in for good measure. There is also a revenge saga that forms a large part of the story.

It is most definitely a fast paced thriller and keeps you at hooked. There is enough intrigue and plenty of twists and turns through the narrative to keep you turning the pages. As you follow Denise’s confession along with Siobhan you are by turns surprised, saddened and shocked. Without adding spoilers all I’ll say is that Denise’s desperation and her unhappy compromise were well written. Finally the deal she strikes and the deception come as a surprise.

I loved the way the plot integrated the super-natural into Denise’s story.

What I didn’t like

The violence in the book is brutal and gory. I couldn’t read through some of it and ended up skipping the worst parts. Also, the religious explanations get complicated at places and I lost the plot in bits.

I found some of the characters very stereotypical but they were side characters so one could let them be.

Then there’s the supernatural element which might not cut water with many readers. Some of it is improbable and requires you to stretch your imagination but then that’s what the super-natural is supposed to do. Personally, I liked it.

The worst thing about the book, however, was that it ended just at the most compelling part. There simply HAS to be a sequel.

My verdict: Go for it.

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Writers Melon in return for an honest and unbiased review.

The sunflower

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Despite yet another sleepless night she had punched in her attendance right as the clock struck 9 am. She had then gone through her day on an autopilot. Though she loved her work, today her heart hadn’t been in it.

Her thoughts were far away.

Why have they forsaken me? she asked herself again and again, I loved them so, they were my family. They are my family, she corrected herself furiously. She wouldn’t give them up. She couldn’t give them up. They were her very life.

It’s a phase, she had told herself initially, they will come around.

They didn’t.

Maybe if I ignore them they will seek me out, she had thought. That plan was a fail right from the start because try as she might, she couldn’t ignore them. They crowded her mind pushing away all else away, making her turn up sloppy copy at work and prompting her editor to ask if everything was fine with her.

Tears had risen unbidden to her tired eyes. No, nothing is fine, she wanted to scream in anger and exasperation. But she had only nodded her head mutely.

Back home she tried reaching out again and yet again all she got was frustration. It was as if a blinding fog lay thick between her and all she loved.

As she sat listlessly fiddling with the bunch of pens and pencils that crowded  her desk, her glance fell at the sunflower in the vase. Something about its happy yellowness reached out to her. Her heart filled with sudden fresh optimism.

Damn this writer’s block, she swore under her breath as she took up her pen. She’d get rid of it today. Today she would break through the fog. Today she’d reach out to her beloved characters and she’d write. By God she would. You will have to come to me, she threatened out loud in the silence – thoughts, ideas, plots, characters, are you listening, all of you?

She opened a blank notebook and began to write.

This post is part of  Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

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Shhhh! Silence in the Library!

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‘No bookmark, no book,’ she would say in an impervious tone and that would wreck my entire week. That was Ms B our library teacher in school.

She’d stand their one eyebrow raised in a silent dare – challenging me to challenge her. Torn between my fear of her and my love for reading – it was fear that always won. And I would have to make do with re-reading an old book or borrowing from friends.

Books were my sole entertainment back then. We were allowed three books each week – each of them a treasured treat. We had a wonderful library – not the few cupboards at the back of the class that double up as libraries these days. Rows of tables were flanked by glass cupboards full of rows upon rows of the most enticing books. Enid Blytons, Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys all sat there along with Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer, and scores of other authors. Within the pages of those books lay the most exciting times my young self had ever seen.

However between the most exciting times of my life and me stood Ms B, a bit like Cerberus. She had an acerbic tongue and a short temper and she wouldn’t let anyone pass unless they showed her a book-cover and a book-mark. And woe betide anyone who forgot to get their books on the assigned day! They were condemned to a book-less week. No allowances, no concessions.

Not just that, she took it upon herself to discipline us on almost anything that caught her eye. ‘Put your plaits back, who do you think you are, Rekha?’, ‘Don’t slouch’, ‘Don’t shuffle your feet when you walk’ or ‘Why must you always wear black?’ (we didn’t have a uniform in class 11 and 12). Those days teachers wielded pure dictatorship. Yet we emerged unscathed with no permanent psychological damage. Instead, we came away with a bunch of good habits that we carry with us even today.

Despite such ‘ill-treatment’, on Teacher’s Day today, the first one who comes to mind is Ms B. While she didn’t teach me any subject nor was she directly responsible for kindling a love for reading she did teach me some very valuable lessons.

She taught me to respect and love books. That’s a habit that has stayed obstinately on. It drives me crazy when I see anyone manhandling books, folding pages, scribbling in the margins (use a pencil for goodness sake if you just have to), turning down corners.. aaargh!

She taught me to widen my reading horizon. But for that raised eyebrow I would be stuck onto fairy tales forever. After she gave me one of those ‘looks’ I was forced to look at other genres and developed an eclectic taste. (I have to confess though, that I still pick up a fairy tale somedays).

She taught me essential library etiquette. I learnt to keep quiet – not a mean feat for a 12 year old. I learnt to shut out the world and lose myself in a book as also to not disturb a person engrossed in one.

