Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: Valeria's Last Stand

Book: Valeria’s Last Stand

Author: Marc Fitten

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

My short review: A light and mildly entertaining read set in a fictional village in Hungary.

Marc Fitten’s ‘Valeria’s Last Stand’ is a geriatric fairy tale. Yes, you heard me right. Cupid strikes and hormones rage amongst the elderly population in an all-but-forgotten Hungarian village. In a typical rustic folk-lore fashion, the men are referred to by their professions. We have the potter at the center of the tale. A relatively silent widower who is used to minding his own business but manages to stay favorable in the villagers eyes thanks to his generous wedding gifts. The potter is involved with the boisterous owner of the tavern down the street from his workshop – Ibolya. Ibolya’s is the only tavern in the village and is the “hang-out” spot for most of the older men who spend their days there drooling over Ibolya’s raised skirts and open shirt buttons. Ibolya’s plan to maintain an “open relationship” with the potter backfires when an unexpected romance blooms between the potter and the village hag – Valeria.

Valeria was once a beauty – the village belle. But a romance gone bad and a lifetime of loneliness makes her mean, condescending and distrustful of everyone around her. She is the only one to even give the village locksmith his business in an otherwise trusting place. She locks up every door and even every drawer! She is a perfectionist – her house is spic and span and her vegetable garden bears the best vegetables. But since she expects the same degree of perfection from the others as well, her routine visits to the market are a nightmare to other vendors whose produce are not necessarily as perfect. She can spot a rotting vegetable from a mile and would make sure to point it out in her loud mouthed manner. She is universally hated and doesn’t really bother about it until one fine day, in the market, she suddenly and abruptly falls in love with the potter.

She rushes back home to clean up, wears a flowered skirt and a kerchief around her head and pedals away furiously towards the potter’s workshop to woo her man with a can of milk. This is the start of a romance that drives Ibolya mad with jealousy. The potter discovers that Valeria inspires him to create more than just utility pots and pans. Her inspiration makes him an artist!

The romantic triangle breaks the social balance of Zivatar. The villagers helplessly watch as the potter shuttles between Ibolya and Valeria. They are intrigued by Valeria’s distraction with the chimney sweep and even the mayor’s little indiscretion fails to divert their attention.

All this and more happens against the backdrop of Zivatar’s slow transformation. The greedy and ambitious mayor travels all over the world and there’s always talk of investors – there are plans to bring the railroads through Zivatar (the Mayor’s pet project), Korean investors are looking to open a television factory in Zivatar and the market suddenly sees bananas (a fruit new to the inhabitants of Zivatar).

Valeria’s Last Stand is different and entertaining. It will not make you drop everything else that you are doing and it fails to make a deep impression. It is a light read and the antics of the small village are entertaining. The language is simple and the author does a good job of creating a rural Hungarian atmosphere.

If you are looking for something light, this is a good book to consider. I definitely needed something completely different after “The Blue Notebook” and this was a perfect book for me to “recover” with.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: Friday Night Knitting Club

Book: Friday Night Knitting Club

Author: Kate Jacobs

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Short Review: A relatively light read with some unexpected turns.

The Friday Night Knitting Club is a story of friendship between some very different women who happen to visit the same yarn store in Manhattan’s upper west side.

When James breaks Georgia Walker’s heart and walks away from her life, she is completely shattered… and pregnant. With the help of close friend and mentor Anita, Georgia slowly builds her life around her daughter - Dakota and her passion – knitting. ‘Walker and Daughter’, the yarn store that she runs with Anita’s and Peri’s help, soon blossoms into a successful business. It attracts a wide range of customers. Some of the regulars start coming together at the same time and soon “The Friday Night Knitting Club” is formed.

There are a lot of characters in the book. Though they are unique people and completely different from each other, it took me a while to get them all in to my head. In the beginning, I had to constantly remind myself who each person was but slowly, I settled in to the rhythm of the book and the characters didn’t seem confusing anymore. I must accept that the characters are well developed. Kate has done a wonderful job of giving each one of the myriad of characters a unique personality and of course their own issues. Each woman is struggling with a different kind of a problem and somehow coming together as a group helps them all.

However, it is not just the regular customers that need support – the strong willed and successful Georgia Walker has issues of her own as well. James is suddenly back in town and wants to be an active part of Dakota’s (and Georgia’s?) life. To make matters worse, Georgia is suddenly forced to come face to face with Cat – a wealthy socialite who was once Georgia’s backstabbing best friend.

Unlikely friendships are formed in the club and the women support each other more than they expect. The Friday Night Knitting Club is more than just a collection of women with a single interest. It is a potpourri of cultures and relationship issues.

Though I enjoyed the book, I personally thought that it had so much more potential. Kate brings up so many cultural and relationship issues but lets them all fizzle out without giving it any definite shape. It was definitely a light and easy book to read and some unexpected turns do bring tears to your eyes but I kept feeling that she could have done so much more with the book!

Have you read this book? I am sure most of you must have already read it. There was a time in the middle when every blogger I knew was reading and raving about the Friday Night Knitting Club. I finally managed to get hold of a copy.

Anyways, do let me know what you thought of the book! And if you haven’t read it, you should give it a shot. Even if you are not a knitter.. yes! Don’t let the title and the front cover let you think this one is one only for the knitters!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: The Blue Notebook

Book: The Blue Notebook

Author: James Levine

My Rating: 4 Stars

My Review: A painful and disturbing book about child prostitution in India. Graphic descriptions and disturbing subject matter. Recommended only for adults.

I thought reading Lolita was hard. Reading about child predators and they way their mind worked scared me and it definitely wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Compared to the Blue Notebook, Lolita was a chick-lit!

The Blue Notebook is about Child Prostitution. James Levine, the author of the book is a doctor with the Mayo Clinic. As part of his work for the Clinic, he interviewed children in “The Street of Cages” – a famous prostitution street in Mumbai, India. While interviewing the kids, he was intrigued by a girl who sat outside her “cage” writing in a notebook. An in depth interview with the girl formed the basis of this novel.

Before I describe the book or my views of it, I have to mention that this book is only for adults. The descriptions are graphic and the subject matter is depressing (to say the least).

Batuk Ramsdeen was living with her family in a small village in Central India. When she was 9 years old, her father takes her Mumbai. Batuk is never warned about what she is getting in to. Her father takes her to meet someone and even before she realizes it, he leaves her never to return. And at that point, Batuk’s life changes forever. She is forced into prostitution. Her virginity is sold to the highest bidder; she is raped repeatedly until she breaks her defense; and she is beaten mercilessly by some of the customers. Her “nest” becomes her world. Batuk is an intelligent girl with a sense of imagination and that helps her get through her life. She imagines her “nest” to be a kingdom and her bed “the throne”. She uses euphemisms to describe what she has been forced to do. Even euphemisms cannot hide the sad state of affairs. When she finally gets her hand on a pencil, Batuk starts writing a journal. She writes about herself and her friend who lives in a nest two floors down – Puneet. Puneet is a pretty little boy who is eventually castrated to retain his “feminism” that he might have lost growing up. Batuk’s description of her life is somehow very detached. She writes about incidences, never about her feelings and emotions. I guess that was her way of dealing with her own. She never stopped to think about how she actually felt about the whole thing.

Batuk is not a character that you can identify yourself with. And she is not meant to be. At many parts in the book, she comes across as manipulative and cunning. Her character is in contrast to that of Puneet’s. Puneet is sweet and innocent and manages to retain a bit of the child in him despite everything that happens to him. Batuk on the other hand, is completely aware of her scenario. She is rational and uses almost “too adult” for her age. When she gets philosophical, it is hard to imagine that the words come from a teenager.

