Month: September 2016

Faithful, by Alice Hoffman

Never is a long time.

29432767Faithful is the story of once-popular, now-self-destructive Shelby Richmond. One fateful night, when she was seventeen, she and her best friend Helene go out for a drive. Their car crashes; Shelby survives with minor injuries, but Helene goes into a vegetative state. Traumatized and guilty, Shelby has a nervous breakdown and stops speaking altogether. She’s admitted to a psych ward, where she is raped by an orderly. This is when she gets the first of many postcards. It says, Say Something. And she does. She tells her mother about what’s happening and her mother gets her released from the hospital immediately.
Helene, on the other hand, is being revered as some sort of saint. Those who visit her claim they get cured of all illnesses and misfortunes if they touch her hand. Shelby does not believe in these miracles, but she is still suffering from guilt. Helene and Shelby both once had dreams and bright futures ahead of them. Helene’s lost hers, and Shelby gives up hers, choosing instead to waste her life away in her parents’ basement. She shaves her head, smokes pot, and watches TV shows she claims to hate. Her drug dealer is her old classmate, Ben Mink, with whom she walks to Helene’s house one night. Ben reveals to her that he’s going to the city to become a pharmacist and asks her to go with him. Two years have passed since the accident and Shelby decides to finally leave her hometown. She moves to the city with Ben, gets a job in a pet store, unexpectedly makes friends, and, most importantly, begins to save dogs in need of saving.

Admittedly, this book got off to a very slow and depressing start. It wasn’t just grim, because of the accident – it was very bleak. I disliked this bit of the story, but did not, at any point, feel like putting the book down. I might have, had it continued in that vein, but after Shelby decides to do something with her life, the story was, if not instantly, uplifted. I loved the characters in this book – especially Maravelle, Shelby’s friend from the pet store. I’m not a dog person, but the way Shelby rescues ill-treated dogs was heartwarming, and I found myself falling in love with all her dogs.

When Shelby starts receiving the postcards (Say Something, See Something, Save Something, etc.), I was reminded of Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger. But the main difference between the two is, Ed Kennedy receives aces in the mail to save other people; Shelby receives them to save herself. Her guilt and self pity nearly killed her, and even towards the end of the book, her self pity is highly palpable. On the night of the accident, Shelby believes she saw an angel and she believes it is the angel who is sending her the postcards. At other times, she is convinced it is Helene – though Helene is now incapable of doing any such thing.

Speaking of Helene, I felt the whole “miracle” angle was unnecessary. It contributed nothing to the story, and felt like it was forced into it to add a bit of magical realism to it. It was unconvincing, and a little annoying.

Aside from that one grouse, I thought that Faithful was a beautiful story of redemption and growth and forgiving oneself. I have wanted to read Alice Hoffman for a long time, but unfortunately, because of where I live perhaps, her books would either never be in stock or be ridiculously expensive because of import charges attached to them (the number of years I’ve been trying to get a copy of Practical Magic, I tell you!). Since I have never read her, I cannot compare Faithful to any other work of hers. But as someone who’s finally ventured into her world of literature, I felt warmly welcomed and left knowing for sure that I would return someday.

Goodreads

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

The Universe of Us, by Lang Leav

We existed in a time before love.

41uk183zjdl-_sx310_bo1204203200_So, I’m back with the review of Lang Leav’s new book, as promised yesterday. I could have written this yesterday, in fact, just chose not to. The page count says 200+, but 1) every alternate page is blank or has an image, 2) every page has only one or two lines. I read it in breaks, but when I finished, I realized I took up approx 55 minutes (give or take 10 minutes) to read it. Let that sink in.

Yesterday, in my review of Faudet’s book, Bitter Sweet Love, I mentioned how his work is rather juvenile and Leav’s work is something that in the past I have considered high school-ish. Given that I read The Universe of Us right after the poorly written Bitter Sweet Love, by comparison, Leav’s book seemed more sophisticated. By comparison.

This is true of the first half. By the second half, the book plunges into all that I feared going in – the childishness, the dullness, the half-bakedness. I know Leav is extremely popular, but what is worrisome is that her audience is mostly young and very impressionable; some of her poetry can be construed as dangerously terrible advice. Her poetry isn’t layered; it doesn’t have a lot of depth – it is all too easy to take it literally. Consider this one for instance: I think love is about being your darkest, most destructive self. To be loved, not in spite of this but because of it. My dear, that is abuse, not love.

