Monday, June 30, 2008

Quiver by Javed Akhtar

Title: Quiver--Poems and Ghazals
Author: Javed Akhtar/1995
Translated from Urdu by David Matthews /2001
ISBN-10: 8172235127
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 251

Javed Akhtar is one of my favourte Urdu poets. This book is a gift from my nephew. This volume is an English and Hindi translation of 'Tarkash', a highly successful book of Javed Akhtar's Urdu poems first published in 1995.

Here he talks about himself, his short comings, love and many more things. In first appearance, these poems seem simple. But contain deeper meanings. Each of his poems have many levels and a reader can discern it the way he/she wishes to. There are deep ironies along with philosophical ponderings. He tries to decipher the mystery of life and leaves it open for the reader to interpret it in her/his own way. As I read both the Hindi and English versions, I had not muc problem liking his verses.

A must read for all those who like good poetry. In India and Pakistan, Javed Akhtar is a well known name!

The Romantics by Pankaj Mishra

Title: The Romantics
Author: Pankaj Mishra
ISBN: 033039276X
Publisher: Picador/1999
Pages: 277/Hardcover

It is not one of my usual picks. My nephew left it over at my place. So I gave it a try. It is set in Benaras, India in the omtemporary times. It is narrated by Samar, a Brahmin youth who comes to Benaras to study. He seeks solitude but the opposite happens. He is forced to face his desires and come into terms with it. Love and delusion walk side by side here.

Here he meets Miss West, an English expatriate who has her own demons to kill, along with Catherine, the Frenchwoman who is responsible for the events. We can also see student unrest and the casteist Indian social structure which is deeply embedded in the psyches of all Indian people.

It is growing up novel where Samar is able to find what he is searching. When he comes back to Banaras after seven years, everything, everyone he has known has changed yet the city remains same. That is dichotomy of Benaras, the abode of Shiva.

Pankaj Mishra's debut novel is worth reading once.

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

Title: The Unconsoled
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
ISBN: 0571177182
Publisher: faber and faber/1995
Pages: 535
Rating: 3.5/5

I have owned this book for three years now. I only got around reading it this week. It has a small font and is a fat book. Maybe that put me off reading, despite it being written by Ishiguro.

The Unconsoled is an engrossing psychological mystery, a tongue in cheek satire on art, and a poignant character study of a man whose public life is no longer his own. It is set in a nameless Central European city where Ryder, a renowned pianist, has come to give the most important performance of his life. He cannot recall anything about himself. He has completely gone blank.

Ryder finds himself diverted on a series of weird and strange errands that nevertheless provide him with vital clues to his own past. He does have flashes of memory. This is a stream of consciousness book which is haunting and is filled with human quirks and wit.

In Ryder, we see a person who is completely removed from his surroundings. He lives in past and future, that too unknowingly. The people he meets are even more strange than him.

I skipped the long speeches and maybe someday I will get back to those. It is not a book for everyone. Read it only if you like Ishiguro. Otherwise safely give it a skip.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Perfect ..On Paper by Maria Murnane

Title: Perfect ..On Paper
Author: Maria Murnane
ISBN: 9780980042504
Publisher: Wink's ink/2008
Pages: 314

As I had seen this book being discussed in the the net world, I asked for it from Maria Murnane to read and review and she was kind enough to send to me.

For a lazy summer day, it makes one good read. It is racy, fast paced and keeps our interest alive till the end. The best part is most of us can relate to the story.

Waverly is ditched by her fiance at the last minute. She mops about it for a long time. Her two best friends try to make her come out of it but they do not make any progress. However, they are not one to give up. She meets someone one while she has gone on a exhibition of some sort. Although they do click, somehow she is always tongue tied in their subsequent meetings.

After her fiance had ditched her, Waverly had started making Honey notes. How do they help her? To find out, one has to read the book. With humour, friendship and heart break this book takes on the search for perfect happiness. Does it exist? Well amost. And on paper!

This is a fun read and I enjoyed reading it. It is kind of diffrent from what I usually read. A good change from all those difficult and heavy reads. A perfect book for an easy read! For a first time writer, Maria has done a good job.

