Tag Archives: hachette book group

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine Title: An Unnecessary Woman
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Publisher: Constable and Robinson, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 9781472119155
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What does an old woman think about? What are her thoughts? Does she think of loneliness, or love, or of life, and lust? What if she is independent at that? What if she is surrounded by books and her life comprises of nothing else? This is the story that Rabih Alameddine has conjured for us in the form of his latest book, “An Unnecessary Woman”.

Aaliya (above it all as her name implies) is a woman in Beirut in her early 70s. She is the heart and soul of the book. She is to me more than a mere protagonist. You don’t come across such strong characters every day in books and when you do, you cherish them as you must with this one.

Aaliya is a woman of great intelligence in a society that does not expect its women to be that erudite. She is an observer of things, incidents, people and times. The book chronicles her life and more than anything else it is a book of her relationship with books and reading. She translates popular books from English to Arabic for her own pleasure. Men have disappointed her. Books do not. She takes refuge in them. She also works at a bookstore and tries to avoid her family as much as she can. At one point, I almost felt that I was her, or in time I would be her. That day maybe isn’t far off.

At every given time in the book, Aaliya is trying to work her way through feelings of uselessness and loneliness. That is where the title of the book fits in. So much so that when she accidentally colours her hair blue, she lets it be. That is the only newness in her everyday monotony.

Alameddine is a fantastic storyteller. He has managed to tell a tale of a woman, without letting his manhood get in the way and that to me is a mark of a great writer. The book cuts across barriers of language and nationality and tells a tale that is universal to all – about loneliness, aging and how to cope in this world that is constantly judging and will not let you do. He speaks of these issues without bringing the reader down, also with some humour at most times. “An Unnecessary Woman” is a must read for all lovers of literature. It is almost a love song, dedicated to reading and readers everywhere.

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What If? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

What If by Randall Munroe Title: What If? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 9781848549586
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science, Humour
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If you’ve heard of “XKCD” and if you also know of their “What If” section, then you do not need an introduction to this book. You know that it will be funny, sometimes hilarious as well, and at the same time informative (that sounded a little preachy, but what the heck!). The book is not your usual comic fare and it is not even meant to be that. If you have gone through the “What If” section of the site, then you know what is in store for you, if not, then please allow me to tell you.

“What If” takes on absurd questions and provides answers to them in the most rational manner, and in the bargain ends up being funny. And then scientific explanations in the book are not difficult to grasp. They are simple and end up providing some good perspective.

The book may interest science freaks and at the same it might also interest people like me who know nothing about science and still aspire to. “What If” attempts to make science fun and it does succeed to a very large extent. There are some fascinating questions like: “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?” and “Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee?”

Most questions were also asked by a lot of readers and the book is a fantastic compilation of what is available on their site. “What if” is the kind of book that can be read from any page and you will definitely break into a guffaw or two.

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Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler Title: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
Art: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0316127257
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 368
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I had bought this book last year and since then was struggling with it. I would read fifty pages or so and give it up for another read. It happens most of the time and that doesn’t mean that the book is bad, maybe the timing for sure is. It has happened to me in the past, so I do not think much of it. So when I picked up “Why We Broke Up” again this time, I was enthralled by the plot and more so by the art by Maira Kalman, which by the way is beautifully done throughout the book.

For every time a couple breaks up there are things that are returned. That is almost the unwritten law of breaking up, of ending it all, of finding the so-called state of “closure”. We return things because they are memories – of times of happiness and now evoke only sadness, which is the truth. Min and Ed, two teenagers whose relationship has ended are at the heart of this novel. They are an improbable couple, who had nothing in common and yet they fell in love. They split ways and the story is narrated from Min’s perspective who is now returning “stuff” that she collected (or stuff that was given by Ed to her) during the course of their relationship, explaining why they broke up and what happened between them.

Min is studying to be a filmmaker, so the entire process and atmosphere of the book is rather dramatic, but only fair, since it is about heartache. There are a lot of references to old films which is brilliant, because I now have to watch most of them. Love also needs so many mediums to speak through. In this case, it is movies.

Heartache at any age is counted for and should be. It is not easy, more so when you are young. I found the story a little too biased, as it was only from Min’s perspective, but that was compensated more so by the plot and writing. What will take you in the most about the book is also the illustrations, which are beautifully and masterfully done so by Maira Kalman. I loved the book so much in most parts and I also thought that maybe I would have loved to hear Ed’s point of view in all of this. After all it is only fair. The secondary characters – the best friends and ex-lovers make for some quirky characters in the book as well. Ed’s sister Joan is a vital character and it is not difficult to fall in love with her.

