Thursday, 18 January 2018

A Boy Called Christmas - Matt Haig

a photo courtesy: goodreads.com
A story that symbolises the festive spirit  of Hope and Goodwill.

As a child raised in India, my book diet included Enid Blyton and then Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. As my children are growing up I am discovering books that were never available to me - Roald Dahl. It is heartening to see how new authors are reaching out this generation in a contemporary style that was otherwise missing in ours.

Haig is a new author whose books are always out in time for the Christmas season for obvious reasons. Considering my kids are growing up with the same Santa magic as other western kids, they were excited to learn about this Boy who was called Christmas and how was he connected to "their" Father Christmas.

Gist:

Nicholas is a 11-year-old boy who lives with his father in Iceland. It is very cold there and they are quite poor. His father leaves him in the care of a wicked aunt promising to be back with money so that they can live better. However, Nicholas finds himself out in the cold, looking for his father. He has certain adventures which alter his mindset, transforms his life.

What works:
  • Haig uses informal language that connects with kids. The book jacket and the first chapter feel so personal as though someone is narrating a bedtime story to a child. My 7-year-old was instantly hooked on to it, when I first read it out aloud to her.
  • The character of Nicholas - the poor, kind boy is the classic underdog that each child relates to. It is refreshing as word by word we get to know Nicholas more and learn about his family and circumstances he is in.
  • The concept of love, kindness and goodwill is interwoven quite well in the story.
 What doesn't:

Although the style is engaging, it tends to flag a bit. Towards the middle, we felt as though the story was dragging where Nicholas sets off to find his father. We read each chapter as a bedtime story.  However, somewhere along the line, I couldn't help thinking that perhaps it was a bit out of league for my 7 year old despite our chats about it. But then there was a point when even I was getting bored. Some brisk editing would have helped, I felt.

Overall, it is beautiful book and later the pace picks up too. As we got to the end, my 7-year-old suddenly felt like she knew who Father Christmas was - when he was not sneaking presents under the tree.

A lovely story for kids between 8-12. We loved the book enough to pick out his next one soon. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Trip of a Lifetime - Monica Mcinerney

photo courtesy:goodreads.com
A story about families and the drama that lies therein.

 Mcinerney's books are all about families, which is why I love her so much. Although she talking about Australian- Irish families in her books, it speaks so well to my Indian mentality. I love her ability to show the dynamics of familial relationships with such a remarkable style.

I recall reading her Hello From the Gillespies and enjoying every minute of it.  It was about story of a family in a year - starting from one christmas to another. I was hooked on it mainly because of Mcinerney's contagious and compelling writing style.

So this time when this book came in as part of a goodreads giveaway, it was just in time to pack it as my holiday read for a week in Fuertaventura. 

Sun, sand and a Mcinerney book in hand - great.

Gist:

The family's grand matriarch 90-year- old Lola wants to visit Ireland. She left it decades ago as a young woman travelling with her husband to Australia. As with everything she does (for those who know her from Alphabet sisters) her decision sparks a lot of conflict in the family.  She wants her granddaughter Bett and her great grand daughter Ellen to accompany her, much to everyone's annoyance. 

For the journalist grand daughter Bett, it is bad timing. There is a possibility about a mystery series to be filmed in their area and the air is buzzing with news. Bett's newspaper is in the danger of closing down, and this trip is the last thing she wants to do right now.

Lola has a reason for going back - a decades old secret that was never revealed. But now she wants to make peace with the past and rectify things while she still can. She is the foundation that her family is built on and to keep it solid, she needs to make this trip of a lifetime.

What works:
  • Mcinerney's writing style. Her verbal strokes are amazing. The humour and the banter which she brings her characters to life are her strong points.
  • The characters. They are distinct and she describes them with ease. You meet them for the first time but it doesn't take long for you to relate to them, making you curious to see how they fare.
  • The setting. Mcinerney is great at drawing domestic situations and manipulating them to plot her story.
What doesn't:

Once Lola gets to Ireland, the pace is great and the story flows like a stream of clear water. Her observations about how the country has changed in her absence is perceptive and enlightening. 

