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!

March 16 Reads

It was sunny and cold in California this March…weekends typically were cloudy and sometimes rainy courtesy El Nino. Lot of greenery around after a long time yet I wish it rained a lot more so we could officially move out of the drought.

While most of my weekends were spent outdoors, I did manage to sneak in a few books albeit aggressively and these include –

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (link to review)
  2. India through images and words by Mark Emeola – This big book with gorgeous photographs from all over India had me and R drooling, and making wistful travel plans within India – be it to visit the beautiful and stately palaces in Rajasthan or the ethereal ruins at Hampi and Konark or the lush green places in Kerala. Reality is quite different when we land in India…almost always visiting relatives or running between 2 cities to pacify in-laws and parents who discreetly make plans to include temple trips should we ever speak of visiting any of these places. Nope, not happening! So we settled to wistfully mull over the compositions, colors and locales.
  3. Marvel Encyclopedia 75th Anniversary Edition – Contrary to my expectations I have become a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU as it is known as. So when I stumbled on the encyclopedia at the library, I just had to borrow it to know the character history. The giant book literally took me 3 weeks to finish as I pored over the book like I was preparing for a test, one of R’s constant jokes. Just reading about character histories for Cap America, Whitney Frost, Hawkeye, Jean Grey and all the X-men…ooh it was heavenly though the MCU seems to differ from the comics universe!
  4. Vampires in the Lemon GroveKaren Russell’s short stories and fiction in general, have always challenged my patience and attention. This has nothing to do with her writing or the subjects she chooses to portray by marrying fantasy with realism, it in fact has everything to do with my feeble impatient attempts to read between the lines considering every tale is infused with deep meaningful undertones of events and experiences that shape the current generations. For that alone, I recommend you try Karen Russell to decide for yourself whether you enjoy her writing or not.
  5. Lord Krishna’s Cuisine by Yamuna Devi – This hardbound voluminous book covers different variations of vegetarian recipes from western and southern part of India. It may very well have covered some of the dishes from the north but like I mentioned, it’s all variations. As to the quintessential question of whether the recipes taste any good, I did try the rice khichdi which tasted all right, suppose it had to do more with adjusting measurements than following the recipe to the T. It’s one of the books that covers a wide variety of Indian vegetarian dishes. Yamuna Devi also covers measurements, spices and instructions for preparing basic ingredients in great detail. My only peeve is that there aren’t many visual representations of the dishes which makes some of them hard to imagine. Other than that, this is definitely a book you must add to your list if you are looking around for vegetarian recipes.
  6. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan Stradal – This is my personal thought but I suppose books which can be labeled food memoirs or food fiction have gained popularity probably because recipe books have become so predictable. Imagine entering a fictional world, where the protagonist either speaks of his/her past while doling out the recipe from their family books or a 3rd person fiction, where you turn a page and delight yourself for finding a recipe. Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a great coming-of-age story with plenty of emphasis on family and relationships. Through the life journey of Eva Thorvald, Stradal explores the depth of the relationships between parents and children, and of teens foraying into their first relationship – be it the first impressions, the anxiety of pleasing loved ones and the disappointment when that fails.

Spring Flowers Spring Frost

spsfI discovered Ismail Kadare in my search for books to read for the European Reading Challenge. While best known for his works “Chronicle in Stone” and  “The Palace of Dreams”, I chose “Spring Flowers, Spring Frost” purely because I was captivated by the legends that Kadare chose to weave into this novel, to showcase the fearsome laws that his countrymen seem to set store by.

Set in the backdrop of a mountainous small town in Northern Albania, the novel revolves around a young and famous Albanian artist Mark Gurabardhi who lives a good life, in a relationship and for most part treated with respect by his fellow townsmen. Forming the backdrop for this story are snippets of life during the Dictatorship, changes that are brewing in the capital city of Tirana including rise of corruption and unleashing of the obscure but the fearful law of blood feud.

What sets this book apart is Kadare’s use of nested narratives and analogous structures as envisioned from Mark’s morbid musings of the blood feud and its association with  the fable of the Girl and the Snake wherein a girl is forcibly married to a snake, a mark of the highest form of humiliation for the girl’s family forced to pay a blood feud. Often times the blood feuds have no meaning other than the ones created by its human inventors. Mark’s similar musing on RMS Titanic and other events are a reflection of the political events that transpired in Albania as do his own secrets which are revealed in a surprising turn of events. A definite must read title!