Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Quilt and Other Stories by Ismat Chughtai

Sometimes as readers, we’re so enamoured by stories, books, themes and writing styles that are foreign to us, and to our culture, that we spend less time digging into the literary scene of our own country. Perhaps that’s because we choose those contemporary books that go super-popular and have snazzy titles, but later realize that they’re not even close to our preferences. So we avoid it altogether, not trying too hard to experiment. But then in between those rare trials, we find a book(s) that’s not on a bestseller list in the present scene, but is relatively well-known to a small section of people who’ve read it. We realize that digging deep and experimenting aren’t all that bad, and we give it more chances, and most of the times when we’ve got a hang of the kind of thing that’d be good for us, we come across more such titles and stories. We love them!

Ismat Chughtai
One such book I read is called The Quilt, Stories by Ismat Chughtai. She was a courageous Indian Urdu writer who was also a fierce feminist, and in her stories, explored themes of female sexuality, middle-class gentility and other areas of social reality.  

This collection has ten short stories, nearly all of them centred on feminism or having female characters bravely depicted just as they really are. These stories do not create fantasies or promote wishful thinking, but are descriptions of people and life as we all might have seen around us. One might think that the absence of a ‘happily ever after’ would make the stories depressing or non-hopeful, but the effect is opposite. You would be left thinking about them for a long time afterwards, and probably would feel even more close to them, just for the realness of them.

Be it the story of a child bride, getting beaten up and abused by the in-laws, yet having her own innocent ideas, or that of a woman scared of childbirth; be it a story of a woman who spent thirty years not getting over the man she loved, or that of a domestic worker thinking of the Englishman as her man – the stories do not shy away from presenting stories of people who’re very much real, very much messed up and whose stories are looked down on.

The beauty in Ismat Chughtai’s stories is in the writing style and the realism, the frankness and light-heartedness with which they’ve been narrated. If the translation manages to make a reader love those stories, no doubt the original Urdu version would be amazing! I’m finding it a little hard to describe the writing style. It’s simple, yet the stories are narrated in a way that you just cannot stop reading! Half the things are not direct, but implied, and that makes this narration just so unique.

One of my favourite stories in this collection is called Roots, and is about two families from different religions, living next to each other with utmost friendship that spanned three generations. That was a time when partition was limited only to a joke, but then it started becoming a reality, extended family and relatives started flocking in to the two houses, and a deep chasm was created in between them. After many, many years when the lady of the house refuses to leave for Pakistan along with her children, the story reflects her pain, confusion and memories associated with the place. Where is home? What is this stupid thing called ‘our land’? Is it not here, where she was married, where her children were born and where her husband lay buried after fifty years of marriage? This, and other stories like these do not talk about politics or superficial ideas, but the small lives of real people who just want to live a love-filled and happy life.

I’d recommend this book if you’re interested in stories that explore women and their lives, Urdu literature, popular classical authors, or Indian stories. It’s a light-read that would definitely leave you with something to remember.

Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
Translated by M. Asaduddin in 2001. Published by Penguin Books in 2011.
Recommended to me by a super-duper friend!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Book Talk: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

John Boyne
Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author: John Boyne
Published: 2006 by Random House
Pages: 216
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 3.5/5!

Blurb excerpt from Goodreads
Bruno is nine years old, and the Nazis’ horrific Final Solution to the “Jewish Problem” means nothing to him. He's completely unaware of the barbarity of Germany under Hitler, and is more concerned by his move from his well-appointed house in Berlin to a far less salubrious area where he finds himself with nothing to do. Then he meets a boy called Shmuel who lives a very different life from him -- a life on the opposite side of a wire fence. And Shmuel is the eponymous boy in the striped pyjamas, as are all the other people on the other side of the fence. The friendship between the two boys begins to grow, but for Bruno it is a journey from blissful ignorance to a painful knowledge. And he will find that this learning process carries, for him, a daunting price.

My Thoughts!
Before reading this book, I had imagined it to be something really, really profound, considering it’s been made into a movie as well. Based on the horrific time of the Holocaust, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas follows the story of nine year old Bruno who lives happily in Berlin. His father is a senior soldier, and one evening, ‘The Fury’ decides to come to dinner at their home. He’s the man who runs the country, and although Bruno doesn’t realize it, it’s a pretty big deal. Bruno’s father is promoted to the post of Commandant, and he tells the family they’re to move to a new place that Bruno calls Out-With. He’s horror struck at first, and doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He cannot surely leave his three best friends for life! But the move is made, and soon enough Bruno feels he’ll go mad if he just stayed put. So he decides to explore.

