Book Review — Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone glimmers with the magic that is at the core of its story.

It has been over a decade since Orïsha thrived with the magic of its 10 maji clans. The day that King Saran snipped their connection to the gods and doused out magic is all too clear in Zélie Adebola’s mind, for that’s the day they killed her mother and broke her family. Now, years of hating the monarchy has given rise to an unwavering flame of vengeance and desire for equality within her. But doubt in her capabilities soon creeps in when she’s presented with the golden opportunity to revive Orïshan magic. A royal fugitive holds the key to awakening their gods and imbuing the diviners with renewed purpose. But the path towards freedom is mired in sacrifices and trusting the unknown. Will Zélie, along with her brother and the runaway be able to lead her people, when she can’t fathom how to control her magic?

OH GOOD LORD.

The rest of this year will be marked by my mind’s inability to grasp the gap between today and the day the next book releases.

For two whole days, I lived and breathed this story. But now, it’s etched in my mind with a passion I confine to very few books. Admittedly, the plot is quite like other fantasy adventures that we’ve read and heard about. But it is the African culture, the relentless journeys, the imperfect and so, believable characters, the magic system that goes back to the very origin of mankind and gods that makes Children of Blood and Bone an all too compelling read. The adeptness of Adeyemi’s writing is evidenced by the admirable plot execution and her ability to drown us in the fierce narrative. I was so drawn towards the happenings within the pages, that the rest of the world ceased to exist in those moments. It was just me and the book, enveloped in a bubble of the author’s making. Her descriptions are so beautifully vivid that I can still see the Lagose marketplace, the celebrations in the diviner settlement, the Gombe fortress and more every time I close my eyes.

Like each story that begins with loss and injustice, this one also wrecks havoc on your mind and heart. Some of the romance quotient is predictable. But it doesn’t take away from the excitement of reading those scenes. Amari’s characterization is my second favourite, after that of Zélie. They are both such powerful women with insecurities and burdens of their own but a stronger motive to save the maji that shines through their actions. As the children of King Saran, Amari and Inan were raised to believe the worst about magic and the maji. But as they get dragged into Zélie’s plans, they realize just how blindsided they’ve been their whole lives. And although I felt bad for them, Inan annoyed me a tad bit. At the root of it, this book clearly reflects the social and gender inequalities in our world, the bigotry and the cowardice that propels people of power to oppress others. Before I read this book, I knew I’d love it. Now having done so, I can’t convey the full extent of just how much I love it. I read more than 3/4th of this tome in one sitting, because there’s no other way to do it. I only hope that someday, I’ll be able to write like Tomi Adeyemi does, with all heart and soul.

We need this magic in our lives. SO DROP EVERYTHING YOU”RE DOING AND READ IT OKAY? Cool.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars (and a million more!)

What do you get out of it? A timeless fantasy that gives voice to oppressed people, thrilling you and moving you every page till the end.

Book from Pan Macmillan India. 

I’ve been contemplating dying my hair platinum blond. Is it time yet?

Book Review — Small Acts of Freedom by Gurmehar Kaur

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“I don’t fear this place that people go to and never come back. I fear this place where people have to survive each and every day on memories of two and half years, holding on to them for the rest of their lives, however long they live.”

Small Acts of Freedom is a testament to the strength that binds families together. Three generations of women who’ve had to fight their own battles resiliently display the very qualities in their roots and upbringing that makes them so. Dating back to 1947, Gurmehar recounts stories about her family, as they wade through the loss that follows war, Partition and the uncertainty of their future. This nonfiction narrative beautifully captures pain and the innocent musings of a child who is yet to come to terms with the reality of our world.

In the introduction to this novel, the author briefs us about the violent clashes that took place between students of Ramjas College, Delhi and an All-India student organization, ABVP. It is the sheer courage, the need for change that resonates in her writing that had me glued to the book from the start; it also provides context to this book. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but if they are anything like this one, sign me up! The timeline of the stories shuffles back and forth over the course of many years. A majority of the chapters are from the perspective of a three year old Gurmehar, so the writing style is very crisp, coloured by the curiosity and innocence of a child. Once you begin reading those chapters, you simply can’t look away because of the stark honesty and sometimes, astonishing clarity you’d find there. Some of the thoughts that take shape throughout this book are so raw that they pierce your heart.

This is in no way a depressing book. The reason why I found myself tearing up quite a bit was because of the pain and loneliness that permeates the writing. And it’s so much more impactful coming from the voices of little children. It addresses very important themes like communal animosity, war and freedom. It builds a story around these themes, urging you to reflect at the state of our world and not stay silent in the face of adversity. This had been one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 and I loved it so much! It spoke to my heart. I would recommend Small Acts of Freedom to everyone! It releases on Amazon India on 15th February, 2018, so keep an eye out for it.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought? 🙂

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A heart wrenching story about how families shape us and give us the very essence of life to keep persisting.

