Book Review — The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

It is 1785 and Mr. Jonah Hancock, a merchant trader from Deptford has chanced upon a miracle like no other. Having lost his prized ship Calliope and left with a mermaid, Hancock can barely contain his dejection. But much to his wonder and disbelief, he comes to realize what a jackpot he has struck upon when this mermaid launches him into a world of fame and wealth. It is there that he meets Angelica Neal, a renowned courtesan. Afraid that his reputation would take a nosedive, he tries to extricate himself from the company of those who engage in prostitution. Hence begins the story of a man and woman whose lives are propelled in different directions by the very creature that he has caged.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was equal parts enjoyable and overwhelming. Set in the 1780s London, we are privy to a society that is not only speckled with simplicity and sophistication but also far removed from other cultures in its mannerisms. Imogen Hermes Gowar’s writing is one with the times, ornate and flowery. Some of the phrases, although alien in today’s time, represent an era bygone. And it is because of that very reason that it took me a while to fully get accustomed to the writing style and thereby, the novel. At times I found the narration to be discursive, so focused on the descriptions of nature and setting that it drew away from the core of that scene.

The plot in itself is very rich, filled with all the likeliness of a classic novel. I particularly enjoyed reading about their avant-garde lifestyles; of gowns and social calls, marrying for stature and deriving at a sense of self through ostentation. The mermaid, while central to the progression of the story, takes a backseat and leaves the humans to their own devices. Of course there is a hint of the surreal, especially in the chapters that displayed the mermaid’s consciousness and when the mortals were within it’s vicinity. The ending wasn’t entirely clear to me, but I can guess.

Enveloped in a stunning velvety cover that has embossed oyster shells, this historical fiction displays an array of characters, some down to earth in their profession and others wanting of the highest glory. Mr. Hancock, in my mind, is a simple man, whose life becomes much more complicated than he’d like. Angelica Neal, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t leave any leaf unturned in her attempt to be loved and come by a fortune. Apart from the storyline of the main characters, I was intrigued by that of Polly’s. What little I saw of her personality, I quite liked and I would have liked it even more if her story had been pursued to a proper end.

I also found it amusing that the mermaid captured by Mr. Hancock almost becomes their undoing. In trying to be masters of a foreign species, they themselves become puppets to its allure. This is an approx 500 paged novel, but it feels so much longer. I would suggest reading it at a comfortably slow pace and not in a hurried manner. If you’re looking to breeze through a historical fiction, then this is not the one. That said, it is beautifully written and will transport you to another world; so give it a try, if the synopsis sounds agreeable to you.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A surreal tale of 18th century London that has all the likeliness of a classic novel plus a hint of magic realism.

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

Advertisements

Book Review — More Bodies Will Fall by Ankush Saikia

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Amenla Longkumer, a woman from Nagaland, was murdered in Delhi a year ago. So when the Delhi police closes the case without identifying any leads, her father approaches Detective Arjun Arora for help. The mystery behind Amenla’s death takes Arjun on a long journey into the inner recesses of the North-East, where he is forced to confront the actions of his past that have left an indelible mark on him. Soon it becomes apparent that this case is mired with complexities as it involves many branched off connections. More Bodies Will Fall is a window to the political clime in India, marked by corruption and communal tension.

I am always in the mood for thrillers and so, was intrigued by the premise of this novel. The plot is definitely multi-layered and you can’t take anything at face value. Usually I do have some suspicions when it comes to murder mysteries, but this book has way too many possible suspects, so my conjectures were a bit pointless. As with novels, we don’t come to know much about all of the characters, except that of Arjun. I felt that that’s probably because there are so many characters who play small roles and so they all appear on few pages here and there. That said, they are essential for solving the mystery, hence are not fluff characters.

One thing I didn’t really like about this book was the overwhelming amount of detail about Arjun’s course of action. In the sense that, for example, when he is out and about, hunting down suspects, the author goes into the very minute facts of which road he is on, where he takes a turn, which building he passes by etc. And if that had been a one off instance, I would not have minded it. But such explanations happen EVERY time Arjun heads out. What I did appreciate about the author’s descriptive writing style is his focus on the North East. The glimpses of their culture has left me wanting to read more books based in those states. The mystery in itself is very well thought out – not easy to predict and gradually, all loose ends are tied up. If you do pick up this book, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A murder mystery that is heavy on the detail and is set in Delhi as well as North East India.

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

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

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

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 — 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 — The Indian Spirit by Magandeep Singh

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

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. 

Book Review — 5 Ingredients Quick Easy Food by Jamie Oliver

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

How often have you googled recipes only to realize that the ingredients required are five times more than the number of servings or that the time needed to prepare the dish is a lot longer than what you’re ready to invest? With Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients Quick Easy Food, you don’t need to worry about a thing! It has clear cut instructions, pictures of ingredients, so you know exactly what’s required and drool-worthy snaps of the end product. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is. From basic dishes like egg fried rice and and steak sandwich to extravagant meals like smoky mushroom frittata and succulent lamb stew, this cookbook offers something for everyone. Split into 11 sections based on the nature of the dish (veg, fish, salads, sweet treats, pork etc.), this volume is diverse and incorporates different cuisines. So now, you can cook as per your mood and have a fabulous meal ready in no time! Concerned about nutrition? Flip to the very end where you’ll find tons of information about staying healthy, straight from a nutritionist.

Skim through to whichever section you prefer at that moment.

The structure and form of each recipe. Ingredients to the left, final product to the right and some basic instructions in the middle.

Made the Egg Fried Rice and Quick Steak Stir Fry.

Cooking is not one of my favourite things to do. And yet, when I had a glimpse of what this book offers, I knew I had to get a copy. I was pleasantly surprised by how everything had been made convenient for the reader. For starters, the instructions to each and every recipe are written in a simple and direct manner, that too in just a couple of paragraphs. More often than not, I’ve found that lengthy procedures make the whole ordeal even more troublesome because you have to take care of so many elements. Since the specialty of this book is that all the dishes were made out of 5 main ingredients, it was very comforting. Secondly, the structure of this book earns major brownie points. Each section has 9 – 12 recipes on average. That way you don’t need to run to the grocery store, every time you intend to cook. 85% of the ingredients are basics like eggs, sugar, meats, sauces, bread, vinegar and so on. The only thing that bothered me a little is that a select few of the sauces and vegetables aren’t as easily available where I live. Another thing that I really liked about this cookbook is that pictures of the ingredients are aligned to the left in a strip format. So you can flip through the pages and pull out recipes relevant to ingredients that you have at home.

You can’t go wrong with a cookbook that has been put together by a renowned chef such as Jamie Oliver. All of the dishes look really enticing. I’ve tried out three recipes at random, and true to the word, they have all turned out spectacular with minimal effort! *pat on the back* I highly recommend this book to everyone, even if you’re not much of a cook. Don’t be intimidated by the names of the dishes, they are as easy as can be. Get a copy and see for yourself!

What do you get out of it? You learn how to cook different cuisines with ease, while retaining the quality of the dish. Quick, quality cooking at your fingertips.

Ratings – 4.5 out of 5 stars

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