Category Archives: fiction

Glitter and Gloss – A Review

Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra

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It’s been a crazy month and my reading as well as writing have had to take a back seat. However I did manage to finish this sweet little book Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra. If you saw my Teaser Tuesday you’ll have a got a little bit of an idea about it.

But first, as always, here’s the story.

The book is about Misha (named after Misha the bear mascot at Moscow Olympics) a 20 something make-up artist. At a fashion event she rescues a hapless but very handsome man from the clutches of a rather predatory model and that’s the start of the Akshay-Misha love story. Enter Didi, Akshay’s elder sister, and it hits a roadblock. But then what’s a love story without a few roadblocks and some misunderstandings?

The review

I loved Misha right from the opening pages. That’s a great place to begin to like a book. She has an independent streak that I loved. Yet she’s a little scatterbrained and suffers from an acute foot-in-the-mouth syndrome and that made her even more loveable. Finally, her penchant for being a knight in shining armour won me over completely. Akshay is delectable – chiselled cheekbones, big muscles, flat abs and ton-loads of money. There are host of other delightful characters in the book too – Sammy – Misha’s house-husband flatmate, her friend Poulomi (This is how Misha describes her: “She may sound KKK—Khoonkhar, Khatarnak, Khadoos—but Poulomi does have my best interests at heart”) and her bohemian mother.

The writing is a mix of Hindi and English with the most witty one-liners thrown in. They jump at you suddenly, changing the mood, making you smile, even laugh out loud. Sample this:
“Our fingers touch and thousand volts of electricity course through me. The current of attraction is so strong, I half expect my hair to stand up in spikes.”
and another one after the first kiss:
My eyes fly open as I go from Sensuous Cinderella to Piddu Pumpkin.
At that final image the romance flies out of the window and one just ends up laughing. That was the most endearing thing about the writing. It reminded me a bit of Anuja Chauhan. However, this has a younger feel to it. Caution: If you’re a purist it might not quite work for you. In fact some bits stuck out uncomfortably for me too.

For instance ‘din din’ for dinner (pretty juvenile, I thought)
How much I heart Sam and Poul‘.  (Heart?)
‘It’s awesome and amaze’. (Do young people actually talk like this?)

However, I’m willing to forgive much for the laughs the book brought me. I just might be adopting some of the lingo myself like DDGGMM – that would be DullDepressedGlumGloomyMoroseMopey.

The combination of romance and humour never fails to charm me. And this one was just that.

My one real complaint would be that the story was overly simplistic as was the solution. It was way too predictable. I would have liked some more twists and turns, some more melodrama. Another fifty or hundred pages and I would have been happy.

Here’s a delightful quote from the book:

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My thoughts: If you’re looking for a simple, fast paced, uncomplicated love story that makes you laugh, this is your book.

Wonder – A Review

Wonder by RJ Palacio

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Let me begin with a warning – this is going to be a rather long post (by my standards).The book more than deserves it. This one came highly recommended. It has won several awards too and I’d planned to read it with the kids. One chapter down the line I decided I couldn’t possibly read just a few pages a day and ended up finishing it on my own.

Meanwhile, our nightly read aloud sessions continued and we managed to complete it only recently.

Here’s the story

Wonder tells the tale of a ten-year-old boy August Pullman (Auggie) born with extreme facial abnormalities. He has been homeschooled till grade four due to the various surgeries that he has to go through. In grade five his parents decide to send him to a private school, Beecher Prep. Auggie considers himself a normal kid but his physical appearance sets him apart. He desperately wants to blend in but that cannot happen. He knows, dreads and hates the constant stares, the looks of revulsion, or worse, those of pity.

The book talks about his experiences in the school, his attempts to fit in and find friendship.

Now for the review

Wonder is not only a fantastic story, it is told ever so beautifully as well. The story unravels through multiple point of views. This makes it very interesting because it shows us glimpses of Auggie through the eyes of various characters and how they learn to love and accept him over time. The book is broken up into short two-three page chapters which makes it perfect if you’re taking turns reading it with your tween. Almost every bit of it is a veritable quotable quote, full of simple wisdom.

