Book review

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Statistics

Format: eBook

Length: 393 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, LGBTQ+

Publisher: Macmillan Books

Date of Publication: 17th March, 2020

Rating: 5/5 stars


I was in a terrible reading slump when I started noticing people loving The House in the Cerulean Sea, especially Bookster Sisters. Fantasy usually gets me out of slumps so I thought I would give it a go. It so happened that two of my Bookstagram friends, Rugma and Jaanaki also decided to join me on a buddy read for the book.

Edit: It was only after the review that I realised that the author capitalised on forced institutionalization of children belonging to aboriginal cultures. While I was surprised that I hadn’t made the connection myself, I was plain as day after it had been pointed out to me. I did not want to delete the review since I wanted it to strictly talk about the characters that meant a lot to me while I needed them.


The Blurb

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

The Book

I often find that I have the hardest time writing reviews for books that mean the most to me. I never know how to put into words the myriad of emotions that the book evokes in me. I have drafts of reviews of my favorite books, still unpublished because I’m never quite happy with what’s written. The same holds good for The House in the Cerulean Sea. It filled my heart with so much joy that I thought it would burst! I cannot stop being grateful for Anjali and Gayathri for the recommendation.

The book has a mixture of regular human characters as well as magical characters. Reminiscent of the old tales of ill-managed orphanages that have resourceful children in them, here we have magical children in houses that are meant to care for them. Enter Linus, a case-worker who must remain impassive while making sure that these orphanages give the children what they need. He comes across as a timid man at the beginning of the book and I wasn’t sure that I liked him. But he later grew on me with the way he stood up for the children and his friends at their time of need.

The highlight of the book is the children at the house in the Cerulean Sea. Each of them is unique but lovable. We have the Garden Gnome Talia who would love to ‘brain’ people and bury them in her garden but is actually just fiercely protective of all her friends, Lucy the Anti-Christ who loves to be dramatic and is haunted by his origin and nightmares of dark places in his mind but loves to discuss philosophy and go exploring the island, Sol the large teenager who is so traumatized by his previous interactions with adults that he morphs into the tiniest of dogs at the slightest provocation, Phee the Forest Sprite who is powerful enough to turn adults into trees but instead, loves growing her forest more than anything, Chauncey the blob who has always been told that he is the scary monster under the bed but is actually a sweet little boy with a simple ambition in life and Theodore the Wyvren who’s chirps are as easily understood as human language if only you pay attention. The master of the house, Arthur is the perfect father-figure for this group of seeming misfits but he has his own sad past to overcome.

Each of the characters has both negatives as well as positives but the underlying message in the entire book is that good intentions always outweigh bad birth. Like Lucy says, “you are more than the sum of your parts”. The classic nature-versus-nurture argument is highlighted multiple times. The book shows that every person, human or magical, needs to be treated equally and given the same opportunities. It takes a fierce stand against racism. It also has one of the healthiest representation of LQBTQ+ that I’ve come across lately. It is not needlessly in-your-face but gets the message of inclusivity across.

The Author

TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.


TL;DR: A wonderful book that talks of the good in a person overriding the bad while growing up with positive role models


What are some of the books that have gotten you out of reading slumps?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_And_book_life

Book review

Anxious People by Fredrik Bachman

Statistics

Format: Audio Book

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Length: 341 pages (9 hours, 53 minutes)

Narrator: Marin Ireland

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio

Date of Publication: 8th September, 2020 (first published on 25th April, 2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars


I have tried audio books before but could never complete. I would find then difficult to concentrate on and my attention kept wandering. When Libro.fm started offering free early listening copies of books, I decided to try again. This was perhaps the perfect book for listening because I never had any problem with it at all.


The Blurb

When a failed bank robber escapes into an apartment filled with people during an open house, a group of six strangers are suddenly forced to get to know one another quickly and under extreme circumstances. But what will be the result?

In captivity we meet Roger and Anna-Lena, a recently retired couple who are on a manic hunt for fixer-uppers because they don’t know how to fix their own marriage. They have the distinction of shopping at every Ikea in Sweden—and those are some of the most romantic moments they ever shared. Then there is Zara, a wealthy director of a bank who has never cared for poor people or their problems (and isn’t shy about saying so). But when tragedy strikes in her life, she becomes addicted to visiting real-estate open houses to see how the middle-classes live—and possibly to find a suitable place to commit suicide. Julia and Danijela are a young lesbian couple with a newborn baby who can’t agree on anything. Their opposite and idiosyncratic home preferences are making them increasingly anxious about their chances of spending a lifetime together. And Estelle, an eighty-year-old woman who has lived long enough to be unimpressed by some bank robber waving a gun in her face. Despite the story she tells them all, Estelle hasn’t really come to the apartment to view it for her daughter, and her husband really isn’t outside parking the car.