However, the first half drama which is more about what is happening with Bett, her relationship with  Ellen and the preparations that go into their journey is tedious. It takes the wind out of the sails of narrative, weighing it down. 

It is not her best work. But the way she explores the family relations - stepmum and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law chemistry, it works well and is very easy, enjoyable read overall.

Treat it like a light, fluffy summer read and you will have a great time.


Monday, 15 January 2018

Rounding up the year in books

I love doing this yearly round up - cherry picking from my reads of the year. A bit late (year end holiday and little one's bday party to organise) and I realise we are already in the second week of January. I refuse to believe that its too late to do my 2017 round up in books and here  I am.

It was a great year, bookwise. Lots of good books to read from all genres - literary fiction, crime, chick lit -  a good reading experience. Goodreads tells me I have read more than 2016 which feels good. A quick look through the list refreshes my minds of the titltes that made it to my book log. Here are my favourite reads that made an impression on me:


The Peshwa - Ram Sivashankaran

After watching Bajirao Mastani, I was keen to find out more about this valiant Maratha Warrior and Shivasankaran's version does proper justice to it. It offers depth and character to the persona and offered a well researched insight into the lesser known warrior.

What I loved is the holistic way in which the writer had approached the subject. Instead of giving a breezy, superficial account, Shankaran has taken the pain to paint a detailed background which offers a well rounded perspective - meaning a satisfying story.


The Perplexing theft of a jewel in the Crown - Vaseem Khan

A great fan of crime fiction, it was great to read a thriller set in an Indian setting. For me, it was "Death in Paradise" set in Mumbai. A lighthearted crime story with its backdrop in a city dear to me. You can see why it has sold me. But that is not the reason why it has made it to my top five. It is also a well written story, that touches upon the main character and follows a parallel storyline. It looks superficial but it works on a subtle level.

Love the light humour, great array of characters and a superb writing style. It definitely had me hooked.


The secret lives of Amir Sisters -Nadiya Hussain 


Families, confusion and chaos in a Muslim family. The Bake off winner turns her hand to writing apparently - or that is how it is packaged. Well it worked. Perhaps it was the name that made me pick up the book but then I am not sure if Nadiya would have done this without the help of the hugely talented Ayisha Mallik. But hey! I am not complaining. The combo works very well.

I remember reading that the story was like Alcott's Little Women but then if that is the case because it is about sisters then yes but then that is where the similarity ends.

A set of colourful characters in the exotic Asian family set up, sprinkled with some great writing and humour and voila that's a story served up with a well packaged book.

What sets this apart as my top reads it that it does what it says - light, fluffy yet filled with great characters and writing. It has a writing style that is refreshing, making you want to read more.


Lie With me - Sabine Durrant

A crime thriller that sets off from the word go. It is menacing and kept me edgy for days. A writer who meets his friend on an off chance and says a lie that he has to maintain throughout. A great premise which is sustained very well throughout the novel. Loved the way the writer has used the narrator and came up with a racy style.

What I liked was the narrative device that Durrant has used. I am struggling really hard to not spoil for those who have not read it yet. But go for it if, like me, you dig crime thrillers.



Writing Down The Bones

I discovered quite a lot of books on writing this year. It is amazing how many there are out there. Is it because of the creative writing classes or because more people are turning their hand to writing, I don't know.

 From getting inspiration to write to finding out the nuts and bolts that make short stories work, there are a range of books to choose from. But what got me writing and impressed me with its no nonsense approach was Goldberg's Writing down the Bones. She nails the anxieties and procrastination of a writer very well. It spoke me directly. She reprimands, coaxes and encourages the writer mindset. Job well done.


