Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Things That Make Me Happy: Edition 3/// Mostly Cute Things at Home!

1. I adore having fresh flowers at home. It instantly cheers me up and makes me happy. 

2. Buttons- I have a slight obsession with buttons. I love and quirky ones best and recently added a set of Shakespeare insult buttons to my collection. I love how buttons perk up simple tees and totes. 

3. This is Pepper the Dog, he sits in a quiet corner of home and watches the world go by...or something like that! 

4. Cute little Rabbit coin purse. The sister uses it to store a iPhone headphones. She is too pretty to have dirty coins soil her. 

5. A nifty little set of drawers to hold jewellery pieces and a darling little fish friend. 


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review: Mumbaistan by Piyush Jha.

Book: Mumbaistan

Author: Piyush Jha

Pages: 239

How Long it took me to Read: A couple of hours

Plot Summary: Mumbaistans three explosive crime novellas unravel the secrets of maximum city from the slums of Dharavi and the bylanes of Kamathipura to the swank high-rises of Bandra. A prostitute, her lover and a policeman play for high stakes in BombDay. Injectionwala exposes chilling medical malpractices and a lovelorn vigilantes twisted game plan. In Coma Man, a man awakens from coma after twenty years, and sets out in search of his wife and himself. Gritty love stories, manipulative cops and hard-boiled slumlords form the backdrop of this unputdownable thriller. Its MUMBAISTAN all the way.

Mumbai, a city of dreams for many. But for others, a nightmare. Behind the façade of lustre and glamour churns a seething underbelly of squalor, corruption and crime.

Mumbaistan’s three explosive crime novellas unravel the subterranean secrets of maximum city—from the teeming maw of Dharavi and the wanton streets of Kamathipura to the swank high-rises of Bandra.

A prostitute, her lover and a policeman play for high stakes in Bomb-Day.
Injectionwala exposes chilling medical malpractices and a lovelorn vigilante’s twisted game plan.
In Coma Man, a man awakens from coma after twenty years, and sets out in search of his wife— and himself.

Macabre love stories, conniving cops and hard-boiled slumlords form the backdrop of a schizophrenic city that is brooding...dying.

Welcome to Mumbaistan; a gritty, compelling take on the megalopolis that lives on the edge.

Characters: There are three novellas and loads of characters in them. The characters are well etched out and memorable. Some more than others, in fact one of the characters from the second novella- Injectionwalla, has a series of mystery books with him as the lead character (The Compass Box Killer).

What I Liked: I liked the writing in all three novellas. The pace of the stories are great and it was quite a page turner. Being a thriller, this book was a quick and engrossing read. There were twists and turns along the stories that kept things interesting.

I also loved how Bombay/ Mumbai (my city) was described in the book. The author did a great job at getting the general vibe of the city in the stories. I also liked that the city of Bombay/ Mumbai was a character itself. The grittiness and chaos was very well captured.

I also liked quite a few characters across all three novellas.

What I didn’t Like: Very little. But the big twists were slightly, very slightly guessable. I guessed the big reveal in 2/3 stories.

General Thoughts: I am so pleased that good thriller/mystery/detective stories are coming out of India! I loved this book. And I had no idea how much I was going to like it before I read it. I bought it on super sale and thought it might be a decent read. It exceeded my expectations. It was a quick, easy, engrossing and interesting read. I am keen on trying the next book by the author. In fact, I already bought a copy. J

Will You Like it? If you mystery and crime novels and fancy a quick read you will like this book.

Rating: 4/5.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Book Haul: Books of July 2013.

After the 34 books I bought in June, July was supposed to be my month of no book-buying! Well...clearly that didn't work. Not one bit. But to be fair, I held off buying books till pretty much the end of of July and then all hell broke loose. But compared to 34 books of June, my 13 July books aren't all that bad. Right?!!

Sorry my monthly book haul is two months late. I had misplaced my camera's  memory card! 

What books have you bought lately? book buying bans work for you? 

