Tag Archives: Pan Macmillan

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness, From an Original Idea by Siobhan Dowd
Publisher: Walker Books, Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 978-1-4063-4700-5
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 237
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

When I started reading, “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness, I did not imagine that I would be so taken in by the story, that I would be impacted by its plot to this extent, that I would cry at the end of the book or for that matter not stop thinking about it. I rarely cry when I read books but some of them just compel me to because of the connect we share in some way or the other. Books do that. So do movies. Music even. Any form of art. This one sure did.

“A Monster Calls” is about thirteen-year old Conor and his mother who is suffering from cancer and there seems to be no hope for her. Conor has nightmares which he cannot speak of. He cannot share them with anyone, till one fine night a monster comes knocking on his bedroom window and his life changes drastically. The monster is the yew tree monster, who stands dull and strong in the daytime and arrives precisely at 12:07 am (on the first night and a couple of other nights as well) to tell tales to Conor, wanting to hear his last truth and tale. This winds up the book and answers any questions that the readers might have towards the end of the book.

Conor’s character is complex and yet at the same time he is like any other teenager, who wants things to be perfect and knows that they will never be the same. The monster is crucial to the story (but of course). Conor’s mother, Dad, and grandma along with his once best-friend Lily and other bullies at school, make for the rest of the characters of the book.

The book from the look of it is set in England. The landscape and the descriptions could have been a little more detailed to add to the book’s atmosphere. I was a little disappointed with that. I liked the narrative and the story. The idea originally belonged to, as Patrick also says, to one of the finest Young Adult Writers, Siobhan Dowd, who passed on due to breast cancer. Patrick was approached then to work on the idea and he has tried to be true to it.

“A Monster Calls” is human and above all describes loss, love, and redemption in the most beautiful manner. It could have been longer and I would have liked it to, but it is alright I guess. Patrick Ness is brilliant at his craft and as he has also highly recommended Siobhan’s works, my next new found author would have to be her.

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Book Review: Embassytown by China Mieville

Title: Embassytown
Author: China Mieville
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
ISBN: 978-0-330-53307-2
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 405
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are very few authors who consistently write enthralling books month after month or year after year. China Mieville happens to be one of them. His books are of the “New Weird” genre and I am not kidding about that. I remember reading, “Perdido Street Station” a long time ago and completely taken in by his style and the magnificence of his writing. Since then I have read most of his books – from King Rat to The City and the City, Kraken and now “Embassytown”.

“Embassytown” for me was not an easy read. It doesn’t start off easy, being the hard-core sci-fi novel that it is. It took me quite a while to get into the book and enjoy it more so only after 100 pages or so. Let me now tell you something about the book.

The book takes place on a planet known as Ariekei. A colony of human beings has formed an improbable and unheard of alliance with an unusual species, the Ariekei, known by those who live on their planet as Hosts. What makes the Ariekei strange is the fact that they have a different language. Different in the sense that they utter each word in two distinct simultaneous voices, without any words, they cannot distinguish between the sounds they employ (I found this very fascinating), the meanings they intend therefore are not clear, and so they cannot lie or recognize meaningful speech (I found this quite futuristic and scary). The only pair of humans, who have been specifically modified for the purpose of coordinating their voices and their thoughts, can communicate with the Hosts. These paired humans are known as Ambassadors.

Avice, the narrator and protagonist of the story makes us see Ariekei right through her childhood and youth – portraying an urban existence so different from ours and yet deep-rooted in universal aspects of city life. In the first couple of chapters, Avice’s complicated history with different powers of Embassytown is detailed, leading to the one evening when everything changes. The overlapping sections are well-paced, revealing the narrative secrets one step at a time. Who is Avice? What happened to her? Why are she and her husband Scile back? What is the actual science fiction element of the novel? Mieville sure doesn’t serve anything to the reader on a platter. The mystery of Ariekei and Embassytown is revealed layer by layer for the reader. The suspense element is right high on the charts and makes you turn the page, wanting more.

Mieville weaves the story so well – taking something as common-place and often taken for granted, language and showing us its real nature – as a jumping-off point – the novel is not as much of ideas as it then becomes of images. The idea of a city in transit and the cultural clashes by synergizing humans and aliens is remarkable and scary at the same time. China Mieville makes the necessary paradigm shift required for the “science-fiction” novel, by bringing out the nuances and elements of the robust world-building and the distinct awe and terror required for such books.

“Before the humans came, we didn’t speak so much of many things. Before the humans came, we didn’t speak.” That is the crux of the book. Embassytown greatest strength lies in the fact that it speaks about the fragility and duplicity of language, about the meaning, its creation and how sometimes language just doesn’t remain a reference point. What I did not like about the book is that the brilliant secondary characters were not explored more. I would have loved to see them shape and have their own voices.

