Month: December 2014

This Mirror In Me, by Denis Fitzpatrick

I read a sample of This Mirror In Me and the concept was quite intriguing. But this book really does not have enough content that qualifies for a full length novel. It might have been an interesting short story, but in its present form, it’s simply tiring.

Summary: Tonia, a mathematics professor, performs a strange ritual every weekend, wherein she stares at her mirror and imagines her friends in the reflection, thereby having long (and I mean – LONG) conversations with each of them. She does this to make up for the lack of a social life. She feels as this practice is not hurting anyone, she does not need to seek help, despite knowing it’s an addictive habit and she has detailed hallucinations, which, of course, as anyone would tell you, isn’t normal.

Characters: Tonia is the protagonist. She considers herself very friendly and outgoing but does not understand why none of her friends want to invite her over to their houses. On the other hand, she dislikes visitors who come in unannounced. The other characters are the ones she has interactions with in her mirror.

Chapters/Layout: There are 24 chapters. Their names correspond with the person Tonia is interacting with. In each chapter, there are lengthy conversations. The flaw here is that there is little narration between the dialogues. They simply run one after the other. In effect, we’re talking about 24 lengthy conversations with one main character and several imagined ones. Some chapters seem a little pointless, placed there only to highlight the protagonist’s behavior, the imagined character’s behavior or to increase the length of the story. But then, not to sound snarky (though nearly there), the whole book seemed a little pointless.

The book held a lot of promise in the beginning. I even liked a quote a lot and submitted it on goodreads. But the more I read, the more dull This Mirror In Me seemed, and before I knew it, I couldn’t wait for it to end (and a fast-paced page-turner, it sure isn’t).

Rating: 2/5

If you wanna buy it (though my review isn’t what anyone would consider a sales pitch!), the Kindle version is available here:

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Note: I was sent a PDF version of the novel for review by Denis Fitzpatrick.
 

The Long And Short Of It, Various Authors – Indireads Collection


Lately, I’ve been pretty disillusioned with the state of literature. There are so many authors and so many books that are badly in need of shaping up.
Which is why when the Indireads team sent me a copy of The Long And Short Of It, I sighed with the assumption of meh-ness. Thereby, making the colossal mistake of judging a book by its cover. I was pleasantly surprised as the book progressed.
About the book: The Long And Short Of It is a collection of short stories. The book is divided in to four parts, based on genre: Drama, Crime, Paranormal and Romance. Each story is followed by a short bio of the respective author. There are stories by 15 different south-Asian authors.
The stories: While all the stories in The Long And Short Of It are good, the Crime section is what truly carries the book on its shoulders. The five stories in this section are crisp and delicious, all with a surprise ending. I must especially mention the two stories by Dr. Roshan Radhakrishnan. They left me awed.
I was a little disappointed by the Paranormal section. The story Together Forever had a promising beginning, but in the end it left something to be desired. A Walk Through The Street would’ve been better suited for the Romance section. Secrets of the Midnight Nuclear Deal was too predictable and, in my opinion, an overdone theme of late.
Language: Most popular Indian writers disappoint me with their language. While most readers leave reviews on the lines of “despite the few grammar errors, the book was good”. Well, a book with “few grammar errors” is simply inexcusable.
The Long And Short Of It has errors in the first chapter (A Plate Of Rice) such as “repeat again” and “thick friends”. I understand the pidgin language in dialogue is only being to describe Ram. That is fine. Apart from this, A Walk Through The Street suffers from punctuation errors (missing commas and semi colons).
I would have placed Lovers and Monsters right up there, along with Dr. Roshan Radhakrishnan’s short stories, but there’s a tiresome shade of purple in Rahul Biswas’ writing.
While the purple prose is more or less excusable, I do wish the Indireads team had done some editing to clear out the minor errors.
Rating: 4/5
This book isn’t available as a paperback. You can buy the Kindle copy on Amazon:

The Missing Pillow, by Nadav Sham

I don’t remember the last time I read a children’s book. It seems like forever. When Nadav Sham requested a review of his book “The Missing Pillow”, I must admit I was a little skeptical. But then I figured, if I like it, I could read it out to my son (who asks me for a new story every night!)

