Book Post

Please note how defiantly I titled this post. I am not going to put in any effort where titles are concerned even though all studies show that it is the title that makes or breaks a piece. Oh well, people will read if they want, or not. Years ago I wrote my first article and the copy editor looked at the headline I’d given it, praised me first and then smiled ruefully. ‘A new broom sweeps clean, a new writer is full of imagination and enthusiasm’ he said. He said he gave me a few weeks at the end of which he fully expected cliches. I lasted a few months at the end of which I was drained, giving about 6 headlines or more a day and restricted by word counts, font sizes and whatnot. I’m giving up on titles to posts too. One hopes you will enjoy the post and forgive me. If you’re wondering where I’ve been, well I’ve spent the last months at my parents’ place, traveling a bit, and reading, reading, reading, as the list below will prove. Oh, I also moved home. Third time in three years. Gurgaon has me quite unsettled!

Wife 22 – Melanie Gideon

I picked up this book quietly, hiding it in my bag because I’d just shopped for books like crazy and the OA was giving me dirty looks. I don’t usually pick up too much contemporary fiction but I loved this one. Loved it because no one love social media the way I do.

Alice is a drama teacher in her 40s. She has a gentle son like mine, and a spitfire daughter, again, like mine. I often worry about the Bean’s teen years and this book gave me the heebie jeebies. Her husband works with an advertising agency and she on some level, ticks off all the stereotypes of being harassed, tired, dowdy and frumpy. And then you give it some thought and realise that it’s only a common stereotype because it is so true. How do you cook fresh meals, hold down a job, and be a good spouse and parent while still making time to look like a million bucks? I certainly don’t think I could manage it!

Anyhow, I digress. Blame yourselves. You make it so easy to chat and think aloud. Anyhow, her marriage is nothing to write home about and one day she finds in her inbox an invite from a research institute, to answer a survey about her marriage. On a whim, she signs up. And from here onwards it’s only a slippery slope. Talking to a stranger about something as intimate as your marriage, is never a good idea. Particularly because its so easy to be open. She is Wife 22, and Researcher 101 is a good listener.

While her marriage unravels, her husband loses his job. Her daughter’s boyfriend has cheated on her. And she is convinced that her 12 year old son is gay. Her friendship with her best friend is on the rocks and a lot of this is thanks to social media. Facebook, text messages, fake accounts and so much else makes up the bulk of this story.

I have to say I found this really easy to relate to, after the violent wars this blog has witnessed, the 2 acquaintances who I lost on FB after disagreements on violence against women and Delhi and so on and so forth.

The writing is lovely, witty and fresh. The story is one that keeps you hooked. And yet again I find myself loving a story that tells itself through letters and messages. It really is a wonderful device. I connected to this story on so many levels that I race through it  - and I plan to read it once again to appreciate the vein of wit that runs through it.

My Dear, I wanted to tell you – Louisa Young

I fell back into my comfort zone with this book. Set in the first World War, it is about two lovers who are separated by class and then the war. Riley Purefoy and Nadine Waveney met when they were children and Riley fell through a frozen over lake. He was rescued and dried off at the Waveneys’ warm, bohemian home and there was no looking back. If it weren’t for the war, one wonders what would have become of them. But he joined as a soldier and she as a nurse, the violence and death becoming a great leveler.

They write to each other and swear undying love. Until Riley gets injured and doesn’t want her to be obliged to marry him. So he writes to her, telling her he is in love with another. I don’t ‘get’ noble love. Maybe because love is inherently such a selfish emotion. You love because you love. Period. Anyway, he breaks Nadine’s heart and she moves on to immerse herself in work.

Surrounding them are a host of interesting characters. Riley’s Commanding Officer Peter Locke who is not physically injured by the war but shell shocked. Too horrified by what the war has shown him to go back to his trophy wife Julia. Trophy wife Julia who realises that all she has are her looks, and those she has lost while he was away, thanks to childbirth. Women who might never have otherwise got to drop their stays and raise their hemlines had abandoned their position behind tea trays to drive ambulances and nurse the wounded, never fainting at the sight of lost limbs or gore. There is no appreciation for women like her anymore.

