Category Archives: 2017 Reads

Zen Series by Jon J Muth

For those who have still not experienced the Zen Series by Jon J Muth, I guess this is the best time to. Also, might I add, that you are very lucky to have not encountered them yet, because they are wondrous and heartwarming at the same time and you are in for a treat.

zen-ghosts

The books are not really children’s books according to me – their lessons are meant for all and these are things that perhaps we already know of, but do not take the time to ponder or act on. May be that is the biggest problem of our age – just sitting and wondering and doing nothing about things.

zen-shorts

Jon J Muth’s series starts with Zen Shorts, where Michael, Karl and Addy discover a giant panda in their backyard and then the Panda starts telling them stories – Zen stories. His name is Stillwater (kinda obvious). The book is wonderful.

zen-socks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The watercolour illustrations and the stories go so good together that it feels like you are in a dreamland or something. Zen Shorts was followed by Zen Ties, Ghosts and the latest one was Zen Socks.

zen-ties

The series of these books is something else. I think it rings so true is because it is inspired from life – it is what we go through and live every single day, may be that’s why I was able to connect with them the way I did. The writing is simple and more characters get added as you move along the books – there are so many lessons in these books but they do not sound preachy even once. It is all about living and finding it out for yourself. These 4 books, Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, Zen Ghosts and Zen Socks will leave with with a big smile on your face and maybe even some wisdom.

The Words Hurt: Helping Children Cope With Verbal Abuse by Chris Loftis, Illustrations by Catharine Gallagher

the-words-hurt-by-chris-loftis Title: The Words Hurt: Helping Children Cope with Verbal Abuse
Author: Chris Loftis
Illustrated By: Catharine Gallagher
Publisher: New Horizon Press
ISBN: 978-0882821320
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 45
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

This was the fourth book which I read as a part of the “Story Cure” reading project and was moved by it, nonetheless. It was a book suggested by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin as a part of their book “The Story Cure” regarding abuse of children. This one deals with verbal abuse and how to control it and thereby understand your child’s needs in a more evolved manner.

The book’s plot (for lack of a better word) is simple – it is centered on a child and the verbal abuse he receives from his father who is going through a tough time. This is a primer for parents on how to understand your children and not vent your frustration at them.

I think there need to be more of such books to help parents learn how to behave with children. Abuse, more so verbal is often ignored. In fact, in India it is even encouraged in most families – the adage – spare the rod, spoil the child is so regressive that it needs to be banned in my opinion. But I am happy that there are such books out there that make an attempt to bridge the gap between kids and parents and more so for parents to realize their actions.

I know I am sounding preachy but there is no other way to do this. I think verbal abuse is so sensitive an issue that it needs to be looked at more often than just ignored. The Words Hurt by Chris Loftis is a simple and beautiful example of what needs to be done with some lovely illustrations by Catharine Gallagher. Do pick it up.

Misery by Stephen King

misery-by-stephen-king Title: Misery
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-1444720716
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: 5 Stars

There is this insane, crazy, bordering psycho side to all of us, which is conveniently hidden and tucked for good (or so we think) till it snaps. When it snaps, I think, or rather I most certainly believe that all people are capable of harming, of doing things beyond their wildest imagination and some of us also regret what we do and some don’t. That’s really how the world functions sometimes and you live with it, as you do with everyday kindness. Scarily enough, at times you also live with everyday cruelty and that’s what the master of horror, Mr. Stephen King reveals to us, book by book.

My affair with King’s books started when I was thirteen. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I thought I had read all his books (not the ones written as Bachman – I cannot stand those) and then I realized very late in life (as late as last month) that I hadn’t read Misery. Had this been me two years ago, I would have flipped knowing how I missed this, but today I looked at it as an opportunity to read this one and boy oh boy was I in for something!

“Misery” is almost Meta and then again it isn’t. You would almost be fooled into believing that King was drawing from his experiences (and maybe he was) but some of them could be taken from his life – the way a writer thinks, agonizes over and finally ends up writing a book or more than just a book. “Misery” is about a writer – Paul Sheldon and his so-called number one fan Annie Wilkes. Paul is a very successful writer because of his Misery Chastain series, but now Paul has had enough of her and kills her in his new novel. Unfortunately for Paul, he meets with an accident and is rescued by Annie, who is very very unhappy about Misery dying and wants to take matters in her own hand, by keeping Paul captive and asking him to write a new Misery novel for freedom. This, in brief is the plot of Misery.

Now to the characters: Annie Wilkes gave me the chills. I don’t want to meet someone like her ever, not even for the curiosity of it all. I would rather be safe than sorry. King knows his characters inside out – well of course, but the edginess and knowing that they can fall off the sane balcony any given day is what intrigues me to his books. His writing we all know is impeccable; the eye for detail, the scenarios and specifically in this book to imagine the torture inflicted on Sheldon is simply stunning. I couldn’t stop reading this one – and there were also times when I just had to stop because I was scared and mind you, this one is not a horror novel, but pretty much there.

