Tuesday, November 23

The very thought of You - Rosie Alison


“Of all the people we meet in a lifetime, it is strange that so many of us find ourselves in thrall to one particular person.Once that face is seen ,an involuntary heartache sets in for which there is no cure.All the wonder of this world finds shape in that one person and thereafter there is no reprieve ,because this kind of love does not end,or not until death.

For the lucky ones,this love is reciprocated. But for so many others everywhere,anywhere,there follows an unending ache of longing without relief.Incurable love is a great leveler.Yet I believe that this bittersweet love is better by far than the despair which blights those with a dead heart.”

If you loved reading these lines, you’ll love Rosie Alison’s book,The very thought of you. I picked up this book from the library when I spotted a list of accolades and awards the books has been considered for. It’s been shortlisted for Amazon Rising Star award 2009, Long listed for RNA Romantic novel of the year 2010 and Le prince Maurice prize and for Literary short stories 2010.When I spot a book has been nominated for a bunch of literary awards,I involuntarily wonder if I should be reading it, because a lot of such winning books seem to be filled with sad,lonely protagonists.Actually, Rosie’s book is no exception to this rule.But I must confess that it is an immensely readable book.

It is 1939 and the world is in the brink of a war. Thousands of children are evacuated from London to protect them from the bombings that everyone anticipates, with Hitler gaining momentum. Anna sands is an eight year old girl, who is displaced and is sent off to a school for evacuees in a large Yorkshire estate called Ashton Park along with 80 other children.There she meets Mr Ashton, the owner of the estate,a cripple who teaches them Latin ; Elizabeth Ashton, a beautiful ice queen; Ruth Weir ,the plain-Jane teacher who has a lovely way with children among many other minor characters. Ashton park,a rambling house with gardens and sculptures and secret nooks acts as a brilliant tapestry for the undercurrents that run in the household. Anna is a quiet, introspective child,who prefers keeping her own company rather than playing with the other children.

The Ashtons are a childless couple and both pine for a child of their own. Their marriage is on the rocks with both of them having receded into their private shells. They really need a baby to revive the marriage.Elizabeth gets anxious and lives a bohemian double life which nobody knows about. It is her way of escaping her soul- less, passionless existence. Then there is Roberta, Anna’s mother who lives alone in London .With Anne away at Ashton park and her husband away in Egypt in the army, Roberta feels the need for male company and starts seeing a man. Meanwhile at Ashton park, romance is on the cards for Elizabeth as a new guest enters the household.

Suddenly, Anna becomes a witness to things a girl her age shouldn’t witness and in a strange way gets drawn to Thomas and her teacher, Ruth. Will Elizabeth fall in love again? Will she leave Thomas? Will Anna go back to her mother? Will Thomas find love of his own ? Well, for answers to these questions,you need to read the book.

What could have been a wonderful, flowing narrative from the word go, sags because of a lot of flashbacks The book is an essay in melancholy and flows slowly letting us delve more into every character. The 3rd person POV doesn’t work for this book and after a point gets choppy and repetitive as you have all the main characters talking about their loneliness and inadequacies.

The language is beautiful and serenades you, making you fall in love with it. With the war on, the need for comfort in another human being is so heightened that morality and the question of being right or wrong becomes secondary to the guiding emotion itself.The book makes you realize this at every juncture.That a wife is not just a wife, but a woman with hot-blooded passion.A cripple is not just a cripple,but a wounded man who is grappling with questions about his self-worth.

Overall, a lilting book that left its haunting mark on me, despite some minor complaints.

3.5/5 for this lovely, brooding tale.

Monday, November 22

The phantom eyes!


This is the story of a girl and a boy who live in some city in the Southern part of India.It’s a Saturday and the boy is home, enjoying himself by wallowing in laziness. The girl is lounging around the couch ,trying to finish an interesting book. She’s been reading it for a few hours and feels the strain in her eye and decides to leave them on the floor on top of a book.

“Do you want to eat out?”the boy’s voice interrupts the girl.

“Of course!”she yelps, happy at the prospect of not having to cook.

Scrunchhhhhh… A sudden noise assails the senses of the pair.

“Uh-oh..”The boy declares,picking up a pair of horribly twisted glasses.

The girl stares in mute horror.

“What angle do you think that twisted frame is at? 130 degrees?” the boy asks ,trying to smother his fear and utter feeling of dread with horrible humour.

The girl still stares at him. Her body temperature is increasing at a rapid pace and she realises that she was going to do her valcanoe-act anytime soon. But the lava still is bubbling inside-so the words remain stuck at the base of her throat. The boy misunderstands this for her attempt at forgiving him and blithely goes on.

