Month: October 2016

The Fire Child, by S. K. Tremayne

27874165You know this story. You’ve read this cliche before. A not-so-well-off photography professor Rachel Daly* meets an extremely wealthy man several years her senior. David Kerthen** is widowed; his wife Nina died in one of the mines on his thousand-year-old family property. He now lives with his eight year old son Jamie***. Rachel falls in love with David (of course) and even more so with his pale-faced, raven-haired son. Following a whirlwind romance, the two marry and Rachel leaves her poverty-stricken London life behind (to the envy of her friends) and moves to the Carnhallow House with David.
The Kerthens are an old family, who owe their wealth to their luck with the mines in the area. They were cruel, and did not care about those who lost their lives in the mines.
Caught in the memories of an old world is David’s mother Juliet. Through her, Rachel learns of the legend of the fire children. Soon after, Rachel’s stepson Jamie begins to act strange. He’s convinced that he’s a fire child and that his mother is coming back. Rachel herself begins to feel Nina is in the house – she can sense her presence, see her, smell her perfume, hear her voice, and what not.

*Has sad eyes
**Is a “‘broken’, womanizing lawyer”, who’s interestingly very much devoted to his first wife (no sign of any womanizing) and is very inarticulate for a lawyer.
***Kid can’t spell “write” but can spell “dinosaur”

The beginning of the story felt a lot like Rebecca to me. In fact, there’s this line in one of the chapters “Last night he’d [David] dreamt of Carnhallow again.” which, I know I’m probably looking for connections here, but it sounded a lot like the opening sentence of Rebecca to me. But that feeling quickly passes.

At the outset, let me mention, this is not a bad story. On the whole. But it’s been executed poorly (“poorly” being the kindest word I can think of right now). For one, it drags on and on and on and then leads to a laughably rushed ending. Why does it drag on? Because every third paragraph is a description of the sun and the sea and the mines (or, in the latter part, the snow and the sea and the mines) At one point, a character goes on to describe in detail the view from a supermarket. Just… why? We get it, it’s lovely, move on. Repetitions aside, there are these annoying inconsistencies throughout the book. I may sound nitpicky, but on one page Rachel tells us she does not tan, but she describes her “tanning shoulders” a few pages later. Minor detail, yes, but such things rub me the wrong way.

Everyone in this book is an overthinker and an overreactor. Either I’m missing chunks of the story, or these people are plain crazy. They go from state A to conclusion Z without analyzing (or at least merely considering) B to Y in between. For example, when Juliet describes the legend of the fire children, Rachel reads a lot into it and acts terrified. I went back to Juliet’s line a few times to check what I missed. Why did I feel Rachel’s reaction was unwarranted? Similarly, on what basis did David hire a detective to get details of his wife’s past? What convinced him she was hiding something? And here’s another inconsistency – he tells her to go through Nina’s old notes to restore the house, but when she does so, he’s convinced she’s snooping and trying to get him into trouble. So much goes unexplained, and yet we’re given such unnecessary detail about the bloody sunshine, FFS!

(Oh, by the way, the detective’s report adds even more cliches and stereotypes to this already unoriginal set of characters)

Gonna sound nitpicky again – my copy is an ARC, so I understand this will probably be fixed in the final – but there, were, bloody, commas, everywhere! It got so annoying, pausing where no pause was needed.

Now, why I said this is not a bad book is because there were parts of it that were genuinely spooky – and that’s more than what I can say for the new crop of horror/thriller writers. But nothing ties up properly – the motivations, the backstory, none of it. It is all implausible, and I can’t, for one second, believe the plot in its current form. It’s amateurish to the worst degree. All that foreshadowing (again, done badly) leads to no resolutions and by the end, you have a lot of unanswered questions looking up at you like a bloody hare in your hands.

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

The Clothing of Books, by Jhumpa Lahiri

“I write not only to avoid the question, but also to seek the answer.”

31019618In this personal and meditative collection of essays, Jhumpa Lahiri talks about the love-hate relationship she shares with book covers – of her own books, of the books that surrounded her as she wrote these essays, and of the books she grew up with – many of which were jacketless.

She shares with the reader how she does not like the covers of some of the editions of a particular book of hers. She, of course, has not mentioned which book or which edition, but that isn’t necessary. A book, to employ the cliche of all cliches, is like an author’s child. If you find someone else dressing up your child, in ideas that clash your own, in a way that they seem to have misunderstood the soul of it, you will be rightfully upset.

