A History of Objects by Carlo Pizzati: Book Review

Title: A History of Objects
Author: Carlo Pizzati
Genre: Short Stories
Publisher: Harper Collins

Are objects merely inanimate things, sitting around us, a witness to our lives, our exhilarations and tribulations? Or do they play a part in the events, precipitating conflict, resolving conundrums, pushing us to explore new paths?

In ‘A History of Objects‘, things may not be pivotal in bringing about change, but they certainly allude to differing perceptions and evolving situations.

It is a collection of short stories, of diverse people and places, that span decades and lifetimes of protagonists. Many of these are open-ended, for the reader to imagine how things turn out.

About the Book

The book opens with a wonderful premise, of the narrator losing objects, or rather his stories of them through another object that has a great hold over us — a hard drive. And thus begins the book of many delightful tales, delving deep into families and people’s lifestyles, their beliefs, aspirations and fears.

There are many bits and pieces from these stories that felt viscerally ‘right’, right from our vices and failings to our affectations while navigating confusing circumstances.

While The Coconut Scraper makes fun of artistic pretensions, The Portrait deifies art, bestowing it a kind of prescience.

The Sweater digs through a family history, uncovering deep rooted prejudices around the color of skin. The theft of the sweater is presented through the eyes of the thief and you are convinced of the inevitability of it ending up with her.

The Mask brings into sharp focus the pandemic and everything we have collectively been through in the past 2 years. I loved the way it ended, not knowing if someone were infected or not, because we all felt doomed in either case.

The Leash is a little funny in its treatment of the characters and their lifestyle, even though the psychological manipulation in the story is tragic.

The Jade Stone is relatable; it’s what I see around me today – the ambition, the lack of understanding and dare I say it, the impermanence of relationships.

The Smartphone is very contemporary, very apt, very true. The story of a couple seemingly on a paradisical farm who are in fact trapped because of social media, is just a few degrees away from the truth we all face.

The VHS tape is so innocuous and chilling in its possibilities of a gun hidden and found by someone vulnerable.

The Bench, oh dear, it’s so clever, it’s so right, its so bang-on, not just about literary festivals but about sexism.

Verdict

Reading these stories felt comforting for their excellent observations, the perfect prose, the slight detachment from the characters, yet diving deep into life through their stories.

You can buy the book here.

This review is powered by Blogchatter Book Review Program.

George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

My younger one has raved about this book ever since he read it and trying to get me to read too. One of the reasons was that I refused to listen to the story and the dialogues, since I had already had an earful from ‘The Witches’ (going by the memorised passages, it looks like a wondrously delightful read).

While I was in the transition period, having finished one book and looking for the next one, I was given George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl by the kiddos. It’s fun, fun, fun.

A little story exposition here: little George, 8 years old is left alone for the day and asked to take care of his grumpy grandma. I was blessed with sweet, loving grandmothers, but this grandma in the book is an absolute bulky, cheerless, bossy and made me chuckle all through. Because grandma is such a pain and because she constantly belittles George, misguiding him (which is apparent even to a child) and making him afraid of her supposed witch powers (though it is George who gets lucky with the magic after all) that the boy decides to take matters in his own hands and brew her a medicine that will — if not cure her, definitely do something to shake her up.

He goes around the house collecting every substance that’s runny or powdery or gooey to make a concoction (frankly I shuddered at the stuff he put in, even my non-judgemental, non-motherly self). Finally, after a boil and a stir, grandma gets to taste the medicine with hilarious effects.

All through the book, I was super worried about George’s parents getting back and going all ballistic about the stuff he used up, right from his mom’s toiletries to the veterinary medicines but Roald Dahl being who he is, Mr Kranky (pops) lives the idea and wants to take it further.

No more spoilers but this is a really entertaining book. A Roald Dahl classic, but it for your kid and yourself.

This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Kiran Manral

Missing, Presumed Dead by Kiran Manral can very easily be a treatise on marriage and mental illness. Instead, it’s one step ahead, a thriller that builds the suspense and the distrust in your heart slowly, bringing it to a menacing level that chills the reader.