As police surround the premises and television channels are broadcasting live, the pressure of an increasingly tense situation mounts, causing each person to reveal more and more about themselves to each other. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

A riotous comedy, Anxious People is about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and a group of very anxious people who experience exactly the same events in wildly different ways.

The Book

While the book is actually about a bank robbery and a hostage situation, we see the story told from multiple points of view. We see how each character is connected to the main plot in ways that we would not have imagined. We see how a single event from years ago creates ripples that keep compounding to reach a place where we are helpless to change the course of our lives. The six strangers come together in such a cohesive manner that you cannot imagine a better way for them to exist.

The narrator, Marin Ireland, is a legend! She consistently changes the tone of her voice and dialogue delivery subtly for each character, so by about 20% of the book, you feel like different people narrate each character. The entire story takes place during the course of a single day. We have a house showing by a real estate agent that gets totally unrelated people together. The retired couple trying to do what the other likes just so that they don’t fall into a rut, the young lesbian couple trying to find a forever home, an old lady trying to deal with the loss of her partner, and the wealthy lady who doesn’t really look like she wants to live there, all of them have a story of their own which incidentally has a connection with the others in the house. Add to this the bank robber who ends up with these misfits with no intention of robbing them, and we have a very interesting story.

The camaraderie that the strangers show towards someone who clearly has fallen into bad times was heartwarming. The father-son police duo also has a separate character arc of their own, and we see them warming up towards each other and showing that they care for each other. The book was brilliantly written and narrated. This was probably the best pick for an audiobook. Even though I listened to the book during my commute to and from work every day, I couldn’t help but tear up at certain places. Fredrik Backman never fails to amaze me with his honest writing, and I can’t wait to read all of his books.

The Author

I’ve written about the author in my review of Beartown that you can find here.


TL;DR: A beautiful story that will leave you both smiling and crying at different parts


Do you like audio books?

Which one would you recommend me to pick up next?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Statistics

Format: eBook

Length: 237 pages

Genre: Classic

Publisher: Project Gutenberg

Date of Publication: 1st December, 1817

Rating: 5/5 stars


I am a self-confessed non-reader of classics. I have a pre-conceived notion that they have too much of descriptions to be quick paced. I am also not a a person who romanticizes the era. So imagine my surprise when I end up liking every classic that I read! I just need someone to motivate me to start reading a classic and then its smooth sailing.

When Binder’s Book Club decided to start 2021 with a Jane Austen, I decided to join them. I had read Pride and Prejudice just a year ago and loved it! So I wanted to see if I end up liking other Austen work too. I also thought that reading a classic would be a good way to start the year.


The Blurb

Jane Austen’s first novel—published posthumously in 1818—tells the story of Catherine Morland and her dangerously sweet nature, innocence, and sometime self-delusion. Though Austen’s fallible heroine is repeatedly drawn into scrapes while vacationing at Bath and during her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, Catherine eventually triumphs, blossoming into a discerning woman who learns truths about love, life, and the heady power of literature. The satirical novel pokes fun at the gothic novel while earnestly emphasizing caution to the female sex.

The Book

What can be written about classics that has not been written before? I find that with books as old and as popular as these, I can only write about my thoughts and feelings on reading it rather than have a proper critique. Northanger Abbey was a book that did justice to the expectation that I started it with. While I loved Pride and Prejudice, it took me a while to warm up to the book. This wasn’t the case with Northanger Abbey. The story was catchy and humorous right from the first chapter.

The heroine, Catherine, is an innocent sixteen-year-old who is out in society for an extended period of time for the very first time. She must learn to recognise signs of selfishness quickly or risk getting used by her new friends. I loved the fact that she was very clear on what was right behaviour and what was not. It was refreshing to see a lady stand up for her beliefs in a book written in the 1800s. I despised all of the Thorpes and was hoped that they take their claws out of Catherine as quickly as possible. Juxtaposed to this, the Tilnes are the best example of who you should be friends with. They are supportive and kind and make sure to see all sides of the story before making their decision.

