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.

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)


The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

TSCTerry Pratchett has been and still remains a favorite author ever since I discovered the DiscWorld series back in 2004. The Shepherd’s Crown is his last and yet another awesome work. This novel also marks the end of the Tiffany Aching series, all of which never failed to bring on a few laughs, though they dealt with a lot of evil characters that lived beyond the realm of DiscWorld. Tiffany has pretty much settled in Chalk as its chief witch but her busy life is disrupted by the death of Granny Weatherwax who names Tiffany as her heir.

Granny’s death took up just a chapter or two at the most, and before I had time to move over from Granny’s death I was caught up with TIffany’s extra busy life as she shuttles between Chalk and Lancre trying to do justice to her job. Meanwhile, Granny’s death had weakened the defenses of Discworld, stirring an ancient enemy into action…one perhaps even Tiffany would prefer giving a second chance rather than fight.

This is an action-packed story where the old and the young stir to fight till their last breath in order to save what they hold dear. The main theme I felt was death and the loss that is felt by the loved ones afterwards…in fact, Pratchett provides a window into his thoughts through Granny. And you can feel this as you read about Granny realizing that her time was near organizes her affairs and leaves instructions for people she cares about most – Nanny and Tiffany. And dealing with the loss of a loved one covers the rest of the story. The story also covers the concept of man-cave/ tool shed as the old men of Lancre are introduced to it by Geoffrey, the young apprentice of Tiffany. It also serves a coming of age story as Tiffany transitions to the role of head witch, a post formerly held by Esme Weatherwax. A sombre novel!

Alas! I wish I could find the Discworld series at discounted prices, if only to collect them all.