April 2020 in Books

A summary of books read in April 2020.

~Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – An epistolary and lipogrammatic satire, narrated in the form of letters between characters, by eliminating letters from the English alphabet as the story progresses. Pure brilliance in the concept and outcome. 5/5

~Meg by Steve Alten – A prehistoric marine dinosaur (that actually existed and was larger and stronger than the T-Rex) surfaces in the present age, wrecking havoc in its wake as top predator that ever existed. A thrilling ride of paleontology and marine ecology. 4/5

~Friend Request by Laura Marshall – A middle-aged woman receives a Facebook friend request from a school classmate. Only the latter died 27 years ago, and the protagonist was responsible for her death. An insightful tale on the obsession of social media and being consumed by the virtual world. 3.5/5

~Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata – A woman spends most of her adult life working in a convenience store, and feels like a misfit in the “regular world”. A simple story offering a fresh take on society and the pressure to conform. 3.5/5

~Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw – A post-apocalyptic novel about killer jam consuming the world. The tables have truly turned, and the eaten becomes the eater. A laugh riot all the way. 4/5

~The Yellow Arrow by Victor Pelevin – A train that has no start point and an undisclosed destination. Once you get on, you cannot get off, and you forget all about your time outside the train. The Yellow Arrow makes you a passenger for life. Philosophical and metaphorical, the train as an analogy for life itself. What is it about Russian writers that every book seems to warrant a 5/5?

2 books on Autism, since April is dedicated to Autism Awareness.

~The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris – An autistic child with synesthesia narrates the story of his neighbor’s murder. Only he’s the one who murdered her. And nobody believes him because he’s on the spectrum. Interestingly chronicled through colors. 4/5

~Autism in Heels by Jennifer O’Toole – A memoir of being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 34, and subsequently bringing up children on the autism spectrum. A witty, humorous and informative read. 5/5

April2020

Healing With The Arts – Part 2

In a follow up to my previous post about a course on the Arts I am currently pursuing, I would like to present my take on photography for the module of Visual Arts. This period of quarantine and self isolation has left us with limited resources, leading us to work with the little we have available. I love to read, and books have always occupied a large part of my life, especially in today’s situation where they offer comfort and a connection to the world around. I have photographed some of my books, working with the theme of the books and what they meant to me. Both paperbacks as well as my kindle reader have been included – with reference to the complete lockdown here where we can neither visit book shops and libraries, nor can we order books online since home deliveries are not allowed, causing e-books to be a lifeline for us readers who do not have immediate access to paperbacks. Here are some book pictures clicked in the past few weeks:

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March 2020 in Books

A summary of books read in March – An array of women authors and female protagonists, in keeping with the month that celebrates Women’s Day. Due to lots going on around, I have not been able to get online much. Detailed reviews will follow as and when I find the time. Hope everyone is staying safe in these difficult days. It’s times like these when books are our refuge.

4 paperbacks:

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~Aranyaka by Amruta Patil and Devdutt Pattaniak – A graphic novel about forests – the wilderness outside and within; the beginning of life and civilization, the merging of elements, and the influence of nature on man and vice versa. 5/5

~Road to Mekong by Piya Bahadur – A memoir about 4 women motorcyclists who undertake a road trip, covering 17,000 kilometers through 6 countries, guided by the river Mekong that flows through Southeast Asia. 5/5

~Sand & Sea by Ann D’Silva – A novel about past lives and connected souls. A women’s dreams are haunted by a man she knew in another life, and she attempts to find out more about him. 2/5

~In My Dreams I Dance by Anne Wafula Strike – The autobiography of a Paralympic racer who overcame disability and prejudice to compete among top level athletes. 5/5

3 books on Kindle:

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~The End We Start From by Megan Hunter – A post apocalyptic novel with development and destruction running parallel in the narrative. A baby is born as the world is being submerged by exponential floods. As the child grows, the world sinks further. 4/5

~Mad Love by Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan – A novelization of the origin story of Harley Quinn and her subsequent prominence in the DC comic world. 3/5

1 re-read:

~The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – One of the books I read this month was so disappointing, this book was conjured to bring back some brilliance in my reading. 4 individuals are placed in a supposedly haunted house to measure hauntings and obtain evidence of ghosts. But ghosts are not always around you. What about the ghosts within us? When it’s pure, brilliant writing one is looking for, look no further than Shirley Jackson. 5/5

ARANYAKA – Book Review

Title – Aranyaka

Authors –  Amruta Patil and Devdutt Pattanaik

Genre – graphic novel, mythology, history

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“From wind, she learned movement. From mountains, patience. From rivers, persistence. From outstretched branches and deep roots, she understood hunger.”