The humourous take on gothic novels of that time was one of my favorite parts of the book. Without giving any spoilers. I believed that we actually would find something horrific by the end of Catherine’s investigations. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and could not stop reading it. I was very glad that I participated in this month’s reading club and am sure that I will be reading more of Jane Austen very soon.

The Author

I’ve written about Jane Austen and her work in my review of Pride and Prejudice.


TL;DR: A book that is surprisingly quick paced and very sweet


What is your favorite Jane Austen?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

Invisible White Lines by Kavita Dharamvir

Statistics

Format: Paperback

Length: 180 pages

Genre: Memoir, Short Story collection

Publisher: Quignog, Pirate Books

Date of Publication: 1st January, 2021

Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review


I usually avoid reading short stories because I feel like they end before I can connect with the characters. But this was touted as a collection of anecdotes from the author’s life as the wife of an IAS officer. So I figured that the stories would have common characters that might grow on me over the course of the book.


The Blurb

“Late one evening, in the early summer, I sat underneath the whirring fan at the front veranda of my residence. From here I gazed at the evening garden, as if sitting upon the banks of a gushing river. The drive was like a smooth grey stream running up to the main gate. The garden. Lights illuminated the silent and elegant trees on the other side of this graveled river, silhouetted against the evening sky.”

Subtle and beautiful thoughts dot the truthful account of life in Ferozepur, a border outpost, as seen through the eyes of a young wife of an IAS officer. This autobiographical work plunges into the habits, practices, lifestyles, social evils and perils of living at the border of India and Pakistan at the Commissioner’s residence.

The Book

I find the life of people in the civil services very interesting, having grown up seeing my Uncle’s family live that life. So I was very curious to see how the author’s experiences would compare to what I had seen. But I was disappointed to see that almost all of the stories were just everyday conversations that the author had with her household staff and relatives. There are mentions of the war, of the conflict at the borders, and the anxiety that people in border towns live with, but there is hardly anything new to learn about her role as the wife of an IAS officer. I was looking for descriptions of official functions that they attended, of the parties that she had to organise, conversations that she would have had with important people. But they were all missing.

The stories felt impersonal and repetitive. The details of people praying to Pir Baba, the stories of snakes in the backyard, and the descriptions of the maid investing in lottery tickets were just some of the multiple references to the same factoids over and over again. Reading about the ‘Punjabi spirit’ in almost every story was tiring, to say the least. If it was the author’s attempt at having ‘call-backs’ to previous anecdotes, they needed to have been edited to hold the reader’s attention better. I was also annoyed at how much the author resorted to having capitalised letters and quotation marks, even in places where they weren’t necessary. The author also fell prey to one of the pitfalls that has now become common among new Indian writers, of having words in their native language or Hindi and then describing them in parenthesis. I think it’s time for us to embrace our language and make no apologies. Do we see explanations of French quotes or Spanish words in books that are targeted towards English speaking readers? Why do we feel the need to have them in works of literature from India? The part that I enjoyed in the book was learning about small border towns like Ferozepur, the lives of people there and the problems with investors and developers in areas that may be affected by war.

While I was finding the book tiresome towards the end, I was struck by the last two stories. It felt like the author had finally gotten real with her readers and wrote from her heart. She describes how the caste system discriminated against her husband and how he inspired everyone with his indomitable spirit. If only the author had brought this real-ness to the rest of the stories, it would have made for a beautiful read.

The Author

Kavita Dharamvir grew up in Bradford, England with her parents and siblings and came to India for her higher education. 

She graduated from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and completed her law degree from Faculty of Law, Delhi University. She then did her Master’s Degree through correspondence from Punjab University.


TL;DR: A collection of short stories that had the potential to be much more than what it was


What kind of short stories do you like?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Statistics

Format: Hardcover

Length: 520 pages

Genre: Classic

Publisher: Fingerprint Books

Date of Publication: 2018, first published in 1813

Rating: 5/5 stars


I don’t usually read classics but have been trying to read more of them. Pride and Prejudice has been talked about so much and has had so many screen adaptations that I thought I knew what the story was going to be. Based on a movie adaptation that I had watched years ago, I was sure that I would not like it at all. Last Christmas, when I had gone book shopping for Secret Santa gifts, I bought myself a beautiful, golden edged edition of Pride and Prejudice hoping that it would entice me into reading it. However, it took being the Book of the Month for May at Binder’s Bookclub for me to actually start reading it, albeit with a lot of trepidation.