“Umm.. 140 degrees,maybe. I think that’s called an obstuse angle.” The boy says cheerily.

Something inside the girl snaps.

“That’s my twisted spectacles you are talking about!.And you are worried about the angle of twisting?” She exclaims in horror.

The boy balks.But he is made of sterner stuff and decides to keep up his charade.

“When did you get so materialistic?”He asks instead and runs away before she can plummel him with her book.

The girl goes back to her couch,with a huge pout. She now suffers from a chronic case of phantom-spectaclitistis and reaches for her glasses,assuming that they are still there.But alas,they aren’t.The boy broke them,right?.The withdrawal symptoms are so severe that she sometimes mopes the air with her handkerchief because she thinks she is still wearing those glasses. A wave of panic grips her when she gropes in the general area of her eyes and realises that her companion is gone !.Apparently,the disease has no cure and can only be replaced by a shinier,branded frame,which she knows the boy will buy her soon for being so nice about everything.

Is this what people mean when they say “A sad story with a good moral”?.

PS: I know that you are wondering why there is a picture of phantom when the post has got nothing to do with him..Chumma,just like that !


Saturday, November 20

The lone ranger


Taken in a beach in Chennai.

Wednesday, November 17

The other side of the story by Marian Keyes

The other side of the story by Marian Keyes has to be among the chunkiest books I have read in the recent past. I don’t think I quite understand the concept of a chick-lit running upto 600+ pages. But ,having finished the book,I feel that it was definitely worth it.My previous Marian Keyes outings haven’t been anything to write home about . The brightest star in the sky had quite simply ruptured few of my brain cells in boredom.Angels was marginally better,but definitely not what I had expected it to be.

Then this book happened and I have been made to eat my words and my opinion on Marian’s writing. Her writing is breezy and the flows with ease,but is not dumb either.The book opens with the story of Gemma,an Irish woman who organises events and is quite distraught about her love life.Her best friend has managed to steal the “Love of the life” and Gemma is still carrying a torch for her ex-lover. Not to mention an intense hatred towards her ex-best friend. Most of the story is narrated to us through Gemma’s mail to her friend, Susan and some mails run into 4-5 pages. A little long for an email, but who is complaining when the mails are studded with Gemma’s funny-isms.Her problems don’t stop here.Her father has ditched her mam for a woman who is four years older and her mam refuses to let Gemma out of her sight.She gets to go out only to buy her mam’s prescriptions and bumps into Johnny, the chemist repeatedly. Gemma gets smashed at a party and ends up having sex with a guy whose name I currently forget .So in effect Gemma’s life is not really all peachy. But Susan’s sent her mails to an agent who wants her to write a book about her father dumping her mam.Lets hop over to Jojo’s life in London for a bit.

Jojo is an top notch agent with a London Publisher and is awesome at her job.She is being considered for partnership ,but has a shoddy secret that could ruin everything for her- she is having an affair with the managing partner. Jojo hates herself for having an affair with a married man and really can’t picture ruining another woman’s life. Marian lets us have a glimpse at the lives of authors and agents and the behind the scene action at publishing houses. Bidding wars and petty politics stories kept me enthralled.Jojo is the agent that has received Gemma’s letters and wants to represent her.Lets now step into Lily’s life,shall we?.

Lily is the best friend that stole Gemma’s boyfriend. She lives with the boyfriend and their baby in London and has written a book that’s become a best seller.And you guessed it- Jojo is her agent.However, without much money at hand ,she has gone ahead and bought a house that they can’t really afford.Add to that the guilt of having stolen Gemma’s boyfriend, a huge writer’s block and errant builders to her list of problems and you have a huge cauldron of self-doubt.

The rest of the story chronicles how the three women’s lives get entangled and how they emerge in one piece at the end of it all!. The writing kept me in splits and I can safely declare that have fallen in love with Marian Keyes’s writing.The book wasn’t outright laugh-out-loud Sophie Kinsella type stuff,but is intensely funny at places. More than anything the women with their neuroses were very relatable and real. The length like I mentioned might faze some people,but it’s the same length that makes sure that all the characters are very well etched out.It is almost like 3 books combined into one. The end was a little predictable,but then it’s chick-lit,what else is to be expected?.

A lovely book that I’ll recommend to any lover of chick-lit.I’ll give this book 4/5.

Monday, November 15

Masala mix..


