Category Archives: Kindle

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek #BookReview

Book: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson


I’d promised you (and myself) that I’d read and review The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek right after I read Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. The books are both based on women packhorse librarians of Kentucky and were said to be very similar in content. Finally, after wandering off a little bit, here I am.

The Story

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy suffers from a rare genetic disease that results in blue skin. She is called Bluet and is ostracised by the townsfolk, along with other ‘colored’ folks.

She joins the packhorse librarian initiative started by Eleanor Roosevelt, and brings books and other reading material to the people on the hills. Cussy loves books. The written word gets her pulse racing. She has read everything from Pearl S Buck to Aldous Huxley. She is perhaps the best-read person in the town. And yet, she is looked down upon, ridiculed and considered completely unworthy.

A curious doctor tries to find out the reason for her ‘blueness’ and succeeds too (It’s due to the deficiency of a particular enzyme). Bluet is cured for a while but hates the side effects of the drugs that include severe nausea and vomiting. Yet, so desperate is she to be a part of the mainstream of society that she goes along with it. However, the deeply ingrained prejudice against her doesn’t disappear with her blue colour. Finally, she chooses to stop trying to fit in.

Her work, hard and demanding as it is, is her only happiness. And that’s where she finds love too, though it comes at a cost.

What I thought of it

I’ll come straight to the point, without beating about the bush (did you get that?), and say that I loved the book.

The author tackles multiple issues, all close to my heart. She talks of racism and how cruel it was. It is even now, but back in the early nineties, it was way worse than we can ever imagine. It was sanctioned by law. For instance, there was a law prohibiting marriages between whites and coloureds.

Through The Book Woman, I got to know about the Blue people of Kentucky. I found out that they really did exist and also that there really was a place called Troublesome Creek.

And there’s more.

The authenticity

I’d give The Book Woman a hundred out of ten on authenticity. It is a wonderfully researched book. The tone, the language, the customs and traditions, all transport you to Kentucky of the early nineties.

Cussy, the Book Woman

I fell in love with the self-effacing Cussy. While she was the most docile woman you’d ever meet and also very conscious of her standing in the society (or rather the lack of it), she had a certain doggedness that made her persevere despite all odds. She traversed the most treacherously prohibitive terrain, through flowing rivers and heart-stopping narrow mountain trails to get to her readers. I loved how she zealously she picked out reading material requested by her readers. Her pleasure at the thought of their happiness was infectious. Also, I loved how hard she tried to get people to read, sometimes even tricking them into it. That was endearing.

The focus on books and love for reading

I loved how books were such an inherent part of the narrative. The love and longing for reading were touching. It was miraculous that the hunger people had for books, even young children, surpassed their physical hunger. One part of me tells me that’s unbelievable, impossible even, but another part of me wants to believe it – that the thirst for knowledge and the lure of reading surpasses physical needs.

The love story

Cussy finds love on the mountains. Not many pages are devoted to it, there is barely any romance, yet the love story is very real.

Richardson’s Book Woman vs Moyes’ Giver of Stars

It’s not right to compare two books but I had to do this because Richardson accused Moyes of plagiarising her book and that’s what led me to this wonderful read in the first place.

Here’s my review of the The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

I wasn’t convinced about the charges but the fact remains that the two books are very similar in content. They are, however, different in their treatment of the subject.

The Book Woman is way better researched, way more authentic. Cussy’s passion for books and reading is greater than that of all the women put together in The Giver of Stars and that makes the book so much more of a treat.

In Moyes’ book, the individual stories of the women took up a lot of space and that wasn’t all bad because I did love the stories, but their job as librarians didn’t get as much of a spotlight as I’d have liked. However, that also made the narrative more complex with many stories entwined together. The Book Woman, on the other hand, is the story of Cussy with a simple linear narrative.

If The Book Woman were a classic, The Giver of Stars would be the pop version, more fluff, more drama, easier to read and easier to connect with.

If you ask me which one you should read, I’d say why choose? Read both.

Last thought: Go for it.

