Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: In the convent of Little Flowers

Book: In the Convent of Little Flowers
Genre: Collection of Short Stories
Author: Indu Sundaresan
My short review: Heartbreaking stories, very realistic situations and characters, simple but powerful writing, thought provoking and highly enjoyable!
My rating: 5 full stars, of course!

Books by Indian authors are “comfort books” for me. As much as I love being in Atlanta, I totally miss India. I miss jostling my way through crowded streets, sneaking out with my brother and eating on “forbidden” roadside stalls, standing on the balcony on Sunday mornings and figuring out what my neighbors are having for lunch just by the scents relayed to me by the breeze, haggling with hawkers and auto rickshaw drivers, hmm!

I love reading books set in India – books in which the sights and smells are palpable - books that take me back home. “In the Convent of Little Flowers” was no exception. I totally loved the book! Thanks to the author, Indu Sundaresan, for sending it to me!

“In the Convent of Little Flowers” is a collection of nine short stories. At the end of the book, Indu has described how she came up with the idea for each of the stories in the book. I found that section very interesting. I was fascinated to read that the idea for each story came from real incidents – incidents that she got to know either through news tidbits, emails, discussion with friends, etc - Events that she pondered about until a new story was born out of it. She fictionalized the news tidbit and created fascinating stories! I cannot do justice to the description of the book. I loved it that much.

Indu Sundaresan is an extremely talented writer. Her characters are very real – so real that you almost feel that you know that in your actual life. She has a fascinating style of writing. You are pulled into the story from the very first line and you cannot put the book down until you’ve read the very last. And when you are done reading the last story, it only makes you sad because you want to keep reading more!

The stories are all about Indians and most of the stories are set in India. In each story, there is a clash between the culture, customs and traditions being followed in India for generations and the new ideals that are slowly seeping into the minds of youngsters these days. Each story is very unique in its own way. Some were emotional, some horrifying, and one totally scandalous!

The stories evoked very strong responses in me. I was on the verge of tears when I read “Three and a half seconds”. It was heartbreaking to read about an abusive son who ill treats his meek and hardworking parents. In yet another story, I could almost feel the Peon’s shame when his beautiful daughter has a child out of wedlock. And when I read about the village where a child was not only forced to marry an old man but also jump into his funeral pyre to show her dedication towards him, I wanted to run there and throttle the necks of her parents!
I really enjoyed this book. I just cannot find the words to describe how much I liked it. One reason I really enjoyed the book was because of the setting. The stories were set in places that were familiar to me. I could relate to the emotions of the people and their thought processes. Having grown up in India I have felt the internal dilemma between behaving according to traditions and following your mind to do what seems appropriate in today's world. Indu beautifully brings out the clash in her stories.

I am not sure if someone who’s never been in India would be affected the same way I was while reading the book. I’d be curious to see how they’d see the book. Have you read the book? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Haven’t read this book? I would totally recommend you to grab a copy of this one!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Review: The White Tiger

Book: The White Tiger
Author: Aravind Adiga
Claim to Fame: Man-Booker Prize winner – 2008

My Short Review: Very well written, strong and well defined characters, dark humor, very interesting story line, easy to read.
My Rating: 5 Stars (yes! All 5!)
Well, I cannot avoid this task any more. I have to make up my mind, sit down and pen my thoughts on this book. Even before I start my review for this book, I should mention that I am totally totally honored by my friends’ trust in my taste in books. I have had at least 20 emails from various people asking me if I have read “The White Tiger” and what I thought about it and if I would recommend it. Geez! That’s the first time I came close to feeling that my opinion is valued (at least when it comes to books!). Thanks, Folks. I hope my review doesn’t let you down!

But the bad side to this is that there is tremendous pressure on me right now. A pressure to make sure I present all sides of this multi-faceted Man-Booker Prize winner.

Frankly, I cannot make up my mind on this one. I am sharing an intense love-hate relationship with this book right now. The “Literature Enthusiast” in me loved this book and the “Indian” in me hated it.

Let me start by giving you a brief description of the book. “The White Tiger” is a novel is epistolary format – the whole book is a single letter - A single letter written over 7 nights - A letter addressed to the Premier of China; A letter written by a person who claims to have a true understanding of the current status of India; A letter written by a person who is a Chauffer turned Murderer turned Entrepreneur.

