Book Review, Non-Indian authors

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

A century before A Game of Thrones,

two unlikely heroes wandered Westeros.

This is all it takes an ardent A Song of Ice & Fire/ A Game of Thrones aficionado to buy a george-r-r-martin_a-knight-of-the-seven-kingdomshardcover copy of A Knight of the Seven Kingdom. (It would’ve cost me an arm and a leg but for the ol’ savior, Amazon.in.) This book is a collection of three short stories, by George R R Martin written as a prequel to A Song of Ice & Fire series, which are. It is predated to the series by about a 100 years and revolves around the adventures of Dunk and Egg. This book is a collection of three stories, The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight.

Now, let me get into a bit of the premise of the three stories. Dunk used to squire for Ser Arlan of Pennytree, a hedge knight. Ser Arlan passes away in illness after knighting Dunk. He is now Ser Duncan the Tall who is, later in the series, known as Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard during the reign of King Aegon V Targaryen. Egg, one of the two protagonists, is revealed to be Prince Aegon Targaryen himself, son of Prince Maekar Targaryen. Egg who is better known to ASOIF fans as King Aegon V Targaryen or Aegon the Unlikely, grandfather of King Aerys II aka the Mad King. This book marks the humble beginning of Dunk as Ser Duncan the Tall and how he meets Egg. It marks the beginning of the many adventures Dunk and Egg will venture into together.

In the spirit of keeping this spoiler free, I would rather not dwell into the individual stories of what transpires between the covers. But, as fan of the books and the television series I can tell you that these stories do give you insight into many characters, some alive in the time frame of ASOIF and some introduced to us through the narrations of others. Brynden Rivers aka Lord Bloodraven, Hand of the Kings Aerys I and Maekar I Targaryen,  is one of the such reccuring characters. (For the uninitiated Lord Bloodraven is the Three-eyed raven.) Lord Walder Frey, the man behind the Red wedding, is another. You will also come across members of several great houses familiar to you if you have been following the ASOIF series. All this will give you great insight into the workings of Westeros and the people-smallfolk, lords and lordlings. A recurring theme of the subtext in these stories is also the triviality of war and disputes as compared to the cost paid in blood. It goes on to tell us how somebody’s inflated ego and the hunger for power costs someone else gravely.

The three novellas here are all previously published in other Anthologies are now being compiled in a set of three. There is no telling as to how many Dunk and Egg novellas there will be as GRRM is rightly of the opinion that “there will be as many novellas as it takes to tell their tale, start to finish.” but how many ever there that will be known to us only after he delivers The Winds of Winter. GRRM plans to write the novellas

More details and updates on George RR Martin here.

Verdict: George RR Martin takes us deeper into the world he spun for us in the Song of Ice and Fire series. And the good thing is these are novellas but just as juicy as the novels. Hence, this is not to be missed by any Song of Ice and Fire series fans .

Continue reading “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

Book Review, Non-Indian authors

The Spy: A novel

Although I’ve always had a slight skepticism about reading a book which wasn’t the-spyoriginally written in the language available for me to read, Paulo Coelho is one of the few exceptions I’ve allowed myself. Yet, I’m not a fan ardent enough to have read all his works.(I must admit though, that I haven’t, to this day, finished The Alchemist!) I’ve been a fan of the man since I laid my hands on Veronica Decides to Die. Coming to this book. Let’s first take a moment to appreciate the cover. It is beautiful, elegant, classy. One of the things that drew me to the book, I admit. The next reason I was drawn to it is definitely the fact that though it is largely fictitious it is based on real events, people and incidents.

The Spy : A novel is about Mata Hari, an exotic dancer accused of espionage. And any introduction or gist I could give for this read is less or unworthy compared to what Coelho himself has written in the book, which reads –

…I am writing this for myself, to convince myself that I did everything possible and imaginable; first by trying to get you out of Saint Lazare; then by fighting to save your life; and finally having the chance to write a book telling the injustice of which you were a victim for the sin of being a woman, for the greater sin of being free, for the immense sin of stripping in public, for the dangerous sin of getting involved with men whose reputations needed to be maintained at any cost.

