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Showing posts from June, 2013

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

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This post is a little 'after the fact', especially considering that I started reading the book about a year ago, right when it came out. It didn't take me a year to read it, barely a month, actually. I just took a year long break from it (I don't remember why) until a few days ago, when I read the remaining two hundred pages in a gleeful daze. It's a great book and I want to kick myself for not finishing it and being able to say this earlier. It's a shocking, sad, fantastic book. The weird thing is, I possibly couldn't tell you just exactly why it was so great. But I could try.

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils ... Pagford is not wha…

Reading P. G. Wodehouse

Over the years, I have had people heap scorn on me for not reading Wodehouse and yet claiming to enjoy English humour. I was told endlessly that I was missing the 'real stuff' and had to learn the hard way, that there was such a thing as a coolness factor even in the seemingly above-that-kind-of-crap world of books. Finally, last winter, I found myself reading a book I was generously gifted on my birthday, - Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P. G. Wodehouse - eager to discover what all the fuss was about and ever so slightly desperate to fall back in the good graces of the cooler among us readers.
Far be it from me to disagree with Stephen Fry, whose blurb of delighted praise, the same one, stubbornly appears on every single Wodehouse book I own; but I didn't as enjoy reading the books as I hoped to. I did like the language, don't get me wrong, the multi-layered (which I hear is the word everyone uses to describe it) apt humour and the constant realizations it sent throug…

Running With the Enemy by Lloyd Lofthouse

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A red flare shot into the sky telling the Marines to return to the landing zone for departure.
Ethan trembled and shook himself as if he were a wet dog, then rolled over beside her instead of on top of her. She smelled the coppery scent of his blood. "Hell!" he said, and pushed her into a narrow space between clumps of bamboo. "After I cover you, stay here until we are gone. Why are you here? This is not where you live. You should be washing clothes at Luu's where you will be safer."
No one is ever safe anywhere, she thought, and then said, "Ethan?" The tears in her eyes blurred her vision. She reached for him, wanting him to take her away from this war, but he slipped out of her reach.
Summary:In this suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War, Victor Ortega is a rogue CIA agent, and he needs someone to blame for his crimes. Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy. As a teen, Ethan ran with a Chicago street gang, and he has a criminal record. He …

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Pictured: The library copy of Ishiguro's Nocturnes with its beautiful blue cover and beside it, my favourite bookmark.
After really enjoying An Artist of the Floating World and recently, Never Let Me Go, I had certain expectations from this book. In a way, it's very typically Ishiguro and in another, it's really not what I had in mind.
Nocturnes is a collection of short stories, as the title says: five short stories of music and nightfall. I loved two, fairly liked another two, and was entirely confused and disappointed by one. The book has a nostalgic, almost silly romantic air to it and shows the way music intensely affects people and relationships. The stories are tied together by a sense of lingering regret. There are some recurring characters.
Crooner: This is the first story in the collection and one that I really loved. A Polish guitar player meets the once famous musician Tony Gardner at a piazza where he spends time playing for various groups, bored by the monoton…

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

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I couldn't remember which was recommended to me, and picked Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters at the library, instead of A Fine Balance. I wonder if, had I chosen the latter, I would have been awed as promised. I started reading Family Matters late in the evening and finished it in the middle of the night. Interesting and at times painfully beautiful, though the book was, it did leave something to be desired.
Set in Bombay (Mumbai to some of us) Family Matters is the story of a middle-class Parsi family. The story opens in a little household. We meet Nariman Vakeel, once a professor of English and now, a Parkinson's patient living at Chateau Felicity with his step-children, Coomy and Jal. The opening scene: Nariman announcing his intention to go out for a walk, Coomy complaining about having to take care of her sick step-father, Jal with his hearing-aid struggling to keep up with the conversation. The very start brings out the deep, inner turmoil brought on by Nariman's…

The First Bird: Episode 1 by Greig Beck

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One word: Awesome. For a sort of modern version of The Lost World, this book is pretty creative. 
Somewhere in the deep jungles of Brazil, a social anthropologist discovers something extraordinary. The fame-hungry scientist brings back to LA a live specimen of an Archaeopteryx (the eponymous first bird) and with it, a deadly infection that flays its victims alive. So, while the disease spreads, a team of experts sets out to Gran Chaco to find a cure; a team which includes Professor Matt Kearns, an expert in archaeology, old languages and more out of necessity than choice, adventure. While the plot is kind of formulaic, the world created is entirely original.

As with Black Mountain, the thing that really makes this book work is the pace. The plot speeds on and before you even realize it, you're completely hooked. And for someone who manages to keep things moving so quickly, the authors gives a lot of attention to details. Very few authors can describe an intense action packed scene…

Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

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I'm glad this wasn't a review copy, because now I can just rant, without having to bother about a review structure or ratings. Those who do care about the review structure and ratings would be happy to know that I though it was a pretty good book! It's fast paced, but you should know, there's little action (not the fighting and killing kind, anyway) and there are not many clues or detectives, either. 

Here's the blurb, which gives a pretty good idea about the book, without giving away any details (as must have been intended and saves me the trouble of writing a summary)

"It’s just another evening at the Tiller’s Club.  Near the bar, Capt. Rana, the Young Officer undergoing training at the War College stands among his course mates, consciously avoiding his pregnant, Muslim wife, Heena. Rumour has it she had forced him to marry her because of the baby.  Saryu, village belle turned modern babe, drink in hand, chats up a YO. Her husband, Maj. Vikram Singh, shoots angr…

There May Be An Asterisk Involved by Vedashree Khambete

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Note: I'm sorry if this 'book review' is little more than a gushing rant, that happens sometimes with books that surprise me.
Very few people appreciate a well-written footnote. Most of my favourite parts of the Discworld books lie right in those wittily worded footnotes. They're also where the narrator's voice really comes out, and in any book by Terry Pratchett, that is most welcome. (Also a book with funny, comfortable, page-long footnotes: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.) Vedashree Khambete has managed to sneak into her book some truly wry, mocking commentary through the regular footnote asides. They top the list of reasons I adored There May Be An Asterisk Involved.
At the risk of sounding like a judger-and-labeller, I don't generally read books by Indian authors, especially debuts. So I was mildly surprised when I read the blurb on the back of this book that my sister (who stays somewhere in the US - I'm bad with names) sent me t…

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

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I first started reading this book almost a year ago. I'm glad I didn't continue reading it back then, I'm sure I wouldn't have appreciated it as much then as I did now.
Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche and if you haven't the slightest clue what it is, it's a good idea to read up on it (that's what I did) before reading the book. The book is also the last novel C. S. Lewis ever wrote and the only thing I've read by him. The book has two parts. The first is the story, as narrated by Orual, Psyche's half-sister, a woman with a disfigured, unpleasant face, which she hides under a veil. Orual bitterly accuses the Gods of being unjust and writes her side of the story as a complaint against the Gods, even a challenge of sorts. 
Orual is the eldest daughter of the King of Glome, a city not far from Greece. The goddess of Ungit (whom the Greeks call Aphrodite) is jealous of the little Psyche's beauty and is infuriated by …