Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review - Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn

Date of Publication: 28 May 2012

Genre: Suspense, Noir, Psychological Thriller

Legacy: This book has been on several bestsellers lists for quite some time now. It is the author's third book.

Age Group: 18 years or older

So, there's this "perfect" couple, married for five years. Sometime during these five years, the perfectness has begun diminishing, so much that at the end of five years, both, the husband and the wife, think they don't love each other any more. In fact, the husband finds the wife gone from their home, on their fifth anniversary! Typical American marriage story, you say?

Naah - this one is much more complex than that. As it turns out, the wife's not gone, she's missing. With a lot of evidence left behind that may send her husband to jail, and possibly, to his death!

The husband, of course, claims differently and the story keeps intermittently turning the hunter into the hunted, and back.

Written in form of chapters and diary entries that present both the husband and the wife's versions of stories, this novel keeps you captivated mainly through its shocking twists and turns. The nice part is that the author keeps these 'shocking' twists very much believable, just as she keeps the couple's changing emotions quite realistic. It is quite interesting to see how the bright and beautiful equations turn to bland and boring, and then into dark, mysterious and even scary.

The first half of the novel is slightly slow, when the characters and their plights are being introduced. There are some things so elaborately described, that you start thinking they are going to play a big role in the story - but alas - the simply vanish in the second half. However, I didn't mind that much, because the story really picks up by then; so much that I didn't want to put the novel down.
The ending of the novel makes you sigh - it perfectly fits into the theme of the book, and, yeah it makes you sigh...

The novel is definitely worth a read if you like dark, psychological stuff. Even if you don't, give it a try - may be you will take a liking - this book is good!

Rating: 3.5 on 5

Positives: Superb concept, well-researched, unbelievable yet very believable

Negatives: Slow narrative in the beginning

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book Review - The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Date of Publication: 10 February 2009

Legacy: This is the author's first book. The book has been since adapted to a movie, which won several Oscar nominations and awards.

To be frank, I only heard about this book when the movie on which it was based, was nominated for several Academy awards. And although I openly admit that few Oscar-winning movies appeal to me, I was intrigued by the subject of the movie, and hence, the book - In spite of all the difficulties she faces in a narrow-minded town of Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, a white girl interviews a dozen different black maids, and publishes their sometimes sweet, mostly bitter stories in a book that turns out to be a surprising success. (P.S. Etiquette urges me to use the phrase 'African-American' instead of 'black', however, the former phrase will make no justice to the story of the book.)

Anyways, as I laid my hands on this book, I was soon drawn into the world of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, an unconventional white girl who is well ahead of her times and her peers. The only girl in her group of friends to finish college, she is more interested in achieving her dream of becoming a writer, than getting married like all her other friends. True, she feels lonely when her girlfriends proudly show off their husbands and children at parties; she feels ecstatic when she breaks her jinx of not having suitors and goes on her first date ever; but what she feels most, is awkwardness - about how her friends and folks and relatives treat their colored nannies and servants, in spite of how much they rely on them. This awkwardness, coupled by a burning desire to write something that will get her a job at a prestigious New York publishing house, pushes Skeeter to take the biggest risk of her life.
I was further engulfed in the world of Abilyn, Minny, and Constantine, the three helps around whose lives the book mainly revolves. The author has painstakingly described their trials and tribulations, their fight for something so basic, that one would scarcely think of it as possible conflict material, and their difficult journey of revealing the worst while continuing their respectful behavior towards their unreasonable masters and mistresses - all of this sans the melodrama! Yes, no preaching, no tear-jerking descriptions, hardly any philosophy - the simplicity of narrative is the best thing about the book.

On the flip side, the book could have used a little more editing: it does tend to drag just the slightest bit. Also, the ending is mostly too easy; however, I guess that enunciates the simple charm of the book - had it been a little more difficult or twisted, it would have seemed contrived and dramatic.

I would definitely recommend this book, not only for its literary value, but also for its emotional quotient.

