Books, Reviews, Challenges and Wishes

I don’t do New Year Resolutions. I never find some thing worth sticking to. And I’m lazy. Why commit to something that is going to come back to annoy you in a few days?

I do like challenges though. I try not to take book reading challenges because I’m afraid it might take the fun out of reading for me. Now I take as long as the book takes to get read. Some are super quick. Some take ages. Some take ages because they are boring, while others take ages because they are so interesting that I keep going back and forth. Some because I don’t get the time to sit down with a book, sometimes. I’ve read 142 books this year. How I wish it were 144, that would make it a nice round figure, with an average of 12 a month. I would have loved that 🙂 This year was interesting books-wise for me. Picked up a few new authors, got some great recommendations from you guys. And I created this new blog, importing all the book reviews from the other blog. And turns out that I am more active here than there. Who would’ve thought!

While I am happier with no reading targets, when it comes to reviewing, I think taking up a challenge has helped me. I get lazy otherwise, write a draft and never post it. But knowing that I have to reach my target helps. It ensures that atleast the drafts see the light of the day. I took the challenge in 2012 and managed to meet the target with 52 reviews. This year I fell short by 1, managed only 51 reviews. But I did do a bunch of mini-reviews(seven of them), back in September, so I’m going to pretend that I’ve met the target. I did technically, so what if they were mini-reviews, eh?

I do plan to take the review challenge again this year. Sticking to my old target of 52 reviews. Not very ambitious, that’s me. But then knowing my schedule, I’m not sure if I can make it, but can’t not try, can I?

So wish you all a wonderful New Year. May 2014 bring happiness, joys and lots of books(of course!), and everything you wish for!

Book Review: My Secret Sister by Jenny Lucas and Helen Edwards

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Reviewing memoirs are always difficult for me. These are true life stories that the authors have been brave enough to talk about. And some of them incredibly moving, like this one was. How can one possibly do justice in reviewing them?

I found this while aimlessly searching the Kindle store. The blurb caught my interest,

Helen grew up in a pit village in Tyneside in the post-war years, with her gran, aunties and uncles living nearby. She felt safe with them, but they could not protect her from her neglectful mother and violent father. Behind closed doors, she suffered years of abuse. Sometimes she talked to an imaginary sister, the only one who understood her pain. Jenny was adopted at six weeks and grew up in Newcastle. An only child, she knew she was loved, and with the support of her parents she went on to become a golfing champion, but still she felt that something was missing. . . Neither woman knew of the other’s existence until, in her fifties, Jenny went looking for her birth family and found her sister Helen. Together they searched for the truth about Jenny’s birth – and uncovered a legacy of secrets that overturned everything Helen thought she knew about her family. Happily, they also discovered that they were not just sisters, they were twins. Inspirational and moving, this is the story of two women brave enough to confront their past, and strong enough to let love not bitterness define them.

Helen’s childhood was especially shocking and heart-breaking to read. It is unimaginable that parents can be so cruel, so heartless. Although she did have her grandma and aunts around, and being with them, did make her feel safe, they didn’t do much to protect her from her parents. After all that she went through, it came as a welcome relief to us, the readers for her to discover that she had a secret sister, actually, a twin in Jenny Lucas. Along with the happy news, she also realizes that she had been lied to, by most of her own family.

Jenny Lucas had a nicer childhood. She had been adopted by her parents and had a comfortable, normal childhood. She went on to become a professional golfer. Through the women’s childhoods, there had been times their paths almost crossed, but at that time neither of them knew of the existence of each other. Both of them had felt that there was something missing while they were growing up, but little did they think, it would be a sister!

Years later, when they discover each other, one can only be happy for the two of them. Especially Helen who had such a tough time growing up. There still are unanswered questions, some more revelations that shock them, but for the two women, it is a happy ending.

For me it was such a positive story. Helen, despite everything she went through, still managed to survive and stay positive and happy. Of course, their mother who chose to give away one twin, keep the other, and then ill-treat her so badly, is someone who I would never be able to understand in a million years. People like these, who can be cruel to helpless children, should .. I don’t know, are just the worst kind of monsters, in my opinion. It is sad that she managed to get away with it.

