Book Review — Mothering a Muslim by Nazia Erum

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Mothering a Muslim by Nazia Erum is a nonfiction that explores the extent of Islamophobia in Indian society by bringing to light horrid instances of bullying and discrimination of Muslim children in schools. As a Muslim mother, Nazia gives voice to the woes of other Muslim women who are caught in the predicament of owning upto their religious identity or hiding it for fear of being considered to be extremists. She reaches out to children, teachers and parents alike, who have been impacted/ involved in the misleading stereotypes and negative bias associated with Muslims. Over the course of her book, the author draws from various sources the heartrending conclusion that even today, there’s a great deal of animosity surrounding religious communities and more often than not, innocent children are dragged into the aftermath of a verbal bloodbath.

This review will not be a comment on the superiority of any religion, rather it takes into consideration the effect that negative bias has on children. The author’s writing style is punctuated by her desire to get a point across to her readers. She writes in a very collected and matter-of-fact manner. It’s a short book, one that you can finish in less than half a day. Although Nazia incorporates the stories of many families in her narrative, on a molecular level, they are just that – individually recounted instances of bullying and prejudice. Sometimes I wished that they were more seamlessly embedded into a story format. But I understand why it’s important to point out facts pertaining to a prevalent issue in the way she has.

The people featured in this book come from all walks of life. The schools mentioned are a good mix of popular and less-heard-of institutions. All of what’s said in this book is very saddening. What bothers me the most is the fact that children, who don’t even understand the basics of politics and power play, get treated harshly by others; and that too on the basis of what they hear in their homes. Bullying is a very sensitive topic and we don’t get into the details as much, but it’s evident from the children’s inability to grasp the reality of their situation. All in all, it’s not a pleasant picture. But it’s one that must be acknowledged for sure, so that we as a society can come together and remedy the evils that threaten to disintegrate us. I would definitely recommend this book to others so that they can get an understanding of one side of the story.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? – A disheartening glance at the complexities of having an Muslim identity in today’s world.

Thank you Juggernaut for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Book Review — The Woman Who Saw The Future by Amit Sharma

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Amit Sharma’s The Woman Who Saw The Future is a feast in its entirety. The plot delves into the lives of the Vaid family after they discover that their daughter, Sapna, has premonitions of impending doom. She gets nightmares about all sorts of disasters leading to people’s deaths around the world, whether they are terrorist attacks, accidents, killings etc. As time passes, the intensity and frequency of these visions increase to such an extent that it jeopardizes Sapna’s mental well being. In order to appease her frazzled mind, she agrees to do a reality show called Lucky People wherein she puts her powers to good use and saves thousands of people from imminent death. But as we all know, “with great power comes great responsibility”, and somewhere along the line, Sapna loses focus on the bigger picture. That marks the deterioration of a once innocent and frightened girl.

I want to give this book all the stars in the world. It blew me away, like winds on a dandelion farm. But it’s very disheartening that I can’t give it a full rating. So I’ll start off with the minor points that I didn’t really like. The writing style, although punchy and well articulated, had some repeated usage of word(s) that bothered me. For example, Sapna’s mother Kalpana uses the words “you know” way too often! Similarly, with Mehak, she says “Lord” as a way of exclamation too often. And it doesn’t really gel with what’s happening. So these two occurrences stood out like a sore thumb. Secondly, there are sections in the book where either Sapna or her mother or some other character recounts the various calamitous incidents that Sapna has helped prevent. Those sections weren’t seamlessly embedded in the narrative and felt a bit like they were being presented as bullet points. Finally, a couple of instances were a bit hard to believe.

Now, lets get to all the good stuff. And there’s a lot! So bear with me as I rave about how fantastic this book is. (This review is going to be a long one.) The plot is very unique, not because of the “premonitions” aspect, but because the author introduces a reality show as a plot point. This very fact allows us to glimpse how thirsty the society is to revere someone, to idolize a person and place them akin to God. And also, how fragile that belief is. The part that takes the crown is how this story unfolds. It is told from the perspective of atleast 9 characters; that’s something I’ve never encountered before. You’d think that it would get overwhelming, but it doesn’t. And even in those chapters, what every character divulges is carefully tailored so that bits of the story wonderfully unravel at a time. Moreover, the narration jumps back and forth between the past and the present, which adds more substance to the novel.

There’s barely any stereotyping or cliche. From a heartrending contemporary fiction with supernatural elements, this novel hurtles towards becoming a thriller. There’s a bit of sexual content and profanities used, nothing too extreme. One of the highlights of this novel, for me, has to be the characterization of Sapna. The arc is so impressive! You can’t help but be bewildered as you watch her turn from a stubborn, strong daughter to a scared, unsure girl and then a cold, pompous maniac. Believe me when I say that these aren’t just adjectives. These parts of her personality surface at different parts of the book. The ending couldn’t have been better. I just really wish that those tiny flaws had been smoothed out and I didn’t find anything problematic. Nevertheless, I’m certainly going to recommend this book to everyone. And hope that for the sake of such excellent plot execution, you can ignore the small issues.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Tears. Joy. A package of a book that highlights the suffering of a family burdened by loss, reflects Indian society, brings out interesting supernatural elements and is ultimately a really good thriller.

