Monday, 15 April 2013

Something old, something new!

It’s never too late to start over...

This is a season of new beginnings across the world. For many, it is spring, that amazing season when the grim landscape of winter is wiped away with a new wash of colour and light. For many in India, the month of April marks the beginning of a new year (different for different states) and they bring it in with pomp and style, full of hope that it is going to be a wonderful year right through.
Strangely, this trend is reflecting in the books that are out this year too. There are countless books out there on re-invention, about making a new start, about life makeovers and everything that goes into launching into the new and the unknown. I love this wave of new writing, because each one is fascinating, both in thought and content. 
Ever since Bridget Jones launched her diary of daily slip ups and vowed to become a better Bridget, there has been a veritable storm of similar stories in the market place. I have read many books where the protagonist works at chipping away at her flaws and making herself better, but many miss the point of doing so, which is to enrich life as it is now. Not to throw away the old but to bring in a newer, enriched you.
To emphasize my point, I quote this line which I found on re-invention by a behavioural expert called Jonathan who has pinned up a lot of interesting stuff on his web pages.
Every time we add a new dimension to our lives we gain knowledge, insight, and experience. Over the course of a lifetime that becomes a deep well to draw from. There is a richness of wisdom that can only come through experience...”
Ready to take the plunge into the rocky path of the unknown? Here’s a book on a woman who did just that and as we mull on the subject of re-invention, read my book review of the week to see if “something new is exactly what you need”....
Something New
By Janis Thomas
Even if a novel that is about a middle aged woman with a charmed life who decides to reinvent herself does not appeal to you, this is one book you must pick up for the sheer ease and beauty of the writing. There is no self conscious prose here, no self indulgent rambling about her woes in life or a tiring exposition of getting old and therefore heading to the nearest Botox doctor.
There is instead an upbeat note at the heart of novel. The story is about Ellen Ivers who has it all (loving husband, nice kids, pretty home, good friends) but is utterly bored with life. While other women might settle into the predictable and often dull world of the suburban home maker, Ellen refuses to do so. And one day, she decides to take it on herself to make many changes and voila, there she is... on the cusp of reinvention.
As she begins to exercise, and take care of her skin, Ellen begins to feel good about herself again, so much so, that she also decides to enter a blogging competition and begin writing as she used to. The book is therefore interspersed with blog posts that are as snappy and fun as the protagonist herself.
Here is a sample of one of her blogs:
“I used to do cartwheels, albeit bad ones, on my front lawn, right in front of my postman. I used to jog to the beach and jump into the ocean in the middle of winter, the cold water stinging every inch of my body, just to feel the wonder of being alive on the planet. I don’t do any of those things anymore...And today, for the first time in a long time, I actually recognized that fact and asked myself why...”
So Ellen begins to write and gains more confidence every day. Paradise, at last? Of course not! Because in every earthly paradise there is a serpent and here it is -- the handsome (and married) guy next door, Ben Campell. So while Ellen is busy trying to reinvent and build herself up, another side of her life begins to unravel. Yes, she wants change, but does she want so much change? Does she want a new life altogether?
A must read book, for the smart writing and the dilemma that builds to a crescendo by the end of the book. What will Ellen do finally? (I must warn you – the end is a bit silly and hard to believe!) But read the book to find out what really happens and here’s assuring you that you will enjoy the journey!
Thought to leave with you –
 “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Barack Obama

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain!

 Catch the melodies of the rain in this new book...

Remember that old song ‘Rhim Jhim Gire Saawan’? That gently evocative song by Kishore Kumar that takes you back to a time when people sat on the patio, watched silver sheets of rain fall all around them, sipped cardamom tea and remembered the first love of their lives. Bollywood, however, changed all those romantic scenes quite rapidly over the years. Rain soon became the inspiration for all kinds of sensual outpourings, where lovers whispered all kinds of sweet nothings while drenched to the skin under cloud bursts of epic proportions.

Now, why did I bring all that up? The reason is simple enough. I want to introduce today’s book to you that relies heavily on its rain muse to take the story forward, either by the pitter patter of a past memory or the sweet pounding of  a current wave of  emotions.

I have a short interview with the author too, so that will help you understand the book better.