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors

Title: Mistress of the Revolution
Author: Catherine Delors
ISBN: 9780525950547
Publisher: Dutton/2008

Pages: 451/Hardcover

I won this book in a giveaway way bak in March and received it a while back. I seldom read romances but I am partial to historical ones. The period dramas and costumes completely hook me in. So I was eager to read this book. It is based in the time of the French Revolution and that truly makes it an interesting book.

Gabrielle de Montserrat is first brought up by a wet nurse and then in a convent. She is 11 years old by the time she returns home to her family, which consists of her brother Marquis de Castel, and her mother. Her mother doesnot seem to care for her much. But her brother loves Gabrielle in his own fashion. They are improvised although nobel.

At the age of 15, she meets Pierre-Andre Coffinhal, who is a commoner. He does have a social standing but Gabrielle's brother does not let them marry. She is forced to marry a wealthy cousin who is thrice her age. And is cruel to boot. She has a daughter, Aimee. She becomes a widow at the age of 17.

She finds out that her husband has not made any provisions for her and her daughter's future. She comes to Paris at the behest of a cousin where she meets Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Here she experiences a freedom she has not known before this. She strives to make a better life for her daughter and herself. She becomes the mistress for one of the Nobelman, Villiers. Meanwhile, France is in turmoil and now we see Pierre-Andre on the bench of the revolutionary tribunal. Gabrielle is taken to be a prisoner and almost guillotined. However, she is saved and in order to save her daughter, she reaches out for him. They redisover their love, even though it is short lived.

Mistress of the Revolution is a work of fiction but the characters in it are very much real. Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre are well known figures. Pierre-Andre Coffihnal too was a part of it. Only fictional character seems to be that of Gabrielle. This story has been narrated by her. She is writing her memoir for her children so that they know the truth about her.

A real to life work of fiction where one does learn a lot about the French Revolution, how the masses were far removed from the Royal families, how a woman had no rights, no matter in what station she was born into. And also it speaks of a world where taking a lover was so very normal. I am glad I read it. Go for it, if you want to know history of France.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
ISBN: 9780375842207
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf/2006
Pages: 550

This book is pegged as YA book. It is a Printz Award winner for 2006. A much talked about book in the blogging world.

The story has been told from the perspective of death. I found it very interesting. By the end of it, I changed my mind about death.

This book has been set in Nazi Germany in 1939. And it spans 4 years. A 9 year old girl, Liesel Meminger along with her 6 year old brother is being taken by her mother to be given for fostering. Her brother dies and in the graveyard, Liesel finds a book, The Grave Digger's Manual, buried in the snow. She picks it up. This is beginning of a book thief. Her foster father, Hans Hubbermann, although not very educated teaches her to read. Her foster mother Rosa, is aways abusing people. Liesel loves her foster father, she also comes to love her foster mother who despite her foul mouth has abundance of love to give.

Liesel develops a lasting friendship with a boy named Rudy Steiner. Hans and Rosa hide a Nazi in their home and Liesel is part of the secret. She comes to like the hidden man and he reciprocates it. And her stealing of books goes on, no matter what.

This book is meant to be read by all. It tells us about atrocities of the Nazis. Yet it tells us about hope, faith, belief in good people. Those who risked their own lives to save another. Those who are poor yet do not think twice about feeding another mouth. It speaks about those German people who were in no way responsible for the Holocaust. In fact they abhored it but had no say in the matter.

In no way this is a depressing book. The local people reach out to us, entering our hearts. Hitler destroyed his own country, own people along with the Jews. At the end of it, I came to love death, the narrator. Death has more compassion, more humanity than we humans.

Once Upon a Time When We Were Coloured by Clifton L. Taulbert

Title: Once Upon a Time When We Were Coloured
Author: Clifton L. Taulbert
ISBN: 0140244778
Publisher: Peguin Books/1989
Pages: 153
Genre: Non-fiction

The author writes about his life in Glan Alla, Mississippi. In a coloured set up. He fondly recalls his family, his cousins, friends. He tals about the feeliing of community along with segregation from whites. That did not affect the deep love he shared with his community, family, cousins and friends.