I am terrible at book-buying-bans! Even if I succeed at not buying any more books, I have elaborate wishlists which I indulge in once my ban ends. :)

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Sister Sundays| Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Book: The House of Silk

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Pages: 389

Time it took me read: 2 days

Plot Summary: Sherlock and Dr. Watson are back! And this time they face one of their toughest challenges ever.

The book blurb says- It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Holmes and Watson are enjoying tea by the fireplace when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221B Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. Intrigued, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston and the mysterious 'House of Silk'..

The story starts with an art dealer- Edward Carstairs- who comes asking for help as he is being stalked by a supposed member of the Boston (Irish) mob. 'The Flat Cap' case is what Watson refers to this case, given the supposed stalker is always seen wearing a flat cap- a sign of the Flat Cap gang of Boston. Things start getting more mysterious as the stalker himself is found dead and there are clues that point to an organization called 'The House of Silk'.

What is interesting is that this book is the only non-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle written work on Holmes which was officially recognized and commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate. So, this is, sort of, a legit extension of the Sherlock Holmes canon.

Characters: Obviously, since this book is about Sherlock Holmes, we have our two main characters- Holmes and Dr. Watson. Apart from that we have their trusted friend in Scotland Yard- Detective Lestrade- who plays an important role in the narrative.

We are also introduced to the various members of the Carstairs family- Edward, his new American wife- Catherine- and his sister- Eliza. These are nicely etched out characters and being so help the reader form his/her own theories about what is what- always a good thing to have in a 'detective' novel.

Then there are the Baker Street Irregulars aka the street kids that act as informants and lookouts for Holmes. We get to see the kind of tough life these street kids live and the multiple ways in which they can be exploited.

What I Liked: I really enjoyed this book because of the actual plot and the multiple mysteries that it provided. There are two inter-connected crimes/mysteries in this book- one of the 'Flat Cap' fellow and the other of the 'House of Silk'. Both are equally well sketched out and engrossing and the author makes it very challenging for the reader to guess what is going on- which is always a wonderful thing when it comes to the crime/thriller genre. Also, the book felt like it was one of the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and that is saying a lot!

What I Didn't Like: Nothing really. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Review: The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan.

Book: The Hindi-Bindi Club

Author: Monica Pradhan

Pages: 426

How Long it took me to Read: 1 day

Plot Summary:  For decades they have remained close, sharing treasured recipes, honored customs, and the challenges of women shaped by ancient ways yet living modern lives. They are the Hindi-Bindi Club, a nickname given by their American daughters to the mothers who left India to start anew—daughters now grown and facing struggles of their own.

For Kiran, Preity, and Rani, adulthood bears the indelible stamp of their upbringing, from the ways they tweak their mothers’ cooking to suit their Western lifestyles to the ways they reject their mothers’ most fervent beliefs. Now, bearing the disappointments and successes of their chosen paths, these daughters are drawn inexorably home.

Kiran, divorced, will seek a new beginning—this time requesting the aid of an ancient tradition she once dismissed. Preity will confront an old heartbreak—and a hidden shame. And Rani will face her demons as an artist and a wife. All will question whether they have the courage of the Hindi-Bindi Club, to hold on to their dreams—or to create new ones.

An elegant tapestry of East and West, peppered with food and ceremony, wisdom and sensuality, this luminous novel breathes new life into timeless themes. 

Characters: The mother daughter pairs ( 3 of them) form the crux of the narrative. The Deshpande duo- Kiran and Meenal are dominant part of the narrative and most of the story is seen from their perspective. I liked both the women, but I liked Meenal- the mother a little bit more. 

All the characters in the book are well constructed in their realities, first and second generation immigrants come across as in a manner that one has seen and heard. The characters authentic and real. 

What I Liked: So much! 

I liked the lack of Immigrant angst. It was refreshing to read a book about immigrants without the often over-done longing for India and the life that they've left behind. These were clearly people who missed their motherland but made the best of the opportunity of being abroad. This view of things is more congruent with what most immigrants feel these days. Some other books along similar lines, like The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri- which I absolutely loved- made it seem like it's character hated their lives in America and living there and being away from India was a miserable experience. I liked that the author doesn't go on and on and on about missing India. 

