Category Archives: fiction

The Lunar Chronicles #BookReview

So I am done with the Lunar Chronicles. Finally! What a ride it has been! A tiny bit lengthy towards the end but all in all a fun enjoyable adrenaline pumping adventure.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this series Lunar is a set of four young adult futuristic novels – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter – loosely based on four fairy tales.

I was done with the first book last year but I read the other three in quick succession over a week. In my mind this is a single long story, which is why it makes sense to review the books together. I promise to keep it short.

First, here’s what the books are about:

The Setting

The stories are set in the future. Earth is tormented by a plague that threatens to wipe off the entire population.

Meanwhile, the Moon has been colonised, is called Luna and is inhabited by Lunars. Peace between the Earthens and Lunars is a tenuous thing with the powerful Lunar queen wanting to take over Earth. With that in mind she is looking for an alliance with the Prince (later King) Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth (China). Lunars are adept in the art of mind control which makes them formidable enemies. There is also a dead/missing princess believed to be the true heir to the Lunar throne.

Cinder

The story begins with Cinder (obviously Cinderella), who is a Cyborg (part human part machine) and lives with her adoptive mother and two step sisters in New Beijing. She’s an exceptionally talented mechanic and meets Prince Kai when he comes to her to get his android repaired. Then on, secrets are revealed and Cinder has a confrontation with the Lunar queen resulting in her imprisonment and subsequent escape.

Scarlet

The book opens with Cinder, who’s on the run along with an accomplice from the prison, Thorne. The story then moves to a small farm in France where we get to meet Scarlet Benoit. Her tale meshes seamlessly with that of Cinder as they get ready to take on the Lunar Queen.

Cress

Cinder is still on the run and is slowly building a team to help her. Cress, a Lunar, computer whiz, joins her in this book. 

Winter 

This last one is the culmination of the series and we meet our last protagonist Princess Winter, step daughter of the Lunar Queen. The book spirals towards a showdown with between Cinder and the Lunar Queen and the inevitable happily ever after – just as a young adult adventure series should.

What I loved

Books set in the future are my newest obsession. Needless to say that I enjoyed the setting of future earth as also Lunar colonisation which gave a Hunger Games kind of a feel but then the story was so very different that it didn’t get tedious.

The fairy tale twist

I adored the way the fairy tales were integrated in the stories. Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White – I loved them all.

The characters

Were the bestest part of the books. They were all adorable and very differently so. If I had to choose a single strongest feature that endeared the series to me, it would have to be the characters. And if I had one complaint, it would be that some of them didn’t get enough space in the book, specially Princess Winter.

The humour

Humour, if done well, can uplift most genres of story-telling and Meyer uses it so well here. When the narrative begin to lag, and there are bits when they do that, it’s the humour that carries the story through. (Thorne and Iko remain my favourite characters, for that reason. You’ll know what I mean if/when you read the books).

The issues thrown up

The books talk about discrimination, about cyborgs being look down upon, about the transience of physical beauty and about the stupidity of judging people based on stereotypes. All pertinent issues in the current times.

What could have been better

I have no complaints from the first two books. 

Cinder was absolutely smashing. It did a wonderful job of setting the scene and building the story, leaving the reader at a cliff-hangar, craving for more.

Scarlet was good too with the introduction of endearing new characters.

Cress, however, grew tedious in bits, a case of ‘too many twists spoil the plot’. You just wanted to skim through the pages fast and get to the inevitable end.

Winter, despite being a mammoth read, didn’t have much about Princess Winter. Also, the layout of Luna and the Lunar palace, described in much detail during the chase sequences, grew cumbersome. It had me completely lost and I zoned out in a haze of doors and archways and escalators of the Lunar palace. Perhaps it should have been broken down into two separate books – one on Winter and one to gather together the grand finale.

That said, I’d definitely recommend the series. It’s a glimpse into a new world, coupled with the fairy tale twist and a page turning story.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it. And with this I’m done with three prompts:
A Book that’s part of a series
A Book set in the past or the future
A YA Book

Last thought: A must for readers of fantasy fiction.

