Book Review — A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike by Nikhil Singh Shaurya

Nikhil Singh Shaurya’s debut novella, A Girl, A Stolen Camera and A Borrowed Bike tells the story of Sonali who, upon stumbling across some photos captured by an unknown man, realizes that traveling is her true calling. She jumps at the chance to leave her mundane life behind, and dons the skin of a wanderer, moving from place to place without any planning in advance. As her journeys allow her to view life from renewed perspectives, she gets closer to learning about the man whose passion and creative output altered her life so drastically.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

This book would’ve had so much more of an impact if it hadn’t been this short. With just around 80 pages, I felt that the potential of the theme was at a disadvantage. It was really interesting to read about Sonali’s sojourns, but I wished that the author had elaborated on the events to give us a satisfactory understanding of the story. There’s a section in one of the pages where Sonali lists out all the new experiences she’s had ever since she embarked on this journey – I would’ve LOVED to read about those in detail.

The writing style is simple and innately Indian. There aren’t a lot of complicated words used. However, the editing of this book wasn’t up to the mark and that, sort of disrupted my reading experience. I wasn’t a fan of any of the characters or their decision making capabilities. Sonali herself doesn’t make for a very reliable protagonist. We’re introduced to atleast 3-4 male characters, all of whom take on the role of being her love interests.  On the whole, it was an okay read. There were quite a few aspects of the book that I didn’t really like. If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, let me know your thoughts?

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A rushed, brief account of a woman who finds meaning in life through her extensive travels.

Thank you Nikhil Singh Shaurya for sending me a copy of your book in exchange of an honest review.

Advertisements

Book Review — The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra

The House That Spoke is a story of how darkness makes its way into Kashmir, in the form of a demon that haunts Zoon’s house as well as the growing socio-political tension in society courtesy of militants. At 14 years of age, Zoon is a very spirited young girl, unaware of the power her lineage has. But as her fifteenth birthday looms near, she begins to realize that the strange occurrences are tied to her father’s bloodline, generations of Guardians meant to protect Kashmir and all of its inhabitants.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

At this point, it’s no surprise that I enjoy reading peculiar books. And if the title wasn’t explanation enough, EVERYTHING in Zoon’s house “speaks”. Remember the enchanted household objects in Beauty and the Beast? Exactly like that! Although, the books flinging themselves off the shelves was always a cringe-worthy moment. I liked the plot, despite its very obvious tropes of “the chosen one” and darkness being equated to the villainous  component. I LOVED the setting and how the author weaves a tale around the realistic situation in Kashmir; bringing to light the troubled lifestyle of locals who have to be on guard, lest they get caught in the crossfire between governmental troops and rebel militants. Zuni Chopra’s writing style perfectly reflected the cold, hilly vibes which makes this an apt wintery read.

Most of the times, I enjoyed the conversation between the household objects because their personification was interesting to observe. But I found it quite surprising that Zoon’s mother never really caught on to that. And try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to connect with or remotely like the protagonist (Zoon!). She was unnecessarily rude. And even though the burden of protecting her hometown ultimately lands on her shoulders, I couldn’t digest her butting into matters that were beyond her maturity. As far as I’m aware, in a household, you wouldn’t see 14 year olds making life-changing decisions or even intervening in such conversations between the elders. Zoon’s mother and Tathi (grandmother) are the two supporting characters. They come across as very affectionate and lenient, but shockingly they weren’t involved in the life threatening situations, even a least bit. The cover of this book and the illustrations on some of the pages is absolutely gorgeous. All in all, I didn’t like this novel as much as I had hoped to. Nevertheless, I’d recommend it to younger audiences.

Ratings – 2 out of 5 stars.

What do you get out of it? Those in and around the age group of 14 years may enjoy this a lot more than I did. That aside, this book captures a realistic portrait of the social scenario in Kashmir and envelops you in the vivid imageries of a winter wonderland.

Book Review — Domina by L.S. Hilton

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

Having gotten away with a host of crimes in Maestra, Judith Rashleigh is living the high life of an artist. But good things do come to an end, and she becomes a victim of zersetzung, a German psychological technique of messing with the opponent’s mind. All of Domina chronicles Judy’s single mission to discover the Trojan horse who betrayed her to the Russian mafia. Judy’s people skills reward her with a network of individuals who pave the path towards the boss of the mafia, Yermolov. She must further utilize her power’s of persuasion and wit to barter a good deal with the devil, so as to keep her head, at the end of the day.