The Blurb

The only thing in the world that matters to Mrs Bennett, is marrying all five of her daughters to rich, landed gentlemen.

So when two wealthy young gentlemen move to town, she vows that at least one of her daughters will marry into their fortunes.

Jane and Elizabeth, her eldest daughters, soon discover that love is rarely straightforward and is often surprising. Because, surely that sullen, quiet, mysterious Mr Darcy can’t be more than he seems . . . can he?

The Book

There isn’t much that can be written about classics like this that hasn’t already been written and spoken about. So I’ve decided to base this review only on my feelings for the character and the story rather than a clinical analysis. For a book set in the Victorian era, Pride and Prejudice strangely resonated with me at every turn. Most of the characters were relatable, especially Mr. Darcy. Aside from the fact that he was a real gentleman, I connected with him as a fellow introvert who doesn’t know how to hold conversations. I have personally faced the problem of people assuming that I was arrogant while I was just struggling to find something to say to them. But like Mr. Darcy, I am quite the conversationalist with people who I know intimately.

I also connected to the whole ‘girls need to be married as soon as possible’ scenario since it is something that we see in the society even in the 21st Century. How little things have changed! While Mrs. Bennett came across as a shallow woman, I was more disturbed by the nonchalant Mr. Bennett. He could have been the guiding light that his younger daughters so desperately needed, but he chose to be distant from all of it.

One thing that I couldn’t quite digest was Mr. Bingley’s reliance on his friend’s opinion regarding Jane. I wish he had depended on what he was feeling or at least decided to talk to her about it before deciding that she did not feel anything for him. It would have saved everyone a lot of heartache but it would have made for a less interesting book. Lady de Bourgh and the Bingley sisters were created to be annoying, I was incensed by Mr. Collins and his ingratiating attitude. His interference with personal issues would not have been tolerated in the modern-day and I’m glad that things have changed for the better. On the whole, it was a beautiful book that I wished I had read years ago and I’m sure I will go back for plenty of re-reads soon.

The Author

Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.

Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about 35 years old. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.

Austen’s works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer.

Her work include:

  1. Pride and Prejudice
  2. Sense and Sensibility
  3. Emma
  4. Persuasion
  5. Mansfield Park
  6. Northanger Abbey

TL;DR: A beautiful story that translates across countries and centuries


What is your favorite Pride and Prejudice screen adaptation?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia Puigcerver and Fransec Miralles

Statistics

Format: Hardcover

Length: 194 pages

Genre: Non-fiction, Self-help

Publisher: Penguin Life

Date of Publication: 29th August, 2017

Rating: 3.5/5 stars


I am not very fond of self-help books but wanted to read Ikigai for a while. As soon as the pandemic situation became better in the city in October, I went book shopping, mainly because the new Twilight book had just come out and I wanted to read it. I bought Ikigai then with a clear plan of reading it as the first book of 2021 and I stuck to the plan.


The Blurb

What’s your ikigai?

Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.” —Japanese proverb

According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai—a reason for living. And according to the residents of the Japanese village with the world’s longest-living people, finding it is the key to a happier and longer life. Having a strong sense of ikigai—the place where passion, mission, vocation, and profession intersect—means that each day is infused with meaning. It’s the reason we get up in the morning. It’s also the reason many Japanese never really retire (in fact there’s no word in Japanese that means retire in the sense it does in English): They remain active and work at what they enjoy, because they’ve found a real purpose in life—the happiness of always being busy.

In researching this book, the authors interviewed the residents of the Japanese village with the highest percentage of 100-year-olds—one of the world’s Blue Zones. Ikigai reveals the secrets to their longevity and happiness: how they eat, how they move, how they work, how they foster collaboration and community, and—their best-kept secret—how they find the ikigai that brings satisfaction to their lives. And it provides practical tools to help you discover your own ikigai. Because who doesn’t want to find happiness in every day?”

The Book

‘Ikigai’ is something that you feel strongly about, something that gets you out of bed every morning, something that keeps you working way past the normal retirement age. The book does a good job of explaining what Ikigai is, but I expected it to help us find our Ikigai. However, the book contains more of the authors’ interview notes and interviews with people who have lived beyond 100 years. While this is interesting, it did not seem to address the reason that I chose to read the book.