The picking up of otton, a job in the field of ice delivery, the arrival of minstrel show and festivities. All these sustain him. Despite hardships, he never lets go of his hopes and dreams and he does make something of his lie.

Those people he grew up with, might have been uneducated by our standards. But the most important thing they taught him was, family values and love. Being coloured in a white set up does not deter them. It fact it made them strong and self reliant. With underlying humour, this book tackles the irony of life rather very beautifully.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Booking through Readers

What, in your opinion, is the definition of a “reader.” A person who indiscriminately reads everything in sight? A person who reads BOOKS? A person who reads, period, no matter what it is? … Or, more specific? Like the specific person who’s reading something you wrote?

A reader according to me, is someone who reads anything. Be it books, magazines, newspaper etc etc. Some people can't read books. However, they can read through the newspaper from front to back. Then there are those who read magazines. It depends. I can read almost anything. But I can't read e-books! I need to hold my books.

Of course, here I must mention those who buy books and never read those. We obviously can't call them readers, now can we?!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Adventures of Spirou and Fantasio----The Robot Blueprints and other Stories

Title: Adventures of Spirou and Fantasio----The Robot Blueprints and other Stories
Author: André Franquin
ISBN: 9788128614804
Publisher: Euro Books 2007
Pages: 67/Graphic Novel

Spirou and Fantasio is a Franco-Belgian comic strip whih was first written in 1938. The series has many common elements with humorous adventure comics like Tintin and Asterix. It is one of the most popular classic Belgian comic strips and, unlike Tintin, new Spirou books continue to be published to this day. Spirou and Fantasio are the series' main characters, two adventurous journalists who run into fantastic adventures, aided by Spirou's pet squirrel, Spip.

I had read a lot of Spirou books and forgotten all about those, as I did not own any. I picked this book last Sunday when I bought 4 other books. Looking at these graphic novels made me nostalgic and I had to buy it. I will pass it on to my nephew as I did with my Tintin and Astrix books.

This book contains four stories: The Robot Blueprints, Spirou in the Ring, Spirou goes Riding and Spirou with the Pygmies.

The Robot Blueprints is the usual kind of story where certain bad elemments want to lay their hands on a bluepring of a Robot. It has been made by a mad scientist to help the mankind but those bad elements have other plans. Spirou, along wioth his friend, Fantasio foils their plan. Frankly it had nothing much new in this. However, the visual was good. The chase, the hiding, the beating, everything.

In Spirou in the Ring, Spirou is challenged by a well known boxer to fight with him. The other boxer is a bully and over-confident of his winning. Spirou takes the help of his friend Fantasio and starts practising for the Big fight which is the talk of the town. Meanwhile, Bert tries to stop him on his tracks. However, despite heating, Spirou wins and also wins over Bert.

Spirou goes Riding is funny where our dear friend goes riding on a eccentric horse. Read it and find out how! I adored this story! And fell in love with the horse!

And finally Spirou and the Pygmies has him and Fantasio visit a place called Rangapanga in Africa. There are two tribes, Browns and Backs there who are eternal enemies. A chance discovery leads to the fact that the blaks ar infact browns. The age old war is resolved! This story starts with a Leopard following Spirou!

All the four adventures are well depicted. One is pulled into the stories and comes to love the characters. I am definitely going for more Spirou books!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Booking through favourite authors and books

Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books . . . what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not?

When I was younger I used to love Enid Blyton. Then it passed over to Agatha Christie. I liked those books not because I understood the nuances of language but because they created a world, I wished to live in. At that age, one is living in a fantasy world. Hence books were an escape to that world.

Now, I look out for authors who write well, whose writings can take me another realm, that is, the literary one. Priorities change with time. So does our reading. I like certain authors because they can make use of symbolism beautifully, certain authors create vivid pictures and some make use of metaphors effortlessly. A few have the ability to take us to a fantasy world. And then there are a few authors who are not afraid to write about difficult issues, or those who write with a wry humour. I like good characterisation. Charles Dickens was one author who could make weird characters believable.

I do have a few favourite books. However as I keep on exploring on new genres, I don't have favourite authors though I do like certain authors. The writing, characterization, subject matter, the way it is tackled are more important for me. Some books start great and fizzle out in the middle. Certain make you sleep in the beginning, however the endings are to die for. To know and understand all this, one has to persist in reading.