She taught me discipline and punctuality – a useful lesson even outside the library.

So tell me who is that one teacher that comes to mind when you think of school?

We Will Meet Again – A Review

We Will Meet Again by Tarang Sinha

We Will Meet Again

The Story

We will meet again is the story of Paridhi, a mass media student in Delhi. Life for Paridhi is all about course assignments, lost pen drives and urgent submissions. Harried and running against an unexpected deadline, she bumps into Abhigyan, a young, good-looking, wealthy young man – every girl’s dream. This meeting however isn’t one bit romantic. She meets him again at her best friend’s wedding. While he is clearly falling for her she is rude and angry and rebuffs him all the way. However, Abhigyan is not one to give up easily.

What I liked

Told in first person this is no-pretence young love story. There aren’t many twists and turns – no unbelievable coincidences, no unrelenting parents, no over-the-top drama. And for that I liked it.
The book has quite a few characters, along with the protagonists, and each one is well crafted, except perhaps Abhigyan’s mom, who is a bit of a stereotype.
I liked the relationship Paridhi shares with her sister (she comes home to find her sister wearing her T-shirt – that was sweet, I thought, and so true). In fact Paridhi’s entire family – her dad and her aunt – is very believable, one you’d find in any regular Indian home. And that makes the story real.
I enjoyed the descriptions of hostel life (reminded me of my hostel days) as well as the wedding hullabaloo. That was nicely done.

What I didn’t like

Editing remains a sore point. I found many a missing article and wrongly constructed sentences.
Given that it is in the first person, we get Paridhi’s point of view, we see her falling in love and yet holding herself back but we get nothing from Abhigyan. Why would a man lose his heart to a girl who is unexplainably rude? Again and again and again? I would have liked to know what made him fall in love with her.
I also have a complaint with the ending – it was too clichéd (Something I’ve seen in one of my favourite SRK flicks, too).

However, this one remains a clean easy romance that college students would enjoy or perhaps one that can be carried along on a trip.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.

A Broken Man – A Review

A Broken Man by Akash Verma

A broken man

The story

A Broken Man is the story of Krishna, A Dalit boy from a small village in Bihar and his love story with a Brahmin girl Chhavi from Lucknow. The two are students at the Lucknow University, which is where they meet and fall in love. Forced to choose between Krishna and her father, Chhavi chooses her father. A broken-hearted Krishna makes his way to Mumbai with a box full of belongings and Chhavi’s recommendation for a job at an advertising agency. Then on, the story traces his journey as he makes his way from the ad-world to tinsel town.

What I liked

I begin with a disclaimer of sorts. I picked up this book because of its setting – my hometown Lucknow. And it scores a perfect six on that front. As the story took me through the campus, the departments I’d been to, the library I’d passed a thousand times, the restaurant I go to even now, it left me with a warm nostalgic feeling.

My personal liking apart, A Broken Man captures student life at the Lucknow University to a tee. The hullaballoo of the election, the speeches, the street plays, the student politics – all just as it happens.

While there wasn’t much to the story I did like the way it was told. The bits of Hindi poetry were beautiful, the little grandma’s stories that Chhavi picks, endearing.

Also, I loved how Chhavi remains a part of Krishna’s life, how he constantly summons her in his imagination at every significant point in his life – at each moment of doubt, at each victory.

What I didn’t like

Editing editing editing. I am wary of new Indian authors for this reason alone and A Broken Man proves my point yet again. Phrases like ‘KK took a waited look’ (What is a waited look??), ‘KK had eyes that ached of pain’a drink from the well-stuffed bar (how about ‘well-stocked’?), stand out like sore thumbs.

The narrative is teeming with adverbs (The author would do well to read Stephen King’s On Writing, a very useful book for writers, aspiring or otherwise) and repetitions.

Take this instance – The blurb reads ‘high caste Brahman girl’.  Either Brahman or high caste should suffice, specially on a blurb. Am I nitpicking? Maybe. But the thing is, it can get tiresome when it goes on page after page.

There is much ‘tell’ and less ‘show’.

Lastly there are some factual errors. I know this is fiction not fact, and allows for liberties, but because I applauded the book for its real-life representation of the University campus it is only fair I point out the flaws too.

One, A girl could never ever walk into a Lucknow University boys’ hostel in 90s. I’m not sure it’s possible even now.

Two, a Dalit boy cannot arrive in a village with an obviously high caste girl (‘she can’t pass off as a Dalit girl…. her skin glows like fresh milk’. The author’s words, not mine), be seen by the high caste men and go without comment or action. Nothing remains a secret in a village. She will most definitely not be left in peace to make out with the Dalit boy by the side of the pond in the middle of the night. Just not possible.

Then, there’s Mumbai. Without adding spoilers, all I’ll say is that the story in Mumbai, becomes overly simplistic and predictable.

In the end I’d call it a simple story that could have been better told – pick it or leave it.

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from Writers Melon in return for an honest and unbiased review.