Posted in Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Science Fiction

{ Book Review} – The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu!

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It would be extremely easy for me to club The Paper Menagerie into Science Fiction genre. And technically, it would not be so wrong either. It is an anthology of 15 stories each of which picks one thread from a varied range of human frailties or whims and then takes you on a story telling trip where the reader would easily want to believe the supernatural and otherwise unbelievable. In my humble opinion, Liu dabs a few strokes of sci-fi, fantasy and dystopia on a predominantly chromatically dull backdrop of human values & thought process for a few bursts of colour. Or may be to he does it to make his stories more believable because humans do behave strangely more often than not and without much rationality too. There is a smattering of historical fiction too which makes us introspect if we, as a race, have evolved at all. I found many readers describing it as speculative fiction and the word intrigues me. Because yes, the book did cause me to speculate, in a healthily curious way. The author has put together a collection of his works and once you have read it, it is no surprise to you that the stories have been finalists/shortlisted or won several prestigious literary prizes.

The image is from my own instagram account and can be found here

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Posted in Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Thriller, Women's Fiction

{ Book review } – The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh!

The Water CureThe Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Water Cure warily, I admit. Had it not been longlisted for ManBooker I wouldn’t have picked up nor would it have appeared on my radar immediately because dark, dystopian fiction with shades of regressive tendencies in characters is simply not my genre. But, as I went further and further into the book, I had to grudgingly admit that it made a really good thriller. For me, a good thriller is one that starves me of info at the right time and in appropriate amounts, forcing me to supplicate to the plot line and be attentive to the storytelling. After a languorous start, The Water Cure drew me in. And not just that, it had me riveted until the end.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, My Bibliothèque, Mythology, Women's Fiction

{ Book Review } – Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer!

<!-AvishiAvishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Avishi is a lovely reimagining of a female warrior named Vispãlã mentioned in Rig-Veda as the first recipient of a prosthetic leg. As she lost her leg after being injured in a battle with Khela,  she was bestowed with a prosthetic made of iron by the twin Gods Ashwini Kumars, so that she could continue fighting.

I will be honest, even before I proceed further, that I had not heard about the character Vispãlã before I picked up the book. So, I will refrain from commenting about the historical accuracy of the research or the other details from the era. I picked it up as my monthly free eBook under my Amazon Prime subscription ( look for a segment called Reader’s Delight on the site under Kindle eBooks ). And it was a fairly engaging read, if not mindblowing. The fact that it did not blow my mind is not the book’s fault. In my opinion, I am not at all disappointed by it, even if I might not have been mightily impressed by it. The fault lies in the fact that there has been a slew of books in this genre by Indian Authors, hence my senses are probably a bit dulled by all that. So, setting that aside, I think it is a pretty good book. In fact, ( at the risk of offending a few ) I will say that I liked this one better than the Meluha Trilogy, because, Avishi is less hyper, less melodramatic, simpler but more effective writing. In fact, barring this book, I hold a bitter grudge against authors of books in this genre that they overwork the angle of mysticism and mythology, making it sound quite artificial after a few initial chapters. Thankfully, with Avishi does better than that. Avishi is a more realistic story that one is able to digest even if it finds roots in mythology.

The story goes something like this: Brought up in the forest school of Naimisha, under the tutelage of Maharishi Vahni,  Avishi has grown up trained to be a warrior. She knows that she was adopted at an early age, but barring some recurring nightmares and rather faded memories of her childhood, she does not know or remember much about it. However, destiny eventually brings her to a settlement of Ashtagani, which functioned as a republican confederacy and relied on self-sufficiency in sharp contrast to its neighbor, Vrishabhavti which functioned as a monarchy. Aggression from its neighbor and some evil political scheming leads to a situation where Avishi finds herself in extremely tumultuous circumstances, putting both her and the settlement of Ashtagani in danger. It is this that leads her to the battlefield and how she loses a leg while fighting the ruler of Vrishabhavti called Khela. Revealing more than this about the story would be unfair to those of you who might want to read it so I will stop here,

I haven’t read many books by the author, Sai Swaroopa Iyer, but from whatever I have heard about her work ( all good I must say ), she writes stories with strong female protagonists. What is most refreshing about this book for me was the fact that it is imagined in a time when some of our current social set up or rules, that we now consider the norm, weren’t so rigidly in place. Like in this book, matrimony in society wasn’t a must. Children were born out of loyal and often a long-term companionship, but solemnizing a marital contract was not compulsory.  Similarly, there was no demarcation of roles for sexes, people could pick a profession based on their strengths and not because of their gender. At the same time, the book makes sure that it doesn’t give an image that the society without these norms, or rather a different set of norms, was flawless. It had its own set of problems as the book reveals as the story progresses. So, I must say that I found the premise and the beginning of the story fairly engaging. The story moves at a decent pace, it is never boring, and if you are looking for something in the segment of mythology inspired fiction, this would be a good choice. However, I cannot say that it let me spellbound or that is a work of the genre whose parallel I haven’t found yet. It was also slightly predictable, and in a very small part in the latter half of the book, I felt that it grew a little more stereotyped. You know, how all the stories about kingdoms and conspiracies go. So, if you are looking something in this genre or you have liked similar books in the past, go for it.