Speaking of abuse, Leav’s obsession with love seems almost unhealthy. I have read excerpts of her poetry before, if not the whole books (although, a lot of her poetry in this volume had me thinking “I’ve read this before”. There is, after all, only so many times that stars can collide). The number of metaphors for “love” and “heartbreak” make you drowsy, not like you’re bored, but more like you’re drugged. There is no variety, no casual observation thrown in to break the monotony, nothing. It’s love all around. So syrupy.

While the book was all right for a quick read, while a lot of her words rhymed and everything, while her “poetry” is certainly better than Faudet’s, if someone asked me to recommend a poetry book, I wouldn’t be jumping up with pompoms for Lang Leav.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.

Goodreads | Amazon

Bitter Sweet Love, by Michael Faudet

A memory picked from a flower wilted, its petals faded all color crushed. How can I forget such fragrant perfume? The lingering regret of a love long lost.

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I noticed this book because of its cover – so strikingly similar to Faudet’s first book, Dirty Pretty Things. I used to follow Faudet’s poetry on Facebook. I felt some of his works were good, if not the stuff of classics. But Bitter Sweet Love just did not work for me.

It was either Isabel Allande or Anais Nin, I can’t remember who now, who said Erotica is a feather, but pornography is the whole hen. Faudet seems to have missed that memo. There were some of his earlier works (not in this volume) that fit better into the erotica bracket. Those were lovely poems, and the reason why I was interested in his poetry in the first place. But after reading Bitter Sweet Love, I can’t seem to quell this niggling feeling that his work is, on the whole, extremely juvenile.

All the so-called poems in this volume probably fit within 140 characters. They’re just broken into

sentences,

phrases

that may go on

or not

then end

period.

See what I mean? Just because it rhymes, it can’t be called poetry, now, can it? Although this is what seems to pass for poetry amongst the contemporary crowd, or the tumblr crowd, as they are called. Now don’t get me wrong. There are several tumblr poets who’ve produced works of exceptional beauty (Christopher Poindexter comes to mind). But Faudet’s book reads more like a Penthouse. And it was not fun either; just saturated (migraine-inducingly) with a lot of love and fucking (because (and I quote), “this is no weather for making love”). Oh, and vodka.

Bitter Sweet Love is dedicated to Lang Leav, another contemporary poet whose works I’ve called high-schoolish in the past. Interestingly, along with this book, I got a copy of her latest, The Universe of Us. Pretentious title aside, I think it fares much better than this one. I’m only halfway done, so more on that in my next review.

Goodreads | Amazon (pre-order)

Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.

 

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

7989831So! Prison sounds like fun! Wait, what? No, that can’t be right. It’s prison; it’s not supposed to be fun.

Before I go any further, let me confess that I have not watched the popular TV series of the same name. Not one episode. But I have reason to believe (because I know people who are fans) that the plot of the show deviates sharply from the source material. So, if you are a fan of the show or are planning to watch it, I suggest you skip the book, because the book is such a let down.

At first, I thought the title was an attempt at being ironic or funny. But if Piper Kerman has a sense of humour, it doesn’t really come through and then the title starts to look shallow and unintelligent. We are not talking about a ramp show or color of the year. It’s prison, FFS.

It’s surprising how Piper Kerman describes a place that we assume (and more or less know) to be grim and gruesome in a way that it sounds like summer camp. You actually think, “So, it’s cool, then? Like, a dorm at college?” I understand that this is a memoir, and Kerman has every right to write the way she saw things happen, from her perspective alone and all that. But “her perspective alone” is so near-sighted and self-centred that I can’t believe this girl’s even being real. She has been arrested for smuggling drugs in her early twenties (something she seems to feel no guilt or remorse for anywhere in the book, by the way). The trial goes on for a decade because there are so many others involved (such as Kerman’s ex girlfriend because of whom she got caught in all of this), after which she goes into the Danbury prison. Everyone welcomes her with open arms because she’s (as she repeatedly reminds the reader) white, blond, upper middle class. All the wardens keep telling her how surprised they are that a nice white girl like her is in a “place like this”. If she was trying to make a statement against the racist attitudes inside the prison, she does not come off as convincing – she comes off sounding like a snooty, racist person herself. The other prisoners often stick to their own racial groups, but everyone is friends with Kerman, because, oh, so lovable blond Barbie.

Now, I know families can be deadly supportive. Hell, they’re there even when you don’t need them. But I find it hard to believe that all her family members were so supportive and loving when they came to know of her crime. Like they’re almost proud to have someone go to jail. Wait, that’s an actual statement, in fact. Paraphrasing from the chapter Mothers and Daughters, “My mother was proud, despite the fact that I was in prison, because the other inmates thought we were sisters.” I need a moment.