Auggie’s character is wonderfully etched – smart, funny, sweet and kind. He is well aware of the way he looks and even finds it in his heart to joke about it, to the unexpected delight of his new friends. In the end what stands out is his courage and kindness.  Palacio’s ten-year-old voice is very believable.

The supporting characters are delightful too. Each of them – Auggie’s sister Via, their parents, Via’s friend Miranda, her boyfriend, Justin  – all of them have a back-story which makes them real and relatable. That is perhaps why the book has spawned a number of ‘Companion Novels’ and turned almost into a series. (Auggie and Me, Pluto, Shingaling, 365 Days of Wonder)
Via was my absolute favourite. I would love to read a spin-off from her perspective. What would it be like to live with a brother who takes up almost all of your parents’ time,  energy and attention? – that would be interesting.
I loved the parents too. They taught me some valuable lessons through the book.

I wondered whether I (and the kids) would relate to an American school setting. Interestingly we weren’t distracted by it at all. Not for one moment did our focus shift from the core idea of the book – the challenges of a ten-year old kid, which are quite the same the world over. The children identified with Auggie, with his struggle to fit in, with the peer pressure, how cliques are formed to include some and exclude the others. Palacio got the middle-school friendship dynamic bang on. She talks about how cruel the kids can be and how very kind as well.

I was apprehensive that it would turn out to be a sad heavy read given the subject but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course it has those heart-breaking moments when you wish you could reach out and hug Auggie and Via and their parents, and to tell them that all would be well. But then there are also happy, fun moments when your heart swells and you cannot but smile. That’s the magic of Wonder – it makes you cry and laugh by turns. And in the end leaves you with a full heart, raising a cheer to Auggie and his warm circle of family and friends.

The Julian Chapter: The edition I read came with an additional Julian’s Chapter – the story told from the point of view of the lead antagonist. I do believe, strongly that children aren’t born cruel or mean and that their parents often are part of the reason they become that way. Yet to me that chapter seemed like Palacio was making excuses for Julian’s behaviour – his bullying and his meanness – in a forced attempt to justify him. I have to admit though that it worked for the kids. It helped them see where his bad-behaviour came from. And in the end it served to make them less judgemental even about the not-so-nice kids, so I cannot really complain.

Another flip side – if I have to find one – is that the book might seem simplistic, the characters too good, too sensible. But sometimes you need to read a feel-good book simply because it leaves you with a happy feeling. Even more importantly, you need to get your tween to read this one.

Last thought: Put aside all cynicism and pick up this ever so fabulous read.

Love Muffin and Chai Latte – A Review

Love Muffin and Chai Latte by Anya Wylde

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When Shakespeare said what’s in a name he couldn’t have been more wrong. I picked up this one based solely on the name. Love Muffin and Chai Latte sounded a delicious mix of East and West. The blurb confirmed what I thought about it – the story of an American girl who moves to the England and then to India, written by a non-Indian author – this I wanted to read.

The Story

This is the tale of Tabitha (Tabby) who flees to England when her sister marries her (Tabby’s) fiancé. There, she meets Chris. Within a year of dating each other Chris proposes to her. She’s taken completely by surprise but agrees to marry him because, well because she’s been thrown out by her landlord, is jobless and of course because she quite likes Chris and he convinces her it wasn’t a ‘pity proposal’ at all, he was going to ask her anyway. Tabby is aware Chris is Indian but doesn’t know exactly how much of an Indian he is. Alarm bells should have rung when she discovers Chris is actually Mr Chandramohan Mansukhani and has a large extended family in England and India and also that she would have to win the approval of his grandfather, the arrogant inflexible Daaji to get married to him. Lulled into a sense of security by Chris and his beautiful sister Maya, she travels to India to  meet the family and that’s where the fun begins.

