Books · Reviews

Book Review — Maestra by L.S. Hilton

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

Judith Rashleigh, an undervalued art enthusiast begins to tire of her job at the London auction house. A chance meeting with an old friend draws her attention towards the Gstaad Club. Soon, she is rolling in money, but even such luxury comes at a price. A vacation gone wrong is the first step in her unbecoming. From there, she embarks on a journey of darkness; full of sex, swindling and swapping identities. In an attempt to escape her past, she is always on the run, thereby cornering herself into a place of bitterness and social isolation. L.S. Hilton’s Maestra is a lesson about cause and effect, delivered brutally through the peculiar persona of Judith.

The synopsis of this book does a great deal in creating an air of mystery around the story. But in actuality, once you’ve read a decent chunk of the book, you get the gist of how the rest of it is going to unfold. As such, there isn’t much of a surprise in terms of what befalls Judith. L.S. Hilton’s eye for detail is commendable. Some of the scenes are very elaborately laid out and at times, I’d lose track of what is relevant to the scene. A lot of the art terminology just flew above my head, so those sections felt a bit lackluster. Judith’s character is as normal as can be when the curtain raises. But gradually, we find out that she has some very odd tastes, very psychopathic in nature. Her sexual preferences are probably the most normal thing about her. I was quite astonished to see her character arc. Apart from the need to put her past behind her and a troublesome childhood, I couldn’t think of any reason for her alarming personality. My only hope was that she’d be redeemed towards the end.

The author paints a very intrinsic picture about the world of beauty and wealth; drawing a positive correlation between the two elements. When you factor in the extent of crimes committed and the ease with which they were brushed under the carpet, you are left wondering just how gullible security forces can be. This book is upheld by very few substantial characters – a quality I found to be impressive. In comparison to the descriptive content, there’s very little conversation between characters. And that itself depicts how reclusive and aloof Judith has become. It can be very draggy to not have a good balance of influential characters. But somehow, the author manages. Probably through the use of Judith’s fluctuating identity and adaptability to new places. One other thing I loved about the novel was the traveling. You are literally taken for a jolly ride around Europe, that too, in full glory. And you (the reader), unlike Judith, don’t have to deal with the mess she creates. All in all, I enjoyed reading Maestra; it was unlike anything I’ve read before. But I simply wish that there was a little more value in terms of story progression and thematic development. I am a bit confused as to where the second book is headed, since all the loose ends tie up nicely in this one. Check it out if this review or the plot further intrigues you.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars.

Uncategorized

Cover Reveal of Danielle Steel’s Against All Odds

Danielle Steel is back with another novel and this one explores a family-centric plot, wherein a mother of 4 – Kate Madison – is left perplexed by her children’s life choices. Against All Odds tackles with the very essence of motherhood. Here’s the cover design as published by Pan Macmillan…

Much like the cover of Steel’s Dangerous Games, the title of this one is embossed in gold, attributing all the power to it. The family of five huddled together, against the backdrop of the city’s skyline sends across a strong message. To me, it speaks of unity, blood ties, finding a sense of belonging etc. The fact that they are all gazing in a specific direction (a.k.a observing something) could mirror how a family helps you grow and learn..

I’ll stop with my deconstruction of the cover and save my views on the book for when I’ve reviewed it. Hope you all get a chance to check it out 🙂

Uncategorized

Wherever Tomorrow Is

Tomun was an unusual man. Despite his enthralling anecdotes, no one knew where he came from. His battered passport was the only thing that stood out amongst his bare minimum possessions. He looked to be about 70, but you wouldn’t have guessed so from his demeanor. His frail hands had more might than the office-goers at the start of the week. Every day you could see him heading to the port with a brown rucksack slung over his shoulder. He was no outsider to the townsfolk; greeting everyone with a smile and a vigorous salutation.

“I’ve been piecing this boat together for many years now.” he had once told me, beaming at a white standard size sailing yacht. It looked just as weather beaten as its owner. The sides were rusted and had lost its original allure; the rudder could fall off at any moment; the sails had gashes on them.

“Piecing a boat? You mean you are refurbishing this dilapidated thing? To what end, Tomun?” I had asked in reply.