The book begins with the description of quiet domesticity, children who are adored, a serene hill town and a placid pace of life. However, the peace is disturbed by the afternoon doorbell, the arrival of a strikingly similar-in-looks half-sister and the incessant rain and storm.

Soon, peace gives way to chaos as Aisha peels back the layers of her memories and her present life. Her marriage has been fractured for some time, she battles her mental demons, she is living with an unsupportive spouse, a teenaged daughter who shows signs of an eating disorder and through it all, Heer arrives, the person Aisha has abhorred for years.

In a matter of days, Aisha disappears and she is declared missing, presumed dead. But the reader is privy to Aisha’s story. For the next few days, as she ostensibly takes back control of her life but is actually sliding away from reality, the mystery gets deeper.

Who is right, who is good, who has ulterior motives, is there an unreliable narrator, are questions that the reader grapples with.

In places, the prose becomes almost poetic and wise as the story moves along. It is a beautiful delving into marriage and relationships as also into the dark recesses of a person’s mind. The last part is surprising, moving swiftly into the realm of betrayal and avarice.

Read the book for a good storyline and exploration of the nature of relationships. The mental health angle is deeply researched and sensitively handled.

This post is part of BlogchatterA2Z.

Reading in 2022 and Eating Wasps

Reading wise my year started in a weird way. I was supposed to read an already-chosen book but I don’t recall how I fell off the reading bandwagon. It could have been work or some other stress?

And after a few days began the deliberation of picking a book. I wanted something symbolic to begin the year’s reading with. Something bold, And fresh and new and something I was interested in reading. I thought about and rejected many genres. I looked at books and put them back. Where was the book that would inspire me? And then I came to scroll through books available in Kindle Unlimited. After 2.5 days of feeling despondent at not getting the perfect read and even looking up authors I had read 2 decades earlier, I found Anita Nair’s books.

There was something morbidly fascinating about Anita Nair’s ‘Eating Wasps’. Of course, thinking about eating an actual wasp felt distasteful. And wasps are supposed to be vicious creatures. However, a few quick looks at the blurb and reviews and I knew I would like to read this book.


What’s the book about?

A friend asked me and I said it’s about women and their lives. Sounds succinct and overly simplistic but that’s what it is.
Sreelakshmi died by suicide in the 1960s. A respected woman, lecturer, zoologist, and celebrated writer, her death sent shock waves in the town she lived. The mystery was never solved and Sreelakshmi lived on, as a ghost, closed inside a little pen case, and hidden in a secret compartment in an almirah. What happened to her and the course of events that led to her death start unraveling nearly half a century later when a little girl unsuspectingly sets the ghost of Sreelakshmi free from its resting place.

As only ghosts can, Sreelakshmi could know the life stories of the people, women in fact, who picked up the bone in which she still resided.

Through the book, we meet many women, from Urvashi to Maya to Najma, who are strong, successful in their own right, navigating life on their own terms, most of the time.

It is in telling the stories of these women and their tenuous brushing-past Sreelakshmi’s ‘non-existence’ that the narrative of the book is woven.

To say that the book focuses on the trials and tribulations of women, in the past and now in the modern world would not be incorrect. At times, it is a magnificent ring-side view of the complex lives and desires of women everywhere.

There are so many moments that grabbed me. Sreelakshmi, self-assured, who could conquer every challenge, succumbed to love and desire, things she had stayed away from, all her life. Urvashi, successful with a capital S, feeling disillusioned with life and afraid when she is stalked. Pussy-mouth, pushed into hiding because of her ignominy on the internet. Maya, fighting valiantly for her son and happiness, nearly succumbing to hopelessness. There are so many women, one after the other, with their ordinary lives and their extraordinary courage. Mothers, sisters, daughters, Anita Nair examines them from the lens of relationships and their inner compass.

Dating apps, viral videos on the internet, stalking, child abuse, antagonistic behaviour within families, acid attacks, patriarchy, the themes are varied and perfectly woven in.
Thought provoking of course and awakening if-onlys and what-ifs in my mind, this was a powerful read from a mighty pen.

Young Blood by Chandrima Das: Book Review

Horror genre depends on either spectacular sound effects, gruesome visuals or a fear that stalks the victim. Young Blood employs all of these and comes out an entertainer that scares, engages and provokes the reader to contemplate.