It’s an interesting study of class, of art, and surprise, surprise, of the first experiments with plastic surgery and faces are reconstructed and ears re-attached. I found it a fascinating read for the amount of research and thought that has gone into it. The setting is fantastic, the characters well rounded, there is despair, but always hope, there are smokey bars, hookers, soldiers in trenches, the stench of blood, love, lust and some great writing. Please read.

Fallen Skies – Phillipa Gregory

I love this woman. She writes brilliantly. This one is set in 1920. Smoky jazz bars again, people. What’s not to love? Lily Valance is a singer. Her shop keeper, widow mother has put her all into raising Lily to be more than just a chorus girl. So when Captain Winters, impeccable background, a war hero comes back from the Front, and begins to court Lily, it seems like everything is going well. Young and talented, Lily wants more from life so the Captain has no choice but to bide a wee.

But then Lily’s mother dies, leaving her shattered and Captain Winters is waiting conveniently in the wings to pick up the broken pieces. He rushes her into a marriage none of them should be in and that is when, what seems like perfection, begins to show its cracks. The war hero has his nightmares, Lily has fallen in love with someone else, and the big old house with her paralysed father in law, disapproving mother in law and many, many rules, is like a prison. But Lily, gorgeous Lily fills the home with sunshine, has the help eating out of her hand and even manages not to entirely upset her MIL. And then, she gets pregnant.

I think PG really comes into her own when she does all out fiction. The characters are fantastic, the stories are real and spell binding, and the way she effortlessly captures the mood no matter which era she sets her stories in, admirable. She shows you post WW-I London, the fears and the slow break down of class hierarchy and social mores. And all this just works its way into the story. I wish more writers would put so much effort into their work. She shows you how you can take a simple love story and turn it into a work of art that cannot be dismissed as chick lit. Love. You read.

The Linnet Bird – Linda Holeman

London in the early 1800s. Another period I love. I love that it was dirty, filthy, diseased, hopeless, but still ruled the world! Okay, I hate that they ruled us, I hate what they did to us, but I am fascinated by that period. Linny Gow’s mother was a maid who in the usual way went wrong and ended up pregnant. Then she unhelpfully died. The man who took her in managed to raise Linny until she was 11 before he sold her to the highest bidder. She is a working girl before she knows what it means. It’s all rather dismal and hopeless. One night she is sent to a client who has special needs. The whole deal goes wrong and she’s tossed out for dead. Paradoxically this gives her a second chance at life and she decides never to go back to the step father, even if it means turning tricks on the streets.

One thing leads to another and with a judicious mix of effort and luck, she ends up on a ship to India as a companion to another young hopeful, because India is full of unmarried and desperate bachelors. This is certainly a step up in life, and frankly, all she could have ever dreamed of. In a strange twist of fate she ends up married to the most eligible bachelor there. Not an enviable a match as everyone else might imagine.

This is the first Linda Holeman I’ve read and I enjoyed her writing. You can smell the stench of the London gutters, the hair oil and jasmine flowers in India and feel the ocean roll under you as you toss up your accounts. I loved the bits about cloth draped above dining tables as bugs fell into the food, crumbling chuna (lime) painted walls in India, and the desperate, desperate hunger doctors had in the West for dead bodies to research and experiment on. Reminded me of Whore’s Asylum and a couple more I can’t recall right now.

The characters are cliched at times, but that’s the worst I can come up with. I also struggled with some of the Indian words  - either she got the spelling wrong or they were pronounced differently in the good old day. All told, a fast read and an interesting one. 