Thank you Writers Melon for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — Murder in a Minute by Shouvik Bhattacharya

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The Aroras are an esteemed family in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. When the eldest daughter and head of the company, Esha Arora is found murdered in their house, the very foundation of trust in one another starts crumbling as many of them had an ax to grind with the deceased. Shouvik Bhattacharya’s debut novel, Murder in a Minute reflects the extremely sensitive nature of the human psyche and how even the smallest of actions can have unfortunate consequences.

I haven’t come across any murder-mystery or thriller written by an Indian author that has bowled me over with the sheer brilliance of its plot like this one did. For almost two-thirds of this novel, the pace, albeit fast, is very placid; like the calm before the storm. The last handful of chapters are going to make you INSANE with anticipation. I was anxious and excited all at the same time. I must commend the author for crafting the suspense in such a way that nothing is predictable, which is an essential determinant of whether a suspense novel is going to keep its readers on edge or not. That said, I channeled the psychology student within me and from the very beginning, had stinking suspicion as to who the culprit might be. AND I WAS RIGHT! Taking apart the thought process and actions of all the characters made the reading experience so much more fun. It was an absolute delight!

The writing style of the author is punchy, interspersed with analogies and philosophical musings. The plot, much like other murder-mysteries, is the usual as someone of great power is killed off and also, the blame falls on immediate relations. What I found to be interesting is that the so many people in Esha’s surroundings are portrayed sketchily, thereby heightening your doubt as to the identity of the murderer. Moreover, the chapters give you a glimpse of the past. In doing so, it adds more dimension to the story, because you come to glean the equation that Esha had with different people. As far as the characters are concerned, there are some very disagreeable people in the novel. I didn’t really like them or care for them. But being a suspense novel, this book isn’t about character arcs and that’s totally understandable. I’m not sure exactly why, but I found some of the mannerisms of the main inspector to be funny.  Few of the themes mirrored by this book are true to the Indian society, like the pressure of following a specific educational field or being intolerant of deviance. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a great deal and would definitely recommend it to everyone who is into this genre of writing. READ IT, PEOPLE! It’s a rather quick read and I finished most of it in one sitting.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A thriller with tons of suspects and a maddeningly good unraveling of the mystery

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

Book Review — How May I Help You? by Deepak Singh

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How May I Help You? is a memoir that traces Deepak Singh’s experiences in America, as a well educated individual who is compelled to work a minimum wage job. Through chapters that unravel his descent into American society, we are also pulled into the lives of his colleagues and acquaintances who are themselves struggling to get by in a world that is foreshadowed by apathy and fallacy. Spanning across two years and some, this book brings to light the strong culture shock that Deepak deals with, when confronted by an America quite unlike the picture painted by the big screen. What this autobiography succeeds in doing commendably is emphasizing that people may be separated by oceans and borders but we all couldn’t be more alike due to our shared sufferings and encounters.

As someone who has aspired to live abroad, the synopsis of this book was very intriguing to me. At the same time, I don’t really read autobiographies. That said, How May I Help You? is a very smooth read, captivating because of its simplistic depiction of a foreign society and earnest in its portrayal of a profession that isn’t held in high esteem. The author’s writing style is very straightforward which I appreciate when it comes to non-fiction; I found myself wanting to finish the book in one sitting. The story is endearing to say the least. I’m sure we’ve all felt lost at some point in time and so Deepak’s sentiments resonate with us. To be stranded in a foreign land, unable to form genuine connections with people there, can be a heartrending experience. I really liked how diverse lifestyles were reflected in addition to Deepak’s. All of which help us get a better understanding of the non-glitzy aspect of living in America.

It also draws comparisons to the low income group in India, trying to find a togetherness in the struggles of people across the world. The voice of immigrants and diasporic communities is always a refreshing one and this book is no different. We come to learn just how ignorant people can be about other cultures, misled by popular representations. Kudos to the author for having aptly delineated themes of poverty, loneliness, camaraderie and personal growth. Don’t be intimidated by the harsh realities that are mirrored here; it is one that we should acknowledge. All in all, I really liked this book and it has encouraged me to pick up other memoirs. I would definitely recommend it to everyone; whether you read autobiographies or not, DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An honest glimpse of what it means to be working abroad, devoid of any sugar coating. And a taste of culturally diverse mindsets.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me this book in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — Demigods and Magicians by Rick Riordan

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The three short stories that make up Demigods and Magicians bring together the characters of the Percy Jackson series and those of the Kane Chronicles series in a thrilling fashion. There’s a new baddie in town and for a change, his ambitions are a lot bigger than usual. Setne (or Prince Khaemwaset) is an evil magician who wishes to combine Egyptian and Greek magic to become more powerful than all the Gods. In doing so, he threatens the very foundation of the world.

