Month: January 2016

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll

In a bowl, mix Opal Mehta (and every high school chick-lit ever) and The Devil Wears Prada. Add a dash of rape and blend well. Then add a few ounces of needless violence. Season it luckiest-girl-alive-jessica-knoll-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookwith terrible prose. And voilà!

Needless. That is the only word that comes to mind when I think of Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive. First and foremost, when you look at the front cover, you see a lot of tiny text, but ‘Gillian Flynn’ stands out –  attention grabbing, that. Here’s the thing. A lot of authors these days are described as the next already-published-established-famous authors. Recently I got two other books, and both the authors were called “the next Stieg Larsson.” Another book’s promo tagline said “it will make Hogwarts look like playschool” (I already hate this book; I don’t even need to read it). Something about needing these borrowed legs to stand on tells you a little bit about the books themselves.

Luckiest Girl Alive is just another high school tale desperately trying to pass itself off as adult fiction. It is also as boring as a book can get. When I turned 29, I thought to myself there is no reason anymore for me to not ditch a bad book – as there are just way too many good books in the world. Old habits die hard I guess – I felt since I’d already invested enough time to reach the 12% mark, might as well reach the end and see how bad it gets.

Genre: Boring (yeah, that’s a genre)

Summary: TifAni (that’s how it’s spelled) is an editor at ‘The Women’s Magazine’, which is a prestigious… umm… women’s magazine (like the author herself). She also writes pieces on spicing up your sex life. She’s engaged to Luke, a filthy rich douchebag. Speaking of douchebags, TifAni is a horrible person. Like, really insufferable mean ass bitch. She is only engaged to Luke cos of the money cos her mother brought her up to believe a woman’s worth depends on whom she marries. TifAni has two best friends whom she hates. Basically she hates everyone. I’ve read till the end of the book and it never did explicitly explain why. Nor implicitly. She keeps chanting “I have a horrible secret.” But turns out – wait, we’ll get to it. Her catholic school tells her parents to transfer her to a different school following a weed smoking incident. She moves to a school in a posh locality and desperately tries to fit in. She gets accepted by Hilary and Olivia (the “HOs” (don’t ask)) but gets raped by the guys in the group. She later moves to college and in order to reinvent herself, changes her name to Ani (how many times have I read that before?)

Characters: TifAni/Ani, already described above. She is described as tiny in stature with large breasts. She has two friends, Nell, and another woman whose name I have already forgotten, but who is rather flat chested. Or wait, maybe it was Nell that was the flat chested one. Really, a lot of mention of boobs and the lack of them cos Ani does not have much else going on for her. TifAni was raped in high school by the “popular” guys and she wonders till the last chapter if it was actually rape (it was). But that’s not her “secret”. You’d think her mean nature was because of this, but it is not; she’s implied to be a bad human being even as a teenager, which is why I said we don’t know why she is intentionally shown as this villainous person. Her mother is your stereotypical, loud-mouthed mother-of-ungrateful-teenager woman with gold-digger tendencies. She lavishly spends her husband’s money and her only aim in life is to get Ani married to a rich guy so that she can keep up her appearance of wealth. Ani’s teacher in school is Andrew Larson, who is, later in the story, a client of her fiance Luke. He thinks she is a gem of a person, an angel, all those things, though I don’t see what he does in her (the boobs, maybe?)