There goes my top five I suppose. Ready to close the chapter on 2017, I look forward to a brand new book filled year. Join me as I embark on a yet another journey of discovering glittering gems in the world of books.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Fuertaeventura.....Everything feels better under the sun

One of the many beaches along the coastline 
When the temperatures were struggling this December end, heading off to this sunny paradise felt like a blessing.  Fuertaeventura - as its exotic name suggests is one of the biggest Grand Canary islands. With its all year round sunshine and superb beaches, it is a sure hit among UK tourists - evident from all the tanned faces and bodies that accompanied us back on the UK flight.

The place though ruled by Spain is nearer to Africa (about 100 km away). In an attempt to boost its tourism potential, it houses cosmopolitan pockets like El Cortillo, Caleta de Fauste - a haven for tourists with great food, shopping options and accommodation - all a towel's throw from the beach.

However we preferred staying inland in Betancuria - a historic town on the island. A fairly quiet place with some fantastic mountain views, yet close enough to the nearby major town of Antigua.

The picture postcard town of Betancuria with its beautiful market square was a treat for the eyes. Steeped in history, it has a centuries old convent that draws a lot of tourists. What we liked is its market square and with its enticing shops - enough to keep you there for a good while.

We spent a week on the island and realised it had something for everyone. For those wanting to lie on the beach there is plenty to choose from, boisterous ones like Caleta de Fauste or La Pared, or quieter ones like the El Cotillo with lagoons, ideal for kids.

For those seeking more than the beaches, there are hiking trails and viewing platforms from where you get a breathtaking view of the island. Places like Morras De Valles is a steep, winding drive right up the top of the hill. It is worth it though, you can enjoy the view while sipping a cuppa at their hilltop cafe.

We enjoyed a few hikes on this island. Mountain Tindaya, Corran Mountain are some that we loved. The slopes are rocky and not steep. It made it easier for the younger ones in the group and they had a great time scaling it.

The northern part of the island, Correljo, has some picturesque sand dunes. The weather was friendly - hot with a cool breeze and it felt great walking on it, feeling our feet sink into the sand.

Apparently, there was camel riding and other activities, but it felt so good to be there, away from the cold, damp English winter that we spent an afternoon just walking around and capturing its beauty on lens.

There was a salt museum which explained the history and how salt made its way from the sea onto our kitchen shelves. An enlightening experience for our kids who assumed that were made in supermarkets! The only downside was that the entire display and the video was in Spanish, leaving us English speaking tourists flummoxed. The pics made sense, but a translation would have been more helpful. The kids were fascinated by what they saw - how salt was caught in these square pools of water and then taken out in the ledges that separated the pool. It was funny watching their faces crinkle when they tasted it in its raw form! 

Considering that the population is more concentrated in the coastline, the roads that run through the island are in amazing condition, making it easier to get across the  length and breath of the island. We made good use of the maps given out at the airport. Each day, we would pick a point of interest and just drive - stopping for pictures on the way. The island is littered with beautiful places tucked away. The joy of its discovery was nothing short of a treasure hunt!

One place we really liked was the Sica Sumbre astronomical viewpoint that offered a viewing platform lined up with information boards.

It was packed with information about the planetary positions and also gave an insight into the origins of its nearby town of Betancuria. It was a good walk, climbing up the slopes of the Mountain while taking in the beauty of the valley. 

One of my favourite places on the island was the Caves of Ajuy, a small fishing village located about 7 km away from Pajara. We loved walking along the coastline, exploring the limestone caves and its natural beauty. The caves made through natural formation of the waves hitting the shore are a sight to behold and there are good constructed paths alongside that makes it possible to get to the caves easily and safely.
We spent time just looking at the waves lashing at the shore, collecting stones and snapping pics for souvenirs.


It was great spending a week on the island exploring these natural gems, and thanks to kids - it was always rounded with a trip to the beach. It felt good going back to our accommodation at the end of each day - learning about the island that bit more.

Despite signs of recession - with its half finished buildings and graffiti near the big towns, - it had an unspoilt feel to it or atleast the non commercial parts of it.