Embassytown is everything you wanted though in a sci-fi novel – weird, inventive and nail-biting intrigue. If you have the patience needed for such a book, then you will not be disappointed by it at all.

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Book Review: The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano

Title: The Third Reich
Author: Roberto Bolano
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330535793
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Roberto Bolaño has always fascinated me with his works – absurd, odd, strange, surreal and brutal at times, he ensured that he left a legacy that his fans will never forget and from this emerges his new book, ‘The Third Reich’.
The Third Reich in bits and pieces did remind me of Ian McEwan’s, ‘The Comfort of Strangers’, but barring the basic plot was where the similarity ended. This book was discovered after his death and apparently quite complete, it is his early work. This work has been beautifully translated by Natasha Wimmer. There are traces of immense surrealism in this one, which Bolaño would later use and implement in The Savage Detectives and 2666.

The Third Reich centers on Udo Berger, a German in his mid-twenties, who is taking a vacation with his girlfriend in a beach hotel on the Costa Brava, where he has spent many a vacation with his family as a child. Together with another German couple, they engage in the usual activities – swimming, eating, drinking, sunbathing and making love. However, this vacation is not what either of the couple thought it would turn out to be. All is not well in paradise. They are involved with a local sinister group, called, The Wolf, The Lamb and El Quemado (the burnt one), a South-American immigrant who hires pedal boats on the beach. The four individuals are further taken in by acts of off-stage violence which results in a death and that changes the complete course of events.

The title of the book surprisingly (or not) comes from a game called, “The Third Reich” that Udo plays in a hotel room which becomes something more. I think Roberto Bolaño was obsessed with Germany in many ways. Many of his books deal with German Literature and he also deals with German History in a very peculiar manner.

The novel is delightful. It depicts the war-game scenario to the open, signaling its peculiarities in a poetic, stylistic manner. The book is strange and at the same time it does what it has to – entraps the reader into it. I would highly recommend this book to Roberto’s fans and also to the ones who have never read him.

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An Interview with Ken Follett

As I made my way through the Oberoi Hotel lobby, there were butterflies in my stomach and they were fluttering at a speed that was unimaginable. My stomach was knotted in several places and I knew this was it. Today was the day I was going to meet one of my most beloved authors in the world – Ken Follett – the date: 15th of December 2010. I was to interview him. I couldn’t even believe that this was actually happening and here it was – the moment that I had been waiting and preparing for.

He met me. All suited and looking dapper – Mr. Follett – majestic with his all-silver hair and fresh as though he had just woken up. I took my place and we were left in the conference room so I could interview him. In retrospect I did a good job I would say and yet thinking about the day and how I was feeling – a bundle of nerves, someone who could clearly use a glass of water, which I helped myself to and began,

Me: “So tell me, the switch from Thrillers to Historical Fiction? How did that come about?  

KF: I felt that there was a great popular novel waiting to be written and this was right after I had written a couple of thrillers. I was thirty six when I first wrote The Pillars of the Earth and honestly I did not want to be stuck in any one genre. I wanted to explore and saw no reason not to switch to Historical fiction. More so I wanted to write a popular novel and not a literary novel – not the one that wins a Booker Prize. I wanted to write something historical and popular, like the “Gone with the Wind”. It was something I wanted to try and it worked well.

Me: How did the idea germinate for, “Fall of Giants?”

KF: Well I had just finished writing, “World without End” and wanted to write another historical novel. The 20th century is full of violence and unprecedented idealism at the same time. It is about the growth of democracy, high ideas of feminism, and terrible slaughter – from Mao’s regime in China to the Nazi rule in Hitler’s wake. I wanted to capture all of that and that’s when Fall of Giants began. It could not be contained in one book, therefore a trilogy.

Me: While reading the book, the one character that struck and stayed with me was Maud. How did she come about? Did someone inspire you in particular while etching her character?

KF: Maud is not really one individual. She is upper class and respectable and there were many like her in those times fighting against women suffrage. Have I known anyone like her in person? Hmmm…I have come across idealistic women and may be they left a huge impact on my mind to write about Maud.

Me: Is there a plan waiting to write a book on India?

KF: No plan as such to write on India though I wouldn’t rule it out completely. Its just that there are extraordinary good Indian writers and I would hesitate to go up against them.

Me: Is there going to be some part in the trilogy that covers India?

KF: (Laughs) I possibly cannot cover everything that happened you know. The Independence of India and partition were great stories – the truth that took place. The entire book is a great story – not just my story.

Me: I am sure it is going by what I have read. So how did writing come to you?