The Missing Pillow is a really cute rhyme that tells the story of Brian, the bunny, who lost his favorite pillow one morning. He was brushing his teeth with “carrot”-flavored toothpaste. When he turned around, his beloved pillow was gone.

It may have happened to us in childhood that we have lost a prized possession. How do we deal with these losses? The Missing Pillow is a story of kindness, generosity, friendship, forgiveness and a little mystery too 😛

It is quite short, so it will not take up too much of yours or your little one’s time. It is written in simple words that your little one can understand easily. It’s all in rhyme, so you can make a little game of it and sing it with a tune.

At the end of the book, there was a link that said “Free Gift for your child”. I was curious and entered my email address when it prompted me to. Turns out, I signed up for the author’s newsletter (without meaning to)! And I did not see any free gift for my child…? 😦
 

My rating: 3.5/5

You can buy it here if you like:

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Calypso, by Tsipi Sharoor


Truth be told, I was quite impressed with the first few chapters of Tsipi Sharoor’s Calypso. Her writing style reminded me of Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things, had it (Roy’s book) been written more poetically. But as the story progressed, I felt I was somehow being let down by the characters, especially the protagonist, Shlomit.
Genre: Literary fiction with elements of magical realism.
Summary: Calypso is essentially the journey of a woman, trying to find peace by evading the demons that have scarred her, trying to grow, but at the same time being consumed by the very same demons. Shlomit, the aforementioned woman, seems to feel that love is what will redeem her, but she is unwilling to let her childhood friend get close to her due to something unfortunate that happened to her and rendered her incapable of opening up to anyone. Abandoned by her childhood friend, Yair, and having lost her brother, Amos in the 1967 Six–Day War, she travels to India in search of home and peace.
Characters: Shlomit, who has already been introduced in the paragraphs above. Now, here is my problem with Shlomit. She does not truly “develop” as a character. We see her getting rid of her nightmares and beginning a new life in India, but essentially she is the same person, pining once for the love of Yair, and later for the love of Seth. The men she falls in love with inadvertently remind her of her brother, Amos, which is a little weird. In fact, she always saw Amos in Seth, but ends up marrying him. Some conflicting emotions out there… Yair: A premature baby born to the crazy, Amira. His mother had a nun make a bewitched carving on his back when he was born; as a result, he often felt a small baby girl riding on his back (another premature baby born around the same time as him). Interestingly, in another part of the world, the now-grown-baby girl feels a baby boy riding on her scar. Yair’s scar gives him precognitive reflexes. Kinda like Harry’s lightening scar. He apparently loved Shlomit all his young life, but when he comes to know she was raped, he leaves her (alone on a beach) without a second thought. And also, while he waited for her, he slept with nearly every girl in school. Esther: Shlomit’s mother, former lover of Avram, Yair’s father. This erstwhile union drove Amira and Joseph (Shlomit’s father) away from their respective spouses, resulting in the deaths of both Avram and Amira. Seth: An Indian man who makes Shlomit fall for him (after telling her she was like a little sister to him) and helps her “heal”.
Narrative: The first 80% of this novel is written in the “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” format. The events do not occur chronologically and this is why it reminded me of The God Of Small Things. But the last three or four chapters are written more-or-less sequentially. It is written from Shlomit’s point of view, in third person. However, the constant use of the pronoun (she/her etc.), even where the usage of her name is called for is a little tiring. This gets especially confusing in the beginning, in contexts where there are two or more women.
I would not call Calypso a piece of purple prose. No, it is far from it. But there are times when the sentences look a tad too poetic to be believable.
Shlomit wants to move on, but lives persistently in the past. She constantly dreams and relives. At times, it gets confusing whether the scene being described is actually happening or a figment of Shlomit’s imagination.
There are places where the author places parenthesized notes in the narrative to describe unfamiliar terms. These take the focus away from the scene. They could have been placed as an appendix at the end.
The Six-Day War could have been described in more detail. Due to the light way in which it has been handled in the book, the reader quite does not empathize with Amos’ family after his passing. Of course, it is entirely up to the author to present their book in whichever way they like.
Typos/Inaccuracies: There are some typos here and there in the book (Mrs Simone has been spelled as Mrs Simon in two instances, “the” has been written as “they” etc.) There were a few instances where a page ended in the middle of a dialogue, but started with a fresh paragraph on the next page.
There are some minor inaccuracies in the portrayal of India. For example, at first I could not for an instant figure out what the cries of “Jia jia” in a temple meant. I later figured, the author meant “jai, jai”. Similar words with different meanings. Similarly, the Shlomit mentions a certain kind of sweet, it is not clear which sweet she’s referring to, as the ingredients just don’t add up! She also says Rachel spoke about Diwali, the festival of lights. Rachel is from a land where Diwali during the sixties was not celebrated as it is in the rest of the country. So, this does not seem right (yes, you could argue that her general knowledge might have been good, but they left the country when she was still very young).
Rating: All in all, Calypso is a poignant and tragic story. We do not weep with Shlomit, but we finish the book feeling a little heavy in the heart. I would give it a 3.5/5.

