Category Archives: fiction

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.

Freedom

Sofia sat crouched at the edge of the cliff, muscles tense, senses alert. A wave of vertigo threatened to drown her and she averted her gaze from the valley below. She forced herself to breathe deeply willing herself to relax, muscle by one tiny muscle.

You can do this, she said, slowly, gingerly, stretching out one leg, then the other. An intense urge to draw back to the safety of the ledge hit her again. She fought it down …. again.

She let out a shaky breath which turned into a nervous laugh at this small victory.

She forced herself to look down focusing on the brilliant shades of green. She smiled at the distant cluster of houses, far enough to mute the mundane sounds of everyday life yet offering the comfort of human presence.

With growing confidence, she stretched out her legs, threw back her head and let out a delighted whoop.

This is what she had driven miles for.
This freedom from fear.

It was a birthday ritual – a gift to herself.
And she’d do it again – another year, another fear – she’d demolish them all, one by one.

Happy birthday to me, said she, smiling softly.

***********

Do you have a birthday ritual? What’s your idea of a perfect birthday? Would love to hear about it

***********

Linking up with Mayuri and Rashi for #WoWe. Do drop by their blogs every Wednesday if you want to flex your creative muscle.

Everything I never told you #BookReview

Book: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng

‘Lydia is dead’ says the opening line of this book. However don’t go into it thinking it to be a thriller and you’ll love it.

This is the story of…

a mixed race couple, Marilyn and James Lee, and their children Lydia, Nathan and Hannah.

Lydia is clearly the parents’ favourite. She is the focus of their lives and carries the burden of their expectations. Marilyn wants Lydia to become a doctor and sees it as the fulfilment of her own childhood dream. James on the other hand has always struggled to fit in being a child of Chinese parents. He wants Lydia to have friends, to be a ‘regular American teen’.

Nathan and Hannah get stray bits of their parent’s attention. Nath is bullied by Lee to the point where he begins to doubt himself. He is by turns resentful and sympathetic towards Lydia. Hannah remains an invisible presence longing for her parents’ as well as her siblings’ affection. She is an insightful little girl observing much more than she’s given credit for.

Then one day Lydia disappears. A few days later her body is fished out from a lake. That’s when the delicate threads that hold the family unravel, spilling out ugly secrets. Is it a murder? Is it a suicide? Does her friendship with their neighbour Jack have anything to do with it?

What I thought of it

Although a murder mystery forms the core of the narrative, the book is the story of a family, its criss crossing relationships and the desire of every child to be loved and accepted.

Each of the characters is beautifully etched with strong back stories that explain clearly why they behave the way they do. That is what makes this book exceptionally readable and relatable.

One can see where Marilyn and James are coming from, why they want what they do for Lydia. And yet one can also see its terrible consequences.

The relationship between Nath and Lydia is beautifully portrayed. Nath obviously resents her and yet the two share an unsaid understanding. He knows that the constant attention of her parents annoys and upsets Lydia and he tries to deflect it too, not always with happy results.

Everything I never told you talks about how expectations can weigh down a child no matter how honourable the intentions. It brings home the fact that parents can sometimes pressurise their children without even being aware of it. There’s the obvious coercion where they push, nag and reprimand and then there’s emotional coercion which isn’t as obvious and yet can be far more overwhelming and potent. Worse still, it leaves little room for refusal or rebellion because one isn’t being coerced overtly at all.

That’s a dangerous place to be in.

Oh I felt for Lydia. I know children like her – the ‘good girls’ who struggle to deliver at every level. But what happens if they cannot? What if they do not want what their parents want for them and can never say it for fear of breaking their parents’ hearts? So intense and palpable is the constant tension in Lydia’s life that one almost feels a sense of relief as the waters of the lake close on her.

As a mom to twins who worries constantly about dividing time and attention fairly between them the focus on Lydia seemed incongruous. That was perhaps the single jarring factor of the book. However, that’s not to say I haven’t seen it happen. It definitely does, thought perhaps it isn’t as blatant.

Last thought: A wonderful read about love and family and expectations. Definitely worth a read.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book on crime-solving’.

The Night Rainbow – A hauntingly beautiful read

Book Title: The Night Rainbow
Author: Claire King

What do you do if you lose your papa in an accident and your maman, pregnant with a baby, moves to a far away place in her head where you cannot reach her? In a place where she cannot abide loud noises, cooks when she feels up to it but mostly keeps to her room?

Well, you take care of yourself the best you can even if you’re just five. You make sure you don’t bother maman, you play in the meadow, splash around in the stream and eat fruits or make yourself a sandwich when you’re hungry. Most of all, you try to find ways to make maman happy because you want her back with all the wanting in your little heart.

That’s the story

..of five and half year old Peony, better known as Pea, her little sister Margot and their mum Joanna. As Joanna loses herself to depression the two little girls are left to their own devices. They spend their days talking and playing. During their wanderings they meet a man, Claude and Merlin his dog, and strike up a friendship. Claude keeps his distance even though he is affectionate and caring but the girls come to look upon him as the father figure they miss so much.

Set in the summer of a small French village, that is the all the plot you’ll find in The Night Rainbow. It isn’t much, so if you’re looking for a story you will be disappointed. Nothing really happens. The narrative has the dull sameness of the  routine of Pea’s days. As you progress through the pages you wait for something to happen. You wait for the market days when Pea gets to go out with her mum as much as she does. You look forward to her interactions with Calude or even the small chance encounters with other village folk.

But here’s the thing, the book draws you in. You step into it and you feel what Pea is feeling. You find yourself grinning when she manages to draw a smile from Joanna, you cringe in the dark with her as she battles her imagined monsters and you want to hold her and hug away her yearning for a real family.

This one isn’t meant to be read for its racy narrative, it is one of those soul-stirring stories whose beauty lies in its slowness. There’s a bit of a revelation towards the end which makes the story even more poignant. And I wonder how I missed it through the book.

Perhaps the book affected me as it did because it spoke in a child’s voice.

Pea was a delightful heroine. Sometimes she seems a trifle old for her age but I forgave her considering she’s had to run her life on her own. I had to try hard to not get judgemental about Joanna. Mothers cannot afford the luxury of withdrawing into themselves when they have a five-year-olds to look out for. My heart broke for Pea as she tries, tries ever so hard to make Joanna happy. Her deep yearning to bring a smile to her maman’s face, for the hugs, the kisses and the cuddles, for the warmth of the old times and her childish attempts towards that are heartbreaking. When she fights the night demons, her loneliness is palpable and yet so strong is her concern for Joanna that she is refuses to wake her up.

There were times where I wanted to shake Joanna out of her depression. If that were even possible. But when I would put away the  judgemental mum in me I’d feel so so sorry for her. To have lost a baby first then your husband, to be far away from your own home, with hostile in-laws, heavily pregnant and all alone – how terrible must that be. She tries. She cooks somedays and smiles too but the sadness weighs too heavily on her leaving her lethargic and uncaring.

Though Pea rarely cries or even complains, her longing is tangible and that is what makes this a sad, haunting, beautiful read. When Shelly said ‘the most beautiful songs were born out of the saddest things’ he could have been talking about The Night Rainbow.

Last thought: It’s definitely worth a read but it’s likely to pull you down into a well of sadness so pick it up with care.

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info