 Love the rain? Sit back and enjoy!

Book of the week: FARAWAY MUSIC by  Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

The story begins on a long-haul international flight, with famous writer and heroine of the story, Piya Choudhury deciding not to sit back and enjoy the “dizzying drone of flight A1 102”but to speak to a young reporter, Sumaya on board the same aircraft about the loves and passions of her life.  And so, over that long journey, we learn about the real Piya Choudhary, the gifted and impetuous youngster, turned journalist, turned PR consultant, turned writer and the many twists and turns in her eventful life. Right from her teenage crushes to her miscalculation of men and their behaviour, to her love affair with her editor Abhir to her marriage to a noted artist David Cicconi, to becoming a famous author herself, the story unravels gently and we, the readers, are swept along in its wake.

 The first thing that strikes you about the book is that it is written from the heart. From the reminiscence of avocado oil, the magical jasmine lights of Jorapur Lane, the single drop of Elizabeth Arden perfume, the rose Chanderi sari, the champagne coloured chiffon – the book is full of vignettes that propel you back and forth in time. It is like the author has transported herself into these worlds once more and drawn out its essence for us to savour just for one brief, delicious second.

Unwontedly, perhaps or intentionally, there are wistful thoughts inserted sporadically into the book. Like the part when Piya says, “We can’t be our mothers Sumaya, no matter how hard we try....All we are is their reflection...and life the mirror”. Or when the author looks back at Mumbai and writes, giving voice to Piya’s thoughts... “Mumbai, a city by the sea, a city of a million people....a city of lights and lust, of stars and stock markets, of soul and sin. A city I left.”

The most admirable person in the book is the Karim Bhai, her friendly cab driver, who was like an angel hovering over Piya right through her stay in Mumbai. When he eventually leaves the story, there is real feeling of loss that the reader feels, just like the heroine herself.

And then, there is the rain. When everything blurs in a curtain of water, where damp monsoon breezes bring in fresh insights or a sad memories, where stories are spun and spool out with the rain as a refrain in the backdrop.

If I have a criticism, it is in the feeling that the story drops in pace sometimes and here, an injection of a few more startling twists would have helped carry the story forward with far greater sense of anticipation.

All in all, an enjoyable book, full of the quirky workings and sub plots in the world of journalists, celebrities and more that the author seems to have experienced firsthand.

Now over to the author, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu...

Where did you get the inspiration for Faraway Music?

Faraway Music is my first novel in and it is the story closest to my own life. I started the story of Piya on the night of the July 26 floods when I was a journalist in Mumbai and stranded in office on a night that was to become memorable later, when all of Mumbai literally drowned. Sitting in a corner of a sprawling Edit Hall, in the mellow after light of flickering computer screens, I remember scribbling a chapter on Piya Choudhury, a journalist and Abir Sen, her editor. No wonder then that the rains continue to be an important element in the book, almost taking the shape of a parallel character. In a larger sense, the inspiration of FM emanates from all the cities I have lived in and left, so many people I have met and lost and those that found their way back.

How much of the book is autobiographical?

It is natural that since Piya's life follows in a sense a trajectory  similar to mine, the parallels will be drawn. I would say that Piya's childhood is very similar to mine.  Having said that I think there is a bit of the author in every book one pens, especially in the first that is most often cathartic and reflective of one's own life and experiences.

Have you worked with an editor like any of the ones mentioned in the book?

Are you asking me if there was an Abir Sen in my life? No. But, the role of TT, another character in the book, is loosely based on a dear friend of mine. However, Abir Sen's portrayal is again based on editors I have interacted with in my own life, whose ruthless ambition and cold ego was legendary.

 What do you like most about your own heroine?

 That she is real. That her reactions are not imaginary, but life-like and that she is a woman of the world as much as she is childlike and vulnerable.  There is a Piya in all of us.

 What is your opinion of Indian authors today?

 Indian fiction writing has definitely come of age. However, the quality maybe questionable as opposed to the volumes being churned out. So, I can say I'm all for the explosion, but I wish publishers would not try and fit all authors into boxes.

What is your writing schedule like?