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Posted in Fantasy, Magical Realism, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden!

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy, #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book earlier this year, just after I finished it’s prequel “The Bear and the Nightingale” . Now I cannot keep it calm while I wait for the final part of the trilogy, “The Winter of the Witch”. Now I could rave on and on about how amazing “the Girl” here is. I have already written how smitten I am with the protagonist, Vasilisa ‘Vasya’ Petronova, of this fairytale-mixed-with-magical-realism work of fiction. Vasya is every bit the heroine every little girl ( or a grown woman obsessed with magical realism like me 😉) aspires to be. Escaping the only destiny for women of her times, her options being marriage or a life as a nun or being branded a witch, she chooses the last options and in the beginning of the book, she leaves the comforts of the rural Russian home and sets out on an adventure which is certainly more trouble than fun. Now, since it is a fairy tale, there is no point for me to keep describing the plot. It would suffice to say that it would satisfy a folklore loving soul, a complete sucker for fantasy and fiction like me. Not only it is book is great in principle ( a strong female protagonist, feudal Russia of the Mid-fourteenth Century and a plot line which is not straight like a rule ) , the book does well when one is craving for a short escape into fiction.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale!

I have already talked about my newfound for love magical realism in my review of The Bear and the Nightingale. Stories with magicians and monsters are charming, but what I have realised recently is how much I love stories that talk about magical that is invisible to the naked eye. The kind of magic that exists only in the mind of someone who believes in it. For everyone else, it is just another feature of our mundane lives. And it is the magic of toys that Robert Dinsdale’s The Toymakers delves into. Of course, one could argue that the toys described in Papa Jack’s Emporium are indeed different from the ordinary toys we see around us. In my opinion, that you missing the point. To a certain extent, every toy is just a toy. A rubber duck or a stuffed rabbit is only a rubber duck or a stuffed for everyone else other than the child who has a special relationship with it. It is the power of belief that separates the believer and sceptic. And that is what makes The Toymakers magical in my opinion. Because it is intended for the child, that burrows deep into the psyche of every cynical adult.

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Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Magical Realism, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – Pottermore Presents Short Stories from Hogwarts by J K Rowling!

So, I stumbled across these by chance on Amazon and like an old faithful, I had to get it. About these eBooks, they are collections of articles from Pottermore peppered more than generously with insights from J. K Rowling about her thoughts and rationale on why she named and shaped certain characters the way she did. But even for a seasoned Pottermore lurker like me, some of the information was a revelation. I have made my peace with the fact that there is never going to be something as amazing as the 7 books again in the Potter Universe ( Sorry fans of Fantastic Beasts, but that is how it is for me! ). But each of these books had something interesting that adds to my appreciation of how beautifully the Magical World mirrors the Muggle World. Let me talk about my favourite parts of each of this books now.

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Posted in Fantasy, Magical Realism, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden!

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came across The Bear and the Nightingale while browsing through the winners of Goodreads Readers Choice Polls last year. As much as I rely on Goodreads, I am a cynic when it comes to judging a book purely on its Goodreads numbers. It is also an unusual choice because I don’t pick up books from the genres of Magical Realism and Fantasy that readily. However, I read 2 more books after I finished this one: the sequel to this book, The Girl in the Tower and The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. Maybe it is the craziness in the world around me in the past couple of months, or maybe, something inside me has tweaked but I find myself enjoying the feel of Magic and Fables with a hint of dark thrown in. It is those darker, sombre tones of the book that distinguish it from Children’s Stories, making them appealing to mature readers.

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Posted in Fantasy, Food and Drink, Magical Realism, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – Chocolat by Joanne Harris!

Chocolat is a novel about a young single mother, Vianne Rocher, who arrives in a tiny yet picturesque French village of Lansquenet on Tannes with her daughter Anouk and opens a chocolaterie just before Lent. In a village that has, till now, let a simple and strictly by-the-book life, mostly thanks to the village priest Francis Reynaud who believes himself to be the village’s moral and religious compass, this causes an uproar. Obviously, tensions run high and for a while, it feels that Vianne and Anouk are never going to find a home in this village with its lovely, compassionate, yet a little scared, residents. However, with a bit of faith, belief, magic and lots of chocolate (Vianne has a knack for guessing people’s favorite kind of chocolate), they don’t just make friends in Lansquenet but also find a home.

We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery sweet waffles cooked on a hot plate right there by the roadside.

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