I must mention here that I found the ending of the book to be ambiguous. There is no explanation for the chain of events and you are left to form your own conclusions. I have to accept that I actually liked the way it ended. It just seemed very synchronous with the world that Levine was trying to introduce us to.

There is no pretty way to say Batuk’s story. As much as I found this extremely hard to read (I cried and had to put the book down several times because it was too unbearable!), I must accept that James Levine has done a fabulous job. The writing is beautiful. In spite of the heavy subject matter, Levine’s writing helps you get through the book easily. It is not distracting and lets you immerse yourself in a world that you wish didn’t exist.

I would definitely recommend this book. It is most definitely not an enjoyable read but it’ll definitely help you become more “aware” and I can assure you, you’ll be a changed person when you are done with this book.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Book: The Boy who Harnessed the Wind

Author: William Kamkwamba with Bryan Mealer

Genre: Memoir

My Rating: 5 Stars

My Short Review: An amazing and very inspiring book about a boy who built his own wind mill! A must read for everyone – not just book lovers!

What severe drought conditions struck Malawi, 14 year old William Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of school because his father didn’t have enough money to pay his school fees. William helped his father in the Maize field. But farming is not a year round work and there were periods when there was nothing that he had to do. Instead of whiling away time like other school drop-outs, William went to the library to learn what he was missing out in school. William was always curious about science and was already taking radios and cycle dynamos apart to figure out their working by this time.

From the library books, he came across electricity concepts. He learnt how the mysterious dynamo in the cycles worked to light the bulb. Concepts that baffled engineers seemed simple to this high school drop out.

In Masitala, a small village in Malawi, there was no one that William could turn to help or advice. Better still, there was no one to tell him that 14 year old boys didn’t go around building windmills. So that is exactly what he did.

William was perturbed about the fact that there was no electricity in most houses in his village. It cost a lot to get a power line to supply electricity to your place and even then, the constant power cuts made the expense worthless. He saw pictures of windmills and read about how they were used to harness the wind energy and produce electricity. If there one thing that his village wasn’t lacking, it was wind. William scoured the local scrap yard for discarded stuff – motors, wires, nuts, bolts, etc and two months later, he had his very own working windmill! I am definitely not kidding! A 14 year old boy in the middle of nowhere in Africa built his own windmill just by reading about it in books and using scrap that he found around him! That is pure genius!!
Luckily, the genius was discovered and we now have a chance to get to know this super-brain! Thanks to all the aid he’s been getting, William went back to school to complete his education and is now working towards like life easier for his family and friends in Malawi.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is William’s story in his own words. The first half of the book describes the simple lifestyle of William and his family in rural Malawi – a land filled with poverty as much as it is filled with superstitions and blind beliefs. William describes the pitiful conditions caused by the famine and some of the descriptions brought tears to my eyes. Then he goes on to describe what he learnt and how he built the wind mill. William talks about AC/DC/Transformers/Voltage, etc like he was talking about chicken and maize plants! These complicated terms did not baffle him one bit! I remember all those sleepless nights I spent during my engineering days cursing my decision to learn stuff that didn’t seem relevant to me at all! All that I needed was electricity. Why did I have to care about how I got it? Reading this book has given me a new perspective. It has made me see my knowledge and education in a new light!

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. The achievements of William Kamkwamba are not small. He deserves all the recognition he’s getting and even more!
Willaim’s bok “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind” co-written with Bryan Mealer is coming out on September 29. I think you should pre-order this book right now and read it definitely!

You can read more about William in his blog here.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Review: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

Set against the backdrop of World War II, Gail Tsukiyama’s “Street of Thousand Blossoms” delves deep into the lives of two brothers – Hiroshi and Kenji, who live in Tokyo.

Hiroshi and Kenji’s lives were touched by separation and sorrow even before the World War started. They lost their parents in a boating accident when they were very young and were now living with their old but loving grandparents. They have happy and content childhoods with dreams and aspirations. Hiroshi, always the protector of the family, aspires to become a successful sumo wrestler and his dedication and skill catches the eye of the most prestigious trainer - Tanaka. The shy and silent Kenji is fascinated by the masks he sees in a shop window and gravitates towards the art of mask making and Akira Yoshiwara, a famous mask maker for the Noh Theater. Kenji starts working for Akira as his apprentice in his mask shop. Unexpectedly, World War II interrupts their near-perfect lives and for the next few years, all that the boys and their grandparents can think of is surviving with what little they manage to have.

At the end of World War II, when Japan struggles to rebuild itself, Hiroshi and Kenji make a heroic attempt to redeem their childhood dreams and actually succeed in their attempt. The book is more than just about their professions, of course. You are drawn into the personal and professional struggles of both brothers and without realizing it, you smile at their joys and successes and cry with them at their losses and failures.

The book is an absolute joy to read. Tsukiyama gives us a good view of Japan’s two prized gems – Sumo Wrestling and the Noh Theater. We learn about the daily rituals and the lives of Sumo wrestlers in Japan. Until I read the book, I didn’t care much for Sumo wrestling. To me, it was just two fat men in their underwear trying to push each other out a teeny tiny circle. But as I read the book, I learnt to appreciate the dedication, the skill and the strength that is associated with Sumo wrestling. I started seeing it for the art it is. I actually started liking Japan’s most loved sport. The Noh masks are at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is a small, intricately carved mask where the face changes expression based on which angle you look at it. Thanks to google I found many videos and articles on both Sumo wrestling and the Noh Theater to satisfy my craving for more knowledge once I was done reading the book.

Both Hiroshi and Kenji are endearing and lovable in their own ways and the love and respect they have for each other is enviable. I enjoyed the way Tsukiyama seamlessly weaved the world war II and its after effects into the lives of Hiroshi and Kenji while describing their professional and personal lives completely.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I would definitely recommend it to everyone. It is a very enjoyable read and it has only one short coming – it is very addictive. There’s no way you are putting it down until you’ve turned the last page.

Have you already read this book? Did you enjoy it as much as I did??

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: The Space Between Us

Book: The Space Between Us

Author: Thrity Umrigar

My Review: A captivating novel about the divide between the rich and the poor in India.

My Rating: 4 Stars

After having heard so much about Thrity Umrigar, I finally decided to pick up “The Space Between Us”. I was hooked from the very first page and found every possible excuse to read until I finally finished the book today.

Through the lives of Sera and Bhima, Thrity Umrigar attempts to describe the divide between the rich and the poor in India. Aravind Adiga tries to do the same thing with the White Tiger. While Adiga’s book explores the world of men and drivers of rich businessmen, Thrity concentrates on women and housemaids.

Sera is a wealthy Parsi woman in Bombay and the saying that money can’t buy happiness is definitely true in her case. When she had married Feroz, the man of her dreams all those years ago, little did she realize that her life would take a turn that she never expected. A physically and mentally abusive husband and a nosy, dominating mother in law make Sera’s life hell. She lives her daughter and son-in-law now. Her husband’s dead and her mother in law, crippled and bed ridden. There’s only one person that’s seen Sera through all stages in her life – her servant, Bhima. Bhima’s poor, yet happy, world is shattered when her husband meets with an accident at work. The accident takes away his joy and fun along with three fingers and leaves him with misery and a thirst for alcohol. He soon runs away from home taking his son with him. Bhima is left with her daughter, Pooja. Years later, when Pooja and her husband die of AIDS, Bhima brings their little daughter Maya. Her ray of hope. Maya is a smart kid and through her Bhima envisions a future with no poverty or the hassles of living in a slum.

