Month: March 2016

The Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan

10459537How is 2016 being so blatantly dominated by books of the romance genre? Is everything ok with me? This isn’t how I am.

Well, we’ll either ponder over that, or I’ll take the help of this Bookish Bingo created by my friend Shantala, who blogs at Shanaya Tales (check out the blog!) to jump out of this terrifying routine (yes, romance to me is terrifying; send help).

You know I could review David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary with just one word: cute.

I don’t mean that in a fawning-over-a-baby way nor do I mean that in a sarcastic way. I mean, just, cute (adj.)

The plot line is lean. There isn’t much there to talk about. The layout is interesting, with words laid out in alphabetical order in the form of a dictionary. Accompanying each word is a scene from the relationship of the protagonist. Some of words have nothing to do with the story, but somehow, I still found them (there’s that word again) cute. For instance:

defunct, adj.

You brought home a typewriter for me.

More than the story, The Lover’s Dictionary is an exploration of the protagonist’s feelings, his love for the girl, as well as his deepest insecurities in the relationship. In describing the latter, the girl does not come out as perfect, but that’s only his own shortcomings colouring the way he sees her. It’s a little disjointed, but won’t appear so if we see these as observations rather than parts of a story.

I wouldn’t call it breakthrough literature, but I see why it has become immensely popular. People relate to it, its simplicity and everything. It isn’t the kind of book I’d enjoy regularly, but it’s like pop music. It caters to a certain age group (YA) and while an occasional song is fun and new, I wouldn’t wanna live and drown in that saccharine pond of sentimentality.

Goodreads | Amazon

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I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak

i-am-the-messenger-markus-zusak-sreesha-divakaranIf I were to gift this book to someone, I would wrap it in brown paper and tell them not to look at the name of the author until they were done. Not that knowing who the author is has biased my opinion in anyway – in fact, the author is the only reason why I bought I Am the Messenger in the first place. But it is inevitable that you will compare it to The Book Thief, whether you want to or not (assuming that the world and even martians have read The Book Thief). This isn’t a bad thing, because I Am the Messenger does superbly on its own. However, it would simply be better to not have the spectacularly successful The Book Thief colour your experience even by the lightest shade.

Summary: I Am the Messenger is the story of Ed Kennedy, an underage cab driver who stops a bank robbery. In Ed Kennedy’s words, the gunman is useless. Ed isn’t very ambitious and doesn’t have a lot going on in life. He lives with an old dog, the Doorman, who stinks like he’s dead, and drinks a lot of coffee. His mother hates him and doesn’t pretend otherwise. He has three friends, Marv Harris, Ritchie Sanchez and Audrey, with whom he spends his spare time playing cards.  He is hopelessly in love with Audrey, but she does not let herself love anyone. Soon after the attempted bank robbery, Ed starts getting aces in the mail. The first one – the ace of diamonds – has three addresses listed. He visits each of them. He finds a woman who is raped by her husband every night, while her young daughter cowers and cries; an old widow who misses her husband, but has no memory of losing him; a sprinter who goes for a practice run every morning, but always loses on the field. Ed realizes he has to help these people, but has no idea how. And that’s just the first of the aces.

Anyone who is familiar with Zusak’s work knows his prose is near-lyrical. The prose is something you can taste, something that sits well on your tongue, and melts. He breaks sentences into several short phrases – not everyone is fond of this technique, but it gives an impact to the simplest of sentences [aside: this is a technique I’d employed for one of my own short stories (well before I read Zusak’s work). The editor of the book I’d submitted the story to combined it all to form one long sentence. Boy, did that piss me off!]. There are moments when the scenes tug at your heart, in a good way. You know that feeling you get when you read the positive stories on HONY? That’s how you feel when you read this book.

The best part is, no matter how many books you’ve read in the past, believe me when I say this, you have never read anything like this. It’s unique, moving, and beautiful.

To summarize, let me tweak a few lines from the book:

Sometimes, books are beautiful
Not just in their prose.
Not even in how they end.
Just in what they are.*

Goodreads | Amazon

*Original quote here.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

rain-and-a-book-sreesha-divakaran

Let me begin this review by telling you two things:

1) While in the bookstore, I spent a considerable amount of time deciding whether or not to buy this book. Finally, I noticed on the back cover that Stephen King called this book a “fun read” that he “loved.” And so, though it did not entirely appeal to me, I decided to go with Mr. King’s recommendation.