Part of the new house that disturbs him is the view from his window. He can see a huge wire fence, taller than their three-storied house, going endlessly on both sides. And behind the fence, he sees desolate men and children, all in striped clothes and matching caps. When he decides to explore around, he walks along the fence and after some time, finds a boy his age sitting behind the fence. The two become friends. The year that follows is one where Bruno is gradually exposed to the horrors of the world, and the book describes how he feels about the same, and how he acts. After about a year, their mother decides she’s had enough and wants to take the kids (Bruno has a twelve year old sister Gretel) back to Berlin. Now Bruno is sure he will badly miss his new friend, Shmuel, so he decides to do something special for his last day at Out-With.

The story has been narrated in third person, and written as a children’s book. It’s suitable for all ages, though. From what I could infer from the writing style, the story and the theme, the author tried to put forward a child’s viewpoint about the horrors of war, and how it affects them. It definitely talks about a friendship without limit or distinguishing between communities and caste, away from the malice of ignorance. By playing down with words the terrible events at Out-With, it seemed the author wanted to talk about mistreatment and the terrible things that happened at concentration camps, which he managed to. Somewhat.

I had been feeling pretty much okay with the book until I read a couple of comments on Goodreads, which was when I realized that that’s what I feel too, to some extent. To begin with, Bruno could have been shown a more... understanding child. It is reasonable to assume he’d be innocent at age 9 and seeing things like that for the first time, but perhaps if the mother, if not the father, could have sat him down and told him why they moved at all. That’s what would normally happen, right? What I found slightly off-putting was that a whole year passed when he was friends with Shmuel, yet there’s little progression of his maturity. A kid listening to stories about the other side of the fence for a year, looking at his emaciated friend should be able to understand things better.

As for the ending, since I hadn’t yet watched the movie, it was pretty surprising, and I wished it weren’t that way, but well, even if it’s sad, it made a point. And drove it home. I just wish the last chapter could have been more elaborate, but then again, I think it goes with the way the book has been written. The focus is almost entirely on Bruno. Overall, it’s a light read in terms of writing style, not so much in terms of content. It might not be the best book themed around the Holocaust, but for younger readers, it makes its point quite well. I’d recommend giving this book at least one read. And then perhaps enjoy the movie version (which I've heard is better!)

Quotes from the book
“Don't make it worse by thinking it's more painful than it actually is.”

“. . .only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all.” 

“Just because a man glances up at the sky at night does not make him an astronomer, you know.” 

He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel's tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly. "You're my best friend, Shmuel," he said. "My best friend for life.”

PS- The Fury in the story is Bruno’s version of The Fuhrer, the German word for Hitler. Similarly, Out-With is Bruno’s mispronounced version of Auschwitz.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

M/R. Carey
Book Title: The Girl With All The Gifts
Author: M.R. Carey
Published: 2014 by Orbit (Little, Brown Book Group)
Pages: 403
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Blurb!
Not every gift is a blessing...

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

My Thoughts!
The Girl With All The Gifts is what would leave you shuddering, for various reasons, depending on how you interpret it. Melanie, a ten year old girl living with her classmates at the 'base', knows no other home. Getting strapped into a wheelchair every morning with a gun pointed at her, she gets ready for classes, and a few other routine things every week or so. As you read this book, get ready to dive into a future where nothing seems safe anymore. Guard yourself with arms, lots of e-blocker and only then go about your day. If you have a day left, that is.

At the base, Melanie takes classes with different teachers, none of whom are as good as Miss Justineau, who frequently tells them stories. Nobody likes Caroline Caldwell, the woman who runs the 'programme'. What happens when one day, Mrs Caldwell asks for Melanie? Who are those men slinking around the boundaries of the base? And when everything is turned around, how can things get even worse? But they do. And that's when you, as a reader would start realizing what is happening. Set in a dystopian setting (or something more imaginative and horrifying than that), this book is about the life of a girl who likes imagining herself as Pandora - the girl said to have all the gifts. This book is also about fighting for survival and about goodness in the midst of evil. It is also about personal life goals and crossing limits, boundaries and whatever has been set for you, just to achieve those. It's about love for fellow humans, even strangers, because sometimes those are all you have. It's also about surrender and about why it can be okay to give up, to make the best of the situation at hand.

The story has been written in third person, but even that narration seemed different to me somehow. It transitioned from nearly one person's perspective to someone else throughout the book, which I thought was inventive. This is also a great book if you want to increase your vocabulary. I've underlined so many words I didn't know even existed! Other than that, I liked all the characters, even the horrendous Mrs Caldwell, since they all seemed to be carrying their own back stories and even if you hate anyone, it's not without good cause. More than that, it's Melanie and Miss Justineau's relationship and their strong character sketches that keep the book going. It's hard not to empathise with characters like them. The sequence of events is such that the book's bound to keep you hooked, especially since it'll be a long time when you start understanding what's it all about. That's when you'll find yourself in a confounded state, because you'll be wanting to shut your eyes as you read on about unimaginable stuff, but you'd be automatically reading it nonetheless. 