Note: This review was requested by Shlomit Malter of Contento De Semrik Publishing House. I was informed that a free Kindle copy was available on a certain day, which I downloaded and read.

The Wandering Earth, by Liu Cixin


Dan Brown slyly mentioned (through Robert Langdon’s thoughts) in his latest, Inferno, that there are simply too many authors and too many books today. Not in those terms, but that was the idea. True, it is a task nowadays to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Which is why the occasional good book surprises you.
Summary: The Wandering Earth is longer than a short story but shorter than a novella (it’s about 47 pages but it doesn’t seem right to classify it as a short story). Several centuries have passed and the earth, as we know it, has stopped rotating, resulting in human beings hiding underground while large machines convert the planet into a rocket, as it makes its journey away from the sun, and into the orbit of Proxima Centauri.
The way the book has been written, it sounds way more believable than my one-line note above.
Genre: Sci-fi (I am gushing about this story, and I don’t even like sci-fi as a genre! Says a lot, doesn’t it?)
Layout/Language: This is the section where this book gets maximum points, but also loses a lot of points. The descriptions are vivid, if I put it simply. The Wandering Earth describes the future as neither dystopian (as most sci-fi books) nor (definitely not) utopian. It is merely “different” from the present. A tad bleak, perhaps, but certainly not the kind that makes you afraid for your great grandchildren. The author has described how human emotions have become secondary as survival is everyone’s priority. Yet, there are poignant moments involving the right emotions as well. This makes the characters seem as real as they need to be. Of course it is science fiction, so there are a lot of descriptions about how the propellers (are supposed to) work. Not too technical; it sounded pretty straightforward. But my knowledge is limited so I cannot truly say if hardcore physics buffs would find it “believable” even from a fiction point of view.
But where it loses points is, while at some places the brilliant descriptions let you imagine the scenes, there are other places where you simply lose track of what happened or how the character got there. As I do not want to give out any spoilers (it’s not a full length story, after all), I will not give examples of such scenes. But at these points, the reader gets confused and needs a moment to get back into the story.
There are also some questions that seem unanswered at the end of the story. This is possibly because of the parts that have vague descriptions. As this book was originally written in Chinese (Translator: Holger Nahm) I am not sure if anything was lost in translation.
Characters: Could have been explored further than they have been. They seem a little nondescript, even the narrator.
A Quote I Liked: Just as we began our journey, my grandfather passed away, his burnt body ravaged by infection. In his final moments, he repeated over and over, “Oh, Earth, my wandering Earth…”
Rating: 3.5/5
Buy It Here: Amazon
Note: This ebook was sent to me for review by Verbena CW, Editor-in-chief at Beijing Guomi Digital Technology Co. Ltd. This story is a part of a larger collection called The Wandering Earth: The Classic Science Fiction Collection. The story reviewed here is the first of the volume. I will shortly review the other stories as well.

