American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

American Housewife - Stories by Helen Ellis Title: American Housewife: Stories
Author: Helen Ellis
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385541039
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Imagine Desperate Housewives being written into a book – just a little funnier, sarcastic, edgy perhaps and with a dash of American angst, loneliness and the no-good housewife, trying to make something of herself. But the stories in Helen Ellis’s book “American Housewife” is not just about the average housewife, so don’t be fooled by the title. The book is about dreams gone wrong, frustrations dying to get a way out, of thwarted hopes and a lot of pointed commentaries on womanhood and the world around them today.

The stories range from the unique initiation ritual of a book club (the twist is there throughout the story and you can sense it) to the set of a rigged television show to the getaway car of a pageant princess – they are all unique and full of wit and tragedy.

I think for me reading this book felt like I could connect on so many levels – well not of being stuck in a marriage or being betrayed in a relationship, but just that I could relate to the women and the layers of intensity of emotions of every kind that Ellis draws up for this through the dozen stories.

What struck me the most while reading these stories was the tone and pace of each story and how each is different from the other, when it comes to those two parameters. Some stories are definitely sharper than the others, and some just jolt you off your daily existence to make you see how bizarre life can really be.

“American Housewife” is a brilliant, raw and real collection of stories that tells you a lot about women in general, only if you care to listen or in this case read. I would most certainly recommend it to every one out there. Waiting for her next!

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Publisher: Harper Teen
ISBN: 978-0062278227
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novels
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Nimona is a refreshing comic debut. Noelle started it as a web-comic, till it was a rage and voila, then a book! I am disappointed that I waited this long to get my hands on this one, but I am also quite glad that I read it perhaps way at the end of the pile, so I could enjoy it so.

Nimona is a comic book anti-hero like no other. She is a shapeshifter and the comic itself is set in the near future. There is a regime at work and they want the law and order situation to be maintained as per them. Nimona is the new sidekick to her super-villain boss Lord Ballister Blackheart. Ballister Blackheart has a history with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (you will also know of the twist there once you read the book) who works for the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. It is up to Nimona and Ballister to prove to everyone that the institution is not really what it stands for. How they do that forms the crux of this graphic novel and more than anything else the past of Nimona and the terrors she holds. Might I also add that Nimona is barely a young girl with a knack of villainy.

The entire shapeshifting angle in this graphic novel worked superlatively. It is hilarious and often terrifying. The plot is taut and as a reader, I am so looking forward to the sequel (hoping there is one). The comic is delightful and also the scientific angle is explained quite simply. There is plenty of action, adventure and incidents that follow throughout the course of the book. Graphic novel and superhero lovers will simply adore this book. I know I did. “Nimona” is the one graphic novel you cannot miss out on.

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain Title: The Red Notebook
Author: Antoine Laurain
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1908313867
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You watch a romantic movie about two people meeting in the strangest of ways and wish it were a book so you could savour the words and get more of it, page by page. And then you do chance on such a book, you read it; you actually devour it and love it to the hilt! You talk about it to everyone you meet and cannot stop talking more. You wish that someone would make a film out of it so you can see the magic appear on screen. “The Red Notebook” by Antoine Laurain is one such book.

The book is a delight. It is whimsical, it is hopeful, it is the kind of book that makes you want to fall in love and stay there. Laurent, a bookseller (I was already sold on the book) finds an abandoned handbag. He doesn’t know anything about the owner. Paris a big city and he cannot even find her.

Laure on the other hand has been mugged and hit on the hand. Her handbag is stolen and she is now in a coma. Laurent of course doesn’t know that it is Laure’s bag he’s found. That is where the story begins. Through a series of objects and clues that are there in the handbag, Laurent makes sense of the woman Laure could be. One of the items is a red notebook where Laure has written her thoughts and innermost confessions are penned there. He gets to know her. She is in a hospital, unaware of what is going on. Will they meet? What will happen after all? How will Laure react when she is out of her coma and gets to know of Laurent?

Laurain’s (love the wordplay of the author’s name throughout the book and love how the author has used it to his advantage) writing is playful, melancholic (in most places) and uplifting in so many other places as the book progresses. You see what a short book can do in terms of impact and how one incident can change lives for the worse and sometimes pleasantly for the better. I love the writing. It is short, crisp and full of humanity and life. These are the kind of books that we need, the kind of books that can uplift the spirit and make hearts sing.

