The Empty Nest

Title: The Empty Nest
Writer : Sue Watson
Published: 2019
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 2 on 5

Ever since the popularity of Gone Girl and the likes, the number of books tagged with the genre of psychological thriller has increased exponentially. Some do justice to this tag, while some just want that tag to gain attention. I am afraid this book belongs to the latter category.

A teenage girl, a helicopter mom, a laid back stepfather, an abusive biological father who is forced to stay out of the girl’s life are some of the elements that make up this thriller. One fine day, the girl goes missing and nobody believes the mother that she is actually missing until it is too late. Cops go on a goose chase while the mother takes help from her daughter’s friends to start a social media driven chase of her own. A cursory visit from the biological father hopes to increase the suspense factor, but doesn’t really achieve that.

My main disappointment with the book was the disconnect with the characters. The author tries hard to give the characters flesh and blood, but in the end, they are just left with two dimensions and never bloom into full fledged personalities. I am supposed to sympathize with the mother for her fear and anxiety over losing her daughter, but I found myself getting frustrated at her long winded, oft repeated arguments. The center of this story – the girl who goes missing – is so poorly developed that even after finishing the book, I still cannot make out if she was mean or kind to her friend, did she hate her mom for being over protective or was she understood why her mother was like that.

Leaving aside the psychological aspect of the thriller, the book disappoints on the thriller factor too. There aren’t many twists or turns, the whodunnit is not suspenseful enough and when the culprit is revealed, it is not really a shocker.

I picked this up after reading positive reviews on Goodreads. Neither the story, nor the characters created an impact and I was left with disappointment. Counting the positives – atleast the book was small and I finished it fast, so not much time wasted.

 

 

Posted in 2020, Books. 2 Comments »

10% Happier


Title: 10% Happier
Writers : Dan Harris
Published: 2014
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 on 5

The name of the book is actually “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works”, but it is too long, so I call it “10% Happier”.

This book is written by Dan Harris who is a TV news anchor with ABC News. Dan faces a humiliating panic attack on national television (which goes unnoticed by many) which is a pivotal point in his life which forces him to find a way to handle the stress in his life as well as find answers to some philosophical and ethical questions. When Dan is asked to cover spirituality for ABC, he naturally starts his quest in the spiritual world.

The book chronicles Dan’s journey through the world of meditation which  starts with him reading Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth’ as part of his new assignment. He tries meditating and being mindful and what starts as an attempt has him hooked. Dan goes on to interview some big names like Deepak Chopra and Dalai Lama (of course, Tolle too) and probes them in answering questions on how to control our emotions and stress and how to achieve enlightenment and so on. He even goes on a 10 day Vipasana silent retreat.

Dan’s writing is engaging and funny at times. The tone is casual and I felt an instant connect when Dan says he wanted to call this book ‘My inner voice is an asshole’. Instead of taking on a preachy tone (which many self-help books tend to do), Dan writes straight from the heart which makes it slightly easier to take in what he has to say.

There are many pause-and-ponder moments throughout the book. A quote from the spiritual gurus or an observation by Dan or a reference for a book – my Kindle is full of highlights and notes for this book.

Coming to the name of the book – there is no data backing up Dan’s claim that meditation has made him 10% Happier. This is his answer when someone asks him why he meditates.

If you are looking for a how-to on meditation and it benefits, this book is probably not it. Dan has provided instructions and FAQ for newbie meditators, but this is definitely not a how-to-meditate book. It is a funny, fast reading book on a man’s experience of how he found meditation beneficial.

The Lowland

Title: Lowland
Writers : Jhumpa Lahiri
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 4 on 5

The Lowland refers to the stretch of marshy land between two ponds. The story is set in West Bengal, around Calcultta and is about two brothers, Subhash and Udayan. Subhash, the elder one, is the responsible and more careful one while Udayan is more of a rebel. They both grow up under the same roof and notice their drastically different nature and reaction to events. Subhash moves to the US to pursue his studies, much to the chagrin of his younger brother who is a communist in the making and hates anything to do with America. Subhash is leading his freedom-filled life, while Udayan goes on to marry his love Gauri against his parents’ wishes. One thing leads to another and Udayan is shot down by the police force due to his involvement with the Naxalites.