The book is divided into chapters that deal with the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the so-called secrets to a long and happy life. However, it seemed to talk of everything in a generic sort of way that most of us already know. “You need to find a passion, you need to keep moving throughout the day, you need to build a community of friends, you need to include a variety of food in your daily diet” are the things that we read in every self-help article or book. I wish this book spoke more about ways of finding one’s passion. The chapter that I enjoyed the most was the one that talked about all the different types of low-intensity exercises. It was interesting to see that you needn’t always work up a sweat for the workout to be considered effective. The book is good for a quick read but failed to inspire my Ikigai.

The Authors

Hector Garcia Puigcerver is the author of several Japanese culture books: The Magic of Japan, Ikigai the Japanese Secret for a Long and Happy Life, The Book of Ichigo Ichie, Shinrinyoku, The Ikigai Journey and A Geek in Japan. He loves reading and writing.

Francesc Miralles is the son of a dressmaker and an erudite office worker, he was born in Barcelona. He was accepted into the UAB’s faculty of Journalism, which he quit after four months. In the following year, returning to the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, he started studying English Literature, which he combined with precarious language teacher jobs.

Having been attacked by travel fever since the age of seventeen, he decided to leave everything behind to travel the world. A bunch of chance encounters led him to live in Croatia and Slovenia during the armed conflicts.

Upon returning to Barcelona, he resumed his academic life as a student of German Literature at the Universidad de Barcelona. Once he completed his studies, he attended a masters for publishers. His entrance in the editorial world had started a year earlier, as translator of German and English spirituality and alternative therapy books.

Before finishing his postgraduate studies, he got hired as editor for a publishing house specializing in self-help books. There, he directed several collections, and he also wrote many different types of work under a pseudonym.

Nowadays he combines literature and journalism, and on a monthly basis publishes articles in EL PAÍS SEMANAL, and in the magazines CUERPOMENTE and MENTESANA. Beyond this, he also works for the radio and offers literary Sherpa services and art therapies.


TL;DR: A quick read that has snippets of life from the Blue Zones, mostly of Japan but did not deliver all that was promised


What is your Ikigai?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

Two and a Half Rainbows: A collection of Short Stories by Siddhartha Krishnan

Statistics

Format: Paperback

Length: 308 pages

Genre: Short stories

Publisher: Notion Press

Date of Publication: 24th August, 2020

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review


I find that short stories are sometimes a gamble. I love some of them, but others, I just can’t stand. But it is always fun to read a collection of short stories since there is bound to be something that you like in the book. I enjoy exploring stories so when the author asked if I wanted to receive a copy of the book for review, I thought I would give it a go.


The Blurb

Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories draws inspiration from the myriad shades of humanity, its persistent struggles, and its little moments of joy. These stories attempt to capture the intricacies of human emotions and celebrate the human spirit through a neutral voice. Despite being rooted, the storytelling is engaging, as it employs multiple genres and tones.

In ‘Fireworks’, five-year-old Rony’s ecstasy is in stark contrast to his beloved maid Roma’s agony, as he witnesses a daily spectacle from his apartment window. Similarly, upon ‘Meeting Rosanna’ after 40 long years, Joseph’s excitement contradicts Rosanna’s apprehensions about him, owing to their past.

Despite Gajraj’s progressive demeanour, his hypocrisy comes to the fore, when he is angered by the frivolous promise made by the ‘Fly on the wall’. Likewise, little Advaith’s innocence is put to the test when a friend seduces him to explore his ‘Dual’ nature.

Thus, through a bioscope of sixteen realistic but fictional short stories, the author takes the reader on a journey through the by lanes of life’s bittersweet memories.

The Book

Two and a Half Rainbows consists of 16 different stories, some of which continue over the course of two or three different parts. The stories range from multiple personalities to myth-busting, from blind superstition to hypocrisy. The first story, Dual, is written with such care that it is impossible for the reader to figure out what was really going on until the very last sentence. The story Fireworks talks of the innocence of children in a world ravaged by war and is sure to pull at your heartstrings. I also enjoyed the story of the tiger in the backyard, even though I saw through the premise from the beginning. However, not all stories could hold up to these high standards.