The Girl You Left Behind #BookReview

Book: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes

That’s my second Jojo Moyes in a row and she’s fast redeeming herself. I know I know I’d said I’d read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, but The Girl You Left Behind was sitting there on my bookshelf begging to be read, and well, I couldn’t resist.

I thought I’d have a quick look you know, just to check if I needed to put Moyes back on my favourite-author list, but before I knew it I was sucked right in.

Books have a way of doing that.

Let me share the story so you know exactly how that happened

The Girl you Left Behind tells the story of two women in two different timelines. 

First, there’s Sophie, a proud and courageous Frenchwoman. Her story is set in 1916 during the German occupation of France in the First World War. She runs a small hotel along with her sister, and is forced to serve the German Kommandant and his men, much against her wishes.

Sophie’s husband (who is away fighting the war) was a painter and did a striking painting of hers that hangs in her hotel now. It catches the eye of the Kommandant who seems to be obsessed with it. Through it all, Sophie struggles to keep her family safe even as she tries to find her husband through the Kommandant. How far will she go?

Cut to London, 2006. Sophie’s painting is now owned by Liv Halston, who is mourning the recent loss of her husband. The painting is now worth a fortune, although Liv is unaware of it. To her, its value lies in the fact that it’s a wedding gift from her dead husband. Events then on, shake up Liv’s life as she struggles to keep ownership of the painting.

What I thought of it

I’ve read a few other books with two timelines and in each of them one of the two stories has stood head and shoulders above the other. Moyes’ book also suffers from the this problem, although the contrast wasn’t as stark.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning. 

The book opens with Sophie’s story…

…. and I was completely captivated. Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres and Moyes brings it alive. The fear, the hunger and the cold. The shortages, the prejudices as also the sense of community, it was all there. And there was intrigue. Sophie’s interactions with the Kommandant made for compelling reading. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It was riveting right up to the very end.

Then came Liv’s story…

…and the pace fell dramatically; as if sudden brakes had been applied on an enjoyable adventurous journey. I had to push myself to keep going and my mind kept wandering away, wondering why Moyes had to desert Sophie at all, why she even attempted to add Liv’s tale and water down a stunning narrative.

While Sophie’s romance with her husband Édouard Lefèvre (before he leaves for the war) is passionate and real, their life idyllic, Liv’s remains vague. When I think of her husband, David, all I can think of is a genius architect, not a loving husband. And that is why Liv’s loss doesn’t ring true even though Moyes takes great pains to try to convince the reader of it. 

That said, the story does come together towards the end. There’s a court trial and Moyes redeemed herself somewhat by the time I turned the last few pages. I still maintain Liv’s part could have been shorter.

The end..

…tied up neatly, a little too neatly, but I won’t complain, sucker as I am, for happy endings. Moyes seemed to be making up for Me Before You :-).

The title of the book..

… fitted both heroines beautifully. Sophie (as ‘the girl who was left behind’) pines for her husband, who, I have to add, was an adorable character and a perfect foil to Sophie. In the other story, Liv is the one who is ‘left behind’ and cannot forget her dead husband. It seems only right then, that the painting with that title holds both narratives together.

It may sound presumptuous to comment on a bestselling author but this book could have done with better editing. Just a bit of tweaking could have made a difference.

PS: If you’ve read the book …

….. do tell what purpose Mo served by being in it. I thought she ate up too many pages without adding a whit to the story or even supporting it in any way whatsoever.

Also, since I mentioned Sophie’s husband earlier, I have to add he was my favourite character in the book even though he’s barely in it. His letters to Sophie were enchanting. His bear-like joyful personality leaps up from the letters. I’d have given the world to see that drawing of his – the bear in a French army uniform with Sophie by his side.

Last Thought: This isn’t a perfect book but I’d still recommend it if you like Historical Fiction.

The Giver of Stars #BookReview

Book: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes

I’ve had an up and down kind of relationship with Jojo Moyes. First I read Me Before You and I cannot ever put into words what I felt for that book. Let me just say that it made me laugh and cry like no love story ever did. This, despite my passion for happy endings.