The Review

This is a book you’re either going to hate or love. I loved it. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let me try to warn you off because I believe in giving out the bad stuff first.

The story is full of exaggerated stereotypes – there’s a chappal babaji who blesses people with a tap of a slipper, auntie ji’s of all shapes and hues, slimy men and plotting women and a hunk of a dream hero – who’s upright, brave, famous and a rather unbelievable philanthropist.

The situations Tabby gets into range from clichéd to unbelievably ludicrous. There are kidnappings, blackmailing, shooting, narrow escapes and a typical airport scene, yeah right out of a Bollywood film. Oh and there are some poo jokes too.

There I’ve put it all out.

However, all of that worked for me. The mix of family and friendship and romance with a very generous dose of humour made it a perfect light read. It had plenty of laugh aloud moments with tongue-in-cheek one-liners. Without giving out spoilers I’ll say certain situations had the most unexpected, unbelievable riotous endings. Some parts, like the description of the aarti at the Ganges, touched me just the way they affected Tabby. She proves to be likeable enough heroine – with her loneliness and complexes and her affinity to put her foot continuously in her mouth, she’s fun.

This one is a Bollywood masala script. Read it without going into the hows and the whys and you’ll love it. Analyse it and it’ll fall flat.

Last thought: A crazy comedy that deserves to be read.

The Girl With Seven Names – A review

The Girl With Seven Names – A North Korean Defector’s Story
by Hyeonseo Lee

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North Korea as a country has intrigued me for some time. I heard about books like Camp 15 but was apprehensive to take them up because I find them too disturbing. I couldn’t sleep for days after I read The Boy in Striped Pajamas.

The Girl With Seven Names is the story of a young girl Hyeonseo told in the first person and it proved just right. It is a simple read, fast paced and easy and gives a first hand description of life in North Korea without getting too grim.

The story

Interestingly, it isn’t a passion for freedom or poverty that pushes Hyeonseo to run away from her country. She comes from a relatively privileged family that has managed to stay on the right side of the regime for the longest time. She lives in a border town  on the banks of River Yalu with China just across it. In winters when the river froze over, all one had to do was avoid the border security guards of both countries and walk across it and one could be in a different country.

Hyeonseo love for adventure prompts her to take that walk. With a month to go for her 18th birthday she decides to secretly visit her uncle in China. Unfortunately her disappearance is discovered and she cannot come back. Leaving the country in North Korea is counted as defection and if caught, brings severe repercussions not just for the defector but also for his/her entire family.

The book then on traces her struggle to establish a legal identity and make a home for herself first in China and then in South Korea, living and travelling without an ID or a passport. Hyeonseo starts out as a rather naive, impulsive, headstrong girl. The book traces her growth into a smart and courageous woman as she struggles to find her feet and keep her family together.

What I loved about the book

North Korea sounds straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is hard to imagine that this is not fiction nor from an era long gone. The book is set in the eighties and the nineties.

The leaders wield absolute power. The complete insulation of people from the outside world, the constant threat from the government, the constant worry of being informed upon by neighbours and teachers, the entire education system pandering to the government including changing the history of the country – All of this is hard to believe.

And yet how would anyone who isn’t exposed to any other way, even know that this wasn’t the only way? And so people accept it, get used to it and even miss it when they’re out of the country. Her mom and brother are reluctant to leave even when they have the option to do so.

Hyeonseo also talks of the challenges of settling down in a capitalist country which is  something I had never thought of. The book turned out to be a very enlightening read. It talks about the dangers of an all-powerful state.

Last thought: I’d say go for it.

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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The teacher

slice of life fiction

The Teacher

Sangita’s eyes drooped. Who ever said sleep deserts the old, she thought to herself, as she struggled to keep her eyes open. There was a time she could stay awake well past midnight, waiting for her husband to get home from his shift at the steel foundry. But now, come 10 o clock and she was asleep already.