Book Blurb

Bored roommates use a planchette to contact a legendary ghost that haunts Pune University. Will she answer?

Is the abandoned Khairatabad Science College in Hyderabad really haunted? A gang of students break inside to investigate.

Nirav and Pavi love each other . . . most of the time. Will exploring a forbidden place inside IIT Kharagpur bring them closer?

From strange sightings to urban legends, from haunted buildings to not-so-friendly ghosts, colleges in India have their fair share of spine-tingling tales, be it Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, St. Bede’s College in Shimla or Delhi University. Young Blood is a collection of ten tales that reimagine college urban legends and true first-person accounts, that promises to terrify even die-hard fans of horror.

About the Author

Chandrima Das has a B.Tech in Computer Science from NIT Durgapur and an MBA from IIM Calcutta. After a decade-long career in management consulting, she followed her passion for writing. Her digital debut The Talking Dead was a bestseller in the horror category. She’s performed live at storytelling events with Tall Tales and Kommune, and was published in The Best Of Tall Tales.

Book Review

When do we encounter ghost stories and rumours of hauntings? For most of us, it is during our later school years or colleges. The stories are told and retold in peer groups, informal cliques, carried on from batch to batch.

In India, many colleges have sprawling campuses, housed in British era buildings, with an atmosphere that lends to mystery. Add to this setting the youngsters, an element of exploration, of identity and relationships, the new-found freedom or the pressure to perform well because studying in a prestigious college is a culmination of their family’s dreams. The emotions that characterize youth are the base point of many stories as are the societal issues.

In Young Blood, horror is not merely the paranormal, it is also the normalised expectations and thinly veiled manipulative behaviour that our society condones.

The stories vary in location, setting and style. There are similar elements to the hauntings and horror episodes, the way the air goes still or cold, bodies that are at unnatural angles, shadows that appear or congregate, voices that only the protagonists can hear, wind and rain and full moon nights that contribute to the spooky environment. And yet, the horror isn’t only external. It stems from a person’s psyche, his trauma, his fears and anxieties and even societal expectations that exact a price from the individual.

After reading each story, I eagerly flipped to the back of the book to read the author notes. She has explained the lore surrounding a particular place, how she reimagined and fictionalised it and what were the main influences for that particular story. It was as close to a conversation with the author as could be. Including these notes is a wonderful touch.

In Good Girls, Bad Girls, there’s a hint of a paranormal sighting but the real horror arises from the threat of stalking and violence right in a ladies hostel. Combined with internalised patriarchal norms that women adhere to, it lends insecurity even in places they are supposed to be safe. I quite liked this one, because of the way it hits the message home.

The Sacrifice is notable for the characters, the young and curious Paul, and the wordly Roni with special powers. The interaction between the two, the testing of ground, the conflict of religion and faith, is very interesting, as is the mirroring of the political situation in Manipal.

Challenge Accepted is perhaps the most recognisable kind of horror story, mainly because the trope of a haunted building has been covered rather widely. But the story works well and is a good way to begin the book with.

I read Pen for Your Thoughts for St. Bede’s and Shimla, a place where I have spent many years. I know the icy winds, the slippery slopes, the looming pine trees and what they do to a terrified mind. 

The Inner Door captured racism and an undercurrent of mistrust among students from different geographical areas very well.

The Benefits of Doubt uses vernacular to strike the terror home in the precincts of the hallowed IIT Kharagpur.

Ghost of a Chance is heartbreaking, as it focuses on student suicides over the years in IITs. Again, what makes the story stick to your mind is the exploration of themes like mental health and parental pressure.

Verdict

Young Blood by Chandrima Das is an engaging set of stories, relatable, believable and racy. A must-read for horror genre afficinados.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi: My Thoughts

A beautiful book cover, the promise of a traditional setting with a courageous woman protagonist and rave reviews from readers – Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist ticks all the right boxes. However I picked the book because it was the choice of my book club and everyone was absolutely excited about this one.

A group of people reading the book with me, followed by a book discussion is just a very exciting proposition. So while I wait for the discussion, I must write what I think about the book.