I do not like reading Young Adult fiction all that much, however as I have said again and again in this post, I loved this book. It is but the nature of love and heartbreak, its universality that would resonate and strike with anyone who reads about it. One more thing: You cannot read it in an electronic book format. The effect and sentiment will not be the same, given the illustrations and also the quality of paper. I recommend you read it, get your heart broken, mend it and then read it all over again.

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Book Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

the yellow birds Title: The Yellow Birds
Author: Kevin Powers
Publisher: Sceptre, Hachette Books
ISBN: 978-1444756128
Genre: Literary Fiction, War Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that you read, books that you love, books that you admire, and ultimately books that stay with you. This year the book that will stay with me for a very long time and the one that I have cherished the most is, “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers. I have never been so impacted by a book like I was with this one. I read it in a night and there were times that I just had to close the book and cry. I had to let it out and then go back to the book. Had I not done this, I would not have been able to finish this book.

“The Yellow Birds” is about war. There is something about war that attracts me to it – it has nothing to do with any government or political strategy or the pros and cons of it. What makes me want to read more about it or watch movies about the war condition, is what humans go through. The ones fighting the war and the ones impacted by it. The ones living it on a daily basis and the ones who pray for their children to come back home – safe and sound. That is War and its emotion and maybe more.

The book opens in 2005, Al Tafar in Iraq. Private John Bartle is the narrator and the protagonist of the book. He makes friends with a young private Daniel Murphy, and the friendship develops. Murph is eighteen years old and Bartle is twenty-one. They are fighting a war and at the same time trying to survive. Sergeant Sterling is the third character in the book whose nature and character is revealed only as the book goes along. The book is about Bartle’s experience in war and how it impacts him and the rest of the soldiers. He speaks of promises, betrayal and the ending will take the reader by shock. I am not going to reveal any significant sub-plot, because I really want the reader/s to experience this book, the way I did.

“The Yellow Birds” is not an easy book to read. The book moves across time – from the war, to how they enlisted to Bartle coming back home and how things change for him. There are passages and moments that will wrench your heart as you read along. What is also interesting to note is that Kevin Powers also served in the US Army, so it kind of also is scary for the reader to imagine which parts in the book are real and which aren’t.

The writing is stupendous. Kevin Powers deserves to win all the literary prizes on the circuit. He knows how to tell a story – in all its glory – with the way it is and the way it was. It is an engrossing read, which is quite short and at the same time does a lot more to your head and heart that you can imagine it to. There is pain, there is hope and at times there is the thin line of despair. There are places in the book when you just want to let the characters know that it will be all okay, but maybe they will not. War changes people I guess. “The Yellow Birds” is a book about hope and maybe the understanding that at the end of the day it is all about what it is to be human – in times of war and peace.

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Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
ISBN: 978-0-297-86729-6
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 324
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Bernadette Fox has anxiety issues and they are severe ones. The ones that she cannot handle and trudges from one moment to the other with them, like a load on her back. She doesn’t want to deal with people. She is weird. She is her daughter Bee’s idol and a friend. She is a caring wife as well. She was a rising star in the field of architecture till something snapped. And one fine day, Bernadette has disappeared without as much as a note. It is now up to Bee to find her mother, no matter what it takes.

That is the plot of, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple. One would expect such a book to be serious and definitely emotional more than anything else, however this book is also obviously funny in most parts and that is what sets it apart. The book is written in the form of journal entries, emails and notes. That is one interesting way of writing the book.

There are a lot of flashback scenes in the book and rightly so, given the storyline. The pieces need to be fit for Bee and that is what the writing does. Bee is sometimes level-headed and sometimes emotionally wrought and it is the balance of the character that propels you to read the book, besides of course the storyline.

Stories of disappearance and the search thereof, are plenty. A lot of writers have written about this. Then what makes this book so different? You do not know what is going to happen next. Bee’s voice is unique and more introspective more than anything else.

The book is a psychological profile, a half-baked memoir, and a mystery novel, all rolled into one. I was waiting right till the last page to find out what happened to Bernadette and Bee. That is the stroke of a great writer. To unravel each sub-plot one at a time. Maria Semple’s writing is crisp, touching, and shines in so many places. The best part for me was that some part of the book takes place in Antarctica as well. Definitely one of the best reads this year.

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