Rating: 4 on 5

Positives: Simple, yet interesting concept, great story line, strong but believable characters

Negatives: Slightly slow narrative

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review - The Sins of the Father

Author: Jeffrey Archer

Date of Publication: 8 May, 2012

Legacy: Second book of the Clifton Chronicles series

Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Jeffrey Archer. I almost swear by Kane and Abel. I love his short stories. I really loved the first book of the Clifton Chronicles - Only Time Will Tell.

Which is why, I was so excited to read The Sins of the Father. Placed a hold at the local library, for a large-print copy, mind you, as there was a shorter waiting list there. :P Got the book, read it in a single night - 6 hours flat! So yes, the book is quite fast-paced and well-narrated, and has a very interesting plot. 

Does that mean I liked the book though? Well, sadly, the answer is no. There are too many twists and turns in the book, too much information, and yet, the book hardly tells us anything that we did not know from the first book.

The book begins from where Only Time Will Tell left off - Harry being taken to jail because he chose the wrong name to impersonate. It then follows Harry's journey of fortunes and misfortunes: his courtroom woes, his life in prison (the description of which, by the way, is strikingly similar to Archer's own account of prison, in the book Prison Diary), his alleged father's wickedness, his mother's suitors, his girlfriend's determination to find him and her 'almost' success, his friend's fall and subsequent rise in respect and luck, his stint with the army against Hitler, and so on. After long, interesting, yet somehow contrived accounts of all these, the book comes close to its ending. So far, so good. But the last few pages of the book try to solve an issue in Harry's life that is so dull and unimportant compared to his rather eventful life, that I almost felt like closing the book right then. And of course, the book ended in a cliff-hanger, just like the previous one. Unfortunately, this time, the cliff was just a small heap, and whether Harry fell off or hung on - I was simply not interested to know!

Rating: 2.5 on 5

Positives: A very gripping style of narration, interesting plot

Negatives: Weak development of plot, too many twists and turns, uninteresting end

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Organize your reading with GoodReads

For quite a few years, I have been taking quite some pride in my bookshelves... I have maintained them in 3 of my rented houses and 2 of my husband's houses (Important note: To leave no room for ambiguity - same husband, two houses. :P Also, those interested in grammar must have noticed that the apostrophe is before 's' and not after it :P :P). I love periodically taking stock of my collection of books, sorting them, and arranging them on the shelves. My husband sometimes laughs at me when I change the arrangements depending on alphabetical order, or size, or genre, and so on.

I am quite happy doing this in the physical world; however, not all the books I read are physically on my bookshelves. I use the library a lot - because for one, I love the whole system, and two - we have to admit, buying all our own copies does cost us an arm and a leg. So it is hard for me to keep track of all the books that I read. I could have designed my own inventory I suppose, but procrastination did not encourage me to do it. (!) I tried a few online options such as Google Books, Altido, and a couple of other obscure websites whose names I don't even recollect, but nothing really caught my fancy. That is, until I came across on my Facebook News Feed.

Goodreads is basically a social cataloging site, where you can list the books you have read and add the reading dates, your ratings, and your reviews, among other things. You can create bookshelves in which you can arrange your books however you want (yeah, according to genre, or alphabetically or by any other parameter you can think of - cool na!). They also have quizzes on books - for those who are bookworms, like me, will find this feature very alluring! :)

You can also check out what your friends have been reading, and their ratings and reviews. It's a great way to know about your friends' literary lives, in addition to their social lives that we sometimes get bored of reading about, on Facebook and the likes! :)

Bottom line: If you are a book lover, do visit You'll enjoy the time you spend there, and will get much more organized, too! :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My dream library!

I have always cherished this dream of owning a nice big library, and I hope that one day, this dream will indeed come true. :-)
I know there are lots of feasibility issues, most of them concerning budget and financing, but hey! Dreams do not depend on any of these, right?

