May 16 Reads

May just creeped up on me one fine Sunday…just when I was hoping to finish Alice McDermott’s tedious novel At Weddings and Wakes. I understand that one shouldn’t be too critical of an author but I’ll skip this step since one isn’t writing an essay thankfully.

may reads

At Weddings and Wakes is a slow paced novel that details every step of Lucy Towne’s 3 children, their observations of their mother’s interaction with her 3 Irish aunts – May, a former nun who always takes the children on walks and buys them presents; Agnes, the sophisticated and aloof aunt; Veronica, the youngest of the Towne sisters and an alcoholic. Added to this motley group is Momma, the formidable yet silent matriarch and the children’s father who often appears at the end of the visit only to pick up his wife and children. The children for their part, though bored with these often repetitive proceedings, were forced to go through the movements by their parents.

The story was so heavily inundated with whispered conversations as observed through the eyes of the 3 children. The source for the anxiety and unhappiness Lucy displayed, or for that matter, the source of the Towne women’s troubles remains a mystery as children are not supposed to understand. The characters are all given their own backdrop but it seems that they found solace in the repetitive nature of their actions . The only outsider who was let in on this heavy tableau was Lucy’s husband, portrayed as a cheerful fellow who patiently visits his in-laws and tries his best at playing a happy family.

To get over At Weddings and Wakes, I picked up Rick Riordan’s The Demigod Diaries. Written as a companion book to the Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus series, the diary features an adventure each from Luke Castellan, Percy Jackson,  Jason Grace and Alabaster in their own narration. The first story serves as the premise for Luke and Thalia’s friendship with Annabeth, the second story narrates Percy and Annabeth’s quest for Hermes on their one month dating anniversary and the rest involve Jason and his girlfriend Piper. The entries include battling deadly monsters and meeting new demigods who are semi-villainous but the narration is infused with the wry humor that only the demigods can possess. It felt like reading a typical teenager’s diary on the whole and was quite refreshing.

As I prepared my TBR list based on reviews from Stuck in a book and Booksnob, I realized that I’ve never read Shirley Jackson’s books much less heard of her. So I decided that for May and June, I should probably read through as many of Jackson’s books as possible. So the book I chose for May is We Have Always Lived in a Castle. (Link to the review)

A long time friend suggested we start the read-along again, so I thought why not? It was my turn to suggest, so I picked the first book in PC Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. Aptly titled Midnight Riot, the plot is multi-threaded and not exactly strong. (Link to the review)

Next up was Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. Wish I’d simply bought the book on kindle flash sale but I didn’t. Instead I chose to read it as part of the kindle unlimited subscription. Kaufman highlights the declining plight of the US school system and feelings of apathy or despair shown by the average students of the public school system.

Here are some quotes from the book –

“We have keys but no locks (except in lavatories), blackboards but no chalk, students but no seats, teachers but no time to teach. The library is closed to the students.”

“The books we are required to teach frequently have nothing to do with anything except the fact that they have always been taught, or that there is an oversupply of them, or that some committee or the other was asked to come up with some titles.”

Kaufman’s experiences as school teacher and her interactions with students are delightfully showcased through the letters and observations of the protagonist, a newbie teach named Sylvia Barrett. The prose is witty with sardonic humor, the characters sketched are so universal that you’d find them in any country. It reminded me of my school days where teachers tried to teach us to the best of their abilities while balancing their varied admin duties. Kaufman’s characters were all there at my school as well, in some form or the other.

Jan 16 Reads

SnobsJF2016 started off with me finally picking the faded paperback copy  of The Starship Titanic by Terry Jones. With a solid foreword by Douglas Adams, I anticipated the story to be very similar to Adams’ books and truth be told, I wasn’t disappointed. The grand yet tragic tale of the Titanic is transformed into a humorous and adrenaline filled space adventure.

A group of humans are transported to the alien world Blerontin when they accidentally board the fabled Blerontin luxury space cruise, aptly named Titanic by its eccentric and long-suffering innovator, scientist and designer Leovinus (modeled after Leonardo da Vinci). The rest of the story follows the humans as they thwart a nefarious plot to destroy Titanic while trying to return to Earth. The story was downright hilarious while not losing its element of adventure, quite an entertaining read.

Next on was The Bookseller of Kabul by the Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad. Seierstad’s chance meeting with a bookseller in the streets of Kabul lead to her year long stay at the bookseller Sultan Khan’s small home with him and his large family. This book is Seierstad’s accounts of her observations of one family’s struggle to survive the harsh environs in a conflict ridden country. The writing is beautiful and I want to say flawless as the stories flow in and out seamlessly. The evocative tone brings home the harsh realities of the barren landscapes, the constant fighting amongst the local warlords, the constant invasions and the meagre resources which render even the most optimistic people apathetic. Seierstad’s own musings throw a stark contrast between what is glorified in the name of culture vs. the situations people actually confront.