I write almost all day when I am doing a book. And honestly, being a full time writer makes my life a lot easier as I have the bandwidth to work for long stretches and switch off as and when I choose.

What book are you planning next?

 I am working on my fourth novel Cut! Out next is my erotica, Sita's Curse.


Saturday, 23 February 2013

About warm scones and raspberry cordials!

Changing your life one book at a time...

I am not much of a foodie frankly (give me rice and curry any day) but when I read about food in the books, I am instantly hooked. It could be the mere thought of lashings of spice in a hot broth on a cold day, butter melting off a hot scone or ‘a creamy sauce laced with paprika’ that has me hungry in an instant. Phrases like a ‘a crust of pumpernickel’ or ‘fragrant bread’, ‘sun kissed tomatoes’ or ‘a raspberry cordial’ makes me curl up and reach foodie heaven. Never mind that I don’t really like raw tomatoes or anything made out of raspberry.
Come to think of it, the main reason I loved Enid Blyton’s book  was because of all the different kinds of food pictures that she painted. Do you remember them... that pitcher of icy-cold, creamy farm milk from the dairy, the meat and onions fried golden brown, the crusty loaves of new bread fresh from the oven? Ah food!

So when I got hold of Shoba Narayan’s Monsoon Diary, which was a memoir with recipes (it took an age to reach me though it is not an international title), I was delighted. I savoured each evocative phrase in her memoir with delight... “My mom would steam idlis, rice-and-lentil dumplings in the pressure cooker and open it with a pouf of steam just as we came into the kitchen” and “Grand Sweets in Madras... famed for its crumbly sohan papdi, saffron specked wheat halwa, golden jilebis, ghee dripping badushahs...” The book then combines some fabulous recipes, interspersed with stories about her family and later her life in America trying out those recipes.
 But no, Narayan’s memoir is not going to be my book review for the week. The point that I am trying to drive home is that writing about food is instantly appealing, whether it is the thought of a cool draught of root beer on a scorching day or warm mound of rice and golden fried pomfret on a cold night.

So, when I saw the title of this new book, Cupcakes at Carrington’s that I plan to review today, I was drawn to it at once. Did it live up to its title? Read on...
Book of the day: Cupcakes at Carrington’s by Alexandra Brown

I must begin by saying that besides the fact that the title sounds awesome, Brown’s writing is just as delicious. Savour these excerpts...
“I grew up in Mulberry-on-Sea and mum used to bring me here on Saturdays and we’d shop and eat fairy cakes in the old fashioned tea room with its Formica tables and white-pinnied waitresses.... this was years before Sam turned it into Cupcakes at Carrington’s , a cosy cafe serving red velvet cupcakes and sponge cake with pinkberry-infused frosting’.

And there’s more of that sumptuous writing when she describes Carrington’s. “It’s very nostalgic in an Orient Express kind of way. And the food is to die for – salted caramel cupcakes, rainbow salads, delicious artisan breads and the most fabulous afternoon cream teas you can possibly imagine.”

The heroine Georgie Hart, however is not quite so exciting. She works as a personal shopper in Carrington’s ladies bag department.  Her secret pleasure? Yup, you guessed it. She slips down to the cupcake store for her secret fix, the red velvet cupcake.
But Carrington’s itself is too old world to survive in a world of cut throat competition. It needs a makeover and that’s where the ruthless Maxine steps to make all the changes. Georgie has to step up to a new life of hard work or she might just lose her job.
Enter the men. Her boss James is married who is a big flirt. And then, the hot newcomer Tom. Will she choose between them or will there be anyone else?

The red velvet cupcake is like the muse in the background, sweet and scrumptious.

Did I like the book? It was very well written, yes. Unique, yes. But totally enjoyable? Not really. The problem perhaps lies with the heroine Georgie who is rather wimpy and a tad too reflective. The parts about the store was very interesting but the story was only what it promised to be, light, frothy, delicious -- almost like the cupcakes that were woven into the book.
Read it if you would like to read about an upscale department store, if you love cupcakes and if you are looking for an easy read for the warm days of summer that are coming up soon.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The ticking clock waits for no man...