I really can't talk a lot about this book without giving away anything, which I don't want to, because that'd be spoiling the reading experience for you. But I'd recommend all lovers of futuristic, apocalyptic, horror stories to read this book. It's also part fantasy, but mostly about human relationships, especially that of a child and parent. It's classified under horror not because it's the 'OMG-there-comes-a-foul-ghost' kind of scary, but the kind that slowly seeps into your veins as you read the words, and since it's already running in your blood, you'll feel cold all the time. Yes. That kind.    

Quotes marked from the book:

'You can't save people from the world. There's no where else to take them.'

'Melanie finds this interesting in spite of herself. That you can use words to hide things, or not to touch them, or to pretend that they're something different than they are.'

'It's not just Pandora who had that inescapable flaw. It seems like everyone has been built in a way that sometimes makes them do wrong and stupid things.'

'When your dreams come true, your true has moved. You've already stopped being the person who had the dreams, so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago.'

'The horror of the unknown is more frightening than any horror you can understand.'

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Classic Talk #6: Short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist and short story writer*. His stories are themed upon dark romanticism and centered around evil, sin and the dark side of human psychology. In the past week, I've read four short stories by Hawthorne, as part of an online course. That made me wonder why on Earth did I neglect classics earlier? You know how you know of popular names in the world of literature, yet you hardly ever check them out? That's not the best idea. Check those authors out, and to complement that, read up story analyses on the net from authentic sources. There's soooo much to learn!

# 1: Dr. Heidegger's Experiment (click on the title to go to the book's Goodreads page)

A notable researcher and scientist, Dr Heidegger invites his four old friends to his study. These four friends have had not-so-great lives, and they're all old now. So when instead of the expected boring experiment, Dr Heidegger produces a draught supposedly from the Fountain of Youth, the friends get excited. This book explores man's fascination with achievement by defying the laws of nature, using science. From how I interpreted the story, the four friends get wildly excited as they think they're getting younger, and the maturity they displayed at old age seemed to have been replaced with the foolish acts of youth.

It was actually a refreshing read. It's mysterious as well, in the sense that a reader would be fascinated not just with the events that occur, but also with the setting and what the various, mystical objects signify. This story expresses the lure for youth and beauty that's present in human beings. You can read this story in the book, Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Aylmer is a brilliant scientist/alchemist. His wife Georgiana possesses unparalleled beauty. He should be a happy man, but his ideals for perfection are so strongly rooted in him that he feels terribly for that little red birthmark on Georgiana's cheek. His revulsion to it is so strong that Georgiana starts hating it too, before feeling like she should die rather than let that horrendous birthmark make her husband shudder. Aylmer, convinced of the power of his scientific knowledge (which has been doubted, by the way), decides to make his wife rid of that birthmark. What follows is a story of man tampering with nature's creation, and dealing with its after-effects. (No. It's not as simple as plastic surgery, in case you were wondering)

The Birthmark is a story of humanness in all things. Of flaws present in the most seemingly perfect things, and how sometimes the quest for flawlessness becomes too overpowering. Also, since this was written in the year 1843, when science was seemingly too fascinating and new, it also shows an over-dependency on science and trusting it to solve all problems.  

Giovanni Guasconti is a student at the University of Padua. He discovers a beautiful garden near his living quarters, full of brilliant plants and herbs. Someone tells him that it is Rappaccini's garden, a man who literally lives science. As Giovanni starts observing the garden, he notices Beatrice, the beautiful daughter of Rappaccini, who enchants him at one glance, just like she did many men before Giovanni. She's just so beautiful. Entranced, Giovanni finds a way to talk to her, and it soon becomes a routine. He cannot just stay away from her, even when he starts feeling that she's not entirely right. Or does he think so? Does he feel like that based on rumours about Rappaccini's monstrosity and about Beatrice? I had initially believed it all to be true - Rappaccini meddles with nature in the most horrific way, resulting in his most prized possession - his daughter - suffering the consequences. But when I read a fellow student's essay on this story, I got another point of view. That of trust in love. If Giovanni had believed what he felt rather than what he saw or heard, could he have had a different, happier relationship with Beatrice?

The story can be interpreted in different ways, I realize. It is partly Gothic horror, relating to the acts of Rappaccini and how it seems to affect those who come in contact with it (read Giovanni). It can also represent the perils of trying to overpower nature with science. 

“There is something truer and more real, than what we can see with the eyes, and touch with the finger.”