The writing: Is laughably amateurish. Think about it, the only plot device in this book is having your main character repeat the words “I have a secret.” Unless this is the first book you’ve picked up in your life (in which case, my sympathies), you know nothing kills suspense more than those exact words. There is also something to be said about books that never make you reach for the dictionary – some books can create beautiful prose with the simplest of phrases; others, like this one, makes the writer look like he/she doesn’t know what they’re doing. That is not to say Knoll does not try to embellish her sentences, but they turn out hilarious bad. For instance: Sleep exploded over me like a meteor shower.
I don’t understand the need to try so hard to make her a bad person (she insults a waitress for no good reason, she draws on a colleague’s white pants when she’s not looking etc) – what is the reason to make her so bad? And why try so hard to imply something so pointlessly? If you’re making someone an out-and-out dislikeable character, at least give it a reason or make them interesting (like in The White Tiger, for instance or Voldemort) There are instances where Ani spouts wisdom about “all women”. I can’t make out if that’s what the author thinks about “all women” or just the character she created, but, to whoever it may concern – please speak for yourself. There are also some parts where whole paragraphs get repeated from a previous instance. As if the author thought when the reader reaches the middle, he/she might forget the beginning, or when they reach the end, they’d forget the middle. So much unnecessary repetition. Or maybe that is what was happening to the author because in a few places the descriptions did not match anything that was said at the beginning – like everyone recognizes Ani’s name cos of the high school incident, but later in the news reports, the reader is told her name was never mentioned. Funny thing is, Ani keeps remembering things and people (that bear little resemblance to the current context) and she would go on to describe them in detail, then she would give us reasons why she hates the person she is describing. Then said person would not make an appearance elsewhere in the story. That happens to scenarios as well – it is implied that Ani had weight issues because of which she is always on some kinda diet, but the whole body image angle isn’t explored in depth. She is buying a knife on the first page, I still don’t know why. The worst of it is, neither the story of rape nor the “secret” are given any true importance. They are serious issues dealt with so flippantly.

Overall, it felt like Jessica Knoll had a bunch of stories she felt like writing and somehow she ended up connecting them all with no real purpose or context. What this book is, is an insult to rape survivors, homosexuals, women (subcategories: homemakers/stay-at-home-moms, career-driven, unmarried, thin, fat, waitresses, with-fiance-less-successful-than-protagonist), less-than-affluent people, those suffering from mental illnesses, those suffering from anorexia, in short, everyone. Ugh how wasteful.

So needless.

 

PS: I heard there is a movie coming out? I don’t know for sure. Am I the only one that gets pissed when such terrible books are made into movies?

 

 

 

Seriously… I’m Kidding, by Ellen DeGeneres

“I’ve already written other books – two as myself and dozens more under my pen name, Danielle Steel.”

Last year, with a seriously-im-kidding-ellen-degeneres-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookfew shaky steps, I forayed into the world of celebrity memoirs. I shouldn’t say last year, it was just last month technically speaking, and what is time but a continuous wave of ever flowing… maybe I shouldn’t be JadenSmithing you right now.

I started off with a really good one – Tina Fey’s Bossypants. But the two books that followed were wee bit less impressive – Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and this one. Especially this one.

Don’t get me wrong, this book is really very funny. But it is too random. Again, I may just be unfairly comparing it to Bossypants, which had a very linear sequence of events, but this was too random. Some chapters were written only for the sake of humour, and this resulted in it seeming forced. There are some chapters that are merely bullet points of random possibly-humour-generating statements. Or words.

Ellen is a lot of fun and spontaneous on her show. This book is only for her fans, cos I feel those who are not familiar with her style wouldn’t find this book funny at all. Her jokes have an over-the-top edge when she delivers the punchline that you simply must be familiar with to follow the book.

If you’re a fan, pick up the book, as it is an extension of watching her on TV. If not, you can totally give this one a miss.

Get it here: Amazon

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

the-white-tiger-aravind-adiga-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-book“I am India’s most faithful voter, and I still have not seen the inside of a voting booth.”

Whenever I buy a book, I write my name and date of purchase on the first page (in the past, I also signed my name on random pages, a habit I have since gotten rid of). The first page of The White Tiger tells me I bought it on 15th Nov 2009. I also remember a bus journey from Bangalore to Kerala, when I first flipped through a few of its pages, shut it, and snored for the rest of the trip.

There is a time and place for certain books. Or, there are certain books for certain moods. In the interest of never leaving a book unfinished, I’ve been picking up some previously abandoned books since the past few months, such as Chokher Bali, The Girl On The Train, this one etc.

Genre: Literary (also maybe, crime, cultural, but most definitely literary)

Summary: Balram Halwai, a man from the “Darkness” (lawless villages of India), gets the opportunity to come to the “Light” (New Delhi, or the cities of India) when he is hired to be the driver of a rich family. He is now a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore. He writes his story over seven nights, addressed to the Chinese Premier Mr Jiabao who is visiting India shortly. He confesses that he murdered his employer, Ashok before coming to Bangalore. He then recounts why he murdered Ashok and how he turned from faithful servant to successful entrepreneur.