I also liked that the second generation, the daughters, all married Westerners and none of them were shown entering into arranged marriage with suitable Indian boys. I liked that these characters were modern enough to not force thier daughters into a traditional marriage. 

I also loved the sense of community depicted in the book. 

But the thing I perhaps liked most was that the book is full of recipes! Each chapter ends with a recipe or two. I love, love, love books with little details like this. I have already tried one recipe from the book (last night in fact) and it was pretty amazing. I tried out a Maharashtra style Chicken Curry and it was awesome. I can't wait to try out more recipes from the book. 

What I Didn't Like: There wasn't much to complain about in this book. Except, I thought the ending was a little rushed. While the Deshpande arc of the tale was neatly wrapped up, the other two stories were left off in a rushed and unfinished manner. I wished there had been a little more closure in those tales too. 

Also there were some issues with Bengali portions in the book. But it wasn't a deal breaker. 

General Thoughts: I picked this book up a couple of months ago on super massive sale. I thought it would be a fun chick-lit sorta read. I picked it up last week, thinking it would be a fun light read. My expectations were fairly low and this book was a delightful surprise! I really enjoyed it and recommend it. 

Will you like it? I reckon you will. 

Rating: 4/5

Review: Custody by Manju Kapur.

Book: Custody

Author: Manju Kapur

Pages: 432

How Long it Took me To Read: 2 days.

Plot Summary: The plot revolves around the legal tussle for custody once the marriage of Raman and Shagun falls apart following Shagun’s affair with Raman’s boss Ashok. The children- Arjun and Roohi- become mere pawns in their parent’s divorce. The book basically looks closely at the end of a marriage it’s after effects.

Characters:  There is the family at the centre of the drama.
Raman and Shagun, a seeminly well-adjusted and happy couple and their two children Arjun, 10, and Roohi, 2, at the time of the divorce.

Raman- is an all-round good guy, he loves his wife and he loves his kids. Bright, with a promising future in a famous multinational company he is a good catch for Shagun. He loves his wife and clearly smitten and taken in by her good looks. He is a regular, guy-next-door sort of man, the kind of man who has a nice arranged marriage to a good-looking woman. Raman was a fairly likeable character and I did feel bad for him once his marriage ends. He loved Shagun and didn’t deserve her cheating on him.

Shagun- the cheating spouse/ the spouse with the looks is at best a one-dimensional character. She is a negative-ish character, the one who stepped out on her husband and her marriage. To make matters worse it’s her husband’s boss that she steps out with. Shagun came across as a brash, spoilt and selfish person. Someone who puts her own happiness over anything else in her life, and this is not just in regard to her affair but later in the book, she doesn’t even really care about her kids. I didn’t like her very much and wished her character was a little more fleshed out.

Ashok Khanna- the other man! He is present quite a bit in the beginning of the book. He is suave, worldly and brilliant. Went to Ivy League schools and is a bit of a star in a corporate world- which basically translates to…of course, Shagun would fall for him. He was committed to Shagun and is really supportive of her divorce and helps out with the legal hassles. As the story progresses, he gets a little tired of Shagun’s constant worrying about her custody disputes, he wants Shagun to focus on her new life and not on her old family. So I guess Shagun does end up someone just as selfish as her!

Arjun and Roohi- the pawns in the great divorce drama. Arjun is 10 when his parents split up and is affected deeply by the change in his family life. He stops going to school, because everyone in his school knows about the impending divorce. His grades begin to slip and he really misses his father, whom he is being kept away from. Eventually, Arjun is sent-off to boarding school, Ashok’s alma materin fact after Ashok uses his connections to get Arjun a seat. This marks the end of Arjun’s relationship with his father and was heart breaking to read. Roohi, young at the time of her parent’s divorce, grows up not remembering a time when her family was whole. Roohi is raised by Raman and his new wife Ishita and grows to love Ishita as one would a real mother.

