Tag Archives: Goodreads

Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings – Kuzhali Manickavel: Quirky & Enjoyable In Tiny Doses

Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have WingsInsects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book piecemeal, stretched out over several months. Halfway through, I decided to finish the rest in one go. My conclusion is that the first style is better. This book is filled with strange, sometimes beautiful, sometimes bizarre snippets. Fantasy, memory and stark reality intermingle. It seems a bit much when consumed in one go but works well when you read them one or two at a time only.

I particularly enjoyed ‘You Have Us All Late and Follow’,’Coconut Water’,’Information Regarding the Two Main Characters’ and ‘The Queen of Yesterday’. After awhile, the styles start to get repetitive. (For instance, ‘Jame That Bread of Life’ is much like ‘You Have Us All Late and Follow’).

The voice is certainly unique as are the settings – Tamil Nadu with an uber-urban bent of mind. So you have characters named Malar, Alarmel and Senthil in live-in relationships, filthy roommate camaraderie and suicide-from-boredom. Kuzhali’s stories fall just on the right side of crazy – quirky enough to be entertaining, mundane enough to be relatable. This is poetry masquerading as literature.

I’d definitely recommend a read, for the novelty value alone. But you probably wouldn’t want to have a shelf full of books like this.

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Sita – Devdutt Pattanaik: Repackaging The Indian Superhero With The Same Old Religious Tripe

Sita An Illustrated Retelling of the RamayanaSita An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am utterly disappointed with this book. Let me make it clear at the start that I’m disappointed because of my expectations of the author, based on past books, and not because the book itself has major flaws.

After reading and enjoying ‘The Pregnant King’ and ‘Jaya’ by Devdutt Pattanaik, I had high expectations from this book. Dr.Pattanaik’s story-telling, I thought had a marvelous way of constructing the narrative, devoid of the over devout tone that one finds in all religious stories across India. With ‘Jaya’, it allowed me to discern larger lessons, more intricate realizations from the nuances of Mahabharata, since it did not stick to the formula of the Pandavas as starkly good and the Kauravas as big villians. ‘The Pregnant King’ had a similarly objective tone, while also telling a great story.

Sita, I’m afraid is a cop out. It is a narration of the Ramayan, exactly the way I’ve heard from every single religious person I’ve know. The title appears to be picked to throw you off, give the impression that this is another point of view of the Ramayan. But truly, Sita is a cardboard character at best, in this narrative and appears in very few chapters.

Ram is the starring superhero who can do evil. All his violent acts and decisions are miraculously vanished away by the victims claiming to be a curse that they are liberated from, by being slaughtered by Ram.

From a fiction point of view, Lakshman is the classic sidekick character, created only to glorify and showcase the protagonist’s superiority. The only thing he does is pitch fits at every given opportunity, giving Ram a chance to say something profound.

Ravana is the worst depicted of the lot. Unlike Jaya, where character nuances were explored, in this tale, Ravana is depicted as an excessive supervillian. His wisdom and kingdom sovereignity (that have been talked about by historians) are brushed away with flimsy explanations, painting him out to be a bad guy, simply because he is BAD.

‘Jaya’ referenced several local legends and religious myths to add detail and colour to a complex story. ‘Sita’ in contrast, consistently refers to 4 or 5 other tellings of the Ramayan and in this book, just attempts to collate all of them in one narrative. Since, none of them really vary in any significant manner except for the most minor of details, this barely adds anything to the story.

If you have never read or heard the Ramayana, this is one narrative that’s decently written. That said, it paints a very one-sided stark view of a narrative that is much more complex and thus, is incomplete and superficial.

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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 Nobody – Jeff Lemire: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

The NobodyThe Nobody by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A stranger swathed in bandages comes to the nondescript town of Large Mouth (Population: 754). His efforts at staying invisible however, are thwarted as the town inhabitants are curious, then suspicious and then downright scared. A local teenage girl befriends him and much to his reluctance, discovers the secret hidden under the bandages.

This is the story of the Invisible Man, not as a crazed monster but a hapless victim of his own passionate quest. It’s interesting to note how even an Invisible Man is unable to stay truly invisible.

That apart, the story dragged a bit for me and ended rather anti-climatically.

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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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