Finding Mr Flood – Ciara Geraghty

One of the best things about traveling abroad is the opportunity to encounter different authors. This is one I found in Bangkok. Yes, it qualifies as chick lit but it was a good read. Dara lives with her sister Angel and her mother, Mrs Flood (that is how she is referred to by one and all). Angel has kidney failure and the three women are on high alert at all times – waiting for the call that a kidney match has been found. Angel is literally, the glue that holds the family together. Mr Flood walked out on them 13 days before Dara was born and well, she doesn’t really expect too much from people. She lives, literally, only to see her elder sister happy. And now, that means finding the father who never knew her, to see if his kidney is a match. She engages a private investigator for this purpose and that, is where it all kicks off.

Protagonist Dara is frankly, rather annoyingly pi and spineless. There are moments I want to slap her silly. The other characters too, seem rather cardboard like at times, with obvious quirks. But on the whole they have interesting and distinctive backgrounds. I found the premise interesting – searching for one of those who gave you life to give you a second lease of life. And the play on the notion – how she really got a life while looking for her sister’s second chance at life. Decent-ish read.

Testimony of Two Men – Taylor Caldwell

I spent most of the childrens’ summer holidays back at my parents place and spent most of my time reading books that I had vivid memories of my grandma reading. I close my eyes and I can see her finely veined hands holding this copy and it makes me heartsick. Set at the turn of the century in Pennsylvania, this is the story of a small town, more than anything else. The rumours, the lies, the affairs, the deception, the hypocrisy – all of it is so much more apparent when you live at such close quarters.

Dr Robert Morgan has moved to Hambledon to take over the practice of the notorious Dr Jonathan Ferrier. Notorious not just for his ridiculous, new fangled ideas such as maintaining hygiene in the operation theatre, modernising and sanitising hospitals and so on – but also for killing his wife. Young Dr Morgan however is torn between believing the whispers about his mentor, and believing what his eyes and his scientific mind show him to be true. Unodubtedly Jonathan Ferrier doesn’t care for the good opinion of his neighbours, but must he go so far out of his way to give offence?

I loved this book. Loved the period (but of course!), loved how it wasn’t just a story about a man who killed his wife, but gave you a fairly good idea of how a few doctors put their reputations at stake for modern medicine and fought to bring in hygienic practices, almost getting run out of town for it. Caldwell forms each character brilliantly if a little rigidly and I love her form of authorial intervention. The book runs at a gentle pace but you don’t realise it because you’re so busy getting to know each person. It’s also a reminder that human nature is essentially nasty. That seems to be the default position most people take. The few who are brusque and honest, genuine, just don’t seem to know how to work the system. Loved this book. Felt such a sense of loss when it ended. Will go back to it in some years again I hope.

Cane River – Lalita Tademy

Based on a true story, this book actually traces the history of author Lalita, replete with copies of old letter, photographs etc. She quits her corporate job in the city to dig into her past and figure out if her great-grandmother Emily’s mother, was a slave or not. The search turned into an obsession and from the material she collected, was born this book. We’ve all read some amount of fiction about slavery and plantations – I wonder how hard it must be for someone who was the Vice President of a Fortune 500 firm in Silicon Valley to deal with what her family went through for her to be where she is. To accept the strength of her ancestors who were slaves, yet fought in their own way, using the means they had at hand, to manipulate their lives into a better place.

It is significant that in a place where everyone is equal, where even men are slaves, a woman’s strength of character comes into play and the women are the ones who actually make something of themselves, even if they do it while using their wiles on men. The story is set on the banks of the Louisiana’s Cane River and runs through the Civil War and the early twentieth century.

As you hear the story of each of those women across four generations, you get a flavour of the times they lived in, how society changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes worse. What makes it hard to read is the realisation that this is not fiction – this really *was* someone’s life. You hold your breath through the trials and tribulations and the only thing that keeps you going is that it ended well. It ended with a girl from that line of slavery, writing this book. There are days when I allow my silly first world problems to get me down – I think I should pick up my copy and read a chapter on days like that. So should you.

Bong Mom’s Cookbook – Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta

One of the joys of being a blogger is that you know almost every new author. One of my most looked forward to books this year was Sandeepa’s book. She and I have read each other’s blogs for ages and I can’t think of anyone more suited to write on bong food.