Then I read the sequel After You and was sorely disappointed. It was just so very mediocre that I lost interest in the Louisa’s life as well as in the author. Then someone (and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was), strongly recommended The Giver of Stars. And because she felt the same about the other two books, I trusted her and I’m glad I did.

Here’s what the book is about

Alice, an Englishwoman, marries the handsome Bennet Van Cleve, more to escape her dull, restricted life in England, than for love, and moves to Kentucky, USA. However, she soon realises that with her domineering father-in-law always around, she had exchanged one prison for another.

When she gets the opportunity of becoming part of a girl gang of pack-horse librarians she signs on eagerly. These women travel long distances on horseback, through sun, rain and snow, carrying with them books to be delivered to isolated houses on the hills.

The library is headed by Margery, a strong independent woman and Alice is at once awed and enchanted by her devil-may-care attitude. Beth, Izzy and Sophie make up the rest of the group. Through their books the women open doors not just to knowledge but also to comfort and camaraderie.

They become an inseparable team, a support system for each other, specially for Alice, who has to struggle hard on the personal front.

Partly because Margery supports Alice and partly because of her love for the mountains and the mountain-folk, she comes into a confrontation with the Van Cleves who own the largest coal mines of the area. The story takes on a dangerous turn when she is accused of murder.

What I thought if it

The book is set in Kentucky during the times of the Great Depression. It intrigued me to find out that pack-horse librarians really existed way back then. I couldn’t help but marvel at these brave women who travelled 14-15 hours a day, four-days a week to bring learning and pleasure to the hills.

The setting

…is gorgeous. Moyes brings alive the raw beauty of the mountains – the vastness of the terrain in all its magnificence, harsh yet beautiful, the clip-clop of horse hooves and the chirping of birds, the sounds and the silences, as the women rode in solitude. She describes the changing seasons in all their glory – the heat, the intense cold as also the angry rains.

Her descriptions of life on the hills are real. While she doesn’t romanticise or glorify it, she doesn’t make it pitiful either.

She talks of small-town life with equal authenticity, the dullness of it as also the the gossip-mills that never stop churning and feuds that go on for generations. 

The story

…proves that Moyes is a master story-teller. The library is the heart of the book. Interwoven with it are personal stories of the women with their individual dreams and struggles. The narrative moves from Alice to Margery seamlessly including a host of characters as they go along. The two romances are sweet in their own different ways.

Although the story takes time to be set into motion and nothing much happens in the first few pages, I was happy soaking in the setting and acquainting myself with the characters. This isn’t a pacey read, but Moyes keeps one engrossed.

The characters

…were well crafted. I liked that most of them had strong, credible backstories. Obviously Alice and Margery were my favourites. I specially loved the growth of Alice’s character. From a sedate, timid, Englishwoman, constantly cowed down by her father-in-law, to a rebel ready to take on the world for the people she loved and believed in – the transformation was wonderful.

What I didn’t like

In Moyes’ book black is black and white is white with a fair bit of stereotyping (the rich mean mine owner). That doesn’t happen in real life and it pretty much reveals the end. While I loved the characters, I’d have liked them to be more layered. A little bit of grey could have added depth and intrigue to the story.

Also, the language didn’t seem to be in sync with time the book was set it. I could have been reading any book set in modern times.  

My biggest grouse was with the ending.

***** Spoiler Alert*****

This last bit might have spoilers so stop here if you’re wary of them. And though I’m trying to keep it to a minimum I can’t help but rant just a tiny bit.

The court-case as the grand finale was an inspired idea, but the end was too easy, too tame. Also, had I been the judge or jury, it wouldn’t have convinced me at all, and lastly, it in no way assured me that Van Cleve was well and truly vanquished. 

That’s all I’ll say. If you’ve read the book I’d love to know what you though of it, specially the end.

Despite the end, I’d recommend The Giver of Stars as a good read.

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Last thought: A read well worth your time.

