Tag: Fiction

One Summer, by David Baldacci

I can’t find a quote to begin this review with. Even though One Summer was preachy and spoke at length about life and what it is and what it’s not, and while all of it was written in large font, it turned my expression and my mind rather wooden.

rain-and-book-david-baldacci-one-summerJack Armstrong is dying. He’s 35 years old, married to his high school sweetheart, Lizzie, and has contracted a disease that remains unnamed from start to finish but is serious enough to kill him by Christmas. He’s marking his days off on a calendar, worried about his three children (Mikki, Cory and Jackie), writing his “final” letters to Lizzie. . Understandable. My sympathies. Out of the blue, Lizzie slaps Jack’s friend who makes a move on her – this scene serves no purpose (except maybe to show men can’t trust their friends *shrugs*). Anyway. Just before Christmas, Lizzie meets with an accident and dies. Her evil mom decides to send the children to live with their relatives because Jack could die any minute now. Can’t applaud her plan but nevertheless, understandable.

But as every bad movie and pedestrian-prose-filled-plot-driven book in history, Jack gets cured of… unnamed dangerous disease. Not understandable. While we are to assume that his recovery took some time and effort, the time spent on it in the book would lead you to believe it was almost instantaneous. He brings back his kids from wherever they’d been sent to. At this point, quite conveniently, they inherit a house in Channing, South Carolina (beachfront property, mind you) and new-improved dad, dad’s friend (not the douchebag from before), and three kids pack and move to the house (that they call the “Palace”) by the sea for the summer.

It’s rare that one could write a book about a tragedy and make it seem so… un-tragic. There’s hardly any conflict, and if it does arise, it’s resolved too quickly for it to have an impact. Right from the beginning, the book gave me this country-song-with-trucks-and-beers-and-blond-girls vibe, if you know what I mean. It’s so light and fluffy (like cotton candy if you will) – and I mean that almost literally – I already mentioned the large font. Add to that, each chapter is only about three pages long. You can rush through pages (and yet, at times it was so boring that it took me two weeks to read – that jar you see in the photo is what I place my “fines” in if I don’t finish a book in time)

The dialogues are so bad that had it tilted one degree over, it would go into the so-bad-it’s-good-category. Jack and Lizzie have been married since they were in high school, but it’s on his deathbed that he asks her how old her twin sister was when she died and what killed her. Sounds like a pretty important conversation to have been postponed for so long.
There was another dialogue between Mikki, the eldest daughter, and Liam, a boy she met during the summer that went like this:
“Your mom is really cool, Liam.”
“I don’t even remember my dad.”
Liam, kid, she did not say a word about your dad; what kind of a response is that?

One Summer had some really unnatural and disconnected dialogues. Real people just don’t talk this way. And, oh, because Mikki is a teenager, she adds “Like” everywhere in a sentence, like, after every, like, other word. Ugh, please!

The author has also been rather judgmental about the clothes his characters wear. For example, there’s a character named Tiffany Murdoch who’s a stereotypical mean girl. We know this even before she throws her mean weight around because she wears “tiny shorts” and other outfits described as “skimpy”. Her mother is just the same and wears clothes that “do not suit her age”. Wow, talk about all kinds of shaming. On the other hand, Mikki is real nice because she wears “knee-length shorts” and Blake Saunders (another minor character) tells her, “Other girls are easy to read. You’re not like them.” and she’s pleased as hell with her knee-length shorts-wearing brains.

Have I mentioned how much I disliked the prose? Well, I’ll just mention it again so you understand the extent of my pissed-off-ness. I mean, I couldn’t even find a quote to put at the top.

I’ve heard that this isn’t a typical Baldacci book. Unfortunately for me this is the first one I picked up. While his other works may fall into other genres, I don’t think there’s any cure for poor prose and bad dialogue (and mean girls in skimpy outfits). Reason enough for me to stay away.

Goodreads | Amazon

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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”

rain-and-book-seven-deaths-evelyn-hardcastle-stuart-turtonIs it possible to miss a book once you’ve finished it?

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is quite a book – both in content and size. [The edition I received is called The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but to quote the author Stuart Turton (from Goodreads): “‘Seven Deaths’ and ‘7 1/2 Deaths‘ are exactly the same. We had a clash in the US and had to change the title there, hence 7 1/2. Don’t worry, you’re getting exactly the same amount of murder for your money, though.”] As I was/am going through a whole phase, I’m a tad intimidated by books that are on the heavier side. Obviously one of the advantages of reading it on a Kindle is you don’t quite know what you’re signing up for. In the case of Seven Deaths, I was hooked right from the opening line, “I forget everything between footsteps.”

