Category Archives: Hachette Book Group

Magical Women. Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Magical Women Title: Magical Women
Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9388322027
Genre: Fantasy, Magic
Pages: 232
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

An anthology isn’t easy to edit. There are varied voices – each with their own agenda, writing style, and each writer that adds wonderfully to the collection. Sukanya Venkatraghavan, author of Magical Women has done a wonderful job of the anthology of 14 Indian women writers writing fantasy and all things magical in the aptly titled, “Magical Women”.

All these stories may seem similar at some level, and probably they are – most of them reflect on Indian magical creatures and stick to making them relevant for our time and age. What is also wonderful is how the “feminist angle” is subtle, but strong. It doesn’t shout out from the rooftop, but it is there – in your face, making you aware of how you read some narratives or stories.

The collection starts off with “Gul” by Shreya Ila Anasuya – a story of love, a story of freedom, a story of longing and nostalgia that was rounded beautifully. A read that I still think of once in a while.

There are also the obvious stories of goddesses in the modern context and they work superbly as well. The one that stood out for me was Nikita Deshpande’s “The Girl who Haunted Death” – a story of Savitri and her love for her husband. But this one of course is with a twist that I would not want to reveal. The prose and the context of this story astounded me – almost made me think of various conclusions and interpretations, and that’s what a good story is supposed to do.

All these stories infuse new life to the form of storytelling – they don’t follow a linear plot and even if it seems that they do, it is usual very deceptive. Kiran Manral’s story, “Stone Cold” for instance is dystopian in nature and deeply rooted in ancient myths and culture. The merging of the two makes it unique, but not only that – the brevity of the story makes it even more interesting.

We live in times when patience runs thin. People need to consume content at a fast pace, and something that is also very relevant and thought-provoking, and above all entertaining. Sukanya Venkatraghavan has done a fantastic job of merging these elements when it comes to setting up this anthology. More than anything else, the writers have individually contributed to the whole idea beautifully.

Yes, like any other anthology, you don’t expect to love them all. I have my favourites and then there are the ones that aren’t favourites. However, every story will find its reader. The one who will love that story more than the others.

Whether it is “Gandaberunda” by S.V. Sujatha, a tale of a sinister tattoo, or “Apocalyptica” by Krishna Udayasankar which will take you by surprise, even though you think you have an idea of what it is going by the title, every story says something unique.

I loved the overtones of feminism and also its undertones, depending on the writer. Neither the writers of these stories, nor the stories themselves fit in a box. I think for the sake of convenience we shall catalog them in a genre. After all, “Magical Women” aren’t meant to be handled by all. Definitely not mere mortals. Read the book though. It is all worth it.

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Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future Title: Memories of the Future
Author: Siri Hustvedt
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1473694415
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I have always loved reading Siri Hustvedt. She writes with an urgency and lucidity that is rare and extremely engaging. Most of the time, I feel her works are meta, and likely so given art is after all inspired by life, and that works the most when it comes to her works. Whether it is The Blazing World or The Sorrows of an American or even What I Loved, every book has a trace of her life and that is the connecting factor for the reader.

Memories of the Future is a novel about time, memory, desire, and obsession at the core of it. It is a novel about New York in the late 70s – forever dynamic, changing, and bursting at the seams. At the same time, it is a novel of the present – of the diary SH kept in the 70s and reads it now – recalling the time she lived next to Lucy, and what transpired then.

The technique of a story within a story isn’t new, but just the way Hustvedt writes about it is seamless and original. Her observations on memory and how time wraps itself around it in all its vulnerability is touching. The book is about a narrator and a very strong one at that. You may not even come across many characters, but you do get used to the writing, which keeps you engaged and wanting more.

Memories of the Future is the kind of book that has a range of opinions, thoughts, and memories. I had to go back and forth multiple times, but it was truly worth it. Madness and sanity have a wonderful balance as well. It is an extremely stimulating novel, by a very intelligent writer. The kind that is crisp and on point with most things. A novel not to be missed at all.

Elevation by Stephen King

elevation by stephen king Title: Elevation
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473691520
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

No matter how short or long the book is, I am a sucker for books written by Stephen King. Also, no matter how not so very good or very good those books are. Well, I guess some writers are just worth your time. In fact, I was just discussing with a friend yesterday that how he has the perfect blend of writing (if there is something like that at all) – the one that combines mass market with literary. Stephen King to my mind writes like no one else I have read and that’s perhaps that’s quite a tall claim, but I shall go with it for now.