The book is set in Jaipur in the mid 1950s and 30-year old Lakshmi is a much sought-after henna artist catering to the rich of the city and being privy to not just the secrets of the ladies but of the men as well. When Hari, the husband she had left years ago, turns up at her doorstep with a young girl who claims to be her sister, her life turns upside down. Soon she’s struggling to hold on to the financial independence she has carved for herself and her very reputation.

The storyline is captivating and has many twists and turns before it hurtles towards a conclusion, open enough for a sequel.

I liked the story but I had a few issues with the writing and the themes that were explored.

For one, I could not picturise the protagonist in my mind. There was not much physical description and Lakshmi just did not seem to fit into my idea of a woman in Jaipur, of that particular social strata and in that time period.

Lakshmi was also created to be unlikeable by the author I think. While I could understand her life story, her abusive marriage and an escape, her rise through sheer hard work and the taking of opportunities as they arose, I could not fathom her self-talk. She was guilty at every turn, thinking of her life choices and yet she’s manipulative and happy about it. Those two emotions seemed at loggerheads most of the time.

Radha, her younger sister too changes into an unlikeable character as the book progresses. From a timid girl she becomes a classist in just a few months, which is a little unbelievable. The kind of grudge she carries in her heart is also inexplicable after she’s lost all her family and comes to Jaipur to seek her only sister out.

Hari, Lakshmi’s husband is another character, whose transformation from an abusive, illiterate person to an empathetic healer is hard to fathom.

Many events in the story sound contrived. Things fall into place just too easily. It’s not the bigger, life-changing things but the smaller ones like the gift of the parrot from the palace to unlikely reconciliation between sisters to adoption of a child born out of wedlock to a loving family who had lost their own, that sound easy.

The setting didn’t work for me at all. It didn’t evoke the Jaipur of 1950s to me. Nor did it capture the spirit of Shimla in the few pages it was described. It felt too modern, even though it is just a few years after India achieved independence. Girls from remote villages in UP are well versed in the English classics with book keeping talents. It’s not just Lakshmi and Radha who are even more educated than the middle class but also Malik, the Muslim boy from an impoverished background who runs errands and buys things from market based on a list. All this feels very incongruous.

The thoughts that run in the minds of the characters are just too persistent. Every few pages we revisit Lakshmi’s guilt at abandoning her husband and bringing a bad name to her parents. For a woman who’s very sure of what she wants to do with her life, Lakshmi seems rather steeped in her past. The dialogues are repetitive as well. I had figured out how the book would end much before I reached the final chapters. The final nails in the coffin of her life in Jaipur were driven rather slow. Rather than feeling her pain, I only felt that the trope was overdone.

However, the book has its beauty. The henna description, the herbs and the potions, the life and times of the palace and the aristocracy come alive very well. The cruelty of the rich towards the poor is very believable. The story line is captivating and it’s a lovely portrayal of Indian culture to a foreign eye.

Pinkoo Shergill Pastry Chef by Vibha Batra: Book Review

Title: Pinkoo Shergill Pastry Chef
Author: Vibha Batra
Format: Paperback
Genre: Children (8-12)
Publisher: Scholastic India

Pinkoo Shergill Pastry Chef is funny and entertaining while also nudging out gender stereotyping. It’s an endearing book for children with lovable characters, laugh-out-loud situations and ‘fantasmazing’  language.

Pinkoo, the boy born with impossibly pink cheeks, prodded to become a shooting champion to fulfil his grandfather’s dream, has his heart set on baking scrumptious desserts.

The book is about his mission to avoid shooting and prove himself to be a MasterChef. He’s helped along by his loyal and talkative cousin Tutu, who is also the perfect side-kick. His friend Manu provides help and moral support and Nimrat clears Pinkoo’s path to success and glory.

Chocolate nougat cake, almond mocha cookies, motichoor ladoo white chocolate brownie, gulab jamun cheesecake – these mouthwatering are the real stars of the book with every page and dessert description getting you drooling.

Papaji, the strict dad, Beeji, the benevolent matriarch, Chachiji, the phone-peering aunt, shooting coach Aloo…Walia, Daljeet, the school bully, Chef Khanna and loads of other characters are drawn to perfection.

