Category Archives: new age reading

Red, White & Royal Blue #BookReview

Book: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston

I fell head over heels in love with the endearing premise of this book even before I read it. The love story of the First Son of the United States and the British Prince — the stuff of dreams. So we have two delightful protagonists, Alex and Henry, with some political intrigue thrown in.

The narrative goes like this:

Alex Claremont the charismatic FSOTUS has hated Prince Henry all his life, or so he likes to believe. Then one day the two meet at a wedding. After an embarrassing misadventure, the two are put together to repair their damaged reputations through a picture-perfect (though fake), instragrammable friendship. That’s when they begin to open up to each other, share the struggles of constantly being in the public eye and lo and behold! sparks fly.

However, as always, the path of true love cannot but be strewn with thorns. Given their positions, the thorns are pricklier than ever.

Alex dreams of a career in politics and the odds are already rather precarious since he is half Mexican. Plus, he has to come to terms with his sexuality.

Prince Henry has always known he was gay but coming out doesn’t seem like an option. Getting the British Royal court to accept that their most eligible bachelor, their Prince Charming is gay is no easy task.

My thoughts

Red, White & Royal Blue was the 2019 winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards. I was looking for a light easy romance and it seemed perfect. And yet it didn’t have me gushing as I’d thought it would.

The story is told in the third person, mostly through Alex’s perspective. He’s smart and witty with a quicksilver tongue. I loved how clear and focussed he was in what he wanted from life. That said, Henry remained my favourite. I loved every bit of his understated, rather geeky persona and his subtle, very British sense of humour. I loved how keyed in he was about queer history. McQuiston weaves it in beautifully in the back and forth conversations he has with Alex.

There are a host of side characters. The First Family McQuiston builds up is delightfully warm and mushy.

As far as the British characters go, she was a tad bit unfair, settling for caricaturish stereotypes in her attempt at getting to the quintessential British stiff upper lip. All apart from Henry of course, who I thought was quite perfect.

My major beef with the book, and this was a big one, was the over liberal use of swear words. Despite being pegged as Young Adult fiction, it was peppered with the f*** word. That rankled. I couldn’t come to terms with families talking like that to each other not just in moments of stress but even otherwise.

Also, the rendezvous of the two lovelorn boys seemed highly improbable. I cannot see how two such prominent people could just ‘slip away’ during public events. However, I’m willing to forgive that in the name of creative license.

Those two factors took away from my enjoyment of the book, however, I do see why a romantic young adult would find it quite perfect.

Last thought: A mushy read for romantic YAs.

Girl, Woman, Other #BookReview

Women. 
Women of all shapes
Women of all sizes. 
Women of all ages and colours – black and white and all shades between.
Women of all sexes. Yes, that!
Women who aren’t women at all, women who are men, men who are women.
Women who refuse to be defined by this binary structure.
In Girl, Woman, Other


This is one beautiful book.

Girl, Woman, Other charts the lives of twelve British women of colour, their struggles and their wins. 

It begins with ….…

…..Amma’s story, a lesbian theatre person, actor and director. It is the opening night of her feminist play The Last Amazon of Dahomey. Among the audience, we find most of our characters, though we aren’t aware of it just yet. As we turn the pages we are introduced to them in turn.
The narratives overlap sometimes with the women showing up as cameos in others’ stories, taking centre stage in their own.

Amma is there again in the end, wrapping up the book at the After Party of the play along with most of the characters and we get to bid adieu to them all.

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My thoughts

I’ve had this book since December and I’ve started it more than once, then abandoned it each time after a few pages. This time around I decided to stick to it and I’m ever so glad! It evened out after the first fifty pages or so and then on, I found it hard to put it down. Each story is captivating in a whole different way.

The writing style…

…had me lost for a while. Written as poetic prose – prose written and expressed like free-flowing poetry without capitalisation or full stops – it takes a little getting used to. However a few pages down I stopped being hampered by it and began to enjoy its beauty.

The women (and I use that word very loosely)……

…..are flawed. Most of them carry the baggage of prejudices, some due to events in their lives, others purely due to their origin. There’s Bummi, insisting her daughter marry a Nigerian. There’s Shirley a ‘boring’ old school teacher and Carol the banker, successful yet never quite at ease with herself or her identity, no matter where she is. There’s Morgan a social media influencer who refuses to be tied down with man/woman tag. And many more.

