Tag: Books

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

“A human being was composed not only of everything that he possessed but also of all that he had lost.”

rain-and-book-lost-flamingoes-bombay-siddharth-dhanvant-shanghvi-sreesha-divakaranAs a book blogger, you’d think my job would be to tell you about good books, give reccos, tell you how a certain book made me feel (which varies from speechless to nauseous). Imagine my surprise then when over the last few weeks, people texted me to let me know they missed my reviews of terrible books.

When you know you have an audience, you give the audience what they want. Or so pop culture dictates.

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay is a book that you don’t really need to read. Think of all the crimes committed by celebrities/politicians/sons-of-the-baap-in-tu-jaanta-hai-mera-baap-kaun-hai, blend in a little bit of this, a cupful of that, and you have a mishmash of a “novel”, allegedly “fictional”, that gives the tabloid treatment to serious issues.

Let me begin by saying how smitten I was by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s first novel, The Last Song of Dusk. Set during the pre-independence era, that melancholy novel with its palaces and magical realism, tragedies and romances enthralled me. Maybe it’s just grown grander in memory. Maybe if I go back to it, I’ll read it without the rose-tinted glasses. Or maybe, it really was as good as I remember it to be.

If his name wasn’t on the cover in big bold letters, I wouldn’t have believed it was the same author that wrote both these books. Why, Shanghvi, why? How, Shanghvi, how?!

Summary: Karan Seth, your everyday small town boy, is trying to make it big in the everyIndiannovel glittering city of Bombay as a photographer. His boss gives him an assignment he considers impossible at first – photograph the reclusive, eccentric Samar Arora, a former pianist. Karan not only finishes the assignment (I mean, obviously!), he also gets invited into the inner circle of Samar, his boyfriend Leo, and his best friend, movie star Zaira (small town boy growing wings among the rich, sad, and famous).
Karan is also pursuing a personal project – to capture the city through photographs. It is then that he meets Rhea Dalal, a bored housewife and amateur potter. Rhea and he become friends, and later lovers.
In the midst of all this, we find out that Zaira has a stalker, Malik Prasad, son of a powerful minister of the Hindu People’s Party (I mean, riiiiight).
Several subplots begin. None end.

Characters: Kindergartners often draw crude stick figures and label them “Mom”, “Dad”, “Sun”, “Hen”… You couldn’t tell, but you still give them an “Awww” for effort. The characters in The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay are much like those stick figures. You know them because their names are next to them in dialogue. There’s no depth to these characters, and if there’s no depth, we really cannot expect any growth either. These characters are none-dimensional. Instead of their names, had Shanghvi identified them as the photographer, the pianist, the potter, the actress, the novel would’ve worked just as well. Some minor characters flit in and out to increase the tabloid realism quotient – like Rocky Khan, who in a drunken rage drives over people sleeping on the pavement. I kept waiting for Rocky to shoot some endangered animals as well, but that never happened.
Several characters show up. None do much.

Narrative: If the characters have no merit to speak of, then rest assured this isn’t a character-driven novel. You’d assume then that it’s a plot-driven narrative.Well, you’re wrong. For a narrative to be plot-driven, it needs to have a plot.
Several incidents occur. None to drive anything anywhere.

POVs: You’re on a bus to Goa. You’ve settled into your comfortable seat, the in-bus entertainment is, for a change, playing something decent instead of the same Govinda movie from the 90s. You’re looking forward to your vacation, when suddenly the driver announces, the bus is now headed to Lucknow instead and for the rest of the journey, only Hero # 1 will be played. On loop. That seat isn’t too comfortable now, is it?
Imagine three characters narrating the story (if you’re thinking, that’s not too bad – wait, hear me out); so imagine three characters narrating the story… in the same PARAGRAPH! You’re cruising along with Karan, nodding along (or not) to his monologue, when suddenly Zaira offers you her thought bubble. How very jarring.
Several thoughts and POVs. No insight.

Language: Oh my God where do I begin! Tell me where do I begin! Ok, I’ll begin with this:
“Glee dripped out of Natasha like precum.” (my apologies if you’re reading this at work)
How about this:
“Minister Chander Prasad had a habit of scratching his balls so savagely that his pubic lice experienced multiple orgasms.” (apologies for that as well)
I’d stop, but let me squeeze just one more in:
“The words escaped the Judge’s mouth involuntarily, like a premature ejaculation.”
I’m done.
Several metaphors. None non-sexytimestype.

What’s the bottomline then? It’s unoriginal, too familiar, too verbose, too purple, too pretentious, too preachy. Should you read this book? Do your pubic lice a favor – don’t.

Goodreads | Amazon

 

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

“There was, it seemed, no Eleanor-shaped social hole for me to slot.” 

A part of my mind appears to have grown old, very old. Although its back is bent and its joints hurt, it’s leaning on a walking stick, determined to keep walking. Unfortunately for me, it is this part of my mind that controls my reading. Fortunately for me, that determination is rather strong in the face of everything. Anything could block its path, but it doesn’t look like it’ll give up. Or so I hope.

sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-a-book-one-teaaspoon-cellophaneWhile I was browsing NetGalley sometime last year, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine caught my eye – whether it was the title or the cover, I can’t say. I requested for it but sadly did not get a copy (it says “Your request is pending”, but when half a year’s gone by, you know it’s never gonna be approved). So I got a copy from elsewhere – bang in the middle of my reading block (that I’ve written so much about that I think it’s unnecessary to refresh anyone’s memory). It took me a while to finish it – a much longer time than a book of this length and this excellence warrants. But that old part of my mind is hella persistent! The fact that this book is what it is surely helped my determination.

Is Eleanor Oliphant completely fine?

The book introduces us to its socially inept protagonist as she is going about her day, monotonously, following her time table. She’s often ignored (sometimes teased) by her colleagues who cannot quite figure her out. Eleanor is aware that she isn’t whom they consider “normal” or “ordinary” or “regular”, but she constantly feels it is they who are weird. Her life pretty much revolves around her job, her bottle of vodka, and weekly calls with her mother. One day, she runs into her colleague Raymond from the IT department. They see an old man collapse on the street and take him to the hospital.
This incident sets off a series of changes in Eleanor’s life.

At first, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine gave off a distinctly A Man Called Ove vibe. The fact that both Eleanor and Ove are misanthropes is probably what contributed to it. Also that they’re both trying to purchase a computer without much of an idea what kind of a computer they’re looking for. But this is where the similarities end.

Don’t get me wrong when I say this – I liked A Man Called Ove, but not nearly as much as everyone else did. I don’t think it deserved all the hype it received. Yes, it was heartwarming and sweet, but it isn’t the best book I’ve read nor will it come close. Eleanor Oliphant is on a whole other plane of brilliance. It’s a book with a pulse – an undercurrent. Every page of it made me feel like there was something under its skin. Something moving, restless, angry. What the title doesn’t give away is this book’s darkness. A darkness you’re surrounded by but one that doesn’t consume you (think of how pissed off Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen made you feel). It isn’t present to shock you, but you are aware of it. Like I said, it is an undercurrent. The first couple of chapters do not point to it, and yet, there’s an unsettling feeling in your heart – you know something is about to happen and not everything is as it seems on the surface.

The last chapter practically took my breath away. It is not shocking in that deliberate way (again – think of Eileen and the tricks its author employed only for shock value), but it creeps up on you, lingers without attempting to do so.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a book that you must experience, not just read. Its subtleties and nuances need to be felt. It’s a story of strength and acceptance and it speaks to you without trying too hard.

And you close the book feeling, in spite of everything, completely fine.

Amazon | Goodreads

 

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li

“A word I hate to use in English is I. It is a melodramatic word. In Chinese, a language less grammatically strict, one can construct a sentence with an implied subject pronoun and skip that embarrassing I, or else replace it with we. Living is not an original business.”

30211990I have had limited exposure to Chinese literature (or English literature about China, to be more accurate) but I’m sure I’ve read something in another book that conveys a similar sentiment about the letter “I”. I find truth in that statement. It startles me, as a realization, and yet, brings clarity at the same time.

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a memoir in which Yiyun Li tries to decode life. She talks about her childhood in China, her mentally ill mother, and more. She wrote this memoir while battling suicidal depression and throughout, you feel, she is examining, sentence by rich sentence, about the point of life.

This is a complex narrative. I quite enjoyed the beginning, but in the later parts, although the prose was worth savouring, I found my mind wandering. This is essentially my problem and should not stop you from enjoying the book. Perhaps I felt she was going off tangent in certain places; I may be wrong about this though. There were several parts of it where I could not bring myself to agree with the author (much like Laura Esquivel’s memoir) but I still could see things from her point of view (unlike Laura Esquivel’s memoir, which I just gave up halfway)

Read it for the prose, read it for the quiet contemplation and wisdom, read it if, you too, are wondering what life is and where it’s going. She may not give you answers, but you will form your own.

Note: I received an ARC from Penguin UK/Netalley for review. My review is honest and unbiased.

Goodreads | Amazon

Big Mushy Happy Lump, by Sarah Andersen

“Swimsuit season is coming up! Better get beach-body ready! Work on those abs! Lift those butts! Um… no. Forget all that and just be a lump. A Big Mushy Happy Lump!”

big-happy-mushy-lumpSarah Andersen is my new hero. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, (and one with poor internet connectivity; not one of the better caves), you’ve heard of Sarah’s Scribbles – those insanely relate-able comics about life and adulthood and everything in between. Her first book, Adulthood is a Myth won the Goodreads Choice Award for Graphic Novels & Comics (2016). I am yet to grab a copy of it, though it has been on my TBR since it came out. Following this, I feel almost honoured that I got an ARC of her second book through NetGalley (Netgalley rules!)

In this second collection, Sarah talks about important things – female friendship, growing up, social anxiety and introversion, cats. What could be more important than cats, really?! I was already familiar with some of the strips in this book, thanks to Facebook (and yes, these I’d seen before quitting FB), such as this one:

big-happy2
Copyright: Sarah Andersen

This one was one of my favourites, and I remember seeing variations of it on the net that pissed me off. Sarah’s work had been stolen, reworked and frankly, wasn’t half as good as the original. In Big Happy Mushy Lump, she has dedicated a chapter to art thieves. It won’t stop plagiarism as we know it (sadly), but it’s important to address these issues, and call them out wherever possible. I loved that chapter! Almost inspired me to return to my own personal blog – plagiarism being one of the (many, many, many) reasons I’d quit.

Humour is important. Much like Allie Brosh uses her comics to address depression, Sarah Andersen uses it to address issues faced by us introverts. If I could get Allie and Sarah to be my friends, I’m telling you, I would be the “big mushy happy lump” being referred to in the title! Add Caitlin Moran to that mix, and I will have achieved Nirvana!

She also uses humour to touch upon this very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed:

big-happy3
Copyright: Sarah Andersen

In light of recent events, this should be enlarged, printed out, and posted on billboards across this country. Except that the helpless, hopeless tone at the end will not do. Yes, it seems like nothing can be done, but maybe, just maybe, the more we call out, the less bleak things will appear…? Let’s hope so.

I am glad this is the first book I finished this year (I’m also reading The Stand, but I don’t think I can finish it before March or April). It took me about half an hour and by the end of it, I felt great – truly! (If you follow me on IG, you know I’ve been having a sucky time lately). Such a happy book, I could just cuddle and kiss it!! Highly recommended!

Goodreads | Amazon

Release Date (Expected): March 7th, 2017

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley/Andrews McMeel Publishing. 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.

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!

Goodreads | Amazon

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

Every Day, by David Levithan

“Where do you want to go?” I ask again. “Tell me, truly, where you’d love to go.”
I don’t initially realize how much hinges on her answer. If she says, Let’s go to the mall, I will disconnect. If she says, Take me back to your house, I will disconnect. If she says, Actually, I don’t want to miss sixth period, I will disconnect. And I should disconnect. I should not be doing this.

But she says, “I want to go to the ocean. I want you to take me to the ocean.”

And I feel myself connecting.”

13262783May I say how much I hate Levithan right now. This man makes me break my book resolutions. And this man not only makes me read books from a genre I dislike (and scoff at), he makes me enjoy them. Worst of all, this man caused a conflict, nay, a war! Just look at this:

Brain: A genderless-bodyless entity that wakes up in a new human body each day. What a premise! This ought to be good.
Heart: Whatever, really.
Brain: Um… This is a love story.
Heart: *indistinct humming*
Brain: OK. Why am I reading this? This is YA. This is romance. Let’s close this and read something else.
Heart: Could you shut. Up. For. One. Minute?
Brain: Beg pardon?
Heart: SHUT UP.
Brain: …

.

Heart: Ohmygod, this is so beautiful, I have tears. I’m crying. This is… awww.
Brain: ???

Heart: *weeps* Oh, A. Oh, Rhiannon.
Brain: Blech. Oh, come on! “It’s the way you looked at me – it couldn’t have been anyone else.” Seriously? That is SO cheesy.
Heart: *sulks* Yeah, okay, just shush.
Brain: !!!

Heart: I have to make a phone call!
Brain: Dontdoanythingstupid!!!
Heart: NO, I really do!
Brain: This is NOT an Adele song!
Heart: Hang yourself, you stupid brain.

Brain: Why aren’t they explaining why A is this smoke entity person thing? Why is this happening? Are there others like this? Can it have feelings? What about the bodies it goes into, why don’t these people notice that entire days from their lives have just gone missing? This makes no sense!
Heart: Really, I couldn’t care less right now.

Brain: OK, that was a weak ending if I ever saw one.
Heart: So what if the ending wasn’t great. It couldn’t have ended any other way.
Brain: I’ll be the judge of that.
Heart: You jealous, emotionless, ROBOT!

*Heart walks off stage, leaving a trail of warm fuzzy feelings behind; brain, feeling useless, dejectedly plops down on a bed*

PS: I have to say though – only Levithan could have pulled this story off. Any other YA author would have turned it into a disaster. Do give it a read for the warm fuzzies. And keep your phone far, far away.

Goodreads | Amazon