Balram Halwai is an almost detestable protagonist. The kind that you dislike, but at the same time cannot help but respect his genius. He speaks of everything in an utterly irreverent tone, and his take on all subjects, big and small, is written with cynical wit. He is ignorant and naive in some matters (“Do these women in the city have no hair on their legs like the ones in the village?”) whereas highly shrewd in some of his other observations (“The Rooster Coop of India does not let anyone escape – it is secured from the inside”) You can dislike him all you want but you will admire him!

The only people more despicable than The White Tiger’s intriguing protagonist are his rich employers, and the politicians of India. Personally, I feel, The White Tiger was a few years ahead of its time – there are parts of the narrative that resemble what is happening at present (I won’t mention any, as I don’t want to give out spoilers). But what I will say is, had this book been released, say, in 2015 (seven years after its actual release), it would probably have been banned. Balram Halwai mentions that the Indians worship Hanuman – who was a faithful servant to his master Lord Ram – and as a result, servitude (or the possible need for it) has become an essential part of the Indian psyche. According to Balram, this is what helped the Brits and the Mughals to rule over the country and Indians merely bowed their heads because they were only too happy to be ruled. Honestly, I cannot dispute any of Balram’s thoughts and logic. But only imagine, had this book been released recently, with all its cheeky commentary (there’s more where that bit about Hanuman came from) on the flaws of India(s) – that of the Darkness and the Light – what would have been its fate?

As for the rating – I will give it two different ratings. It is a brilliant book, and Aravind Adiga is nothing but a masterful storyteller. For the ingenuity of the plot, I’d give it a 4/5. However, if I were to base on taste (and this is STRICTLY me), I am not too fond of political dramas, so on a taste-based scale, I would give it a 3/5. But like I said, that’s just me. The book on its own is a must-read.

Get it here: Amazon

*Favourite quote at the beginning of the post. The context is how the elections in Indian villages are always rigged and how those in the villages never really vote, as somebody else always uses their name to vote for whom they want.

Insomnia, by Stephen King

“Each thing I do, I rush through, so I can do something else.”

Lately, I’ve been insomnia-stephen-king-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookdoing more book reviews than doing any of my own writing. That’s what happens to me when I read too much – also why I desperately try to strike a balance between reading time and writing time, but clearly one or the other always takes precedence.

I might have not read Insomnia – that is not to say never, just not at this point. But I had some free time and no books one day and I decided to search for some on my Google Drive – I almost always have a few unread ones in there. The choices I had that particular day were Casual Vacancy, A Suitable Boy and Insomnia. I did start the other two, but it was this one that I stuck with. I’ll leave the other two for some other day.

A strange coincidence has been occurring ever since I started reading Insomnia – it’s a story of a man, Ralph Roberts, who wakes up earlier every night than the night before. I began reading this story in the last week of December and since then I have been waking up at 3.49 am every night (and dropping off to sleep, unlike Ralph, thank God!) Clearly, my biological clock and my mind are in this together to play a prank on me. Hopefully, this will stop from tonight!

Another thing is – and maybe this is just me convincing myself this is a coincidence – this was the only Stephen King book I had on my Google Drive, and it is coincidentally a sort of prequel to The Dark Tower, the series for which I went on autopilot. The kind of prequel that you must read after the sequel, if you know what I mean. I don’t know why this fact (that it was the only King book I had on my drive) so fascinating to me, but it is.

Now that you’ve had about enough of my rambling, I should probably begin the review.

