In the Kitchen by Monica Ali

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I had read Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, some years ago and had loved it. When I chanced upon this book, I grabbed it.

In the Kitchen starts off in a smart London restaurant, which is run by Gabriel(Gabe) Lightfoot, managing his kitchen workers from all over the world. Gabriel is hoping to open his own restaurant and has a steady girlfriend, Charlie, settled life, more-or-less.

His life is turned upside down with the discovery of a death of a porter in the basement of the restaurant and with the appearance of Lena, a mysterious immigrant from Europe. Gabe also learns that his father is suffering from cancer and his grandmother, from dementia. The book is mainly about Gabriel and his reaction to the deal that life dealt him.

The book touches upon multiculturalism in Britain, the various underlying emotions, related to immigration that seem to plague most of the characters using the restaurant kitchen as an interesting setting. After Brick lane, I think my expectations were rather high, and sadly the book, kind of, fell flat -for me. The characters did not appeal, their motives felt rather flimsy, and make believe, although I did enjoy the part where Gabe went up north to his childhood home.. His Nana was one of the few vibrant characters in the book.

It was a book that I struggled to read. There was something definitely missing about the book. It was a book with too many things, and they just did not work well together. All in all, a disappointing read. Especially after Brick lane.

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

I came across Tess Gerritsen’s crime fiction about 7 years ago, and have been hooked ever since.

Her books are fast paced, the story ling gripping, and totally shakes you up. The Silent Girl is part of her Jane Rizzoli/Maura Isles series.

A ghost walk tour in Boston’s Chinatown comes across a severed hand, in a place where a gruesome murder-suicide had taken place, seventeen years ago. Detective Jane Rizzoli  and Medical Examiner Dr Maura Isles have to piece together the mystery. They find a woman who has been nearly decapitated, and the only clue is a couple of silvery gray hair, which seems to be non-human, and something that nobody seems to have encountered before.

The story delves into Chinese Folklore, and there are times when you start to wonder if there is something supernatural happening. Mystery, mythological tales, ancient warfare everything merges together to form a story full of suspense, and excitement. A total page turner, which is difficult to put down. She keeps the suspense going, and wraps up the book really well.

If you like fast paced crime thrillers, this is the book for you. I would rate it a 4/5.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Sheils recommended this book, and on reading about the book, I found it very interesting, and was delighted to get hold of it so quickly.

Here we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first time you are a stranger, the second time you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to to anything – even die.

In 1993, after a disastrous attempt to climb K2, Greg Mortenson ends up in an impoverished village in Pakistan. He is touched by the villagers kindness and shocked to realize how tough life there was. The children had no school. He was appalled to see eighty two children, kneeling on the frosty ground, working by themselves. They shared a teacher with a neighboring village, and he taught here three days a week. The rest of the days, the children would practice the lessons he left behind, in the open, in all the harsh climatic conditions.

Seeing this, Mortenson resolved and promised to build a school for the village. The book is his story of how his personal conviction and efforts resulted in schools in many of these marginalized villages. He started off with the promise to build one school, but ended up building fifty five schools. Understanding how educating girls can change the lives of the villagers, he tried to make it easier to educate the girls. He wins the locals’ confidence, becomes one of them, understands the difficulties they face, and does whatever he can to help them. The story of how one man can make a difference, if he really wants, no matter what obstacles he faces.

It is the story of one man’s determination, and grit to overcome it all, to make a difference. He has risked his life, gone into dangerous territory, gotten kidnapped.. All for the purpose – his purpose to get the people of Central Asia education, a means to better their lives. The story, of course, is not just about him. It is also about his family. His wife who understood and supported his passion. Who made do with the fact that her husband would be away for months together. In places where it would be impossible to even reach him by telephone. Not knowing when or if he would be back. And yet accepting it, because that was the man he was. It is a riveting read. Very inspiring, and very touching. I would certainly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I did read some allegations of fraud and people contending that this book is actually more fiction than fact. So I am not really sure what to make of it.. Even if it were inaccurate, it would still be a very interesting read, albeit a fictional one, rather than a non-fictional account.

Promises, Promises by Erica James

Every now and then I need a good chick-lit to cheer me up, to soak in the warm,warm feelings, and to read,  without thinking.. knowing that everything will indeed be fine at the end.. Erica James’ Promises, Promises fit the bill perfectly.

Ella has just stepped out of a seven year old relationship after realizing that her partner’s daughter would never accept her, no matter what she did. She is determined to stay single, and promises herself to not let her heart rule her head, ever again.

Maggie is married to a man who does not appreciate her at all. She run around earning money working as a cleaning lady and is treated like dirt by both her employers and her family. All she wants is to stand up for herself and she promises herself that she would be more assertive and stand up for herself.

Ethan is caught in an unhappy marriage, working a business which is in a tough spot, and his socialite wife and spoiled teenage daughter do not seem to realize that a recession is on, nor do they care about anything he cares about. He promises himself that he will not resort to meaningless sex with other women to hide his unhappiness.

Fate brings all the three of them face facts that might have been ignoring, and forces them into making decisions which they might have never done other wise.

I can’t tell you anymore without all of you guessing the plot, but would recommend it if you like a light,fun and entertaining book. All the characters are well developed, and you can’t help feel for them. As you read the book, you want things to all work out for them. It is a nice feel good book, and it certainly made me laugh out in loads of places. A nice pleasant, fun and predictable read, and I would give it a 3.5/5.

