Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review | Dear Mr. Henshaw

I was sitting in court yesterday, and knew I was in for a long wait, so I decided to buy a book on the Kindle app. You know, as one does.

I went through my entire “to be read” list on Goodreads to pick a book that was reasonably priced and that I didn’t already own in physical form. Finally, I decided upon Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, which is a children’s book. I, of course, adore children’s books..

I heard about this book in the movie, Stuck in Love, which is one of my all-time favourite movies. (My friend Tanvi is smirking proudly somewhere and saying “See? I give good movie recommendations!” Yes, you do, Thud. That’s one of the many reasons I love you.) That movie is full of aspiring authors and authors, and I figured, if they like this book, it must have done something right.

I was right.

This book hit a lot of the right buttons for me. It’s about a thoughtful little boy called Leigh Botts who wants to be an author. He writes letters to his favourite author, Mr. Henshaw, who writes back hilariously. His favourite book by the author is called Ways to Amuse a Dog. He writes 4 or 5 letters to Mr. Henshaw over a few years about the book and talks about doing various book reports and other projects for school on that book. And then this happens:

Dear Mr. Henshaw,

I got your letter and did what you said. I read a different book by you. I read Moose on Toast.

When I read that line, I almost exploded with laughter in court. I had to pause and breathe deeply to compose myself.

Mr. Henshaw encourages Leigh to write a diary, which he does, “because his mom still won’t get the TV repaired.” He starts off his journal entries by writing “Dear Mr. Pretend Henshaw” which made my heart explode with love.

The entire book is either in the form of letters or journal entries, which is, as everyone knows, my favourite style of book. I found out recently that such books are called epistolary books. So yes. I love epistolary novels and chapter books.

This book had a great librarian in it, and it made me think of how librarians were my superheroes when I was a child. I remember going to my school librarian and saying “Ma’am, my exams are over. Please give me a fat book to read.”. I need to buy fewer books and go to the library more again. I need to donate some of my books to a library.  This book made me realise that librarians are superheroes, not just for me, but for book-loving children everywhere.

I adored how real this story was. It talks about the struggles of divorce, poverty, lost love and the deep, great injustice of struggling to survive as a child in an adults’ world. It talks about being invisible and lonely. And it talks about these things from the perspective of a quiet, clever and funny child.

Oh, and Leigh Botts loves dogs. There is a dog called Bandit in this book. That’s always a good thing. Dogs really tie a book together.
I thought that the ending was a bit abrupt and that the ends tied together a bit too tidily, which is why this book wasn’t a perfect five stars for me. But I did adore it.

Guys, you know you’re growing old when you read a good children’s book and you can’t wait to read it to your future children. But yeah. This is one of the books that I can’t wait to read to my children. It really affirmed my belief that children’s books that have to be, well, childish. I would recommend this book to everyone of all ages.

Have you read this book? Did you like it? What are some of your favourite children’s books? What are some of your favourite books from your childhood? Have you read any other books by Beverly Cleary? What did you think? Let me know in the comments! 

Hoot.

Sin

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Book Review– The House that BJ Built

THIS IS NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW

As you guys may have deduced from my pointed silence, I am suffering from abject writer’s block. It may be time for that to end now, however. As you know, there no better inspiration that irritation and I’ve read a book today that’s irritated me for many reasons. 

The book is The House that BJ Built by Anuja Chauhan. 

First, a bit of background: After downloading the Kindle app on my phone, I’ve taken to randomly buying inexpensive (and sometimes slightly expensive) books that catch my fancy when I’m bored on my commutes. These are books that are usually easy to read page-turners.Potboilers, so to speak. (Although I did read The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood recently, which is a dystopic novel. I liked it at the time, although, on second thought, some of it irritated me as well. But that’s a topic for another day) The reason I do this despite having a long suffering, neglected and marvellously well-written Wolf Hall in my bag is that it’s usually 8pm by the time I leave office, by which time it’s too dark to read a regular book. 

