Tag Archives: Books

Biblios

Biblios

Dreamdust will always smell like ink and paste

The library is where all dreams begin, sculpted in paper cuts

Turn the page. 

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BOOK Revi: Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

ewThirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after hearing everyone talk about the television show (which I still haven’t seen). The Wikipedia entry promised that this would be dark and it wasn’t lying. It’s nowhere close to Gone Girl but I’d say Gone Girl’s Amy may have been something like this book’s Hannah Baker when she was younger.

The things that happen to Hannah expose the brutal gendered violence and hostility meted out to women all over the world, even in privileged groups like white urban America. Slut-shaming, fuckboy manipulation, bullying, stalking, harassment, rape…all of these find graphic mention in the story. These are important issues that do not get addressed enough and worse, are invalidated by even the legal systems across nations.

The blurb already tells you about the dead girl’s suicide note via cassette tapes. There is a whiny, accusatory tone throughout, which I suppose stays true to this being a diary entry style confessional about a suicidal (now dead) teenager. There is a very specific point where Hannah’s narrative goes from shocked victim to mentally unstable. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing since it seems to indicate that depression could be caused by external events rather than being an illness of its own kind.

It’s not very clear why Clay is part of this story at all, given there’s absolutely no foreshadowing or indication that she even knows of his existence. Similarly, Tony is a bit too deus ex machina. All the characters other than Hannah and Clay appear one-dimensional. I’m not sure that this is a deliberate attempt to establish an unreliable narrator. It just seems like poor characterisation. Even given the first person narrative, it’s interspersed with enough of Clay’s point of view to balance out the other characters. The book does not do this.

I guess in sum, I’d say this book could have been better but considering there isn’t one mainstream one addressing these issues among teenagers in an easy-to-read way, this is as good as it gets. It’s quite readable.

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Where I bitch about things that hurt and find my way back…to a good book

I bought a Kindle earlier this year, a very late purchase I know for a voracious reader like me. I guess I still think of gadgets as luxuries and I am kind of spartan in my head. The first thing I ever saved up my pocket money for, was a book, an Archie comic double digest. A book is also the first thing I ever earned. After I began working, I made the transition into buying brand new books, awarding myself that luxury. And I’ve been rather undisciplined after that, allowing myself this one vice of buying books freely without regard to cost, storage space (a VERY BIG factor in Mumbai) or time to read. It’s one of the reasons I shied away from buying an eReader for this long. What would I do of the heaving shelves of as yet unread books?

When I finally bought the Kindle, I vowed that I would be very prudent in my ebook purchases and only buy books that I was going to read immediately and even then, only buy a new book after I’d completed an older one. My first buy was a book that I fell instantly in love with and it pulled me back into reading. Yes, I’ve never gone for long without a book but it’s such a deeply ingrained relationship now that it goes with the taking for granted, the occasional neglect, the other priorities taking over aspects.

Right after I finished Gone Girl, I decided to finally give in to the Game of Thrones mania. When you’ve had a relationship with books and reading as deeply as I have, you take every step with caution. A book can and has changed my life so I only let one in with prudence. I am so sorry to say that this was a mistake.

I have been struggling with the books (I bought the entire collection – I may be prudent but I don’t do half measures) right after I finished the excerpt and began nearing end of Book 1.Game of Thones. I put it down to it being a distant genre. Fantasy and Medieval fiction have never felt like my own universes the way social Sci-fi, Literary fiction, Modern women’s fiction and Children’s fiction have. At the end of book 1, I went off to read other things and returned, hoping things would be  better. Book 2.A Clash of Kings was no better; worse if anything. I struggled and finally allowed myself to slash through the pages (no, not really but the page-turning command on a Kindle feels a bit like a finger slash) barely reading the words. I just about made it and plowed on to Book 3.A Storm of Swords. All I can say about the book is several oppressive characters and situations have ended.

I was midway through Book 4.A Feast for Crows last night when I realised it. I’d been having nightmares for the past few weeks. Well, perhaps not nightmares in the conventional sense of monsters etc. but dreams and sleeptime thoughts that were deeply unpleasant and disturbing. I’ve been waking up feeling very drained and unhappy. The last thing I read or watch or listen to at night usually carries through into my sleep and for weeks now, I’ve had blood-soaked images of rape, pillaging, torture, murder and genocide. I give up. I’m done with this wretched story.

More than once I’ve tossed and turned and had to switch on the light to get a drink of water or just lie awake, reading or listening to music, unable to sleep. Last night, I put it aside and picked up a fresh book (something I very rarely do at 3 in the morning). It’s an Indian author I picked up at one of my book binges before the Kindle purchase. Two chapters in I was hooked and already my mind in that peaceful place where a good story can lull me to sleep.

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Image via Unsplash/Patrick Tomasso

I’ve woken up not just feeling better but also with the insight that I need to get up from bed slower in the mornings. Low blood pressure hits me most days and I’m just realising this. So I lay staring at the ceiling for a good ten minutes before getting up and the day has only been getting better.