It is not an easy read, it is painful to read about Helen’s childhood, and yet there is so much positivity as they grow up. While not an easy read, it is a gripping read.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

Book Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

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Every time I read a Bill Bryson book, I feel sad that it took me so long to try his books. I did make up for it by picking up his books whenever I could though:) His incredible sense of humour makes his books such a pleasure to read.

Bill Bryson’s memoir of growing up in the 1950 in Des Moines, Iowa, makes a delightful, laugh out loud read. It had me chuckling away, trying hard to be discreet(and failing miserably, I have to add) in the most inopportune of places. His writing transports you to the places and experiences that he describes. Some of them, unthinkable today.

I loved some of his descriptions of his home life. I loved his family! They are loving and close-knit, but eccentric.

For instance

It’s a bit burned,” my mother would say apologetically at every meal, presenting you with a piece of meat that looked like something — a much-loved pet perhaps — salvaged from a tragic house fire. “But I think I scraped off most of the burned part,” she would add, overlooking that this included every bit of it that had once been flesh.

Happily, all this suited my father. His palate only responded to two tastes – burned and ice cream — so everything suited him so long as it was sufficiently dark and not too startlingly flavorful. Theirs truly was a marriage made in heaven, for no one could burn food like my mother or eat it like my dad.

Bryson takes us on a journey through Des Moines in the 1950s in his characteristic irreverent style, which more often than no, had me chuckling away. He and his friends’ exploits, some harmless, some ending in a not so harmless way. He recounts of a older time without the usual nostalgia that goes ‘Things were so much simpler/better/nicer in those days’. He is so matter-of-fact, about things the way they were. I love writing of this sort. I am wary of books/writers who end up romaticizing an older time, because, in my opinion, things seem rosier when viewed through nostalgic lenses. None of that for Bryson. I love that about his memoir.

I wish I could go into more detail, but that would make no sense, really. Just read it, is what I would say. If you like Bill Bryson’s writing, go for it, you will love it. If you haven’t tried his books yet, why not start with this one?

I would rate it a 4.5/5. Lovely book!

About the Author
Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He is an author of several best-selling books.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Book Review: Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Jill Mansell

There are some authors I pick up without a doubt in my mind. I know for a fact that I would be sure to love their books. Jill Mansell is one of those. Her books are always fun, and more fun. Have you ever checked out her ‘About me’ column on Goodreads? She is just hilarious! I follow her on Twitter and she had tweeted that this book was available on a discount on Kindle, and I just had to grab it.

Dontwanttomissathing

Dexter Yates is living a carefree, easy London life, with no serious responsibilities tieing him down. He has everything he wants, money and girlfriends. Life is perfect.

Life as he knows it, changes overnight when his sister dies and leaves him his eight year old niece, Delphi, to bring up. For the first time in life, Dexter doesn’t know what to do. His beloved sister is no more and he has no one to turn to. He has to grow up and get responsible for his tiny niece. He, who has never done anything for anybody else! How on earth is he going to do all this? And why him? How could his sister think he could possibly do this?

Molly is a comic strip artist and lives in a beautiful village in Cotswolds. Dexter met her when she hurled a huge fish into the house he was contemplating buying, and it landed on his then girlfriend. Molly has just managed to dump her old boyfriend, she being the nicest of persons, ended up having a tough time convincing him that she was serious. Dexter ends up becoming her neighbor, and after his sister’s death, his cottage in the village seems to be the perfect place for his little niece.

Dexter, after the initial shock and a little pep-talk from Molly manages to gather courage and responsibility to get his life together and change his lifestyle to include Delphi. The rest of the story is a hilarious and sweet tale. Plenty of laugh out loud moments, as well as moments that pull at your heart-strings. It also has mini plots connecting the other residents of the village, which does sound like a lovely place to live in. It is also wonderful to see how much Dexter changes and how Delphi has become such a huge part of his life that he absolutely panics when someone who might be Delphi’s biological father turns up.

The characters are all well-developed, easy to identify with. Even Dexter in his playboy mode was adorable and yet real. The side characters are very real and believable.