Remember, i had posted a story about Judo kid, this is installment number 2 from the same newsletter. Most of you might know the story of how Coca Cola was born. Here goes the story..
Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton was working hard on a new invention -a syrup to treat an upset stomach .But poor thing,just couldn’t get it right. One day he discovered that two of his employees had been mixing his syrup with water and drinking.Apparently the employees were young and they loved the taste.As opposed to being angry at his workers for loafing on the job, Pemberton chose to be curious and tried it himself. Then, he added a little club soda to give the drink some fizz. And he soon began selling his new-found drink in his pharmacy, calling it “Coca Cola”…
Anything like this happened to you- set off to do something and accomplished something else ?.happens to me all the time!.

On another note,sometime back i read another article (rather belatedly) about Enid blyton's books getting a makeover.The article said that Hodder Children's books is coming out with a new set of 10 Famous five books replacing old-fashioned words and phrases found in the originals.This news item is pretty old,so as i speak,the changed books might actually be sitting on shelves and being taken home by a new generation of kids waiting to discover the magic of Enid Blyton books.

"Mercy me" would have become "Oh no!" ; "fellow" to "old man" and It's all very peculiar" to "It's all very strange". I don't swear here, but this news made me say "what the *beep*!".I am not a purist,but tweaking the language of one of my favorite authors is Anathema to me. Several generations of kids have not had any problems with the antiquated language(which i think contributed to the charm in the first place),so why the change now?. What do you think?.You can in read the whole article here

For my final random bit.. I have signed up for "Holiday swap" ,a really sweet little idea to spread some holiday cheer. Book bloggers who sign up can send books and other knick-knacks to each other. Lovely idea, no?. you can read more about it here.

Have a great monday folks !

Friday, November 12

Review: We can Pull it off by Suresh Taneja


Rampant corruption in India is most often a topic a lot of us rant and rave about. But, we stop at ranting and don’t really do anything about it. Suresh Taneja’s debut book ,”We can pull it off”published by Leadstart Publishing was apparently written to sensitize people towards dubious means of earning money and the systemic corruption that plagues our society.It was envisioned as an aid towards reducing the problem.

The book starts in the year 2030 when a bunch of friends take a 6 hour flight from Delhi to Washington DC. Manisha, Akshay and Yuvika are on that flight along with their families to visit another member of their gang,Vikram,who is currently the Indian ambassador to the US. The friends call themselves G4-Gang of four.India is now the most powerful country in the world and is in a position to grant a relief package to a nation that was once a superpower.The parents of G4 were childhood friends and the families made sure that they met once every year as a tradition. During the 2030 meet,the children pester their parents to tell them all about how India became so powerful and formidable and the G4 oblige.

A string of incidents that highlight the rampant corruption in the society affect G4 and their parents personally on their yearly holiday in the year 2009. This makes the G4(all teenagers then) take notice of the detrimental effects on the society at large and makes them start a revolution of sorts against the rot in the society. They start off with organizing camps in schools,colleges and the Income tax department.What starts off as a small vacation activity gains huge momentum when they are aided by a news anchor,Varsha Dutt. Soon, several school and college children pledge their support .The revolution demands that the children question the illegal ways of money-making their parents adopt and encourage children to shun the ill-begotten money. The rest of the story is about how the G4 succeed in making India one of the most developed countries of the world.

Suresh talks about incidents like the Satyam fiasco and the one that took place in July 2008 in the parliament house,when MPs flashed wads of notes and accused other parties of bribery.Obviously,the passion that Suresh feels for the subject- the need for a morally-correct society free from corruption comes across clearly from the pages of the book. The ideas put forth in the book are relevant and would no doubt make an impact on young, impressionable minds, but the execution could have been better. There is a little humour,in the form of a prank-playing Yuvika and the antics of the gang and that provides the necessary relief from time to time.The tone is sometimes preachy,but then it might be written with an intention to inspire young children. The book is fast paced and is written in simple words.It could have benefited with some more editing to cull out grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Overall an okay book written with passion and the hope for a corruption-free India, which is a noble thought.I would rate it 3/5 for making the reader not just think about socially relevant issues that are normally swept under the carpet,but also for giving some solutions and ideas to the way forward. 2/5 for execution.Overall rating - 2.5/5.

A bit about the author: Suresh Taneja is a chartered accountant by profession and is employed as a CFO in a large listed company. This is his first book.

The book is available online and also in book stores.

This is an author requested review.

Thursday, November 11

Azure...




All the blue in this pic makes me smile.Such a pretty colour blue is,no?.This picture was clicked in Langkawi in 2009

Saturday, November 6

Potato peel Pie and warmth..


Before i picked up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows,i really wondered what a potato peel pie was.After reading the book,i know that it would probably be quirky but yummy-somewhat like the book itself.