By the way, did you know that they made crafts and celebrated Valentine’s Day in prison, with homemade cards and all? Yeah, me neither. Sounds like fun though. In one chapter, Kerman refers to prison as a “rotten” place. I was, quite frankly, taken aback. So far, nothing she had written gave me the slightest indication that it is such a rotten place (apart from my own common sense regarding prisons). I am shocked! Maybe your writing should’ve reflected that more, instead of telling me how many lovely items and books you regularly get in the mail from people you barely know, and how much people envy your love life.

And may I offer some advice for your next book (although, I hope there isn’t a next book) – EDITING! I don’t think any editor saw a draft of this. In fact, I think this may well be the first draft!

And the worst, worst thing about this book – I swear to the heavens, it is SO boring. This is one of the most boring books I have ever read. It’s torture how boring this is!

Quite frankly, reading the book makes me want to watch the show. How could the creators take something so poorly written and turn it into something that’s become so popular. My curiosity is thoroughly piqued.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Wolf Trial, by Neil Mackay

“If werewolves existed, Willie, I would have seen one by now.”

“You have not seen England, sir, and it exists.”

28486967I think for me, the most exciting part of the story was the fact that it is based on a true story. The Wolf Trial is the story of a sixteenth century serial killer, Peter Stumpp (Stumpf, in the book) – one of the first ever recorded accounts of a serial killer – who was believed to be a werewolf. When I learned this, I decided to read a little about the original Peter Stumpp before proceeding with the book. Terrible times, I tell you.

Neil Mackay has made a few minor changes to the story (for instance, in reality, Stumpp/Stumpf insisted that he was a werewolf acting under the orders of the devil), and his book follows a debate in which a lawyer and a priest (with the town being on the latter’s side) argue whether he is to be tried as a man or a werewolf. The lawyer, Paulus is a skeptic (see quote above) and an academic, whereas the priest, Fromme is a… well, a priest. The story is narrated by an 80-year old Willie, who was once Paulus’ assistance and who was present during the hunt and trial of Peter.

Mackay’s writing skills are noteworthy. I loved how atmospherically eerie this book was. The whole time I felt I was in some deep dark woods. It reminded me of the beginning of Dracula (if you recollect my review, that is the only part of Dracula that I enjoyed).

However, there are certain things that I did not like – such as the dialogue. The prologue made me think it was set in maybe early 1900s. Even in the rest of the book, the dialogue does not sit well with the image I have of the sixteenth century. Contrast this with, say, Murder at Cirey, which came out last year but is set in the eighteenth century. Perfect dialogues, and they add a lot to the atmosphere and the setting. Given that this book is already rich in terms of atmosphere, it would’ve truly benefited from better dialogue.

Another thing is, while it is understandable that a book about a serial killer will have a certain amount of violence (I mean, obviously!), in The Wolf Trial, the violence does not quite blend in. What I mean is, it feels like it has been added to give it some sensationalism, as if the author thought of going a little over-the-top because this is a book about a (gasp!) werewolf, so there has to be some OTT violence. I’ve read up about the man’s crimes – horrifying. Mindnumbingly so. All the more reason to present it more clinically than dramatically.

Last, and most importantly, while Mackay has great writing skills and a great story to tell, there is something a bit “un-thrilling” about this thriller. It was not a compelling read, and there were times when I had to fight the urge to skim or speed-read or simply put it down.

All things said, it is commendable that Mackay used an account of the world’s first (known) serial killer and weaved a story out of it – I would have never learned of Stumpp/Stumpf of Germany otherwise.

Goodreads | Amazon

Note: I received an ARC of this book from Freight Books/Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.

Love Letters to the World, by Meia Geddes

30841274Love Letters to the World is a collection of prose poems in the form of letters addressed to “My dear world”. At times I got the distinct feeling that the world was a specific person being addressed, such as a lover or a friend. At others, I thought it’s being addressed to the world at large with its “flowers and skies” but not to the people of the world; more like to planet Earth and nature.

I have mixed feelings about this volume. On one hand, I want to appreciate the sheer number of “letters to the world”. On the other, I want to ask “Why?” What is the purpose? What is this in relation to? I’m also having a bit of difficulty classifying this as prose poetry. It is a collection of letters written in purple prose. It’s crossed that thin line between poetry and purple, to the point where it tried to be luxuriant and profound but ended up being vague and broad and, I hate to add, a tad pretentious.