He looked at the setting sun and just laughed. My brow furrowed at the thought of this old man working on a project of such magnitude. But I let it slide, assuming that he’d probably give it up half way. We were close enough that we ate a meal together every day. He spoke a lot, but nothing substantial about his birthplace or his family. From his stories, I got the idea that all of his journeys had been rewarding in terms of fixing the yacht. He’d go on and on about a neighbour, or a niece twice removed, who had helped him acquire a pulpit or a shiny new boom that would go well with his boat.

Sometimes, I’d get late to our meetups. But Tomun wouldn’t say a thing. He’d brush off my apology, as if he had all the time in the world. Even though I allowed the bustle of life to get to me, I made sure that I hung out with him. I assumed he enjoyed spending time with me.

“You know, Agatha is almost ready.” he told me, matter of factly on one such afternoon. Tomun had named his boat Agatha, after the renowned author.

“Are you sure? It doesn’t look like it.”

“Oh absolutely! A small paint job, a small touch up and we’re good to go.” he said sifting through the vegetables on his plate. Tomun wasn’t a foodie; he barely ate anything. Occasionally, his pallor would bring out the deep-set wrinkles so starkly, that it would scare me. I’d urge him to eat more, but it was a futile attempt.

“Maybe you should get Agatha checked by a professional, before you take it out.”

“There’s no need for that. I feel it. Agatha is just as ready as I am.”

“It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

At that, he guffawed. Even though I missed the joke, I prodded further. “Why don’t you get a family member to come down here, and help you?”

“I don’t want to trouble anyone, dear. I’ll get by just as I have been doing.”

“I’m sure it won’t be a trouble. Where do they stay? Anywhere close?” I knew that Tomun lived alone in a condo that was closest to the beach. He worked on small errands for his livelihood. He wasn’t poor; he was basic.

“Here, there, everywhere.” he sighed. “But, you! You tell me how your search for a job is going.” I had told Tomun that I wanted to pay my own way to college.

“It’s not easy. They’re all asking for references I don’t have and can’t get.”

“Keep trying. I’m sure something will work out for you.” he said, patting my hand.

We were done with our meal; I got up to pay the bill, but he wouldn’t hear of it. After much insistence and beseeching, Tomun had his way. When he opened the rucksack, to fetch the wallet, his passport fell out. It looked brand new, with crisp pages.

“Are you going somewhere?”

“Aren’t we all?” he said with a wink. Before I could say anything else, he was walking out the door. With a final, “See you tomorrow!” he was gone.

The next few days were much the same. Job interviews, college application prep, quality time with family etc. A week later, when I heard on the news that there was a storm headed our way, I had a sinking feeling in my gut. I hurried over to our haunt, hoping to see Tomun early. I waited eagerly for my watch to show 8PM. But as the time passed, there was no sign of Tomun. I asked at the counter, and they handed me a brown envelope, saying that Tomun had come by early in the day to leave this for me.

I had never ripped through anything as fast as I did that envelope. Inside, there was a signed check that I barely noticed. A long ruled page bore his handwriting. I knew what goodbyes looked like.

Dearest K,

I reckon you would’ve come to realize what I’ve done. I apologize for not doing this directly. If I had tried, I wouldn’t have been able to leave. You see, people are inclined to believe that destiny makes them. But I choose to live my life differently. I make my own day and I sleep at night knowing that my life is of my own making.

Tomun had left. The thought was enough to send shards piercing through my heart. Unconsciously, I had begun walking to the port. Letter in hand, my legs were leading the way.

This must come as a surprise to you. But believe me child, I had never planned to sink my toes in a land for long. I am sorry for not making my intentions clear. People who look for stability want nothing to do with a 75 year old making the rounds of the world. I do not know if we will meet again, but with some help from me, I hope you would attempt to pave your own path. I’ve left you what little I had managed to save. In case everything doesn’t line up nicely, go to the inn on Seventy Fourth Street and give them my name. They’ll come up with something for you.

The time that I’ve known you was enough to show me that if I waited for my future, I would get slim pickings. I hope you gain some courage from my words and take matters into your own hands. Tomorrow is a stranger on the road; we haven’t met yet, but we know of each other’s existence. Why concern yourself with a stranger who has nothing to do with you as of now? In the quest for a safe tomorrow, why dampen the joys of today? I can’t be rooted to one place, just as I can’t be one person. I am all that I have seen and been through. I don’t know for how long or how far Agatha would keep me company. But I sure hope she’d see me through to the end of the world. Whatever it may be, I am certain that I would be happy. As I wish you would be, too.

