Library time again

The Weight Loss Club – Devapriya Roy

I must begin with a disclaimer. I know Devapriya, only slightly, but I do know her. Now, with that out of the way, I have to begin by saying, I loved the book. I did. It’s always shocking to find that you thoroughly enjoyed reading a book written by a regular person. I don’t know what I expect authors to be – horned and winged creatures I suppose. Perhaps because a good book seems like its been written by a mythical creature.

But enough of the rambling. Anuja Chauhan and Devapriya Roy, are two contemporary writers I enjoy. No hinglish, no sense of the author struggling with the language, no stilted writing, no trying too hard. Just fabulous, flowing prose. And a great story.

The Nancy Housing Cooperative (the result of a clerical error) is just a regular housing society in Calcutta with the usual hovering Bong mother who wants her son to go to IIT, a bullied daughter in law, an overweight academic whose mother is frantically looking for a good match, Treeza who is in depression, Ananda who is taking care of his ailing mother… They’re people we know, they’re people we relate to and yet, you want to know more about them. And then Sandhya arrives and you wonder what she’s doing here. She’s a Brahmacharini and she’s going to turn their lives around.

It’s amazing how Devapriya manages to string it all together and bring it to an end in a crescendo. I got caught up in the fervour and as with all books, was most distraught when it ended. I, for one, am hoping for a sequel. Hint, hint.

Confessionally Yours – Jhoomur Bose Disclaimer again – I know JB too, not too well, but enough to admit that I might be a teeny bit biased. I loved her blog, I love her spirit. And I enjoyed her book.

Polly Sharma, trainee reporter lives a life I don’t envy. Her husband has no interest in her. Her MIL walks all over her. And even her best friend treats her like – well, like crap. She doesn’t get a byline, her boss is a bitch and all in all, Polly isn’t a likeable character, simply because she has no spine.

I find it hard to relate to such doormats because they’re so not me. On the other hand, I was most thrilled to see Jhoomur create a protagonist who was nothing like her. Almost all first time authors write an autobiography and it gets tedious. But this character is nothing like the fiery JB either and in fact the only connection to JB is that Polly is given an assignment to interview an anonymous blogger who writes an extremely juicy blog. Set in a media office, this book made me felt right at home. The four letter words, the crazy hours, the politicking, the tight deadlines, the bitches.

In the end of course Polly comes up trumps but I have to say there were moments I wanted to smack her. All in all a fun, quick read.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a genetics professor who is socially challenged. You’re given to understand that he might have Asperger’s, but its never quite spelled out. Good looking, a flourishing career, one would say these are the perfect attributes in a husband, but Don is pushing 40 and nowhere close to being in a relationship thanks to his social ineptitude and lack of empathy (something he is aware of and interestingly, working on). After a few disastrous experiences that serve as a reminder that he is different, he decides to cut through the initial few dates that are a waste of time and get to the core of the matter.

In true Don style that is logical, focussed and unemotional, by asking all potential dates to fill out an extensive questionnaire. Does she smoke? Is she vegan? Does she waste a lot of time on make up?

Enter Rosie who is hunting for her biological father and needs a geneticist’s help. Disorganised, fun loving and a student cum bartender, she turns Don’s life upside down so that he is no longer cooking by the day of the week and saving 30 seconds on a lecture to use for his fitness routine. They come up with a wild idea to help her find her father and in all this, Don loses track of his own Wife project. And one by one his rules start falling by the wayside as Rosie helps him shake off the shackles of his very organised and entirely boring life.

The Rosie Project is a highly entertaining and interesting book even if you’re not a Big Bang Theory fan. It takes a light and highly sympathetic look at those on the autism spectrum and shows you the view from their side of the hill. He isn’t stylish, he isn’t social, he isn’t funny and he finds it hard to pick up on the unsaid. He has no empathy, yet he elicits yours. This is a particular triumph of the author because its hard to be rooting for someone who has few of the qualities we look for in a hero. And Nerds rule!

Those Pricey Thakur Girls – Anuja Chuahan

The Mint says Anuja Chauhan is “The only Indian writer of popular fiction really worth buying..” Not too far from the truth. I raced through The Zoya Factor in spite of my intense dislike of cricket. I loved the Battle for Bittora because it took me back to my small town roots. And I will even forgive her for all the jibes at Stephanians she makes in Those Pricey Thakur Girls, because well, we can’t all be Stephanians and the bitterness is understandable ;)

I had the pleasure of interviewing her some years ago and she’s as interesting a person as her books indicate. But more about the book. I’m pretty sure that most of you have read the book so I’m really late to this party. Justice Thakur’s daughters, named alphabetically, Anjini, Binodini, Chandralekha, Debjani and Eshwari (a reminder of how long and hard families try for a son!) are a handful. Fortunately the first three are married off and number four, Debjani, who has just begun her career as a newsreader with the national television channel is next up. The youngest, Eshwari, is still in Modern School and has a way to go.

