March 2019 Books

Did not realize I had read 20 books in March. What fun! Quite a crazy mix, so I’ve attempted to categorize them somewhat.

NON-FICTION

1. The Vedas and Upanishads for children by Roopa Pai: No surprise that this book is wonderful. Complex topics, ideas, and philosophies conveyed in simple terms without losing the message. Am so blown away by how she does it, and does it so consistently. A book worth possessing for both old and young.
2. The Long Strider by Dom Moraes and Sarayu Srivatsa: What I picked up on a whim turned out to be an intimately written and brilliant book! The book is not just about Thomas Coryate and his amazing walk to India, but also the journey made by Dom Moraes, Sarayu his companion/co-author, and Juzer, their researcher, trying to retrace the path taken and gather details of the remarkable Englishman. The chapters alternate, giving you two incredibly good stories to savour. Chock full of quirky details and quietly humorous yet poignant, this book will definitely count as one of my good reads.
3. In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A Ahmed: Very interesting read about life in Saudi Arabia, where the author worked as a doctor for two years, just before 9/11. At times, I felt I was reading a dystopian novel. It felt so surreal: the unimaginable wealth, the scary moral policing, the schizophrenic existence of both men and women…I felt just as liberated as the author when she walks away in a free land at the end, symbolically leaving her abaya behind on the plane itself.
4. Becoming by Michelle Obama: This book has been all over the place, and so, I ended up reading it overnight, engrossing as it is. Michelle tries so hard to keep herself rooted, and compared to Obama, she has had it pretty good with close family, and a good education. But by the end of the book, I was actually more taken with Barack. I did not get as good a sense of him from his own book Dreams from my Father, as I got from this book. He comes across as such an incredible person, and Michelle is the perfect foil for him – strong, practical, and rooted firmly. What an amazing couple!
5. Listen to Me by Shashi Deshpande: A sweet autobiography, and gives a lovely picture of her internal struggles. Many times, I could completely identify with her thoughts.
6. Unforgettable: The Iconic Women of South Indian Cinema by Nalini Shivkumar and Rema Mahalingam: This book felt more like a compilation of newspaper articles. Some snippets were interesting, but it didn’t really do anything else for me.

FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION

7. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson: The second book of the Reckoners trilogy. Ends on a cliff-hanging note that makes you impatient to read the next (Steelheart, which features in my February list, is the first book).

8. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson: The last book of the Reckoners trilogy. A bit disappointed with the very Hollywood ending. But there’s no doubt that Brandon has now become one of my favourite authors. His construction of worlds is so solid that you get quite completely sucked in. His writing is so competent that the story stays right on track. Creativity at its best!

9. Strange Worlds! Strange Times! Edited by Vinayak Varma: Such a delightful collection of science fiction short stories! Do read, they are quite enjoyable.

10. The Man who was Thursday: A Nightmare by G K Chesterton: What a strange story this was. Anarchists named after days of the week turn out to be quite something else. And the ending is surreal. But the writing, oh the writing! What beautiful, lyrical writing. Reminded me of what I was missing.

11. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa: A YA fantasy set in faeryland, featuring Oberon, Titania, and Puck amongst others, and technology taking on the guise of the villain. The heroine, Meghan Chase (what is with Magnus Chase, Meghan Chase and all?) is not the brightest bulb honestly. Too many times I wanted to smack her. Wish she was a stronger character. Didn’t particularly care for the central male characters either. Overall a good one-time read.

12. 123 Tomorrows by Vaibhav Thakur: A Kindle book that reminded me of Source Code a bit. A terrorist plot, multiple universes, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of main character…ambitious book and quite well-written, found it gripping in parts.