Elevation is not like any Stephen King book you would’ve read and for someone with that kind of bibliography, that’s saying a lot. At first glance, a book about a man who is worried about his steady weight loss might seem to go in King’s safe spot, it isn’t the case as you continue reading it. The plot takes a very un-King twist and from there on the book becomes something else. Even in a 160-page book, King manages to fit in so much without it seeming that way.

The twist in the tale of Elevation is the plenty references of earlier books set in Castle Rock – from IT to the others. But what sets this one apart is how Scott (the protagonist) deals with what is happening to him and more importantly what is happening around him when a lesbian couple comes to town, opening a fine-dining restaurant and the town’s bias and prejudices start showing.

I for one, am extremely happy that King chose to speak of a marginalized community and has done so with great empathy. Sure, the tropes are present – the biggest being the backdrop of Thanksgiving. Having said that, there is a very small element of suspense that gets cleared very soon. I think King should write more of these novellas, that are so precise and yet convey everything. At the same time, I realize that I miss a tome from him.

Elevation is a much-needed book and I am glad it’s out there for people to read. It captivates and makes you think and wonder about your own biases. Read it. Please read it. Like I said, it is the kind of book that will make you sit up and take notice of people and communities around you.

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell Title: Art Matters
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group, Headline Review, Hachette Books
ISBN: 9781472260086
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

It has been established the world over (if not, then it should be) that Neil Gaiman is one of the most prolific writers that we have, and we must never forget that. In fact, we must cherish what we have every single day and celebrate him by reading more of him, but obviously, day after day.

Art Matters is a collection of his short essays (all previously published individually and collectively in The View from the Cheap Seats) about art, reading, libraries, and why all of it is so important even more so in today’s time and age.

I love what Gaiman writes, and even though I’d read these pieces earlier, with Chris Riddell’s illustrations, they seemed different, more invigorating, and captivating to say the least. There is something about the power of the written word, isn’t it? That’s what this book is about primarily – about words, reading, and how the world can be changed, one book at a time.

Of course, the piece that stands out for me is Make Good Art, in which Gaiman talks to us about how he started writing books, how to do what you really want to do, push boundaries, and be what you set out to be. Yes, it does sound self-help like and maybe it is, but coming from Gaiman, everything is great and achievable and inspiring.

I am not saying this as a fanboy, it’s just that this book really inspires you to step out and make good art. And not to forget that the Make Good Art piece has come from his commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts in May 2012, which I am linking below. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are as usual stupendous and go hand in glove with Gaiman’s prose. Though, I would love to see how this book comes alive in colour as well. Maybe, even a graphic version of these four pieces and more.

Make Good Art just makes you want to go out there and create. Be it anything. A sentence even, or just those two hundred words you’ve been telling yourself you will write, or the composition you are stuck at, or when you feel that you just cannot create anything, this book will at least inspire if nothing else. Read this. Read it again like me, if you have already read them. The illustrations and the reminding of what great art can do is absolutely worth the experience.

Link to the commencement speech:

 

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken AngelsTitle: The House of Broken Angels
Author: Luis Alberto Urrea
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316154888
Genre: Family, Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Some books are a treat and such a joy to read. The House of Broken Angels is just that. Essentially about family and what you carry to other generations, this book is also about being human and relationships. For most part, I thought nothing is going on in the book and yet when you take a step back and see the book from an overall perspective, there is needed a lot going on – making the reader feel like a stranger to begin with and before you know it you are a part of the De La Cruz clan.

The House of Broken Angels is about family and the ties that bind us, over and over again, no matter the mistakes or the trials that family go through. At the end of the family is indeed family and one can’t deny that at all. The beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz has summoned the entire family for one last legendary party, in his final days. And in this time, his mother, nearly a hundred years old dies. In all of this there is Big Angel’s (as Miguel is fondly known) half-brother, Little Angel – almost an outsider’s perspective.

The book is really about Big Angel and his mother. The others are merely secondary characters but written brilliantly by Luis Alberto Urrea. The lore, the fantastical tales, the myths are weaved into the narrative so effectively that they become the story, without ever losing track of the bigger plot. The book has all of it – kindness, rage at being discriminated against, hope, zest and the spirit of togetherness which when you think about can only after all come from family.

At times, it may be overwhelming to keep track of so many characters and sub-plots, but you should allow the stories to take over and engulf you. There is chaos, confusion and people walking in and out of the narrative, but it is worth it as it all adds up wonderfully, lending itself to the primary focus. “The House of Broken Angels” is a highly gratifying and charged read – everything happens in a rush, at a break-neck speed and sometimes everything slows down, compelling you to look around.