All in all an incredibly cute book. A lovely, quick, feel-good read. One that is sure to perk you up. Just the type of book, I need sometimes. It’s perfect for a quick, fun read. I would rate it a 4/5.

About the Author
Jill Mansell lives with her partner and children in Bristol, and writes full-time. Jill Mansell’s books have sold over three million copies and her titles include: Making your Mind up, Fast Friends, Good at Games, Sheer Mischief and Solo, among many others.

Book Review: The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

I pick up all sorts of books, and love to read memoirs. This book came heavily recommended by Bindu, and luckily enough, there it was, sitting on my library shelves. That doesn’t happen all that often, so of course, I had to grab it.

One of Jeannette’s first memories is of getting burnt while cooking hotdogs on a stove. She was three. Apparently her mother felt there was nothing wrong about letting her three-year old cook. And her father felt there was nothing wrong with spiriting away a burnt three-year old from the hospital(because he didn’t/couldn’t pay) and then driving the family away to escape the authorities. That seems to be the theme of Jeannette’s parents life. Live in a place until things turn sour or people come after them with the bills. When that happens, they would just up and run. To the next place that would have them.

Jeannette’s parents weren’t vagrants or uneducated, they just lived with a different set of values from most normal people. Jeannette’s dad was a brilliant man, with a scientific bent of mind. He would spend hours explaining things to them, let them experiment themselves(of course, sometimes, they would end up almost burning their house down, but that didn’t affect them), and he dreamt of making all sorts of scientific discoveries. And of course, his grand dream of constructing the ‘Glass Castle’. Her mum was an educated woman, who believed in no rules for the children. Having grown up with a strict and orderly mother, she went the other way for her own kids. She believed in letting them be. The children might not have food all the time, but they always had plenty to read. And plenty to keep their minds active.

To me it was as unbelievable read. It was unimaginable that two parents who live so for themselves. The dad who lost track of everything once he started drinking and the mother who could actually eat chocolates while the children starved. People who had the means, the resources and the ability to provide better for their children but prefer to do what pleases them rather than do what most people would. Instead they fritter it all away. Although I have to say, as a parent, her father was certainly better. He seemed to take some bit of it seriously, while her mother was just plain selfish and self obsessed. And some of his actions did bring tears to my eyes, like the time he read all of Jeannette’s course books, just in case she needed help, or gave her the money she needed for her course. It came across that his heart was in the right place, even if he forgot all that once he started drinking.

Living in such tough conditions, did seem to have done the children some good. All the children grow up with a sense of responsibility that was far, far greater than that of their parents. They learn to work and save money for their own future. And they escape from their childhoods to make a better life for themselves. If anything, this memoir goes to show that despite having all the advantages of a stable childhood, and a good education, one could still go and ruin one’s life, while others with absolutely no advantages and horrific parenting, can still go on and make the most of their lives with their perseverance and determination.

Despite the childhood, she and her siblings had, what I found amazing was that they still loved their parents. They did what they could for them. They still looked out for them. That was incredibly sweet and touching to read. I particularly loved the way the author has written the memoir. Where she could have so easily been bitter and angry, she is just accepting of her parents, while loving them for the way they are.

This is one of the books that will stay with you forever. One that made me thankful for what I had, made me glad that I read it. I would rate it a 5/5 for it was an incredibly moving book.

About the Author
Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist. She was born in Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated with honors from Barnard College, the women’s college affiliated with Columbia University. She published a bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle, in 2005.

Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

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The book starts off with Sophie dreaming of food. It is 1916, France is under German occupation and Sophie, like the rest of France,have hardly anything to eat. Food and supplies are scarce and at the mercy of the Germans. Sophie and her sister Helene, have been trying their best to feed their children and kid brother, whatever they manage to forage, but life is not easy, to say the least. Sophie ends up making some tough choices which help her keep the children fed, but also ends up earning the wrath of her village people.

Sophie’s husband, Edouard Lefevre, is an artist who has gone to fight at the front. They adore each other, and with him gone, all she has of him is a picture he painted of hers. That picture catches the eye of the German Kommandant. Sophie is put in a horrible position of deciding how far she would go in order to be able to be back with her husband. How far would she go for love?