FICTION

13. Exile by Robert Patterson: An Israeli leader gets assassinated in the US, and a Jewish lawyer defends the accused – a Palestinian lady, with whom he has a past. Tries to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in as many shades as possible. Some parts were interesting, but found it a plodding read.
14. Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott: A beautiful YA novel about a teen coming to terms with her mother’s illness and demise. Choked me up a few times.
15. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty: Alice is a typical harried mom trying to keep her sanity with two little children in the middle of a nasty divorce. An accident makes her lose her memory and she bounces right back to her twenties, when she was so completely in love with her husband and they are looking forward to the birth of their first child. A neat device to make one remember what it was like to be younger and hopeful and have dreams. Interesting characters like her sister, her mom, and her adopted grandmom makes for a fantastic, moving read!
16. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: Nicely written, but it was predictable for me and the open ending was annoying! 🙂
17. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan: Another beautiful YA book about an adopted gifted girl who loses both her parents suddenly in an accident, but finds family and meaning with other people. A sweet book and has you rooting for the main character.
18. Newcomer by Keigo Higashino: Loved this murder mystery, mainly because every character is treated with such respect and humanity. Little sketches all along make this a hugely engrossing read.
19. The Mystery of the Lingeshwar Temple and the Lurking Shadows by Laxmi Natraj: An interesting contemporary plot with terrorists in a little village. However, I kept wishing I could read this in a vernacular language. It would have been superb and have given an immediacy to the happenings.
20. My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories by Madhulika Liddle: A Kindle book with cute little stories. The story in the title is about a wife cheating on her unsuspecting husband with an electrician, and the ending is quite literally shocking. Another story I enjoyed was set in Goa.
Phew! That’s the end of my list. So, what have you been reading?
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February 2019 books

The month is short, but still managed to pack in quite a few, mostly light reads.

1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: a nicely told YA romance, which doesn’t leave you wanting to smack the characters. The teenage angst is much more real and believable. Loved it.

2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas: An absolutely rocking page-turner, based on Beauty and the Beast, but with large doses of fantasy thrown in. Deserves its bestseller label on all counts.

3. White Magic by Arjun Nath: Heartbreaking and educative, it talks about rehab of the junkie author interspersed with the life story of Dr. Yusuf Merchant, who tirelessly works for the cause of breaking addictions. Brilliant writing, with a sure eye for lovely turns of phrases, it manages to pull you into the hopeless despair of an addict without mincing words and gives you the shivers sometimes.

4. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson: OK, it’s official, this is now one of my all-time fave authors. When I read the Mistborn trilogy, I was blown away. Then I read one book of the Arithmatist series, and I was so impressed. Steelheart reads more like pop-culture and like the superheroes we are familiar with, but the writing, the foundation, everything is so solid! The style is so much breezier than Mistborn, so it makes for a quicker read. I am bowled over by not just the range of creativity, but the range of styles and the sheer superiority of the competence with which he writes!

5. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao: An interesting tale of two girls/women, ranging from the weaving villages in the Andhra region to the hopelessness of the sex trade in India and human trafficking to the US involving the anonymous cleaning crews. Range of the novel was good, but I sometimes lost interest in the characters themselves.

6. Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton: Fascinating history of how the European spice quests and wars shaped the entire world. It just boggles the mind that folks took off on voyages that lasted years, the future was so uncertain and fraught with risks and perils, and laws were made up on the go. Makes one really wonder about the world as it is today.

7. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: Total kick-ass book! I loved the way the characters are brought out so strongly in so brief a work. This kind of writing is totally what I like. Fantastic.

8. Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe by Milly Johnson: Solid writing, spunky characters, and just the right mix of romance, revenge, and redemption. Perfect for those sunny afternoons with a cuppa tea, love.

That’s it, folks. Onto my March list – what joy!

January 2019 Books

What a fantastic start I’ve had with books this year! I read a dozen books, and I enjoyed almost all of them.

