Tag Archives: hachette

Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

dark-things-by-sukanya-venkatraghavan Title: Dark Things
Author: Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9350099223
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 360
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Not a lot of people write fantasy fiction in the country and that to me was perplexing at one point, till it became clear. A lot of readers don’t read homegrown fantasy fiction. It could work either way, but the point being – there have to be more authors and readers of the so-called Indian fantasy fiction genre only because there is so much to explore, given our rich mythology and stories we have been hearing from our grandmothers on a cold winter’s night. With this thought in mind, I am glad that I got the opportunity to read ‘Dark Things’ by Sukanya Venkatraghavan and also interview her at the Halloween event organized by Books on Toast.

It would be quite safe to say that you wouldn’t have read anything like “Dark Things”. I would also be very candid and say that initially I thought I would not be taken in by a book like this, about Indian demons and monsters, but all it took me was two chapters to be hooked in to the world of Atala, the lives (I think I can say that) of Ardra, Hera and Dwai. Also, at this point, might I add that the book’s plot is inspired by a Keralan temple legend (which again to my mind is innovative and draws from its roots and should be done more often) and also manages to merge with modern times in a rather kick-ass manner.

Now to the plot of the book – Dwai survives a supernatural attack on Earth by Ardra. Ardra’s world is literally thrown into a series of questions and confusion at this incident. I was more clued in to the character of Hera – she is evil and that kinda made me want to know more about her and where she comes from. Everyone loves the hero so to say, but I was more piqued about this anti-hero. She is brazen, wild and doesn’t let emotions get better of her. This is the world of Gandharvas, Apsaras and Yakshis and you need patience to get into it.

I think to a very large extent, the plot being so simple helps reading this book. That way what tends to happen is that you can focus on the characters and what’s going on with them – in the sense a true balance between plot and characterization is struck. There is also a lot of romance in this book but let me also tell you that this is far from the usual paranormal romance. There are more layers to it which only come to light once you are further in the book and have been able to connect one with the other. All said and done, should you read Dark Things? Of course, you should. Should you perhaps pester the writer for a sequel right after finishing it? You bet your ass you must!

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

difficult-women-by-roxane-gay Title: Difficult Women
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-1472152770
Pages: 272
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This is the second time I was reading a book by Roxane Gay and let me tell you, yet again, I was completely blown over. When the world is on and about w0men rights and rightly so, Gay does it like no one else. She speaks on its behalf and also doesn’t seem like an armchair observer who goes on endlessly without making any sense. In fact her book of essays “Bad Feminist” is spot on about the changes we can make as individuals when it comes to equal rights. I think everyone must read her collection of stories – “Difficult Women” now or later, but read you must.

“Difficult Women” is a dark collection of stories – not all of them are dark, some of them are also funny, redeeming and feature colourful female protagonists who just are trying to make their way in a so-called man’s world. They could be writers, housewives or strippers – their profession doesn’t really matter – they still love hard and work harder to get where they want to. I was struck with the soft interior to these stories and yet it had such a tough exterior that a reader can be fooled at the beginning and will begin to see light as every story progresses and reveals something about itself. Roxane’s writing is addictive and the depth of understanding has every layer attached to it – from the unknown to the surreal to desire and humanity in places least expected.

Some stories are one dimensional but they also seemed to work for me. I was most touched by “I Will Follow You” (about two sisters and their captor), Le Negra Blanca (a definite read in the collection) and “North Country”. These are by far my favourites in this collection of twenty-one gems. To a very large extent, the strong women in this collection are based on Gay’s life and the women she has encountered. If you’ve read Bad Feminist you can relate to some of those women in these tales. But I think you will find the women in these stories anywhere – if you look harder that is. The intent of these stories is to give readers a glimpse into the inner world of women – why they do what they do, why they think the thoughts they do, or for that matter why they love the way they do. At this point I must mention the title story ‘Difficult Women’ which is a collection of vignettes of women who just want to live life on their terms.

A couple of times it was tough for me to turn the pages of this collection – only because it seemed so real and heartbreaking. At others, I even thought most of the stories were repetitive. But that is something I was willing to overlook only because of the beauty of the language. “Difficult Women” will make you think about the world around you and the women that inhabit it. I am most certainly not lending my copy to anyone.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

the-underground-railroad-by-colson-whitehead Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Fleet Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-0708898390
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love the choices made by Oprah for her book club. She does a brilliant job of it. I also think that single-handedly she has had a huge role to play in getting America to read. I remember it was 2000 or something like that I when I was first introduced to her book club. Internet was in the very nascent stages in India and we had Star Plus though (it had not become Star World yet I think) and there was the Oprah Winfrey Show that would air every morning at 6 am and I would watch it religiously. That is when I was introduced to her book club and since then I have been a fan. From what is been told, Oprah actually got the publishers of this selection to sort of push the date of publishing right back so she could announce it on her network. I am mighty impressed and she is one of the few people who can pull this off.