I realise this may sound odd to some people but a book really is that important. Especially when it plays the role that human relationships usually do, why would I associate with a book that is brutal and seems to revel in it? I’ve already been in a relationship with a monster like that and I was lucky to get out. I don’t need a book version of the same thing. So no more GoT for me.

I got to thinking about this relationship that I have with stories and books.

When I was 20, I was reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I enjoyed the rabid revolutionary ideas and her powerful words that would pour into my head, as I was sandwiched between rush hour train commuters on my way to and from work (my first job). There was a distinct moment when I remember thinking, this isn’t good for me but it feels so good. I had the good sense to walk away from the book midway (don’t ask why I never have the good sense to do that in relationships). I’ve never regretted it. And that’s why when I hear Ayn Rand fans raving, I must look at them with the rueful knowing of someone who was intoxicated but escaped.

I also quit 50 Shades of Grey after two books but that was different. I was enraged, rather than enthralled. Luckily Adi pointed out that I might be reacting to the bad writing and not to the genre itself. I had to test out that idea so I went ahead and devoured several other pieces of erotic writing, including but not limited to S&M. I found a new area of interest and I even ended up conducting a workshop on Erotica Writing.

I shivered through The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Admittedly the title hooked me because my own first tattoo was about three years old then and I felt like I was answering to the name of that girl. The story horrified me but I completed it, it was just such good writing. I even sat through the Swedish version of the film. But I decided, I couldn’t palate the ruthless rape, murder descriptions so I have never read the other two even though both my parents have and love them.

I guess my soulmate truly is the world of books and stories. The books I’m reading shape my mood, my attitude and even my aspirations. I cannot afford to be imprudent. I have to be as cautious about what I put into my mind as I am about my body.

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S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared – L.Marie Adeline:

Secret Shared (Secret, #2)Secret Shared by L. Marie Adeline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve read more of the genre after I read S.E.C.R.E.T. so I’m inclined to be a little kinder in my assessment of this book. There is a lot of crass bilge passed off as erotica and this is not it. S.E.C.R.E.T. felt a little tame to me. With this, I can see where the writer may have been going. S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared falls somewhere between Self-help, Pop Feminism, Erotica and Romance.

In S.E.C.R.E.T., a depressed (and repressed) widow is inducted into a secret society that helps women explore and express their sexual side. By the end of that story, she decides to join the organisation, having completed her own personal journey. In S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared, the sequel, she takes on life with her parallel job as a Guide to another similarly stuck woman.

The book flits between Cassie, the original protagonist, and Dauphine, the newest member of S.E.C.R.E.T. The stories are written in first person voice with chapters alternating between the two women. I found this a bit disorienting because the voices of the two women are not very distinct (possibly because they are very similar when they start with S.E.C.R.E.T.). It gets better later in the book but the transition to Dauphine finding her resolution and Cassie maturing felt too abrupt for me. The ending, just like the first book, is surprising. The sex element, just like S.E.C.R.E.T., felt a bit tame to me. But considering everything else that was going on with the story, I wouldn’t hold it against the book.

It’s not a story about sex or even a story that uses sex as a plot device or a self-help metaphor (like the first book did). It’s just a story set in a sexual context. Read that way, it might be more enjoyable.

I read an uncorrected proof of this book on NetGalley, a few weeks before its launch. That may explain the spellos and some of the rawness of writing that I saw. S.E.C.R.E.T. was considerably polished and I expect its sequel to be equally so, when it hits the stands.

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The Divorce Papers: Susan Rieger – Wholesome, Smart and Funny

The Divorce Papers: A NovelThe Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a story of a divorce, with minor sub-plots of corporate politics and a side romance. I enjoyed the epistolary format (this one used not only correspondence but also notices, newspaper clippings, invitations, lists and legal documents). In addition, the pre-millenial nostalgia wave was charming with its old fogies protesting the informality of email, the blatant sexism in its dying moments before it became politically incorrect to be so.

I thoroughly loved the key protagonists, Mia Mieklejohn Durkheim and her reluctant divorce lawyer Sophie Diehl. They are fiery, willful women who sail through their personal battles with wit and dignity but also plenty of laughter. The ugly divorce, down to custody battles and infidelity is laid out without flinching but miraculously in a funny, engaging manner.

The only part that held me back from giving this book a full five stars was the amount of legalese and bureaucratic paperwork that one had to read through. I imagine that the author tried to de-jargonize the language as much as possible without compromising on the flavour of a law proceeding. Still, since the documents told the story, they had to be pored over and official documents are never interesting to read. In addition, to a person not absolutely in love with numbers and accounting, the long lists of monies would be definite roadblocks. This said, I’m not sure if the book could have been written any other way. It makes a very clear point of the fact that a divorce is not not closure or therapy but a commercial exercise to fairly divide all the assets and wealth within a marriage.

I skimmed through most of the legal papers and completely skipped the number lists, relying on the letters, emails and other parts to get the gist of the story. And I found the book thoroughly enjoyable. I got this off NetGalley.