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

Let Art Speak For Itself

After the recurrent Padmavati (now Padmaavat) debacle, I was really intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. Why were entire communities dead against its release?

And now, having seen the film, I am no closer to answering that question. For the life of me, I can’t fathom what the issue is. In a nutshell, for the uninitiated, the film Padmaavat is a historical fiction that captures the might of the Rajput clan – women and men alike – in the face of a foreign invasion. Alauddin Khilji, the mad king of the Khilji Dynasty threatens to declare war on Chittor, Rajasthan. The story that propels the movie has been drawn from actual historical events but the film goes the extra mile with its dramatic flair and fictionalization. Now, I’m in  no position to tell which parts of the movie are based on true happenings (and neither are a lot of people who have a problem with the legitimacy of this movie). But that’s the point! It’s a movie, people. Made for entertainment. If you’re looking to watch an account that is completely true, perhaps you should watch a documentary?

That being said, the story reached out of the big screen and spoke to me. It cradled my cynical self in an embrace of deep pride for a civilization that has fought to keep its ground. It affirmed my respect for kings, queens and warriors who have had to undergo a multitude of sacrifices to keep us going. And in my honest opinion, it did not glorify practices like Sati/ Jauhar. The last scene where countless women stride towards a fiery end was more about their dignity as Rajput women, refusing to be captured and enslaved by the Khiljis. It was about an astonishing strength that allowed them to welcome death; thereby taking control of their destiny. As I sat in that theater, rooted to the spot, I didn’t for once think “wow, we should bring back such ancient practices.” I felt emotional that these women had no other choice during that time. I felt angry at those invaders and on the whole, my nationalist sentiments were pretty high up.

Ranveer Singh lives and breathes his art. I’m sure donning the skin of a crazed emperor from the 13th century was no easy feat. But somehow, Ranveer makes it look effortless and all too convincing. When I think of the movie now, his performance as Alauddin Khilji is one of the things that stands out the most; his maniacal laughter, the grungy get up and the arrogance of a ruler who felt entitled to the best of the best. I had no doubts in my mind about Ranveer Singh being an exceptional actor (my all time favourite!), but in this movie, he surpasses expectations.

On the other hand, Deepika Padukone brings a grace and fierceness to her character, Maharani Padmavati, like no other could. Sometimes it bothered me that women of those times were reduced to being subservient to the man of the house. But that’s a commentary on societal and gender norms, not Bhansali’s film. The fleeting moments of romance between Maharawal Ratan Singh (enacted by Shahid Kapoor) and Padmavati helped glaze over a movie that otherwise, would have been just about politics and war. Shahid Kapoor brings so much power to the role of Ratan Singh. His acting coupled with the ornate dialogues packs a punch that is much needed in a historical narrative.

The cinematography is to-die-for! All those scenic shots of the palace, the aerial view of the armies and the incredible clips of the music-dance sequences made me love Padmaavat even more. I’m definitely going to be watching it again and again and again.

To conclude, this movie glorifies the Rajputs, imbuing them with such strength of character. It dissects the disposition and mindset of Alauddin Khilji, making you detest him and simultaneously be appalled by his conduct. I had been anticipating watching this film for so long and now that I have, I’m extremely happy. So I don’t understand the abhorrence and I don’t understand the harsh criticism. I just wish that it had gotten better reception and that the hard work that went into its making is fully appreciated.

We have a rich cultural heritage and a country filled with beyond talented artists. Can we not be toxic amongst ourselves and work to reach a point where we can once again be a glorified nation?

Let our art speak volumes about our traditions and values. Not about hate.

Book Review — Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

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Imogen Sokoloff and Jule West Williams studied in the same high school. Now, years later Jule finds her and they kindle a friendship unlike any other. Jule is a wanderer, trying to come to terms with a past that refuses to let her be. And Imogen is fed up with everyone’s expectations of her. She has a tendency to take off when things get too difficult to handle. With each other, they find the confidence to lower the facade and give in to their true selves. Until one of them goes missing.

The first thing I will tell you about this book is to not read too much about it. Just let the story sweep you away, okay? When I flipped open the first page and the chapter was numbered “19”, I already knew that E. Lockhart had once again nailed it. Upon flipping through, I realized that the story was being told in reverse, with the most recent happening being covered by the first chapter. You may think that in a murder mystery, that sort of spoils the whole climax. But no, dear friend. Almost every chapter unravels some part of the mystery, and yet there’s so much more to be known that you are fully invested in the novel. From the first paragraph, E. Lockhart digs her narrative talons deep into your mind, refusing to let go till the very end (and in my case, even after that). Her writing style, as usual, is crisp and tantalizing. She is not one for long sentences. Especially when she can deliver a punch with fewer words than most.