Ishita- Raman’s new wife, she is everything Shagun wasn’t. Kind and compassionate, she has a broken marriage behind her and that makes her the person she is. With her tragic past behind her, Ishita reinvents herself and her life and becomes a strong woman. I really liked Ishita’s part of the story, from her early marriage to her struggles within the marriage and her eventual divorce. Once she marries Raman, is when I had some problems with her character. She got too clingy with Roohi and caused a lot of strive in the already frail equation between Raman and Shagun.

Apart from these principal characters, the book was full of various secondary characters that were well-etched out and memorable.

What I Liked: I love Manju Kapur’s writing and loved her other books- Home, Difficult Daughters and Immigrant. All her books are full of melancholy and tinged with heart-break and sadness. And I love it. This book was no different. It is basically a sad story about a divorce and its aftermath. I liked reading about such a hard time in a family’s life and the way in which the author deal with each character’s reaction to the same thing- divorce. The book is set in the 90s and that further adds to the ‘stigma’ of divorce and the consequences of being divorced and coming from a broken family . (To my non-Indian readers: Divorce was fairly uncommon in India in the past and even today there is a sort of social stigma attached to being a divorcee or coming from a broken home.)

I liked the characters in the book, even though most of them are pretty unlikable and unremarkable but I guess that makes them real and possibly relatable.

What I Didn’t Like: Hmmm…well I guess I didn’t like Shagun. I didn’t like the person she is but more importantly I didn’t like the way in which she was written. A lot of my dislike stems from her being a mere vamp of a piece. She was written without any depth or great context or any understanding as to why she cheats on her doting husband. She just does, there wasn’t any probing into her mind or what she is thinking. She is just a clichéd cheater.

Ishita the one woman in the book that I found remotely likeable turns unrecognisable in the second half of the book. Once she marries Raman, she turns all her energy into raising Roohi. She gets so involved in her role as mother; she comes in the way of Roohi relationship with Shagun and refuses to let Roohi visit her ‘real’ mother. She does so fearing that Roohi will stop loving her and love Shagun more. Ishita is also pretty vile to Arjun, who only sees his father during school holidays. Her character goes from being mature and understanding to a neurotic mess.

General Thoughts: I am fan of Manju Kapur’s writing and therefore picked this book up. But this didn’t live up to my expectations and isn’t her best work. While I recommend her other books, Difficult Daughters and Home in particular, this one was a let-down.

Will you like it? If you like decent writing and books full of real characters and reading about a marriage falling apart, you might like this book. Also if you’ve lived through a similar situation you might like this book.

Rating: 2.5/5

Buy it here: | Flipkart

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

Pages: 288

How long it took me to read: 5 hours (with several breaks)

Plot Summary: Clay Jannon, recently down-sized from a New Age Bagel business, finds himself wandering around the streets of San Francisco looking to find inspiration and employment. He finds himself near the highly intriguing bookstore called ‘Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore’. Never seen a 24-hour bookstore, he stepped in to respond to the flyer, which said they were looking for a night clerk to manage the bookstore. He meets the charming and mysterious Mr. Penumbra, who hires him to manage the store at night.
In the very first week, Clay learns that the ‘bookstore’ is not what it seems. To start with, it does not stock the usual bestseller and the typical ‘vampire’ and ‘wizard’ type of books. More importantly, all it seems to stock are very ancient-looking books full of codes. These books and their coded messages are supposed to lead to a big, life-altering secret that can, potentially, change the world. Intrigued, Clay tries to find out more and it is this curiosity, which leads him and his friends on an adventure of a lifetime- one that changes them all.

Characters: First of all, there is Clay, twenty-something, designer by training. Clay is the voice of this book and his is a funny, wry and nerdy voice, which is delightful to read. Along for the ride on this adventure are Clay’s friends Neel, Kat and, in ways big and small, Mat.

Neel Shah is Clay’s childhood friend and fellow lover of comic books and warlock adventures. Neel, a dot-com millionaire is as intrigued by Mr.Penumbra’s Bookstore as Clay and is an integral part of the adventure in solving the coded mystery of the books.