PS: I would not be pestering you all with reviews for a while, I don’t seem to be making a headway in the latest book that I have been reading. I suspect the term break has been having it’s effect on my reading as well.

The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka

I have enjoyed books in the non-Indian, South Asian setting a lot. The stories, characters evoke such a lot of similarities with India, that I end up enthralled. So when I saw The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka, I grabbed it without a second thought.

Parvathi, a young girl in Ceylon is married off to a rich landlord in Malaya, by her unscrupulous father, by showing the marriage broker some other girl’s picture. This also fulfilled the prophesy when she was born. Parvathi’s husband is annoyed at the cheating, and asks her to get ready to go back to her village. For some reasons, her husband(Marimuthu) lets her stay on with him. She stays there, but not as a much loved wife, but more as a person who is just about tolerated to be allowed to stay on.

Some years later, her husband brings home his love-child with a dancer. When she (the dancer) dies, Marimuthu brings their daughter(Rubini) home to his wife. Later Parvathi gives birth to a son, who ends up being extremely pampered and spoiled. Both these children test Parvathi a lot, in different ways. Marimuthu passes away just before the Japanese invasion of Malaysia.

After the Japanese invasion, it so happens that Parvathi becomes the lover of a Japanese General, and for the first time in her life, is happy and cherished as a woman.

While the story was interesting, there was still something missing. I haven’t been able to pin point it. There was a lot of prophesies, and portents happening, but the story could not really hold it together to explain everything that was brought up in the narration.. It almost feels like a lot of ingredients were added, but somewhere along the line, the purpose of the recipe was lost?

I would rate it 2/5, mainly because it started off well, and the way it ended was a little disappointing. Not a book that I would particularly recommend.

Darjeeling by Bharti Kirchner

Another book that I picked up, just by the blurb at the back.

The tale of two sisters. Two sisters who do not get along, who have their own set of insecurities which cloud their relationship. Aloka and Sujata have grown up in Darjeeling, with their father and loving Grandmother Nina. Aloka is the older, confident, accomplished sister who is the centre of attention everywhere. She has numerous suitors buzzing around her, while Sujata, the prickly, younger sister is ignored in the general scheme of things. Aloka falls in love with the tea taster and revolutionary Pranab, and the two get engaged. In the meanwhile, Pranab meets Sujata and they fall in love with each other. Pranab ends up marrying Aloka(let me not divulge too many details). They emigrate to New York, and have finally get divorced. Pranab is keen to re-kindle his romance with Sujata, who has been living in Victoria, Canada.

Grandmother Nina, invites all of them to come and celebrate her birthday with her in Darjeeling to try and get them to reconcile. I can’t write any more without giving away the whole story. It is an interesting story, but in a lot of places, I felt it was quite cliched. In some places, I found it difficult to understand what motivated the protagonists to behave the way they did.. I mean, some of the choices seem quite inane – at least to me. Pranab’s character especially felt quite lame.

What I did like about the book was the descriptions, and the way she brings out the feel of the places. It transports you to tea plantations of Darjeeling, New York or Victoria. She did make me drool with the food that she describes. I actually feel like making Channer Payesh, just to have a taste of it.

I would give it a 2.5/5. An easy read -but not exactly something I would buy – I would much rather pick it up from the library.

Committed – A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love last year. Long after all the hype had died down. I kept my expectations low, because a lot of times, I have got disappointed with some of the most raved-about books. This time, however, I was certainly not disappointed. I really enjoyed her writing style. Which is why, Committed has been on my wishlist since.

Now, for the last few months, I could see that my library stocked, it was available, but I would either forget to pick it up when I was there, or would never find it on the shelves(and all the library assistants were bound to be busy). Last week, I decided that I would not leave the library without the book.

At the end of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, Liz finds love with Brazilian born, Australian Citizen Felipe. Both of them have survived divorces, and never want to get married again. They just want to live together and enjoy what they have, but the US Homeland Security has other plans for them. They are told that Felipe would not be allowed to enter the US again, because he has entered and reentered it too many times to be with Liz. So the only option they have is to get married, if they want to be able to live in the United States, which is where Liz wants to live.

Faced with this situation, Elizabeth does what she does best, throws herself into research about marriage, to find out everything she can. She went into her first marriage with no facts, with literally no preparation. This time, she wants to leave no stone unturned. She mainly focuses on marriages in the Western context, and there are some really interesting snippets of information of the history of the institution of marriage, and how things evolved to be the marriage of today. It is quite interesting to see how all societies have gone through similar changes in their approach to marriage. The effect of women’s liberation on the institution on marriage.  Her narrative keeps you engrossed till the last page.

She has interesting anecdotes from her life, her parents, and her grandmother’s life. Marriage, and how it has changed over the years. She analyses the factors that might lead to divorce, agonizing over facts that might indicate that she might not be marriage material. Her own worries over getting married is analysed, discussed.  It is very different from Eat, Pray, Love but it still makes a very compelling read.

There were some questionable things mentioned in the book. Apparently in India, May 3 is National Broken Hearts Day! Did you know that? Funnily, I googled, and NOTHING came up!!! And then she mentions that it is common for a woman to be married to all the brothers in the family in Southern India! I can’t help wonder where all this information came from.

Despite the few glitches, the book is a great read. It keeps you engrossed in her tale. There is something about the way she writes, that makes you feel that she is in the room, chatting to you. I think it is this quality of her writing, makes it such a wonderful read. It is more than just a research on marriage, it is her journey, her way of making peace with the concept of marriage. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!