A Bit Of Silver And Grey

In the last couple of years my reading material has been fairly unchanging. It’s been the likes of John Sandford (love his work), Carl Hiaasen (cannot get enough of it) and some new authors I came across courtesy the Kindle store. Amongst them Jana DeLeon stood out because while her work wasn’t “hardcore literature” it wasn’t silly fluff either. It was a humorous and quite likely an accurate look into the lives of people in a small town on the bayou in Louisiana.

Each character is well-fleshed out without cutting corners and being lumped into a group of hicks and rednecks who keep chewing tobacco and spitting on the ground. I mean stereotypes only take you so far after all.

The chief amongst them are two old ladies who were counterintelligence back in ‘Nam and came back home without anyone having cottoned onto their true colors. Over the years they’ve become older, more idiosyncratic but are still sharp as tacks and quick on their feet…most of the times.

I’m mentioning the old people here because in the books I’ve grown up reading, old people are relegated to a secondary status. It’s the cheerful grandma who bakes cookies or the grumpy grandpa who eventually gets the sulky teen to realize some truths about life. But these characters are not always flesh and blood. They are bit players. They add flavor but in a restrained manner.

The other series of books which recently caught my attention are by Amanda M. Lee about a family of witches who live in a small town in Michigan. Notice the small town motif? They have a great aunt at the helm of the family and while she’s not an evil witch, she isn’t above bewitching things to punish others or to get her own way. Whether it’s selling her home made hooch (again something in common with the old ladies of the bayou) or growing “glaucoma medicine” aka pot, under the eyes of the law, or wanting a pet pig she’s a character all by herself and rightly so.

The eccentricities that the old people can lay claim to because they’ve seen their share of things in life are nothing short of mindboggling to banging your head against the wall in frustration-types. And you just can’t make them back down and play ball with the rest of the lot. Not in real life and not in stories either.

Am glad that this segment of people have found their representation in books because we’ve had enough of rosy cheeked grandmas and fairy godmothers. We haven’t had enough of crocodile-walking, bike-riding, dentured women who can’t read without their bifocals and can down moonshine with the best of them!

Go silver!

You Are What You Read…

Red reads “interesting” things. He reads fiction, non-fiction and plenty of things that ‘thinking’ people seek out.  Am far more pedestrian and I think I know the answer to that as well…let me just pull up my virtual couch as I hark back to my childhood for the insight.

When I was in 5th grade, our class teacher was very passionate and stringent about our reading habits. And with the baggage that came from being from part of a race that’s been persecuted and vilified throughout history; she exposed us to books which left a lasting reluctance in me seeking out thinks which were a “heavy” read. And I don’t mean tomes necessarily. I mean books which made a 11-year old year child in a foreign country sad, restless and not quite content.

Books, in my family, are a gift for all occasions. Toys will come and go but books will sustain. The kind of books I was given ranged from folk tales, mythologies and even things which helped me do school projects (thank you Barnes&Nobles for your books on the Roman civilization). And for the most part they all had a common thread running through them; they were fun to read or they entertained at some level.

When I read Friedrich, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Number on my Grandfather’s Arm or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry I had too much to process for my pre-adolescent brain. Books that were fun to read aka Pippi Longstockings, Anne of Green Gables series, Judy Blume’s works or Harriet the Spy et al were still good to dive into but the somber tone struck by the Holocaust and the stories of racism especially during the Great Depression has made me wary of anything that seems even remotely “serious”. For the same reason I seldom seek out the dramas in movies either. Red runs towards drama and I veer towards stuff that’s the White Chicks ilk.

I am a semi-closeted romance book reader, the HEA notwithstanding. I like reading Regency stuff; having been introduced to Georgette Heyer and her peers by my godmother. The thing with the lighter kind of reading material is you can pick it up, put it down and not go off into raptures or trip into a long, winded thought process and still enjoy it. I need to feel entertained at the end of it all. Not necessarily feel like I came away with more stuff to chew on.

My favorite authors for the past few years have been Jonathan Kellerman, Jana DeLeon, John Sandford, P.J Tracy, Rick Riordan. Their works aren’t creampuff by any stretch of the imagination but they are all aces in the entertainment segment.

So that’s me then…a Regency-romance, police-procedural, mythology-geek, serial-killer book loving mom who is currently giggling through The Adventures of Captain Underpants and groaning through the Geronimo Stilton series. And it’s true now as it was 30 years ago..if I have a chance, I’ll pick up a book or the Kindle over most things and just lose myself in it.

To sum up in the words of the great Stephen King, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 

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Book Review: The MEG Series

I love watching creature movies. Not the Creature From The Black Lagoon kinda movie, but creatures like dinosaurs, sharks (Oooh! I love shark movies), crocodiles etc. I draw the line at snakes but that’s just good sense!

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When I saw the trailer for the movie MEG, I did what I usually do…I jumped to Wikipedia and learnt that the movie was inspired by the books written by Steve Alten. Then I did what I do next; pulled up the books on Amazon and despite hitches here and there have read the MEG series all the way through barring the next installment that’s coming out this August.

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Now watching a movie is so stimulating and one can really bring the books to life but these books had a life of their own. The descriptions of the prehistoric apex predators of the primordial seas is just that good! And to add to the crisp and compelling narrative, is the layering of all the factual data that adds credence to Alten’s prose.

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From the Mariana Trench to the Panthalassa Sea (something I got to know only after cracking open this series), these books provide a vivid depiction of life when creatures were literally larger than life and how man reacts to them in his environment in the present day.