Being a published author myself, even if I do not have Lahiri’s calibre (or fame), I can somewhat understand her chagrin. Two of my books are self-published, whose covers I designed myself (on my phone, no less!) using a simple photo editing tool called Fantasia Painter (which is by far the best photo editing tool I’ve used, but is, unfortunately, available only on Windows phones (yet another reason to miss my old phone)) Simple as they are, they were still designed by me. As for the other books I’ve contributed to, there is one cover I absolutely dislike and another that I personally felt did not do justice to the theme of the book. Now if I, with my rather insignificant mark in the world of literature, could feel so strongly about the covers that relate to me, it is only natural that someone of Lahiri’s talent and brilliance would feel the same. It’s about your love for your work, your passion for the art. And I, like her, hate the word “blurb” (and its concept).

Another topic she touches upon is that of plagiarism – covers sometimes get copied. I was at a souvenir shop in a hotel I stayed at recently, and I saw a book whose cover was an exact replica of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions. I reached for the book thinking it is the Mahabharat saga that Divakaruni wrote, but it wasn’t. I was shocked! I don’t remember which book it was, but I think it was a travelogue of some kind. How much ever Lahiri may hate book covers, the truth is sometimes we remember books by their covers. And some covers are so familiar that seeing different text on it almost unnerves us!

Lahiri’s tone in these essays made me feel she was writing for herself alone, and yet, she was writing for someone to read these words. She was venting out for herself, but she wanted someone to know how she felt. In a way it was like sneaking into someone’s diary and getting to know them a little bit. Her language is simple, a little unlike the luxuriant prose with which she writes fiction, but a pleasure to read nonetheless – the difference between the two could be compared to spending a night in PJs at home, vs., going out partying in heels. A poor example, but I hope it conveys my meaning.

Do you judge a book by its jacket? How important do you think is the jacket and the blurb?

Goodreads | Amazon

Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley/Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. My review is honest and unbiased.

How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby

“What you don’t catch a glimpse of on your wedding day- because how could you?- is that some days you will hate your spouse, that you will look at him and regret ever exchanging a word with him, let alone a ring and bodily fluids.”

8577083How To Be Good begins with Dr Katie Carr in a parking lot asking her husband David for a divorce over the phone. She thinks this scenario would be highly unlikely if her life were a movie. But then she has had enough. David is selfish, whiny, and even his newspaper column is called The Angriest Man in Holloway. Katie has spent her life living carefully, trying to be a good doctor, a good person, a good mother. But now she’s gone and had an affair with Stephen, and she’s here in a parking lot asking David for a divorce. Over the phone.

For a lot of reasons, I loved this book. Acutely observant and precise, How To Be Good paints a very credible picture. Hornby’s writing is witty and even depressing scenes have been written in a darkly comic style. The splendid intricacy lies in how the characters seem deceptively simple, but are so realistic in their own way. As a reader, you want to take sides because that’s the kind of characters we’re used to. But you can’t, in this case. I was a little disappointed by Katie’s ultimate choice, but can’t say I was surprised. It only added to the story’s credibility.

My one issue with the book though (and this is a big one for me) is the ending. I hate open endings. I just hate them. I’ve read this far, at least give me closure, but no! Why do authors do this? Why do people like this? I know a lot of people who love open endings (please spare me the “but you can interpret it in so many ways, isn’t that bril?” No.) But they’re not for me. When I get to the end and it’s an “Open-for-all”, I know that the author probably had something in mind; no one decides to leave a story hanging that way, and I don’t want to form my own ideas – I want to know what that particular thought was in the author’s mind they wrote that particular ending. And not knowing drives me mad. Just mad.

What do you think of open endings? Yay/Nay?

Goodreads | Amazon

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Elison

22435466Um, no.
Just, no.
I should explain.

We start with a group of schoolboys making handwritten copies of the book of the unnamed midwife. Their teacher is old and pregnant, too old to be pregnant in fact. She tells them the book may cause them to fall sick because the contents are horribly disturbing, but they must perform the task assigned to them. Quite a lot of years have passed since the book was originally written. The boys excitedly start.

That was the prologue and that, honestly, was the most interesting part of this book. I really, really wanted to read more about that school and the era it was set in.