After thought:

Moyes faced plagiarism charges after her book was published. Kim Michele Richardson accused her of plagiarising her novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.

And so that’s my next read. A little bit to check up on the claims of plagiarism but more because I don’t want to come back from the mountains of Kentucky or let go of the lives of pack-horse librarians.

Who Should be Buddha? #BookBytes 21

I’d read and loved Liberation of Sita by Volga so it was with high expectations that I picked up Yashodhara by the same author. Here’s a quote from the book that made me think:

I can’t become a path finder though I have the desire to become one. So, I must make the path of the pathfinder more comfortable for him to tread upon. That shall be my aim and my life’s noblest ambition.

Volga, Yashodhara

I get Yashodhara’s point of view here. It’s an unselfish perspective, where she’s thinking what’s best for the world, rather than of her own personal journey and that is definitely appreciable.

Yashodhara and Siddharth were a perfect match – two souls who thought the same thoughts, felt the same emotions. If anything, Yashodhara was the more evolved of the two (as depicted in the book). And yet she gives up her desire to be the ‘pathfinder’ because she realises that, being a woman, she wouldn’t be able to impact the world as Siddharth would and a valuable message would be lost to the world. And so she decides to take a backseat, letting Siddharth go, allowing him to become The Buddha, while she remains a ‘facilitator’. It’s only a long long time later that she is able to complete her journey.

There are many things about the Yashodhara-Siddharth story that have troubled me ever since I was a child. Finding out that Yshodhara was just as much a thinker as Siddharth only made it worse.

Perhaps, what she did was the right thing to do, specially in the context of the times she lived in.

What’s sad though, is that even today, a lot of women are content to play supporting roles rather than take centre stage. The tired old saying ‘Behind every man…’ gets to me sometimes. It’s as if the woman is given a consolation prize so she stops fighting for the Gold. Perhaps I am being harsh here and I do get that it isn’t always intentional however one does need to rethink this whole facilitator role that women are permanently cast in.

One needs to remember that sometimes they shoulder roles left to them unwillingly, protesting all along, at other times they step back and don’t push themselves enough to take centre stage and sometimes they actually delight in the sacrifice, in giving up their dreams for the men in their lives thanks to years and years of conditioning.

That’s just sad. The world would be a better place if people took up roles best suited to each one, irrespective of gender.

Perhaps then Yashodhara would have been the Buddha.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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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.

BookBytes will be on a break now till we usher in the new year. See you on the first Tuesday of 2020, that’s January 7.

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.

Why? #BookBytes 7

For BookBytes today I have picked this quote from Jet Lag by Ann Birstein. Talking of Auschwitz the author says:

The million and half Jews had been shipped from all over Europe for the privilege of being murdered here. From all parts of Poland, of course, but also Hungary, Slovakia, Greece. Why? Why go to all that trouble? Why not shoot them on the spot? But I was thinking in terms of Nazi efficiency. I had forgotten the other why. Why murder them all?

Jet Lag, Ann Birstein

This is something I have often wondered. Why take the trouble of transporting millions and millions of Jews only to kill them? And again I have to remind myself that the bigger question here is ‘Why kill them at all?’.

Although the book didn’t move me as much as other WWII literature, it is worth a read. You can read the detailed review of the book here.

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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. The next edition is scheduled for May 21st. Do join in.

Jet Lag #BookReview

Book: Jet Lag
Author: Ann Birstein

I took up JetLag on a recommendation from Sonali’s Book Club. That it was a World War II book was of course another big reason.

This is a travelogue..

..by the author who signs up for a European Discovery Tour – a trip that would take her to Jewish sites across Eastern Europe. She feels the need to explore her Jewish roots, to see the ‘origin’ as she puts it.

Along with her on the tour is a group of people each prompted by their own reasons. They travel from Warsaw and Auschwitz to Lithuania, Chez Republic and Hungary visiting all the sites of the horrible tragedy that was WW II. In Lithuania she visits the Yeshiva (Jewish Educational Institution) where her father had studied and tries to imagine what his life would have been like.