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Along with peoples’ greed, avarice and constantly needing something new to bring them out of the tedium of their daily lives; this series keeps you engrossed because you want to know just what will come out of the depths of the ocean this time around and how it will wreck chaos and havoc a thousand times over!

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It’s over the top. But fun. It’s unbelievable till you start to Google all the animal names Alten mentions and you realize that each and every one of the existed.

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Read it for an escape from the humdrum of books which don’t cause your pulse to race…however slightly. Read it because it’s just that unputdownable!

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Book Review: Sita’s Ramayana

I haven’t ventured down the path to graphic novels at all. Parted ways with comics after grade school and just the written word was enough to hold my attention without needing the bells and whistles that illustrations provide.

However, the senses must be appeased and of late I’ve wanted to have more visual stimulations while reading. Amazon came to the rescue with their curated list of graphic novels for beginnings, spanning genres (Go Amazon!) and I picked up a book that I’d heard a lot about but avoided reading purely because of my own biases.

I need to mention these biases because they form a part of what leads me towards and away from books with topics such as these.

As a child, many of my Sundays were dominated by watching the dramatized version of Ramayana on the telly. Apart from the slow pace and the excessive posturing or smiling on part of the characters; it always felt like Ram was quite the goody-two shoes and his wife excessively pure and perpetually giving in to his whims and fancies. Added to the mix was my mother’s staunch belief about not just looking at one source as the definitive stance on how things might play out. She advised me to read other books which gave contrary views on Ravan, Sita and Ram instead of taking them as flawed or perfect in entirety.

Growing up in a country that largely espouses one religion, it’s tough to express one’s own contrary thoughts about a historical, mythological figure without ending up on some evangelist’s hit list or having to dodge trolling from all and sundry who seem to have drunk from the same spiked punch bowl of jingoistic fervor; not having one original thought in their heads, ever.

Here endeth the anecdotal part of the book review. Onto the actual book itself. It’s a delight. Visually. It’s a delight in its simplicity. Samhita Arni (the author) and Moyna Chitrakar’s (the illustrator-storyteller) collaboration is a visual delight that doesn’t detract from the story that has been retold many times over. The book is actually two-fold in that the words and pictures both paint a story that’s being told simultaneously; without one tripping up the other. They are in sync beautifully.

The narrative is very simple but not simplistic and manages to convey a lot of emotion without spelling everything out. The injustices of war, the machinations of man come to life in ink- both words and drawn.

I would recommend this book as a coffee table gift for friends and family. It doesn’t mean one is embracing their (Hindu) religious identity. But for better or for worse, Ram, Sita and Ravan are a part of our cultural identities. If not for that, get it for the artwork alone…it’s folksy, bold and timeless.

Book Review: Closed Casket

I am an Agatha Christie aficionado. Rather an afficianado of the characters she has created. I haven’t read up much about her life per se but somehow I pictured her to be a bit like the wax statue of Miss Marple I’d seen in Madam Tussaud’s years ago.

The back cover of her books proved that she was neither that fluffy or was she that sweet-looking old lady of my imagination. But be as that may, I think an author’s legacy ought speak for itself in the books they’ve published rather than someone else hoisting a flag on their behalf; with books that haven’t sprung forth from the original grey matter.

With equal part reluctance and curiosity I bought a paperback of Closed Casket and I stuck to, reading till the end out of sheer stubbornness because truth be told, Sophie Hannah lost me somewhere in soon after the first 20-odd pages.

Agatha Christie’s prose is not torturous. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of the English language nor of the crime and mystery genre to get engrossed in her books. Hannah’s prose, the twists and turns were quite taxing and the kind of play or words done for ‘closed casket’ was worthy of a conceit of John Donne himself!

Her book has a darker feel to it than Christie’s typically do but with half the enjoyment that I’m accustomed to.

So I’ll stick to being a Christie purist and reread (for the nth time) my Poirot and Marple novels. They’re the real deal.

 

Book Review- Fowl Language

This book speaks for itself. It’s non-preachy and basically talks about the incomprehensible, inexplicable turns a person’s life takes once they become a parent. From juice boxes to joy, partying to poop and basically the utter, utter delight and nerve-wracking situation that is parenthood. Brian Gordon is someone every parent and non-parent should read (although parents will be the ones nodding along like bobble heads while the non-parents pat themselves on the back on having dodged that particular bullet!) to see the humor that often escapes us during parenting. Especially during poopy-times 🙂

Pick up your copy today. I did! 🙂

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Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book review. Better late than never, especially for a book like Ghachar Ghochar.

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A friend and fellow reading afficiando who also wears other interesting hats was cleaning house and put up a give-away of her beloved books. Red lucked upon this particular one and the result was a Saturday night discovery of a impactful new book that both of us finished one after another.

Written very honestly and without sounding judgemental, Vivek Shanbhag does a creditable job exposing the follies and foibles of the nouveau riche whose lives become complex on account of their wealth but whose bourgeoisie never really goes away.

Written in Kannada originally and beautifully rendered in English by Srinath Perur , the book holds up a mirror to the middle class society and mentality globally (IMHO) but more specifically in the Indian context rather than just the Kannadigas.

Points in its favor are the novella form and the simple and yet engaging narrative which people will be drawn to whether or not they belong to the strata of the people portrayed. The individual character sketches too, are very believable and seem to take shape effortlessly on paper without too much of anything seeming contrived.

And while this book isn’t something that makes me spout superlatives, its stark and unflinching honesty is what makes it stand apart from a lot of other reads of the same ilk.

Reader rating-2 thumbs up.