Here’s the list with as short a review as I can muster:

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett: To say I love Terry Pratchett books is an understatement. This was no exception.
Year of the Weeds by Siddhartha Sharma: This is an absolute must-read! Categorised as YA, it deals with the very serious subject of Gonds fighting for their own land very deftly, lightly, and with wry humour. Such an excellent book – can’t stop gushing about it.
Idris – Keeper of the Light by Anita Nair: The amount of research that’s gone into this book clearly shows, making it a fascinating read, though wasn’t too taken with the story itself.
Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard: What a cute and interesting real-life saga this was! Quite enjoyed it.
For Better, For Worse by Carole Mathews: A light-hearted romance that started off strongly, but petered off into some over-the-top stuff.
Jasmine Days by Benyamin: Very interesting book set in a Middle-East country, and depicts conflict at so many levels like Shia vs Sunni, natives vs migrants, and men vs women. Original is in Malayalam, translation was quite competent.
Colour of Light by Terry Pratchett: Yes, another one and my review is predictable 🙂
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: Beautifully written book that doesn’t lecture on the injustice meted out to blacks, but instead focuses on the impact on everyone associated. Thought the ending was too neat, but otherwise fantastic in the details.
Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Blythell: I actually gifted this to a friend and the borrowed it right back! 🙂 It’s great fun to read and has the right amount of humour with the back-breaking and annoying work that one has to put up with in order to be in the book-selling business. Am very jealous that he gets to do it.
The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen: What a book this is! A meditation in itself, I read this book so slowly because I needed to savour every moment. I teared up in quite a few places because the writing is so exquisite and the experience described even more so. Though there were some parts that made me wince a bit – the colonial kind of attitude jarred – this book is undoubtedly a treasure and a worthy candidate for several repeat readings.
Eating Wasps by Anita Nair: Beautifully told with engrossing narration, it read more like a series of short stories.
No Presents Please by Jayant Kaikini: Loved the detailed nuances of the short stories!

Hopefully, February will be equally delightful.

Back to Books

I was having a conversation with a couple of friends regarding some of the books we had read. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton cropped up, and I remembered I had written a post on that, comparing it with Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pahmuk. I searched for that post, and when I read it, it brought back vivid memories of both the books.

I have read so many books this year, and I guess jotting down my thoughts about them will keep them fresh in my mind in the days to come.

Some of the most lovely books I’ve recently read include

  • 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  • Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson
  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
  • Shaya Tales by Bulbul Sharma
  • Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce
  • The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
  • Leela: A Patchwork Life by Jerry Pinto
  • The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J Andersson

…I could go on all day! 🙂

The book I just finished reading is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a saga about the lives of Korean-Japanese folks.

It was fascinating, for it provided a glimpse of how universal the issues of migrants to a different country are. In the book, people of Korean origin are treated often with suspicion and disdain by the Japanese in Japan. Nothing they do is ever good enough to make them sufficiently Japanese. Sound familiar?

In many ways, the book reminded me of Jasoda by Kiran Nagarkar.

Both feature a strong matriarchal figure who is the rooted anchor of the entire family tree. Both feature brilliant eldest sons who hunger for more education. Both feature America as aspiration. And both showcase the strong, silent, entrepreneurial women who run families with little or no support, and do the best job they can.

Both novels are also written in solid styles with no gimmicks. They tell a competent story and enclose you in the comfort of traditional story-telling.

In short, I enjoyed reading both books.

Other Worlds

I recently read 4 books almost back to back that made me feel really low and upset. All of them were really very interesting and opened up worlds to me that I had just a faint idea about.
The first was The Truth about Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi. The title says it all. The high price you pay for breaking the rules, no matter what you are.
The second was A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Despite all the controversy surrounding this one, the writing itself packs a punch. Straight in the gut.
The third was Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro. It made me so, so sad inside.
The fourth was The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (accent on the author’s name missing). Distressing, especially the plight of the women.
These books have left little dark scars in me. However, to be fair, they have also made me count my blessings.