Thrity Umrigar navigates easily through the ups and downs in Sera’s and Bhima’s life. In addition to their own lives, she also deals with the complicated relationship between Sera and Bhima. As much as they depend on each other for the moral support, they are both painfully aware of the difference in their castes and statuses at all times.

I really enjoyed reading the book. The characters are very well developed – even the minor ones like Sera’s father in law leave an impression on your memory. Have you read “The Space Between Us”? What did you think about the book? I loved this book and I really enjoyed Thrity Umrigar’s writing. Have you read any other book by her? Which one would you recommend for me to read next?

If you haven’t read “The Space Between Us”, I would definitely recommend this one to you. I enjoyed it and I am sure you will too!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: The Toss of a Lemon

Book: The Toss of a Lemon

Author: Padma Viswanathan

Challenge: Orbis Terrarum 2009
My Review: A detailed look into the lives of a Brahmin family in rural Tamil Nadu (India) in the mid 1900s. A saga of sorts.

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan first caught my eye when I saw a blurb in Dar’s blog. The book is set in the early 1900s in a small rural village in Tamil Nadu (a state in Southern India). It focuses primarily on a Brahmin family over a period of about 50 years. Being a Tamil Brahmin myself, I was curious about the book and the descriptions of customs and traditions; Customs and Traditions that my ancestors might have followed but not be followed anymore in this modern world.

In the very first chapter, however, I saw references to “Kulithalai” a really small locality in rural Tamil Nadu which is my mother’s hometown. This came as quite a pleasant surprise to me. If the descriptions in the book were accurate and valid, I had just found the key to the lives of my maternal great grand parents and my grandparents. I have visited Kulithalai about 20 years ago. I was about 5 years old and didn’t really notice much except for the cousins around me that I could run around and play with. As I read the book, faint memories of my ancestral home flashed across my brain. Hence, as you can see, this book had much more than just literary value to me.

The Toss of a Lemon describes the life of Sivagami from when she was about 10 until her death 50 to 60 years later. And through Sivagami’s life, we are given a peep into the lives of a small Brahmin community in Tamil Nadu in the early 1900s; A community filled with cultures and traditions passed down over generations along with a strong sense of caste distinction and deep belief in astrology and male dominance. In fact, the name of the title stems from an ingenious method developed to record the exact time of birth of Sivagami’s children so that their astrological horoscopes could be charted effectively. Astrology still plays a major role in many Brahmin households in India.

A short note from the history books: Dravidians are thought to be the original inhabitants of India. History books mention that Aryans invaded India and pushed the Dravidians to the south. This explains the difference in the physical attributes of north and south Indians. Aryans brought with them a distinction of the masses based on occupation – the scholarly folks, the warriors, the traders and the servants. Brahmins are traditionally the scholarly people. They were well educated and performed the Hindu rites and rituals and took care of the temples. Soon, they started considering themselves superior to the other castes and formed strict traditions of not letting non-Brahmins enter Brahmin households, eat Brahmin food, etc. In the present day, these caste distinctions still do exist in India. They no longer define occupations and are not as rigid as they were 50 to 60 years ago. People typically tend to marry within their own castes and inter-caste marriages (Though slowly becoming more popular) are still frowned upon.

The Toss of a Lemon brings out this aspect of Tamil Nadu beautifully through the actions and behavior of Sivagami and her family members. By the end of the book we can slowly see the shift from rigid Brahminical traditions.

The Aryan Society was also completely male dominated and Padma Viswanathan brings out the male domination in the Brahmin Society beautifully.

Though meek and subdued, Sivagami is actually quite a rebel. When she is widowed, she does something that was unthinkable by widows in that period. Instead of staying with her brothers in her childhood home, she moves back into the house she had occupied with her husband and manages the farms and her grandchildren there. Her strength of character is seen in little acts like these that are taken for granted today.

To me, a lot of the descriptions and many of the terms used in the book were familiar. I am really not sure how someone who is not familiar with Tamilian traditions would read and enjoy the book. And I must mention the fact that the book is a chunkster. It has more than 600 pages and it definitely took me a while to get through it. But in 600 pages, Padma Viswanathan weaves a complete tale. She transports you to rural Tamil Nadu in the mid 1900s and makes you a part of the Sivagami household.

I must mention here that the book might not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you are looking for action and interesting twists and turns throughout the book, I can assure you that you’ll be bored with this book soon. But if all that you are looking for is to learn about a new culture and get transported into a completely different world, this is a really good book for you! The book is very descriptive and the images are vivid. I definitely enjoyed reading this book! Why I make it a point to mention this is because I have read a wide variety of reviews for this book. Some absolutely love it and others don’t seem to like it at all! I was a little unsure in the beginning of the book. I finished about 100 pages and the book really didn’t seem to be heading in any particular direction… and then I was slowly sucked into the atmosphere of the book and by the end, I didn’t want it to finish!

If you do plan to read this book and if you have questions about certain terms used in the book or even traditions, I’d be glad to chat with you about it.

I read this book as part of the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. I wanted to definitely visit India in this year’s challenge as well and what better place than my mother’s home town?? Thanks to Padma Viswanathan for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: Sarah's Key

Book: Sarah’s Key

Author: Tatiana De Rosnay

Challenge: Orbis Terrarum Challenge

My Review: Yet another powerful book set during WWII. Very moving and a must read!

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

I knew I’d like Sarah’s Key. I knew it from the very first time I saw a review of it in one of the book blogs. And then practically everyone read “Sarah’s Key” and I kept reading all the reviews and loving the book even more. I don’t why I waited for so long to pick the book up.

Is it possible to love a book that describes atrocities committed in the past? Is it possible to love a book in spite of the descriptions of the pain and the torture that people had to go through? What is it about these books? They make me cry and they leave me feeling useless and helpless and almost guilty for having a perfectly normal life. And yet, I love them. I hunt them down with a vengeance. I consciously stayed away from the World War II Challenge because I knew I’d read more than enough books for it and it somehow doesn’t feel right to “enjoy” those books. I hope I am not rambling and I hope you get what I am trying to say here. I know a lot of you love reading books set during World War II and the holocaust. How do you feel when you read those books? Do they tear you apart? I know they do that to me!

Anyway, Sarah’s Key starts off as two separate stories and in the middle of the book, the two stories merge. The first story is set in France during World War II. It is set against the backdrop of the round up at The Velodrome d’hiver on July 16, 1942 – a massive round up of Jewish families in France by the French Police themselves. Before they were sent to the camps at Auschwitz, the families were kept in the Vel d’Hiv under very deplorable conditions. Sarah is a young girl, whose family is also part of the round up. Before leaving her house, Sarah locks her brother in a secret cupboard and leaves the house assuring him that she’ll come back soon to let him out.

Sixty years later, Julia Jarmond is assigned to do a story on the Vel d’Hiv round up and she comes across the story of Sarah Starzynski. At this point, the two individual stories – one narrated by Sarah and the other by Julia merge into one. And it was at this point, that the book started getting a little slow for me. The horrors associated with Vel d’Hiv are replaced by Julia’s personal fights against her dominating husband and her quest for Sarah. Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t mean to say that I didn’t enjoy the book. I enjoyed it very much but I can’t help thinking that in the end, the book was more about Julia than about Sarah and that wasn’t what I was expecting.