The Crimson Meniscus #BookReview

Book: The Crimson Meniscus
Author: Jason Werbeloff

The Crimson Meniscus is a set of six dystopian sci-fi short stories.

Before I go on to tell you what the book is about let me talk a little bit about the setting. So sometime in the future there’s a place called The Bubble protected by and separated from the rest of the world by a force field. The Bubble is the land of plenty with wine fountains and automated hover cabs where the inhabitants live a luxurious life. 

Then there’s The Gutter, home to the poor and destitute who struggle for survival. They are beholden to the state for their very existence. Their organs are routinely ‘harvested’ for the inhabitants of The Bubble, and replaced by low-quality generic ‘printed’ organs. The Bubble isn’t even visible to the Gutter inhabitants without special glasses.

The divide is complete.

It is in this setting that Jason Werbeloff weaves his stories – dark, twisted and gory.

What I liked

I like books set in an alternate universe. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I find it intriguing how an author sets out to build a whole different world limited only by his imagination and yet manages to make it plausible for the reader. Here he does it deftly, meticulously and I was drawn right in.

Also, the stories have unexpectedly twisted ending. They talk about how the world is being taken over by technology and the dangers therein. They talk about the frightening results of meddling with the natural order of things. I specially liked that most of them present the reader with a moral dilemma of sorts with grey areas that keep one trying to figure the right from the wrong.

Most of all, even beyond what the individual stories talk about, the book brings home in horrifying reality how terrible the world can become if we shut ourselves in our own small secure ‘bubbles’ of existence. In the alternate universe created by the author the rich struggle with problems that come with privilege, problems of excess – a lung gone bad, a heart that’s dying out. They proceed to buy organs without a twinge, without for a moment wondering what happens to the people from whom the organs are harvested. They are completely indifferent to the people from the Gutter and unaware of their own privilege. Because, to them, that’s just the way life is.

That was my biggest takeaway from the book, a shocking realisation of what the world can become if the privileged continue to apathetically cordon themselves off from the underprivileged.

The one thing I didn’t quite like ..

….was the gore and I skipped paragraphs to avoid it. That said, I have to add that I have an unusually low tolerance for it and I do get that it was perhaps required in order to shock and appal the reader. And it did that with success. 

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it. This is my book for Prompt 1 – a book from a genre I usually avoid.

Last thought: If you like dark, twisted dystopian stories, this one’s for you.

What’s your God like? #BookBytes 20

Welcome dear friends to another edition of BookBytes.

Recently, the son received an abridged version of Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster as a return gift at one of his friend’s birthdays. One glance at the book and he rejected it outright. Children can be surprisingly, annoyingly choosy about their reads. Besides, no self-respecting 13-year-old Rick Riordan fan would be interested in a book about a teenage orphan girl. I, on the other hand, was eager to read it. This one’s a classic I’d missed out on. I loved the illustrated version and found it quite perfect for my daughter, so it turned out to be a win-win situation.

Have you noticed how some books for children and young adults have immense wisdom within their pages? I’ve picked one such passage from Daddy Long Legs, though it’s from the original unabridged version. Take a read:

I find that it isn’t safe to discuss religion with the Semples. Their God (whom they have inherited intact from their remote puritan ancestors) is a narrow, irrational, unjust, mean revengeful, bigoted Person. Thank heaven I don’t inherit God from anybody! I am free to make mine up as I wish Him. He’s kind and sympathetic and imaginative and forgiving and understanding – and he has a sense of humour.

Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs

I know you’ll agree with Jerusha Abbot – the young heroine of Daddy Long Legs. She’s an orphan and so has no parents to hand her down a preconceived idea of God. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each of us was free to make up our own God like Jerusha? I quite like the one she conjured up. A God who wouldn’t need sacrifices and fasting and complicated rituals to be happy, who wouldn’t punish us each time we forgot to light a diya or mispronounced a mantra. Oh and a God with a sense of humour sounds just perfect.

Perhaps we’d then turn from god-fearing people to god-loving ones.