The translation by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce for sure have hit the spot (I don’t know French but the book worked with me on so many levels). What works for the book the most is that it is set in Paris – the city of love, the clichés, the extraordinary amidst the ordinary and the chance that each of us must get – of finding love.

The Book of Human Insects by Osamu Tezuka

The Book of Human Insects by Osamu Tezuka Title: The Book of Human Insects
Author: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 978-1935654773
Genre: Manga, Graphic Novels, Comics
Pages: 368
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 Stars

Osamu Tezuka was my introduction to Manga and I will forever be indebted to him for that. I remember the first time I read Tezuka. It was 2007 and the Buddha series had just released. Landmark was the only store that stocked it then and I became a fan. A true blue fan of Mr. Tezuka’s work. Since then, the love has only grown stronger – book by book and will not end anytime soon, because there is so much ground to cover.

Having said that, the book I read this time and absolutely loved was “The Book of Human Insects”. It is about so much that I don’t know where to begin with this review. Toshiko Tomura is a genius. She is everything anyone would want to be – intelligent, famous, a stage actress, a prestigious award winning writer, and also an up and coming architect. She is all this because she has the rare talent of emulating the skill of others.

She is also behind a series of murders – whether she committed them herself or led those people to doesn’t matter, a series of men, blackmail, treachery and loneliness as she climbs the ladder of fame. This in short is this graphic novel. It is edgy, sharp, witty and takes you to the extremes of despair and loneliness, but every turn of the page is worth it.

Now to the writing and the illustrations. The manga as visualized and incepted by Tezuka is beyond brilliant. Tezuka clearly knew what he was doing and this is evident in almost every manga of his. He made me a fan (Oh my God I say this with no reference to the recent movie) for life (even though he sadly isn’t around) and there is so much of him to discover through his works. Thank God for that.

Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

Beauty is a Wound Title: Beauty is a Wound
Author: Eka Kurniawan
Translator: Annie Tucker
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755682
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Beauty is a wound” that borders on the mystical, the surreal, the magic realism and the unbelievable and scores full marks on each of these parameters. It is the kind of book that will not leave you that easy and you will keep going back to it, as you think more and more about the characters, some lines and the plot in general.

The book is everything you can possibly imagine it to be – it is historical in nature, a sweeping family saga, a book of tragedy, legend, humour, rape, monstrosity and more.

What is the book about though?

The book is about Indonesia – it is about the Indonesian way of life and more often than not, about its politics, freedom, culture and the ties that aren’t cut off that easy. It is about ghosts – multiple ghosts at that, about how Dewi Ayu refused to leave her homeland when the Dutch bolted, and how she rises beyond the grave when her family is at stake.

The allegory of the country being a woman is way too strong in the book, hence the rape and pillage scenes are extremely violent and you can only stomach it if you are metaphorically made of steel at that. “Beauty is a wound” also to me in most places felt heavily inspired by Marquez, but the sad part is that anyone who attempts to write in this genre, will be compared to Marquez, whether they like it or not.

Eka Kurniawan’s writing is very different and quite refreshing might I add. This also to a very large extent comes from the translation which shines on every page, as done by Annie Tucker. You don’t want to miss out on this book. It will be tough getting into, it will be raw and intense as you read it, but you will savour it and want more of this masterpiece.

Plea

Hi,

I know this may sound weird to you since this post is not about books. It is about two kittens who need a home. I am not trying to pander to your emotions – that’s why their pictures are not going to be a part of this post.

I made a mistake. Without knowing that my mother is allergic to cats (there was no way of knowing that), I adopted two adorable kittens and now there is no choice left but to put them up for adoption. I have tried in almost all places – FB, Twitter, asking neighbors, putting up posters at vets’ clinics, asking watchmen in my area, asking friends for help and so on and so forth, but no avail.

So this is my last option. I wish I could keep them and as much as my heart breaks giving them up (I really hope someone kind adopts them and gives them a home) but what must be done must be done. I know a lot of you will judge me – go on – judge away. But this isn’t about me. It is about them. They need a loving home. I have fretted and cooed over them. I have cried over them. Every vaccine shot has had me in tears and they have been just fine. Their pooping fine, their peeing alright and whether or not they are okay has had me concerned but I have got so much love from them. It is unbelievable. Like I said, my heart breaks to give them away, but I have no choice. I cannot put them in a foster home and neither can I just let them fend for themselves. That is not an option at all.