There were a quite few lighthouses to explore on the island. Since a young member of the group was keen on going to one, we visited the one pictured above, on the northern part of the island near Corralejo. Although we couldn't get in, it had a great trail around it, well marked with its geological and marine information boards as we walked along, collecting rocks on the way.


Any trip to the beach is incomplete without its sand castles. My five year old boy was more interested in building one while the others chose to go for a dip in one of the beaches in Calata de Fauste. By the time they returned, he was ready with his work of art. He was very proud of it and was reluctant to leave it behind. This picture is his souvenir from the island.


What we realised:
  • This island is not all about its beaches, there are lots of places to explore. 
  • Although we hired a car, public transport is available to get around the island.
  • Go hiking with sensible shoes and lots of water and you will be rewarded with some fantastic mountain views.  
  • The people are very friendly and the local language is Spanish. Google helped us vegetarians a lot especially when it was tricky to tell if a food product had meat/fish in it.
  • Although the temperatures were mild, we found that it could get breezy too. One needed a hoodie/cardigan at times especially if staying in the valley.
  • Apart from the main touristy bits, it is a sleepy island with not much happening even on some inner mountain roads. We are not sure if that was due to its sparse population or because of New Year period. It made our life easier though...zooming past towns without worrying about traffic snarls. 

Sun, beach and downtime in the middle of winter - superb!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Trip down the memory lane - Children's Day contest


Writers often turn to their past for fodder to fuel creative endeavours. Something similar happened with me. I participated in a writing contest announced by Writer's Ezine, an online literary magazine inviting entries for poems for their children's day contest.

I am big fan of the genre and love the way how few words can convey so much. It is with great honour and happiness that I share the news that the entry made its way to the selected list. Here is the link to the website

http://www.writersezine.com/p/childrens-day-contest.html

This is the entry that I am happy to share with you.

Our Last Summer

The child remembers:

The scorching summer holidays, seeking respite

Heading off to the village, for some lovely sights 

Get on a train, journey lasting days,

Arrival at granny’s – our knackered, weather beaten face

The country house yearning, thirsting our footfall

The courtyard, mango grove - magical for city kids all.

Walking to squeals of delight, the walls would scream “welcome”

Start of endless play, with cousins least half a dozen.

Those banyan branches waiting - ready for a sway

Our imaginary horses set for adventures far away.

Clashing with cousins, to decide a game,

When bored of old, make up new, give it a name

The elders busy chatting, talking aloud;

Aunties and uncles, exchanging news - what new what not,

Days fly by, until it was time to go

With our annual sniffling goodbyes in tow,

Promising to be back for more.

A wave of change hits when we come back next

The sun is the same, no warmth in the nest

No squeals of delight, an awkward pause greets us here.

A funny smell permeates the air,

A mix of tension and fear

Hushed whispers of a divide we hear,

Cracks in binds start to appear,

Brimming with nonchalance, we just carry on,

The banyan tree feels threatened when we are gone

With no one to play under it,

Unloved, it will cease to exist.

The family haven, we hear, after we depart

Is to make way for flats – state of the art.

The banyan tree, the source of our rustic delight

Will be the first to go – chopped outright.

This time when we leave, there is no coming back

Packing up memories forever, tight in our bags.

                                    *** 

Now an adult, as though folklore,

I narrate those days of fun, frolic, furthermore

To my kids, a chance visit, where the house of memories stood,

For a glimpse into my stories that, here, grew its roots

The house is gone but the banyan is intact

The flats have altered the place, no question that

Like a torrent, flashing images come to fore

Unleashing nostalgia bottled in mind’s store

Kindred spirits found there, kids shoot off to play,

Reminiscent of my childhood, without any delay

A bystander, I watch them score

Under the same banyan tree, as we did before

Transfixed I am, rooted to the spot

The other children look familiar, but I place them not,

Soon it strikes me, it’s a cousin’s face I see

And turn around, look at him walking towards me,

Recognising, reacting with that familial camaraderie

There is no talk, just a tight wordless hug,

That says a lot more than million words said,

To pry open the lid, sealed tight with years

Of conflict, clashes and many a tear

Now loosened, chastened

That bitter wall, comes crashing apart


And we become those kids again, pure at heart.