What’s the one quality you’d like in your God?

***********

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 December 3rd. Do join in.

Eating Wasps #microreview

Book: Eating Wasps
Author: Anita Nair

You know what’s the best feeling in the world? To pick up a book you’ve not heard of, to pick it up without any expectations, any background, any social media hoohaa. And then to find in it a story that by turns hits you hard, touches you, empowers you. That’s what Eating Wasps did for me.

I was driven to read it simply by its stunningly gorgeous cover. Then the opening line reeled me in:

“On the day I killed myself, it was clear and bright.” 

How can you ignore that?

If you’ve read Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupe you’ll know how adept she is at bringing together women centric stories. That’s what she does with Eating Wasps too.

The book opens with an award winning author Sreelakshmi committing suicide. And yet her life doesn’t end. She lives on as a ghost, a piece of a bone. As she flits from the hands of one woman to another she sees, she feels and she tells their story, bringing them together in a delightful read.

The book has multiple characters – girls, teens, women – each the protagonist of her own story, with her own challenges – sometimes internal, sometimes familial, sometimes societal.

My heart broke for Megha while Najma, who had the saddest story of all, made my heart soar. Maya was only too real, a flawed woman, an imperfect mom even as she debates what’s best for her son. Urvashi, Liliana, Brinda – each one has a story to tell.

The book isn’t perfect. The stories don’t come together as seamlessly as I’d have liked them to. Also, it could have done without a character or two while I’d have liked to know more about some of the others. Some of the stories are explored only too briefly, leaving me dissatisfied. And yet it’s a book worth reading because each story is special.

Last thought: Worth a read.

The Mummy Bloggers #BookReview

Book: The Mummy Bloggers
Author: Holly Wainwright

When you love reading and are a book blogger and a parent blogger too and you see a book titled The Mummy bloggers, well then you just pick it up. And so I did. That’s a lot of ‘ands’ I know, but there were a lot of things about this book that appealed to me.

It tells the story

..of three mom bloggers, all in completely different sub-niches of their own.

There’s – Elle, formerly Ellen, but then Elle, is more chic, no? And being chic is crucial for Elle. She lives in a #perfectworld. She has perfectly baked #homemadebrownies, which aren’t homemade at all and which she won’t ever eat because she also has to instagram her #perfectabs. She has a pair of #perfectbabies who dress in matching (and sponsored, obviously!) clothes. All in all she has a perfect life with SomebodyElse’sHusband. Opps sorry, that was her original anonymous blog, before she married Somebody Else’s Husband and made him her own, turning into #stylishmumma herself.

Then there’s Abi the #GreenDiva who has moved to the country with her partner Grace and their children. She has a farm where chickens run around, she homeschools her children and fights against processed food, vaccinations and all things ‘Big Pharma’. No matter that her own children are safely vaccinated.

Lastly there’s Leisel Adams a #workingmom in her forties. She has a full time job managing the demands of a millennial younger-than-her boss as well as a baby, a toddler and a kindergartener at home. Also in her life is #wonderdad, her stay at home husband. That she manages to blog is a wonder in itself.

So our protagonists are blogging away happily, secure in their own little worlds with their own followers and their own trolls too. Along comes a blogging award that nominates the three of them and upsets this delicate balance because there can only be one winner. On offer is a huge cash prize. An all-out anything-goes mommy war breaks out, the war to grab the most eyeballs in order to stay in the forefront of the hearts and minds of mommy’s of the world wide web. Unbelievable lies will be told and lives will be threatened in this war.

What I liked

This was a super fun ride. It was a familiar world, a world I love and enjoy and am a part of, even if in a rather peripheral way. I’ve seen rough prototypes of the three moms.

I loved the characters and the idea of niches within a niche. The book brought to light the social media addiction a lot of bloggers succumb to, living in a world of hashtags. That itch to check how many people responded to that last tweet, the last update, the latest post, that need for constant validation from relative strangers – that was very real. As also the danger of trolls.