I know many of you have already read this book. What did you think of it? Share your views with me! If you haven’t read Sarah’s Key, I would definitely encourage you to read it. It is a fast moving contemporary fiction with a touch of history. Perfect for even those who do not like books that deal wholly with World War II.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: The Lucky One

Book: The Lucky One
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Genre: Chick Lit
My Rating: 3.5 Stars


When U.S. Marine Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a smiling young woman half-buried in the dirt during his third tour of duty in Iraq, his first instinct is to toss it aside. Instead, he brings it back to the base for someone to claim, but when no one does, he finds himself always carrying the photo in his pocket. Soon Thibault experiences a sudden streak of luck—winning poker games and even surviving deadly combat that kills two of his closest buddies. Only his best friend, Victor, seems to have an explanation for his good fortune: the photograph—his lucky charm.
Back home in Colorado, Thibault can’t seem to get the photo—and the woman in it—out of his mind. Believing that she somehow holds the key to his destiny, he sets out on a journey across the country to find her, never expecting the strong but vulnerable woman he encounters in Hampton, North Carolina—Elizabeth, a divorced mother with a young son—to be the girl he’s been waiting his whole life to meet.
Caught off guard by the attraction he feels, Thibault keeps the story of the photo, and his luck, a secret. As he and Elizabeth embark upon a passionate and all-consuming love affair, the secret he is keeping will soon threaten to tear them apart—destroying not only their love, but also their lives.
Filled with tender romance and terrific suspense, THE LUCKY ONE is Nicholas Sparks at his best—an unforgettable story about the surprising paths our lives often take and the power of fate to guide us to true and everlasting love.
My Review:

How does one review any of Nicholas Sparks books? He’s found the perfect formula for a light entertaining read that would appeal to most women. The lucky one is no different. I enjoy Nicholas Sparks. I enjoy the way the romance builds up through the book and the predictable fight towards the end and of course the mushy ending! I classify Nicholas Sparks books as Chick Lits. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy hearted! I don’t know if he appreciates being put in that category and I know some reviewers hate classifying him under “Chick Lits” but it works for me!

If you’ve read Nicholas Sparks before and liked it, I am sure you’ll like this one as well!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Book: Slumdog Millionaire (Originally published as Q&A)

Author: Vikas Swarup

My review: Fast paced and interesting with a detailed look at the life of the poor in Mumbai. Has all the ingredients for a successful bollywood (or even Oscar winning Hollywood) movie – action, romance, comedy.

My rating: 4.5 Stars


When I saw the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”, I had no idea it was based on a book. And when I did find out that it was based on Vikas Swarup’s Q and A, I had to read the book. I have always been a staunch “book-before-movie” kinda person and when I picked up the book it irked me that I had seen the movie before I actually read the book. But I realized that I liked this much better than the other way around.

When I usually watch a movie after reading the book, I am almost always upset with the movie. Obviously a lot of the stuff has been left out and the story edited to suit the movie better. I enjoyed watching “Slumdog Millionaire” and then I read the book and liked that as well! So I guess in future, if I have to enjoy the movie, I should watch it before I pick the book up!

Well, I guess most of you are familiar with either the book or the movie or both. In case there’s anyone who is still not familiar, here’s a brief description for you. The book is about Ram Mohammed Thomas, a poor orphan boy who goes on to win “Who Will Win a Billion”, a game show closely resembling “Who wants to be a Millionaire” or its Indian counterpart “Kaun Banega Crorepati”. There is obvious doubt that he has cheated since he is illiterate but on further questioning, he describes the incidents in his life that gave him the answers to the questions asked in the show.

In spite of having already watched the movie and knowing the story I enjoyed the book. I guess this could partly be due to the reason that the book was very different from the movie in many parts. The differences were not just in minor details like the names of the protagonists, etc but also in the storyline and well as the questions in the TV show. Ram Mohammed Thomas was a likeable as Jamal and though I did miss the prolonged romance of Jamal and Latika, I could see traces of Latika in Nita (though she hardly had any role in the book!)

It is definitely an interesting read and I would definitely recommend that you read it even if you’ve watched the movie. I am sure you’ll enjoy it equally or maybe even more!

Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on it? Read the book and watched the movie? How do you compare the two?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Review: Secret Keeper

Book: Secret Keeper

Author: Mitali Perkins

Genre: YA Novel

My Review: A sweet and simple book full of powerful messages of strength, sacrifice, love and affection.

My Rating: 4 Stars

The Secret Keeper is one example of a YA novel that can most definitely be read by and enjoyed by readers of all ages. I fell in love with the cover of the book as soon as I saw it and I wanted to read it even before I knew what it was about. Reading the summary of the book only made me want to read it more!

The Secret keeper is based in India in the 1970s. There is an economic crisis in the country and jobs are scarce. Asha lives with her parents and her older sister Reet in Delhi. Asha’s dad is forced to move to New York to find an engineering job to better support his family. In the meantime, Asha, Reet and their mother move to Calcutta to live with Asha’s father’s family. The name of book comes from Asha’s secret companion – her very own diary where she writes about everything she wants to. The diary, with its own lock and key, is her very own “secret keeper”.

In this book, Mitali Perkins beautifully describes the cultures and traditions followed in India in the 70s. Through Asha’s experiences she brings to light the restrictions that girls in India had to face during those years. Through Reet’s experiences, she describes the complex arranged marriage system followed in India.

I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of life in Calcutta in the 1970s. Asha and Reet shared a very loving relationship and it was endearing to see the things they did for each other.

I definitely did not expect the book to end the way it did. I was a little upset as soon as the book ended and then the more I thought about the book, I realized that the twist at the end only made the book more enjoyable and more memorable.

I definitely recommend this book to teens as well as to adults. Thanks to Mitali Perkins for sending me a reviw copy of this book.

Have you read “The Secret Keeper”? What did you think of it? Did you like the way it ended?

Haven’t read the book? Read it soon and come back here to discuss it with me!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Review: The Diary

Book: The Diary

Author: Eileen Goudge

My review: Short, well written and easy to read. Interesting plot.

My rating: 3 Stars

Elizabeth Harvey’s future seems to be pretty stable. She has been dating Bob for over four years and she is pretty sure that he loves her as much as she loves him. Everything seems perfect and in place. Until one day at the country fair, she comes across an old classmate of hers and Bob’s – AJ. AJ and Elizabeth were pretty good friends until his parents passed away in an accident when they were 9. The incident transforms AJ and he slowly withdraws from society and Elizabeth in the process. When she meets him in the country fair, she realizes that she is hopelessly attracted to AJ and he confesses that he was always crazy about her. Elizabeth is suddenly in a dilemma – Bob is rich, stable, and well loved and respected in the society. She knows that he loves her and will keep her very happy. But she always knows that she has never felt as strongly about him as she feels about AJ. AJ, on the other hand, doesn’t have a stable job nor does he have a good reputation in town. He’s just “the keeler boy who burnt his uncle’s car”. Whom should she marry?

About 50 years later, Emily and Sarah are packing up their dying mother’s house and in the attic, they come across an old diary. The diary documents the incidents that happened in the year their parents got married and to their surprise, they realize that their parent’s love story was not the simple perfect one that they’ve always believed it to be. Their mother, Elizabeth Harvey, was in love with two very different men and one of them was their dad!

Through reading Elizabeth’s diary, Emily and Sarah learn more than just the story behind their parent’s happy marriage. They learn more about their parents and about themselves in the process.

“The Diary” was a short, sweet, enjoyable read. It was well written and had an element of suspense that kept you guessing till the end. I picked it up because I loved the cover. It was simple and the colors appealed to me as soon as I saw it. I am glad that the cover wasn’t the only nice thing about the book. The story was pretty interesting as well. I enjoyed reading the book. What added appeal to the book was the fact that the book was loosely based on Eileen’s parents’ love story. Thanks to Kim Miller of Nancy Bernald Public Relations, Inc for sending me a review copy of this book.

It won’t classify as one of the best books I have ever comes across… but I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for a light read!