KF: I was at university I remember and had applied for my job as a trainee reporter. I was interested in politics and it’s strange that I never covered politics (guffaws). You do what they ask you to. There is a murder at the docks and you have to cover it. No questions asked.

Me: Who have been your literary influences?

KF: Literature always played a crucial role in my life. Right from childhood – starting from Enid Blyton – her Famous Five and the Secret Seven to my actual real book reading that started when I was twelve with Ian Fleming – the creator of James Bond. What an experience it was reading his books! What a thrill! I wanted to give my readers the same thrill I felt when I read his books. The readers should just say, “Lucky me! I have got a great book to read”.

Me: Don’t you think the publishing industry has gone through a drastic change in the past couple of years? What are your views on this?

KF: I only now wish I can live up to 250 years to read all the good books that are in stores today. I have hardly touched any Russian Literature. There is a world of literature which I have not touched. But you know we should be so lucky that we live in a treasure house such as today’s time with reference to reading and the literature that is churned.

Me: That’s so true. I have been meaning to read so much and yet cannot. Tell me how important is research to a novel and do you enjoy it?

KF: Like most writers I enjoy the research as it eases my writing and most answers come from there. I know what I am looking for – the telling details. The one instance in the book that makes you feel and addresses the situation without bringing it up again. For instance, in the book there is a scene of the mines – during the explosion (a pit disaster) and the workers come to know that the breathing apparatus is missing, which then led to the regularization of coal mines. One such incident is enough and for that you sure do need research.

Me: How difficult it is for you to blend history with fiction?

KF: My rule is I should never violate history while writing. All historical characters do and behave and talk exactly the way they have in the past in my books. It’s the fictional characters who add on to that – as by standers or in the scene. For example, in the book when Gregori watches Lenin come back after his exile, there is no conversation between the two, because that didn’t happen. I maintain history the way it is in my books.

Me: How long did it take you to write Fall of Giants?

KF: It took me around two and a half years to write it. Six months alone for the planning and a year for the first draft. After that it was a breeze.

Me: Why not a novel about the Tudors?

KF: Mainly because it has been done to death. Besides what it is not about – is the ordinary people which I like writing about. I like writing about people’s everyday lives and how that transforms the entire book.

Me: Your favourite novels?

KF: Oh there are plenty of them! There is Great Expectations which I have read and re-read and enjoyed it enormously. James Bonds’ Live and Let Die is another favourite, whose first line goes, “There are moments of great leisure in a spy’s life”, which I wish I had written. Silence of the Lambs is another favourite. What a thriller! I love the Mill on the Floss and Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth” as well.

Me: How important is success or failure to Ken Follett?

KF: Of course I want my books to be a success. It is very important to me.

And thus ended my first ever face-to-face author interview. I left the place feeling mesmerized and how! Please go read Fall of Giants. It is brilliant. You can read my review here.

Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela

This is a rather very interesting & personal book, composed of Nelson Mandela’s vast archive material in the form of letters, papers, conversations, interviews & speeches/recordings he made/written while in Robben Island as a prisoner, after his release from prison & when he was the first democratic elected President of South Africa and the book is titled “Conversations With Myself”. It has been put together by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, dedicated to his grand-daughter who died in a car accident in June this year during Fifa Soccer World Cup 2010 & is foreworded by President Barack Obama.


The book outlines Nelson Mandela’s views among others on leadership & as well as his fallability as a human being : he was quite ‘anxious/uncomfortable’ while in Robben Island that he was being regarded/portrayed as a Saint by some followers/quarters. He does not however regard himself as a Saint even though his definition of a “Saint is a sinner who keeps on trying/repenting”!

This book is an excellent read because of a diversity of material contained : it’s not like a story with a plot or narrative thread. Thus this book can be studied in bits/chunks as you wish with ease without loosing ‘the flow’ of the book. Some of his letters/speeches reflected/presented in this book are in Nelson Mandela’s own handwriting, making this book rather very personal & special (collectable).

Instead of one or two sections of photos in the middle of the book, readers will find copies of some of the actual source documents, mostly written in Mandela’s own hand, every few pages. Several useful appendices are included: a timeline, maps, a list of abbreviations, and list of “People, Places, and Events” which I found to be indispensable.

This book, “Nelson Mandela : Conversations With Myself”, is a highly recommended reading from one of the most famous prisoners in the world, known for his fight for human rights (Nobel Peace Prize Winner), reconciliation & a humble personality (and hence his declaration as no Saint).

For casual readers, no prerequisite reading is necessary to enjoy this book. This is a story born out of confinement but never lonely; a tale of some sorrow but not despair; a message not of apathy but of hope. Mandela’s amazing resiliency is one of the constant factors in this story.

Here is a book trailer of the same:

Conversations with Myself; Mandela, Nelson; Pan Macmillan; Rs. 999