The book, written in first person, is in 3 parts. The first two parts read as the last letter written by Mata Hari from prison awaiting the verdict on clemency. The first part leads us to how Margaretha Geertruida Zelle became “Margreet” MacLeod and eventually Mata Hari. It tells us how like many in her early ages she is an observer of the workings of the world and later on, as time proceeds, she takes hold of her destiny. The story moves revealing the ‘warrior’ in Mata Hari who doesn’t shy away from the adventure that is life. The third and the final part is written as a letter from her lawyer, who is one of her admirers. He reveals the third person perspective of the incidents that lead to her execution.

By the time I finished the book I was intrigued by the protagonist, Mata Hari. She was beautiful, proud and unabashed about any of this. Infact she used her beauty to her advantage and to garner power.

Rating : 3/5

Verdict: This book needs some background knowledge of the WW1 and by the end of the book it will urge you to get more background knowledge about Mata Hari, the protagonist.

Continue reading “The Spy: A novel”

Book Review, Non-Indian authors

We Should All Be Feminists

...I would like to ask that we should begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.

Have you ever been called a feminist? I have, on multiple occasions. And, not once was it e83fc2f24a9f6c71779c6b8922827f91meant as a compliment. Even the closest of my male friends began warned me about openly declaring my feminist views. One even joked that he would sever all ties with me if I ever wrote a feminist post (This came from a writer friend who constantly badgered me into writing!) So, here I am risking my good friendship and writing about something I dearly feel for- Feminism.

So, for the record, I don’t hate men, I love them. I don’t burn the bra, I wear them. And, I also wear makeup; red lip, pink lips, and all the myriad colours besides and between them I adore. I also enjoy dressing up. Neither do I think that women should always be in charge nor am I constantly in a state of rage. Does any of this not make me a “feminist”? I think not.

Feminists, according to social norms, the author observes, are “women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands”. So, like her, I too decided to call myself a “Happy Feminist”; a happy feminist who loves heels, makeup, fashion and isn’t aways angry. This book resonated with me on so many levels that I shall now begin to explain. Like the author here, ‘classic feminist texts’ did always bore me. But that doesn’t mean I will not take part in gender discussions that need to be had. As a young girl, I was opinionated and bold enough to speak up about my views.  Growing up I believed in the ideal world where opportunities were equal for all genders.But slowly and steadily my experience taught me that it was not just as easy as I believed it to be. Agreed, that I have always enjoyed a freedom that wasn’t always associated with my gender. But most of it was because of the way I was raised, and I have only my parents to thank for it. Not every girl I know is raised to think likewise.

Many have asked me if I think men and women are equal. This question here is supposed to be the first counter-attack to feminism. And, no, I don’t believe that men and women are equal. I believe that men and women are complementary to each other; man and woman are ying and yang. Here Adichie explains how men and women are “different”. It is true that today the world that is driven by intellect, innovation, and creativity, than physical strength, which both genders may possess because “there are no hormones for those attributes.” But have our ideas of gender evolved?

Don’t we still not teach our girls to be ‘likable’? We need them to be likable to neighbors, teachers, and the entire society. They need to walk, talk, dress and behave a certain way. Do we tutor our boys to such a stringent moral code of conduct? Yes, we teach our boys to a different moral code. To not cry, or be emotional and to mask their true selves; to “be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability.” And, in the end of it, we leave the boys with “fragile egos” that we expect the girls to cater to. We overwhelm our boys and girls with the gender expectations of our society. I believe in a society where man, woman, or otherwise, can be their true selves and live a life of love, dignity, and honour.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What this book slates to do is to urge us to unlearn our archaic gender roles to suit the new world. It calls on to both, men and women, to do their part in discussing gender; not just the female gender issues, but the male gender issues too. It opens the gate to a conversation surrounding gender stereotypes and gender dynamics all the while putting out the negativity surrounding it.

This book is a modified version of a talk Adichie delivered at TEDxEuston in December 2012 and was aimed at highlighting the stereotyping of the word feminism. The talk closed to a standing ovation giving her hope that the discussions may continue.

Rating    : 4/5

Verdict: A must-read for people of all genders. As simple as that.

Continue reading “We Should All Be Feminists”

Non-Indian authors

The Grownup

 

“I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.”

