Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This Time Of Morning - Nayantara Sahgal

Rating : 8/10

Capturing an India in transition mode, facing the challenge of governance after independence, while still sore from the wounds of partition, seems like child's play for Nayantara Sahgal. This Time of Morning is an unforgettable snapshot of Delhi and the people, young and old, who inhabit it.  

There are several characters in the book which makes it initially confusing and a bit of an overload. But by the time you warm up to it you're in for a rewarding read. The more characters there are, the more view-points Sahgal presents about India post 1947, the changes in  society, the struggle for identity and of course, politics. 

Sahgal examines politics, life, bureaucracy and political situations with deceptive simplicity. She's almost always spot-on analyzing the struggles of revolutionaries who suddenly find themselves as politicians, countering a corrupt set of individuals who play dirty. She captures and brings to life the Gandhian struggle for independence with as much ease as she talks about the morally corrupt who were always there in the scene in the Congress, but became more prominent taking power after 1947.

The characters go into flashback mode quite a lot and if these flashbacks had been demarcated separately it would have been so much clearer. Then of course, there is the problem you face when there are too many characters: the one you thought was the protagonist is actually not. In fact, there is no single protagonist in this book, which is quite a good thing actually. Also, there is a feeling that some characters got more book space than the others.

But all these flaws are negligible in view of this magnificent portrayal of Delhi after independence, that will stay with you long after you're done reading the book. Nayantara Sahgal is an immensely quotable writer, who is a joy to read.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best and Worst Books Read in 2009

As the title suggests, this is my list of best and worst books, not necessarily published in 2009, but read in 2009. This year, especially in the latter half, I've focussed a lot on Indian writing and non-fiction. Because of that, I have missed out on the popular reads of 2009 like The Time Traveller's Wife, The Lost Symbol. But I don't mind it actually, since my non-fiction reading spree has gone on really well and I've enjoyed the books a lot. Without any further ado, here are my lists, not counting books I've re-read and enjoyed:

Best Books Read in 2009:

1. The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor 

I'm in love with the breathtaking wit, humour and ease with which the narrative flows in this political satire. Tharoor is a gifted writer and his take on the Mahabharata interwoven with the Indian freedom struggle and later political leaders is a one of its kind special, not to be missed out on.

2. Prison and Chocolate Cake by Nayantara Sahgal
It's the simplicity, personal feel and honesty of this book that captivates me. A non-fiction work by Nehru's niece Nayantara Sahgal, it is a beautiful tribute to her country, her family and the days of struggle for independence from the British. 

3. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Adiga's Booker Prize winning novel is a harsh, depressing but essential reminder of how there is just so much in India that needs to be changed. The negative tone put me off the book many times, angered me, saddened me, but it made me think. And the book never left me. Now that is something only a powerful book can do.

These books are tough to review, because they are just so very creative, so fascinating and unexplainable to someone who hasn't read them. Fforde is easily one of the best authors I've read this year. 

5. Kashmir: Behind The Vale by M.J.Akbar
This is a beautifully written book tracing the history and political scenario of a valley that has been torn by war and conflict. M.J.Akbar's writing is perfect proof of the fact that non-fiction can be more fascinating than fiction.

If you liked Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins' Freedom at Midnight, you are going to love this book. Chronicling the last days of the British Empire in India, Von Tunzelmann's well-paced narrative, laced with a lot of gossip, makes the book a surprisingly easy read.

7. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
I haven't read much of Picoult, but this book just haunted me with its message.  Sensitively handled, beautifully written, Nineteen Minutes is a grim, important reminder of how seemingly small mistakes have huge repercussions

I adored this sequel to another brilliant, hilarious book Bridget Jones' Diary. It's not as good as the first book, but Edge of Reason will guarantee you some unforgettable laugh-out-loud moments!

9. The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan
Cricket is a nation-wide obsession and Chauhan uses it so well in this hilarious, well-written book. If Indian chick-lit was more like this, I'd certainly be reading more of it!

Worst Books Read in 2009:   ( In no particular order )

1. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Don't, don't, just don't. Days of my life spent reading this are days that I can't get back.

2. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
So very over-rated. This book stays with me in the worst way possible. In the sense, every time I see this book in a bookstore, I hurry and move away from it.

3. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
This book bored me a lot. I hated the book as much as I loved the movie!

4. One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell
Another book that makes me wonder why I ever picked it up in first place. 

5. The Associate by John Grisham
Re-hashed, self-admittedly, from his earlier book The Firm, this book stopped me from reading anything John Grisham for the rest of the year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

One Fifth Avenue - Candace Bushnell

Rating: 1/10 

It's been quite some time since I thoroughly despised a book but I needn't have worried about that. One Fifth Avenue successfully accomplishes the feat and lands on my list of Worst Books Read in 2009. 

One Fifth Avenue is the ultra glamourous apartment in New York City that people would almost kill to live in. Candace Bushnell, in this book, traces the lives of five women with One Fifth Avenue in the centre of their lives. There is the mandatory gorgeous middle-aged actress, the nagging, irritating career woman, the 'I'm-a-grand-socialite-and-I-rock' woman, the greedy, supremely annoying 'I-want-to-get-popular-and-rich-no-matter-what' youngster and of course, the 'grande dame' who oversees, prophecies and gossips about them all. 

The premise of this book, that super-rich people still crave for more, regardless of the millions they have, is something I cannot possibly relate to. And then, there is the cast of characters: I wonder how Bushnell created characters, all of whom are thoroughly horrible. In fact, most of the times, it is a contest of 'Who's the Worst Character Of Us All?' 

The men in this novel are boring, spineless and pathetic. The women are greedy, manipulative and quite frankly, a pain to read about. Also, what is unfathomable is the length of this book! 469 pages of pure torture: repetitive narratives with a storyline that is clueless by itself. 

If all of this wasn't painful enough, there are some absolutely disgusting dialogues that mock at women with careers and make it seem like women are meant to do nothing but be glamorous, and smile and pose with their husbands.  

Sample these pathetic lines: 'Dried up husks who spend their whole lives trying to be like men. And not succeeding' .  ' You already have a job. From now on, your life with your husband is your job. It's more than a job. It's a career' 

This is my first Candace Bushnell book, and most certainly my last. Maybe this is just not my kind of book or my kind of genre. After reading this book I kept asking myself ' Whatever happened to humanity? Whatever happened to nice, happy, friendly neighbours?! ' 

Don't waste your time on this book. Even if you have nothing else to do.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Women on Wednesday - J. K. Rowling

This weekly event is hosted by Susan at Rocks n' Reads West of Mars : 

She says: " Every Wednesday, write about a book you loved that’s written by a woman. Celebrate a woman author whose books you love. Talk about a book you’re dying to read. "

There are some books that are very personal. J.K.Rowling's literary phenomenon Harry Potter is one such  for me. I've never ever debated feverishly about theories and storylines as I have for HP. I've never stood eagerly in anticipation, outside a bookstore during the wee hours of the morning for any other book. I've met loads of people, made great friends across the World, because of HP. I've broken down to tears when Dumbledore died. I've memorized the Black family tree. I've tried to accio things. When I've had bad days, I've read HP as an antidote, as  the best way to cheer up. HP was, is and will always be my biggest fandom experience. 

For all that and more, I just can't thank Joanne Kathleen Rowling enough. A single mother, writing a book in a cafe owned by her brother in law, while taking care of her daughter all by herself is quite an inspirational story in itself. That her story turned out to be purely magical to the millions of readers who followed Harry, Hermione and Ron in their adventures and sort of grew up with them, is testament to Rowling's talent. She writes captivating stories, creates varied characters  and builds an entire, multi-layered magical universe in great detail right from the great wizarding sport of Quidditch to Floo Powder to the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office to the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests.

Rowling's creative genius is perhaps one of my favourite things about her books. That, along with her immensely quotable penchant for humour, Fred and George style, or sarcasm, Snape or Harry style. Not all the books were as satisfactory as one would have hoped, but there have been more hits than slight misses with Rowling. Rowling's Harry Potter series spurred on a whole generation to get back to books. I've always loved books so that won't apply to me, but I've seen several of my friends run to the library or come home in haste to borrow Goblet of Fire because they've just finished Prisoner of Azkaban and 'cannot wait for more!'