The latest book (not Love, Warrior) that I have read from the stable is “The Underground Railroad” and I must say that I was mesmerized by this book. I have not read any other work of Colson Whitehead and always wanted to start with Sag Harbor but I am glad that it was this book that started it for me. “The Underground Railroad” is brutal. It is fictitious but I am sure that most of it has happened – and perhaps it is easy to talk about suffering in fiction than it is in the form of a memoir or biography. I honestly believe in this. I think that when you speak of human redemption, suffering or something that is so heartbreaking, fiction will get more people to connect to it.
So what is the book all about? Why am I raving about it?

The book is the story of Cora, the young runaway slave from Georgia. It is also about Caesar and how they both flee the Randall plantation and head north via an actual underground railroad. The story is set in 1812 and must I say that this book is not for the weak-hearted. There is a lot of violence and emotional torture but it had to be told because there is no escaping it. You cannot and must not sugar-coat sorrow. So Cora and Caesar are on the run and while that happens, Cora manages to kill a white boy who tries to capture her. From there on they are hunted endlessly and how they manage to do what they want to makes for the rest of the story.

Colson’s writing reminds me of Morrison. There are passages and sentences that will leave you breathless and you will reach out for that glass of water. It will happen. You will get angry because slavery is just not what should ever exist. You will also cheer for Cora and for some people she meets along the way. You will mainly hoot for the perseverance and courage of the protagonist and want to change things in your life. “The Underground Railroad” is not just a book about slavery, it is also a book about humanity and how there is always a way out. A must read this year and it will not disappoint you at all.

Moonstone – the Boy who never Was by Sjón

Moonstone - The Boy who Never Was by Sjon Title: Moonstone – the Boy who never Was
Author: Sjón
Publisher: Sceptre Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473613133
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher, ARC
Rating: 5 Stars

“Moonstone – the Boy who Never was” by Sjón (pronounced Shawn) came to me in a boxful of other books. My eye rested on this one, because I had heard a lot about the author’s previous book “The Whispering Muse”. I wanted to find out for myself what the whole fuss was about this writer and his style. Let me tell you at the very onset that “Moonstone” will for sure be one of the top 10 books I would have read this year. Hands down!

It is the kind of book that doesn’t let you be till you are done with it. It is a historic novella in the sense. It is also a subtle love story. It is about struggle and the will to live against all odds and do what one must do anyway. It is about cinema- about the small things that make everything else seem so big and grand. It is a book set in 1918 and in Iceland – of course given the author is from there.

The book is about Mani Steinn (this is where Moonstone comes from – but again how it appears in the book is heartbreaking) – a 16-year old waif who is an enigmatic character. He lives with his great-grandmother’s sister. The volcano Katla has erupted and can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik where the boy lives. The Spanish flu will arrive. The Great War grinds on. Things change. Mani has two loves of his life – Sola G and the movies. He loves the movies and well what he does for a living is something you will find out as you read the book.

The flu changes everything – the place, people, their lives, dimming the line between reality and delirium. For Mani it is about coming of age in one of the most brutal ways, about loving from afar, and the idea of watching movies one after the other is what life is all about. He cannot comprehend any other life till incidents set in motion and life changes completely.

Sjón’s prose is heartbreaking, crisp and there is so much said in such few words. This is the kind of writing that leaves you wanting more. From Mani’s life to the impact the flu has on the town to the magic of silent movies to describing the year 1918 and that too in about two months when the novel is set, is no easy feat. At this point, I must also speak of the translation by Victoria Cribb which is superlative. I’m sure it manages to convey what the author set of to.

“Moonstone” is the kind of book that evokes this melancholy feeling inside you, it makes you want to reach out and hug the writer for writing something so remarkable. It is a short book with a very big heart. I know for one that I will most certainly read a lot more that has been written by Sjón and I highly recommend that you do the same. Start with this one.

Her by Harriet Lane

Her by Harriet Lane Title: Her
Author: Harriet Lane
Publisher: W & N
ISBN: 978-1780220024
Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about this book on various online forums and sites. I was quite excited as well to read it. I finally read and finished it today. The book is very well-written, that’s for sure, and it’s just that I was a bit disappointed by the twist in the tale. Having said that, I give it four stars only because of the writing and the atmosphere Harriet Lane has managed to conjure in her book “Her”.

“Her” is a story of two women – Nina and Emma. Both are almost of the same age and living in London. They come from two different worlds and lead two very different lives. While Nina is a successful artist, Emma is a housewife who feels mostly stifled being at home and taking care of her children. And yet when they meet, there is something that draws them to each other, something almost unexplainable. Till the reader understands that Nina is up to something while meeting Emma (well sort of understand, rather, the reader can only guess). Why is Nina interested in Emma? Why does she have this obsession which is so subtle and yet there?

The book is chilling. It is also quite an intriguing read. Lane’s writing is sharp and has a lot of detailing that only helps build the suspense. I loved how Emma’s housewife ennui is explained throughout and how Nina’s perspectives are portrayed. Both women’s stories unravel through their views of similar situations, told in alternating chapters.

My only grouse was the build-up to the end in the penultimate chapter. I just had a problem with that part. The ending however is so brilliant that it will leave you with your jaw dropping. This thriller is interwoven with the past and the present and explores human psychology with great casualty. It is quite shocking to see Nina’s character build and do the things that she does with such calm.

You must read this book for the plot, for the characterization, for the way the women are depicted, for the details and above all for a good chill running through your spine.