The book is written in that chatty style her blog is famous for and personally, I love a cookbook with a bit of history thrown into it. I love that she gives you some informal background on the dish to be prepared – …’it is always made for festivals, in another avatar it can be cooked with only potatoes, can be had with rice also..’ etc. While I am no great cook, I can follow recipes to the T and set up a passable meal, only getting stumped for ideas. Sandeepa’s book solves that problem and makes me a very happy woman. Whether, like me you have a little Bong blood and want to satisfy the craving, or whether you are a foodie who has no Bong blood, just a desire for fabulous food, put your money on this book – you won’t regret it.

 

 

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35 thoughts on “Book Post

  1. Glad to see a post from you TMM. I have commented just once earlier but loooove to read this blog. Have been checking this everyday since your last post.

    Trust you had a fabulous time at parents’. I spent 6 months this year at my parents too – something which I did after many years. Really enjoyed it although I was ready to come back to my place :)

      • Haha. The reason for my stay was also no surprises there – procreation. Took my 3 month old and brought her back at 9 months. Poor child didn’t recognise her father for the first week :)

          • Thats true. However the sad look on grandparents faces is hard to forget. We are overseas so travelling frequently isnt possible. Plus I am not boarding any flights till the critter is old enough to entertain herself. phewwwww…

            • Ooo looks like we are have a chat here…Dont want to crowd your comment box. Hope the house move is all done and over with. Gurgaon can be unsettling (I was in Southern part of Delhi before and can only imagine what a stark contrast Gurgaon can be to Delhi).

            • We’ve moved thrice in three years. Its unsettling me in more ways than one! Not settled yet, but in no hurry this time. These moves are part of the Almighty’s plan to teach me patience.

  2. This may sound odd but we are moving too INTERSTATE with a 11 month old. I just want to SETTLE at one place. Its more draining mentally than physically I guess.

  3. Great to see your post. Thank you for the book posts, I got a few books from the library from your previous post and enjoyed them. I hope most of the books you have listed are available in our library. You help me read other authors instead of the same old ones that I would have picked up otherwise, so your book posts are a learning journey for me :)
    Hope Brat and Bean are having fun and enjoying the monsoon.

  4. I should get the first book. I’m at risk of losing a friend, because we’ve run into one too many arguments over the number of feminists posts I share. I am still a little shocked.
    After coming across multiple PG recommendations on this page, I am going to go ahead and get this one. Sounds so gripping!
    I love your book posts, MM. I like how you review all these books. I have a small notebook in which I note down all book recommendations (among other things) and I’ve often come back to add names to the list.

  5. MM, it is so good to see your post after ages! :)

    As I have said before, I love the sheer variety of books you read. I loved the sound of Bong Mom’s Cookbook and Cane River. They sound right up my alley. :) Thank you so much for the recos.

  6. Dear MM,

    Books ellam irukatam :) how are you, OA, kids and parents? How was your Thailand trip?
    How is your knee? when you get time, please post about this..

    Sujatha Ramesh

    • Holiday pathi seekarama oru blog post pannaren. For now, it was a great trip and we had a good time. :) And I missed you guys. Knee hurts for 48 hours after driving for 5 minutes – that should tell you about knee as well as driving ;)

  7. Hi MM, so good to see your post after such a long time.
    Hope all is well with you and your family. Your long absence from blogsphere was worrying but now since you are back feeling relieved. Keep posting regularly.
    Book post is a treat. I am developing interest in non fiction thanks to all your book reviews.

  8. The title was uninspired but the post wasn’t. I’m going to go get Philippa Gregory. I love her books and the liberties she takes with English history. An all out piece of fiction sounds interesting, though and your take on it has me intrigued. Wife 22 sounds intriguing too. I wonder at the nature of marriage, it works beautifully for all involved until you try to explain it to a 3rd person. I find people (myself included) get defensive about the state of things. Maybe it’s best left unexplained to outsiders, best examined only by the 2 people in it.