Genre: Fantasy, Kinda Gory, Could Be Scary, May Cause Insomnia To Reader

Summary: (I find it hard to write a spoiler-free review for this one, because there’s so much I want to tell you, but I will try my best) Ralph Roberts, a man in his 70s, begins to suffer from insomnia following the death of his wife Carolyn, waking up earlier each night than the night before. One day, at the local grocery store, a young woman, Helen Deepneau, whom he and his late wife were friends with, enters with her infant daughter, Natalie, after having been badly beaten up by her husband, Ed, also a friend of Ralph’s. Helen is terrified and tells Ralph not to dial 911, but he disregards this and gets help anyway. It is revealed that Ed beat her up because she signed a petition allowing Susan Day, a feminist activist, to give a speech in their town. Ed is convinced that WomanCare, the local women’s clinic is forcing women to have abortions and the stolen foetuses are used to serve the Crimson King. Ralph remembers that he has seen Ed’s crazy side even before Carolyn’s death. He realizes he has seen Helen with bruises on her even before this incident. As a result of his insomnia, begins to see auras around people (kinda like what I’ve described here in an otherwise very different story). He also sees two “bald doctors” who seem to be present in places where someone has died. A third bald doctor appears, who is later revealed to be an agent of “The Random”, who kills people for sport, for no reason whatsoever. Ralph later realizes that his friend, Lois Chasse, is also suffering from insomnia and can see the auras. The first two bald doctors reveal to the two of them that they must prevent an attack on the Civic Centre the night Susan Day makes her appearance, to save the life of someone who will protect the Tower (yup, the same tower). The attack is planned (of course) by pro-lifers, headed by Ed Deepneau, who is being controlled by the Crimson King.

This is about how much I can tell you without spoiling anything for you.

First of all, personally I believe between Insomnia, Rose Madder and Dolores Claiborne, (and maybe other works that I haven’t yet read) Stephen King has spoken more about domestic violence and women’s rights than most women authors have (because, I hate to admit, most women authors are still writing love stories where men with creepy stalker tendencies are heroes). But the sad thing is, this novel, though set in the early 90s, reminds you not much has changed even today – only last month there was an attack on a Planned Parenthood centre and several pro-lifers applauded it (my mind kept going back to that incident every time I read about the crazies in this book).

This political scenario provides a realistic backdrop for the otherwise bizarre sequence of events. Another thing is, this book asks you a variant of the question that keeps cropping up: What if Hitler had never been born (or killed, or never rose to power etc etc etc) (also see: 11/22/63) The good thing is, this story reached a concrete conclusion. My one peeve with King books has always been that he builds something so large that he struggles with how to handle it, and the plot topples on itself like a stack of china. This was taken care of in this volume, though it was not without entirely out of bizarroville. But it was a fun ride through bizarroville nonetheless. There were parts that made almost absolutely no sense, but I can live with that.

Some elements share a common thread with other works of his, just the few that I’ve read. Also, in some places I found bits of the plot predictable (if not the larger scheme of things). As for language, King’s metaphors are a delight to read, but there were very few in this one – I missed them. An issue I found was that, I was somehow not convinced of Ralph’s age – his age was repeatedly mentioned, as well as his slow movements, but in my mind, I could not picture Ralph as a man in his 70s at all. Maybe 50s, maybe even 40s! But not 70s. Conveniently, in the later part of the book, with the auras… ok, I won’t tell you. But all the characters are well etched out, so that’s a plus. While the concept of auras was very interesting, the bit of about the balloon string made it comical (balloon string: a string above a person’s aura that determines their health, life span etc). Plus, towards the end of the book, they sounded less like auras and more like Edward’s glittery skin (sorry, Sai King).

All in all a good read, of which I (predictably) liked the backdrop more than the story itself. It is a bit gory, but not necessarily scary (the first appearance of the bald docs scared me a bit though – it was eery) What is scary though is the awareness of mortality that sets in after you read this book. It’s a heavy book, but if you can invest the time to read it, you must. And if you plan to, read it after The Dark Tower, for some extra punches.

Get it here: Amazon

*Favourite quote from the book at the start of the review.

 

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a horrible vermin.

At the riskmetamorphosis-franz-kafka-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-book of sounding abysmally ignorant, let me confess, when I first read this line, I assumed The Metamorphosis to be a horror story on the lines of The Fly. I was even a little afraid, I have to admit. I was unfamiliar with Kafka’s work prior to this, so that one line could take me anywhere. I was, needless to say, wrong.

The Metamorphosis is not a book you read for pleasure. It is a book you read to analyze everything out of it. It is not a book that you enjoy, it is one you appreciate. It is the kind of book you study, the kind of book about which your English teacher asks you to write an essay.

As already mentioned, Gregor Samsa finds that he has turned into an insect one morning. He realizes with a jolt that he has overslept and missed his train to work. Right then, the chief clerk from his office comes to his house to find out why he missed work that morning. Gregor struggles to get out of bed, and to open the door, but he finally does, to the horror of the chief clerk and his family. His mother faints, his sister begins to cry, and his father tries to kill him every chance he gets.