Nani ma you need to pay ATTENTION!” Pia’s plaintive cry snapped her eyes open. This little granddaughter of hers – what a delight she was and how determined, just like her mom… and like me too. She smiled to herself. Oh the wars she had fought with Pia’s mom! There was the great tattoo fight and the late night curfew battles…..

Nani ma you are dreaming again.” Ah Pia..

“Come on. Hold the pencil like this and copy that first letter once more. Remember I told you it stands for the sss sound in your name? And that dot on top – that’s for the nnn.”

“Just three letters Nani ma and then you can sign your name,” enthused Pia, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Then you can learn to read. You can read up new stories to tell me.”

Sangita looked indulgently at the eager face staring up at her. She adjusted her glasses. She had been trying but those squiggly letters refused to make sense.
“I am too old for this, darling,’ she said with a sigh.
“But you say one is never too old to learn new things. You don’t know what you’re missing. Come on, take the pencil and try again, please,” begged her granddaughter.

She couldn’t say no to the fervent entreaty in the those honey brown eyes. Struggling to put herself in Pia’s tiny shoes, to feel at least some of her enthusiasm, Sangita wrapped her bent old fingers awkwardly around the pencil and began to write.

It’s Day 5 of the #BarAThon Challenge from 1st to 7th August 2016.
The prompt for today is ‘Tiny Shoes’.

I am with Team #CrimsonRush

BAR-A-THON

The Reader

Beat About The Book - fictionThe reader

Craft class was in progress. Forty girls sat on either side of a long table bent diligently over their embroidery frames. At the head of the table sat Ms Mathew, The Dragon. That’s what the students called her, for she breathed fire at the littlest opportunity.

Did I say 40? Well, I meant 39, for the 40th girl was not quite there. Sara sat right at the end of the table, with her head bent like the others, except she had no embroidery frame. On her lap rested an Enid Blyton and she was far far away in a land where a gorgeous tale was beginning to unfold.

DEAR BESSIE, FANNY, JO AND DICK,
We know that you don’t want any more adventures just yet, but you might like to know that there is a most exciting land at the top of the Faraway Tree just now.  It is the Land of Do-As-You-Please, even nicer than the Land of Take-What-You-Want. We are going there tonight.  If you want to come, come just before midnight and you can go with us.  We will wait for you till then.
Love from SILKY AND MOON-FACE

Midnight! This sounded dangerous… and exciting.

Oh go go go! urged Sara as she read on, her eyes shining brighter than those of the kids in the story. ‘The Land of Do-As-You-Please!! Wow! I’d eat honey pops and read all day‘, thought she turning over the page.

Of course the children decided to go – down the garden, through the lane, into the Enchanted Wood. Their torches shone in the moonless night. The forest was silent. Ominously so. Wisha wisha wisha whispered the mysterious trees.

An owl squealed and something ran across their feet.

The kids jumped and so did Sara, upsetting her neighbour, who pricked her finger, dropped her needlework and squealed louder that any owl ever could.

Tiny drops of blood were beginning to blot her young neighbour’s lemon yellow runner and before Sara could apologise she bawled, “OUCH Miss.. Sara pushed me and I hurt my hand, it’s bleeeeeding.”

O get on with it drama queen!‘ thought Sara, the apology dying on her lips, ‘It’s just a tiny prick for goodness sake!

She did try to look contrite but The Dragon was already bearing down upon them. Sara glanced at the book in her hand. Too late she realised she had no embroidery frame. Her heart sank right into her shoes. She would be caught red-handed.

**************

I need to put in a few apologies: One to Enid Blyton for taking liberties with her writing. And two to Bernhard Schlink, for borrowing the title of his book although there is nothing similar between the two tales except perhaps, a love for the written word.

It’s Day 4 of the #BarAThon Challenge from 1st to 7th August 2016.
The prompt for today is ‘Caught Red Handed’.

I am with Team #CrimsonRush

BAR-A-THON