Most of the stories are wrapped to fit into the number of pages that the author has decided for them. I found that the stories started out beautifully but ended a little abruptly. The story of boys in a temple that they think haunted only to realise that it was their imagination running wild felt a little too much like the stories that we tell around a campfire intended for jump scares but with no real content. Similarly, the stories of aliens and haunted trees both were told over several parts that I found were unnecessary. They talk about the power of suggestion and myths perpetuated by blind belief, with a bit of intrigue thrown in at the end that an experienced reader could spot a mile off. I also found a couple of grammatical errors that you pray you won’t find, especially when reading a young Indian author.

Overall, I think the book could have benefitted from a round of strict editing. All of the stories were good for a quick, no-hassle read. The book could be a beach-read or a coffee table book that you don’t expect to have meat on its bones and is only intended to entertain you while you are relaxing.

The Author

Siddhartha Krishnan is your quintessential ‘corporate guy’ from Bangalore, who took to writing after having worked in large MNCs for over a decade. Although corporate life was rewarding in its own way, he yearned to do something creative, which he later decided to satiate through short story writing.

A Keralite who grew up in the heart of Kolkata, Siddhartha’s cultural influences could not elude him. Hence, the humanistic philosophies of Satyajit Ray’s films, the mysticism in Tagore’s poetry and the Malayalam films of the 80s and 90s, showing the struggles of the common man, left a lasting impression on him. However, when it came to literature, the short story form of writing appealed to him the most, with the work of the greatest short story writers of all time—Chekov, Dostoevsky, O. Henry, Ruskin Bond and R. K. Narayan—leaving an indelible mark on his artistic leanings.

Siddhartha is also a blogger and regularly puts out his writings on his website


TL;DR: A collection of 16 stories that can be a potential beach-read but could have benefitted from a strict editing process


Do you like short stories?

What are your favorites?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Audio Book, Book review

Apple: Skin to the Core by Eric Gansworth

Statistics

Format: Audio Book

Length: 352 pages/8 hours, 9 minutes

Genre: Non-fiction, Autobiography/Memoir, LGBT

Narrator: Eric Gansworth

Publisher: Levin Querido/Dreamscape Media

Date of Publication: 6th October, 2020

Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ALC of the book


This year I wanted to read more of non-fiction and I did manage to read more of it than I did last year. I love learning things about Native American history so I was thrilled when I received a free Advance Listening Copy from Libro.fm for the book.

I don’t read much of poetry but I didn’t know that the book was written as poems until I started listening to it. I was interested to see how I would like audio books of poetry.

Blurb

How about a book that makes you barge into your boss’s office to read a page of poetry from? That you dream of? That every movie, song, book, moment that follows continues to evoke in some way?

The term Apple is a slur in Native communities across the country. It’s for someone supposedly red on the outside, white on the inside.

Eric Gansworth is telling his story in Apple (Skin to the Core). The story of his family, of Onondaga among Tuscaroras, of Native folks everywhere. From the horrible legacy of the government boarding schools, to a boy watching his siblings leave and return and leave again, to a young man fighting to be an artist who balances multiple worlds.

Eric shatters that slur and reclaims it in verse and prose and imagery that truly lives up to the word heartbreaking.

The Book

Although the book was written as poetry, it did not get repetitive or hard to follow. It was perhaps the fact that the author was narrating it himself and was uninhabited about letting his emotions show through. The story begins with his grandfather and his siblings being taken to boarding schools that were specifically meant to take the ‘Indian-ness’ out of them and integrate them into the white way of life as menial workers. These schools lacked even the most basic facilities and made the children fall sick and die miles away from their home. For every Native American, the feeling of community is valued above everything else. To be taken away from everything they know and made to feel inferior for having a different set of beliefs, and speaking a different language would have been extremely traumatic. That would perhaps explain why the elders were so distant and tried to ensure that the next generation does not have to go through the humiliation.

The story goes through the author’s life as a child and a young adult, trying to cope with life both inside and outside the reservation. It was similar to the feeling of alienation that most immigrants face today, but it is saddening to think that they are made to feel that way in their own country. The sense of community and camaraderie was inspiring to see. The way the previous generation tried to provide the author’s generation with everything that they were deprived of reminds the reader of the sacrifices that all parents make for their children.