I found myself invested in the characters, loving them despite, or perhaps because of their flaws. Evaristo builds each character so that I could see where they were coming from, why they acted a certain way and, when one understands a character, one gets to love them. Not all stories had happy ever afters, not in the conventional sense at least, yet none of them left me feeling dissatisfied.

The book has to be re-read

It just isn’t enough to read it once. I went back and read the first chapter after I finished and then I read Morgans chapter again, because that was my favourite. I will probably be reading bits and pieces, looking for the characters as they enter and exit stories other than their own.

A few things that didn’t seem right

There were some small bits that didn’t quite come together. For instance, there was a part where one of the characters, Morgan, gets into drug addiction, the serious kind. And then one day the reality of his situation sinks in and, while his parents are away on a vacation, he gives it up. Just like that. Evaristo makes it sound easy, too easy. In an almost similar repetitive sequence another character Carol, who seems to have fallen into a depression after she is raped, gets back to normal in the space of a paragraph. ‘I quote: It was like she woke up from like a bad dream..’ with no trigger, no help from anyone, nothing. People change, grow, get a grip on life, I understand that. However for it to happen in a flash seemed improbable.

Also, while I did love the characters, there were a few too many and I was constantly mixing them up, specially in the beginning. As the book progressed, however, they took on personality. Which is why I’ll reiterate, don’t let the beginning of the book stop you from moving ahead.

Despite all of that…

….the book forced me to re-evaluate my thoughts not just on women of colour but on all women, on sexuality and equality and the way people form connections and relationships. It brought home the fact that families come in many forms, that a lesbian woman and a gay man who are friends, can together have a child and that was a family too.

Girl, Woman, Other envelops you like a warm patchwork quilt of engrossing stories.

In one of her interviews, Evarista said she deliberately included twelve women as protagonists, that she wanted to include as many women as she possibly could. If there was a book that dispelled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fears, of the dangers of a single story, this would very much be it.

Last thought: This booker winner must be read.

All The Bright Places #BookReview

Book Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places had been on my TBR for a long long time. Finally, I got to it over the lockdown.

Quickly, here’s what it’s about

This is the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theo Finch is the quintessential misfit, the ‘freak’ of the school while Violet Markey is a passionate writer and one of the most popular girls. While Theo has a history of depression, Violet has recently lost her sister in an accident leading her to withdraw into herself.

The two meet on top of the school bell tower teetering at its edge. Finch talks to Violet, persuading her to get down and in the process saves himself too. Later, they are paired off for a geography assignment ‘Wander’ where they have to discover and document the wonders of the state of Indiana. As they journey through the state, slowly, reluctantly (for Violet) they strike up a friendship as they try to heal each other.

What I thought of it

The story unfolds through two perspectives with Finch and Violet taking up the narrative, in turn, giving us a glimpse of both their points of view.

Let me first talk about our two protagonists

Finch is fascinating. We get to know early on that he is battling depression/bipolar disorder. He has many personalities hidden away inside him. There’s this thing he does – every few days he takes on a personality and then he proceeds to talk, walk and act as that person would. That had me intrigued. I do get though, that it might have appeared very confusing to people around him, specially to Violet. Once, in a wave of frustration, she demands which one is his ‘real’ self.

Finch obsesses about suicide, researching is, writing about it, even experimenting with it often, constantly on an edge.

He’s a bit of a bully when it comes to Violet. It annoyed me but it works in her favour because he drags her out of her depression, pulling her along on the path to recovery, slowly but surely.

In stark contrast to Finch, Violet’s character seems rather dull. While he hides way his dark periods under a flamboyant devil-may-care attitude, she is quiet and withdrawn. I couldn’t connect with her character; which is strange because I loved the relationship she shared with her sister and I could empathise with her emotions as she tries to come to terms with the latter’s death. Yet, she lacked the layers and depth that Finch had. 

In any case, the more flawed a character the more interesting it is, and Finch has a definite advantage there.

The idea of ‘Wander’

The idea of wandering around your own city or state is charming. I loved the places Theo and Violet discovered. We often take our surroundings, our towns, cities and states for granted. Every young person should try to take up this assignment and rediscover his place of birth, should try to look at it as a tourist would.

Violet’s blog

Violet has a blog, along with her sister, which she abandons after the latter’s death. As she recovers she decides to launch another web-magazine titled Germ that has everything a young adult might need – from fashion and style to counselling and help for mental issues. 

What’s even more fascinating is that the Germ Magazine for young adults really does exist. Taking the idea beyond the book and making it real is fantastic.