The book is divided into six parts. I was not too impressed with the first part, but I decided to keep reading in order to give a fair review, and to be completely honest, it didn’t take up too much of my time. Each letter is only about half a page long, so you can sort of glide through the book. The first section is full of the word “sentence” (for example, “we do not live or think in sentences”). It’s sprinkled so liberally, present on every other page, that it eventually loses all meaning! The second section is my favourite, because that did jolt me with a few of the writer’s observations and I thought the book was definitely worth my time. But with sections three to six I was back to being unimpressed with a light buzzing in my head – a buzzing that just kept asking, “Where are we even going with this?” The word “sentence” from section one was replaced by “displacement” and “placement” and “true”. Actually, those words were present quite a lot in section one as well. The letters themselves do not relate to the section titles, so I don’t know what purpose they serve. If there is a connection, I could not make it out.

In the midst of all these needless words, I do see that nearly all the letters have at least one coherent, meaningful thought. Everything else is just a frame or graffiti around it. But whoever heard of a book with only single line quotes as individual chapters (actually there are, but these books are the height of pretentiousness and narcissism).

To me (and you’re free to disagree of course) poetry (or prose poetry or any literature) is supposed to mean something. Nothing out of this world, nothing groundbreaking, but a simple thought that makes me feel something, conjures an image or just makes me sit back and think. In those respects, this book has failed me. However, there were still one or two letters that I enjoyed. In addition to that, this book does not tax your brain and it takes only a couple of hours to read through.

Think of it as a cleanser after a particularly heavy book, and read it if you wish. If you choose not to, you’re not missing much.

Goodreads | Amazon

Note: I received a Kindle ARC of this book from Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.

Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul, by Sudha Kuruganti

It’s difficult to fight when you have no idea who your enemy is.

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When I read the title, I thought it was a collection of passionate romances, my thoughts colored heavily by a poem by Neruda from which this book derives its title. When I saw the cover, I thought it was a collection of horror stories. But Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul: Fractured Fairy Tales from Indian Mythology is a darkly colorful mix of everything – romance to horror to fantasy to even humor. All based on, as the subtitle states, Indian mythology.

The book is divided into five parts – Vedas, Trimurti, Ramayana, Mahabharat, and Urban Legends & Myths. There are a total of 22 stories and an introductory chapter that summarizes the Indian myths and epics. This chapter is useful for those who are not well-versed in the epics. There is also a note at the end of each story which describes which specific episode from the epics was the basis of the story. I have, in the past, felt rather lost while reading stories of a similar kind without these background notes, such as in the case of this book.

About the stories themselves – some stories are told from the perspective of a character different from the traditional narrator of those stories, some are modern retellings, whereas others borrow the central theme and/or character names from the original stories but have wholly unique plots. My favourites in the book are To The Victors, Soul Eater, and Storyteller. To The Victors is from the Ramayana section of the book and it tells the story from Surpanakha’s perspective. While I am by no means a member of Ravana’s recently formed fan club, I always firmly believed nothing can ever be as black and white as the epics portray. Of course, I also never believed in Rama’s oh-so-ideal-glory-be-me-can’t-touch-me name and fame. Of course, as a country, clearly we have a warped view of what’s “ideal”. But that’s a discussion for another day. I loved Soul Eater because a) I never knew such a tribe or clan existed in Bihar (please read the story to find out more about this tribe) and b) this story isn’t based on any existing episodes; it’s fresh and very interesting. As for Storyteller, the last chapter of this book – it’s a famous story that every Indian is familiar with, but the way it is told made me laugh – and also made me look over my shoulder! I won’t reveal anything other than that. Nice way to end the book though – with a smile and a chill.

The language used is simple and the book is a quick read. In some places, it could have been more descriptive, more firm than airy. I suspect it would have slowed down the pace a tad, but that wouldn’t have been an issue. For instance, in the first story, it took me a while to gain a footing; similarly with stories such as By The Numbers and Dreams, I felt I was plunging headlong into them.¬† The descriptions would have actually helped. While there are no glaring errors in language, and it isn’t at all tedious to read, I felt in one or two places, it could have used an extra bit of proofreading.

I understand this is a self-published¬† ebook, but there were some Wiki links in the notes section of some of the stories – this seemed a bit odd to me, from a reader’s perspective, especially because on my Kindle, they didn’t work and appeared only as underlined words (I realized they were links when I opened the pdf file on my laptop).

This book is a good choice for anyone delving into Indian mythology for the first time. As the author states in her introduction, there are very few books in this category. Well, very few good ones, anyway, in my opinion. And this is a good one. Give it a read!

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Note: I was given a PDF copy of this book in exchange for a review. This review is unbiased and honest.