Enter Dylan Singh Shekhawat, part Manglorean Christian, part Rajput and full investigative reporter with the India Post. The chemistry between him and Debjani is enough to blow up the lab, but the path of true love never ran smooth. Set in the mid-eighties, it is two years after the death of the assassination of the PM and the anti-Sikh riots that followed. Dylan is investigating these riots and confesses to much disdain for the state sponsored tripe that Debjani reads off the autocue, as news.

Chauhan weaves the rest of the family in with consummate skill. The free loading Chachaji whose affairs with the cook are driving his pug faced wife crazy. Their top heavy body-building son. Debjani’s elder sister, Anjini, the prettiest of the lot, a terrible flirt and burdened with childlessness. Binodini, married to a ne’er do well who is constantly trying to get her family to fund her husband’s failing enterprises. The vivacious young Eshwari who hates Satish Sridhar who lives next door, is one of her oldest friends and allies and encourages her to date one of the other Modern School studs.

It’s easy to forget the hero and heroine and get sidetracked by the accessories. I love Anuja’s writing. Lets get that out of the way. The Hinglish she throws in as dialogue doesn’t detract from the skill with which the English flows. She’s humorous, she’s compassionate, she understands eccentricities and she creates real people with flaws, who are lovable anyway.

What’s most important is that she’s intelligent. Cricket in one book, politics in the other and media in this one. She understands each of her subjects, researches them thoroughly and only then does she write. These are not trite, candy floss novels that skim over some vague office or the other. These peel away in layers, revealing hidden depths and often touch upon important issues, making a case for them in the most subtle way.

By the end you’re in love with every minor character and wish she’d give them each a book of their own. I hear the little nephew Samar Singh is all grown up and gets his day in the sun with her next book. But I’d really love it if she could give us something on Eshwari who shows much promise. I’m going to buy all the books and get her to autograph them for me. Yes, I can be fangirl too!

 Where’d you go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple

I ordered this on my Kindle, which is a mercy because I got so taken up with it that I was reading it on the Kindle app on my phone while the dentist was looking at my teeth, on my Mac when I should have been working… you get the picture.

Semple uses my favourite literary device, letters, blogs, FBI reports and emails. She already had me at that and didn’t really need to do more. But no, she had to go and write a cracker of a book and bring.me to.my.knees. Bernadette Fox is mother to Bee Branch, a super intelligent child who was born with a heart problem, and wife to Elgin Branch, yet another genius who works with Microsoft.

As the story progresses you realise that Bernadette has issues. She is mentally ill and also, in that almost necessary combination, brilliant. She once won awards as an architect for being green at a time when it wasn’t fashionable to be green. Life deals her a few harsh blows and she takes it rather badly, retreating into her home and cutting herself off entirely. She makes fun of Seattle, of Microsoft, of the over-involved school mums… she spares no one. And is generally disliked. It all comes to a head when the school where her daughter studies arranges a fund raiser and when Bee demands that she make good on her promise and take her to Antarctica as her middle school graduation present.

The agoraphobic Bernadette who outsources all her work to a virtual assistant in India called Manjula Kapoor, including calling her doctor for an appointment (because she doesn’t like to deal with people – even her contact with Manjula is only over email) and buying clothes for their trip to Antarctica is outraged when she finds one of the school mums trespassing on her property with a weed removal specialist.

The FBI suddenly gets involved, her husband is having an affair, her house is literally falling into the neighbours and suddenly, she vanishes without a trace. I wish I could tell you more but then I’d have to kill myself for ruining it. Hysterical, intelligent, original, and a light hearted look at artistic temperament, mental illness, infidelity, privilege, parenting and oh so much more!

Semple’s book makes you want to knock at the little door on her head, walk in, and take a look around at what goes on inside and go ‘Hmm.. so this is the kind of brain it takes to write a mind blowing book.’ The story takes an insanely funny yet scary twist and its interesting to see how much an author needs to research things like architecture, software and even Antarctica to write a book. Not like the crap we read these days, just written off the cuff and about banal, mundane lives. Gah.

Read this book, people. I guarantee you’ll want to hug me for the recommendation. If not, meh, you have bad taste!

The House of Velvet and Glass – Katherine Howe

This year, 2014 is the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the fascination with the sinking of that ode to indulgence, remains. It spun off a number of novels and I can understand the interest because I keep coming back to them. The novel takes a look at the lives of those left behind.

Sybil Allston’s mother Helen, and sister Eulah were on the Titanic when it sank. Leaving her sphinx like father Harlan or Lan Allston, her recalcitrant younger brother Harlan III and herself, to pull together the pieces of their lives after the tragedy, and get on with it. Sybil’s mother frequented the parlour of a medium, and wracked with grief she falls into the habit of visiting the medium too, to see if she can make contact with her dead mother and sister. She was once in love with psychology professor, Benton Jones but he upped and married someone else. A widower now, he’s back in town and seemingly still interested.