When a book starts with a line like that you know you absolutely want to read through the

gillian
Book cover

odd 60 something pages of story, and you want to do it fast. This is a short story by Gillian Flynn, my absolute favourite writer in the thriller-horror genre. It was previously published in an anthology edited by George RR Martin in which it was titled What Do You Do? 

In true Gillian Flynn style, this book is about a nameless girl, from a troubled background, coping with her life with confidence, dry humour and grit. She believes she can read people and even “smell” their auras.

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Book Review, Non-Indian authors

Sharp Objects

“Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom.”

51DmMySxzaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Gillian Flynn! Gillian Flynn! Gillian Flynn! For me she sparkled right through 2014. Gillian Flynn had me first excited about her book, Gone Girl, which was my first tryst withe her creative brilliance, and then the movie, which she screen wrote herself. (To find out how I felt about her book click here.)  

So, I naturally wanted to progress onto her other works. But you know how you don’t want to OD over heady, dark and gritty books? That’s exactly what kept me away from this one for this long.

Let’s now venture into what this book is about. Camille Preaker, a journalist who is just out of an asylum is dealing with her own self when she’s handed her first major assignment, to cover a twin abduction and murder in her native, Wind Gap, which is the last place she wants to be. The turn of events following the investigation of the twin murders puts her face-to-face with a lot of issues she isn’t equipped to deal with yet. As the story unfolds we find us reeling in a whirlpool of mess Carmille is in.

The story is intensely disturbing and complicated, fiercely raw, dark and gritty.

This one is not for teenagers or kids, given the number of teen aged characters it has. Unless you are a grown up you don’t want to read this, not for the sexual content (it’s not the least bit erotic), but for the bod rawness. I often wonder what being in Gillian Flynn’s mind would be like. I read this book at a time when my mind was clouded with dealing with some of the toughest decisions of my life. It was a time when I questioned by sense of self worth and this book urged me to take control over my life. You know how sometimes knowing people with much more messed up lives than you puts your life into perspective? That’s sort of therapeutic. That’s what this book did to me.

Rating: 4.5/5

Verdict: The book hits the right spots if you like dark, raw and gritty subjects. 

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Book Review, Non-Indian authors

Thanks for the Memories

Sometimes we need all the glue we can get, just to hold ourselves together. thanks-for-the-memories-book-cover

My love for books, unlike my love for words, is not a selfless one. I invest time in a book hoping to get something in return. I expect a book to keep me good company; it can make me happy, sad or happy-sad, it can make me contemplate or melancholic, it can even make me angry. That’s my deal with books. So if a couple of chapters into the book, if it doesn’t engage me I break up with it. And then I might never go back to the book or even the author, for that matter. Such has been my relationship with Cecelia Ahern and P.S. I love you. And, more than 5 years hence, quite skeptically I picked a copy of Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern from a coffee-shop book shelf. I’d had a long and tiring day, and was looking for a book to keep me company while I finished my cup of hot chocolate, and wham- magic happens! (P.S. I carefully sneaked the copy so I could finish reading it. P.P.S. It will be sneaked back to the shelf by the time this post is up.)

This story is about two people, their lives and how it connects in the most unexpected and bizarre way. Joyce Conway has just had an accident which resulted in a miscarriage of her pregnancy and her marriage. In her moment of grief she can no longer imagine holding on to her love-less marriage with Conner. Justin Hitchcock, an American academician in historic architecture, is in Dublin to deliver a lecture when he’s talked into donating blood for the very first time in his life. A  divorcee who just moved to London to be near his daughter-the only true love in his life, Justin is just beginning to get his life back on track after the end of his marriage. In a twist of destiny, Justin’s life collides and entangles with Joyce, who herself is struggling to make purpose of her life after her tragedy.