Balram Halwai is India’s very own “rags to riches” story. He is originally from Laxmangarh, a small tiny village in northern India. His dad is a rickshaw driver and for those who are not aware of rickshaws, this is a physically demanding job that is definitely not lucrative. Balram is forced to leave school and work in a tea shop to supplement the family income with yet another meager salary. Sick of being stuck in the poverty rut, he leaves the village in search of wealth. For Balram, there is no looking back. He lies his way into becoming a chauffer for a wealthy “recently-returned-from-New York” boss and then murders his way into becoming an entrepreneur.

Balram Halwai is not your typical evil rogue. He is just another man who is sick of the “rooster coop” (this is the collective noun he gives to describe the servants of India) and wants to break out of it and do something worthwhile in his life. He doesn’t want to be the one waiting in the parking decks of expensive malls discussing inane stuff with other similar “roosters”. He wants to be the one who gets to leave his chauffer with his expensive car in the parking deck and walk around in the malls. In spite of his criminal actions, it is impossible to hate Balram. At least, I couldn’t. He lied, he cheated, he killed, he didn’t respect his parents, he blackmailed, he broke every rule possible in the rule book but yet, it is impossible to hate him for what he has done. I really enjoyed his sense of humor as well – not the straight forward funny humor – but a dark humor. His satirical view of life was a different perspective – something that I enjoyed reading.

Aravind Adiga is a truly talented writer. The book kept me hooked from the very first line to the very last. There was never a single boring line in the entire book. I enjoyed the style of writing and I enjoyed the twists in tale. I personally thought it was very very well written. I read a couple of reviews before I started reading the book and most of them seemed to mention that the letter to the Premier of China was a very weak pretext for the frame of the story. I thought it was a perfect way of showing how Balram had changed. His confidence in himself is admirable. He even has the audacity to think that he has risen to a level in life where he has the right to brief the Premier of China on the true state of affairs in India.

However….(you knew the “however” was coming, didn’t you?).. In spite of liking everything about the writing, there were a lot of things about the book that disturbed me. One important thing was the way Aravind Adiga has portrayed India. Someone who lives in India knows that India has two sides – the rich, educated side that dominates the IT industry and also a poorer side that just cannot be avoided. It wasn’t the portrayal of the poor that bothered me. It was lack of values that everyone seemed to be demonstrating that kinda got to me. I must say that I have always been proud of the family values we cherish, the respect we give our elders, our belief in God (not matter what religion), the pride we feel when we talk about the country…(I could just go on but I really should stop here coz I have made my point).. But somehow, the characters in “The White Tiger” disregarded most of these values. Adiga does mention, in an interview, that the thoughts and feelings towards India and Indians are solely Balram’s and in no way reflect his feelings for the country. But even then, I felt that the whole book gave a false image of the values of Indian people – both rich and poor. Or rather, I am scared that people who haven’t been to India and who don’t know what it is like will get a really wrong impression based on the things the read in books like this.

I know many of you belong to that category. Have you read “The White Tiger”? What was your impression about the India that was portrayed in the book? If you’ve read the book or read reviews about the book I would love to hear your views on this one.

In spite of saying what I said about the portrayal of India, I am still giving the book full 5 stars. I must say that it was very well written and a must read! I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to read it. It is an easy, quick read and very interesting. I really enjoyed reading it and I hope you do too!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Review: Who By Fire

Book: Who By Fire
Author: Diana Spechler
My short review – Interesting premise, Well Developed Characters, Compelling Story
My Rating – 3.5 Stars
When Diana Spelcher contacted me asking me if I would be interested in reading and reviewing this book, I was excited! Honestly. I had been reading rave reviews for this book all around and I definitely wanted to read it sometime. Thanks for sending me a review copy, Diana. I really enjoyed reading the book.
If you are a regular in the book blogging circles, you would have seen many reviews for “Who by Fire” already. And you might have also seen that all the reviews are positive ones (at least the ones I have come across). My blog is just going to join that list as well. I enjoyed reading the book and would definitely recommend it to others.
In case this is the first time, you are hearing about this book – then here’s a little summary of the book for you. “Who by Fire” is a novel about a dysfunctional family. And there is a root to the dis-functionality (If that is even a word). Many years ago, the youngest child in the family – Alena disappears. She is kidnapped while playing in front of her house. She never comes back. Diana very beautifully shows the effect of such a traumatic incident on the remaining family members. The father slowly detaches himself from his wife and his remaining two children and eventually just moves out of their lives to start afresh with a new family. The mother handles the sorrow of both – her daughter’s unexplained disappearance and her husband’s explained one – in her own way. Never mentioning anything explicitly, she makes the remaining children – Bits and Ash somehow feel guilty for the disappearance of their younger sister. Bits deals with the absence of parental love in her life by becoming something along the lines of a sex addict. And Ash deals with the guilt in his life by deciding to move to Israel and become an Orthodox Jew.
The thing that I liked about the book was the fact that Diana let the characters be real. They each have their own faults. They make mistakes. They are human. I couldn’t get myself to like either Ash or Bits but I loved the book and that has never happened to me before. I always thought it was necessary to like the characters and relate to them to actually enjoy the book… Guess I was wrong!
The book turned out to be quite a learning experience for me as well. I had no idea about the practices and beliefs of orthodox Jews and I learnt quite a bit from the book. I am still debating on whether to do the Jewish Reading Challenge that is currently in progress. But if I decide to participate in it, this would be my official first book for the challenge!