Things take a turn when Sybil does manage to make contact with the other world. When Benton finds out, he suspects it to be some manner of fraud and decides to investigate with her. Her brother suddenly shows up and it seems he’s been asked to leave Harvard over misconduct with a lady whose reputation is suspect. It’s just a lot more than Sybil can deal with right now.

And the reader goes back and forth with every alternate chapter, delving into the Senior Harlan Allston’s mysterious past on the ships and the exotic lands he sailed to. All the while leaving you wondering, can you look into the future? Can you make contact with loved ones who have passed on?

I enjoy books like The House of Velvet and Glass precisely because while they seek to answer many questions, they also leave just enough unanswered to keep you wondering. They belong to a time when travel meant true adventure. When you didn’t have a mobile phone to stay in touch, to bring back pictures of the strange and wondrous sights you’d seen, when you struggled to communicate with the locals. When dwellings had their own unique character and ugly rows of high rises didn’t dominate every skyline, be it Beijing or Bombay.  From opium dens in Shanghai to the deck of the Titanic, Howe has it all down pat. Each character, no matter how small, seems to have a purpose.

Lan’s past in shipping is the most fascinating part of the book to me. How he grew from brash young sailor to cold, taciturn old gentleman is an interesting tale. Yet, for all that it checks off the correct boxes, it is a slow read. Howe has brought together fascinating ingredients like opium dens, morphine addiction, women’s rights, the Great War, scientists and psychologists – but she’s not been able to build the structure into the towering edifice it had the potential to be.  An interesting read nonetheless for its observations on society and class divides.

A Bad Character – Deepti Kapoor

This isn’t an easy book to read. Short staccato sentences. Leaping from one period to another between two paragraphs. And all this with no names. They are just He and She. A boy and a girl who met in Delhi and were drawn to each other. She’s pretty, but we don’t know anything about her prettiness, other than that she believes she is so. He’s ugly – dark, wiry hair, flat nose, ears that stick out – he looks like a servant, she thinks.

And yet she’s drawn to him and within hours, with no explanation they’re together. Her mother is dead and her father abandoned them years ago to move to Singapore. She lives with an Aunty and Uncle. A typical Aunty who wants her to dress up, join her for parties and get married to an NRI. The book is their love story as well as an ode to Delhi. From the cream cheese in Khan market to the qawwals in Nizamuddin, the filthy Yamuna in East Delhi to little cafes where they play Brubeck and Dylan.

This is a story for Delhiites above all as you relate to drug dealers in seedy lanes in Pahargunj, the roadside parathas and whisky, Mori Gate, samosas in boiling cauldrons, Fact and Fiction in Vasant Vihar, It’s dark, it’s noir, it repels you even while it draws you in. Interestingly, it is a story most of us have either lived or witnessed.

One would imagine it wouldn’t interest, precisely for those reasons. But it does, because we’ve all been 20, all loved the bad boy, and many of us have fallen down that abyss of drugs and self destruction or just missed it. Kapoor’s way with words is what holds you, because early into the story he is dead. You stay on because she reels you in and holds on to you, dark as it is. For instance, her description of him is – ‘There’s not a shred of fat on him, it’s all muscle and sinew, coiled eye and glacier bone, as if he’s covered every inch of land, burnt off every strip of fat through breathing.’

Read it if you’ve been there. Read it if you haven’t been there and want to know what it might have been like. Read it for an alternative version of the life you could have lived.

Cry Baby – David Jackson Erin wakes up with a splitting headache and realises in horror that her six month old baby has been kidnapped. Someone has bugged her person and is giving her instructions via an ear piece.

We often say we’d kill for our children. And Erin has to prove that she means it, because that’s what the kidnapper wants. He wants her to kill a couple of people for him and only then will he return her baby. Erin is a regular jane with no idea how one goes about a murder. But she is driven by the need to save her baby’s life and she begins. As the death count goes up, the police get closer.

The story shifts between Erin and a police station, showing both sides across the space of 24 hours. It has an interesting twist to it and a wiser reader might have seen it coming. I was just too worked up about the kidnapped baby to really think ahead. What bothered me is how the crime almost accidentally solved itself. The police showed no initiative, were far behind the criminal and did absolutely no sleuthing. Very disappointing show on the part of the police force. Still a fairly interesting read.

What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty Alice wakes up one morning, pregnant and happy. Only to realise she is not pregnant happy, but a mother of three and in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.  And in hospital, after a fall in the gym, thanks to which she has lost a decade of her memory. Her daughter and she hate each other, she is one of those super skinny, over achieving SAHMs, and hang on, she seems to be in the middle of an affair, except that she hasn’t the heart to tell the man concerned that she doesn’t even know his name. It’s an old trick, this amnesia one, and it plays out fairly well.