Any piece of good writing resonates with me. It hardly matters about the author. A case in point is Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. No one had heard of the author. The books is unforgettable. Similar is the case with Down in the Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Title: The Awakening
Author: Kate Chopin
ISBN: 0553321330X
Publisher: Bantam Classics/1981
Pages: 205

The Awakening was first published in 1899. Even though Kate Chopin was a well known writer, because of its subject matter, it was widely criticised and was banished from the literary world for decades.

The story starts in Grand Isle, Louisiana on a Sunday morning where Leonce Pontellier is waiting for his wife Edna Pontellier, to ome out from a swim with another young man, Richard Lebrun. Edna and Leonce have two young sons. Edna is a mother to them in her own fashion. Pontellier is very much a Creole belonging to the place and Edna is the outsider. He had fallen deeply in love with her and married her.

We also meet Adele Ratignolle, who is equisitely beautiful and has three children, with a fourth one on the way. We observe womenbeing pursued by young men, none of their husbands minding it a bit. They behaviour is beyond question and they mantain decorum at all levels. Edna is happy enough to be with her husband and she loves the attention Richard lavishes on her. Only when Richard leaves, we find her missing him, thinking of him. She slowly awakens from her life which she percieves as dull. She wants to be her own person, comes to realise that she has fallen in love with Richard.

From the beginning, there is a strange intimacy between Edna and Richard. None of them are aware of it, including Leonce. I see it as a sign of a liberated man. A man who loves his wife and trusts her implicitly. He is aware too that Richard wouldn't cross the limits of acceptable society. He can observe the change in her behaviour but does not relate it with Richard.

This is a book about a woman's emancipation, one who desires to live in own terms, one who wants to succumb to her needs and desires. A woman in the path of self-discovery. One who wants to give in to her senses, deep primal forces within her. Does she? Is she able to break away the shackles? This novels gives us insight of those times, the embarkments it place on a woman's life. Of liberation, freedom of both women and men too. It speaks about Southern culture, Creoles and the social norms. Even in those times a woman could live in her own terms. Mademoiselle Reisz is one such woman who is independent, ill-mannerd, single and childless but still respected and admired for her knowledge and skill in music. How many can claim the same even in our so-called liberated times? In some parts of the world, nothing has changed.

The short stories too are filled with insights and Chopin's prose keeps us hooked in. I especially liked Beyond the Bayou and Desiree's Baby. Her work is filled with symbolism which was rare in those times. Somehow it made The Awakening difficult to be accepted in the litrary circles. However, this very symbolism has elevated the novel. No doubt, a classic.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Title: Matrimony
Author: Joshua Henkin
ISBN: 9780375424359
Publisher:Pantheon Books, New York/2007
Pages: 291/Hardcover

Matrimony was sent to me by the author as I had commented on a blog post that I wished to read this book. One can see this book being read and reviewed in the book blogs. Joshua Henkin was kind enough to contact me and offer me a copy, which I accepted eagerly. (Can we refuse books?!)

The novel opens with Julian Wainwright, son of a Yale educated banker, starting his freshman year in Graymont College in Massachussets and meeting Carter Heinz, a scholarship student. Both come from different backgrounds. Soon they become good friends. However, Carter can be seen resenting Julian's family background. He desires to be a wealthy man. And Julian aspires to be a writer. There they meet Mia. And Julian and Mia fall for each other. They seem to be somehow made for each other. They are unpretencious, compatible and utterly likable. In the final year of their graduation, Mia's mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and that spurs them to get married before she dies, muh before they graduate.

Next we see Mia and Julian in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Mia is studyin to be a psychologist and Julian is seen taking English Composition classes. He is still working towards his novel and has published a story or two. For Mia's sake Julian is contented to live in Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, Carter has gotten rich and after a few years Julian is devasted to learn something, which almost breaks down his marriage with Mia.