Have you read “The Diary”? What did you think of it? Were you as surprised by the ending as I was or was it just too obvious for you?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (GLPPPS)

Authors: Mary Ann Schaeffer and Annie Barrows

Style: Epistolary (Letters)

My review: A very charming tale set amidst the atrocities of World War II. The book transports you to Guernsey during WWII and introduces you to some very interesting characters that you get so acquainted with that you actually miss them when you put the book down! (not very brief I know!)

My rating: 5 Stars

1. A book set during World War II

2. A book written in Epistolary form (as letters between various people)

3. A book that received rave reviews from all the book bloggers that have read it until now

4. Winner of Washington post’s Best Book 2008 award

5. A book about a very unique book club with an even more unique name (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)

Any one of the above criteria would have made me pick the book up instantly. Seriously! When I saw that the GLPPPS actually satisfied all five, I just HAD to read the book. And when I placed a request for the book in my local library, every passing day was filled with a sweet anticipation mixed with a slightly bitter anxiety that I wouldn’t like the book as much as I wanted to. I really needn’t have worried. The GLPPPS was absolutely amazing and I enjoyed every page of it!

During the World War II, Germany occupied a small, relatively unknown, island in the English Channel – Guernsey. Guernsey and its inhabitants buckled under the occupation – no food, no freedom, nothing! One evening, while a bunch of Guernsey inhabitants were returning to their respective residences way past curfew time they found themselves face to face with German authorities. Unable to mention the true reason for their staying outside after curfew (a gathering to partake of a delicious feast of roast pork from a pig that escaped German inventory), the group came up with one that the authorities would have no issues with – a literary society: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! To validate the claim just in case the authorities decided to drop in and check on them, books were bought and discussions held. Soon, however, the members of the society turned to books to distract them from the agonies of German occupation.

In a completely unrelated part of the world, a writer Juliet Ashton corresponds with her best friend and her brother who is Juliet’s publicist. She is on a tour to promote her book which is a collection of her newspaper columns “Izzy Biggerstaff goes to war”, which had a humorous take on the war. Juliet is in search of a serious topic to write about when un expectedly she receives a letter in the mail from a Dawsey Adams of Guernsey. Being a member of the GLPPPS, he had fallen in love with the writing of Charles Lamb. He owned a used copy of the book and had taken the liberty to write to the previous owner hoping that she would direct him to more books by the same author. This seemingly innocent letter gives rise to a series of letters between Juliet Ashton and the inhabitants of Guernsey.

I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. It is easily one of the best books I have ever read. The writing is beautiful and immediately transports you to the post world war period. The characters are very well defined and so real! Even though the book is just a collection of letters, each voice is unique and adds more charm to the novel. The writing is very descriptive and paints vivid pictures to portray the beauty of Guernsey even for those who have never heard of its existence before reading this book.

IF you haven’t already read the zillion raving reviews for this book, I hope reading mine will make you want to pick this book up. I totally recommend this book to anyone to likes to read. There’s something in it for every reader!

The book has its own charming website. where you can find more information about the authors, the book, a recipe for potato peel pie, etc. Some of the interesting sections are: Books mentioned in Guernsey, Other Epistolary novels, etc – good resources for those looking for another interesting read!

Have you already read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”? What did you think of it?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: The Teashop Girls

Book: The Teashop Girls
Author: Laura Schaefer
Genre: YA Novel
My Review: As refreshing as a freshly brewed cuppa tea! Thoroughly enjoyable for girls/women of all ages
My Rating: 5 Stars

A wonderful review of “The Teashop Girls” in Bethany’s blog made me want to pick the book up from my TBR pile immediately. If you haven’t read Bethany’s review of it, head over to her blog to see her review. It is a really fun post with a recipe, some pictures, etc and quite an enjoyable read!

“The Teashop Girls” is a YA novel revolving around Annie Green. Annie’s grandmother Louisa, who also lives in Wisconsin, has her own tea shop called “The Steeping Leaf”. The Steeping Leaf is a dear little shop built lovingly by her grandparents. The plants, the oversized mismatched comfortable furniture, the expensive French soap in the restrooms, etc gave The Steeping Leaf a very personal touch. But ever since Annie’s grandfather had passed away four years ago, The Steeping Leaf had slowly slipped into financial troubles. Though Louisa loved the shop, she didn’t have too much of a business head on her shoulders. Annie and her two best friends Genna and Zoe were the official “Teashop Girls” after having spent many delightful hours in The Steeping Leaf ever since they were old enough to come there. The Teashop Girls had their little handbook (which included the mandatory “set of rules”), a scrapbook of many interesting tidbits related to tea and a new item on their agenda – Save The Steeping Leaf! Along with the many attempts to save the little tea shop (some successful, some disastrous), the girls learn a lot about life, their friendship and themselves.

The Teashop Girls was an interesting book and one of the most cheerful YA novels I have ever read! There are wonderful illustrations throughout the book. The best part, however are the little inserts found through out the book. I loved them all – the little Zen stories told by Louisa, recipes for wonderful tea as well as tea accompaniments, vintage advertisements for tea from across the world, lists and more lists drafted by the compulsive list makers, etc.

Laura Schaeffer has done a wonderful job with the book. It is a fabulous read for both young girls as well as others who are just looking for a light read. If you are a tea lover, let me assure you, there’s so much in this book for you! If you are not a tea-lover, just read this book and it sure will turn you into one!

This book proved to be dear to me because of the nostalgic memories it brought to mind. I grew up in a hill station – Ooty. Tea grows well in high altitudes and the slopes of the hills give the soil the right amount of moisture necessary for tea growth. Ooty is filled with tea plantations and I grew up loving the smell and process of tea making. During my vacations, I spent hours on the tea plantations observing the tea pickers and their nimble fingers as they worked through the plants picking just the right leaves which would then be sent to factories to turn into the black coarse powder we are all familiar with.

The process of tea picking is a very interesting one. The women are trained to pick just “two leaves and the bud” at the tip of every shoot. This is the most tender part of the tea plant and has the most flavor.  The tea bushes are pruned and maintained at waist level to facilitate rapid picking of the leaves. During the tea picking season, you can find hordes of women with colorful baskets hanging on their backs on every slope in Ooty. They’d sing and talk as their hands rapidly worked through the tea bushes. I’ve tried my hand at tea picking and by the time I would meticulously pick out just “two leaves and a bud” from 3 to 4 shoots, the regular tea pickers would have picked at least fifty!

The leaves that are picked by these women are then transported to tea factories not too far away (because the leaves have to be fresh when ground). In these factories, the green tender leaves are turned into the coarse black powder that we are all familiar with. I loved visiting the tea factories when I was a kid. The smell of fresh tea was always in the air and at the end, I was offered freshly made lemon tea prepared with the highest grade of tea leaves, fresh lemon and some honey. I loved that hot lemon tea and no tea that I have ever had after that comes close to the flavor of that tea!

I guess you can understand now why I love tea so much and why I loved this book!! Thanks to Laura Schaefer for sending me a review copy of this book.
Have you read “The Teashop Girls”? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: The Dream

Book: The Dream

Author: Harry Bernstein

Genre: Memoir

Challenge: Jewish Literature Challenge

My Short Review: Second book in the trilogy of Bernstein’s memoirs. An interesting story with an inspiring touch considering the author’s age when he wrote the book!

My Rating: 4 Stars

I read “The Invisible Wall” earlier this year for the Jewish Literature Challenge. In that book, Harry describes the early part of his life when he was a little boy in England during WWI. It was a very well written book and I enjoyed reading. What inspired me more was the fact that the author – Harry Bernstein was over 90 years old when he actually started writing the book!