Alice is trying to come to terms with who she really is, revive her relationships and take stock, except that the super sonic life she seems to have been living until 24 hours ago is not allowing her to do that. She has the biggest pie on earth to bake, she has a date, she has so much going on  - and all with people she doesn’t even recognise. What Alice Forgot is a wake up call to all those whose lives have turned into the people they swore they wouldn’t. Alice detests the person she is now, is horrified that she and her husband hate each other, her sister and she have no relationship to speak of and her social circle is a bunch of catty women who are constantly taking a swing at each other.

And in all of this, who is this Gina who keeps popping up in conversation followed by a couple of seconds of silence? I liked the pace, I liked the plot, but I disliked a lot of the characters. And what is most annoying is how no one seems to be willing to update her and she flounders around trying to figure out how the last ten years went by. Or maybe that is just a consequence of the unpleasant person she’d become. A quick, light read.

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Yvonne Carmichael is a respected, middle aged scientist with grown up children and a steady, peaceful marriage. One day she bumps into a sexy stranger and the air sizzles with chemistry. Next thing you know, they’re holed up in a corner, doing it. And then he bumps into her again and again and what started out as a one time thing ends up being a prolonged affair, with all the accoutrements including a second phone.

While he knows everything there is to know about her, she knows nothing about him. Is he a spy, a secret agent? Why is he always juggling phones, having rushed conversations, clearly in the middle of some sort of emergency? Neither of them has really planned where this relationship will go, and when she is brutally raped, she turns to him to save her from the stalker who is clearly planning a second round. Getting the attacker to stay away from her is not as easy as they imagined and this is where their personal and professional lives begin to unravel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book even if I wish it were a little more straightforward and shorter. There’s a lot of back and forth and vagueness, and I think we could have done with less of that. Apple Tree Yard is a reminder that you don’t have to be young to make a mistake. That a middle aged woman can be vain, can feel desire, can commit adultery, can compound her mistakes. As can middle aged men. A reminder that these aren’t the preserves of youth.

The story starts with Yvonne and her lover being in court, on trial. And information comes through in bits and pieces, where the realisation slowly dawns on the reader rather than it being a sudden revelation. In all this her husband stands by her stolidly and perhaps comes across as the most trustworthy character. Or does he? Read it to find it. This is not a book you can read in bits and pieces while traveling. I tried to, and kept losing the plot. Until I stayed back from the beach one morning and focused.

I didn’t regret it at all.

As we wrap up eleven years…

Today we complete eleven years of marriage.

I look back on the last 11 years and I’m at a bit of a loss for once. How does one encapsulate them?

I gained a husband but he came by himself. No family. No baggage. Not the desi way.

And when the family came, it was not pleasant. But then one doesn’t really expect pleasantness when the resistance to the marriage lead to one party having to leave home.

I’ve cried on your virtual shoulders and said things in public that I wish I hadn’t.

But what’s done can’t be undone.

This year I finally gained the family he was born into. It’s been gradual and I’ve mentioned it to you. But only now am I confident enough to say the words out loud.

It’s been a tough march.

We started off with daggers drawn and things only got worse. Accusations, counter accusations, unpleasant public scenes, harsh words.

We made up and broke up. And then again. It was like the ebb and flow of the tide.

But over the last couple of years we’ve patched things up and done a fair job of it. The patchwork isn’t ugly – it’s like an old handmade quilt. Ratty, but comfortable.

We have our off days, we sort things out.

My FIL falls asleep while watching TV and I quietly get a blanket to tuck around him. We go to attend a family wedding and he looks around at the other ladies and then suddenly turns and looks at me with pride and does something no one has done in years – pinches my cheek.

He makes a rather patriarchal statement regarding the babies and I fight him tooth and nail. One of us usually relents. More often than not, it’s him.

My MIL, on the other hand has grown into a friend. We chat quietly over a cup of tea, exchange family gossip. Plan the dinner menu. Well, she plans while I battle deadlines at work. She has tears in her eyes when she’s leaving and she hugs me, not letting go until the OA gently pushes her towards the car with a reminder that she’s getting late. I love you, sweetheart, she says.

I grin. And we send each other flying kisses at the exact same moment.

The OA says I’m an approval seeker. He’s right. I don’t like it when people don’t like me. I’m Monica.

To know me, is to love me, I say with teeth clenched. And I get back to figuring out what I have to do to make things better. To smooth over the rough edges. To.Make.It.Work.

The last eleven years have not brought professional recognition or accolades. They’ve not brought money.

But I’ve invested a lot of time in this little family of mine. And a lot of effort. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I chose to fake it until I could make it, but it worked.