This novel spans twenty years. Here we see the characters coming into their own. This novel deals with love, friendships, relationships between lovers and friends. It is also about burning ambition, about money and desire to be famous. Carter has this burning desire to cross the line from where he initially came. It is about Julian giving up a part of his life for Mia. It is about Mia who finally realises that she needs Julian, more than she can comprehend. For a couple who married young, they take their relationship to another dimension slowly, with love and honesty.

Julian and Mia have everything going for them. They are rich, well educated and well known, have the right connections. Despite this, they are so very realistic. Both have feet of clay. Maybe that bonds them to the reader, who instantly likes them.

This is a once-you-pick-it-up-you-have-to-finish-it kind of book. Here you can see the characters growing right while you are reading and you can get inside their mind and feel the way they do. The prose is simply great. I say, go pick it up!

Check out more reviews of Matrimony here:



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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Title: The Snow Leopard
Author: Peter Matthiessen

ISBN: 0330261614

Publisher: Picodor/1978

Pages: 291

Genre: Nature Writing/non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

My youngest brother received this book as a prize for getting the highest marks in English in Std X in his school way back in 1982. I had read that then, I don't think I had understood it much. When I re-read it again, I did not remember anything of it.

In September of 1973, Matthiessen went on an expedition to the Himalayas with field biologist George Schaller. George invited Peter to accompany on this expedition to northwest Nepal, near the frontier of Tibet, to study the Himalayan blue sheep and who knows they might even see Himalayan snow leopard. Peter could hardly refuse that and embarked on a journey, which is filled with interesting, meticulous details about trail, the montains, porters, sherpas and any human being seen on the way. They start their journey in the rainy season and are delayed by many reasons, the weather, by moody porters, Sherpas etc etc.

I started it by thinking of it as a travelogue by Matthiessen but soon changed my mind. Along with all his observations, he writes about the mystism of the place he is visiting. What he truly encounters is not the snow leopard but a spirituality beyond description. His mind undergoes changes at every step of the travel.

There are fascinating glimpses of Tibetan culture. It is filled with Zen philosophy at every step. Matthiessen reflects over those at each moment. What he truly finds is just as intangible as the snow leopard. Here he finds what he is truly seeking. Maybe difficult to understand but is it not what we seek too? Only in nature, surrounded by snow, in an isolated monastery, he understands the truth of his being.

It is one of the best books I have come across in a long time. Although I read it again, I understood it only now. This is book that will continue to fascinate all those who choose to read it, with its stunning imagery and insight. And as with me, repeat readings can only enhance it. If not, read it for its descriptions of nature, wild life, people and the human touch in all this.

For another review, check out:
Juliet Wilson

Friday, June 13, 2008

America's Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis

Title: America's Hidden History
Author: Kenneth C. Davis
ISBN: 9780061118180
Publisher:Collins/An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers/2008
Pages: 236/Hardcover
Genre: Non fiction/History

Before I proceed, what I thought about the book, I reproduce here the product description of the book as mentioned in the inside of the front cover.


Kenneth C. Davis, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller Don't Know Much About History, presents a collection of extraordinary stories, each detailing an overlooked episode that shaped the nation's destiny and character. Davis's dramatic narratives set the record straight, busting myths and bringing to light little-known but fascinating facts from a time when the nation's fate hung in the balance.

Spanning a period from the Spanish arrival in America to George Washington's inauguration in 1789, America's Hidden History details these episodes, among others:

  • The story of the first real Pilgrims in America, who were wine-making French Huguenots, not dour English Separatists
  • The coming-of-age story of Queen Isabella, who suggested that Columbus pack the moving mess hall of pigs that may have spread disease to many Native Americans
  • The long, bloody relationship between the Pilgrims and Indians that runs counter to the idyllic scene of the Thanksgiving feast
  • The little-known story of George Washington as a headstrong young soldier who committed a war crime, signed a confession, and started a war!

Full of color, intrigue, and human interest, America's Hidden History is an iconoclastic look at America's past, connecting some of the dots between history and today's headlines, proving why Davis is truly America's Teacher.


Before reading this, I had not heard of the author, let alone reading anything by him. I received this from Collins for review purposes. found it interesting and informative to a great extent. There are 6 stories consisting of little known facts about American History. Although not strictly interconnected, they are in chronological order. Tracing out from Spain, English, France we finally reach America and find out hitherto unknown facts about who helped in shaping it up.