“Bad arguments were about ego and delusion, good arguments brought epiphany. All argument was combat.”

“I thought we were equals, bilateral symmetry of leaves. He thought we were halves – He above, Me below.”

Aranyaka literally translates to “of the forest”. It begins with the history of all living beings which started from the forest, and how domestication and civilization take us away from nature. The story is a warp and weft of 3 primary women – the Large, the Weaver and the Fig, (The three rishikas – Katyayani, Gargi and Maitreyi) who help us unravel humankind. Aranyaka is not only the forest around us, but also addresses the wilderness within us. Is food solely to satiate hunger, or is it a temporary replacement for a greater hunger/thirst in life? When we cook for or help or take care of others, is it in thought of the opposite person, or emphasizing our own importance in their lives?

A difficult book to review because it encapsulates a multitude of subjects and themes. Aranyaka alludes to a set of 3000-year old Vedic scriptures, and the foundational role forests play in Vedic lore.Writer Devdutt Pattanaik and illustrator Amruta Patil have imaginatively transformed a myriad of ideas into a novel – the crux of which is, observing elements and the natural world transforms the way humans think. Forests can be as violent as they are beautiful. In this sense, scriptures do not belong to a bygone era, but are right here with us.

The two artists have collaborated long distance – with Patil living in France, and Pattanaik in India. The tremendous research dedicated to the text reflects Pattanaik’s strength in his genre of mythology. There are numerous references suggested for further reading. Patil’s artwork is just beautiful – closely following the storyline, with a vibrant assortment of shades and tones. Some pages don’t need dialogue – the striking paintings take you through the multi-layered narrative.

A delightful book, worth having in ones collection – more for the artwork than the story.

My rating – 5/5

WITH THE BEATLES – A Review Of Haruki Murakami’s Short Story

Title – With The Beatles

Author – Haruki Murakami

Genre – Short story, fiction

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“The death of a dream can be, in a way, sadder than that of a living being.”

“Memory became one of my most valued emotional tools, a means of survival, even. Like a warm kitten, softly curled inside an oversized coat pocket, fast asleep.”

Haruki Murakami’s “WITH THE BEATLES” is a bittersweet story of a narrator reminiscing about his college days, and the passing of life from adolescence to adulthood. One of the narrator’s fondest memories is of a girl he encounters in the school corridor in 1964, clutching an LP of “With The Beatles”. He didn’t know her name and never met her again after that one incident, but the memory of the LP brought back some more memories of the Beatles’ music and the height of Beatlemania of the 1960s. The narrator subsequently takes us through the music of Nat King Cole, Percy Faith, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, the Temptations, and several other musicians of the era who made their way into Japan’s musical landscape. A chance encounter with the elder brother of his then girlfriend that led to a discussion on the works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki and Kobo Abe, leads the narrator to recollect his tryst with books and reading, “I could never just sit, still and silent. I always had to be turning the pages of a book or listening to music, one or the other. When there was no book lying around, I’d grab anything printed. I’d read a phone book, an instruction manual for a steam iron.”

The writing style appears autobiographical and confessional, and relatable for a reader when we realize our own recollections of snippets of past incidents, and memories both good and bad finding their way into our consciousness without any specific reason. No doubt a treat for music and book lovers, this can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates a good story.

My rating – 4/5

2020 – Books Read In January

January done well! 📚💪

It’s a good day when you can retire with a book at the end of it. And it’s a literary achievement for a reader when all those good books accumulate and the year kicks off to a great start. There’s no time to waste on mediocre books, and there’s truly a sense of satisfaction when all the books you read turn out to be gems.