Plus, the underlying theme of Rowling's Harry Potter series has been a beautiful one, that love is our greatest power. A power that can and will prevail over seemingly unsurmountable problems and ordeals. I find that a theme worth reading about. The Harry Potter series is one that I shall definitely pass on to my children, feeling very proud that I was part of a generation that had the opportunity to eagerly anticipate book after book of this magnificent reading experience. Thank you again for letting us be part of your magical world, Ms. Rowling. We're still waiting for the admission letter from Hogwarts though =)

Featured on Women on Wednesday:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - December 22

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

I'm more than half done with Candace Bushnell's  One Fifth Avenue and I've disliked it so far. It's shallow, irritating and has characters I can never like, even if I was paid to do so. Anyway, here's the teaser:
The Rices' apartment was like a hotel room, she decided as she sat down at her desk to blog. "Today I discovered another one of the joys of not having it all: not wanting it all," she wrote with relish. '

I will be reviewing the book in some days and I sure don't think I will be recommending it to anyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Women on Wednesday - Nayantara Sahgal

This weekly event is hosted by Susan at Rocks n' Reads West of Mars : 
She says: " Every Wednesday, write about a book you loved that’s written by a woman. Celebrate a woman author whose books you love. Talk about a book you’re dying to read. "

The woman I'm featuring this week is as different from the previous authors I've featured on this meme as possible. For one, Nayantara Sahgal is a modern-day Indian writer. Also, unlike Blyton and Alcott whose several books I've read and enjoyed, I've read only one book written by Ms. Sahgal. But if I'm dedicating a post for her, you can imagine how much I love the book.

Prison and Chocolate Cake ( My review is here ), published as early as 1954, is Ms. Sahgal's memoir of India. The struggle for Independence, as seen through the eyes of a young member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is fascinating. Sahgal's mother was India's first woman minister Vijayalakshmi Pandit, while her uncle Jawaharlal Nehru was India's first Prime Minister.

But it's not on the worth of the famous family name that Sahgal's book sells. Her writing, as seen in Prison and Chocolate Cake, is deceptively simple, gloriously witty and wonderfully Indian.

 Nayantara Sahgal says, "I am a novelist and a political journalist. My novels have a political background or political ambiance. I didn't plan it that way—I was dealing with people and situations—but looking back, each one seems to reflect the hopes and fears the political scene held out to us at the time. " That's just the kind of mix of politics and fiction that I love  and I'm looking forward to reading several of works!

On my To Be Read list:

Rich Like Us - Winner of the Sinclair Prize and Sahitya Akademi Award

Mistaken Identity

This Time of Morning

Storm in Chandigarh

Also on my list is Sahgal's non-fiction book about her cousin and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, of whom she was always very critical:

Indira Gandhi : Her Road to Power

I cannot vouch for the greatness of any of these novels that I haven't read yet. But Prison and Chocolate Cake is a must-read for every Indian and to anyone interested in the freedom struggle of India.

Featured on 'Women on Wednesday':

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From Books to Films!

I'm one of those people who say 'Don't wait for the film, read the book!'. But I love watching films based on fabulous books. There's just something wonderful to see your favourite characters being given life and transported visually to the big screen. Of course, sometimes, the result is disastrous ( The Da Vinci Code ) and sometimes, the film is much better than the book ( The Devil Wears Prada). I'm no expert film critic, but these are the films-based-on-books that I'm looking forward to!

1. The Zoya Factor: Shahrukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment is producing the film. It will be a challenging task to recreate the pure fun and hilarity that Anuja Chauhan's writing did with ease, but I'm eager to see how the director will handle it. The casting is going to be very vital and interesting too.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows : Part 1: Okay, the fact is that I'm not a fan of the final book being split into two films. I think it accomplishes nothing much, excluding confusing the audience. But the obsessed Harry Potter fan that I am, I'm looking forward to the film with the usual excitement although with a little more nerves than usual.

3. Alice in Wonderland: The photos released from the film look fantastic! Plus, it has Johnny Depp. And Tim Burton. This is supposedly a sequel to the first two books about Alice by Lewis Carroll. I'm booking my tickets for the film as soon as possible!