With human touch and engaging way of writing, it holds our interest and we are deeply involved in each of the stories. Davis takes us on a journey, which consists of war, religious bigotry, treachery along with flashes on human quirks. At some places, this is very shocking, jolts us out of our stupor.

Although I have read about history of England, I was not much aware of American history. This book has vetted my interest to learn more about it. There are some strong women who changed the course of America's history. Some bits are very shocking. How the native Indians were deprived of their own land. What made an impact was religion was so much part of it. This I fail to understand. How can anyone let any religion rule over humanity?

There are lose connections as the six stories are not connected. There are places, one asks why it happened but none forthcoming from Davis. Some parts are hard to comprehend. Even after re-reading those, I couldn't understand bits of it. Not knowing much about American history, made some portions difficult for me. Saying that, I found it engaging.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Booking through Clubbing

Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (ot, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

Formally, I have never been a member of any book club. Once I did participate in the discussion for East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Although it was supposed to be done in 15 days, it went on and on for two months are so, as initially people were too lazy to read the book. I was one of the first ones and impatient to discuss and no one to do it with. When those started trickling in, I had lost interest by then. I had moved on to many other books. It spoilt me for any other reading with that group. Next time they chose Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and it never got discussed! The Kite Runner met a similar fate. One too many, don't you think?

As I read at my own pace and own specific choices, I do not like the constraints placed by a book club. I do like to chose books from my blogger friend's recommendations. But reading together no, as of now. Especially online. I do discuss books with my close friends and my brothers. Somehow being a part of a book club is not very appealing to me. Maybe because of my initial bad impressions about it.

I think I should try joining an interactive one. I should give it a second chance. One should always be open for new ideas.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day of Wrath by Larry Bond

Title: Day of Wrath
Author: Larry Bond
ISBN: 0446516775
Publisher: Warner Books/1998
Pages: 481/Hardcover
Genre: Techno Thriller

After a long time, I picked up a techno thriller. One reason being it was very cheap and from the back cover I found it interesting. I had not read books by Larry Bond before and not likely to pick him again in hurry either. It was a good change after all those heavy reading I have been doing lately.

It deals with terrorism with the help of modern warfare. Ibrahim, a Saudi Prince pumps money for such purposes. On the cover of a company, known as Caraco, he manages to buy people to work for him and is very influential with the current administration in the White House. He financially supports various factions of terrorism.

A Russian cargo jet, with U.S. officials onboard, crashes in northern Russia . Following clues to why the plane crashed , Thorn and Gray pursue Germans into parts of northern Russia, with the help of a Russian MVD officer. They get into trouble with Russian locals when the MVD officer is killed in an ambush. Finally they zero in to Nuke smuggling into US.

They have a hunch that, jet engines are being used to smuggle nuclear weapons to the U.S. Disobeying orders from their government, Thorn and Gray pursue the leads to the U.S. and get help from a retired General Farrell. With the German and Arabic terrorists after them as well as their own government, Thorn and Gray manage to elude them and get to the heart of the problem, before Ibrahim can unleash twenty 150 Megaton nuclear bombs on the U.S., almost destroying parts of it.

It does have a grain of truth, can be plausible to some extent. Bond's knowledge of weapons is well researched. However, it does tend to get slow at times. The romantic element does nothing for the story. For one time read and then forget it. It was not a bad change from my usual readfing. Pick it up if you like warfare thrillers. You can always skip the slow bits. The way I did.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Road from La Cuava by Sheila Ortego

Title: The Road from La Cuava
Author: Sheila Ortego
ISBN: 9780865345881

Publisher: Sunstone Press/2008

Pages: 139/Hardcover

Sheila Ortego asked me to review this and when I said yes, she sent me a signed copy of her book. I received it yesterday and started reading it right away, finishing it today.

This novel is about Ana Howland, who works at St. Joseph's and lives in La Cuava which is thirty miles from the town, with her controlling husband Frank and thier 4 year old daughter Emmi. She hates the house, the roads, Frank, everything about her life apart from Emmi. However, she never lets out her feeling known to anyone. She is much too constrained for her own good. She tries to be a good mother and wife despite her frustrations.