Subhash decides to take up Gauri and her unborn baby’s responsibility and decides to marry her. Gauri is delighted by the offer as she can get away from her hateful in-laws and a chance to study further in the US. The relationship between the baby and Subhash is one of the highlights of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed and could relate to the father-daughter relationship and somewhat with Gauri too. As the story progressed, I developed a kind of contempt towards Gauri for being the way she was. The rest of the book sees the characters aging further and several tracks and characters are introduced. I can’t reveal much without labeling this review as a spoiler.

So, as with Lahiri’s other works, characters and their different layers and the complex mesh of relationships is the crux of the book. Naxalites act as a colorful backdrop and gives us a glimpse of this face of West Bengal, but it is not crucial to the book itself. I love Lahiri for the ease with which she can describe and analyze a character and lay it open for us. In the first few pages, she creates such beautifully etched, strong characters in Subhash and Udayan, that the latter continues to linger in your mind, long after his character ends in the book. Gauri’s character was an enigma to me. I could relate to her so well at times, but felt her too aloof and cold at other times. The treatment she gets at the end of the book was so fitting, I thumped my fist at her and said ‘You deserved it’.

I read this book before the Man Booker Prize 2013 was announced. Having read no other book which was in the running for the prize, I was rooting for Lahiri. Looking back at some Booker Prize winners I have read, I am not surprised The Lowland didn’t win the prize. It is good, just not Booker material though.

The Pigeon Pie Mystery

Title: The Pigeon Pie Mystery
Writers : Julia Stuart
Published: 2012
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
My Rating: 3 on 5

This book is set in the Victorian era with its beautifully dressed ladies with their lovely hats and their afternoon teas. Princess Alexandria, aka Mink, is left orphaned and penniless when her father passes away suddenly under controversial conditions. She is forced to move out of the Maharajah’s palace and move into a less royal Court Palace where she has to share the space with others. Her loyal servant Pooki stays loyal and moves in with her at the Hampton Court Palace.

One of the residents is murdered and the primary suspect happens to be Pooki. Mink is confident her servant is innocent, so she sets out to solve the mystery herself. She analyses the incidents as a detective would do and finds the culprit using her intellect. Along with the murder mystery plot, we also see a love story on the sides and other sub-plots which keep the reader interested. The mystery itself is quite silly. The way things fall on Mink’s feet to be solved and how easily she is able to get a confession from others is a bit hard to believe.

I have read quite a few murder mysteries and this one doesn’t really do justice to the mystery or the solving part of it. I like this book not for its page-turning qualities, but for its simple charm. The characters, the way they dress, the way they talk, their little rituals of calling on your neighbors and having afternoon teas and going around with the flowing dresses and hats. Yeah, I like the Victorian England, why do you ask?

Mink is one of the strongest female leads I have read. She is confident, strong and so sure of herself. She sets out to solve the mystery and so she does. Pooki, with her quirky temper and child like tantrums is adorable. Mink-Pooki are more of like friends than master-servant which makes them all the more adorable. There are other characters which stand out (American visitor) and become memorable.

Julia Start paints a beautiful picture of the old England. I love the bookcover. Oh yes, it is a maze and it has some significance in the story, but the reason it is on the bookcover is because this is the view Mink and Pooki get from their window.

A nice, little, charming book. Read it for the writing and characters and not for the mystery.

Mockingjay

Title: Mockingjay
Writers : Suzanne Collins
Published: 2010
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 2 on 5

I just loved the first book in this series and looked forward to reading the next two. The second book Catching Fire (I did not write a review) was entertaining and sustained the interest created by the first book. On similar lines, I was expecting the third book to be the best and the most thrilling of the series, but it turned out to be such a big disappointment.