In case you are curious about the title of the book, here is the prayer that the line came from:

From the liturgy of the Day of Atonement, there is this prayer.
Rosh Hashanah is the New Year in the Jewish liturgy. The Book of Life
contents the fate of every sinner. Ten days later, at Yom Kippur,
depending on wether the sinner repents or not, his fate is sealed.

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed
How many shall die and how many shall be born
Who shall live and who shall die
Who at the measure of days and who before
Who by fire and who by water
Who by the sword and who by wild beasts
Who by hunger and who by thirst
Who by earthquake and who by plague
Who by strangling and who by stoning
Who shall have rest and who shall go wandering
Who will be tranquil and who shall be harassed
Who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted
Who shall become poor and who shall become rich
Who shall be brought low and who shall be raised high.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: My Splendid Concubine

Book: My Splendid Concubine
Author: Lloyd Lofthouse
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: iUniverse Publisher’s Choice
Pages: 365
My Rating: 3/5

Sir Robert Hart was a British Consular Official in China. He is referred to as the Father of China’s modernization. He was the architect behind China’s railroads, postal network, telegraph systems and schools. No westerner ever achieved Hart’s status and level of power in China. Hart was born and raised in Ireland. He moved to China in 1854 to become an interpreter for the British Consulate in China.

The book “My Splendid Concubine” is a historical fiction written by Lloyd Lofthouse. It is based on Sir Robert Hart’s life in China and concentrates on one side –his dark side(if we can call it that) which was kept a secret and not known to many. The Hart in this book is not the “Father of China’s Modernization” but rather an ordinary man who sleeps with his boss’s concubine, who has underhand dealings with a notorious opium dealer, etc. The first chapter of the book happens in 1908 when Hart is old and sick. He meets with the Empress of China before leaving China for good and returning to his home country – Ireland. During that brief meeting with her, he confides in her. He tells her a secret that he’s been living with in China – his concubine, Ayaou.

The rest of the book is about Hart’s and Ayaou’s passionate love affair. Hart first meets Ayaou when he rescues her family during a violent revolt. Later at a friend’s palce, he is surprised to see her again and realizes that her dad is trying to sell her and her sisters as concubines to the highest bidder. Hart is willing to pay any amount to get her but by a cruel twist of events she is sold to a heartless man – Ward. Hart eventually lands up buying her sister Shao-Mei to protect her. But since he is in love with Ayaou, he is unable to take Shao-Mei as a concubine in the truest sense. By a twist of events, Hart manages to get hold of Ayaou again. Though he intends to pay Ward for her, he never gets around to doing it. Hart moves into a house with Ayaou and Shao-Mei and spends some of the happiest moments of his life with his two girls.

“My Splendid Concubine” is a well researched book and gives us an peek into the life of the Chinese in the early 20th century. We learn a lot about their customs and traditions. I loved that part of the book.

The only thing that I could have done without was the excessive sexual content. It is true that many women in the China that we are reading about in the book are merely treated as sex slaves. They do very little in their lives apart from entertaining the men and “warming their beds”. It is for this fact alone that I give this book only 2.5 stars.