I often wish I’d had their blessings when we got married. It would have been so much easier on a young couple who anyway had to make the many other adjustments that marriage demands. I wish the OA had not felt alone and vulnerable. I wonder if he questioned his decision as he signed the dotted line. I wonder how it must have hurt to have my parents stand by us at a receiving line, but not his.

But I’m glad we’re here today. I’m glad I didn’t start off as a welcomed, accepted bride and grow to hate them as is often the case.

I’m glad we started at the lowest point in our relationship because the only way from there was up. Expectations were rock bottom and anything we get from each other today, is a bonus.

People always say the grandchildren bring change. But I think that is unfair to the hard work that goes into making things work. Change comes only when both sides want it and yes, the grandchildren are a good incentive.

But the look in my husband’s eyes when he walks in from work and finds his parents, kids and wife crowded in on his bed, having tea and laughing, is one I’ll not forget in a hurry. For once he doesn’t even chastise us for the biscuit crumbs on the counterpane.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I couldn’t not share this with you, could I?

I’m sure we’ll have our rough moments again, but I finally know what it is to be accepted by them. And this time I’ll have the incentive to work and bring things back to this point.

My eleventh anniversary gift to the OA?

A complete family and peace.

Which is a good thing, because I’m too broke to give him much else this year.

On kickers and talkers

Caught a late, late night show of Queen after the babies went to bed. I’m jinxed where movies are concerned. I always, always, ALWAYS have a kicker sitting behind me. I understand long-legged men find the space a little inadequate but I’m married to a long-legged man myself and he’s very careful about not inconveniencing other viewers.

Last night when the kicking began I turned around and requested the woman behind me to stop. She was one of a huge group and they chattered loudly through the movie but I let it pass. It was better than the idiots who bring cranky kids to late night films or the louts who have to take phone calls, mid-film.

But she wouldn’t stop kicking. I turned around and glared at her this time. She ignored me. And kept kicking, like a spoilt 4 year old.

By this time the interval was over and they’d passed in and out carrying food and bumping into our entire row and rocking it, with what must have been insanely huge butts if the shockwaves were anything to go by. The woman next to me began to complain, but most of us were just too decent to get into an all out fight.

The movie began and the kicking started again.

I stood up, arms akimbo, my shawl hanging on either side. For all practical purposes, creating a screen in front of her. The entire lot of them went silent and began whispering (oh, now they could whisper?!), wondering what was wrong with me.

The OA took one look at me, grinned and kept watching the movie.

I stood there and held it for all of about three minutes and the woman behind me stayed mum. She knew why I was doing it.

Then I turned around, bent towards her and said – I can’t help it. You’re not allowing me to sit in peace, so I’m forced to stand.

She had the grace to look uncomfortable but not the decency to apologise.

I sat down and enjoyed the rest of my movie in peace.

Sharing so that you can try this in future. Carry a stole or a dupatta to make it more effective and annoying.

——————-

I had the pleasure of catching both Queen and Highway in the last couple of weeks.

I was a little undecided over Highway. Yes, Randeep Hooda is toe curlingly hot and admittedly I have no experience in being kidnapped, but it just didn’t seem plausible. This insanely rich girl and the hired goon from the class they depicted him as coming from. Just didn’t fit. I found the second half dragged a little. The music was decent. And I was thrilled that they touched upon Child Sexual Abuse, a topic close to my heart. I just wish there had been a little more closure over that than they chose to give. On the other hand, that is exactly how it is in real life. You tell you family, you imagine a big scene. They stay quiet and the next day its like nothing happened.

Queen was good too. It’s just that Kangana’s voice and diction drive me nails-on-a-chalkboard-crazy.

I find it interesting that we’re finally doing films that show that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Two films where the girls are oppressed unwittingly. Can’t take a late night drive, can’t go for dinner without a brother, can’t burp, can’t breathe in peace. I loved that they used the travel metaphor to set them free. To be themselves. I loved that they ended the film single and strong.

The OA and I got into the usual art imitating life conversation and looped it endlessly.

Library day

Sigh. Okay, so clearly I am no good at this title business. Moving on. PS: But I’m good at picking books. Would you rather it were the other way around?

The only bush I trust is my own – Periel Aschenbrand

She had me at the title. I giggled, sniggered and knew I had to buy it. I loved it of course. Periel Aschenbrand describes herself as half Israeli, half New York Jew – I’d like to add, and wholly irreverent. In this book Periel, a sometimes waitress, sometimes teacher, sometimes writer and designer, attacks every institution, from patriarchy, to religion, to sweatshop labour – and she does it with style.

If the title of the book wasn’t enough, sample this – ‘… the thing about giving a gift is, among other things, an act of aggression. And it’s an act of aggression because the nature of a gift is that you are forced to accept it and then you owe something.’