4. Sherlock Holmes: I hear this is Holmes, packaged for the 21st century. I'm not sure how much I'll like it, if so, but Robert Downey Jr. is usually brilliant, as is Jude Law ( who is probably too attractive for the Dr. Watson I imagined ), which is reason enough to watch the film.

5. The White Tiger - I HATE this book so much that I love it. Does that make any sense to you? If not, read the book. And then, watch the movie, that will be produced by Smuggler Films. I found Slumdog Millionaire over-rated, to say the least, so I'm not sure what to expect of The White Tiger. But I'll be watching it anyway.

6. Bollywood's take on Emma - Ayesha: I'm actually very nervous about how they might make Emma extremely anti-climactic and I'm not sure what to expect from this venture. I dislike Bride and Prejudice, but love Kandukondain Kandukondain ( India's take on Sense and Sensibility - Austen-fans, please watch it! You'll love it, I'm sure ). But Austenite that I am, I shall eagerly await anything with an ounce of Austen in it. I won't be too sparing if the movie is bad though.

One adaptation of a book that I won't be watching, even if I'm paid to watch and review it, is the film starring Julia Roberts, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. The book had no plot, so I'm wondering what the film worked on.

So what are the films based on books that you're looking forward to?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reading In Bed - Sue Gee

Rating: 7/10

'Don't judge a book by its cover'?  But that's what I do, frequently. It was no different with this book cover either. From the cover, one thing is obvious: it's chick-lit. Right? Wrong.

Book title: 'Reading in Bed'. So it's got a lot to do with books or book clubs. Right? Not really.

Firstly, this book is not chick-lit. It is a moving, emotional, sensitive story of two middle-aged friends, Dido and Georgia. While Georgia is struggling to come to terms with her husband Henry's death, Dido suspects that her beloved husband Jeffrey might be having an affair. The two women bank on their friendship and a book here and another book there, to help them handle several daunting problems in their lives and in the lives of their children. 

Sue Gee is a brilliant writer. And her characters are very realistic, unforgettable and evoke sympathy, without being too whiny. I went into the book expecting something light, funny and nice, but I ended up with a poignant, witty analysis of human emotions and life in general. Reading in Bed achieves what The Memory Keeper's Daughter wanted to but couldn't, and makes it look like so easy.

 Initially, I felt that since the protagonists were quite old, I would find the book boring. I presumed that it would be tough to relate to the main leads. But Gee's wonderful, easy writing made me get so very involved in the book and I adored her lead characters! 

Coming to the point I'd made earlier, this book doesn't have an important role for books/book clubs. The books are secondary aspects, though the characters frequently reminisce about their favourite books. That way, the title is misleading : this book isn't as much about the books or reading in bed, as it is about the lives of two book-lovers. 

One major fault in this book is that, sometimes, things get just too repetitive. Repetitive feelings of despair ( For example: 'Oh, how I miss you!' 'Oh, how I miss you!' 'Oh, how I miss you!' 'Oh, how I miss you!' ) might add to realism, but they also add to boredom. And sometimes, there is a nagging feeling that the book just tries too hard. Also, I found the lack of quotation marks very distracting. Regardless of these aspects though, this beautiful, witty, tender book is worth a read. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Rating: 3.5/10

Dr.David Henry's wife Norah gives birth to twins. One, a healthy baby boy and the other, a daughter with Down's syndrome. David gives the daughter to a nurse Caroline and asks her to leave the child in an institution, in a bid to save his wife from grief that he went through when his sister died young. However, Caroline leaves the city to raise the daughter as her own.  

The summary might make this book sound like a masterpiece, analyzing intricate human emotions and delving into the life of the two children, separated by fate yet joined by blood. Also, there are  recommendations from famous authors: Jodi Picoult calls the book 'beautiful', while Sue Monk Kidd calls it 'absolutely mesmerizing'.

You are forgiven for picking this book. But you are most likely to suffer for that choice.

Here are some reasons why:

1. The writing is beautiful, yes. But how can you endure wonderful writing when there is no plot to read about!? Yes.. there is no plot of significance. Kim Edwards chronicles the lives of two families, ad nauseum. Tedious to read through a book that seems aimless, if you exclude its intent to waste your time.