A friend of mine told me Anuja Chauhan’s books are quite fun, so I decided to go for it. Needless to say, I may never talk to her again. (Kidding. Mostly)

Anyway, back to The House that BJ Built: 

This book started decently enough. I went into it expecting a light-hearted romantic comedy, nothing too heavy and it seemed to deliver. As I read on, though, it mostly only irritated me. 

I’ve decided to make bullet points on the most facepalm moments in the book.

SPOILER ALERT

  • The author uses the word “pugnacious” too often
  • The book treats issues of domestic violence too lightly and seriously trivialises it. What else do you expect from lower-class Muslims, right? Completely normal. And fixable by a vasectomy without the consent of the abusive husband
  • The male protagonist thinks it’s ok to kiss one woman while in a relationship with another so long as you don’t have sex with the woman you’re in a relationship with after having kissed the new woman.
  • The female protagonist not only agrees with the above, but also is touched that he didn’t have sex after having kissed her
  • Why the fuck are step-cousins romancing each other?! I get that y’all aren’t related by blood, but eesh. 
  • The Thakur girls repeatedly mock their sister for shaving her head and not having her upper lip waxed. Sure, she turns out to be “evil” at the end of the book but maybe she wouldn’t have hated your guts if you hadn’t mocked her appearance or her bodily autonomy. Just a thought.
  • Why the fuck are north-easterners referred to as chinks and other derogatory terms so often?! Is it supposed to be a wry social commentary or something, because it doesn’t seem that way at all. 
  • There’s a money hungry Muslim who’s supposedly standing up for the rights of two north-easterners (who are actually from Bhutan!) and it so happens that he was actually being an opportunistic asshole. Therefore, as the characters conclude, these Muslims are all like this only. Extreme facepalm
  • The representation of the judicial system made me want to weep. They discovered that a will was fake and they didn’t even have to tell the judge. The case, along with the interim order not to alienate, authomatically ceased to exist and they could sell the property. 
  • SELLING IMMOVABLE PROPERTY IS NOT THAT SIMPLE
  • Trademark infringement is fine so long as you have big eyes, curly black hair, and a big butt and big boobs while infringing the trademarks. 
  • The female protagonist is referred to as “brat” and does not mind it despite being a 26 year old entrepreneur. Other characters are also referred to as “brat”, mostly girls and women of various ages. They all accept it as a matter of course.
  • When a character calls out the male protagonist for making a sexist item song, he says that he has 4 aunts who would ostracize him if he made a sexist song and therefore it isn’t sexist.
  • The mother of a seemingly talented female actor yells at her daughter for not stealing the male protagonist from his girlfriend in the way that the female protagonist was able to. 
  • Everyone and his neighbour is concerned that the youngest Thakur girl is unmarried even though she seems successful and fulfilled
  • One of the characters talks about “the cheerleader effect”, which is from the sitcom How I Met your Mother, without any attribution whatsoever. But eh. We already know how the author feels about intellectual property. 
  • The only likable character, BJ, the grandfather, dies early on in the book. 
  • Seriously, what kind of name is BJ? You know about “cheerleader effect” but you don’t know what BJ is??!

    So… That was a painful book to read. I wouldn’t recommend it. But at least it made me blog again. So yay… I think. 

    If you’ve read this book, tell me what you thought of it? Feel free to tell me if you disagree. Have you read other books by the same author? How did you like them? Let me know in the comments

    Hoot.

    –Sin

    Book Review –Cobalt Blue

    This is a review of the book Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar. Honestly, I chose to read it because it’s been translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto. I loved his book Em and the Big Hoom. I knew nothing more about the book or the author and I like it that way. It helps me to keep an open mind while reviewing the book.

    I’m swept away by this book after having read it over the course of a long day at court. It’s layered and well-written and transcends all genre. The fact that the author of this marvellous piece was 20 when he started the book and 22 when he finished it, makes me want to stand up on a chair and applaud and simultaneously to weep with jealousy.