When I finished reading the book, I googled the author and came across his Wikipedia page where I learnt that his second book was already published as well and the third book in his trilogy of memoirs is expected in the middle of this year!

I immediately decided to pick up “The Dream” – the second book in the trilogy. In this book, Harry’s family moves to the US (well, everyone except for his oldest sister who got married at the end of the first book and was settled in England). Moving to the US was the biggest wish and dream of Harry’s mother. Their life in England was dominated by poverty and his mother had to struggle to make ends meet. His father who preferred to get drunk rather than socialize with his family was hardly any help because what he gave his wife for her weekly expenses were never sufficient.

For Harry’s mother, moving to the US was to be the solution for all her problems. Her relatives painted pretty pictures of their fancy lives in the US and she yearned to join them in the land of opportunity and extravagance. And then one fine day in England, her hopes and prayers are answered and they receive steamship tickets to go to America.

I guess for Harry’s mother, this was a perfect case where anticipation was way better than what you actually get in the end. The reality in Chicago was definitely not what she had expected: The cramped housing, the poverty, the stench. Her life was to be no better than the one she had in England!

The book deals with the difficulties they had to go through to get settled in the US and how their lives took many turns – some for the better and some for the worse. Towards the end of the book, Harry meets his soul-mate so there’s a touch of romance for those interested in that as well!

I must say that I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed “The Invisible Wall”. I am always a little wary of sequels because they are usually not as good as the first book but this book was definitely as good as the first one. It was a quick and easy read and as usual there were many pictures from Harry’s life to add that touch of reality to the book. I love having a face to associate the characters with!

Have you read any/both of Bernstein’s Books? What did you think about this one?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: Anne of Avonlea

Book: Anne of Avonlea

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Notes: 2nd book in the Anne of Green Gables series
My Review: As addictive and entertaining as Anne of Green Gables

My Rating: 5 Stars

I finished listening to Anne of Green Gables earlier this month and immediately started listening to Anne of Avonlea. I loved the way the first book easily flowed into the second without any kind of a break. Yet in spite of that, Anne in Anne of Avonlea is so much more grown up than the Anne in Anne of Green Gables.

Lucy Maud Montgomery has done a fabulous job in capturing the growth of Anne over the years. In addition, she brings all the people of Avonlea to life and listening/reading the book takes you into that world very easily – Avonlea in the early 1900s is such a beautiful peaceful community and the people are all very endearing – yes, even Mrs. Rachel Lynde!

A host of new characters are introduced in the book. Dora and Davy – the siblings that Marilla adopts when their mother dies, Mr. Harrison – the man who lives next to Green Gables with his garrulous parrot, Little Paul Irwing – one of Anne’s students in the Avonlea school, Miss Lavendar – who is pretty and charming and definitely one of Anne’s kindred spirits who lives in the most charming place called the Echo Lodge!

By the end of the book, you feel like you’ve always known all of them! Anne has definitely grown up in this book but not too grown up to avoid getting into scrapes. The chapter where she sells Mr. Harrison’s Jersey cow is hilarious!

If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables and haven’t read this one – you definitely are missing out on a book that is as fabulous as Anne of Green Gables! And if you haven’t read either of the books, I would recommend that you start with Anne of Green Gables and then definitely read Anne of Avonlea.

I am now listening to Anne of the Island and I am loving it just as much! Audiobooks are so useful when I am trying to knit. I am definitely not one of those prolific knitters who can read while they are knitting and so I just turn on my audiobook and get lost in the world of Anne while the little blue baby blanket that I am knitting for my best friend who is due this weekend slowly and steadily takes shape!

Have you read Anne of Avonlea? Share your thoughts with me!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review: The Smart One and the Pretty One

Book: The Smart one and the Pretty One
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Genre: Chick-Lit

My review: Interesting, easy to read and light
My rating: 3 Stars

If you’ve been following this blog long enough you know that I love my occasional chick lit. I came across a review for this on Swapna’s blog a while ago and added it to my mental to-read list and never really thought too much about it until I spotted it while I was browsing the shelves in my local library the other day. I picked it up and definitely didn’t need an excuse to start reading it.

Here’s a description of the book from the back cover:

Smart, successful Ava Nickerson is closing in on thirty and has barely had a date since law school. When a family crisis brings her prodigal little sister Lauren back to Los Angeles, Lauren stumbles across a forgotten document – a contract their parents had jokingly drawn up years ago betrothing Ava to their friends’ son.
Frustrated and embarrassed by Ava’s constant lectures about financial responsibility (all because she’s in a little debt. Okay, a lot of debt), Lauren decides to do some sisterly interfering of her own and tracks down her sister’s childhood fiancĂ©. When she finds him, the highly inappropriate, twice-divorced, but incredibly charming Russell Markowitz is all too happy to reenter the Nickerson sisters’ lives. And always-accountable Ava will soon realize just how binding a contract can be…

I guess that beautifully sums the book up. It was an interesting story line and though both Lauren and Ava have their faults, they are both endearing. The men in the book, for a change, are not stereotypical. They are pretty interesting characters themselves and I liked the fact that the book was as much about them as it was about the sisters. The book is well written, easy to read and keeps you interested enough to sit with it until you turn the last page.

I would definitely recommend this one to any of your chick lit lovers out there looking for a nice light read.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review: Anne of Green Gables

Book: Anne of Green Gables
Published: 1908
Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Challenges: Orbis Terrarum 2009
My Short Review: Anne is a totally lovable character and this is easily one of my all time favorite books.
My Rating: 5 Stars

The year was 1998. I was 16 years old. I read Anne of Green Gables and all the other books in the series and loved them all! I remember that Anne of Green Gables was my favorite in the series, but I loved the other books as well! I totally identified with Anne. I was the garrulous one at home and I loved nature and day dreaming and Anne just seemed like me in so many ways! I even had a bosom buddy like Diana Barry – an angelic looking girl who was the sweetest ever and stood by me all the time! I even thought I had found my Gilbert Blythe! Those were the dreamy days.

I picked up Anne of Green Gables again this year – 10 years after I had first read it. I was curious to see what I’d think of the book now. I was amazed to see that I loved the book still. I no longer put myself in Anne’s shoes and no longer thought about having story clubs or inviting friends over for tea but I enjoyed the book nevertheless. I actually didn’t read it this time. I listened to the audio version that I downloaded from Librivox.

This would be my first stop in the Orbis Terrarum Challenge this year – Canada and I think it is a perfect book for this challenge. The beauty of Prince Edward Islands in the early 1900s is brought out beautifully in this book. Anne is a nature lover and through her descriptions we get to know about the beauty of the place!

Here’s a little blurb about the book for those of you unfortunate enough to have never read this:

Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are siblings who live together in Green Gables, a beautiful farm in Avonlea. They decide to adopt an orphan boy to help them with the farm work but by mistake, they get Anne Shirley – a tall, bony, freckled, smart, talkative 11 year old with bright red hair. They know they should send her back, but there’s something so endearing about her that they decide to keep her. Anne of Green Gables describes the first 5 years of Anne’s life in Green Gables. In this book you can see Anne transform into a beautiful young lady. And she gets more and more lovable as the book goes by.

I loved the book! It made me laugh at so many places and it made me cry as well! I realized that I had forgotten many parts of the book and remembered many other vividly! It was interesting to see what scenes made the most impact on me when I was 16! I personally think that these books can be read by women of all ages. It is definitely a fun read and remains one of my all-time favorites.

I am listening to the second book in the series now – Anne of Avonlea.

Dar, who blogs at Peeking Between the Pages and who was featured in my Book Lovers Recommendation section yesterday said that this was one of her all time favorite books! Bethany, who blogs at B&b Ex Libris just read and reviewed this book as well! Check out her review of the book here.