A special mention to the fantastic words coined by the author that kids I am sure, love everywhere. Wowmazing, tremenderously, yummysome are just some of them, capitalised in the text, catching the attention and delight of young readers.

Also refreshing is the way gender roles are confronted and demolished for the shams they are. Baking is considered girlie by Papaji who comes around by the end of the book. The school bullies would be silenced because of Pinkoo’s baking prowess. And Tikki, Tutu’s little sister is the next shooting star, a sport usually considered masculine.

As events unfold and the story progresses, everything gets funnier. To quote the funny passages would require quoting at least three-quarters of the book.

The quirky illustrations by Shamika Chaves add to the fun factor.

The children are just going to love all the action, friendship, challenges and the special feeling of doing just what they want. Pinkoo Shergill Pastry Chef is a star of a book.

You can order your copy from Amazon.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon powered by the Blogchatter Book Review Program.

The Why of Book Reviews

Those who know me know the passion I have for book reviews. It’s not about the judgement or even capturing the essence of the book – it’s the expression of what the book made you feel that most catches my eye.

Every reader has her own interpretation of what she reads about and this feeling is what’s valuable. Let us for a moment cast aside political correctness and what must be and the examples we set through our opinions in book reviews. I want to share the why of book reviews at the most basic gut level.

I follow a lot of blogs and subscribe to newsletters only for book reviews. Mind you, I don’t want to read all those books. Some talk of books in far flung areas or of subjects that wouldn’t elicit a reaction from me. I don’t want a verdict (though I am guilty of writing that in my reviews) of how good or bad it is and whether the pace slackens in the middle or the end has all threads neatly tied.

What I want to read are the bits that stood out for you. The description that made you stop and stare wonderingly out of your window, thinking back to some other time. That same fear, or hatred or guilt or shame you recognise in one of the characters. And suddenly you feel understood and validated.

What we read shapes us, our thoughts, emotions and their expression in real life. When we recognise the patterns of what hits us the most in a book, that’s a teeny weeny step closer to our own selves. Your review of a book may not express that revelation but you have marked the places which felt very real to you.

That’s why I pick quotes from books and add the highlighted passages in my reviews. That’s why I say why a book cover looks endearing, not because of the design elements but because it speaks to a part of me. I don’t want book reviews to be just useful to my readers, in helping them choose what to read next but in letting them decide if this is the book they would open their hearts to.

A review can be as beautiful as the book itself; a piece of art on its own.

When I talk of books I talk of myself too.

Share the link to a favourite book review that you or someone else has written.

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Stepping Out of My Reading Comfort Zone



The best conversations are bookish. If you are stuck in a party (uh, what’s that, asks my post-pandemic brain) and know no one there, a good thing to do would be share what you are reading. All readers worth their salt would jump in with their own observations, opinions and recommendations.

Talking of recommendations, they are easy to listen to but difficult to digest. What if the other person recommends a genre that you dislike? What if it’s a book you are sure you wouldn’t like? Worse, you may not even like the cover (of course we judge a book by its cover but that’s another blog post in the making).

I am rather wary of others telling me what to read. Somehow, somewhere I feel that the other reader Must be my exact personality type for me to even think of listening to them. However, sometimes I let my judgement slip and do pick up books that others recommend and surprise, I like the book!

Midnight’s Library by Matt Haig is one such book. Left to my devices, I wouldn’t have picked it for a read even though I really like the author, his balanced and positive approach to all things life and universe. Alas, a lot of people on my TL had read it and done the requisite raving. In a soft moment, I started reading this story of infinite possibilities and infinite choices available to us through other lifetimes. And the best part? It’s all through a huge library, a sympathetic librarian and shelves of books that rush past you in a blur. It’s a lovely book, and now I am sure I wouldn’t want any other life than my own.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka was another such book. I wouldn’t have read it, but for the prodding of The Creative Soul Club. Upon reading it, I was baffled. Why was a person changing to a bug? Why was I reading about a maybe cockroach lying flat beneath the sofa? What was the point of it all? Also, what’s life? I also happened to like the book very much, in all honesty. It has stayed with me all this time and while every weird and repulsive bug brings the name Gregor Samsa to my mind, I can appreciate, even if a teeny bit, and mostly because of my book discussion gang, the ahem, underlying themes.