Among the four stories, I'm most conflicted on this one. I found it a little difficult to read because of it's elaborate descriptions, but I loved and hated it at the same time. I'm not sure why, except that I loved the essence of an artist depicted in this story, but hated the way it ended. True, a lot of stories by Hawthorne, if not all, do not have happy endings, but I wanted to shout and fling my Kindle across the room (which I obviously did not). I might be biased, because I was anyway reading a lot of stories by the same author, based on similar themes of science. But still. 

Owen works in a clock shop as a watchmaker. He's been dedicated to working on something 'secret' that he is creating, which turns out to be a mechanical butterfly of unimaginable beauty. It is a story of an artist, and describes in chilling relatable language, the way an artist feels - for his art, for the world, for the people who do not understand him. I'm no artist, but I had flashbacks of people who seemed to be like the ones Owen runs away from. Probably that's what made me sad. Then there's this wonderful idea of an artist's spirit embedded in his work, so much so that it seems like it is competing with nature. Again, we see themes of nature vs science in this, but I want to focus only on art and artists and this confusing world! I'd recommend people invested in creative work to read it. If you feel the story drags because of descriptions, I'd suggest you to be patient and still read it. Hopefully you'll end up loving it. Even if you don't, you would get a brilliant insider's account of an artist's mind, which you most definitely need to know. Read this book, okay? It's a short, short story!

The last three stories are available in the book, Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Have you read any of these? Or perhaps Hawthorne's other popular novel, The Scarlet Letter? What do you think of such classics?     


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Talk: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury
Book Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Published: 1953 (Ballantine Books)
Pages: 159
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart

Spoiler alert: This is also kind of a summary, not just a review.

They call it dystopian. I feel what Bradbury predicted might not be far from a potential possibility. A haunting tale of a future where 3D, televised 'families' are more important than the people you live with, where firemen are armed with kerosene and matches and light fire in houses where books are reported to be. They cannot remember a time when firemen used to put out fires and people like the young girl Clarisse, who dare to ask questions or spend time to 'think', are considered mad and unsuitable for society. The basic premise is that no one should ever be sad, and for that, everyone has to be ridden of things that make humans sad.

Guy Montag, a fireman with a wife (Mildred) devoted to her TV 'family', meets seventeen year old Clarisse and finds her strange because of the kind of questions she asked and how she made him think about things he hadn't thought about lately. When did he last smile? Was he happy? But soon, it becomes a routine when he meets her every evening for a few minutes as she walks along, an air of wonder and curiosity in her features, something that's so new to Guy that he feels sad just spying on her family next door. One day, he feels something's off and he never sees Clarisse again. Then there was another house reported where the firemen find an old woman clinging to her books, and when she refuses to leave them, Guy looks on horrified as his boss lets her light up her house herself, and dying in that fire inside.

That incident shakes him up and for the first time in years, he's craving for real company, but his wife doesn't understand his sadness and wants to stay with her TV family, his boss seems to know something, to understand this stage in a fireman's life, but is mean about it, the robot dog at the station seems to be growling at him more and more, and he's started hiding books in his own home. Soon enough, he realizes that he cannot live there anymore. There's the war coming and people are to busy driving rashly, staring into 3D people and screens, listening to talks with earpieces permanently stuck in their ears, looking at advertisements constantly running on billboards so people cannot pause to think for themselves. He soon turns into a Wanted man, and makes a run for his life.

A lot many things happen with Guy in this book, beginning with coming across Clarisse and getting a jolt out of the everyday desensitized living, to being hunted by the whole city and escaping into another world. He realizes he's not alone, but the power of the world overtaken by the craze of keeping everyone from thinking is too much and the rest are too small in number. Yet, they're hopeful. As the frenzied society comes to an end, these men, with memorized books and knowledge, armed with hope and ideas, set to rebuild the society, all of which has been wiped out by war. 

With a title that refers to the temperature at which paper burns, Fahrenheit 451 talks about books and censorship (because academic plain texts, I think, and user manuals were allowed) and the power of independent thought and ideas, things people are banned from indulging in. It's a good, short read, well described, although you might feel like it's become stagnant in between. It picks up pace, however, in the later half of the book. It's also been written in a way that made me wonder if there were perhaps printing errors, with phrases repeated, but that's how it is. It leaves the reader to ponder over what is happening even now. What makes me praise this book is the timing and the imagination. This was written in 1953, and what Bradbury imagined then seems much too possible right now. So what if we don't have radios plugged in the ears? We have headphones. We have more screens - LCD, computer, tablets, smartphones, etc - than books. If this situation of an imagined world would shake you up and make you slow down a little, be sure to read this book. If you still have the time to read, that is.

Some quotes from the book:
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there."

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” 

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.”

“The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are.” 