So please try and come forth and help me with this. I need help. They need a home, as soon as possible. They aren’t your fancy breeds, but they know how to love and receive love and cuddles. They love their food. Their names are Kathy and Becky. They are four months old. They have been de-wormed and vaccinated. They are both female cats and yes it is a joint adoption. I cannot bear to see them separated from each other.

I hope this time someone will come along and adopt them. If you are genuinely interested, drop me a Whatsapp message at +91-9620553343 or call me on +91-9819813343.

Love,
Vivek

Hedon by Priyanka

Hedon by Priyanka Title: Hedon
Author: Priyanka
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0143425953
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Hedon is a story of two people – Tara Mullick and Jay Dhillon. What’s new about it, you might ask? Well the difference is in the plot, in the brilliant nuances of the book as you turn pages effortlessly and they exist on almost every page. Hedon is the kind of book (and I say every word when I mean it) that will not let you go till you are done with it. To think it is a debut, I couldn’t believe it was one.

The book is not just about two people and their lives and how they meet on and off and what eventually happens to them. It is also about the other characters – Tara’s friends, her family, her relationship when she is at school in the US of A, Jay’s relationships and what he feels or thinks and more than anything else it is about their connection and how it plays out for them across time and distance.

Tara and Jay meet for the first time at a wedding and life isn’t the same for either of after that. Not because they met, but because of how their friendship blossoms and then the realization of love that makes you feel that void and the hurt that comes in its wake. We see life as narrated by Tara – from her Calcutta days to the time she moves to the US of A for her further studies and the back and forth that takes place – through deaths, fights, and passionate love that can only lead to the inevitable conclusion.

I think more than anything else it is the way these characters’ lives intermingle that kept me hooked. Also let me tell you at this point that Tara is but just seventeen and Jay of course is a little older – he is twenty-five. This isn’t about age as much as it is about their lives and how they come face to face again after seven years from when they first met.

The story then moves along – across time periods and hence the cultural references make so much sense and are so needed for a book of this nature. Not only that; even the secondary characters have unique voices – from Cookie and Button (Tara’s best friends – it is very intriguing to see how those relationships play out as Tara leaves the country and visits once a while – I thought even that was empathetically handled as well) to their parents and siblings views that appear once a while and the rest of the time they are in the background – maybe content being there. Also might I add the school these girls go to – that also forms a major part of the book and lends to the time from being a girl to transforming to a woman, as cliché as it might sound. It isn’t just a love story – there is more that lends itself to the story – a lot more actually – it is about the rites of passage, of growing-up, the angst that comes with it and also it is about the realization what really matters when it comes down to it – from the choices we make to what we live by as a consequence of those choices.

“Hedon” is a book that encompasses voices of times infused with waywardness, the need to belong one way or the other and most importantly of people who want to make a dent – as they go through life, love and everything in-between. To pin point and say that it is only a love story or only a slice of life story, wouldn’t do it justice. It is more than that and one can only realize that after reading it cover to cover. Hedon is a lot of randomness and somehow you see it all tying up at the end or in between, but it does come together and that is something that plays itself out beautifully.

Priyanka’s writing is razor-sharp. It is biting, juicy and makes you visualize everything that is written. She captures everything to the last detail – the food eaten at a friend’s house to how the shamiana was – sort of a festival where boys and girls from various schools participate in and gather. The minute details of youth are encapsulated to a point of evoking those bittersweet feelings in you and bring them to fore.

How else then can you define or classify great writing if not this way? There is more than one way to describe it and I shall try. It is something which you perhaps have never read before. Sure you must have read something similar, but not anything like it.

There is also the element of various pop culture references that make you fall in love with the book and relate to it at that time over and over again. Might I also add, the ending is nothing like what you might expect from a regular novel, because this isn’t a regular novel to begin with.

The language of the book is easy to read and so intense that it feels like someone punched you in the stomach and you are recovering from it. The prose is laced with irony and humour in good measure, coupled with the melancholy and the pains of realizing who you really are and what or who can you call home.

The book releases on the 26th of April 2016.