Coming up next is The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond. I am aware he’s much loved and I have read a few of his short stories but that’s about it. I did like to stare at the gate of the school he was supposed to have attended for a few years. It was on my short route to the market, hidden away and accessible on one side by a mud track. Anyway, I liked to know about his life but not his books. Till I was stuck on letter ‘U’ for Blogchatter A2Z and anyone who’s participated in it knows what a pain the last few letters of the alphabet are. So, my kids had the book and all I had to do was to flip through the pages and write a blog post. Simple? Yes, the book is endearing in its simplicity. And having lived in the hills I know the innocence of the hill folks, their slow partaking of life and the contentment of a simple world. Boy, was I glad I read the book! The story feels like a comforting hug.

And the last one so far this year (again, I know which year it is because of the TBR Challenge, talking of which, have you checked it out yet?) Ok, the last book was a bunch of beautiful illustrations of The Horse, the Fox and the Mole. Wait, there’s a boy in it too. All the wisdom of the animals who mysteriously seem to talk, comfort, encourage the little boy is endearing. If you like to look at bold lines, both in drawings and in writing, this is the book for you.

Do you step out of your reading comfort zone often?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.

Curmudgeon Avenue: The House that Talks – to the readers

I don’t like to hoard books too much; I would rather buy them when I have the time and inclination to read.

Alas, digital reading has led me to download a large number of books. I suddenly feel that I have to get this book now, right now and what if the book is not available at this price in a few day’s time. My library is now bulging (the way something digital bulges, is all I can say in defence of this description).

There’s a book that I set my heart on, nearly a year ago. It had a house on the cover (always a pull for me) and best of all, the narrator of the book was the house! It had some weird residents with lots of stories of their lives and misdemeanors.

Also, the author of the book Samantha Henthorn told me (yes, I am bragging about knowing authors ;)) that the characters speak in a Manchester accent! This got me really excited because it sounded so different,though I had no idea of the unique words or sounds of the accent. Well, at least it would have a local sound and flavour.

I started reading Curmudgeon Avenue (Book One of the Terraced House Diaries). For many reasons, after reading a few pages about an elephant and a lorry driver, I had to let the book rest for a long while.

Sometimes you go through conflicting emotions. You so want to do something or read something and at the same time, you are sure you won’t be able to do justice by giving it your complete attention.

A few days ago, I finally found I wanted to pick it again and lo and behold, finished the book in 2 days flat!

What did I think about the book? Well, it’s sarcastic, funny and entertaining!

The book is a laugh riot, each character more outrageous than the other.
The sisters, Edna and Edith, in their seventies but with plenty of spunk, are funny, right from their clothes, to mannerisms to their beliefs. The sponging son, Ricky Ricketts is unbelievably thinking of his own self, the ex of one of the sisters and their present tenant Harold is ridiculous, Maurice, the would-be-murderer who puts anti-freeze in mint chocolate (that incidentally the cat eats) because he had been stood up once in his youth by one of the sisters is silly, and the policemen (they act more like hooligans) Sleeveless Steve and Psycho Steve are crazy. Mrs. Ali is the best of them all, the neighborhood busybody, swilling buckets of dirty mop water onto the street, just because it was a scene from a movie that had caught her fancy.

And of course, the situations are very funny to suit the characters. Edith constantly gets wooed by men Edna had dated when she was a young girl. The elder sister’s bossiness, the younger one’s docility, the cheekiness of the men in the book are just hilarious.

I did wish there was more from the house’s pov, because it’s very interesting to have the story narrated thus. Also I wanted some of the characters to have more of a story. Georgine Foote, the bossy woman dominated by her elderly and seemingly frail mother and Patchouli, the mom to the exotic girls could have had many more misadventures.

All in all, it turned out to be a fantastic read that is laugh-out-loud funny, with eccentric characters and outrageous situations that entertain you completely. The clever language that’s sometimes deadpan is a bonus.

And now I wish I had read it last year!

Have you read a book that had an inanimate narrator?

This post is part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.