The Carousel of Desire by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt

the-carousel-of-desire-by-eric-emmanuel-schmitt Title: The Carousel of Desire
Author: Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Translated by: Howard Curtis, Katherine Gregor
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781609453466
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 672
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I knew the minute I started reading this book, I knew that it would be something different and I wouldn’t mind the fact that it was a tome and kinda tough to get by to initially. “The Carousel of Desire” is about desire – it is sometimes about misplaced eroticism, emotions which are all over the place, relationships that are not long-lasting and those that are have too many cracks in them and above all, it is about romance – free of any moral judgement and yet the kind that looks at human relationships intricately and without making them seem frivolous.

“The Carouse of Desire” is about regular people, stuck in situations beyond their control and how Eros plays its own tricks on their unassuming lives. At the heart of the story are human emotions and experiences and how humans, while being so flawed are the only ones sometimes who have all the chances at redemption – sometimes more than one as well. The human psyche when it comes down to class, love, race and community are brilliantly brought out by Schmitt and just for that I would recommend you read this book.

So, what is this book all about? A love note, that’s what it is about. A love note is delivered anonymously to each inhabitant of Piazza Guy d’Arezzo in Brussels one morning and that’s where it all begins. To me it was the characters, the plot and most of all the dialogues (which have a great blend of love and philosophy) that did it all to love this book. The telling of the story is visual – it is almost like watching a movie and you can see it all happening. To me that is also great storytelling by Schmitt and some great translation by Howard Curtis and Katherine Gregor. I think when reading a translation, you somehow know if a job is well-done or not or when it becomes more than a job and the passion is conveyed on paper. I could feel that while reading “The Carousel of Desire”.

Running between the major characters such as the powerful E.U. commissioner, a confused (almost) book publicist, a banker who is seemingly happily married, and a parrot loving strange woman amongst others, you will also meet some brilliant secondary characters that make for the heart of the story. Like I said earlier, there are no judgements in this story – there is no right or wrong, immoral or morals, something that should be done or should not be done. Schmitt lets his people be and more so makes them live their lives to the fullest, always questioning and always wanting to push themselves more.

As I age, I look out for books that are more fulfilling or those that will bring some comfort and not disappoint. I mean, honestly, you cannot go about reading bad books and pretend that they never happened. So when great books such as “The Carousel of Desire” happen, you take them with both arms and not let go.

Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes

mikhail-and-margarita-by-julie-lekstrom-himes Title: Mikhail and Margarita
Author: Julie Lekstrom Himes
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453756
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I had read “The Master and Margarita” in college. It was a long time ago. It was one of those prescribed classics that you just had to read and I remember loving it a lot, after initially not liking it at all. It was too fantastical for me to begin with and then the allegorical symbols rang home and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hungry for more. Bulgakov’s writing cannot be described by the words I have at my disposal. He is that good. What you must also remember is that “The Master and Margarita” was written under a totalitarian regime and how it got published is another story. For now, I will stick to the review of “Mikhail and Margarita”.

Most times, I get scared to pick up a book of historic significance and background. More so, if a writer has perhaps reimagined a certain time in history and tried to recreate it for the reader, I try and stay away from such books, mostly. This time I took a chance and read “Mikhail and Margarita” by Julie Lekstrom Himes. I don’t know if the story is real or not, but I know one thing: Ms. Himes sure knows how to tell a tale. I could not stop reading this book and right after I finished it, I wanted to go back to the Bulgakov classic.

“Mikhail and Margarita” as you might have guessed from the title is a story of Mikhail and his love for a woman named Margarita that inspired him to write “The Master and Margarita”. Let me also tell you that in real-life it was Bulgakov’s third wife Yelena Shilovskaya who was the inspiration for the character Margarita. I am guessing that Himes’ Margarita is also inspired by his real-life. Himes has also made this a love-triangle with an agent of Stalin’s police who is also in love with Margarita. The year it is set in is 1933 and how at that time Bulgakov’s career was at a complete dead-end. The book is brilliant – it speaks of passionate love, more passionate ideals, and the regime that will not allow any of this. All it wants is human sacrifice in the name of the country.

Himes’ writing is taut, detailed and well-researched. The book will make you at some points even go back to “The Master and Margarita” (but not so many). Himes’ characters are just everyday people trying to deal with a country and its policies that don’t give them the independence to think, forget falling in love. Much like what is happening today or might happen in the near future where USA and some other countries are concerned. I would highly recommend “Mikhail and Margarita” for the newness of plot, the writing and the way the book will make you think.