I am sure most of you have read this book. What was your favorite part in this book? What did you like most about it and what did you not like about it? Talk to me!:)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: The Invisible Wall

Book: The Invisible Wall

Author: Harry Bernstein

Genre: Memoir
My short review: Very well written, simple and appealing story, vivid descriptions and a peep into lives of people in England during WW-I.

My rating: 4 Stars.

When I heard that Harry Bernstein was 92 when he started writing his first book, I knew that I was definitely going to read the book! It is really inspiring to see his determination to start writing at the age of 92. What made my decision easier was the fact that the person who recommended the book to me loved it and every review I found raved about it as well. So, that’s how The Invisible Wall landed on my nightstand.

Harry Bernstein’s writing appealed to me from the very first page. The Invisible Wall is a memoir. In this book, Harry describes his life before he immigrated to the United States. Harry was born into a poor Jewish family and lived in the Lancashire Mill Town. He had 4 older siblings (2 girls and 2 boys) and 1 younger sibling who came along much later in life. Harry’s family struggled to make ends meet. His father, who was a tailor by profession, preferred spending his evenings getting drunk rather than interacting with his family. He never talked to his children and didn’t bother too much about household affairs. Harry’s mom struggled to feed and clothe the children with the miniscule amount of money that her husband gave grudgingly for household affairs.

What is interesting about Harry’s childhood home is the street that his house was in. The street had houses on both sides. One side was occupied by Jewish families and the other by Christian Families. In spite of the proximity, the occupants of either side maintained such a distance between themselves that it felt like there was an invisible wall between the rows of houses. The interaction between the Jews and the Christians was minimal – restricted to occasional smiles and Friday evenings when the Christian women entered the Jewish houses to light a fire since the Jewish women had to observe Sabbath and could not do it. The descriptions of the street and the lives of the people have a very “D.H. Lawrence-touch” to them. Harry’s descriptions are vivid and you are transported to the England during WW-I.

What adds flavor the book is the love story that is featured in the book – not his own that but that of his older sister, Lily. Lily falls in love with a Christian boy from across the street. This is relatively unheard of in the street and the last time something like that happened, the girl was shipped off to Australia to live with her Jewish relatives and marry a Jewish man like she is supposed to do.

Since I am from India, I could totally understand the reaction of Harry’s family and their neighbors to the romance between Lily and Arthur. India is potpourri of castes and religions and romances across castes and religions is frowned upon and definitely not encouraged. Stories of inter-caste relationships make for good gossip among the ladies similar to what happens in this book as well.

The events on this street happen against the background of World War I. Boys and men are recruited from both sides of the street. Some come back affected in mind only, some come back injured both mentally and physically, and some don’t ever come back.

The Invisible Wall turned out to be a fabulous, entertaining read and I loved every page of the book. Even though it is a memoir, it reads like fiction since the time period that Harry writes about is not exactly contemporary. I guess that’s a big advantage of him writing this book when he is 92! Harry’s writing style is simple but powerful. His descriptions of the people and the places create wonderful images in your brain as you are reading the book. Some parts of the book tug at your heart and make you want to cry. Others are hilarious and make you want to laugh out loud. It is a quick read as it is not a long book either.

I would totally totally recommend this book to everyone reading this review. And I can’t wait to get my hands on Harry’s second book.


A few edits:

1. I just realized that this book would qualify for my Jewish Literature Challenge as well..So, that's 3 books done!:)

2. I forgot to inform you that Harry Bernstein's second book - Dreams is also out and I have that on my night stand..can't wait to pick that up immediately!

3.I also just found out that Harry Bernstein's third book is due to be out this april! he's 99 years old this year! Can you beleive it??? I am more and more amazed at his capability to do this!


Have you read this book? What did you think about it?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Midori by Moonlight

Book: Midori by Moonlight

Author: Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Genre: Chick-lit
My Short Review: Refreshing new plot for a chick-lit, lovable characters and a quick and interesting read.

My rating: 4 Stars
Yet another immigrant story and yet another quest for the elusive “green card”… but this time, a much lighter story line. I had read a couple of reviews for “Midori by Moonlight” and I had picked it up from the library hoping to sneak it in after a heavy read. I found the perfect opportunity when I finished reading Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss. I enjoyed Midori by Moonlight even more than I thought I would.

Midori is a young girl living in Japan and is in love with everything American. Kevin is an American visiting Japan. Midori and Kevin fall in love and he brings her to San Francisco with him to marry her. Midori is all excited about her American dream coming true. Soon after their engagement party, however, her world comes crashing when Kevin announces that he is dumping Midori to go back to his girlfriend Kimberley. Midori suddenly finds herself in a strange city with no fiancĂ©, no knowledge of English, no job, a soon-to-be extinct savings account, an expiring visa, and no idea on what to do with her life! The only things she knows are these: baking cakes that are out of the world, and the fact that she doesn’t want to go back to Japan. This book is all about how the seemingly mild and timid Midori decides to take charge of her life and do everything that she can to make sure that she doesn’t go back to Japan.

Midori is extremely lovable. Her struggles with the idiomatic expressions in English are hilarious and her passion for baking is contagious...well, almost!(It got me thinking about what I might want to bake, if that counts!).I must however admit that there were times that I thought that she was a little stupid or should I just say, ignorant? For instance, the fact that it took her forever to realize that her roommate’s girlfriend was actually jealous of her! But I guess in spite of that, I still did like her a lot.

While managing to keep the light mood of the book, Wendy manages to sneak in quite a bit about the lives of people in contemporary Japan – the academic pressures of parents, the suffocative society norms for girls, etc.

I must say that I really enjoyed reading this book and would definitely recommend it to you if you are looking for something light to read. I can assure you that it is a quick read and holds your attention throughout. You can most likely get through this in one sitting. I very nearly did!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: The Inheritance of Loss

Book: The Inheritance of Loss

Author: Kiran Desai

Awards: Man Booker Prize 2006

My short review: Deep subject, Intense Writing, Beautiful Writing, Tough to Read

My Rating: 4 Stars

Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai is definitely one of the most complicated books I have read. Complicated in the sense that it has way too much happening in it - a lot of layers and you need to peel away each layer to expose what she is trying to get at. I spent 2 weeks reading this book and I am not sure I have done justice to it. I feel that there’s so much more to the book that I have missed. But I guess that is the reason that this is a Man Booker Prize winner. I had a tough time with the book but I know that it totally deserves the award.

In such a situation, it is difficult to write a concise review for this book. I am going to do my best here but I would highly recommend that you pick this book up as well and work your way through it to truly understand what I am trying to express here.

The Inheritance of Loss is definitely not an easy read. It is a book that is divided into two. On one side is the slums of New York filled with illegal immigrants struggling to find a way to live the “American dream”. On the other side is Kalimpong – a town on the Indian side of the Himalayas – a seemingly peaceful setting which is rocked with conflict. The background for the Kalimpong part of the book is the Gurkha revolution (riots caused by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF)) which happened in the late 1980s.

A very brief summary would probably say that the book is about the inhabitants of Cho Oyu (which is a dilapidated house in Kalimpong, a town on the Indian side of the Himalayas) and their associations.

Jemubhai Patel is a retired judge. He is rude, grumpy and arrogant. His grand daughter Sai comes to live with him (much against his wishes) when her parents die. She is an anglophile, just like her grand father but is different in all other aspects. She falls in love with her tutor Gyan who is a Nepali Gurkha. The cook is a master story teller who weaves fascinating stories about the judge and his son to make his mundane existence more exiting. The cook’s son, Biju, is in New York shuttling from one restaurant basement to another in an eternal chase for the elusive “green card” and of course to escape from the immigration officials.