Snobs by Julian Fellowes – I put down Snobs on my TBR list since Downton Abbey season 3 and I had wait for the prices to drop just to buy a copy on the Kindle app. Though I purchased this book in 2014, I only managed to read it this January, and it felt like I hit a major milestone in my reading. Edith Lavery is a high climbing self made socialite whose ambitions at becoming a Lady clash with her desire for passion. Narrated by a unnamed yet reluctantly close friend of Edith, the story chronicles Edith rise and fall in London’s high society as she successfully courts and marries Charles Broughton, the son of Marquess of Uckfield only to fall in society following her affair with Simon Russell, an actor whose ambitions exceed Edith’s. Julian Fellowes lays out the stark contrasts between the British aristocracy and the ambitious middle class through Edith’s story. I felt that one of the key reasons this book was successful was the timing of its publicity. But then again, any book on British aristocracy will be interesting owing to the fact that it provides us a glimpse into the past.

And then there were…

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – I was hooked onto Crichton’s psychological sci-fi thrillers since 2005. While I gradually weaned myself off of his works after gaining access to contemporary literature, I nonetheless retained The Andromeda Strain. This was probably because the plot never tired me no matter the number of re-reads. The key theme of this story is the ethical dilemma faced  by the people studying the unknown life forms while also highlighting the harsh truth that is the governments stop at nothing when arming themselves with biological and chemical arsenal. I felt that The Andromeda Strain is one of Crichton’s best works and hopefully turns into a classic in the next century.

And finally X-Men The Last Stand by Chris Claremont – I love MCU and its cast of characters. While I enjoyed watched the X-Men movies, I wasn’t thrilled with the written version of The Last Stand probably because it leaves some questions unanswered while raising new ones. The Last Stand focuses on Jean Grey, a level 5 mutant with powers many would kill for. The plot follows the movie storyline except, it adds nuggets of information that a Marvel fan might not miss. Happily though, it was a quick read!

Feb 16 Reads

February was cold but pleasant in Cali, and R & I were exploring the beaches along the Central Coast for some weekends. We also had the opportunity to visit Yosemite to witness the rare phenomenon of the fire falls (an event that depends on a lot of factors coming together at the right moment) with thousands of photographers from across the globe. So as you can predict, I didn’t get through very many books. Here’s the list –

  1. Indian Vegetarian Feast by Anjum Anand – In this book, Anand repurposes the classic and timeless recipes to include the vegetables and roots commonly found in UK and US. She also provides helpful hints for creating variations of a recipe. The instructions are comprehensive and clear, and most are accompanied by a good visual representation. I haven’t tried any recipes yet but made note of quite a few, which I look forward to trying out soon.
  2. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – I came across this title while looking up Karen Russell’s short stories fiction titled Vampires in the Lemon Grove. To my surprise, St Lucy’s was rated higher over Vampires but I found that I enjoyed reading Vampires in the Lemon Grove over this book. So the title story is self-explanatory in the sense, wolf cubs born in humanoid form are taken away from the werewolf parents to be raised as human children in order to be fully integrated into the human world. The children have no say in the matter but the ones who learn fast are rewarded while the stubborn ones are reprimanded and isolated from their brothers/sisters. I don’t believe I enjoyed reading any of the other short stories within this compilation. It truly is a book that can be immensely enjoyed if you enjoy Russell’s stories.
  3. Thor Visionaries Vol 1, 2 and 3 by Walter Simonson– Having enjoyed watching re-runs of the Marvel movies this January, I was trying to get my hands on some of the comics to test the waters so to speak. My local library has a very limited selection where Marvel comics are concerned, so I was able to borrow Thor Visionaries volumes 1, 2 and 3. These volumes introduce Beta-ray Bill, an alien guardian whose mind has been transferred into a carnivorous beast (looks hideous) who Thor encounters on his mission to intercept an extraterrestrial spaceship of unknown origin on Earth. Bill impresses Odin with his prowess so much so that Odin confers the Asgardian citizenship upon him and gifts him with a garb and hammer identical to Thor’s. The subsequent volumes follow Bill’s adventures on Earth and in space with Sif, the Asgardian’ battle with Surtur, the fire demon and Thor’s journey to Hela’s realm to rescue innocent Midgardian souls.
  4. Thor: The Deviants Saga is about Thor’s journey to the cities of the Eternals and their enemies, the Deviants to retrieve a stolen Asgardian artifact. The stories also features a brief venture into the Savage Land, a land rich in Adamantium.
  5. The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett (link to review)
  6. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (link to review)