K, don’t wait. Wherever tomorrow is, you’ll have your chance encounter. But I hope that you’d set about making the best of your today. You only get one try.

With Love,

Tomun May.

The skies were downcast and the port was barren. Having heard about the storm, people would have settled in for the day, with a hot coffee and blankets. I couldn’t make myself leave. I looked at the horizon long and hard, hoping to see a tiny sailboat. There was no sign of anything. That was the last time I heard from Tomun. This man, who had been like a grandfather to me, walked with his life clenched in his feeble fists. There was so much I could have learned from him.

The townsfolk were sad to hear about him. But within a fortnight, they’d all moved on.

Now, every time I pass by the port, I keep an eye out for Agatha. Alas! Just like my tomorrow, Tomun has become a stranger. I could keep looking for them, but they would only show their face when it’s time.

Poems

Islanded.

Waves upon waves.
Rays upon rays.
I lay there,
A secluded island.
Straining out of reach,
And then springing back.
Holding myself aloft,
And then being slack.
Thoughts gently lapping at me,
The shores crept inward.
Thoughts clouding over me,
My heart stirred.
Time blurred into one,
Lost, as I was.
In the distance, I saw them,
Speaking, approaching.
Holding maps
To my deepest whims.
Wielding the power
To turn me inside out.
Thousands have come
Before them and
Thousands shall come after.
For within myself, there exists
A labyrinthine haven.
I see them.
They do not see me.

Shows/ Movies

What We’ve Learned From 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why, a book to television adaptation of Jay Asher’s young adult fiction, posits the transience of life and growing insensitivity among millennials. It is abundantly interspersed with prevalent concerns pertaining to suicide, sexual abuse, slut shaming, social isolation, peer pressure and so much more. Hannah Baker’s narration, of the events in her life that led her to take the plunge, is gut-wrenching to say the least. All of what she experiences brings to light exactly what’s wrong with the human mentality. Our inability to empathize, to value another person as an equal, to look beyond materialism, to take responsibility for our actions is our one-way ticket to a devastating future. Here are some reasons, drawing from the TV series, that call for a drastic change in our perceptions and the way we interact with one another:

  1. Live and Let Live. You are the master of ONLY your life. You DO NOT get to enforce your opinions on another. This includes, but is not limited to, judging, commenting on and mocking another person for the way they choose to carry themselves. Slut shaming is a serious affront. Somebody else’s personal decisions are none of your business. We see first hand, in the TV show, how rumors can snowball into becoming the most fallacious statements about a person’s character. Alex’s list that objectifies women is in a way the kick-starter of Hannah’s depression. The aftermath is truly appalling.
  2. Suicide Should Not be an Option. You may be in the worst possible situation, but remember, the sun brings with it a new start every day. Press the Reset button and Do Over. There is so much to live for, the least of which is yourself and who you could be in 40 years. Hannah’s decision to end her life is fueled by many incidents which make her want “everything to stop”. But even in the harshest of storms, it is upto us to cling onto the last thread for however long it takes. We owe ourselves that.
  3. High School Hierarchies are Bullshit. No amount of wealth can make you personally inferior in comparison to another high school student. It is a place for character formation and identifying your passions. Do not let it be reduced to cringe-worthy memories of bullying and succumbing to peer standards. Stand up for yourself and for others. Justin, Bryce, Marcus, Zach and the others parade around Liberty High by terrorizing others. Evidently, school hierarchies tend to place athletes at a higher pedestal, allowing them to demean the rest of the student population. It begets the questions, What about the morals being preached in school? Why are the powerful not answerable to law? What can be done to change that?
  4. Convenience. The pain of being someone’s convenience is starkly reflected in the episodes. Ryan publishes Hannah’s poetry in his magazine, despite being told otherwise. Bryce is of the opinion that every woman is for the taking. Sheri tries to cover up her misdeed, simply because no one of authority witnesses the accident. All of their actions, not only points to the deficiency in their upbringing, but also the skewed world view that they’ve developed, which calls for some serious attention. Keep your ground, and do not let anyone take advantage of you. Your consent is not up for bargain.