So here is how I imagine my library should be:

The decor will be classic and old-school - Well-lit aisles, shelves and shelves of various types of books, classic wooden decor, cosy seating arrangement, and so on.

There will be kids' books and adults' books, in print and in audio. There will be no DVDs or video games of any kind - my library will be an old-fashioned one. However, there will be a lot of activities; but they will all be related to books.

The kids' section will contain comics, graphic novels, spelling books, poetry books, picture books and story books in different languages. There will also be several books about history, and cultures, and important people - but they will be very colorful, with lots of pictures.

The Adults' section will consist of the Fiction and Non-fiction parts, in the ratio 4:1 I guess. :D (I have always believed that novels have taught me a lot more than self-help books have).

Non-fiction will mostly contain magazines, Dummies series, Idiot's Guides, and so on.
The fiction part will boast of exclusive and entire collections of my favorite authors. I may not be able to showcase thousands of authors, but the ones that I will, I will like all of their books in my collection. Also, the books will mostly be paper-backs, and not hard-bound, 'cause I have always preferred a book that I can carry around anywhere with me, and hold with ease. Sorry hard-bound book lovers!
The collection will be a balanced mix of classics and contemporary novels. And how can I forget the short stories! My library will surely boast of a wonderful collection of short stories from all around the world, written by different authors - small and big, and addressing a variety of genres, topics, and target age groups.

Now for the activities:
Ideally, I would LOVE to have book readings from celebrated writers; however, considering the budget is tight just for the library to exist, the 'celebrated writers' bit is too far-fetched. Nevertheless, there will be book reading by common earthlings who are very good at reading out books, and this will be a regular event at the library.
There will be contests and games for children and adults; and several other activities too! 

I also plan to start a mobile library service for schools in the area, where we will loan some books, create awareness about books, and conduct competitions.

The whole idea is actually to provide opportunities to as many people as I can, to enjoy, relish and cherish books, as I always did; 'cause when they say that books are our best friends, they aren’t lying! That way, doesn't a library become our best friends' home? :)

Do let me know your thoughts about this library, and how I can make the library better. :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Amruta's Top 15 Novels

What makes me like a novel? When a friend asked me this question, I thought it had a very easy answer. After all, I had read hundreds of novels and knew very well which my favorite ones were. But as I opened my mouth to answer, I realized that there was no particular genre, style, or author that could make a like a novel. Every novel that I liked, I liked on its own merit.

So here is a list of my most favorite novels (in no particular order):

Kane and Abel is a story of two individuals from totally different backgrounds but complexly intertwined destinies. While I found the story to be very interesting, the narrative was even more captivating. Jeffrey Archer actually makes the story come alive in front of your eyes, which makes the book impossible to put down, until you finish reading it. And this happened to me every time I read it!

The Partner was the first book of John Grisham that I read, on recommendation by a friend. It is a typical Grisham courtroom drama, fast-paced and gripping; but the climax was what bowled me  over - stunning and completely unexpected! For a second reading, although the surprise element is no longer there, the tale and the style of writing definitely keep you engrossed.

The Fountainhead is a very curious type of a book. I could not read it in one go; it was too slow, too heavy and too hard to understand. It took a considerable amount of patience and chewing to absorb it. However, once I did finish reading it, I was amazed at its sheer brilliance. This story of Howard Roark, a splendid architect with no degree, is inspiring, and awe-inspiring, to say the least. And yes, the character of Dominique Francon is one of the strongest female characters I have encountered in all the books I have read.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an all-time favorite book for me. Every time I read it, I choke. First of all, the idea of telling a story about an adult racial conflict through the eyes of children is brilliant, because children are the ones that are most affected by anything that happens, because their minds can still  be molded. The book shows us exactly how, when in Alabama, in the decade before World War 2, the children of a white lawyer undergo lots of trials and tribulations when their father defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

Harry Potter, well, some readers will scoff at my choice; but believe me, the kind of imagination and the amount of detailing that J K Rowling has used in this saga of 'The Boy Who Lived', can match up to the standard of any classic adult best-seller. These are huge books, but each one of them is entirely "un-put-down-able", if that were a word.