The year is 1946. The Place- London.Juliet Ashton is an author who tastes success with her book(collected works of the columns she wrote for a paper during the war). However,she runs into a roadblock and can't think of any new ideas for a new book.At this juncture,she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey who claims to be in possession of a book Juliet once owned herself. What follows is a wonderful exchange of letters and Dawsey tells her about the Guernsey society. Juliet wants to know more about this society and almost every member of the society writes to her telling her about their stories and how things were during the German occupation of the Island during the war. During this period in London, Juliet falls for an American publisher,not heeding the advice of her friends Sophie and Sidney.

I am not going to tell you how the society got its name,because that's a charming story in itself. Each member of the society is so adorable that i had trouble picking my favourite.At times ,it was the sunny Juliet ;sometimes the quirky witch doctor, Isola and at times the strong-willed Elizabeth. The entire book is in the form of letters and notes and telegrams between people-both strangers and friends.

Moving on..Over a period of time,Juliet realises that she has come to care about her new friends and wants to travel to Guernsey to meet them all and also explore the possibility of a book based on the wartime experiences of people in Guernsey. Mark Reynolds,who has been courting Juliet for a while presses her to get married to him and Juliet realises that she doesnt want to get into marriage so early on in the relationship.She spurns Mark and travels to Guernsey to meetsall the beautiful people who had written to her.What follows is more heart warming stories of the Islanders and her friends. As she collects information and interviews people,Juliet finds love and forms meaninful relationships that change her life.

I really didn't think i would enjoy this book,given its saccharine treatment of the world war.But,i was wrong.I loved it. The story tends to sag a bit at times before Juliet travels to Guernsey,but that is only because of the format of the book.It is no doubt a beautiful book filled with spirited,warm charecters who you would want to visit and get to know better. Infact,after reading the book i was gripped with a strong inclination to write long winding letters to people i didn't really know. Ah!..the joy of finding a letter from a stranger in the letter box and tearing the envelope in haste to get to know more about the person!.Email and Facebook has ruined all the fun for our generation.

The book was Mary Ann Shaffer's only book,and look what a masterpiece she's crafted!. Briefly after selling the book,Mary Ann fell ill and the book had to be rewritten according to the publisher's brief by her niece,Annie Barrows. Mary Ann passed away in 2008, a few months before her novel was published, but her words and spirit lives on in the pages of this wonderful book.

4.5/5 for this beautiful book.

I almost forgot ..for the recipe of Potato peel Pie, head here. :-)



Wednesday, November 3

After Dark by Haruki Murakami



Finally..after years of dilly-dallying,i managed to read Murakami. I don't really know if i am a fan of his writing yet ,but i have to accept that i am slightly rattled. After Dark is a deeply dark novel about a bunch of people and the things that happen to them in a span of 7 hours of the night.

Mari sips her coffee in a diner and has a book for company.Soon, a young musician joins her and they realise that they are acquainted through Mari's sister,Eri. After the young man leaves, Mari is jolted from her book by a lady who wants her help in translating the words of a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten in a hotel.The prostitute can't speak any Japanese and Mari can speak Chinese.Mari decides to accompany the lady and help the prostitute.Meanwhile,Eri is sprawled in her bedroom in deep sleep and strange things happen in the room. Actually,Eri is gripped by a strange illness-she has been sleeping continuously for the last 2 months.

As the night unfolds,Mari has several conversations with the hotel manager,the helps and the young man.Everything is so surreal and unsettling that you really start wondering whether some part of the book is fantasy-especially the part where the narrator describes the scenes where Eri is sleeping. This is most definitely not a book for someone who puts the plot ahead of everything else in a book.It is for someone who likes meandering words .A huge part of the book is devoted to vivid descriptions of simple human actions like brushing teeth or unbuttoning of a shirt or some other arcane detail which we normally wouldn't give too much importance to . Infact,the whole book is like some really slick art movie in black and white with the lead characters moving around with bone-wrenching slowness.

Of course,you have huge doses of philosophy thrown in and most of the book is in the form of dialogue between people.I really didnt want to like Mari or Eri or the young man or the other characters.But at the end of the book,I realized that my involvement with the characters had grown and I found myself wanting some form of closure for the feelings and emotions the characters go through.That is probably the strength of the book-it just grows on you. The words are beautiful and pull you into deep pools of contemplation.

Despite the slowness and the gloom,i think i enjoyed the book. Yet a deep,unsatisfactory feeling is lingering on even several hours after i finished reading the book. 4/5 for the master of gloom and surrealism.