Kat Potente, a ‘Googler’ (Google employee) is a brilliant data visualization professional and Clay’s romantic interest. Kat is a firm believer in the potential for humans to achieve immortality and is a genius when it comes to making sense of codes and large amounts of data.

Mat is Clay’s roommate and is fantastic at building 3-D models of anything. His skills play an interesting and crucial role in cracking the first big break-through in the literary mystery.

Last, but not the least, there is Mr. Penumbra- who, as you might have guessed from the title, owns the 24-hour bookstore. He is rather old but intelligent, mysterious and a bit of a rule-breaker. He is at the center of this literary mystery that hides in his bookstore and is very invested in seeing it solved because solving this mystery has been his life’s work.

What I liked: Um, this book, pretty much, had me at hello! The word ‘bookstore’ in the title was what drew me to it and true to my expectations, the book did not disappoint. Mr. Penumbra’s Bookstore seems like a magical, book-lovers paradise come to life! Tall shelves filled with old, well-loved books, the divine book-y smell that one can only find in a library these days. It sounds like a place I’d love! Now add an element of mystery, adventure and technology to it and you have a winner of a book.
I also enjoyed getting to know all the characters of this book- Clay and his friends who are, essentially, super-bright adventurers. Each character is relatable and real and nerdy- they were all delightful to read about.

What I didn’t like: The actual big mystery was, sort of, a bit of a let-down. I had expected something big, not exactly what was hinted in the book (that seemed a tad impossible) but something equally big nonetheless. So, that was a bit disappointing. (Sorry, if this sounds vague, but I don’t want to spoil the book for those who want to read it).
Will you like it? Yes. Especially, if you like books and mysteries and quests.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Recommendations: Essential Indian Reading.

In no particular order, here are the Indian books we've (the sister and I) loved over the years.

  1. The Interpreter of Maladies- Jhumpa Lahiri (one of my favourite books of all times.) 
  2. The Namesake- Jhumpa Lahiri 
  3. The Shadow Lines- Amitav Ghosh (A great novel to start with if you haven't read any Amitav Ghosh before.) 
  4. The Glass Palace- Amitav Ghosh
  5. The Hungry Tide-        "
  6. Sea of Poppies-           "
  7. River of Smoke-           " 
  8. Midnights Children- Salman Rushdie 
  9. Love and Longing in Bombay- Vikram Chandra 
  10. Red Earth and Pouring Rain-         " 
  11. Riot- Shashi Tharoor 
  12. The Great Indian Novel- Shashi Tharoor 
  13. Arranged Marriage- Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
  14. Sister of my Heart- Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni  
  15. The Adventures of Feluda Vol. I and II- Satyajit Ray 
  16. Indigo- Satyajit Ray 
  17. The Inscrutable Ameircans- Anurag Mathur 
  18. Ladies Coupe- Anita Nair 
  19. Difficult Daughters- Manju Kapur 
  20. The Zoya Factor- Anuja Chauhan (this author writes the best Indian chick-lit) 
  21. Battle for Bittora-        "
  22. A Suitable Boy- Vikram Seth 
  23. Two Lives-              " 
  24. Lifting the Veil- Ismat Chungtai (or any other short story collection by Chungtai.) 
  25. Charulata/ Nashtanihr- Rabindranath Tagore (the movie adaptation by Satyajit Ray is also brilliant.) 
  26. Parineeta- Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (it's lovely and was my Grandmother's favourite story.) 
  27. Srikanta-              " 
  28. English August- Upamanyu Chatterjee 
  29. Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Firozshah Baug- Rohinton Mistry 
  30. White Mughals- William Dalrymple
  31. The Twentieth Wife- Indu Sundaresan
  32. The Girl in the Garden- Kamala Nair 
  33. The Lost Flamingos of Bombay- Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi
This is pretty much all I can think of now...if I think of more books I'll add to the list. 