A summary of books read this month:
5 paperbacks:
~The Wall by Jurek Becker – A collection of stories by a survivor of the Holocaust, using his memories at the concentration camps to weave out stories. 4/5
~Bombay Balchao by Jane Borges – A novel about the Goan, Mangalorean and East Indian Catholics in Bombay, travelling from the 1930s to the present day. 5/5
~Silent Was Zarathustra by Nicolas Wild – A graphic novel cum biography of the humanist Cyrus Yazdani, along with a history of Zoroastrianism. 4/5
~India’s Most Haunted by K. Hari Kumar – Essays of haunted places, superstitions, rumours, folktakes from around the country. 4/5
~Tödlicher Schnee by Felix & Theo – A crime novel about a private detective on holiday at a ski resort, who inadvertently gets pulled into a series of murders at a global environmental conference. 4/5

3 books read on kindle:
~The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – A novel about a teenager living life on the sidelines; ‘watching instead of participating’ in life. 5/5
~Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston – A verse novel about a duo of misfits trying to save the world from boredom. 5/5
~Booked by Kwame Alexander – Another verse novel about sport and books. Enough said! 4/5

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There’s Something About Christmas – Book Review

Title – There’s Something About Christmas

Author – Debbie Macomber

Genre – Fiction, humor, romance, seasonal, festive

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Emma Collins stopped celebrating Christmas the year her mother passed away. Christmas, for her, meant family and tradition and preparing cakes and sweets together, and it has failed to have the same meaning anymore. Emma works as a journalist with  ‘The Examiner’, a local newspaper for which she writes obituaries. The ‘Good Homemaking’ magazine had run a nationwide contest a month ago, for the best fruitcake recipe in the country – the winner of which would be announced on Christmas Day. Emma finds herself with a new job description – to interview the finalists of the fruitcake competition, and present a series of articles as a build-up to the Christmas season.

“Fruitcakes are like in-laws. They show up at the holidays. You have no idea who sent them, how old they are, or how long they’ll be hanging around your kitchen.”

“Fruitcake is about the ritual of a family recipe. The longer the ritual is repeated, the more it becomes part of the holidays.”

The reader is taken through Emma’s life in the weeks leading up to Christmas – her earnestness in making a name for herself as a journalist, a boss who doesn’t take her seriously, a colleague cum best friend and sole support system, her estrangement with her father, her mourning over her mother’s death. The author begins every chapter with quotes by real life chefs and bakers, on what fruitcakes symbolize to them. Emma’s journey as a journalist also comes across beautifully, as someone who documents the lives of others but personally feels she has hardly made a smudge on the page of her own life. Her aversion towards Christmas and the festive season shows us how not everyone celebrates festivals the same way, depending on what memories are attached to specific days/seasons. Her interviews with people from various walks of life reveal the stark differences in each finalist’s life story, along with the common bond they share through their love for baking. From an octogenarian widow to a young mother of four, Emma receives life lessons along with fruitcake lessons from an unassuming bunch of people.

“When I was with my husband, I felt there must be something lacking in me. Now I don’t think so anymore. Time will do that, you know?”

“I never could figure out people, but I know a whole lot about fruitcake.”

The more Emma goes over the notes of her meetings, the more she realizes that the interviews are not so much about fruitcake as much about the people themselves. “Lessons about life, wrapped up in a fruitcake recipe.” From traditional fruitcakes to personalized ingredients like chocolate or apples, and even no-bake recipes, Emma comes across a variety of methods to prepare the same product, which serves as a metaphor for life, in that, each of us lives our own journey. There are contestants who spent several years trying to bake the perfect fruitcake, only to realize that their life was what needed working on instead. Some divert from traditional recipes and use ingredients of their choice, serving the lesson of doing what you love and not following the herd. Others use the no-bake option because they want to “enjoy it now” – a lesson for living in the moment.

There are different fruitcake recipes provided in the book for the reader to try out. All-in-all, a sweet Christmas story that doesn’t succumb to clichés. Macomber writes with the right mix of humor and romance. Those who love baking and animals would enjoy this book. The epilogue was a tad drawn out and could have been done away with, but otherwise a cheery Christmas read that gets you into the festive spirit.

My rating – 3/5

The Ghost of Christmas Paws – Book Review

Title – The Ghost of Christmas Paws

Author – Mandy Morton

Genre – Fiction, crime, mystery

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“There are many types of civilization, depending on what you’re used to. Icy fog and torrential rain, punctuated by snow – though beautiful – had driven cats indoors,and brought life to a standstill.”

The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency is a series of books led by a feline detective duo. Hettie Bagshot and Tilly Jenkins are summoned to solve a case a few days before Christmas. The elderly Lady Eloise Crabstock-Singe lives in a manor off the Cornish coast, and believes her house is haunted by the ghost of a cat who wants to finish off the entire Singe family. Lady Eloise’s sister and brothers have already been brutally murdered by the hands of Christmas Paws, who shows up every Christmas Eve to wreck havoc on the Singe family. Eloise is the only surviving member, and is certain it’s her turn this Christmas and fears she has been brought to reckoning.