Or this one – If you even want to pretend to take yourself seriously as an intellectual, you can’t believe in nonsense like God and heaven.

Or – The Pope knows that God doesn’t exist. That’s the secret of his f**king power.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say, it’s a book for anyone with half a brain, an unwillingness to just accept things because they were told so, and considers themselves a feminist. I’ve read it twice already and it must be age because I keep forgetting the funny lines.

I urge, beg, beseech you – buy this book.

The German Boy – Patricia Wastvedt

I can’t seem to get enough of the Holocaust stories. This one though, is a little after. Elisabeth and Karen are sisters. They are friends with Rachel and both are more than a little enamoured of her artist brother, Michael Ross. Michael however, has eyes only for Elisabeth. But that was in the past. It is now 1947 and Karen’s son is a half German orphan who fought for Hitler. He’s now just a homeless 16 year old who is left in the care of Elisabeth. He enters into their lives seamlessly and then suddenly… it all falls apart.

Karen marries a rich German and goes off to live a fancy life. Elisabeth marries a jowly old man who worships her. Rachel hungers for a child. It took me a while to pick up the threads of the lives of the various characters and figure out how they were connected. Wastvedt’s writing is sheer poetry in some places and for that I’ll forgive her the ease with which she let characters and lives drift apart. I know that is how real life works, that things don’t tie up in neat little bundles. But she left so many pockets of pain, so many conversations unfinished that I took it rather personally. 

I hope someday to grow up to be a writer like her. How does one write prose that sounds like poetry without sounding artificial? It’s magical.

Sorting out Sid – Yashodhara Lal

Disclaimer – Yash is a friend and I’m trying to be as objective as possible.

As I mentioned to Yashodhara, I’d never have picked up a book that seemed like it was about a man.. because well, it wouldn’t have been to my interest. But I did, and I’m so glad I did! Yashodhara’s first book crossed the gender barrier and this one does so with even more aplomb.

Sid is 36 and rather unsorted out. Like many of us. And at times he is absolutely infuriating – just like all of us, I guess. His marriage is an unhappy one even if the reader realises it before he does. His best friend is yet another strong woman and he seems to be propped up by strong women on every front. He is due for a promotion and the vixenish HR lady has her eye on him. He sells toilet cleaners, making for lots of susu -potty jokes.

Yashodhara’s writing is simple and unaffected. And what at first seems like a rather simple tale comes away in layers. His relationships with his wife, his best friends, his parents, his boss – are all in a mess. I started off with very little sympathy for him. But he won me over by the time the book came to an end.

She brings up a lot of very modern day issues through the book-  careers, Peter Pan men who don’t want to grow up, insist on bean bags being part of a more elegant home, don’t want to have kids, mostly cannot think beyond themselves. The love interest Neha is a divorced mother, and I smiled each time I watched those scenes play out.

The OA and I have a lot of friends who don’t have kids and balancing our social life is a nightmare. They love our kids but rarely ever realise how hard it is for us to use an entire weekend for ourselves. The kids have their own social lives and at this stage are dependent on us to ferry them about. And by the time we’re done with two birthday parties in a row and shoe shopping for school and weekend homework, we’re often in no state to party through the night. All we want is to change into our pajamas, get into bed with soup and stare mindlessly at the TV!

Anyhow, I digress (as usual) and getting back to the book, I love how Sid’s self centred nature asserts itself best in scenes where the baby makes her scene. Like a lot of Uncles and Aunts, he’s good for a fun time but no more.

A light read, it gives you something to think about without slapping you in the face with moral science lessons.

A Captain’s Duty – Stephen Talty

An account of the kidnapping of Captain Richard Phillips by Somali pirates in 2009, from the MV Maersk Alabama. I have a lot of friends in the merchant navy and the thought of them being kidnapped does keep me up nights. There’s a part of my brain that can’t accept something as barbaric and primitive as piracy in this day and age. I know costs will go up, but why aren’t shipping companies investing in security on board these ships? Why isn’t the crew trained to use weapons etc? So many questions, and an overarching feeling of disbelief and outrage on behalf of those who risk their lives in this way.

Anyhow, the story told by Capt Phillips tracks his journey from the day he gets on board to the day he is released.

Obviously since its a memoir I don’t hold it to the standards that I hold other books to, but all he does through the entire book is extol his virtues. How great a captain he is, how great a husband, how great a son, it goes on. Seriously – did the editors sleep through this one? There are a few letters to and from his wife, and yet again 

I struggled through the book in spite of taking a dislike to him and not caring whether he gets out of it dead or alive and in spite of the stilted writing, because I wanted to know more about the experience. It was with a sense of relief that I shut the book.

Later on I read up on it and on talking to people I realised that it is common knowledge in shipping circles that he really is arrogant and presumptuous and was largely responsible for getting himself and his crew into a dangerous situation.