The plot of the novel asserts just how complex and sensitive the human mind is. While the storyline is similar to something I’ve read before, it is the structure of the book and its characters that steal the show. Imogen reminds me of Alison from the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. She puts on this artificial persona to draw people in. And when she’s bored of them, she doesn’t give two hoots. Jule has so many layers that, as we delve deeper into the book, become more clear. We come to understand her mindset as being rooted from her experiences of the past. What we see of the other characters is from the perspective of Jule and Immie. You reach a point in the novel where you don’t know what to believe, which is something I really like in psychological thrillers. Genuine Fraud is fast paced and makes for a killer book that is going to leave you screaming. E. Lockhart has now become one of my auto-buy authors. I will simply devour anything she writes. If you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, don’t waste time. Just please pick it up. I urge you.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A murder mystery that slowly backtracks over the astounding truths about family and friendship.

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

Book Review — Written in Blood by Layton Green

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Written in Blood by Layton Green follows Detective Preach, as he attempts to wade through the murders cropping up in Creekville, North Carolina. The town, that was his home, beheld a devastating change after his departure. And now that he’s back, carrying his own nightmares of a time in Atlanta, he is forced to wonder what exactly went down during his absence. The serial killer is vengeful and won’t stop until he/she has recreated the murders that took place in the writings of Poe, Dostoevsky etc. Preach’s hands are tied and he has very less time to figure out who’s upto no good in the previously peaceful town of Creekville.

Literary references and a murder mystery, what an incredible combination! From the very beginning, this novel was unputdownable. The murders, the leads were all explored in due time, spaced out evenly throughout the book so that no part of it is draggy. Nothing about the plot is predictable and like any good murder mystery, you’re most probably going to bet on the wrong person as being the suspect. I did. And when the climax did roll around (almost at the end), I was completely bowled over!! Like *hyperventilating* bowled over. The author’s writing style is crisp, to the point, tinged by great imageries and analogies. As a reader slowly growing to love older and modern classics, the discussions and novels that are pivotal to the plot were my absolute favourite.

The manner in which themes such as rape, prostitution, child abuse and bullying are dealt with doesn’t make light of the situation. In fact, Preach’s sentiment or reaction towards these comes from a very real place. And alongside him, we can’t help but shed a tear for the hundreds and thousands of people who are undergoing such horrors. There are only a couple of characters who are regulars in the novel, so there isn’t much to detect in terms of a character arc. Sure, Preach and his partner, Kirby undergo some personality change. But that’s about it. I did not have a single complaint about this book and the whole reading experience was spotted with squeals of excitement. I’m still hungover and can barely contain myself at having read such a superb book. Highly highly highly recommend it to all those who enjoy murder mysteries!

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A mind blowing murder mystery that, in true meta fashion, is fueled by four timeless classic novels.

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

Book Review — The Indian Spirit by Magandeep Singh

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The Indian Spirit captures the historic events and societal nuances that led to Indians embracing spirits  and alcoholic drinks like rum, vodka, whisky, wine, beer etc. It digs deep into the origin tales, bringing out the long processes of evolution in our drinking culture, some of which we imbibed from foreign forces. Equipped with years of experience in the field, the author throws light on the many brands that took root in India; some of which have inevitably soared to international standards and others that have been forgotten. Almost every kind of spirit has a deep rooted connection to the growth of the F&B industry in India. This book in its entirety is a delight for those who indulge in alcohol, heightening our experience of consuming the said liquor, with tips on how to best approach it and amazing anecdotes from the past.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but some books (like this one) are simply splendid and the subject matter of The Indian Spirit appeals to me a great deal. The author’s writing style is quite conversational, flavored by quips and straightforward commentary on various products. Even though there’s a lot of factual information, it doesn’t feel textbook-ish because the narrative style is light and catchy. I often found myself cracking up at the humor wedged in between all that data. There are separate chapters on whisky, wine, beer and many more. The chapter on local alcohol variants was an eye-opener because if not for this book, I wouldn’t have even heard of many of the traditional alcoholic beverages. I like an occasional (read often) glass of wine, rum or vodka, but it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that my understanding of these drinks has been absolutely bleak, when compared to what I learned from the book. Thanks to the little guide at the end of certain chapters, I now know the correct way of tasting, judging and serving some liquors.

Since this book explores a rather wide variety of drinks, it is best read slowly, so you can grasp as much of the information as possible. Rush it, and you’ll risk not remembering more than half of it. Many of the anecdotes mentioned in this book were really intriguing. My favourite chapters (which I am going to re-read again and again) were the ones about wine, drinking etiquette and rum. Overall, this book makes for a great reading experience and I would recommend it to EVERYONE, whether you are a tippler or not. Also, regardless of the number of times I have tried beer and whisky, I strongly believe that they still taste like “something that could power space expeditions”!

What do you get out of it? Priceless knowledge about how alcohol was brought or came to be made in India. With the help of amusing stories and factual deductions, we are able to follow the changes that this market has gone through.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

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