Happy Independence Day fellow Indians. Tell me, which are some of your favourite Indian books? 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Recommendations: Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

On the eve of India's Independence Day, I thought it would be befitting to talk about two Indian books that I have absolutely LOVED in the past few years. It helps that these two books are written by one of my all-time favourite authors- Amitav Ghosh.

So, let's get into these books, shall we?

Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke both belong to Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy- a series of three books that document the journey of several Indians (cutting across class and region lines) from Calcutta to Mauritius in the first half of the 19th century. This tumultuous journey is set against the backdrop of the Opium Wars.

Sea of Poppies is the first in the series and it introduces us to the cast of characters, who undertake the journey on board a ship called 'Ibis', which is carrying bonded labourers from Calcutta to work in the sugarcane plantations in Mauritius. The multiple characters are interesting and diverse.

There is Deeti- a simple housewife from rural Bihar, who is about to be 'Sati'-ed on her husband's funeral pyre when a lower caste helper- Kalua- saves her life. Deeti and Kalua elope from Deeti's village and end up joining some other indentured labourers who are heading to Mauritius on the Ibis.

Then there is Paulette- the orphaned daughter of a French botanist. She wants to go to Mauritius for a fresh start.

Zachary Reid is the captain of the Ibis- bi-racial and a misfit in his father's wealthy American family.

Neel Rattan Sarkar is a raja, who is falsely accused of forgery and sent off to prison. There he meets Ah-Fatt, a half-Chinese, half-Parsi young man, who is also mistakenly imprisoned and Neel and Ah-Fatt are being sent off to Mauritius to spend their prison term.

So, it is this primary cast of characters who sent off on a journey that is full of trials and tribulations, with an intense and interesting segue at Canton- where we meet more new characters who are a part of the Colonial brigade involved in the opium trade with the Chinese.

So, all in all, these books make for very interesting, informative (about a key period in Asia's history) and engrossing read.

If you love good writing- and Ghosh is the best!- and history interests you, then you simply have to read these books.

I highly, highly recommend these!

Review: Maharani by Ruskin Bond

Book: Maharani

Author: Ruskin Bond

Pages: 176

How Long it Took to Read: A couple of hours.

Plot Summary: Maharani who drinks too much, the real story of Jim Corbett, and friendly ghosts - a magical novella from Ruskin Bond!

H.H. is the spoilt, selfish, beautiful widow of the Maharajah of Mastipur. She lives with her dogs and her caretaker, Hans, in an enormous old house in Mussorie, taking lovers and discarding them, drinking too much, and fending off her reckless sons who are waiting hungrily for their inheritance. The seasons come and go, hotels burns down, cinemas shut shop, and people leave the hill station never to return. But H.H. remains constant and indomitable. Observing her antics, often with disapproval, is her old friend Ruskin, who can never quite cut himself off from her. Melancholic, wry and full of charm, Maharani is a delightful novella about love, death and friendship.

Characters: This book is a character study of sorts. The book is basically about the Maharani and her life and lifestyle. The other characters are mere shadows who flit around the Maharani of Mastipur. But the author, himself a character in the book is possibly the second most important character. We also follow his life through the years, working in Delhi and keeping in touch with antics of the Maharani.

What I Liked: The book reminded of an old uncle or family friend telling a story about an eccentric friend or acquaintance. I loved that it chronicled the life of such an original character. She isnt’ very nice or likable or endearing or lovable. She is a drinking, smoking, going from one man to another, party loving woman. She is basically a train-wreck and like all good train-wrecks she was a lot of fun to read about.

Perversely, I am a huge fan of stories about people who’ve had their fortunes turn on them. I love stories about people who had a lot of money and lost it all because they were wild and foolish.

What I didn’t: Nothing really.

General Thoughts: I enjoyed reading this book. It was short and sweet. Funny in parts, even when it was talking about seriously tragic events. I loved reading about Royalty in India, even if the Royals in question were a small princely state and not the grand Royal families from Rajasthan.

Will you like? Yes, if you enjoy Ruskin Bond’s writing style and like books about memorable characters, you will like this book.

Rating: 4/5