The book hints at the author’s sexuality and how his family is resigned to the fact that he will have a life different from them. I wish the author had explored it more, but as an autobiography, I cannot fault him for it. I was surprised at how easy the book was to listen to. As my second audiobook, I was pleased with how engaged I was throughout the entire narration. I am looking forward to listening to more of audiobooks now.

The Author

Gansworth is an enrolled citizen of the Onondaga Nation; however, he grew up in the Tuscarora Nation as a descendant of one of two Onondaga women present among the Tuscarora at the foundation of the nation in the 18th century. Gansworth originally qualified in electroencephalography, considered a profession useful to his nation; however, he went on to study literature and to continue a lifelong interest in painting and drawing.

His work include:

  1. Indian Summers (1998)
  2. Nickle Eclipse: Iroquoise Moon (2000)
  3. Smoke Dancing (2004)
  4. Mending Skins (2005)
  5. Breathing the Monster Alive (2006)
  6. Sovereign Bones: A New Native American Writing (2007)
  7. A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function: Poems and Paintings (2008)
  8. Extra Indians (2010)
  9. If I Ever Get Out of Here (2013)
  10. Give Me Some Truth (2018)
  11. Apple: Skin to the Core (2020)

TL;DR: A moving tale that talks of everything that the Native Americans have had to deal with, told in eloquent poetry


What has been your favorite non-fiction?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

Food and Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey Through India by Shoba Narayan

Statistics

Format: Paperback

Length: 292 pages

Genre: Non-fiction, Travelogue

Publisher: Harper Collins India

Date of Publication: 30th November, 2020

Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review


One of my reading goals this year was to read a travelogue. I love reading about the origins of customs and cuisines. So when Harper Collins India offered a review copy for a book that talks about food and its importance in various places of India, I knew I had to read it.


The Blurb

Why do we pray?

What is the role of religion in your life today? Do you commune with the divine through rituals? Or is it a comforting routine, going to church or temple once a week or month? Are these questions making you uncomfortable? Do you think religion is a private act to be done in the confines of one’s home, with family, and not something to declare publicly? These are the questions this book seeks to answer. Shoba Narayan travels across some of the most prominent places of worship in India and presents to her readers the mythologies, histories and contemporary relevance of these sites.

The Book

The book is divided into various chapters based on where the author is traveling to. Each of the chapters can be independently read as a short story or an essay. The author travels all over the country, coinciding her visits with the region’s most important festivity. She travels to Puri during the Kumbh Mela, to a Jewish household in Mumbai during the Passover, and to Haridwar during a time of convergence of yogis. My favorite chapter was the one on Udupi since I live within a hundred kilometers from the place and knew exactly what the author was talking about in terms of the place’s food and culture of the place. I also enjoyed the chapter on the Bene Israelis and the comparison of Jewish customs to Hindu ones.

The book talks about religion with a very open mind. The author is sure to connect with most of the readers when she says that she is not a fanatic but does believe in a higher power and is constantly searching for ways to connect with the universe. She talks about how troubling it is for feminists to discover that women don’t find a place of importance in most Hindu religious practices but, upon closer inquiry, there are specific roles that only women can play in these situations.

She finds that there are reasons for each tradition that is being followed. The ‘satvik’ food at Udupi is what modern day dieticians talk about local and sustainable farming. She also finds that the langar at Amritsar develops a feeling of community, that the strict food preparation practice at Puri is a tribute to the area’s tribal food habits, and the practice of drinking small sips of water before food was a way of activating the Thyroid.

The research that had gone into writing about each place and practice was astounding. However, I found some inconsistencies in the text, like the Goddess Subhadra at Puri being described as a yellow statue on one page and a red one on the next. I also found that the author was repetitive, with the same sentence being written just a few paragraphs later. It probably had to do with a flawed editing process or was perhaps due to the fact that various pieces of the author’s earlier work were got together to form this book, but it made reading it a chore. It is not a book that keeps you reading for hours at a time, but it is a book that will make you analyse each custom that you follow and try to find the origins for each of them.

The Author

Shoba Narayan is an Indian author, journalist and columnist for 30 years. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about travel, food, wine, culture, crafts, relationships, art, and fashion for a number of publications. She contributes to a regular column for the Hindustan Times Brunch magazine. She has previously contributed to Indian financial daily, Mint and Abu Dhabi daily, The National. She wrote the award-winning Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes (2003) and was awarded the M.F.K. Fisher Award for Distinguished Writing in 2001. She has also won a James Beard Award and a Pulitzer Fellowship. 