She develops a good relationship with an eecentric Neighbour Margaret who lives in a motor house with numerous pets. Ana and Emmi come to love her and care for her. Ana comes in contact with a male Nurse Michael, who understands her loneliness and her desires which need an outlet. . She falls for him but is unable to leave Frank as she is afraid of him. Michael cuts her off from his life.

In the second half of the novel, we see Ana snapping out it and find her taking care of Margaret who is very sick. One can feel the bond that forms between Ana and Margaret. Facing harships, she discovers herself and finds strength within herself. Her spirit restores itself and she is her own person again after so long, which had been subdued by Frank. She welcomes any change that helps in the restoration of faith in her ownself.

What happens to Margaret? Where is Michael? Is she able to go for what he truly desires? How does her daughter Emmi figure in all this? The Road from La Cuava answers all these questions and more. It makes us question our life.
Ana does find the courage to face up to it and walk away. With Emmi. On her way she finds a new Margaret too. This book seems a bit slow in the middle as we wish for Ana to walk away from Frank fast. She takes her own time.

In India, women just take whatever their husbands dish out without protesting at all. They consider it as their lot. A husband always has the last word. In that context, I could relate to the book although being single I don't face any such situation. However, I have seen this happening closely. It is so difficult for a woman to walk away from her home and husband. Especially when she has children. She simply accepts it as her fate and goes on living passively like this.
It truly made me think of a close friend of mine. My copy goes to her! Maybe it will help her in some way.

Ana is so calm externally and seeting internally. Any woman would relate to that.

The road is a good metaphor here, the hardships parallels her life. The shedding of mud and all, are reflected in Ana's life. I found that very interesting. As a first time writer, Ortego is a good writer. It is an easy, uncomplicated read, unlike a few difficult books I have been reading lately.
Get going folks, read this book!

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

Title: Down to a Sunless Sea---Short Stories
Author: Mathias B. Freese
ISBN: 9781587367335
Publisher: Wheatmark/2007
Pages: 134

Mathias B. Freese offered me this book for reviewing and I gladly accepted it. It is a collection of 15 stories and fairly a thin book. I wouldn't call it an easy read. One needs to concentrate while reading. The mind deviates and one has to go back.

The stories border on the dark side of human nature. The lonely, melancholic side of it. Not the violent. Freese worked as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist for 25 years and that comes through in those stories. One can see the empathy for the troubled human beings who are taken to be deviants. His understanding and compassion for those comes through very well in the stories. He is insightful and not preachy at all.

His story telling is matter of fact without being sentimental at all. Nowhere I felt it bordering on mushiness. Maybe that is one reason, I felt connected to a few of the characters. As I teach so-called lower class, I can somewhat empathise despite the cultural differences. His stories are meant to make us think. Beyond ourselves.

Down to a Sunless Sea, the title story is about Adam, who has been pampered initially by his mother and after she dies and his father remarries, is ignored by his step mother. His internal thoughts speak of confusion and finally acceptance. I' ll Make It, I Think is about a boy who is physically deformed and has names for each part of his body. As he does not have friends, his body parts are very much his real friends. He is not at all emotional about his loneliness. He just takes it as a part of his life. In fact, he is glad that nothing is going to change. Freese has made use of symbolism in both the stories and that made me think of Marquez for a while. In a way, here it is easier to understand unlike Marquez whose work churn out ones brains.

The Chatham Bear is interesting. Here the sighting of the bear is more interesting than what really goes on in the town. More violent happenings are taken to be part of life. An harmless bear is talk of the town. Diesn't it speak for the human mind which tends to brush aside the unpleasant thoughts out of his mind and concentrates on trivialities?

Another story which made an instant impact is Herbie, a boy who is taught to shine shoes by his abusive father. When he wants to take it as a profession, his father objects. He cannot understand why. In Alabaster, a young boy meets a mother and a daughter and finds that the older woman has a number on her arm. He does not know yet that he has met a holocaust victim. The older woman, despite suffering, sees hope in the boy's eyes. This particular story touched me.