    Simply put, it’s the story of a brother and sister in love with the same man. The book is divided into two parts, each written in first person by one of the siblings. It’s a love story, yes, a love triangle if you will;  but mostly it’s a portrait. It’s a portrait of lower middle class life in Maharashtra, it’s a portrait of a generation clever enough to rubbish antiquated tradition but not strong enough to break away from regressive familial bonds. It’s a portrait about how mundane love can be, and yet so overwhelming, how it can make one forget the world around us. It’s a portrait of a society where mosr types of romantic love are forced to stay hidden, of a society where homogeneity and acceptance are the biggest aspirations.

    It’s a small book, which only brushes the surface of each of the above aspects, but it’s nuanced enough that it does not remain a photograph. The work that was put into the resulting simplicity is apparent.

    I love both the main characters, Tanay and Anuja. However, the seem to be caricatures or uni-dimensional stereotypes, rather than fleshed out persons.

    I liked that Tanay’s part was in the form of a letter addressed to the man he loves, who remains unnamed. I like the digressions and the non-linear style of narration, and the way he circles back to thoughrs after having fleshed them out with background. I loved that Anuja kept a journal. She says that life felt like a hairball and keeping a journal helped to smooth things out. I completely agree. As everyone knows,

    I quite enjoyed the fact that she’s so clueless about her brother’s feelings for her own lover because it serves to demonstrate the invisibility of minority sexualities. It’s simply inconceivable, even to the most loving and well-meaning people.

    I felt that every line in this book was loaded with purpose and meaning. For instance, Tanay observed his parents’ relationship and craved a permanent relationship to “grow into” while Anuja only wondered why her mother does nothing for herself and has no space of her own.

    On Goodreads, I read that the author felt that Anuja and Tanay are just masculine and feminine sides of the same person and not two separate persons at all. That confused me because I didn’t get that feeling at all, even though my reading was coloured by that quote that I read. I kept looking for signs of that being the case, and I just didn’t find any. All I saw are two siblings who were close and compatible to each other, and “different” in a family that greatly valued homogeneity. One sibling recovered and started to go down the path of redemption while the other seemed to get lost in an ocean of sorrow.

    More than anything else, I saw this book as a portrait of a certain type of life in a certain type of family.  I also felt that the purpose of the third sibling, Aseem, the golden boy, is introduced only to juxtapose the reception of a conforming child with two other children who could not and would not conform to the values of the Joshi family.

    I want to end this review with my favourite quote from the book, from Anuja’s journal:

    Our house was big enough for middle-class dreams, but not for privacy.

    Has anyone read this book? What did you think of it? Do you agree with my take on it? Do you agree with the author? Do you think this is a “gay novel”? Let me know in the comments?

    Book Review — Pangea

    Woah. two posts in one day! Yes. I finished that book on the flight as expected. Two and a half hours without internet worked its magic.

    I am raging mad. I can’t believe I’ve brought this upon myself. The book,  Pangea? It’s a series. I think. It’s ended on a cliffhanger. I am too old for cliffhangers! It should say on the cover of books that they are going to be a part of a series. This is blatant misrepresentation! Ok. Rant over. Review to commence below. 

    Firsrly, this is definitely an author to watch, I think. The concept of the book and of a post nuclear Pangea is solid. I like that the main character is South Asian, after a fashion. I like her invocation of current social issues throughout the book. 

    However, there are things i didn’t like; the book was exceedingly clichéd and cheesy in parts. I didn’t like the narrative pattern one bit. The author tries to move between the past and the present in rhe form of memories being recollected but I was bemused that for every incident in the protagonist’s life, she recollects one memory which is immediately relevant to the next incident in her life. Just what.I didn’t like the entangled love story. I maintain that a love story has no place in a post-war adventure novel but they always worn their way in. They at least owe it to us to be interesting if they must be present. 