2) I picked up this book to read this month only because the last two books I’d read were Water and Like Water For Chocolate. I guess I thought “… and hat-trick!” (interesting to note that both Water and Water for Elephants are set in the 1930s)

Genre: I am assuming the author intended historical fiction, but I am gonna tag it as romance (and not a good one at that).

Summary: The blurb on the back-cover will tell you that it is a story set in the Depression era, when Jacob Jankowski, a Cornell student of veterinary science, upon receiving the news of his parents’ death, runs away from college and joins a circus.

What I will tell you is: this here, ladies and gentlemen, is a love story between a cowardly, sentimental vet and a pink-sequinned dress (the dress is married, by the way). There’s a cute elephant thrown in for… something. The cute-factor, I’m guessing.

I have to say, the premise – the failing circus and all – could have been really well developed. Instead what you have is a boring, unoriginal love triangle that employs rather pedestrian prose which reminds me of the kind of fluff books I enjoyed as a thirteen year old, such as Sweet Valley University.

Actually, that’s a massive insult to SVU.

And the kind of violence and animal cruelty described in this book is in no way suitable for thirteen year olds. Let me think of another comparison.

… and I have. Come to think of it, it is more reminiscent of Nicholas Sparks. We have an old man reminiscing his magnificent youth, where all he can think of is whom he loved. We have two people who barely knew each other falling in love. We have a plot device trying to keep the lovers apart – in this case, the heroine Marlena’s mentally ill husband.

As much as I want to hunt for whatever Stephen King found in this novel, I am unable to; here’s the little that I liked: the elephant, and the fact that Sara Gruen wrote this book during NaNoWriMo.

The atmosphere is just not right – it evokes nothing in me. I do not feel that I’m in depression-era America, except in a few places that the narrative tells us about how stores have been shut down. I do not feel the setting is that of a circus; there’s none of its allure or dazzle, despite there being tents, horses, Marlena’s pink-sequined dress. The narrative is too plot-driven, the author tells us everything and shows us nothing, and the characters lack complexity. There’s nothing to look for beneath the surface. Jacob is too weepy and the only thing I remember Marlena doing throughout the book is knocking on doors. Yes, there’s a prologue where she does a lot more, but I felt the prologue (or was it chapter 1?) was totally unnecessary and spoiled the book. To top it all off, it’s slow as hell. It’s like watching a three-hour-long film i n   s l o w   m o t i o n.

I feel as though there are walls around me, but there’s no ground to stand on.

All in all, what you have here a lukewarm offering. Bland. Dull.

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Tour | IA: Initiate” by John Darryl Winston | Summary, Excerpt and Giveaway!

 

Welcome to my tour stop for “IA: Initiate” by John Darryl Winston. This tour runs from March 21 to 25. Please refer the tour page for the full list of bloggers who are participating in this tour.

 

Name: IA: Initiate

Author: John Darryl Winston

Publisher: Purple Ash Press

Release Date: April 19, 2014

Genre: Science Fiction

Buy @ Amazon

 

 

IA: Initiate is origin story and a hero’s journey that follows thirteen-year-old orphan Naz Andersen and his nine-year-old sister, Meri. They live in a present day alternate Detroit/Chicago-like city known as the Exclave where they are surrounded by poverty, gang violence threatens every corner, and drug dealers rule the streets. Naz thinks he is ordinary except that he hears voices, has nightmares, and walks in his sleep.

 

The most important thing in the world to Naz is protecting Meri and getting her out of the Exclave and into the prestigious International Academy. But Naz has a secret, one that he is oblivious to, and only Meri knows. When Naz becomes the target of a notorious street gang he begins to discover the voices in his head, the nightmares, and sleepwalking are actually telekinesis and telepathy at play, a gift from his father of whom he has no memory.

EXCERPT

 

 

Naz watched the two boys as they continued to approach. They were a block away. Why would they be here in this section … today … so early in the morning? If they’re new to this section and on their way to Union High School—a half mile away—they should have been long gone by now. He had seen them only twenty minutes ago two blocks away. Why are they still here? Something’s wrong. It doesn’t feel right.

Ham continued. “I think they call it—”

“Let’s cross here.” Naz began to nudge Ham.

Ham nudged back and said, “Like I was saying, I think they call it lucid dreaming.”

“Enough about dreams. Let’s cross here.”

“Why? Lincoln’s on this side.”