The back and forth structuring of the plot keeps us glued to Hannah’s story; as with every tape she delicately delineates the turmoil of feeling like an outsider. It has all been so realistically portrayed and the soundtrack is the final straw that leads to a whole lot of tears. Undoubtedly, some of the characters don’t intend to harm Hannah, but it is their negligence that drives a wedge between her resilience and despondence.

One other thing that infuriated me the most is the lack of parental guidance. None of the parents in the show actually make a difference. Clay’s parents keep making futile attempts to resolve matters, but it’s no good. Even the teachers, principal and the counselor are totally useless. Their greed, thoughtlessness and refusal to take action paves the way for the continued corruption of the students. Between the poetry classes, helping out at home and visiting the school counselor, we see how much effort Hannah is putting in to hang on. But… I wish people had better morals. The story of Hannah Baker, although fictitious, could be the case with many other youngsters. No one should have to feel so utterly purposeless. No one.

Final Thoughts – The ending of the show is ambiguous. While the main theme is laid to rest, quite a few questions still remain. Nevertheless, it makes for a brilliant, thought provoking TV series. One that I binge-watched simply because of its quality execution.

Rating – 5 stars on 5.

Look Around, Pay More Attention. Every drop makes an ocean and each of us can contribute towards making this world a happier place!

Poems

The Thing About Confidence is That…

It is seeded in thyself
And watered by others.

Or

It is weeded by failure
And altered by changes.

If

You turn away,
And only look within,
Are you doomed to
A withering confidence?

Perchance

It is a concoction,
Of others and you.

Maybe

Situations and actions
Hath more to do.

But

In this celebrated pandemonium,
I shall pluck every instance
Of strength,
And bury every doubt.

Until

I’ve acquired a legacy,
Of fierce quotes and
Affable anecdotes.

– Meera

 

Poems

The Universe of You

You were but a small boy,
Ready to be enveloped by the mighty
And the invigorating.
The Heavens convened,
Smiling down at you.
You, who glowed with wonder,
An impish smile lurking on your mien.
They imbued your life with
Experiences to last a lifetime,
Knowing full well, you’d thrive.
The stars aligned, preparing to
Release you to a world that
Could bloom with your thoughtfulness.
Flesh and blood came together,
In a hurry to carve you into all that you could be.
As you trek through the wilderness,
And dive into the ocean,
The Heavens congratulate themselves,
For a job well done.
They had hoped to see you living happily,
But you’ve left them astounded
By conquering every moment.
The Universe of You pulses with potential.
Do yourself proud.

– Meera

Books · Reviews

Book Review — Dangerous Games by Danielle Steel

Thank you Pan Macmillan India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

Image courtesy – Goodreads

Alix Phillips has always been a zealous reporter; racing headfirst into the most risky jobs. She cares little for her own safety and so is able to devote her every waking second to the tasks at hand – be it visiting terrorist laden countries or interviewing volatile protest groups. But when she gets neck deep into a political affair that threatens to impact the nation at large, she is forced to reflect on the repercussions of her action. Not only her life, but the lives of people she cares about, is jeopardized as a result of her daring. Danielle Steel’s Dangerous Games, while juxtaposing the ethics of a reporter to that of the corrupt morals of a politician, brings to the limelight the transience of human life.

I was positively intrigued by the synopsis and was even more pleasantly surprised to find that the novel does great justice to it. The theme of politics is explored to a certain extent, but not so much so that it becomes draggy. Alix’s job and her perspective holds the entire story together. Battling the constant odds of surviving, she and Ben make for an excellent duo. It was a matter of time before the inevitable happened. Tony Clark’s mien has been penned down so meticulously that, as a reader, I abhorred him wholeheartedly. I wished that a certain community of people had been represented in a better fashion, as they tend to be naturally compartmentalized as villains. The characterization in the novel is wholesome and somehow, in the span of 300 pages, we are able to see characters grow and flourish.

A predictable plot point, in this novel, is fueled after the climax, which I felt added uniqueness to the structure. Usually with suspense novels, the climax is the absolute ending of the book. Here, Danielle Steel goes on to tie all the loose ends. The way things are delineated in this book makes for an interesting play on concepts. There is very little stereotyping and a larger questioning of the boundaries set by society, with special emphasis on labels, education and societal norms. As the story progresses, we are forced to think about life, priorities and weighing the pros-cons of a predicament. All in all, it was a bountiful experience and I would surely recommend this book to those who enjoy a good suspense.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera