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 Fiction, ManBooker Longlist 2018, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – Warlight by Michael Ondaatje!

Every wartime story is unique. Some of them show you how some souls seem to bloom in the most adverse of the circumstances and yet seem to have big hearts that are joyous like they have never seen scarcity. Some are bleak, the ones that tell you about those who never made it to the casualty list after the war, and yet, they are the ones who have suffered in an unimaginably tragic way. And then there are books like Warlight, which do not aim to inspire, aim, motivate or critic the events that happened in the war. They are mere spectators to the unfolding of events, neither enabling nor trying to prevent anything. They are, at best, a low power magnifying lenses over those events, and it is left to the reader whether to glean something from the details or not. Warlight is just that, a smooth train of events with a ripple here and there which might or might seem noteworthy to the reader. For me, it was strangely hypnotic, more strange because I cannot completely explain why I was hypnotised. The book gets its name from the traditional blacking out of streets lights in public areas so that there are no points of references to aid the bomber planes that pummeled the cities in those times.  Most lights were turned out even when there were no warnings of immediate air raids, barring a single light here and there, facilitating the essential transportation or other activities at night. That orange, hazy, dim light was called the war light.

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Posted in Fiction, ManBooker LongList 2017, My Bibliothèque, WarTime Fiction

{ Book Review } – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid!

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In few words, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is gently narrated tale of a young couple fleeing a war and everything their nomadic, immigrant life, full of surprises life throws at them. But its poignance is deeply expressed more in the way the war batters their souls than the physical scars or bombings of deaths. It is the tale of how two adults grow into a complete different version of themselves that what they had in mind as their future. The story starts in an unnamed country, in the the middle of a political turmoil with the war looming large on the not-so-distant horizon. Saeed and Nadia’s relationship begins subtly, and even as it develops, it gives you hints that their romance is only one piece of the bigger picture. The violence forces them to uproot their lives, pack them into a backpack full of personal artefacts and head to the land of unpredictable future. It takes a while, and many deaths in between, for the story to reach a point where it makes sense, and it is easy to cast the book aside as a just another romance while it matures, but once it does reach the premise it intends to put forth, it get good, really good at it.

As with all the stories set in the bleak backdrop of a war, Exit West talks about the displacement that wars and violence cause. The physical displacement and more important the emotional displacement, it causes leaves life time scars. The burning issue that immigration is today, it has been sensitively treated and portrayed in the book, without using real names and places a lot. Tied together in an intimacy that, people who have never seen a war might call premature, Saeed and Nadia try to buy an escape, an “Exit” to “the West” by paying a man who promises them to take through a door ( or a series of doors ) away from the chaos of a war. The metaphorical nature of this door and the other “doors” that they walk through is written in a dreamy way that lends it the feel of being in a fantasy or a magical realism universe. But what is more amazing is how each of them react to their new temporary new homes each time. What I like is that the author describes the world behind the each door with just enough detail for the reader to hazard a guess but stops short of actually naming it with a geographical name leaving a reasonable scope of imaginative extrapolation on the part of the reader. And the best part is that the society in the city behind every door is a commentary on a different aspect of human nature every time. Living in peace time does not guarantee that we humans display our best behaviour.

I must mention here that when I read the reviews for the book after finishing it, I was surprised to see the “doors” receiving a lot of flak. The primary complaint was that these “doors” disrupted the storytelling for some of the readers. This surprises me because I consider them equally important characters in the story, if not more, as Nadia and Saeed. The doors are what tell you about crisis and culture shocks and the difficulties of carrying your life in a backpack or a carry one. Exit West is good enough for me to make we wan to read Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist soon.

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Posted in Fiction, ManBooker LongList 2017, My Bibliothèque

{ Book Review } – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy!

The Ministry of Utmost HappinessThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Since I have officially given up trying to read the remaining 4 books of ManBooker Longlist 2017, let me at least attempt to pen down my thoughts about the ones I managed to read. I am almost afraid to type this because it is most definitely an unpopular opinion that I am going to voice. Hence, the disclaimer –  Maybe, it is just me. It was such a huge letdown that it slightly hurts to dissect. And therefore I will try my best to not pick at it much. My biggest grouse with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is that it has too many characters, like an Indian Soap Opera. This is not always a bad thing, but in case of this book, it prevented me from warming up to its central characters. Almost all of the book, to me, is a dense, slow-moving, and hastily strung together jumble of the author’s political views and anecdotes with “names changed to protect privacy” kind of modifications. And funnily, they seemed to have been made to make recognition even easier. It would have been impactful if the book was peppered with them all over the story rather than the story being peppered in between by, an almost venomous at times, mockery of pretty much everything about the country. It is not the unfairness or fairness of it that is the problem, not at all, it is the frequency and sheer volume of it that strains the reader’s nerves. It might work in an editorial of a newspaper, but certainly not in a work of fiction, especially one that had the potential of blooming beautifully, to begin with. I see no point in stealing the spotlight from the narrative to make a political statement in a beautifully set up work of fiction. Sadly, it doesn’t live up to its promise of developing into a beautiful tale in the forthcoming pages.

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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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