We then move to the actual story. It appears to be our time, give or take a few years. A disease of some kind has struck the population and it has wiped out 98% or so of it. It mainly affects women, more specifically pregnant women. Neither the mothers, nor the children survive this deadly disease. Our narrator, the unnamed midwife, gets affected too, and when she wakes up, she sees she’s the only one in the hospital. She doesn’t know how many days or months have passed. Stepping out of the place, she realizes the world has become very dangerous for women, given that the ratio of male to female is now 10:1, and in a world that’s descended to lawlessness, men have turned savage. In order to protect herself, she dresses up as a man and goes around the country trying to protect the women she finds.

TBOTUM, originally published in 2014, is a winner of the Philip K. Dick award. That aside, there were quite a few things about this book that bothered me. Why did the disease affect women more than men? It is described as an extinction event, so is it some “survival of the fittest” thing? If so, are women unfit to survive? Moving on. Let’s see now, this isn’t an original plot, is it? There have been several post apocalyptic stories – both books and movies – where either one group survives, or one woman survives (thereby battling the savage men) or one man survives (who battles zombies or some such). There are some themes in this book that most definitely should have been explored further. The bit in the prologue being one of them. Alas, the reader doesn’t get much. It’s a shame, really. Each of the chapters starts of with a journal entry written in a horrible font, followed by the story narrated in 3rd person. I would mark this book down for that font alone, to tell you the truth!

And now all of that aside, what bothered me most was the pedestrian language. When I said the prologue was the most interesting part for me, what I meant is, that’s the one part that’s actually written well. It sets an atmosphere: a school (I imagined something like a monastery), a group of boys, books so old that their pages disintegrate if sunlight falls on them, a silver-haired pregnant teacher. The atmosphere this scene set was just superb. You enter the book with the expectations set by the beauty of the prologue. What you get, instead, is writing that makes you believe this was written for teens, by a teen. In fact, had it not been for all the violence and the gore, I would’ve called it post-apocalyptic YA. Talking about the violence itself, it’s presented like it’s merely there for shock value: “Oh the horror! Oh these men! Oh these rapes and these womb trades!” (If this reminds you of Mad Max, then let me tell you, me too, me too!) I don’t feel subjects as these should be utilized for shock value.

I read this book while in bed with a raging fever. At one point I had one of those fever-induced delirious dreams, in which I saw a few scenes from the book. I think I was the unnamed midwife in that dream, though I’m not entirely sure. That was, now that I think about it, kinda fun. Lesson: Fevers make overdone plotlines interesting!

Goodreads | Amazon

Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley/47North. My review is honest and unbiased.

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

Local Teen Trapped in Parental Vortex of Expectation and Disappointment

28763485Natasha Kingsley is about to be deported. Daniel is on his way to attend an interview to get into Yale, pursue medical studies and become a doctor. Their paths cross thanks to a series of coincidences. Although, no two people could be less alike – one is a science geek, who believes love is just chemicals in the brain and nothing more; the other is a dreamer and a poet (who has absolutely no interest in becoming a doctor). But now that their paths have crossed, how do they spend the one day they have got with each other? Is it just one day, or does Natasha somehow manage to stay in the country? Told from alternating POVs of the main characters, and punctuated by the histories of the sub-characters, we watch this light-hearted story unfold.

My interest in The Sun is Also a Star was piqued because it gave off a distinctly Eleanor & Park vibe when I read the blurb on Goodreads. Now that I’ve read it, I know I was wrong. Aside from the simple fact that both the male protagonists are Korean American, the two stories don’t have anything in common. I’m choosy about YA – either I enjoy the books tremendously or I’m left utterly cold. TSIAAS lies somewhere in between. Of course there were things that I would normally call out as issues – such as the instalove between the two characters, Daniel’s conviction that everything is rosy and poetic (it’s VERY unrealistic – he’s always dreaming!), the fact that despite being blatant opposites, in their individual narratives their voices are strikingly similar. I have to admit though that it’s a cute story. It’s not badly written; by that I mean, while I don’t believe anyone could fall in love with anyone in a day (love is a big word), I didn’t feel as cynical as to not enjoy the book either. It allowed me to suspend my disbelief and as far as books go, that’s not a terrible thing. It’s not a terrible thing at all. So I forgave the instalove and the dreaminess, and I closed my eyes and enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.

Mind you though, it is no Eleanor & Park. It’s a book that’ll get rid of reality for a few hours, in a complacently pleasant way (if that makes sense).

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley/Penguin Random House Children’s Publisher. My review is honest and unbiased.