Rick Riordan has, without a doubt, become one of my auto-buy authors. I will read anything and everything that he writes. Having loved the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, I wasn’t the least bit hesitant about picking up this collection which focused a tad bit more on Egyptian mythology. The stories were short, fast paced and an absolute treat! My favourite has to be The Crown of Ptolemy. Percy and Carter’s friendship is just as heartwarming and filled with funny moments as is Sadie and Annabeth’s. Both the duos couldn’t be more unlike each other. But when they all come together at the end, oh boy. And even with the others, the interaction between characters is sketched out so commendably.

I haven’t read the Kane Chronicles, but suffice it to say, Percy will always be my favourite character. He is hilarious and has a beautiful relationship going on with Annabeth. This book reminded me just how much I missed Percy’s sass and headstrong personality. Time for a re-read of the PJ series. I’ve come to realize that I love Riordan’s full fledged novels a lot more, even if they are as chunky as the Heroes of Olympus books. Because short stories don’t really do much justice to his writing style and the potential of the story. What prevents me from giving this book 5 stars is that even though I can’t pick a single fault with the stories themselves, I would have rather liked to see them interwoven into a novel than cut short abruptly. All in all, I would 100% recommend this fantastic book to everyone who is interested in mythology.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Three really incredible and exciting reads that introduce you to Egyptian mythology. And if you need more motivation, have you seen the covers?

Book Review — The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan [Translated by N. Kalyan Raman]

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Famed Tamilian writer, Perumal Murugan’s 10 short stories have been compiled into this volume called The Goat Thief. Steeped in cultural nuances and throwing light on the simplicities of life, the stories draw our attention towards the very nature of humanity; be it seeking company or obsessing over ordinary objects. Some of these tales are testament to the hardships that people from lower tiers of society undergo. And by imbuing common occurrences with an almost surreal quality, this book digs its talons deep into the psyche of the reader. In Mirror of Innocence and Musical Chairs, you’ll read about household objects that grow to mean something different to certain inhabitants. Whereas, The Well and Sanctuary are two stories that hauntingly convey how the protagonist loses himself in the depths of a well.

I’m not all that familiar with translated literature, but if they are anywhere as good as this one, sign me up! What’s refreshing about this collection of short stories is that they concern the most random of things like salt shaker, toilet bowls, tumblers, wells, chairs etc. and yet there’s something so captivating about the narration. You can’t help but be in awe of how realistically basic human sentiments are unearthed by such ordinary events. As far as the form goes, there’s very little dialogue in all of these short stories. But that didn’t deter me, because the narrative was so reminiscent of several quirks and attributes unique to Indians. Two of my favourite stories are An Unexpected Visitor and The Well. Another factor that I simply LOVED about this book is that the stories have ambiguous or abrupt endings. And you can’t even see it coming. All in all, this collection is a quick read; appealing to those who enjoy stories that challenge the norms of possibility and bring out the endearing quality of companionship. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so, I urge you to pick it up!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A microscopic glimpse at the lives of individuals from different backgrounds, the little things that keep them going.

Thank you Juggernaut for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — The Nine by Tracy Townsend

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In The Nine, Tracy Townsend creates a world quite like our own, throwing different species into play, in its deceitful and dangerous alleys. The aigamuxa and lanyani are as much a part of the looming mystery as the humans. A book that writes itself, the murder of an intellectual and nine individuals who are chosen as representative of a race – you’ve got yourself an action-packed novel that refuses to slow down. Rowena Downshire was a mere courier, working for the hardhearted Ivor. But when she is dragged into the midst of a conspiracy, she is forced to fight the greater of two evils.

This book has so many plot points in it, its a whopper of the highest quality. It is a dark fantasy, that weaves in steampunk elements, while also sending its characters on a tiresome adventure. I feel that the synopsis doesn’t convey just how intricate the story is and that’s why it was such a pleasant surprise. Tracy Townsend’s writing style is mesmerizing to say the least, vividly descriptive and devoid of sugar coating. There wasn’t a single dull moment. Some of the slang and phrases were new to me, but nothing that Google couldn’t fix. I like how to plot reflects very real human tendencies to be threatened by diversity and the unknown. Incorporating species like lanyani and aigamuxa added more dimension to the novel. Also, each chapter is told from the POV of a different character. In the beginning there were more POVs, so it was a bit overwhelming what with the highly detailed world-building too.

As for the characters, a majority of them were interesting; full of the flavor needed to carry the story forward. Rowena may have started out looking like a helpless girl, but we soon see how loyal and fearless she truly is. She, surprisingly, forms alliances with two very powerful men in order to “save the day”. Anselm Meteron is your typical badass boss, who is wealthy and cunning beyond measure. I liked the equation that was explored between him and Rare Jeulls. The Alchemist who is also part of the trio is a mysterious character for pretty much the whole book. His backstory, identity and such is only revealed at the end, which ideally could have been an impediment to the reading experience but wasn’t. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and would surely recommend it to those who like dark fantasy.

What do you get out of it? A thrilling adventurous tale that unearths human depravity. A unique supposition about the creation of our world.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

Thank you Pyr and Edelweiss for sending me this e-galley in exchange for a review.