“Do you understand now why books are hated and feared? Because they reveal the pores on the face of life. The comfortable people want only the faces of the full moon, wax, faces without pores, hairless, expressionless.” 

“Most of us can't rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for... are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.” 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: Invisible by James Patterson

Title: Invisible
Author: James Patterson and David Ellis
Published: 2014 by Century
Pages: 399
Find it at: Flipkart / Amazon

My Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Blurb!
Everyone thinks Emmy Dockery is crazy. Obsessed with finding the link between hundreds of unsolved cases, Emmy has taken leave from her job as an FBI researcher. Now all she has are the newspaper clippings that wallpaper her bedroom, and her recurring nightmares of an all-consuming fire.

Not even Emmy's ex-boyfriend, field agent Harrison "Books" Bookman, will believe her that hundreds of kidnappings, rapes, and murders are all connected. That is, until Emmy finds a piece of evidence he can't afford to ignore. More murders are reported by the day--and they're all inexplicable. No motives, no murder weapons, no suspects. Could one person really be responsible for these unthinkable crimes?

INVISIBLE is James Patterson's scariest, most chilling stand-alone thriller yet.

My Thoughts!
I don’t exactly remember why I wanted this book. I already had a few James Patterson mysteries lying unread, but the blurb sparked something and I wanted to read this as well. It’s one of the best decisions I made, when it comes to book choices. Not only was the mystery well plotted and narrated, it was presented and created in a way that would make you hide under the covers, especially if you’d be reading this book at night. Emmy Dockery is a researcher with FBI, on temporary leave, but totally consumed by information about fires breaking out in different homes across the country, the victims charred to death, just like her twin sister Marta. She was in an accidental house fire in January, and no one but Emmy was convinced that she was murdered. When she tries getting the FBI’s help, her boss, also known as the Dick, ensures that she isn’t taken seriously, not until Emmy manages to get Books, her ex-fiancĂ© and ex-FBI agent, onto the case.

That’s when things gradually make sense and the team with minimum resources initially, study the data and try figuring out the serial killer, the one dangerous criminal who has killed more than seventy people across North America, and not very swiftly either. It’s a gradual chase, but let me tell you at the onset that it’s going to keep you hooked (for example, it took me a day and a half to complete it, forgoing sleep for hours and resuming it first thing in the morning). Be ready to be hoodwinked, both by the author as well as by the characters. The story catches pace gradually, introducing characters, but never goes away from the central plot. As the events unfold one by one, you are left grappling with facts and clinging on to someone as the killer, but it only gets worse, especially in the later half of the book. This book will make your hearts beat faster, make you breathless with fear and you’d probably mutter stuff like ‘no, shit!!’ or ‘ohmygod! How did that happen?’ or perhaps be speechless, but feel goosebumpy nevertheless. I’d give it a full star rating just for this effect; it’s been done so brilliantly.

The writing is fun: it’s quirky, yet serious. The characters seemed perfect in all their glory and flaws. I liked Emmy a lot, even though she’s been shown as someone with trust issues or thinking a bit too independently. But then, that’s who she is, and this story is about how she wants to find her sister’s killer, along with hundreds of other victims. It’s about facing so many obstacles, getting rejected, crushed, defeated numerous times, but with a little support and marvellous conviction that she’s right, Emmy goes forward even when she’s all alone. Other characters have their own stories as well, but thankfully those don’t interfere with the plot. I loved this book: for having a gut-wrenching, heart-racing, mind-blowing mystery, for being presented in a way that you wouldn’t know what’s coming in the next page, for making your jaw drop and crying out loud when you discover the killer and make sense of the story, for making you feel like calling up James Patterson and demand a longer explanation in the end. Seriously, I wish the end could have been wrapped up better, but I suspect this is a plot in itself – to make the reader go back and read the book again!

I’d recommend this book to every mystery lover but only to those who’re used to, or are ready to read gruesome details and gory murders. It’s not an easy book to digest, what with perfect detailing as to how the killer tortured his victims. So I’d ask the soft-hearted to be careful, but if you ever get the heart, read it! It’s brilliant.

“You’re your own worst enemy, Marta always said to me. You don’t need anyone to torment you because you do it to yourself.”

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

“You must do today what nobody else will do, so tomorrow you can accomplish what others can’t.” 

Thank you Random House publishers for this book! :)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

J.K. Rowling
Title: The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) 
Author: Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Published: 2014 by Sphere (Hachette)
Pages: 455
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 4.5/5!

Goodreads Blurb!
Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo's Calling.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before..