    All in all though, the book made me smile and worry for the characters which gives it points in my head. I’d give it a solid there and a half stars,whixh I’ll round off to 4 on Goodreads since it’s the book’s first rating.

    So… That’s that. If anyone wants a spoilery review, let me know because I have a hell of a lot more to say.

    Hoot.

    Sin

    Things Fall Apart | Book Review

    This is a book review of the Book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

    The language is strikingly simple and engaging. It sucks you into the story immediately. This is the kind of writing that I take to and enjoy the most. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to. Always, always write like Hemingway. Or as I shall now say, always always write like Achebe. Big emotions don’t need big words.

    It’s the first book of a trilogy and I am aching to read the next two books. (The only thing stopping me from buying them immediately is the staggering number of books I’ve already bought and not read yet.) Yet, it works perfectly well as a standalone, which I really appreciate because of my exasperation with authors using cliffhangers to get readers to read the next book. And using them poorly, to boot. A cliffhanger can’t just be stopping a story mid-scene. It’s a cheap gimmick in a consumerist era. It’s so much more delightful and authorly to cause your readers to care deeply for your characters so rhat they want to know what happens to them. The impending fate of someone you care for is cliffhanger enough, in my opinion.

    Chinua Achebe made me pity, love and root for his characters, even the misogynistic, patriarchal, violent protagonist, Okonkwo, which is an achievement in itself. Harper Lee said that to understand a person, you have to step into their and walk around in it. Achebe forced me to step into Okonkwo’s skin and sprint a few miles in it, until I ached with his hopes, dreamed his dreams, and felt his helpless anger. Who hasn’t felt futile rage of helplessness against people in power against whom we have no recourse? Whose eyes haven’t stung with rage at  the grave injustices we suffer at the hands of the privileged people? Okonkwo makes you relive each of those moments.

    Lastly, I want to talk to you guys about a question that’s relevant to me as a book reviewer. Right after I read this book, I read the Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. Things Fall Apart is referred to in that one. One of the characters states that the book is about the lack of unity being the downfall of the tribe which really struck me because I simply didn’t get that message from this book at all because I thought the book is about culture imperialism and the pain of becoming obsolete regardless of if you’re united. Now I can’t stop thinking of the magic of layered and nuanced books.What do they teach their readers really? Do readers see books in their own image? Whose opinion is even relevant? Is everything in literature subjective? What do you guys think?

    Have you read this book, or any other book by Achebe? What did you think? Are there any other African authors I should read? Let me know in the comments!

    Hoot.

    -Sin

    Ghachar Ghochar | Book Review

    This is a review of the book Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag.

    This is a book originally written in Kannada, translated to English by Srinath Perur. I bought it on the recommendation of the owner of  Bookworm, which is one of my favourite stores in Bangalore. I hadn’t heard of the book or the author before. After buying it, though, I’ve started to notice this book everywhere. It seems to be gaining popularity by the day, and deservedly so.

    I want to begin by saying how embarrassing and shameful it is that I read the English translation over the original text in my native tongue. The truth is, though, that I am a product of colonialism and schools that preach English hegemony like the pope preaches the Bible (I went to “good”schools, in other words.) and I am far more comfortable with English then any Indian language. My Hindi teacher told us that the key to learning a language is to think in that language and I’ve been thinking in English for as long as I can remember. I can read Kannada though, albeit far more slowly, so I am going to try and read the original text of the book at some point. Additionally, I want to read more books in Kannada. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

    Now to the book: The back of he book likens Shanbhag to Chekhov. I must confess that I’ve never read Chekhov, but if his books are anything like Ghachar Ghochar, I want to read him post haste.

    The book is set in Bangalore, and I am partial to books set in Bangalore, which is my hometown. It is in the first person. The narrative is non-linear, which seems to be rather common these days in all literary fiction, but which continues to be one of my favourite literary styles. It is the story of the narrator’s family.