I know this isn’t really much of a recommendation for a book, but there you go.

A Long Walk Home – Judith Tebutt 

Yet another kidnapping by Somali pirates – and no, I had no intention of getting a PhD on the subject. Somehow I end up picking up/ receiving as gifts, books on a particular topic, all at the same time.

Judith and her husband David met in Africa many years ago and head off once again to the continent they love. After a week on safari in Masai Mara, their next destination is a picturesque beach resort, Kiwayu, that is only 40 kilometres from Somalia.

Call me chicken, but I wouldn’t plan a holiday anywhere within a 1000 kilometres of Somalia. There’s plenty else to see on this beautiful planet of ours. Reports say, however, that tourism is still flourishing there. Strange.

The alarm bells keep going off in Judith’s head, she says, but I’m not sure how much of that actually happened and how much she imagines/writes about in retrospect.

The island is beautiful but deserted and she expresses her discomfort to her husband, yet again. The cottages have roll up blinds at the doors and windows, nothing that can be locked for security. She wakes up to a shout that night, to see her husband locked in a struggle with a stranger. Two others drag her away at gun point to a boat waiting on the beach.

She ends up in the heart of Somalia, in a little shack. While we’ve all heard of Somali kidnappings (yes, I know how those two words just flow together) I doubt we’ve ever real stopped to imagine the condition of the hostages. The kidnappers are impoverished to begin with, which is why they resort to such lawlessness, so the conditions are far from comfortable.

Judith creates a schedule to maintain her sanity and health, walking up and down in her tiny little room, writing in a little smuggled notebook and trying to remember countries and capitals.  I was amazed by how a lady at Judith’s age kept her wits about her and kept the faith. I read this around the same time I read Captain Phillips’ account and couldn’t help but compare the two. She is so much more humble, real and easy to empathise with. You’re rooting for her right through.

I picked up the book because I was horrified and wanted to read a first hand account of a kidnapping by Somalian pirates. After all they’re constantly in the news for it. From pacing her room every hour, to learning to speak the language of her captors, to playing games on bits of card, Judith shows immense fortitude and presence of mind.

What didn’t work for me, was the style of writing.  Now Judith is not a writer, she is a mental health social worker, so clearly I was expecting too much, but a person can wish, can’t they? To be fair the writing is clean and she makes an effort. I just wish it had been edited to be tighter if not given to a ghost writer.

That said, the book could have been edited down to half its size. The language is simple and the tale is tediously drawn out at times, the degree of detail unnecessary other than to just underline how exhausting, traumatic and violating an experience it was.Again, I feel the editors should have exercised a little more discretion and ruthlessly chopped out chunks. Particularly since the writing is bland and uninspired – she isn’t a writer, after all; she’s a health worker.

The most interesting portions seem to have been left out for valid reasons – the negotiation between her son and the pirates. Did he pay to have her released? Did the government intervene? What happened? You’re left with a lot of questions and only one side of the story. Even so, something I’d recommend that everyone read, simply for the strength of her character through those 192 days of captivity.

Papertowns  - John Green

I don’t usually enjoy YA fiction but John Green has got under my skin. The first thing that hits you when you begin a John Green, is how damn intelligently he writes. And trust me, that is a rarity, these days. He philosophises, he talks to teens in a way they get and he holds my attention too. His books are thoughtful, insightful, witty, unputdownable perfection. And he keeps raising the bar. I forgot to review the last one I read, but I shall make up for that in my next post.

Quentin is a geeky teenager who lives next door to, and loves Margo. Has done so all his life. She’s the cool girl in school, everyone wants to hang out with her, and he’s more than a little surprised when she hops into his room that night asking him to go on a round of vengeance with her, no questions asked. The next day, she’s gone. Her parents have no clue where to begin looking for her and only then does he realise that she’s going to kill herself if no one is able to follow her clues, play her little game, and find her.

It’s a story as old as time. The geek boy loves the cool chick and has to earn that love. But  Green rewrites the hell out of it. For a 35 year old auntyji to stay up half the night reading it, reeled in by the sheer magic of his words.

Please buy and read. And gift to your nieces and nephews and neighbours kids. They won’t need to pick up the classics to see what good writing is.

Tampa – Alissa Nutting

Celeste Price is an schoolteacher who likes to sleep with 14 year old boys. Not 13, not 15. Just 14. There.  It’s best to get that out of the way.  Her profession gives her easy access to young boys and since its rare for women to suspected of child molestation, she gets away with murder, so to speak. She’s married, she’s gorgeous, she’s well loved by her students – she is so not the image of a child molester. A reminder to all of us parents that our sons are as unsafe as our daughters.