Juan Peron's Hands is somewhat macabre. Those are cut off and at the end shown to be just something which are of no value, after being taken away from Peron. Is it not symbolic? This goes deeper than just a pair of hands. Just Errands is a story I could wholly relate. The narrater keeps on thinking if he posted the two letters he wrote when he is outside of his home. One can understand his almost paranoid feeling about it. Most of us have gone through such thoughts at one time or the other, about certain things. We keep asking ourselves, did we or did we not?

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Father Was a Nazi is one of the stories which is not dark. Infact it is a tongue in cheek account written in 1991, much before Arnold became famous. Nicholas is about a boy of the same name who has huge problem with his teacher. He is not afraid to answer back. He speaks his mind and walks out. In my line of teaching, I have met such students.

Not going into details of the other stories, which are equally thoughtful, I say that this book is a good read. The short stories hold interest despite being dark. The darkness depicted here is not despair. It is that we chose to set aside by our own ignorance. One gets a deeper understanding of those human beings which are virtually neglected by us. In a way, this book might make us take a lenient view towards those by making us thing of them. That is one good reason to read the short stories.

I am going to look out for his other book The i'Tetrology. Mathias B Freese is one author to watch out for. He truly gets insides his characters and brings those to us. I for one, am very glad I read this book. A must read for serious readers. However, for light readers, I would say stay away from it.

Down to a Sunless Sea won Allbooks Reviews Editor's Choice Awards and was an Indie Excellence Book Awards Finalist.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

Title: Three Men in a Boat
Author: Jerome K Jerome
First Published: 1889
Pages: 222
Genre: Humour

I took along this book to read while travelling. It is a re-read for me after some years. After 17 years, I think. When it was written in 1889, it was a huge success. It sold more than a million copies in 'pirated' editions in America alone. Jerome was a persistent and enthusiastic traveller. Although he was a struggling clerk in a solicitor's office, he discovered the joys of continental travelling. He became very famous after the publication of this book, which helped him in becoming a full time writer.

Three men in a Boat is about Jerome, Harris and George and their dog, Montmorency. The three are bored with their life and need a break to dispel it. So they plan a holiday together. After much discussion, they agree on travelling from Kingston to Oxford on Thames river. A boating holiday was rare in those days.

It was intended as a travel guide with humorous anecdotes. However, the comic portions took over. It became a delightful read with the idiosyncrasies of the travellers along with their dog. The friends are very much real. However, the dog is a fictional character.

The interactions between the friends is interesting. The narrater at times goes off in a tangent taking us along with him. His insights are wonderful, albeit with comic effects. They have disasters on the way but can see the humourous side of it. Maybe the author sees it more often than the other two and the dog as he continues to rib them. Certain passages are worth reading again and again. Especially about the plaster of paris trout in an inn and also the preparation of Irish Stew.

There never is a dull moment reading this book. I liked re-reading it. In the present times, Bryson fits the bill for writing great travelogues.

Booking through trends

Have your book-tastes changed over the years?
More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?

My reading has changed over the years. In school, I preferred fairy tales and or Enid Blytons. In my college days, I used to read mysteries, thrillers and lots of romances. I used to read classics too but those were not so very often. I rarely read non-fiction. Unless it was to do with travelogues. Now I read more serious books. I can read non-fiction although not too much of it. I also have taken to fantasies. Although paranormal erotic fiction is beyond me even now. I do read lighter stuff but with underlying seriousness. I stay away from frivolous, meaningless reads.

In romances, I look out for historical ones with good story lines. Not for me the run of the mill kind. I also have started reading award winning books and authors which I avoided previously. I do read how-to books more often. In novels, I like real life stories. I still read mysteries but not as much as I used to. I have also started reading horror stories. In a way I have grown. I can read almost anything now. Even graphic novels, children's fiction, young adults etc etc. Except for hard-core porn and self-help books.

In non-fiction, I prefer books on gardening, wild life, birds,autobiographies, scientific stuff, geography. Anything other than technical stuff. Nowdays I do not mind exploring new authors. I don't stick to a few any more. No fixed author, genre for me. Now my reading is more versatile. Or should I say more mature?