Through the lives of these five characters, Kiran Desai addresses deeper issues such as the negative impact of globalization and the legacy of colonialism. This is a story of the emotional result of people going between the east and the west over many generations. This is a book that is not about how lovely multi-culturism is but about how difficult it is.

The overall tone of the book is pessimistic. Even towards the end, when you’d hope for everything to magically become better, Desai leaves the characters stranded as they are and that gives you a feeling of incompleteness. At times, the depth of the subject and the intensity of the writing overwhelmed me and I had to put the book down for a while before I could recharge myself to pick it up again.

In spite of all the difficulty in reading, I kept going only because Desai’s writing is a pleasure to read. Her descriptions are vivid – pleasurable when you can feel the cool Himalayan breeze but icky when it is a rat nibbling on your hair in the New York slums. At times, she can make you feel completely involved in the story and at other times, she makes you feel cold and uninvolved - like having a peep into your neighbor’s house. As I mentioned before, no review can do justice to this book. I wouldn’t easily recommend this book to everyone. It is definitely not an entertaining read and I would recommend it only if you are really in the mood to totally drown into the world as portrayed by Desai. If you are a literature fanatic like me, you should surely pick this book up – just to drown in and admire her style of writing.

Have you read this book? Then you know how inadequate my review is. I would love to hear your views on this one.

Haven’t read this one? What are your thoughts? Are you tempted to give this a shot?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: The Red Leather Diary

Book: The Red Leather Diary

Author: Lily Koppel

My Short Review: Very interesting premise, a fascinating story, a peep at the life in New York in the early 1930s.A little slow.

My rating: 4 Stars

Challenge: Jewish Literature Challenge

I came across a description of “The Red Leather Diary” during a Jewish Book Festival here in Atlanta. The cover of the book instantly caught my eye and the story line immediately made me add to it my wishlist. I had bookmarked this book for the Jewish Literature Challenge and I finally got to it this month.

The premise of “The Red Leather Diary” is very interesting. Lily Koppel is a journalist. She lives in New York City and writes for the New York Times. One day in October 2003, Lily walks outside her apartment in 98, Riverside Drive to find a dumpster full of old trunks. The building management had decided to clean out the storage room in the basement and all unclaimed trunks were being discarded. Some of the trunks dated back to the early twentieth century.

In this dumpster, among other things, Lily finds a diary. Little red flakes were crumbling off the worn cover. Many many years ago, this would have been an attractive red leather diary with its own key. The Diary has a page for each date and on each page, and each page had 5 sections for 5 different years.

The diary belonged to a young jewish girl – Florence Wolfson. Florence received the diary on August 11, 1929 for her fourteenth birthday. Every day for the next 5 years, Florence diligently wrote in her little red book. She shared the most memorable moments of every single day for the 5 years until she turned 19. Lily reads the diary and goes on a quest to find Florence. The surprising thing is that she finds Florence, now 90 years old. This book is Florence’s story.

What is charming about the book is the fact that Florence is no special child. I mean with an IQ of 150, she’s gifted and all that… but apart from that, her life is extremely normal. Like most girls her age, she is obsessed with her looks and with boys (and maybe some girls as well!). She spends her days window shopping, visiting museums, drawing, painting, reading, watching plays, etc.

What I enjoyed tremendously about the book was that it gave us a peep into the life of people in New York in the early thirties. 1930s is not that ancient – in fact, Florence is still alive. But it is amazing to see how everything has changed in this short period of time. Everything from the way people think and behave to the most obvious change – technological advancements. One more thing that I really enjoyed were the photographs that were found throughout the book. It was fun to associate the descriptions to real faces and places.

Lily Koppel has definitely put in a lot of effort to recreate the life of Florence based on the few lines she wrote in her diary. Her effort is commendable.

There is one little thing that I must mention here. I found the book a little slow moving at times. There were times when I got a little tired of Florence and had to put the book down and just watch some TV. The premise was very interesting. I sometimes wished that the book could have been a little shorter.
But that might not even be because of the book. I have been in a ready frenzy the last few weeks and it might just be time for me to take a little break before delving into my next book.
Here’s a description from the back cover of the book

“The young woman who emerged from the diary’s pages had huge ambitions, even if chasing them proved daunting. February 21, 1931. Went to the Museum of Modern Art and almost passed out from sheer jealousy – I can’t even paint an apple yet – it’s heartbreaking! January 16, 1932. I couldn’t study today and went to the museum to pass a morning of agonizing beauty – blown glass, jade and exquisite embroideries. April 10, 1932. Wrote all day – and my story is still incomplete. September 2, 1934. Planning a play on Wordsworth – possibilities are infinite. October 12, 1934. How I love to inflict pain on my characters!

What she craved most was to be enveloped in a grand passion that would transform her life. July 3, 1932. Five hours of tennis and glorious happiness – all I want is someone to love – I feel incomplete.”


That was a teaser that roped me in! Are you tempted??

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review: The Scent of Sake

Book: Scent of Sake
Author: Joyce Lebra

My short Review: Well researched, well written, absorbing plot, Enjoyable
My Rating: 4 Stars

Yet another 5 Star read? Yes! And I must tell you that I am definitely trying not to be very generous with my stars. But I can’t really help it if I get 3 fascinating books to read in a single month!

The Scent of Sake is set in Japan in the 1800s. The protagonist, Rie Omura, belongs to the Omura household – producers of the White Tiger Sake, one of Japan’s leading Sake brands. Through incidents in Rie’s life, we get to see how the reputation and the betterment of the Sake business take precedence over everything else in the house. Family decisions, even those of marriage, etc, are made based on the benefits to the business. Rie is passionate about the business as well and is ready to sacrifice her personal life and marry a man she is not attracted to solely for the sake of the business. When she realizes that her husband, Jihei, is not motivated and driven enough to help advance the business, she decides to take business matters in her own hands.

What seems like a simple enough decision today, was an unthinkable one in Japan in the 1800s. The Sake business is a male-dominated world and there is no place for a woman in that world – not even for a woman like Rie who is determined, driven and has the most amazing sense of timing when it comes to making business decisions. Rie is nevertheless determined to fight all odds (starting with her very disapproving husband) and enter the Sake world. She overhears conversations, tracks sales figures, and acquaints herself well with the working and then tries to sneak in suggestions here and there. Slowly, her stand in the family business becomes stronger and she is recognized for her business acumen.

To complement the success of her diversifying efforts, Rie starts taking family decisions to benefit the sake business just like how it was done in the past. Even without realizing, the sweet Rie slowly transforms into a hard, determined, business woman whose sole focus in life is business. Her employees fear her and her family members begin to detest her for her lack of concern for their feelings. But Rie is focused on only goal – making the Omura household the number one Sake producers of Japan – and she will not rest until she has achieved what she wanted.

“Scent of Sake” was a well written book. In spite of having so many characters and a lot of little parallel stories, Joyce Lebra manages to keep the attention on Rie. The character guide at the beginning of the book is very helpful since there are so many characters. When I started the book, I was a little apprehensive. I knew that Joyce Lebra is a professor of Japanese history by profession and I felt that the might have a lot of boring facts and history details to deal with. But I was completely mistaken. There was a lot of history in the book, but the details were so well woven into the story that it only made the book even more interesting.

I am very interesting in learning about different cultures around the world and this was a fantastic learning experience and a very enjoyable one at that.

I very highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading about Japanese culture or about strong willed women who do not hesitate defy norms. It is a very well written book and there’s not a single slow page in the entire book.

Thanks to Professor Joyce Libra for sending me a review copy of this book.