My Thoughts!
The Silkworm, the second book in the Cormoran Strike series takes off some time after the first book introduced this ex-army-super-intelligent-guy-now-a-private-detective. Apart from his turbulent relationship with his long-term girlfriend, getting a new assistant, Robin Ellacot, who's been quite an excellent apprentice, the first book, The Cuckoo's Calling, had ended with Strike solving the famous Lula Landry case - a supermodel who apparently jumped to her death, but Strike proved that she was killed. So now with The Silkworm, we see how Strike got all popular because well, Lula Landry was a real big star, and now he's having a long waiting list of clients wanting to avail his services. Robin is busy working out her own priorities, as well as handling Strike's office deftly. Strike is somewhat bored of tailing unfaithful wives and husbands, so when a simple woman, wife of a novelist called Owen Quine, comes to ask him to locate her husband, Strike couldn't refuse.

It had to be a simple case. Owen Quine was used to performing such dramatics, running off for days on end, not telling anyone where he's gone. Just this time, his absence was longer than usual and it had upset his wife. Strike finds an overwhelming honesty in Leonora Quine, and sets on solving the mystery, trying to find the real criminal while simultaneously trying to protect Leonora from false accusations from something that you might expect to have happened in a crime novel - Owen Quine was found murdered. And very brutally. 

The Silkworm has gruesome detailing, twisted minds, incredible plot, clever detection and a lot more beyond an ordinary crime thriller. It's J.K. Rowling all over again: characters you can't seem to get enough of, moral messages hidden even in the worst of crimes, an acceptance of all sorts of people. The novel explores different themes and situations with the help of intricately developed characters, who're shown reacting to varied situations. The book also talks about 'behind-the-scenes' talk of the publishing industry, often including character traits, metaphors or dialogues pointing to something eye-raising. The mystery is well-woven and unpredictable, making readers throw themselves at different suspicious characters and then being provided teasing clues from time to time, making one question their choice of criminal! Just like in the previous book, I loved the way Strike solves mysteries. It makes one think. True, there's less action, but there's a lot more thought. And I love it!

I did like the ending as well, feeling it was elaborate enough to guarantee understanding, but for someone who wants to do a double-check on any character's actions in the previous pages of the book, it demands a re-read. All things bright and wonderful here, but there is one thing I was slightly put off with. Surprisingly, it's the writing style somewhere in between the book. I couldn't comprehend why it became the way it was, because it was not good. The first book seemed a lot better with respect to how it was narrated. This one needs work. Not the descriptions and all - those were as good as they could be - but something like Strike's thought process. The sentences just seemed off at some parts. Besides that, the book has graphic detailing of gory murder scenes, and let's just say that Owen Quine's novel, because of which he was killed, isn't really a children's book. 

Another thing that I really like about this series is that the characters are just so realistic that you can't help thinking of them as real people, and that you're reading a real life story. It makes the story so much more engaging to see Robin and Strike develop themselves as characters, get their own personal lives sorted (or get worse) and really grow as people, just like in real life.

To fulfill your desire for some mind exercise, or a really involving mystery, I'd recommend The Silkworm, but I wouldn't recommend it to younger readers.    

Some quotable quotes from the book!

“...writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”

“We don’t love each other; we love the idea we have of each other. Very few humans understand this or can bear to contemplate it. They have blind faith in their own powers of creation. All love, ultimately, is self-love.”

“Like most writers, I tend to find out what I feel on a subject by writing about it. It is how we interpret the world, how we make sense of it.” <-- ^_^

“You are not writing properly unless someone is bleeding, probably you.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Author R.J. Palacio
Title: Wonder
Author: R.J. Palacio
Published: 2012 by The Bodley Head (Random House group)
Pages: 313
Find it at: Flipkart / Amazon
My Rating: 5/5! <3

Goodreads Blurb!
I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

My Thoughts!
The use of words here might seem lame, but Wonder is a wonderful story. August (Auggie) Pullman is a ten year old kid with a facial deformity (craniofacial abnormalities). That shouldn't be something to define him by, but it's also something that cannot be ignored, not at first anyway. It's hard for him to deal with it and within the carefully presented story in Wonder, we live through a year in Auggie's life as he makes a major transition - going to school for the first time in fifth grade, after having been home-schooled for years. It's not a sad story, but it's a lot about dealing with problems. It's about friendship, love and kindness and all the human things that take time to develop, but develop they do. He's most certainly not disabled, so his parents choose to send him to a regular school. It's hard for August to initially find himself the center of attention for so many people at once. He's used to being stared at, or perhaps the quick saw-you-but-ohmygod-I'll-look-away kind of awkward look, but definitely not coming across a huge group of middle schoolers who could be mean, awkward or totally kind. 