This novella is not the kind of horror story you’re thinking of – no monsters under the bed – but it is still a horror story. It is the story of a man who has become unrecognizable to himself and has become a burden to his family. It is sad, pathetic. It is an allegory – if you look at Gregor’s relationships with his family, you’d find you are reading about a very real man – a plight none of us would wish to happen to us or anyone we know, but not entirely impossible, considering no one knows the course of life. I do not mean we will turn into insects, but imagine being bedridden or becoming an invalid or in some way, not contributing to the world and life – would your family still stick by you? Terrifying isn’t it?

The Metamorphosis is not the story I went looking for, but certainly a story I needed to read. It is unnerving, and believe me, you will not read another book like this one.

Get it here: Amazon

Whistleblower Trilogy 1: Wounded Animals, by Jim Heskett

jim-heskett-wounded-animals-rainandabook-sreesha-divakaranWounded Animals, the first book from the Whistleblower Trilogy is the first book I am reviewing in 2016. I am a little late though; a lot late, actually. This review was requested almost a year ago, but you all know that several things went wrong last year and review requests from authors had to take a backseat. Anyway, let’s discuss Wounded Animals now.

Genre: Thriller

Summary: Tucker Candle, a trainer in an IT firm, meets a man named Kareem at a bar. The man turns water into wine as Candle watches. Once Kareem knows he has Candle’s attention, he tells Candle that his boss is planning to send him on a business trip, and he must refuse to go no matter what. The next day, Candle’s boss dismisses his pleas and Candle is forced to go on the trip. When he returns, he finds his pregnant wife missing, and one of his trainees (whom he met during the trip) murdered in his bathroom.

Wounded Animals started off well. As I read about Kareem turning water into wine, I was immediately drawn into the story. It was almost comical, how Kareem criticized his work and Candle’s obvious confusion. A good beginning works well for a book, because it makes the reader turn the pages.

Speaking of turning pages, Wounded Animals is fast-paced. You can read it really quickly. I would not call it an “edge of the seat thriller” (reasons will be listed shortly) but it is a page-turner nevertheless. The cliffhangers at the end of each chapter really work in its favour.

Among the characters, only the protagonist Tucker Candle really stands out. The others, the bad guys, neighbours, cops, whathaveyou, all seem to be cut out of the same cloth and really don’t have any distinguishing features (but one of the neighbours, the could-be-a-meth-dealer guy, stands out; he doesn’t have anything to do with the story, but the phrase about his house being a meth-filled house sticks to your memory). Candle insists everyone call him by his last name – no prefixes, just his last name. (Reminded me of a math teacher I once had who insisted we do the same – it was odd addressing him by his last name, no Mr. no Sir.) Candle is a regular guy next door, who gets pulled into a conspiracy and he has nothing but his instincts to help him.

Wounded Animals is an easy read, the language used is simple and light. I noticed a few typos, such as whose/who’s (it was incorrectly used), Chricton (a reference was made to a Michael Crichton book). Another thing about the light, unburdened prose is that it situations, characters, circumstances etc are not too descriptive. I have three things to say about that:

  1. The best thing about this is that Jim Heskett does not waste too much time describing each and every little detail about silly things like appearances. I really hate reading about color-coordinated outfits and the like. Just get on with the story! So this was a plus.
  2. The drawback of this is that sometimes a reader requires a description. For instance, when a scene changes, we need to know where our protagonist is. The lack of description makes the reader lose focus. Also, there’s the failure of the “Show, don’t tell” rule in this situation.
  3. The third thing is, in some places, this is not true, resulting in a lot of redundancy. For example (more or less paraphrasing) “I followed my instincts. I did not know why. I knew I had to follow my instincts.” We could have saved a lot of words there.

Overall, this was a book that progressed well but had several loose threads by the the time it reached the climax. I did not feel it was well-resolved. Sure, the story reached closure, but I felt the “whys” of things were not explained. Also, the story as a whole seemed like an unconvincing thriller, because the protagonist works purely on instinct. It seems improbable to me. The premise is good, but the execution is certainly lacking… something.

Rating: 2.5/5

Amazon | Goodreads

Note: I received a PDF Copy of this book for review.