What I liked

The book brings home the tragedy in all its horror. Through Ann and her erudite guide we get to know of countless stories of life in the ghettos. These are stories of horror of course yet also of hope because people continued to believe that the madness had to end.

The Jews led almost regular lives, at least initially. They ran libraries, taught music and organised children’s operas. It is amazing how people kept on living ‘normal’ lives even in the most cruel, abnormal conditions. It shocked me to realise how easily we adapt to and accept whatever circumstances we are forced to live in. And that, I believe, is the biggest lesson history teaches us – to protest an unfair act no matter how small.

Many of them defied the rules too. They did it systematically and repeatedly till even that became their new normal. Above all, they wrote and photographed, constantly chronicling whatever was happening around them, leaving it all for posterity even as their numbers depleted day by day with groups of them being transported to the ovens.

Some instances talked about in the book will stay with me for a long time.

There were mentions of people like Emanuel Ringelblum the Warsaw Ghetto chronicler, Photographer George Kadish from Kovno, Lithuania and Abraham Sutzkever with his lyrical yet terrible descriptions of the holocaust. I spent hours looking each of them up on the Net and following their pictures.

The statistics are stunning in their enormity.

What could have been better

While the ghetto stories were inspiring as well as heart-breaking, the memoir didn’t draw me in. The narrative never became personal hence turned dull in parts.

Also, the people on the tour didn’t really come together as a group. I missed the warmth, the mutual sympathy that comes through a shared tragedy. Most of them had back stories but they were rather tenuous ones and I couldn’t connect with them with the exception of Rita and Max. They had both been at the concentration camps when they were young. Rita, as an 18-year-old, was incarcerated at Auschwitz and her husband Max was on the Schildler’s List. Their stories were moving, their dignity in the face of trauma, impressive. A book from their perspective would be worth a read.

I struggled with Yiddish terms and was glad I was reading it on the Kindle so I could look up the words as I went along.

Last thought: This one certainly deserves a read, however it is more of a fact file on WWII than a personal narrative.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book written by a female author’.

Click here to buy this book

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.

This is how I was kindled

 

Kindle

I was brought up as an old-school reader – the kind who uses bookmarks and book covers, the kind that goes to a bookshop, browses at leisure, makes his pick, then sits and samples it before finally putting it in his shopping basket and heading for the checkout counter. I love the good solid feel of books in my hand;  and while I may still be debating whether I like scent of an old book better or that of crackling fresh new pages straight off the press, one thing I’m sure of – I love books – the physical kind.

Then I was gifted a kindle – yeah that destroyer of all things ‘reading’ the way I knew it. It was a gift of love so I accepted it with an open mind and putting aside my prejudices I sternly told myself to give it a fair try.

I browsed through the tiny device. I marvelled a bit at how light it felt. I fiddled around with the brightness and the font size till I got it exactly the way I wanted. I found I could connect to Goodreads and Amazon, a miracle it seemed. I could look up meanings of words if the WiFi was switched on. What’s better (or worse?), the kindle editions were inexpensive, sometimes crazily so. And that’s how slowly, ever so slowly, I was sucked into the web of technology.

I’d read a book review, like it and within minutes I would be clicking onto Amazon, paying for it online and revelling in the henceforth unbelievable luxury of curling up with my read right away. Ah the thrill of impulse buying!

Yet, there are days when I miss my old friends – books as they used to be – the impatient rustle of pages as I whizzed through a Da Vinci Code or the languid turning of a Marquez as I marvelled at the beauty of its prose. And the smell..how I miss that musty aroma. Maybe they’ll learn to bottle it up one day and then I could spray it on my kindle and find solace.

The coming generations will probably not know of it at all and stop missing it completely. That thought makes me a little sad. But then The old order changeth yielding place to new. It will happen sooner rather than later.

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Are you a Kindle user? If not, do you find it tempting – this idea of carrying a hundred books in one tiny device? Or are you a fan of books the old-fashioned way?