    The story starts off at a café where the narrator sits, obviously in mental turmoil. His thoughts are meandering, and naturally drift in the direction of his family. He reminisces about his childhood and his family’s sudden rise to affluence. He reminisces about his past relationship and the state of his marriage. And as he remembers and thinks, a story emerges, mundane and yet, disturbing.

    This book is definitely worth a read. It captures your imagination and makes you smile and worry and fret. It makes you care for the protagonist and his family. All this is in spite of the limitations of a translated version of any book. I really want to read the original.

    Tell me what you thought of this book if you’ve read it. Also, suggest other good books written in Kannada.  What do you think of translated books in general?

    Let me know in the comments!

    That’s all for now, guys!

    Hoot

    –Sin

     

    The Bone Clocks| Book Review

    This is my review of the book The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

    I don’t know what it is about books that have the word”Bone”in them. I always feel attracted to them. I don’t always enjoy them, but I always feel like reading them. Huh. Well, you’re welcome for the random insight into the twisted mind of the Sindhu. Now to the review:

    This is my second David Mitchell book after Cloud Atlas, and I loved both even though they’re completely different books except that they both mess with your head. In a good way, of course. What even is the point of reading a book that doesn’t mess with your head at least a little? Am I right?

    This book is a combination of all things good, in my opinion. It has all my favourite genres. Fantasy, bordering on science fiction; dystopic, futurisic elements; a family saga spanning generations; in one beautifully written, sophisticated brick. I read a major chunk of it over one delightfully undisturbed weekend. I adored this weekend, but it also broke my heart a little because it wasn’t that long ago that this is how I spent nearly all my weekends. Growing up is hard and painful. I’m grateful for books like this that let me in and give me a metaphorical window seat in a cottage in a meadow to have for as long as the book has pages.

    The book starts with Holly Sykes, a fifteen-year old, who decides to run away from home because her mum doesn’t like her boyfriend. Simple enough, but then …it goes batshit crazy. Her running away changes the course of events completely for her whole family. My reaction through most of this book was, “What in the name of god is going on?” But when the plot finally resolved itself, oh, it was so completely delightful, I could have wept. I don’t want to give away much more of the story, though, because everything is a spoiler.

    Some David Mitchell specialities that I’ve noticed in both of his books are: jumping through time in his narrative, skipping years, going into the past and the future with ease; changing perspectives from character to character flawlessly; and combining fantasy with social commentary so that you forget you’re reading fantasy until it whacks you in the face. Both of his books have fantastical elements but it’s more pronounced in the Bone Clocks.

    I also really enjoyed the character development in this book. I am always enchanted by characters whom I root for despite their (sometimes) despicable flaws. I am convinced that I can never create a likable, relatable character, and that it takes skill that I simply don’t possess.

    (I don’t know that you can take my word for the likability of a character, though, to be honest. I remember when I studied Julius Caesar in high school, and my professor told me that Shakespearan characters in his tragedies always had a ‘fatal flaw’ for which they needed to be punished, regardless of how virtuous they otherwise were. The way I view people and the world is somewhat different. I like most people when I first meet them. I do realise that there are bad things about them but nearly everyone I meet has that one redeeming, human quality that makes me want to hug them. Something that makes me go “aww”. People are…cute. They’re all grey and imperfect and worthy of love. I realise that this is naïve, and believe me when I say that liking people doesn’t lead me to trust them or count on them, so I’ll probably not get screwed over. So, worry not. The fact remains though, that it only takes one vulnerability to make me love a person.)

    Yes. The princess of digression is back!

    But, back to the Bone Clocks. Would I recommend it to other people? Hell yes. I feel like there’s something in here for everyone. And it’s a promisingly fat book, which is a huge plus. Give it a try, guys! Five stars from me.

    That’s all for today!

    Hoot.

    Sin

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