A Love Story of how two totally different people quarrel, fall in love, lead a life of hardship, and battle the death of one of them - some of you may ask what's so different about it? Haven't we heard such stories several times? Except that this story was written in 1970, and may well have been the inspiration of all the stories we have heard 'several times'. This short novel is extremely well written, and also explores the fragile relationship between a father and a son, while it takes you on a journey of funny quarrels and heart-stirring tragedy.

Kite Runner is another hard-hitting book, which portrays the life of two boys in Afghanistan - one being a kite flyer and the other, the kite runner. Using the analogy of the relationship between these two, the author Khaled Hosseini tries to explore the class difference in Afghanistan, the social conditions, and above all, the innocence of impressionable young minds.

Gone With the Wind is considered as one of the best love stories ever written, and rightly so. Especially because it has everything that a love story should not have - Strong egos, arrogance, jealousy, struggle for power, bribery, lust, wicked ways... In fact, the two protagonists never even really feel or declare their love for one another, and yet, we realize that they are so much in love - even when they are mostly trying their best to harm each other.

Papillon is THE most inspiring book I have ever read, and I have no qualms about not using 'one of the' instead of 'the'. It is about a man convicted for a crime he did not commit, how he refuses to rot in jail, and how he tries everything imaginable to get out. This notion of believing in something and trying everything possible and impossible to get what you want is so inspiring - not to mention the way the possible and impossible methods are described in this book!

The Devil and Miss Prym is a classic Paulo Coelho charade of good versus evil. It explores the emotions of a young village woman as evil looms on the borders of her village, alluring them all to give in - and in return get a handsome reward, the possibility of impossible dreams coming true, and eternal happiness in lieu of a tiny gruesome act. The best part about this book is that it almost never preaches or contains any philosophical passages, and yet effectively explores the philosophy and practicality of the notion of good versus evil.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven tells the story of a man who dies, and then in heaven meets five people whose lives he changed, or who changed his life. Every encounter taught him something about his own life. I loved this book because of its sheer idea of how things may never be what they seem to be, and that all of us make an impact on several things without our knowledge.

Veronica Decides to Die is a story about a young, beautiful girl, who begins to think that her life is so normal that it is hardly worth living at all. Engulfed by these thoughts she attempts suicide, only to wake up a long time later and find out that the medication she took has left her with only a few days to live. During those few days, she meets new people, discovers new thing about herself, and ironically, begins to want to live. Although the ending of this book was quite predictable, the way it is written makes it a joy to read. It is quite insightful too.

Acts of Faith is a very serious book - very engrossing, very interesting, and very hard-hitting - not to mention slightly blasphemous. So, people with strong religious sensibilities should not bother reading it. For those like me who don't believe in religion but are fascinated by the working of different religions and related history, will find this book a treat. The book is basically about the children of two leaders of different religions, and how their rigid upbringing affects their lives.

Pride and Prejudice truly lives up to its 'classic' status. It explores a timelessly classic topic, a mother's quest towards getting her daughters married to eligible suitors. Although the book was written in the early nineteenth century, it correctly addresses the dilemma faced by most young women even of the twenty-first century. Jane Austen's eye towards detail, witty sarcasm, and social awareness is what I really like about this novel.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is again a very curious book. Its central theme is a mentally challenged boy trying to solve the mystery of who killed his dog, and while at it, how the boy learns several truths about life. I loved the way this boy's thinking process is used and illustrated in the book. And yes, I can read it again and again, and enjoy it nevertheless.

So that was about my favorite 15 novels! Yes I do like several others, but this is just a list of 15 that I think one should not miss reading.
Have you read any of these books? Have you liked any of them? Do let me know.
I would also love to see your list of favorite novels. Care to share?