Closed Casket - Sophie Hannah

photo courtesy: amazon.co.uk
Hannah brings Poirot back to life.

I love Agatha Christie's work and Suchet's Poirot has been my companion on many a lonely cold evening. Therefore you can imagine a heightened sense of excitement on hearing that Hannah was writing a series based on the favourite detective .

I have read Hannah before and enjoyed some of her books. She has a different style that needs getting used to but once you do, it is a great reading experience.

I loved her Kind of Cruel my latest read of all her books was eager to find out how she handled a detective who has been immortalised into the minds of whodunnit fans.

Gist:

It is a classic Christie style set up. A large house where a murder is committed and there is a list of suspects to choose from. A famous writer calls on Poirot because she suspects threat to her life after she declares changes to her will. Poirot comes down with his friend Catchpool (instead of trusted Hastings) and is right in the middle of action as events unfold.

What works:
  • The essence of Poirot is the same. His Mon ami and nest ce pas interjecting his English sentences are a delight to behold.
  • The list of suspects is varied and the motives outlined offer it a great layer.
  • As usual Hannah draws up complex personalities while retaining Christie like characters like the cook and other usual suspects.
What doesn't:
  • Hannah's style is a complex yet intriguing one. The only trouble is that it needs some getting used to. It expects a lot from the reader but it pays to stick with it. So there are bits and parts can get a bit dragging in places. 
Overall a great read. I love Poirot and was so happy to see him resurrected through Hannah's attempt. I will be looking for the other books featuring the detective.



Monday, 11 December 2017

How Hard Can it Be? - Allison Pearson

photo courtesy: goodreads.com
Sequel that picks up from a different age, a different time.

I enjoyed Pearson's prequel to this one - the memorable mince pies scene immediately comes to mind when I think of Kate Reddy and her antics in I Don't Know How She Does It.

Therefore when this one came to me from Mumsnet in return for an honest review, I was curious to find out how Kate was getting on years later. 

Author Pearson is a well known journalist who shot to fame with her I Don't Know How She Does It. In fact I recall one of the BBC journalists, a new mother, who went on to say that she was given the book as a gift for its accurate portrayal of the life of a working mother.  Clearly, Pearson had stuck a chord somewhere.

Gist:

Fast forward to a few years later and Reddy is now approaching her fiftieth and preparing to get back to work. She is bitter and unhappy - not only because she is older but also the circumstances she finds herself in.

She needs get into work mode for financial reasons but then she realises that her age is a major factor. It doesn't help that her big five O is also coming up. We accompany Reddy on a roller coaster ride as she battles out with narcisstic teenagers, dependent parents and a personal turmoil.

What works:
  • Humour. Pearson has a great way of nailing emotions and naming them. It is the humour that brings Kate Reddy to life.
  • As with the other book there some memorable scenes that  stick with you. My favourite was the heel drilling one where one of her male colleagues tries to make a pass at her.
  • And then as the other book heads towards a tidy conclusion, it has that feel good factor to it. 
  • Abelhammer is back and the banter and chemistry between them is as electrocuting as ever.
What doesn't:
  • The first few pages that describe Kate's bitterness is what I found it hard to read. At one point, she actually scared me of becoming 50 myself!  I thought that was a bit extreme - the sandwich generation where there is disaster everywhere and no sense of hope....hmm...I struggled to continue with the during that bit.
  • The ending was predictable and it was easy to see that how the events were directed towards that objective. 

Overall, it is a typical feel good, candy floss type story. I can understand that there are takers for this genre. A setting of chaos, and then a sense of calm and as everything finds resolution. Maybe I am one of those greedy readers who demand more depth and meaning to a story. For me, the book worked in places, the humour being the highlight - the only thing that kept me going.

Perhaps you may find something more.