“I know, but …” He didn’t know what else to say to persuade Ham to cross the street. But something was definitely wrong. He could somehow sense the emergence of danger. He could feel it, and he knew now he wasn’t going to be able to get Ham to cross. Ham was no coward. Naz had never seen it for himself, but had heard fromothers in Section 31 that Ham was good in a fight and had the scars, including a nasty one under his right eye, to prove that he had been in wars. Naz had never been in a fight, at least not one that he could remember.Ham now noticed the two boys in front of them and caught on, only he had a different reaction. “Cross for them? This is our section. We ain’t goin’ nowhere.”  Ham’s whole attitude and body language changed, and instead of slowing, he sped up a bit. It was another side of him that Naz had only heard about, but had never seen.

“What are you gonna do?” Naz asked nervously.

“Nothin’. We’re just on our way to school talking about dreams is all, right?”

The boys were now within a half block of each other. “Have you ever had a lucid dream?” Ham asked, as he slowly reached into his back pocket.

“A what?” Naz asked in confusion.

Ham continued the conversation as if nothing had changed. “A lucid dream, you know, when you actually know you’re dreaming.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Naz saw Ham pull a black object out of his back pocket and hold it behind his back. Naz and Ham were now about fifty feet from the two boys. They were even bigger and possibly older than Naz first thought, but that didn’t seem to bother Ham.

“I don’t … I … I don’t think I ever had that dream … before.” Naz struggled to speak not even knowing what he was saying.

When the boys were within thirty feet of each other, Ham said something in Spanish, something that came out very fast that Naz didn’t understand. His hope that it was a peaceful greeting faded when he saw the reflection off a shining blade—a blade from the black object Ham was concealing behind his back. The husky boy in front of Ham said something back in Spanish—something Naz remembered the taller boy saying earlier.

“Únete a nosotros,” said the husky boy.

Then, as if on cue, like something out of a Western, they all stopped about fifteen feet from each other. The two strange boys and Ham were smiling at one another, and Naz hoped that it was because they knew each other. But he was soon certain that wasn’t the case, especially when the taller boy, who was also concealing something behind his back, began to taunt Naz and started moving slowly from facing him to Naz’s side. His voice was unusually gruff, as he was laughing and speaking in Spanish. Naz was confused. Is this a robbery? He didn’t have a whole lot of money. He didn’t understand what this was all about.

Naz said, “No habloespañol.”

It was something he remembered Ham teaching him, but the boy just continued to laugh. The taller boy was obviously trying to angle around and get behind Naz, but with the boy’s every move, Naz turned to face him.Suddenly Ham and the husky boy with the Mohawk pulled their knives and crouched in what looked to Naz like some sort of attack position. They were still smiling and still making verbal exchanges in Spanish.

That’s when it happened. Naz hadn’t heard the voices in almost two months and now they were back.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Darryl Winston is a recording artist, turned educator, turned author. He dates his love of storytelling back to reading the bible with his father and sisters and later when he first saw Superman The Movie as an 11th grader in his high school auditorium. He got the idea for his debut series while piloted a Boys’ Read program as a Detroit Public School teacher. He is the founder of the Adopt an Author program, which has as its mission to create an atmosphere where boys and girls learn to love reading and writing.

He has written songs with and for Grammy winner David Foster and record mogul Clive Davis. He has been a recording artist on Arista and Polygram records, and has written and/or produced songs for Gerald Levert, Jordan Hill, Gerald Alston, and many others.

He’s a graduate of the Recording Institute of Detroit, The Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, and Wayne State University. He has his MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and will be graduating, June 2016 with his MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes. He lives in Detroit with daughter, Marquette and plans to buy an African Grey Parrot when he conquers his irrational fear of birds and name him or her Tony or Toni.

GIVEAWAY

John is offering ecopies of IA: Initiate to the 5 winners of the below Rafflecopter.

 Click here to enter!

Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel

I firmly believe that it is not always the reader that finds books – sometimes it is the book finds the reader. When I read (and got disappointed by) Alphabet Soup For Losreesha-divakaran-like-water-for-chocolatevers, I was recommended Like Water for Chocolate by an acquaintance. However, I did not read the book as soon as I got a copy; instead continued to wallow in the dry pool of good books I did not feel like reading for a while until I gave up reading altogether for a bit (a bit = 2 nights). Then, it was almost as if LWFC called out to me (I can’t explain this part well; forgive me). So that’s what I read.