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Unfortunately, Domina wasn’t better than the first book. While Maestra had substantial plot points, Domina felt like an elaborate goose chase and that too, not an interesting one. The whole book simply revolves around Judith trying to find the one person who alerted Yermolov (the big bad wolf) about her antics. It gets very monotonous and quite a few of the sections were so boring that it was a struggle. Even the places she visited felt like a weak attempt at making the book interesting. The only thing that keep me going was the expectation that L.S. Hilton’s writing had to create some kind of a blast. Because she is so on point and knowledgeable about art, it’s impressive!

Towards the end, it does pick up pace. Once Judy has found the mystery man, she quickly moves onto coming up with a game plan. And she is damn good at it! All of those sections were captivating. Moreover, the character of Judith has been altered. In this novel, we initially see her as someone who has lost her enthusiasm for blood shed and sex. She’s almost like a drone, atleast in the first half. But one thing I enjoyed about this book was getting to know her backstory. We learn of her past life and somehow, that makes her character more appealing. After the climax, you don’t know what to expect and that ambiguousness also added brownie points. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. But I hope that L.S. Hilton comes out with something that places Judith in a different scenario.

Ratings – 2 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Gooseberries is a collection of three short stories written by Anton Chekhov. The Kiss features a troop of soldiers who are invited to dine with a certain General Rabbeck and follows their celebratory night at the General’s abode. In the tale The Two Volodyas, Sophia Lvovna’s dilemma, concerning life and the two Volodyas, are explored. Lastly, a story recounted by Ivan Ivanych is the focus of the tale Gooseberries.

All in all, I found this bunch of stories to be lacklustre. It was not gripping in the least bit. With every story, I kept telling myself that the next one was bound to be better. But at the end, it turned out to be not. In fact out of the three, The Two Volodyas was the decent one. I didn’t much understand Ryabovich’s musings in The Kiss. And most of what happened in the Gooseberries flew over my head. That was the extent of how disinteresting the book was. But since The Two Volodyas was bearable and the writing wasn’t bad, I did not give it a zero star rating. I’ve heard that Chekhov’s works are masterpieces and so I hope that whatever I read next will be a lot better than this.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Equilibrium by Paras Joshi

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Equilibrium tells the story of 17 year old Arya, who is forced to fend for himself in a world that has turned a blind eye to the less fortunate. Living in the Northern Grid of Carbyn, Arya becomes a part of the corrupt and criminal society. When a robbery spirals out of control and his team members are arrested, Arya gets thrown into a world he didn’t know existed. Complete with elementalists, heroic responsibilities and a battle of good vs evil; Arya finds himself in the company of those who call themselves the Saatvika (essentially, the peace makers). It is upto him to deliver the Ring of Avaasya, that he stole unknowingly, to the Saatvikaalok , lest the balance between two polarized forces would be disrupted and wreck havoc on the human world.

This story had so much potential, particularly because it played with the theme of elemental magic. But somehow, it fell flat for me. Firstly, the characterization wasn’t very convincing or strong. The Elders who possessed so much power appeared to be very passive and mellow. They didn’t exude the kind of authority or power that one would expect. Similar was the case of the King Alexis. He appeared to be submissive and cowardly. Given the circumstances, maybe it’s a little justifiable. However, we don’t even get an inkling that he wanted to stay and fight. Secondly, there are entire chapters that seemed a little purposeless, as in they don’t contribute much to the story except for the fact that we are well assured that Arya is an inquisitive boy. The chapters don’t end with a cliffhanger, so the pace was more constant than not. I wouldn’t say that I hated the book, but I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I would have liked to. The author writes good action sequences. I enjoyed two such sections – one with the execution of the robbery and the other being Ayrof’s fight sequence. They were adequately thrilling and packed with a punch (no pun intended).

What I liked about Arya’s back story is that even though being a protagonist, he is negatively portrayed, we are made to understand what drove him to the extreme. His relations weren’t supportive or affectionate. I didn’t understand the purpose of introducing a new character, i.e Althoran, towards the end. Anyhow, the ending was very good, especially the last page. The author made sure that even those whose interest has been only minutely piqued would await the next book. I don’t know if I would want to read the next one. But the story is promising. And this being the author’s debut book, there’s only more progress that could be reflected in next one.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — The Following Girls by Louise Levene

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

In The Following Girls, Louise Levene depicts the toils and troubles of being a high school teenager who is expected to conform to conventional standards. She explores the idea of deviance and the consequent disciplining through her protagonist Amanda Baker who doesn’t show great interest in the vision or expectations of her school, Mildred Fawcett. With the other three Mandies, Baker lives on the sidelines, constantly getting reprimanded by not only the faculty but also her father. But when the once hostile Julia Smith lends a hand of friendship, will Baker’s life too take an unexpected turn?