This cracking cat crime is an absolutely delightful and entertaining read for the Christmas season, populated by a world without people that cat lovers would certainly enjoy. All the characters are cats, and Mandy Morton has given each of them their own distinct character traits. Hetty and Tilly are named after the author’s own cats, and the other characters are based on her friends’ pets. Our protagonists are avid readers, and the book is peppered with literary references which are an absolute treat for book lovers. The word play is all animal-related – Santa Claws, Agatha Crispy, The Daily Snout, Cat of the Baskervilles, and the title itself being a take on Charles Dickens’ novel. A fun, feline read that is definitely recommended if you’re looking for something lighthearted and witty.

My rating – 3/5

In The Tall Grass – Book Review

Title – In The Tall Grass

Authors – Stephen King and Joe Hill

Genre – Horror

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The grass flows and you flow, too. Think of it as becoming one with nature.”

With Stephen King celebrating his 72nd birthday last weekend, and the movie releasing next week, it was apt to read this collaboration with his son, Joe Hill on this seemingly fun family holiday, which soon turns nightmarish. A pair of siblings on a long distance road trip, find themselves on a deserted strip of road parallel to a large field. Sounds of a child in distress emit from within the field. The boy doesn’t sound too far away, but it’s easy for a small kid to get lost in towering blades of grass. Within minutes of entering the field on their rescue mission, the brother-sister duo lose track of each other, feel disoriented in blades over seven feet tall, and get entangled even further in the verdant mass while trying to follow each other’s voices. Turns out there are more people similarly lost in the tall grass, and though they can hear each other, they can’t seem to find the owners of the voices. Directions and time melt in the grass. “There is no morning or night here, only eternal afternoon. If we had shadows, we might use them to move in the same direction”, reflects one of the characters. The grass has dew throughout the day and cannot be burned, new blades shoot up as soon as old ones are crushed under foot, and the “softly flowing ocean of green silk” appears to move even though the people are still, causing them to move without moving.

The father-son imagination of King-Hill elevates the horror to another level, and might not be suitable for all readers. Caution is recommended to those who get squeamish easily, as the story has a lot of gore. King is known for his detailed writing – the fun elements with a character who speaks in rhymes and another with a fondness for limericks, are easily interspersed with the brutality of its stomach churning moments. The protagonist/antagonist/lead character/side character, which ever way you see it, is the grass. And Stephen King proves once again why he is the king of horror, with his ability to find fear in the unlikeliest places/events. A disturbing read, but recommended for horror buffs.

My rating – 3.5/5

The Strange Library – Book Review

Title – The Strange Library

Author – Haruki Murakami

Original language – Japanese

English translator – Ted Goossen

Illustrator – Chip Kidd

Genre – Fantasy fiction

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“Ever since I was little, my mother had told me, if you don’t know something, go to the library and look it up.”

Like most of us who have grown up on books, our unnamed narrator decides to visit the town library to issue some tomes. But strange things happen at the strange library. In spite of reaching almost near closing hours, the librarian insists that he read the books there itself, since those particular books are for reference only and cannot be issued. The narrator follows the librarian to the “reading room” – a long-winding walk through a labyrinth of corridors in the basement, where he is promptly locked up and told he can’t leave until he finishes reading all the books the librarian has given him.

The only other presences in the reading room are a talking sheep and a mysterious girl who bring him three meals a day. On questioning his fellow captives, the duo reveal nobody ever leaves the reading room. Once they finish reading the books he has given them, the librarian cuts off their heads and eats their brain, thereby consuming all their knowledge.

A quirky story with dark undertones, that takes you into the surreal world Murakami is known for. Past and present merge, as do reality and fantasy. Perfectly quipped by the mysterious girl who turns transparent at night, “Just because I don’t exist in the sheep man’s world, it doesn’t mean that I don’t exist at all“, Murakami gets the reader to think about how real reality really is, and which world is fantasy when the two collide.

As the narrator laments, “All I did was go to the library to borrow some books“, it is not just the characters sucked into the nightmarish library, but the reader who is also drawn into the peculiar world of Haruki Murakami. The book is printed in typewriter font, giving it an old world charm. Chip Kidd’s illustrations are vivid and brilliantly carry the story along, with bright colors contrasting the dark theme. This one is sure to have book lovers thinking strangely about libraries and suspiciously about librarians by the end of the book.

My rating – 3/5 for the story, 5/5 for the illustrations