 

Cecelia Ahern Weekend cover
Cecelia Ahern (Image courtesy: http://www.independent.ie)

Cecelia Ahern, in her masterstroke, introduces us to the protagonist, Joyce Conway, at her lowest; I felt her pain, her agony and her struggle to remain sane speak to me through the pages. But, even though my heart went out to Joyce in her sorrow and cried out of joy in her celebrations, she wasn’t my favorite character in the story; neither is Justin Hitchcock nearly as adorable. My favorites are Joyce’s dad, Mr. Conway and Justin’s daughter, Bea. They light up the story peppering it with their love and innocence. Conway reminded me of my mother in her innocence, childishness and stubborn resolve. Possibly like every parent, Conway looks out for his daughter and trusts her decisions unquestioningly. While at it he will possibly also put them in trouble with his innocent, yet mischievous ways.  Bea on the other hand could well have been the parent between Justin and her. She is an understanding and caring young woman who loves her dad unconditionally. Although you would find the novel in the romance genre, make no presumptions as to who the most romantic and lovable couple in the story are, as no couple in the entire story is as cute as Conway and Gracie- you really need to read the story to find out why.

 

As to whether I will read more of Cecelia Ahern’s books? I will. I believe there are writers who write for the love of the language and then there are writers who write for the love of the emotions. I believe Cecelia Ahern is of the latter brand of writers. Her writing is more visual than verbal. She paints you a picture of the emotions at play in the air than what meets the eye; you might experience more from her writing than even if you were physically present there. So, yes, I’m looking forward to another beautifully writing story that she may have to tell. Continue reading “Thanks for the Memories”

Book Review, Non-Indian authors, Uncategorized

The Girl on the Train

An intriguing suspense thriller from a debutante that will keep you turning the page until the very end.


Right from the title, The Girl on the Train, reminded me of a series and a book – the millennium series and Gone Girl – both which have been made into movies. And, though I’ve been hearing good reviews about Paula Hawkins’ debut novel The Girl on the Train, I wasn’t in a hurry to read it until I heard that the book was being made into a movie. That’s my baseline. I simply have to read a book if it’s been made into a movie and I’m planning to watch it; especially if the book has been getting good reviews. So, I go, get myself a ebook into my Kindle and take it off from there.

The story starts well; good language, slightly poetic, simple and casual. The narration is split between three women-Rachel, Megan and Anna. Rachel Watson,the main protagonists of the three, is an alcoholic with an identity crisis; she is still hung up on her ex-husband and hasn’t been able to get hold of her life after their divorce. She has these gaping holes in her memory, all thanks to her drinking problem, courtesy of which she has even lost her job. In short, her life is a total wreck she is unable to bring back on track. Being a regular commuter from Ashbury to London, she picks a house on her way, just four houses away from her old house with her ex-husband, where she observes a couple nearly everyday. To her imagination the couple, Jess and Jason, are perfect the way she and Tom, her ex-husband, were until they weren’t. And then, one day, something happens that shatters the tiny perfect world she imagined for them. That’s where the story takes off from. The narration then moves on with Megan, the complicated woman who lived in that house, and Anna, Tom’s new wife. 

This is one of those stories where none of the characters are exactly likable. Rachel is a total mess and you want to slap her on her face and yell at her to get a life! Megan is just too complicated that halfway through I gave up trying to figure her out. And with Anna, I found her over-protectiveness for her family and her sense of self-importance along with her complete lack of fairness towards Rachel annoying and  tedious. I did not form opinions about the male characters as the author, I believe, had kept the characters purposefully vague. So you don’t exactly like anyone till the end, but I sure did want to see Rachel get a hold over her life.

And this is where this story is a U-turn from Gone Girl. In Gone Girl  the protagonist had a complete and total control and firm grip on the way she wanted to live her life. She even controlled the lives of people around her. Rachel Watson has no such ‘virtues’ or qualities. I intermittently felt pity and sorry for her throughout the story. I hoped and prayed that she get a grip on her life and turn around a new leaf!

The book did drag in the middle where the story just going in circles around Rachel’s misery. But, apart from that, the twist in the plot, which came at the end, was a really good one.

The book is being made into a movie with a few changes, though not in the plot. Unlike with Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins does not have much to do with the movie, which like the book will not be based in London. The movie seems to be in the casting stage; most of the female casting is done and they are now casting the men for the movie (link). 

Coming back to the book. It is a good book, but slightly over hyped. The language was simple, casual and poetic at times. I left the book feeling light and relieved from the suspense and thrill of the book. For a debut novel, I think, Paula Hawkins has done a wonderful job. I will wait for the movie just as hard as I’m waiting for Ms.Hawkins’ next book.


Rating: 4/5

Continue reading “The Girl on the Train”