Pic credit: Mr. Solarz
Wonder is August's story, but it's also about his family. His mom, dad and fourteen year old sister, Olivia, all of whom love him to bits. You'd think having an unusual face would be hard, and it sure is, but the book also explores how people around August deal with it. It's quite heart-warming to see how much his family loves him, and how the problem makes some of their habits different from other families. One of the best things about this story is that it is full of optimism. Auggie's family, his teachers and the friends he eventually makes, all learn to love him and make him feel confident of his abilities. He's a normal kid with a classic reverence for Star Wars and love for his dog, Daisy. He's smart, intelligent, sometimes witty and honestly sincere. And let's face it: very, very brave.

The book explores not just August's life, but also those of other characters, which is again, one of the coolest things about this book. It's been written and presented just so well. You wouldn't really get to judge anyone, because just when you are about to form your opinions of a character, bam! You'd get their side of the story. When Olivia (Via) does something you'd be inclined to say is wrong, she'd put in her story, and then you'd think even more broadly and look at Auggie as a normal dude. I think the writing style does something to the book's overall feel. It doesn't ask you to pity a boy with a haphazard face, even when it talks about his problems, because it shows how people do try to deal with it, how they themselves learn a lot and how it is possible to get over anything with love and kindness. It is very much capable of instilling in hope. Like Auggie's mom says, "there are always going to be jerks in the world. But I really believe 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."

I loved all the characters, with the slight exception of Julian, the mean kid who bullied Auggie, but now since in the latest version of the book, the author has included a chapter on Julian, I'm looking forward to reading it! Perhaps that would explain things from his point of view, just like it was done with others. I loved the girl called Summer too. We so need more kids like her! And like Jack. Apart from the emotion-invoking writing and complete, lovable characters, Wonder is also a great example of a really good book. Maybe now that my work involves looking at these sort of things and that's why I'm observing it, but it has many elements that a budding writer could make use of. But coming back to the story, another thing that struck me were the dialogues - it was like each character spoke on its own, in their unique voice. Those are capable of making a reader laugh, smile, giggle, feel anxious, whatever, on their own accord. The ending is brilliant! I couldn't have been more satisfied, although I didn't want the book to end either. Oh, Mr. Tushman (yep, that's his name!), I liked you in the beginning and all through, but you took all the love with the ending! :')

I can see many re-readings in the line! Wonder is recommended to everyone. 

Some quotable quotes from the book:

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” 

“Do people look the same when they go to heaven, mommy?"

"I don't know. I don't think so."
"Then how do people recognize each other?"
"I don't know, sweetie. They just feel it. You don't need your eyes to love, right? That's how it is in heaven. It's just love, and no one forgets who they love.”

“The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of with stone.”

“Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: George and the Unbreakable Code

Stephen and his daughter,
Lucy Hawking
Title: George and the Unbreakable Code
Authors: Lucy and Stephen Hawking
Published: 2014 by Doubleday
Pages: 315
Find it at: Flipkart / Amazon
My Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Blurb!
George and his best friend Annie haven't had any space adventures for a while and they're missing the excitement. But not for long . . .

Seriously strange things start happening. Banks are handing out free money; supermarkets can't charge for their produce so people are getting free food; and aircraft are refusing to fly. It looks like the world's biggest and best computers have all been hacked.

George and Annie will travel further into space than ever before in order to find out who is behind it.

My Thoughts!
Eleven year old George is sure that he loves machines more than people. Except perhaps his family, however annoying they might be, and best friend Annie. In this fourth book on space adventures, George and Annie are facing a world that has suddenly gone berserk! Banks are showering money on people, supermarkets aren’t charging for food, airlines are giving free air tickets and people are swarming in groups, looting whatever of value has remained. In such dire circumstances, Annie’s scientist dad has been called by the national authority to look into the matter and it is up to George and Annie to find out who’s behind this crazy, humungous hacking scheme. Their theory and ideas lead them into another trip(s) to space using their dad’s supercomputer, Cosmos. But wait, if all the computers in the world are malfunctioning, how could Cosmos have been spared? It’s suddenly dangerous to trust even their beloved computer.

George and the Unbreakable Code is about science. Kids who love science and readers who’d love to read about make-believe, but informative, adventures around science. The illustrations add fun and interest to the text, totally supporting the story. One of the unique things about this book would be the pages of factual information on different science topics, inserted in between the story at relevant pages. If in the story, a robot android is introduced, you’d find a few pages of factual data of interested related to androids. You’d also find computers, algorithms, Jupiter and Saturn and their moons, our Earth’s moon, stars, Boltzmann brains and 3D printing. Although initially I thought it’d perhaps be breaking the flow of the story, but I guess it did the opposite. Not only was it informative, but also presented in an easy to understand language, which, for a young reader, might help develop a keen interest in science.