Apart from that, I enjoyed reading the book. Thanks to Dorothy from Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending me a review copy of this book.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Review: Misadventures of Oliver Booth

Title: Misadventures of Oliver Booth
Author: David Desmond
Genre: Satire
Publisher: Green Leaf Book Group Press
Pages: 205
Short Review: Hilarious from start to finish.
Rating: 3 Stars [Liked it!]
Recommend to Others –Yes!
Oliver Booth is not your typical likeable protagonist. In fact, he is quite repulsive. He is obese, clumsy, disgusting, stinky, sweaty, selfish, arrogant and greedy. He lives in Palm Beach, Florida – a place where homes range from about two million dollars to about 200 million. And no! Oliver Booth is not rich. He owns an “antique” store around the corner of the
Worth Avenue
– the shopping center of Palm Beach. His so called flashy antiques are all imported from Mexico and look as cheap as they really are worth. Oliver tries his very best to join the ranks of Palm Beach’s high society. But all his attempts are unsuccessful and totally hilarious.

 Oliver’s (mis)adventures are not restricted to Palm Beach alone. When he is sent on an assignment to Paris, he manages to make an even bigger fool of himself much to the amusement of all around him and the readers.
If the whole book were about Oliver alone, it might have been just too much to handle. Thankfully, we have Bernard - A smart French boy whom Oliver hires as an apprentice. Bernard is everything that Oliver is not. He is smart, in shape, honest and likable.
And just like how any satire should be, this book is short and sweet. David Desmond is a talented writer. The book is humorous from start to finish and there are no slow parts in between. I have to mention that it is a pretty quick read. I started it last night after getting  back home from work and had no intentions of reading more than a couple of chapters. But yes… by the time I went to sleep, I was done with the book!
I totally enjoyed reading this book. This was a good and refreshing change after reading “breathing out the ghost”. I am sure you will enjoy reading this as well. Give it a shot!
Thanks to David Desmond for sending me a review copy of this book! David, I sure did enjoy the world of Oliver Booth. I can’t wait to read more books about him.
Oliver Booth has his own website. You can visit it here to learn more about the book and the author. The page I enjoyed the most was the one with images from both Palm Beach and Paris (David lives in Palm Beach and has a house in Paris as well and so, is well acquainted with both places). There are quotes from the book linking each image to the relevant section in the book and it suddenly makes the whole thing more real!:)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Review: Breathing Out The Ghost

Book: Breathing Out the Ghost
Author: Kirk Curnutt
Publisher: River City Publishing
Pages: 329
My Review Summary: Interesting Plot, Well defined Characters, Well Written, Socially Relevant Theme. 
My score: 4 stars!!

When I read the synopsis of "Breathing Out The Ghost", I knew at once that by agreeing to read this book, I was agreeing to venture out of my comfort zone. But something about the book made me want to take that step. I am glad I did. I surprised myself by actually enjoying the book and missing it when I was done with it.

"Breathing Out the Ghost" is not a simple book to describe. Colin St.Claire leaves his son AJ in the car for a few minutes when he rushes into Home Depot to grab a few things quickly. He returns to find the boy missing. Unable to sit at home waiting for his son to show up, Colin decides to hit the roads - in search of AJ or at least, the person who Colin believes is responsible. But Colin's is not an organized hunt. He wanders aimlessly,his reason getting more and more clouded by lack of sleep and amphetamines. He lands up in towns where little children are missing - helping them in his own way.

The book is not just about Colin. Robert Heim is also on a mission. A mission to save Colin St.Clair. And in the process, he is risking the stable marriage that he has. Heim is a private investigator who recently lost his license. One fine day, after hearing from Colin, he takes off without telling his wife the real reason why he was leaving. He leaves not knowing if his marriage would wait for him when he came back.

And then, there is Beverly Pruitt... "Sis Pruitt". Sis's daughter Patty was raped and murdered by a man for no reason. He had assumed that a smile at the ice cream parlor was an invitation to rape. Sis and her husband Pete are yet to get over what happened to Patty - even after 18 years of her death.

Kirk is a master story teller. He makes you feel the pain of the loss of a loved one. He makes Colin St Claire and Sis Pruitt so real that you feel you actually know them!

Breathing Out The Ghost is a well written book and I totally recommend it to everyone. hmm..actually, not for "everyone". The whole concept of child molestation and sexually explicit scenes involving Dickie and the foul language used in some places would make the book unsuitable for teens.

I read this book as part of Kirk's Book Tour with TLC. Thanks to Lisa for including me in this tour. Thanks to Kirk for sending me a copy of the book and for including a personal message.

To learn more about Kirk and about this book, check out other stops in this book tour . You can also visit Kirk's website here .

I will be posting a guest post by Kirk later today.. so please stop by again to read what he has to say about the setting of the book.