1. Where is the Girl on Fire?

One of the things I loved about this book is the character Katniss Everdeen. She is cold, focused and confident, ready to take on the world for her family. This character of strength was sorely missed in the last book. She ended up being a depressed, worn out soldier looking for a retirement home. I missed her smart moves, her killer spirit and above all her never say die attitude.

2. Gale

Gale’s and Katniss’ relationship was portrayed beautifully in the first book, which I wish had been continued here. I see Gale and Katniss growing apart with the gap only getting wider. I wish the author had brought in some of this relationship’s original magic.

3. Prim

Without giving away too much, Prim’s character was not handled well. There was no need for the author to do what she did with this character.

4. Plot

Yes, we know, there is a war going on between the Capitol and the Districts. What next? Do you just wait for your enemies to strike? What is the game plan? Apart from the blood shed and some minor twists, the plot is pretty much predictable and unappealing.

5. President Snow

This is the most painful part. After building up such hatred between Katniss and the President, you expect a lot of fireworks. The last scene falls so flat on its face that I had to ask myself if this is really the climax. And the twist? Was it even a twist? What was Katniss thinking? Or what was the author thinking?

6. The End

The way the book ends is just too ‘meh’. Lots of loose strings untied, lots of questions left unanswered. I had too many why’s for the author after finishing the book, but I have one for the readers.

Why is it that when you are eating a pack of delicious peanuts, the last one turns out to be sour and bitter and the worst of the pack? You want the delicious taste to linger, but all you are left with is the bitterness of the last one.

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy: A Maggie Hope Mystery

Title: Princess Elizabeth’s Spy: A Maggie Hope Mystery
Writers : Susan Elia MacNeal
Published: 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy is set in the World War 2 era, where the Germans are plotting the King’s assassination. Suspicions are rife that Germans are even planning to kidnap Princess Elizabeth so as to deprive England of an heir and then plant the friendly Duke in the King’s place. With this information in hand, the MI-5 plans to install Maggie Hope, a mathematician and a close aide of Churchill, at the castle to safeguard the Princess.

Unlike the usual war novels, where the lead is a typical strong and independent male, Maggie Hope comes across as a breath of fresh air. With her strengths and limitations, she feels more human as an MI-5 agent. The story moves quickly and there are a lot of twists and turns in the tale. Some incidents do make you wonder what are the odds of that happening, if not for giving our Maggie an upper hand in solving the crime, but fortunately such incidents are not too many. The climax especially was so silly, that it is very clear it was written for the sole reason to have our heroine in the scene to take the credit. I wish the author had come up with plausible reasons. And also not to offer the case on a platter and make it atleast a tiny bit harder for Maggie to solve the crime. This was not a typical ‘sit on your edge and wonder who the killer is’ mystery novel. The plot is fabulous, so the author could have done a better job keeping up the anticipation and mystery.

Even though this is not the first Maggie Hope book, this can still be read independently. There are references to some names and incidents of the first book, but those in no way diminish the reading experience.

I read this on my tiny Samsung Galaxy S3 and was pleasantly surprised with the experience. It was easier to hold the phone and read in bed. Moon+ Reader is a great ebook reading app for Android and I am even thinking of investing in the Pro version.

The Age of Miracles

Title: The Age of Miracles
Writers : Karen Thompson Walker
Published: 2012
Genre: Speculative Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

As the world moved from paper books to ebooks, I just stood by and watched the others make this transition. While I love the flexibility of carrying all the books around in a thin tablet, the beauty and tangibility of paper books was something I couldn’t let go. I decided to give ebooks a try this year, mainly to see if I like them okay or hate them. When I was browsing books on Kindle, Amazon threw this book at me as a recommendation. A quick read of the blurb was enough to buy the book. I don’t own a Kindle, so I read this on my Samsung Galaxy Tablet with Kindle app. I will reserve my comments on the ebook experience for the end.

The Age of Miracles documents the changes in the life of a 10-year old girl, Julia, and her “coming of age” (never really understood what the term meant) which may or may not have been caused by the environmental change, which is referred to as ‘slowing’, where the earth’s rotation slows down and the days become longer each day. Julia is like any other 10-year old, with her best friend Hannah, her crush Seth and her parents whose marriage looks fine superficially, which Julia realizes is not so pleasant from the inside.