Abi gives sound advice (?) for grabbing eye-balls in a crowded world:

…. the only way to get anyone to listen to you was to keep it simple and shout the loudest. Clouding your argument with nuance was the road to oblivion .…

Make the world black and white, take sides, stick to them, fight for them. It’s interesting how she goes about doing just this and gets caught up in a complicated web.

I loved Elle’s track for highlighting what a fake world it is out there. Reading about her was annoying and funny and, towards the end, crazily frustratingly unbelievable.

Leisel was a personal favourite perhaps because she was the most identifiable and the most genuine of the lot. Take for instance her worry that the children liked Wonder Dad better than her and yet she is relieved when baby wants only ‘daddy’ to put her to bed and then right away she’s guilty for feeling relieved. That emotional see-sawing is only too familiar.

Of course it’s all exaggerated, hugely exaggerated in the latter part, but I still maintain this was a fun read.

I’ll give it one extra star for delivering what it promised.

Last thought: If you’re a blogger looking for a light read, pick this one. If you’re not, you still might enjoy the laughs.

Chai and a book with a dash of nostalgia #WordsMatter

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It’s a wet wet day but I’m not complaining. I like this respite from the sun. Besides, when it rains, the balcony beckons, the tea tastes better and a book looks ever more inviting. Giving in to temptation, I drag out a bean bag, grab a cup of tea and pick up a book from my nightstand resolutely pushing away thoughts of unmade beds and messy rooms. Just this once, just one hour I promise myself as I settle down for a read.

‘What are you reading?’ did you ask? Here take a look.

Yeah, I recently started re-reading Gone with the Wind as part of a buddy-read.

I pick it up now running a hand over the plastic cover that has turned translucent with age. I imagine myself covering it lovingly, possessively (and numbering it too). It has been a long time since this book came to me, and I mean a really really long time.

As I open it to the first page I find a simple inscription from my aunt.

My aunt marked it is as a gift for my birthday even though it was some six months later.

Reading those well-loved lines brings a smile and a deluge of happy memories. Despite the rain around me it transports me to long hot summer days, of noisy coolers that blasted air along with occasional drops of water and the delicious smell of khus khus, and noisier cousins who played, fought, chatted all day.

Each vacation my aunt would come visiting along with my cousins. Before she left she would get us a gift. Each time she would ask, ‘Do you want a dress or a book?’. Each time, without fail, I’d say, ‘a book’.  And off we’d go to browse and buy.

Books were precious treasures back then. We read a lot yet owned a few unlike now when parents start building a library even before their child is born.

Gone with the Wind was the most expensive book I’d ever wanted. Our budget used to be somewhere around Rs 50 but this came at 60. I well remember standing in the bookstore staring at it, knowing it was beyond reach, too embarrassed to tell my aunt just how badly I wanted it, yet unable to tear myself away from it. And so I stood there, desperately wanting to wish away those ten rupees standing between me and my happiness.

I am not even sure my aunt noticed my dilemma. All she said was, ‘You want it? Okay.’ And just like that, in a heartbeat, the book was mine. I cannot even begin to describe what that meant to me. Not only did I get to read the book but I also got to own it! I went through it at breakneck speed, sitting up late into the nights. I strutted about school for days magnanimously lending it to everyone who asked for it.

As I leaf through the yellowed pages now, I notice a few are coming loose from the binding, some evil silverfish have dug in fine holes too. And yet, each page is more precious than the freshest, crispest, whitest pages I will find in any new edition. So no, I won’t be ordering a new one. I’ll sit down with tape and put the pages together, I’ll leave it out in the sun to get rid of the silverfish and I’ll read it multiple times. I’ll preserve it for as long as I can because, more than a book, it’s a cherished memory.

Do you have a book that evokes a special memory for you? A person who was instrumental in igniting a love for stories?

*****

I am participating in the #wordsmatter bloghop. I received this tag from teacher and writer Jyotsna Prabhakar who blogs at  Jonaatbest. I’m passing on the tag to the very artistic, very humorous Rajlakshmi at Destiny’s Child. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop for some interesting reads.

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.