2. It is understood that you want to embellish your characters. But telling us constantly about mindless drinking habits, senseless affairs and emotional worries that have not much of a consequence in the end is just a bit too much. Especially when the main characters evoke little or no sympathy.

3. Justifying a word in the book title so many times throughout the book is unnecessary! The Memory Keeper refers to a camera, a camera helps to preserve memories, camera comes from a word that means 'secret', this book is about keeping secrets. Really? I got it the first time you explained.

4. Speaking of the book title, why is there SO little in the book about 'The Memory Keeper's Daughter'?? Why is she like a footnote added hastily?

5. And just when I thought things couldn't get worse arrives deus ex machina that is so unbelievably crazy! Rosemary and her baby? Seriously. A random pregnant girl is whom you confess your 'biggest secret' to? And because you willingly confessed, you bring a pregnant girl home to live with your wife and son? And she becomes an integral part of your life? And her son becomes your darling?

Enough said, really.

If there is any positive in this book, it is Kim Edwards' smooth way with words. I wish though, that she had an actual plot to work on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Women on Wednesday - Enid Blyton

This weekly event is hosted by Susan at Rocks n' Reads West of Mars : 
She says: " Every Wednesday, write about a book you loved that’s written by a woman. Celebrate a woman author whose books you love. Talk about a book you’re dying to read. "

Memories of my childhood are incomplete without reminiscing about Enid Blyton. I used to snuggle in  my bed, book in hand, oblivious to everyone and everything around me. Instead, I was in the world of Toy Town, riding a car with Noddy. Or I was in Kirrin Island, trying to escape from a cave, to find treasure. Or I was dreading lessons with Mamzelle Rougier.  Or planning a grand trick on Mamzelle Dupont using invisible chalk. Or being friends with Elizabeth Allen, the naughtiest girl in school!

Good-old Timmy wagging his tail vigorously was my  favourite, though in reality,  I was and still am scared of most dogs. Sandwiches, neatly cut and packed for picnics, orangeade, lemonade and ginger beer to choose from, a large chocolate cake with plum glaze, roasted tomatoes, home-made biscuits, ice cream and slices of fresh pineapple - the mouth-watering descriptions in Blyton's books are unforgettable. 

At one point, all I ever wanted, was to go to Malory Towers or St. Clare's and be part of a midnight feast. The magical, wonderful, top-secret, climactic midnight feasts! The often hilariously-used French teachers, the fiery heroines, the timid best friends, the tomboyish cousins, the attractive and arrogant brats - these are template characters who find place in almost any Blyton novel, be it the Famous Five series, Secret Seven series, St. Clare's series, Malory Towers series or The Naughtiest Girl in School series.

 New information about Enid indicates that she might not have been quite a wonderful person in real life. And of course, there are several examples of racism, snobbery and sexism in her books. 

But that doesn't take away the fact that Enid Blyton was the first author I really adored. The author who made me run  to the library in a hurry, every time I finished one of her books, so that I could get another as soon as possible. The author who made me use words like 'Smashing!' in regular conversation. The author whose books were my greatest companions in childhood.  The author who helped me cultivate the 'reading habit' which has grown along with me and reached great levels of obsession! And for that, thank you, Enid. 

Featured on 'Women on Wednesday':

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What's In A Name Challenge

BethF is hosting the extremely interesting What's In A Name Challenge, which I hope will be the last challenge that I join for 2010. ( Or not. I have zero self-restraint. ) But seriously, look at the fun rules of the challenge and I'm sure you'll join in too =)

Between January 1 and December 31, 2010, read one book in each of the following categories:

  1. A book with a food in the title - EDIT: Now completed. Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
  2. A book with a body of water in the title 
  3. A book with a title (queen, president) in the title - EDIT: Now completed. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
  4. A book with a plant in the title - EDIT: Now completed. The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly
  5. A book with a place-name (city, country) in the title - EDIT: Now completed. Nehru: The Making of India by M.J. Akbar
  6. A book with a music term in the title - EDIT: Now completed. The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell
You can find more information in the blog. Go ahead and sign up for the challenge! Thank you, Beth, for hosting this =)


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