The slowing of earth is used as a backdrop against which Julia’s life is chronicled, but the novel could have as well written without this science fiction part in it. We see old relationships breaking, new ones being formed, marriages being broken and rebuilt, losing loved ones, denying catastrophic situations and coming to accept them later and all this through an adolescent’s eyes. I loved certain parts of the book (Julia’s grandfather’s episodes, Seth’s episodes) whereas some turned out artificial (Hannah, Sylvia).

To me, Julia’s voice came out as distant and sometimes indifferent, which made it hard for me to relate to her character. She sometimes appears shallow and unreal whereas at certain times, she tugged at my heart. Julia’s mother was much more of a believable character to me with her constant worries and anxieties.

The novel is readable, characters are well developed, the plot is interesting, but for whatever reason, I really couldn’t connect to the book. There was nothing in it which made me pause and think or recollect something after I finished reading it. After reading all the rave reviews, looks like it’s not the book, but it’s me who is not getting the book. We just didn’t click.

My first ebook reading went surprisingly well. I thought I would miss the touch of paper, which I did, but I also liked the ability to read it at night while the others slept on. I didn’t have to disturb them by keeping the room lights on. The tab is light enough to hold while sleeping. My eyes were strained after prolonged reading, but I am hoping this issue won’t arise with non-backlit ones like Kindle E-Ink readers. I could carry the tab with me and read the book while I waited for my turn at the clinic. The ability to bookmark, take notes and keep my progress synced between PC and my tab was really great. While I don’t see and end to the paper book reading, I definitely foresee a rise in ebook reading.

The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Writers : Suzanne Collins
Published: 1998
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 4 on 5

Even though I read this book at the beginning of the year, I haven’t been able to jot down anything sensible which can be called as a review. I liked reading this book, I know what I liked about it, but I still can’t talk about it. It is so easy to talk about a book which I did not like, but ask me anything about a book I loved and I clam up. I wonder why.

I don’t think I need to mention what ‘The Hunger Games’ is all about. I must be the last living being on this earth to read this book. It is not that I was against reading this book, but a YA book about a ‘game to stay alive’ was as appealing to me as an essay on thermodynamics. I was forced to pick this book up in the library for lack of other options. I am glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It had been a while since I read a page turner, and my thirst for ‘quick and good read’ was quenched with this book.

 

 

Instead of going on about what happens in the book, let me just list down some of the things I liked about this book:

1. Plot/concept/storyline

Kudos to the author for coming up with this intriguing concept of different districts, a dictator capital and of course the games themselves to ‘punish’ the districts. ‘Games’ is similar to the reality shows that are a rage these days, but the different themes, gifts by sponsors, the hurdles that participants go through are a product of a wonderful imagination.

2. Characters

Katniss has the right amount of softness (towards her sister) and coldness to appear as the participant who would do anything to stay alive. Even the support characters like Gale, Peta and Katniss’ mother are so well sketched out. I wish the author revealed more layers of Haymitch’s character. He seems like an interesting one, but not enough to like or dislike him.

3. Hunger/disparity

The face of hunger or the wide disparity between the haves and have-nots is depicted so well in the book. I teared up when Katniss had to volunteer to avoid Primrose going to the arena. I even felt rage at the injustice happening to the villagers in the name of ‘Games’.

4. Quick and Juicy

The book is a very quick read. All the twists and turns make this book a real pageturner and I finished reading the book in no time. Quick, enjoyable and oh so juicy. What we call as ‘instant gratification’ in the knitting world.

5. It’s a series!

I felt sad when I finished reading this book. I wanted more of it and to my surprise, I realized it is part of a trilogy. (No, I didn’t know this fact earlier). My joy knew no bound and I immediately had to check out the next book in the series.