The Big Book of Cards & Toasts For Almost All Occasions, by Marcia Goldlist


Before I present the review of this book, let me just confess here that I did not read the whole book. But let me also mention, in the case of this book, it does not seem necessary.
Genre: Stuff-Hallmark-Cards-Would’ve-Been-Made-Of-Had-They-Been-Bitter-And-Honest.
Layout: The book contains jingles for every occasion, as the title suggests. They have been classified as Anniversaries, Birthdays, Tweets, Get Well Soon, Holidays, etc. It is commendable that the author has come up with so many rhymes and jingles. (the previous sentence ends with an invisible “but”)
The Rhymes: You know that stinky feeling you get when someone gives you a backhanded compliment? That’s what the rhymes in this book are like. They are meant to be positive Hallmark kinda stuff. But at times, it sounds oh-so-subtly-negative. The kind of negative that gives you the stinky feeling. Consider the following examples:
Anniversary:
“Together you have been for 25 years. And you’re still happy, it appears.” Jealous much?
“Hard times we are sure you went through.” Who needs to be reminded of that on their anniversary?
“So enjoy being pampered… this may just be the last time we do such a thing.” Is someone dying?
“Lots to celebrate and we hope not too many tears.” Yet, let us remind you about those tears.
“Today is your anniversary day, we hope it is special in at least a little way” Sounds like the two were going through a hard time. The “at least” kills it totally!
Birth:
“Welcome to this world into which you were hurled, it is not always the greatest place.” Sure, the baby can’t understand you. But if he/she could, is that really what you wanna tell a newborn?
“Coming to this world may not have been your choice.” Right, cos if the baby had a choice, he/she wouldn’t be born where this rhyme would be recited for him/her.
There are many such examples I could cite, but I am sure you get my point.
Also, there are places where words have been strung together just to get them to rhyme. Citing examples for those will make this an unnecessarily long review.
Conclusion: The rhymes in this book might be a good option if you have the habit of sending out cards, and you have the habit of rhyming in your cards, and if your cards don’t already have rhymes printed in them. But you obviously will need to do some alterations, as the author herself has mentioned several times in the book.
You can buy this book at: Amazon
Rating: 2/5

A Midnight Reverie, by Beatrice Manuel


Interestingly, this young-adult romance novel is one of the better books I have read this year, though its author, I think, was a little apprehensive about it at first. She wrote this book at fourteen, and in her own words, “it does not exhibit the full potential of my writing skills”.
Well, I must say, if this is how she wrote when she was fourteen, then I wonder how she writes now!
Genre: Young-adult, Romance (but not the gooey kind), Family.
Summary: The story of a young girl and how she deals with the challenges of life.
Writing technique/layout/language: This book has been written in first person. I am not too fond of books written this way because in my opinion, when a book is written in first person, it shows a certain laziness on the part of the author. It is easier to put the protagonist’s thoughts in first person, and very little detailing needs to go into the thought process of the other characters.
This book, however, may be the exception to that rule. The author has brilliantly portrayed emotions and thoughts of almost all the characters, and the character of Lillian Jones, the protagonist has been explored and presented delightfully.
Also noteworthy is the way the disintegration of Lillian’s parents’ marriage has been described. The turbulence of marriage and the disillusionment which most married couples go through has been portrayed quite well.
The plot follows different timelines. It begins with a prologue that describes a funeral. This creates a mystery for the reader as we know something tragic has happened, but we don’t know to whom or what. After the prologue, we go to the protagonist’s childhood.
I do not want to give out spoilers, but the chapter about Adrian leaving for college (titled Drama) and a few subsequent ones were a little too “young adult” for me. It may have been cute, and I am sure a lot of young readers will like it. But it was not truly my cup of tea (I feel so old!)
Also, in a couple of places, the word “then” was used in place of “than” (one example: having to work much harder then he already was). Apart from that, there were no errors.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
This book is available at: Amazon. Teens/Young adults would really enjoy this one, IMO.

Note: This book was sent to me as a PDF file by the author. Thank you, Beatrice and keep writing!