Genre: Magical Realism, Romance

Summary: Tita, the youngest daughter of the De La Garza family, unable to bear the smell of onions while in her mother’s womb, is born prematurely in the kitchen. The kitchen is also where she spends most of her life, and the cook Nancha practically brings her up. Tita is required as per tradition to take care of her mother until she dies. She is, therefore, forbidden to ever get married. Unfortunately, for her, when she is sixteen years old, she falls in love with Pedro. Pedro approaches Elena, Tita’s formidable mother, and asks for Tita’s hand in marriage. Elena flatly refuses, but offers the hand of her elder daughter Rosaura. Pedro promptly agrees, so that he can be near Tita. Tita, believing Pedro has betrayed her, cries so hard while preparing the wedding cake, that all the guests feel tremendously sorrowful and fall ill after eating it. Elena later sends Rosaura and Pedro away to San Antonio, as she suspects something brewing between Tita and Pedro; this is because, the dishes Tita prepares for him cause all those who eat them to grow feelings of extreme passion. Do they ever reunite?

I agree that there are some similarities between LWFC and ASFL but neither can be pronounced as better or worse. They are not comparable, similarities notwithstanding. I wouldn’t say they’re apples and oranges; more like, apples and potatoes.

As far as the prose goes, it’s too direct and not very rich. As far as magical realism goes, it lacks the subtlety so necessary for this genre. It stands out a little sorely in places. I think both of these were lost in translation, and is not the fault of the book itself. The other thing is (which could be the fault of the book), Pedro isn’t very likable. Whatever his intentions in marrying Tita’s sister, the marriage was a product of a flawed logic. He is also shown as a jealous, possessive man. Not the best guy in the world, I’d say.

Now for the good part. Each chapter starts with a recipe. The recipes are interwoven int the narrative and help move it forward quite craftily. Apart from that, what’s really important to know is this: Like Water for Chocolate is an extremely addictive book. It tugs gently at your collar, turns your chin towards it and whispers silkily, “Read me… Now.” And that’s what you do. I even sneaked it to office! And at home, I read it using a flashlight when the power was out. That’s how addictive it is.

To sum it up: LWFC isn’t the best book I’ve read. But it is a book I’d recommend. For all its flaws (and an absolutely underwhelming ending), it is a deliciously magical book. I would recommend it because I feel like talking about it. I feel like asking you what you thought about it. Let me know if you read it, will you?

Goodreads | Amazon

 

Water, by Bapsi Sidhwa

I am not a movie buff. I am choosy about the films I watch and only very few times have I been cwater-bapsi-sidhwa-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookompletely enthralled by a film. Also, when I read a book, I don’t wish to see it as a film no matter how much I enjoy it (in fact, a lot of times, when a book I’ve loved is adapted into a film, I end up not watching it at all).

However, only twice in my life have I watched something on screen that made me think, “How I wish this were a book!” One of the times I wished this was when I watched Water. The poignant story and the breathtaking visuals affected me enough to leave me speechless. The book came out after the film. How often do you see the words “Based on the film by…” on a book’s cover?

Genre: Historical, Cultural, Indian, Feminist Literature, Literary

Summary: Set in 1930s, Water is the story of Chuyia, a girl who is widowed at the age of eight, and forced to live in an ashram for widows. Her head is shaved, she is only allowed to wear white saris, only certain kinds of foods are permitted, and she is not allowed to touch anyone or talk to anyone outside the ashram. With all her innocent curiosity, she questions why the widows must be forced to suffer so much. The more she questions, the more Shakuntala, an older widow in the ashram, begins to wonder why the holy scriptures were so against women, why a widow was considered to be a danger to society, a lustful creature that would lead good men astray. Meanwhile, Chuyia, and a beautiful young widow named Kalyani become good friends. Since the time Kalyani was a child (she was widowed very young, like Chuyia), the head of the ashram, Madhumati, had been sending her out to the houses of rich seths in the city as a prostitute. One day Kalyani and Chuiya meet Narayan, a young man who is a follower of Gandhi. He does not believe in the ill-treatment of widows and wishes to marry Kalyani. Fate, however, has other plans.

The reason why book lovers love to bitch about movies is simple: the movies always get something wrong. For a book lover, this is like a guilty pleasure – like there’s a secret between the author and the reader, which those who’ve only seen the movie will never know. In the case of Water, however, either because the book came after or because I saw the movie before reading the book, I was robbed of that experience. The book is fantastically written, but scenes from the film constantly interfered with what I was reading. Also, the film was woven around Chuyia, the eight year old widow, but the book was more about Kalyani – it’s the same story, but the book somehow leaned more towards Kalyani than Chuyia.

Overall, a heart-wrenching read. If you do get the chance though, watch the film it is based on too.

Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 4/5