Both the cover page and synopsis are so intriguing, but somehow, for me, the book fell flat from the very beginning. I had to struggle to read it and for atleast the first 90 pages there was no clarity or apparent direction to the story. I felt that there was too much information randomly patched together and often I had to go back and read the previous paragraph to look for a connection. In between some good, entertaining portions would surface and keep me going. I did not want to drop the book because I thought that it had great potential. While Amanda’s habits are not praise-worthy, I understand her plight at being posited in a very competitive and austere school environment where if you don’t get exceptional grades or don’t wear a particular type of footwear, you are classified as being “Unschool”. Furthermore, she gets looked down upon by other students as well which can be detrimental to one’s esteem.

The book started becoming more interesting towards the end after Julia befriends Baker, providing her with the respite that she so well needed. Another thing I found to be interesting is the fact that her three bestfriends are also named Amanda. The relationships that Baker makes or values don’t appear to me as being good enough. Her father doesn’t behave lovingly towards her; her stepmother while being more amiable, doesn’t take a stand for her; her friends behave rather odd at times. There was also the fact that quite a bit of the lingo was incomprehensible to me. Because I couldn’t grasp the cultural meanings behind certain phrases or words, I felt that I was missing out on a lot more. Overall, I didn’t like it much.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

– Meera

Book Review — Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka

A play based on the natives of Yoruba, Death and the King’s Horseman marks the journey of Elesin Oba (the chief Horseman of the King) who is meant to sacrifice his life and follow the dead King into the afterlife. Filled with ritualistic nuances and a strong emphasis on the conflicts between colonizer and colonized, the play portrays Elesin’s conviction to perform the ritual and ultimate failure in sticking to his words. Simon Pilkings, a British Officer, not only intervenes in the sacrificial ritual but plays an integral role in sending Elesin’s eldest son Olunde abroad to study, thereby separating father and son. The ploy of the colonizers to tame the supposedly “uncivilized” natives pushes the plot forward to its ultimate disheartening end.

We had to read this play as part of the curriculum for Postcolonial Literature in college.  While the authenticity of the culture of Yoruba natives is kept intact through their dismissal of the colonizers rules, their freedom to practice rituals as per their heritage is denied because of the might of the colonizer. Apart from the theme of culture and freedom, we also witness a spark in the Women of the society who know their place and are firm in their beliefs. They are depicted to be the strong face of Resistance that is gradually building up. I found the character of Simon Pilkings to be so infuriating and that of his wife Jane Pilkings to be rather insensitive and foolish. Even though she is more docile and approachable than Simon, she doesn’t stand up for herself when mistreated by him. Her views are unworthy in his eye as he often orders her to “shut up”.

The innate tendency of the colonizer to classify what they don’t comprehend as “insane”, “barbaric” is more than evident in the manner Simon speaks about the natives.  The plot is so rich in the way it intersperses the fight of indigenous people – against foreign forces that attempt to oppress them in their own lands – with that of the ignorance of the colonizer which finally leads to dire consequences. It was very enlightening and wholesome but I had to give it a 2 star rating because of Elesin’s monologues and dialogues with others which flew above my head. I didn’t understand most of what he was trying to say as he always spoke in riddles. I had to rely on a lot of other sources to get the gist of it. And I believe that if you can’t make sense of what’s going on in a book then you can’t get the complete essence of it. So while the story is really good, I found it difficult to process a lot of the content.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Plum Lovin by Janet Evanovich

Plum Lovin is a short novel in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich which is centered around Stephanie’s attempts to take over Annie Hart’s business as a relationship expert while Diesel protects Annie from an irrational goon with supernatural powers. Annie, wanted for murder, is on the run and staying out of the radar. Stephanie is under orders to capture her at all costs. Only Diesel knows where she is and he drags Stephanie into helping Annie with the promise that he’ll hand Annie over after everything has been sorted. So bounty hunter turned match maker, Stephanie wades through multiple relationship drama while dealing with her own problems, hoping to solve them all.