Years later, in present day Britain, that picture of Sophie, ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ is with Liv Halston. A young widow, whose husband, David, bought her that picture because it reminded him of her. With David gone, the picture has a lot of emotional value for Liv, who has been unable to move on from her husband’s memory, even 4 years after his death. All her friends’ efforts to make Liv move on, has been of no use.

After four years of living with David’s memories, Liv meets Paul, with whom she is finally able to connect. Liv finally manages to come close to some happiness, when it is snatched away from her again. Paul is a detective who traces old portraits which had been stolen from their original owners, and ‘The Girl You Left Behind’ is one such portrait. The Lefevre family had been trying to locate this portrait for sentimental reasons. Liv, of course, has her own sentimental reasons to hold on to it as well. Both parties refuse to budge, and the case reaches the court. Not only does Liv have a lot to lose, just how much, she realizes as the case unfolds, she is also fighting what she thinks of as Paul’s betrayal.

It was a beautiful read. Love so strong that it is worth fighting for. Both Sophie and Liv, separated by almost a century, between themselves, are fighting for their loves, for what they believe in. Both stand to lose everything they have, but both decide that it is worth fighting for. It was a book that takes you through emotions, through hardships and tough times. It pulls at your heartstrings, makes you wish and wish that a magic wand would sort things out – for both women. I really liked the way the picture touched and affected people across time. Although I have to say, in some ways, Liv just felt stubborn. Sophie had a life and death situation, which was well worth fighting for. Liv, to me, possibly the practical me, felt that she was fighting for something which didn’t resonate as much. But that might just be me. Even so, it was a great read.

A beautifully narrated story, one which will keep engrossed till the very end. A page turner. I would rate it a 4/5.

About the Author

Jojo Moyes is a British novelist. Moyes studied at Royal Holloway, University of London. She won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to study journalism at City University and subsequently worked for The Independent for 10 years. In 2001 she became a full-time novelist.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and FlipKart(India).

Book Review: Frankly Spooking by Sriramana Muliye

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I owe Sriramana a big apology for taking so long to read and review his book. This is the only problem with Kindle books. It takes me ages to pick it up. For some reason, I still pick up a proper book if I have the option of it, rather than an e-book. SIgh. But, better late than never, I guess.

An unsettling collection of tales that will draw out the fears that lie hidden in the deepest, darkest recesses of your mind. You encounter the dead in places you would never expect: the corridors of a swanky office, a busy shopping mall, a quiet classroom or may be knocking at your door.

That pretty much sums up the book. A collection of short tales, each set in the most everyday of settings, into which the author manages to add a spooky element which had my all spooked out. Every single time. Be it regular house hunting, or even a moisturizer or earphones that you might use, I promise you, you would never look at them in the same way again. Short stories that will give you the chills. Alone at home, with my daughter fast asleep, it had me cuddling up to a sleeping child to read this. So spooked out, was I! Every little noise around the house had me jumping out of my skin while I read it. The last story in the collection was well, particularly interesting, in its setting. I can’t go into too much detail about it, but will say, ‘Do read it’.

What I loved was that the stories were short, and the author left them at the right place, for us to figure out stuff, the unsaid sometimes over-powering the said. Perfectly planned short stories which hit exactly where it should, leaving the reader completely spooked and yet gasping for more. Some of them felt ever-so-slightly repetitive but were still very readable and enjoyable. What I liked even more was that I haven’t read this genre of books in a while. The last I read was Poe, a long, long time back. And for a genre that I don’t read much, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve recommended to one person, I know, loves this genre – my husband, he is sure to love this one.

A great read, one of a genre I don’t normally read, but loved! If you like horror as a genre, you should go for it. Actually, even if you don’t like horror, give it a try, I would say, you might still enjoy it.

I would rate it a 4/5. Great concept, well-edited short stories, which end at exactly the right place. A page turner.

About the Author
Sriramana Muliye is a blogger who blogs at ‘Malignant Humour in My Head ‘ and this is his first book.

This book is available at Flipkart(India) and Amazon(UK).