The book starts with a man waking up in a forest, with no memory of anything except for a name: Anna. He hears a scuffle and is convinced Anna has been murdered and a man whom he assumes to be the murderer hands him a compass. Using the compass, he finds his way out of the forest and reaches Blackheath, where preparations for a ball are underway. Servants and maids are running around, cleaning, arranging, decorating… He runs into a few of the guests, including a doctor, and they tell him his name is Sebastian Bell. He tries to reconcile his thoughts with the man he now knows he is. In the meantime, he meets Evelyn, the daughter of the Hardcastles of Blackheath, who spends most of her time in Paris and has returned for this ball. It is revealed that the ball is being held on the anniversary of the death of Evelyn’s youngest brother and the same guests who were present that day have been invited for this event. All of this is a lot for Sebastian to process. However, that’s the least of his troubles, for when he wakes up the next morning…
… he isn’t Sebastian Bell at all.

He is doomed to repeat the same day multiple times, each time waking up as a different person, a witness to the event that the title of the book alludes to.

When I realized what was going on, my mind immediately went to David Levithan’s Every Day. Unlike that one, Seven Deaths has body hopping as well as time travel. I’m not a fan of time travel usually – it leads to too many questions and there are always continuity problems that just cannot be explained. I kept all those doubts aside and just delved into the story.

What’s really impressive about this book is, even though it has so many named characters, at no point do you feel it’s an overload of information – each character has a distinct voice and a well-defined role to play. I quite liked the characters of Ravencourt, Dance and Rashton. The three serve as hosts on three different days and have the sharpest minds in the story. Dance’s sadness added an emotional side to this mystery.

In most books, around the 80-85% mark, the climax is done with and you’re just waiting for it to be tied up with a bow. No tying up here – for even at 90% you’re on a rollercoaster ride realizing all the information you’ve received so far is only half the mystery. The book keeps you on the edge until the last page – gripping and completely unputdownable, especially so in the last few chapters. It’s incredible, completely unreal!

The early reviews of this book have called it Nolan-esque and Agatha Christie-ly atmospheric. Both of these comparisons are apt. Add in a bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the mix for the brilliance that are the last few chapters.

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Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle from NetGalley/Sourcebooks Landmark

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

 

 

I Hate Everyone But You, by Gaby Dunn; Allison Raskin

I Like Every Book But This.

hate everyone but you - rain and a bookRemember back in 2014-15 when my book reviews used to be snarky and I ended up offending a bunch of authors? Yeah, good times. This book makes me want to go back to who I was back then.

This book has good reviews and in particular, I fell for the one by Francine Pascal, whose books I devoured as a teenager. Given the premise, I should have loved this book: Two best friends starting off their first semesters at college and starting a “long distance friendship”. The book is written as a series of texts and emails exchanged between the two and even talks about issues that a lot of teenagers face. Did I mention both best friends are feminists? In theory, this should have been a good book.

But here’s the thing: almost all of it is problematic. On every level. I could take each of the aforementioned teenage problems and dissect it to present to you its offensive bits. But should I give this review any more time than it deserves? Should you take longer to read my review than I took to read the actual book? No and no. I’ll just address a couple of them here to make my case and let you decide for yourself.

Frankly, it’s my personal belief that for fiction to be realistic, it can be raw and flawed and the characters can be unlikable etc. That aside, you know that feeling you get when you read about a character and feel they’re a token character? The character is present throughout the novel, but just isn’t… represented correctly? In this book, Ava Helmer suffers from anxiety and OCD, Gen has come to the realization that she’s bi. While reading I had two thoughts

Thought # 1: Are these characters here solely to bring these facts to the front? Because a) there’s no other character development so this basically becomes their identity b) if yes, couldn’t this have been dealt with more depth and sensitivity (and sensibility) instead of just skimming the surface.

Thought # 2: This representation is so damn offensive and the portrayal is complete rubbish. Ava uses her anxiety to act like an utter douchebag. People, anxiety is something that some of us real people live with and try hard to cope with (I know I do). It isn’t a convenient excuse to be rude and judgey. As for Gen’s sexuality – I get that she’s experimenting and doesn’t wanna be tied down etc., but that isn’t an excuse to hook up with basically anyone (including her transphobic teacher) and it is certainly not an excuse to cheat. Gen represents a trope that is SO not okay – one where bi and non-monogamous people take everything as a license to cheat. Nope, not done. It’s like a narrow-minded straight person wrote this character (and incidentally, I came to know a lot of this is autobiographical, so I’ve NO idea how that happened). And may I add, Ava’s ignorance of bisexuality was SO cringeworthy.