She has taught and lectured at universities in India and abroad. She is interested in Indian aesthetics– and has researched its influence on jewellery, music, textiles and scents. She founded and co-created a website called Project LooM, which documents the weaving traditions of India. She is a birdwatcher, wine-drinker and gadget geek. Her lifelong mission is to get fit without exercising and lose weight without dieting.

She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Women’s Christian College. She studied fine arts as a Foreign Fellow at Mount Holyoke College and received a Master of Arts from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Her work include:

  1. Chutneys and Chapathibrood (2003)
  2. Return to India (2011)
  3. Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes (2013)
  4. Katha: Tell a Story, Sell a Dream (2015)
  5. The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure (2018)
  6. Food and Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey Through Food (2020)

TL;DR: An informative account of various religious practices and traditional food seen through a modern and feminist eye


Have you read and travelogues?

What are your favorites?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book club, Book review

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

Statistics

Format: eBook

Length: 314 pages

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: G.P Putnam’s Sons

Date of Publication: 30th January, 2018

Rating: 5/5 stars


Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. I hadn’t found many accounts of what the Asian continent went through during the World Wars. While I knew about the existence of comfort women, I hadn’t read much on the topic so I was interested to see where the story would lead. I was really excited when Binder’s Book Club picked White Chrysanthemum as their Book of the Month.


The Blurb

Korea, 1943. Hana has lived her entire life under Japanese occupation. As a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she enjoys an independence that few other Koreans can still claim. Until the day Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier and is herself captured and transported to Manchuria. There she is forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. But haenyeo are women of power and strength. She will find her way home.

South Korea, 2011. Emi has spent more than sixty years trying to forget the sacrifice her sister made, but she must confront the past to discover peace. Seeing the healing of her children and her country, can Emi move beyond the legacy of war to find forgiveness?

Suspenseful, hopeful, and ultimately redemptive, White Chrysanthemum tells a story of two sisters whose love for each other is strong enough to triumph over the grim evils of war.


The Book

Every war has more casualties than is officially recorded. It is disturbing that most of the time, it is the suffering of the women and the children that remains undocumented. Wars create millions of widows and orphans who are then exploited but never commemorated during peace times. The story of White Chrysanthemum follows two Korean sisters, Hana and Emiko, through the years of suffering during the second world war and beyond. Hana is the older sister entrusted with the safety of younger Emi. So it was, naturally, her instinct to sacrifice herself when the time came to protect her sister from the Japanese soldiers. This is where the sad saga begins. Hana is only 16 when she gets indoctrinated as a ‘comfort woman’ for Japanese soldiers who believe that they deserve a few moments of pleasure before going off to die in the Emperor’s war.

To be taken from a matriarchal community where she and her mother were the primary breadwinners to a place where she even loses rights to bodily autonomy must have been a harrowing experience. But Hana has been made strong by the years of training to dive to the depths of the sea. She is also fueled by the love for her family and is comforted by the fact that she saved her younger sister from a similar fate. However, back home, Emi lives a life of guilt, knowing that her sister sacrificed herself for her. Unfortunately, Emi’s life doesn’t go as Hana hope. Her father is brutally murdered, and she is forced into marriage to the soldier responsible for her mother’s death. It is a wonder how she managed to live a life full of hatred and suffering and managed to keep her gentleness and ability to love.

The story moves between various countries and years following the sisters’ lives and culminates in the peace statue erected in honor of the comfort women. Emi hopes to find news of her sister, and the reader is right there with her in the cold December weather hoping against hope that Hana comes hobbling out. I was glad that the author gave Hana’s story an ending that most likely did not happen. The book definitely needed it, but it saddens me that it wasn’t the case of the millions of real-life Hanas and they will all remain forgotten even with the enormous sacrifices that they made.

The Author

An American author of Korean descent living in London, Mary grew up in a large ex-pat community of women who came of age in postwar South Korea. In 2002, she visited her mother’s childhood village, and it was during this trip she first learned of the “comfort women.” Her debut novel, White Chrysanthemum, was published in January 2018 by Chatto & Windus Books and Putnam Books. She is represented by Rowan Lawton at Furniss Lawton Agency @ James Grant Group.


TL;DR: A brilliant book that talks of unfortunate casualties of war in beautiful writing


What are your favorite books in the historical fiction genre?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life