Not Quite Half

June is coming up and I do hope I hit the half-way mark of 50 in my Reading Challenge. I’m reading more in binges rather than consistently, so sometimes, I complete 2-3 books over the weekend, and then two weeks pass before I pick up a book again.

Here’s an update to the list:

28. The Guardians of Halahala by Shatrujeet Nath: A competent fantasy book with Indian mythology woven nicely into the plot. First of a trilogy.

29. Mahabharata Quest by Christopher C Doyle: Again, a fairly interesting thriller (I guess) book set in India, the second in a series. But it lost me in some of the technical details – it was dealt with in a heavy-handed way.

30. Hysterical by Rebecca Coffey: Interesting book on Anna Freud, daughter of the famous Sigmund Freud. I would have liked to read more about Anna’s achievements though.

31. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: I had heard so much about this book. It didn’t disappoint, but I did feel disappointed that Alma Whitaker was a figment of the author’s imagination instead of being a real person. That makes it a great book, doesn’t it?

32. Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak: Loved the Rumi stories, but was bored with the modern day equivalent that seemed forced.

33. An Outrageous Affair by Penny Vincenzi: It was a really long time since I read something like this, so picked it up from a friend’s house. It was interesting in bits, but didn’t quite stay with me. It also brought home to me the fact that even a “bestseller” like this needs solid research.

34. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill: The blurb looked really interesting, and when I started reading, it seemed one heckuva tale. A Dutchman playing cricket in America, talking about outfields and pitches and Sachin and Afridi…what’s not to like. Writing is brilliant, but the story itself wasn’t captivating enough. I could take in only small doses at a time, which was quite frustrating, since I wanted to finish it soon and get on to the next one! 🙂

35. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos: When I began reading this book, I just fell in love with it. The women seemed so real and familiar to me. Of course, as the story progressed, everything was too pretty, and loose ends were all tied up a bit too neatly. But I hugely enjoyed this book and read it at one shot.

36. Ithaca by David Davidar: Did not quite work for me. Though it provides a lovely insight into the publishing world, I just did not feel engrossed enough to care.

37. The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer: GH was one of my favourite romance authors growing up. I loved that her heroines had such spunk and I liked her witty writing. I picked this up on a whim, and was a little bit disappointed that it turned out to be a murder mystery instead (didn’t take the title literally – duh!). But it was nice to read her writing again, and see the wit sparkle.

Still quite a bit of catching up to do, though. So many books, so little time!

Catching Up

I started quite a few books, but somehow didn’t feel inclined to finish them.

The ones I did manage to finish reading were all good reads, but I didn’t find anything particularly spectacular about them. So here goes the list:

23. Ponniyin Selvan – The First Floods, originally by Kalki, translated by C.V. Karthik Narayanan: This was an interesting read. I liked that the flavour of the original Tamil version still came through nice and strong. (I really liked the use of the word “Adada!”) The descriptions were really quaint – sometimes I felt I was reading a “Shakuntala” novel. But all in all, very nice, and I would definitely like the read the entire set.

24. Personal – A Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child: Didn’t particularly care for this one, to be very honest.

25. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt: I was recommended this novel in order to understand better how to do character sketches, and boy! this one rocks when it comes to characters. The story itself didn’t somehow interest me too much, but the writing was excellent.

26. Holes by Louis Sachar: Lovely book. It was well-paced, and though not too much of a surprise for me, I really liked the way the story went. Solid writing.

27. The One You Cannot Have by Preeti Shenoy: I had the opportunity to meet the author, and she came across as a sincere, down-to-earth, practical and hard-working person. So I thought it would be good to read one of her books. I can easily understand why this book is such a hit with young people. It reflects a lot of their lives and the relationship problems they grapple with. It is easy to read too, without becoming too preachy or literary. But I guess I won’t be too inclined to read more of her since I’m not particularly interested in this genre.

GoodReads tells me I am behind in my reading challenge by 2 books. I do hope the next crop of books excites me more than this one.