I don’t even know why this book has side characters; they were all useless – present only to show who hooked up with whom. Ava and Gen’s friendship was a little too much for comfort. Actually, let me rephrase that – Ava’s clinginess and Gen’s apathy was hard to read about.

Goodreads tells me a 2* rating means “It was okay” and I guess, to be generous or whatever, it was. With that said, I wouldn’t really want a teenager or young adult to read this book. Poor representation of the LGBT community; poor portrayal of those with mental illness.

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Netgalley/St. Martin’s Press. The review is honest and unbiased.

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, by Cyrus Mistry

“Because if the dead are really and truly dead, null and void, snuffed out without a trace – then everything we grow up believing in is a lie. All religion, theology, my father’s life and beliefs and prayers, the pumped-up ‘power of faith’ – everything is simply wishful thinking.”

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI first read about the Towers of Silence in the James Patterson-Ashwin Sanghi collab project Private India. Until then I did not know about the Parsi custom of disposing corpses by leaving them for vultures to feed on. The Parsis are a close-knit community and I admit there wasn’t much I knew about them before reading Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer.

According to custom, the Parsis are not allowed to touch dead bodies, even those of their closest family, as they’re considered unclean. It is only the corpse bearers, or the khandias, who carry the corpses to the Towers of Silence, where they are left for the vultures. The khandias are therefore considered untouchables. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is the story of Phiroze Elchidana, son of a priest, who falls in love with Sepideh and is forced by her father to become a corpse bearer if he wished to marry her. Phiroze loves Sepideh enough to denounce his family and priesthood, and join the ostracized community of khandias. His father breaks all ties with him, and the only news he receives from home is from Vispy, his elder brother. Sepideh, or Seppy as she is fondly called, dies soon after, leaving Phiroze with the responsibility of raising their three year old daughter Farida.

The corpse bearers were forced to work for long hours under harsh conditions. One morning, overcome by fatigue and hunger, Phiroze faints, causing a corpse to fall off its bier. The superiors, convinced that he was drunk, suspend him and later place him on probation. Given the other challenges the corpse bearers were facing, they decided to go on strike. The strike lasted three days, during which no corpses were removed from their houses. The superiors agreed to their demands and also reinstated Phiroze.

This strike, in a way, forms the crux of the story. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is based on the true story of a corpse bearer who led the only khandia-led strike in Bombay in history.

What I liked about this story: An insight into the guarded Parsi community. Phiroze questions many of the rigid religious customs, and is often admonished by his father, Framroze, who considers it his responsibility to uphold the orthodox traditions. Framroze believes his wife died of cancer because she sometimes refused to follow his religious instructions. Phiroze, though overly fond of his father while growing up, begins to see him in a different light when this revelation is made. His heartbreak over losing Seppy is also a main part of the story – his belief that they will be reunited in the afterlife is quite moving.

What I did not like: The writing! The writing was too verbose for me to be invested in the story. One of the simplest examples of this is the following sentence: “He and I were meeting after the passage of a long time.” Needlessly long. The book is written in first person – Mistry has written it as though Phiroze himself has written it, but at no point does Mistry’s writing voice not conflict with his intended narrator’s voice. If you have read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, you can hear the story being narrated by none other than the geisha in question. This is not the case here. For one, Phiroze is described as a simple man. However, the sophisticated language used is quite out of synch with the kind of character described.

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is a story in which a lot is written, but very little is said. On the whole, considering the potential of the subject matter at hand, I feel a tad underwhelmed by the book. The title rouses one’s interest, but the title may just be its most interesting part.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Mistress of Spices, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

“Ahuja’s wife has of course a name. Lalita. La-li-ta, three liquid syllables perfect-suited to her soft beauty. I would like to call her by it, but how can I while she thinks of herself only as a wife.”

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

The Mistress of Spices is the story of Tilo, who was born in an Indian village, and bore a different name, before she discovered she had certain powers with which she could summon those she thought of. Unfortunately for her, she accidentally summons a group of pirates who abduct her. However, soon, with her talents, she turns the tables on them and becomes their queen. She then hears the about an island, where an old woman lives, and imparts the knowledge of spices to those who have the gift needed to communicate with the spices. Those who have this gift are known as Mistresses.

At the end of their training, each Mistress is given a new name and is sent to a different part of the world, where they are to help people with the power of the spices. Tilo chooses her own name, and against the wishes of the Old One, wishes to go to USA. She then wakes up in the body of an old woman, in an Indian store in Oakland. Her customers include various Indian immigrants trying to make a living in the States, and she figures what each of them needs before offering it to them.