Celeste takes her time picking her victims, priming them, using them. The only problem this time, is that her victim’s father wants a piece of her too. I found her character thoroughly dislikable, very selfish and dishonest in every way.

I also realised how double our standards are in such matters. An older woman with a younger boy somehow seems less of a violation to many. But one just needs to read this book to see how easily they can be preyed upon. This book has a lot of sex and is not for the squeamish.

The Naughty Girls’ Book club – Sophie Hart

Estelle is a single mum trying to make a living out of a cafe that isn’t doing too well. She decides to drum up some business by starting a book club. A small group of women gets together and they decide on a theme for the next couple of books – naughty books from different periods. They also end up having one male on the book club who is distinctly uncomfortable with the way things are looking.

Now I’ve tried book clubs and realised they’re just not my thing. It’s usually less about the book and more general chatter. Which is what happens with them too. The basic theme is female bonding, sisterhood. Not really the most earth shaking book on the topic, it is a light read, touching upon each of their personal problems and how the friendship forged in the book club helps them overcome it.

The Black Country – Alex Grecian

And we’re back to my favourite kind of writing – period! It’s 1890 and three people are missing in a small coal mining village, Blackhampton. Two policemen are sent from London  to investigate the crime. The villagers though, close in and want to solve their own problems without outside interference. Very khap panchayat like.

A little girl who falls out of a tree and comes upon an eyeball. The houses that shudder and sink suddenly because of the coal mines running under them. The relentless snowfall. All makes for a rather grim state of affairs.

I’ve always admired Christie and Poirot and Holmes for solving their mysteries without the help of technology, but this one takes the cake. Stranded in the middle of a hostile village and hostile weather, with little to eat and no rest, the detectives persevere. The writing was good, the tension was palpable and the storyline taut. I enjoyed this one, thoroughly.

THE SORTING OUT SID: BEER AND BLOGGER CONTEST

So y’all know Y of yonearthnot, right? Of course you do-  I wrote about her last book contest here. And if you haven’t, you’ve been missing out on something. Never too late though. She’s just written her second book and here’s her offer, open to all NCR bloggers.

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The Sorting Out Sid: Beer and Blogger Contest

I’m really happy to announce the ”Beer & Blogger” contest around my new book ‘Sorting Out Sid” - where 10 Bloggers will get to hang out with me and Karthika VK(Chief Editor and Publisher, at HarperCollins and all around super-cool person) over a mug of beer at The Beer Cafe, New Delhi - on Saturday, 8th February 2014.
We did something similar about a year and a half ago for my first book, and it was fabulous meeting so many of you  over a riotous lunch – we can expect it to be even more riotous this time, given that this is beer-themed – a natural choice because Sid in the story is very fond of his beer! In fact, I think that’s his only steady relationship. Ha ha. (And no, he’s not an alcoholic)
So here are the very simple rules:
1. Write a post (in about 500 words) on your blog about why you would like to readSorting Out Sid. (You will of course get a copy of the book when we meet) (Click here for book trailer, description and excerpt)
ORWrite a post ( in about 500 words) on your blog about any Funny/Embarassing/Awkward/Memorable Incident involving beer!

Extra points for being saucy, witty, funny since that is what the book is like!

2. The Team at HarperCollins and I will shortlist 10 Delhi-NCR based bloggers to join us at the Beer and Blogger meet. You’ll all be treated to a fine afternoon hosted by the nice folks at The Beer Cafe.
Not Delhi-based? Fear not! As before, I have kept 10 copies of the book in reserve for Non-Delhi based bloggers. You can participate in the contest with the same rules above and if your story wins, you will receive in the mail an author-signed copy too. (Note: they will not be shipped abroad, but you can win them for family and friends here!)
Keep the following in mind, please: 
1. The Title of your blogpost must be ‘‘Sorting Out Sid – Beer and Blogger Contest”
2. You must include a link back to this post somewhere in your post for your entry to be valid. (Let your readers find their way here and check out the contest for themselves!)
3. Please ensure you leave a comment to this post with a link to your entry ( Otherwise, how the heck will we find it?)
4. It is optional to include the book cover, book trailer or book description in your blog post. (You’ll find them all right here.)
5. It is also optional to spread the word on social media about your entry to this contest, or to include the link to the book page on Flipkart
6. Both points 4 and 5 above will certainly win you my love and affection, if not necessarily the contest ;)
7. The contest is open until 31st January 2014 only. The decision of the judges will be final. No late entries will be entertained. In fact, if you get your post up before 15th Jan,you may be one of the Early Bird winners to be announced on Jan 20th. So don’t procrastinate – get going. Come on – there’s free beer at stake! Ha ha.
Look forward to getting your entries. All the very best! And remember, there will be 20 people who get free signed copies of the book (10 from Delhi and 10 from other locations!). So go on and let the beery ride begin!
Cheers! *Clinking together of beer mugs*.