Reading Challenges: 2013

2012 was a bad year for me on all front. There were some major health issues in the family and the picture at my workplace was not that cheerful either. My knitting habit turned into a semi-professional one, so I invested more time on that and my reading habit took a backseat. Going by my abysmal performance of 2012, I am being practical and not aiming too high. I have a personal challenge on Goodreads of reading 50 books a year, which I have cut down to 24 this time. 2 books a month should be doable.

Apart from that personal challenge, I am signing up for two other challenges.

This is hosted by Bookmark To Blog and challenges you to read non-fiction from different categories. I am aiming for Geek: 4-6 book sin 2-3 categories. I am pretty confident I will be a Dork (7-10) by the year end, but don’t hold me for that.

I want to give ebooks a try this year. I prefer physical books to ebooks any day, but carrying hundreds of ebook on a device is very attractive, so I want to give ebooks a serious try. To help me with this, I have signed up for the Ebook challenge.

This is hosted by Workaday Reads and I am aiming to be a Floppy Disk with 5 ebooks.  I am slightly nervous about this one, considering I couldn’t complete an ebook when I tried a couple of months back.

So, what challenges have you signed up for, reading, or otherwise?

Posted in 2013, Books. 1 Comment »

Labyrinth

Title: Labyrinth
Writers : Various
Published: 2012
Genre: Short Stories Anthology
My Rating: 3.5 on 5

Labyrinth is a collection of short stories by various writers published under the umbrella of litizen.com. An anthology of short stories by lesser known Indian writers sounded very exciting, but I was also skeptical about how the stories will be. I feel short stories are difficult to get right than novels because you have fewer words to convey your message to the reader. Thankfully, many of the authors manage to do just that.

The book opens with Mainak Dhar’s The Martyr which starts off like any other short story about Islam and Jehad, but takes an ironic twist in the end which just leaves you sad. Aditi Chincholi’s Puppet Show, one of the best stories in the book, sets an eery, creepy tone that makes you have goosebumps. The plot, the tone, the climax – everything about this story is just right. I will definitely look forward to reading more stories from the same author.

Some stories lack the same hold on the plot, like Rishabh Chaturvedi’s Bagheera Log Huts, which I felt was a bit too long for what the story wanted to convey. Shawn Periera’s I’ll Be Back is just the opposite: it is so short, it ends before you even get into the story. The idea of this story is interesting and the author could have developed it more.

With Sym – World, Aditi Chincholia proves she can handle a different genre with the same confidence. She weaves a story of virtual reality where the thin line between reality and virtual world fades and the worlds merge into one. I enjoyed this story thoroughly and was wondering how the author would end this. I was a bit disappointed with the climax, but after hindsight, the story could not have had a better ending. Jeevan Verma’s Mortified provides a comic twist to what could have been a tragic end and gets a chuckle out of you.  Richard Fernandes’ Crashing Impacts tugs at your heart and makes you think and question about moral issues and guilty conscience.

Rishabh Chaturvedi’s The Night of the Wokambee sets the eerie tone back and takes us into an edge-of-the-seat ride only to give a neat twist to the story.  Niharika Puri’s Mists of Time deals with adultery and moral issues with an emotional punch. Rohit Das Candies is a nice, little story which could have been developed better. Rishabh Chaturvedi’s Travel Through the Night gives us a taste of the supernatural world and has a nice twist in the end.

Shawn Periera’s Russkaya Rulyetka takes you on a roller coaster ride full of emotions: morose, anger, hatred, frustration and more. A well written story which leave a huge impact on the reader. Sushant Dharwadkar’s Farming on Facebook paints an ironic picture of the great divide that exists in India between the haves and the have-nots.

Abhishes Dwivedi’s A Day of Battle and Risabh Chaturvedi’s The Labyrinth take us into the world of mythology, the former Indian and the latter Greek. Both these stories were new to me, so I particularly enjoyed both of them.

If you are looking for some refreshing writing from the local authors along with you daily cup of tea, pick up this book and you won’t be disappointed. There are some very promising writers featured here and I can’t wait for the next anthology to be released.