  9. Lovely post. Moved again? I thought the place looked charming in the birthday post, and you were happy with a house with no staircases. Rest awhile girl — if not for yourself, for the poor knee :-)

  10. How sweet of you MM. I have been not able to blog hop much given it is summertime here and what a pleasant surprise to find my book right there on your list. Touched and feeling proud :-D Thank you so much.

  11. Nice to see a post MM and am adding the Cane river and fallen skies to my library list ASAP…need some inspired reading.

  12. Found most of the ones you recommend at our local library. Thank you! Been feeling the itch to try eclectic stuff but had no idea where to begin. FB crowdsourcing for ideas works only so much. :) Do post book reviews once in a while. Love the ones you recommend.

  13. It never occurred to me that a title is what makes or breaks a piece. Coming up with catchy titles requires a lot of effort – most times I directly state what the post is about. Why pressurize ourselves? Infact, in one of my old blogs, I didn’t have write a title. Perhaps why I didn’t have many readers, but then who cared?

    Lovely list MM. I am definitely going to add some of these to my reading list.

  14. What variety in reading… Nice. Bong moms cookbook is on my list too.. I read divakurani recently and liked her style. But loving travel writing which is quick and refreshing… Nothing can give me quite as much joy as finishing a book.. Know what I mean :-)

  15. Thank you for this post. Your review of Cane River made me seek and read through half of the book in snatches of time during lunch breaks and daily commute and the rest in one sitting. It lifted me out of the hole I was digging myself into, made me realise what was important and more importantly rekindled my longing for quality books to read. Take care of your knees and keep going :)

  16. I literally ran to the library the moment I saw the title of the post. So thank you for the defiance :) I was so intrigued by Wife 22, it was the first book I picked and read. I loved the wit, the characters (Nedra – omg I want a friend like that in my 40s!!), the flow of the book. It was a breeze to read through. Alice is so real, as are her struggles with bossy parents, make up and of course family. But then, the book came to an end. And I didn’t like it (the end I mean). Everything tied up pretty with a bow on top (the son, the researcher, the fight with Nedra, the writing, the daughter – everything!). That’s not how life usually is…I got the feeling that I had been tricked. That it was just a pretentious chick-lit book. Nothing wrong in the genre..but I’d have preferred her to stay real to the tone she set initially. Or set a different tone from the start. I enjoyed it no doubt…just my 2 cents on finishing the book right now :)
    I so look forward to your recommendations… otherwise I’d end up picking the same authors again and again. And yes, a big thank you for recommending “The world according to Garp”. Stunned!

  17. Hi TMM,

    I happened to chance upon your blog and thought it to be witty and insightful. Let me introduce myself, my name is Sofia and I am part of the team at Growl Media. Growl Media is a Dubai-based app developer on a mission to create high-quality culturally relevant apps for the Asian and Middle Eastern developing markets.

    We publish our apps under the brand Appy Kids, and our first app – Appy Animals – was published on the global Apple App Store just under a month ago.

    Appy Animals is a Hindi-English app, and the primary aim of it was to help Indians in the diaspora teach their kids Hindi – a very difficult task, given that most parents in the diaspora tend to speak in English or the native language of the country they live in because they’re generally second or third generation Indians.

    As it turns out the app actually works for any parents who want to give their kids an insight into world cultures and languages.

    Why start with Hindi? The answer’s simple, if a little heartwarming. Dinesh Lalvani, the founder of Growl Media, was looking for an app to teach his 2-year-old Hindi and found that there were no quality apps that he would voluntarily put in front of his son.

    Why start with Hindi? Dinesh Lalvani, the founder of Growl Media, was looking for an app to teach his 2-year-old Hindi and found that there were no quality apps on the market. So, he decided to build his own. Next up, we’re set to launch an Arabic version of the app, followed by an English storybook and an Arabic alphabet app.

    Should you wish to download the app and review it, please let me know and I can send through a promo code.

    Best regards,

    Sofia Zaman

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