Tackling young adult mental health issues

All the Bright Places tackles the issue of mental health among young adults with depth and subtlety. It’s heartbreaking to watch how helpless Finch is in the face of his depression, how desperately he wants to stay ‘awake’. He puts on a cheerful front but he longs to be understood. 

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

I hated the near-absence of his mom. I get that she had a lot to deal with in her own personal life but I couldn’t wrap my head around the way she left Finch to his own devices, knowing that he had mental health issues. I was so so sorry for him. It made me sad to watch a smart and intelligent boy having to struggle to stay afloat like he did.

On the contrary, Violet has a very clear advantage in how invested her parents are in her well-being, how clued in they are to her every mood, how they celebrate every small sign of recovery. And that is perhaps why she stands a better chance at recovery.

I have to admit I found the end disappointing. It left me feeling angry and frustrated.

The title of the book

I thought a lot about the title and what it meant to convey. This definitely isn’t a ‘Bright’ book. In fact it’s rather morbid. That said, there are some genuinely warm, happy moments and that is perhaps what the title implies: that all of us have some ‘bright places’ even though darkness might lurk around the edges. Or perhaps it implies Violet’s and Theo’s wanderings and the ‘Bright’ places they encounter along the way. I’d love to hear what you thought if you have read this book.

All the Bright Places: The film

Obviously, I had to go and look up the film after I was done with the book. And obviously, I found it wanting. It was too slow for my liking. I did like Justice Smith, who plays Finch, perhaps because of my bias towards that character. As for Violet, she was even more uninspiring than the one in the book.

Last thought: Not the perfect book to read during a lockdown but if mental health issues intrigue you, you’ll like this one.

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.

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.

What’s the deal with Walliams, Allen and the like?

Some of my favourite childhood buddies lived up among the dense branches of a tree that went Wisha Wisha Wisha. Silky, Moonface, the Saucepanman and Dame Washalot. Eager to have the kids befriend them too I picked up this book at the Landmark store.

Blyton copy

Once I brought it home, however, I realised it wasn’t an Enid Blyton at all. It was written by Elise Allen.

I felt cheated.

I have to add here that I looked up Elise Allen and she’s done some pretty good work – she’s the lady behind shows like the Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid (Strongly recommend the Dinosaur Train if you have a dino-loving kid) and many more works that the children have enjoyed. So why should she do an Enid Blyton take off and why oh why should the book be packaged like an original?

Then again I stumbled upon David Walliams. Not only are the covers of his books replicas of Roald Dahl’s, he also has the same illustrator, Quentin Blake. He is a self-confessed Dahl fan and his writing style is quite the same too. He has the same mean-adult-pitted-against-the-child formula and has perfected Dahl’s craziness to a tee.

david-walliams-books

 

I have to admit I actually liked The Boy in the Dress (it beautifully challenged stereotypes and I recommend it for all 10-year-olds, specially boyish boys) but a lot of the others, Demon Dentist and Mr Stink for instance, are just too much like Dahl, minus his finesse, or so I thought. It might just be my bias speaking of course because each time I see his books my head screams ‘IMPERSONATOR’. The kids love him, though – the proof is in the fact that his books have made him into a gazillionire.

Sample this quote from one of his interviews:

“I had absolutely no hesitation in stealing this idea for my new children’s novel, Mr Stink, when introducing my characters. Nor was that the only thing I stole. I also stole Quentin Blake to illustrate my writing.”

He was nominated for the Dahl Funny Book Award and is hailed as the new Roald Dahl but the thing is why do we need a new one?

Then I chanced upon my niece reading a young adult fiction series by Kiera Cass – The Selection Series. Never one to be able to resist a book I picked it up only to find it was Hunger Games with a twist. A repressed majority, a strict caste system (like the districts in Hunger Games) and a bunch of girls drawn from the varied sections coming together at the King’s palace to vie for the Prince.

kiera

She loved it, though. She had the entire series on her bookshelf. And I’m not sure she’d like Hunger Games as much because this one pandered to her every adolescent girly instinct. Which just doesn’t seem fair to me. Not that it matters, since I am not exactly their target market.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Am I the only one stewing in annoyance? Is this set to be a trend that’s going to be loved and accepted just like remixed music or remade films?

A Wonderful Book #Teaser Tuesday 4

My current read is a truly wonderful book, quite aptly named Wonder by RJ Palacio. Here’s a line, or rather two lines, for this week’s Teaser Tuesday, which is hosted by Should Be Reading. Do make time to drop by at the end of week for the review. This one is an exceptional read.

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“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.” 

 

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If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!

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?