Not having read any Janet Evanovich book before, I didn’t know what to expect. This book seemed to be more of a romance genre than mystery/detective. It starts off with Stephanie talking about her boy problems and how she is confused or juggling between three men in her life. She has been assigned the task of capturing Annie Hart for murder but somehow gets sidetracked into managing Annie’s match maker job. A good majority of the novel is spent in finding ideal matches for Annie’s clients and Stephanie herself getting drawn in by Diesel’s charm and classy nature. We are made to believe that she is pushing him away but its clearly evident that she is somewhat besotted with him.

I didn’t like it much because a lot of it wasn’t believable. And I am not even referring to the supernatural powers that Diesel and other “unmentionables” have. The power to inflict a rash, while being extremely out of the box, is surely not worth the hype. The writing style is good and easy to process. I just wish there was more content and the characters were more grounded. I don’t think I will be reading any more books from this series cause I couldn’t connect with the protagonist in this one. I highly doubt I’ll be able to understand her antics in other books. If you are into books that are tethered to the love angles between most of the characters, then this one’s for you.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino enthralls his audience by spinning vivid descriptions of “invisible” cities. He uses the medium of culture, narration and imagination to convey the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan being the mighty emperor demands that Marco Polo account his journeys around the world. What transpires after, is a treat to one’s mind. For Marco Polo speaks of Cities & Desires, Hidden Cities, Cities of the Dead and various such notions, categorically emphasizing the key aspects of different cities he has been to.

I wanted to like this book so much so that I re-read the first few pages over again. Its beautifully written, no doubt. The various cities he names capture your attention and move you to think about the similarities they possess. Many of the cities were magical and several others had a dystopian feel to them. But what didn’t sit well with me is the direction of the narration. Clearly these cities he described were only in his imagination or seemingly gathered from the other places he had been to. Talking about such non-existent cities didn’t serve any obvious purpose. I think I tried too hard to find meaning where there was none or maybe my interpretations were all awry. But I just didn’t get this book. I got the cities, individually, understood what they represented. But were they just for holding Kublai Khan’s attention? Having read chapters of other fictional books, that had a clear cut beginning and end, I found it difficult to process this one. The writing style is different, the form of the book is unique. They are sectioned as Cities & Memory, Cities & Desire etc. The distinction is clear too but for what aim? Was he just pitting different ideas against each other to see how Khan would react? I had more questions than should be, towards the end of the book. Loose threads that didn’t get tied. Perhaps I ought to read up more on the context of this book before I give it another try. Which I am determined to do as almost everyone else has given this book a 5 star rating. I suggest you try it, because its very different from what is usually written.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera

 

Book Review — The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour

I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury India in exchange for a review. 

Zal Hendricks has a story to tell. One which could possible make or break his attempt at normalcy. He knew no childhood like most did and grew up amongst birds. His mother, Khanoom, horrified by the birth of a fair, white haired boy in a pure Iranian family casts him aside. Having known no love or kindness, Zal finds human relations to be foreign and unfamiliar. Despite the affection and extremely understanding nature of his adoptive father, Zal’s behavior is subject to change with fits of frustration causing a divide between the two.
Gradually as time passes, he gets more comfortable with being human to the extent that he becomes intimate with a women, Asiya, who unhesitatingly understands his plight and reciprocates his feelings. But something is different about Asiya, her panic attacks and premonitions bother Zal and drive him away. The Last Illusion is a story of Zal as he tries to overcome every obstacle in his way.

The synopsis of this novel, its cover and the title were extremely intriguing to me. However the first time I tried reading it, I couldn’t get past twenty pages. Months later I gave it another try and managed to finish it. But just that. While the author’s writing style is very easy to get into, most of the plot seemed lost on me. I didn’t understand Bran Silber’s role in Zal’s life or even what the illusion had to do with Zal. I admit that he grew up amongst birds and so his psychology would naturally be different than others, but Zal would often turn to his relations (his father, Silber, Asiya) only to get frustrated and push them away again. There was almost nothing motivating me to read the book and it was a struggle. I kept expecting to find a coherent link between the illusion, the unfortunate event of 9/11 and Zal but couldn’t. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I didn’t get much out of this novel. A mysterious element was present after the introduction of Asiya and her clairvoyant abilities, but that too fell flat. I didn’t much enjoy this book and I wish that there would’ve been more clarity in what the author was trying to convey.

Ratings – 2 stars on 5.

Meera