I was enthralled in the beginning. The way Tilo sensed what everyone needed reminded me of Vianne from Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, and the way the spices were described to have healing powers reminded me of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate. So taken was I by these descriptions that I recommended the book to others even before finishing it. By the half way mark, however, I realized I’d spoken too soon.

The prose that seemed enchanting in the beginning quickly turns irritating. Nearly everything has been described with superlatives, hyperbole, similes and metaphors. The good prose wears off and begins to grate. This results in the work being overly wordy and bloated. By 3/4th of the book I just wanted it to end, because the themes that had interested me in the beginning had been abandoned in favor of the forbidden love affair between Tilo and Raven. The writing that had been so convincing began to fall flat, and I started questioning everything without finding satisfactory answers.

The ending was weak and seemed forced. There were so many other better ways it could have gone. I’m also left with a lot of unanswered questions, unmet conclusions. The Mistress of Spices takes too many themes, but in the end fails to do justice to any, because it focuses on the weakest link in the story. I’m almost sad to see so much potential wasted.

Goodreads | Amazon

 

Sad Girls, by Lang Leav

rainandabook-sadgirls-langleavAt the outset, let me mention I didn’t finish Sad Girls. Let me rephrase that a little bit – I couldn’t finish Sad Girls. I rolled my eyes so many times while reading about the lives of these (terribly sad) girls that I was worried they would fall out of their sockets. At one point, I rolled my eyes so hard that I think saw the edge of my brain!

Some may argue it is unfair to review a book that I abandoned midway. You wouldn’t be wrong – it is unfair. But here are my reasons to go ahead with my thoughts anyway.

To summarize, Sad Girls is the story of Audrey, who lied to her friends about their classmate Ana and the lie spread like fire. Unable to stand the rumours, Ana committed suicide. At the funeral, Audrey meets Ana’s boyfriend, Rad (I tell you, I hate even the names of the characters in this sad book). Audrey and Rad hit it off instantly, and decide to leave the funeral and hang out elsewhere.

All of these people live in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business (to a level that can only be described as creepy). The whole town is now talking about Audrey and Rad (if the hot topic in your town is the whereabouts of two teenagers, you need to move to a better town). They are even talking about it in the grocery store, where Audrey’s mother hears about it. She forbids Audrey from speaking to Rad, but hello, rebellious, angry, mother-resenting teenager at work here. Later, Audrey’s boyfriend (oh, did I not mention that she already has a boyfriend?) gets uncomfortable and tells her not to see Rad again, and she reluctantly agrees. The more she stays away from Rad, the more she misses him, and the more she feels her current boyfriend is “not the right guy for her.”

From a literary standpoint, Sad Girls has way too many issues to even keep a track of. The plot is blah. The dialogues just keep running one after the other. They are inane, the characters drone on and whine on. The language sounds like it was written this way to appeal to the YA crowd, but most YA isn’t written half as badly. Young Adult books aren’t supposed to be stupid; you don’t need to dumb anything down for its audience – but that’s how it is in this excuse of a novel. There are characters in this novel who don’t have much to do. They sit along in the sidelines, mouth a few dialogues, create a bit of drama, cry a few tears, speak a few pretentious profound things, then just vanish. Sad Girls is a literary fiasco.

What bothers me most isn’t the above points though. The literary reasons aren’t why I decided to go ahead with this post in spite of not finishing the book. My biggest problem with this book is how it trivializes things like suicide, panic attacks, anxiety, depression etc. We live in a world that’s finally waking up to the true horrors mental disorders and of late a lot of emphasis is being given on seeking out help and getting the right treatment. As someone who has suffered from depression, I find it most irritating when a book – especially a book whose targeted audience is of the age that’s most vulnerable to these disorders – treats it like it’s a silly thing. Nope. Not done.

This isn’t just me getting triggered either. Lang Leav is a subpar writer with a ridiculously wide reach. Her audience mostly consists of an impressionable crowd – is this the message you want to give them? I mentioned in my review of Lang Leav’s book The Universe of Us that she confuses abuse for love. In some of her other works (I refuse to call it poetry) as well she has glorified sadness and grief. I understand that some good art comes out of pain, but to glorify it? To be so addicted to it? Not a healthy message to send out to the world.

I never had much respect for her (so called) “poetry”. After reading whatever I’ve read of Sad Girls, I have no respect for her fiction either. What I do have is anger and disappointment, but I’m gnashing my teeth and swallowing it for now.

Note: An ARC of this book was available on NetGalley. The opinions expressed here are my own. 

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