I mean, it speaks of topics we hear about, but hardly bother to know in detail. Knowledge is important. It is capable of making one develop an interest in something, and even though my field of education and work is far from science, it was a pleasure to read it. You might skip the details about computers and algorithms, but I’d highly recommend reading the last chapter titled ‘life in the universe’ by Stephen. It talks about how life, and we, were actually formed. ^_^

Apart from being interesting, the book is fun to read. I especially loved the dialogues between George and Annie, with Annie being the one I totally love. She’s smart, brave, proud of her high IQ and yet, incredibly sweet. These kids are not scared of mad scientists, for they have enough interest in science and computers to know what they might be up to, and in the process, crack what would be otherwise, unbreakable codes. The story for me seemed to fall flat in between, but the second half of the book and facts in between make up for it. The writing style is simple, yet fun, even quirky to some extent. 

If you’re interested in science and want to read a kids’ story by Stephen Hawking (like I did), it’d be worth a read. If you know a kid who’d be interested in space adventures and is curious about the universe, this book (and the series) is recommended. It’s fun and interesting! You could skip it if these topics don’t interest you, because it’s totally around science. And yep, friendship. :)

Thank you Random House publishers for this book!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Recent Book Grabs # 6: The mixed loot!

Hiya fellow book-lovers! <3

It's been a while since I mentioned the recent book-hoard. Wait. A while? It's been half a year since I last posted! On the personal front, I've been keeping busy with my new, and first job. It's been interesting so far - being with books all day has to be! - but leaves little time to get down to blogging. The books mentioned in this post have either been received for review, purchased, received as gifts or borrowed from friends. I'm sure they're all as exciting and beautiful as they look and I'll be picking them off the shelf one by one pretty soon!

The pile of beauties <3
Clicking on the book's title will lead you to its Goodreads page. 
#1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: A book that had been on my to-read list for a long time. Got this in the latest lot when I suffered from the book-buying frenzy.

#2. Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh: One of those titles we come to know of in school, among the list of popular books and their authors. I haven't yet read any of Khushwant Singh's books, being wary of the supposed 'bold' style of writing. This book that documents a story set within the India-Pakistan partition of 1947, something close to the hearts of many families in the two countries, including mine, seemed like the perfect book to start with this author.

#3. Selected Stories by Anton Chekov: The witness to my crazy forgetfulness when it comes to books, Chekov poked me once while I was browsing the shelf and I realized that my best friend had lent it to me some time ago! Eeeps!

#4. Wonder by R.J. Palacio: One of those 'I-know-it's-good-because-it's-been-popular-in-the-bok-blogging-community' books, Wonder was also a product of the latest book-buying frenzy.

#5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Having heard my mother say, 'this is my favourite book' for the hundredth time, I finally decided to get a copy for myself. It came with the month old classic-buying-book frenzy.

#6. Macbeth by William Shakespeare: I've never really read any of Shakespeare's plays either, so I figured Macbeth would be a good start. I've also been meaning to read it ever since I realized that one of the witches' songs was included in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie!

#7. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka: The book found it's way to my dad and he gave it to me. I'm quite looking forward to reading this, considering the popularity of both, the short story called The Metamorphosis and the author. 

#8. Matilda by Roald Dahl: Having been on my TBR since the time I had watched the movie years ago and time and again been swayed by the cuteness of the cover, I finally lost the reserve when I saw it in a random, new and brilliant bookstore I came across recently. Enjoyed reading this one! 

#9. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith: Once I read, and loved The Cuckoo's Calling, I 'had' to read the next book, didn't I? How can you ignore a book by JK Rowling??? I'm reading it presently and it's just a remarkable experience! :') 

#10. George and the Unbreakable Code by Lucy and Stephen Hawking: I hadn't heard of a children's story by Stephen Hawking. This seemed pretty interesting and is illustrated with sketches! Received for review, will be the next book I read.

#11. Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis: Having read James Patterson's books, I'm somewhat naturally inclined to pick up his mysteries, especially those that sound! Read the blurb of this one and you'll know what I mean!

Despite having so much to do, to read and explore, I'm still around 11 books behind schedule in my year's reading goal. Not that it matters as much, considering how I do enjoy the most of what I'm reading, but still! I hadn't finished the goal last year and this time, I just have to. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? What did you get lately?

PS- The Delhi Book Fair's on, and I've had mental debates whether or not to visit. I know it sounds silly, because I've never before missed any book fair if you don't count the last time because I had bumped my leg into a flowerpot and couldn't walk for a week. Strange things happen, yes, but this time it's just emotional. I think I'm getting to that stage where I can somewhat overlook it because I really am busy. There's work even over the weekends and I don't just feel that enthusiastic about it. The thought was a sad one when I realized, but I suppose it's okay. What do you think?   


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