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Donny and Ursula Save The World – Sharon Weil: A Love Story For Naturalists & Conspiracy Theorists

Donny and Ursula Save the WorldDonny and Ursula Save the World by Sharon Weil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quirky little novel that manages to touch on several large issues – the danger of commercializing agriculture, the importance of orgasms, Mother Earth’s good housekeeping, conspiracy theories. And in the midst of all this is a strange but lovely love story.

Donny is a regular Joe, a slob who enjoys smoking, video games and hoarding comic books. He meets Ursula at a party and decides to follow his head (the wrong one) and pursue her. But wooing the prudish, New Age travel service operator turns out to be much more than he imagined. In the quest to get her into bed, he stops smoking, spruces up and ingests copious quantities of vile-tasting liquids that Ursula serves him as natural, healthy drinks.

Ursula’s character is detailed a great deal more with some nice touches like her postcard-populated world map, her surreptitious mushroom mothering and her struggle to get her body to belly dance. Even so, the more ordinary character of Donny and how he falls in love with her, despite himself, is what catches your attention.

The story starts of seeming to be a regular if somewhat flaky love story but suddenly races into the sub-plots of conspiracy theorist Paul (Donny’s best friend) and his adventures in survival camp. Along the way a slimy Mr.Ed, representing government/commercial interests gets a tiny story of his own. And about two-thirds into the book, the naturalist element takes over with M.Earth setting the plot right.

The book’s blurb says that it is about an orgasm that saved the world but in truth, the connection is a bit tenuous. The tenses shift like crazy, giving the narrative a slightly flaky feel. Yet, somehow the concept is new and delivered with a light touch so the book entertains and engages. I enjoyed the wry humor in the titles and the sometimes paragraph-short chapters interspersed with long rambling ones. I got this book off NetGalley.

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Stirring Up Trouble: Juli Alexander – A Contemporary Sabrina, Teen Witch

Stirring Up TroubleStirring Up Trouble by Juli Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zoe is a regular teenager in a lot of ways – second fiddle to a more glamorous best friend, crushing on this best friend’s hunky boyfriend, trying to cope with her parents’ matrimonial troubles. Regular in most ways except one. She’s also a teenage witch. The trouble is that she can’t use her powers for her own benefit, unless she wants to contend with horrible retribution that could take the form of anything from embarrassing appearance changes to unstoppable hiccups.

Otherwise a regular teen drama, this story adds generous doses of supernatural humour. All the characters are likeable and well-shaded, except perhaps Anya, the spoilt best friend who comes across as cardboard and caricatured.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward the next one in the series – Trouble’s Brewing. I got this book from NetGalley

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Ameera Unveiled: Kathleen Varn – A Lot of Bellyaching & No Dancing

Ameera UnveiledAmeera Unveiled by Kathleen Varn
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is supposed to be a story about a middle aged woman embracing her empowerment via belly-dancing. I expected it to have a lot of dance narratives. I also imagined that since it is a coming-of-age story (of a sort), it would have a number of ups and downs.

Instead, Ameera Unveiled runs on like a personal fantasy, with very little colour or detail to make it interesting. The actual dance sequences are skipped over with a line or two like ‘In less than an hour, she slipped away’. I went all the way to page 202 in a 322-page book without one single dance action being described. It made me wonder whether the author did any research at all on belly dancing or whether she just cleverly spun words around the idea because she thought it would get more interest.

The narrative is extremely linear and the characters, cardboard. Two-thirds into the book, I still didn’t know the different names (only that they were all part of the ‘troupe’ and were excited to be in it). Instead, the story is filled with page after page of Kat’s own whining and self-glorification (Look how wonderful I am! I’m so shy, I’ve suffered so much but I’m doing this cool thing!). You already know with every situation that she’s going to enter it with trepidation and come out smelling on top, something that everyone else can see but mysteriously she never can.

I suffered Kat’s lousy tale all the way till 2/3rds the way before giving up. I don’t expect the story or the characters to change much by this point. And if they do, then it’s too little, too late. You’ve lost your reader already.

I got this book from NetGalley.

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Bad Houses: Sara Ryan – Failin Times

Bad HousesBad Houses by Sara Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mournful story about several defeated folks in a town that’s aptly named ‘Failin’. Cat & Lewis run Matchless Estate Sales, a service that cleans out houses (for people who don’t want to do it themselves) by selling every item in the houses. There is already an undertone of melancholia to a job that essentially cremates old homes, taking care of the messy details that no one else wants to touch. Then there are the estate sales fanatics who will bid on the lottery draw of an unopened storage space and hide objects of value so they can come back on the half-price day to claim them. Anna Cole inhabits these sales, seeking scraps of leftover warmth, for reprieve from her own dysfunctional family. How these two families meet, bruise each others’ lives and finally resolve is the story of Bad Houses. I liked the artwork but the character’s faces got a little confusing, especially since there was a mini storyline from the past, embedded right in the middle. A decent story overall, if only nothing new.

I got this book from NetGalley.

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