Ask me what I love about Indian authors today and I would say it is the fact so many of them are seriously funny now. This is such a far cry from the lugubrious books of one time, when the only stories that were accepted by publishers were those that dwelt long and over several pages on the sad life of the protagonist. Not that they are to be dismissed as unreadable. They were very good and though the humour stayed wry or subtle, the plots had been cleverly thought out, the characters well delineated to make a fabulous read.  Today, we get funny but where’s the story and the plot? Not sure if you even need one anymore.
But I never pass by a bookshop without buying a book written by an Indian author. Each book gives me another vista of the Indian experience. For instance, I am currently reading a book called ‘Those Pricey Thakur Girls’ by Anuja Chauhan which transports me to the heart of a posh colony in New Delhi. I often reread my favourites, like Jaishree Misra’s first novel, Ancient Promises and Anita Nair’s novel Mistress that always takes me through the sultry, rain drenched streets of Kerala and lives and loves of the people there. One of my favourite authors Thirty Umrigar perhaps puts it best when she writes in one of her books... ”In my mind, I travel through time and space in ways you cannot even dream of—from Ohio to Bombay to Ohio again, from the land of the living to the land of the dead, where my Rustom resides; from my wallpapered bedroom in this house to my painted bedroom in Bombay, of which I know every inch... where the embroidered handkerchiefs are kept in the bottom drawer and what books are kept on the bedside table... Yes I may be older than you...but I can run faster and fly higher than you can ever know.”
I have so many favourite Indian authors that I have lost count... and the bookshelves in my home are full of their books that stand tall next to my beloved classics and of late, my pile of chicklit novels.

Which brings me to the book I am reviewing today, Tick Tock, we’re 30 by Milan Vohra and the best thing about doing this review was that I got to speak to the author herself and I was able get her views on various questions that you might have too.
But first, my thoughts on the book...
Tick Tock, We’re 30
By Milan Vohra
What a rollicking ride of a book this is. We spin in and out of scenes, peppered with fresh perspective and laced with fresh and funny dialogue. Ah how delicious some of the writing is. Her word pictures evoke all kinds of memories, for instance who has not had an Indian neighbourhood like this... “around a rectangular park... the one with the horny homeopath’s clinic in a shed right in the middle of it. And oh yes, the house with the pajama wala uncle and the maid and the dog on the corner.” Or felt this way about an old school – “Let’s face it, going to an all girls’convent is dull... the highlight of school life is pretty much catching sight of the Sisters’undies drying on the clothesline.”

The story line of the novel is fairly simple. As the cover page suggests, the book begins with the clock ticking the years away and soon Lara, the protagonist will turn 30. She and her old friends, the S.N. gang (Sarva Niketan) as they call themselves decide to get together to celebrate the momentous occasion when all of them cross the big 3-0 and with all their grandiose plans, the event looks like it is going to be one rocking party. Easy peasy? Of course not. Because what Lara and gang don’t realize is that time has a way of changing people. Not just physically – like Fat Riya who is now more Thin Riya. But in so many other ways because bitter experiences and failed relationships can change people more than they know. And here’s where the skill of the writer comes in, when she throws in giddy moments, nostalgia, changing friends and new perspectives all into one mix, without getting overly sentimental or too frivolous, but making us empathize and love each character.
But wait – there’s more. There is another exciting twist to the story that will keep you turning the pages till the end. Lara and Nishad (a member of their gang) had made a pact one tipsy evening to marry each other if they were not hitched by 30. Now the time has arrived – but Lara is not going to allow Nishad to gloat over her zero boyfriend status. She decides to hire a fake fiancĂ© instead.

It is at this point that we get a new character in the story, the fabulous Perzaan (he of the rippling muscles, exotic tattoos and wild hair) who girls swoon over and who Lara is lucky enough to call her boyfriend. Has she hit on the perfect solution to her dilemma?
You will have to read the book to find out the answer to that one, but rest assured, there is plenty to keep you engrossed till all the pieces of the story fall in place. Vohra has created a bevy of interesting characters who have really funny things to say at times and interesting insights to offer at other moments.

I loved the exquisite use of words in certain parts of books. For instance, something as simple as making tea is written so perfectly... “She swirls the hot water around the cup, feels around the cup delicately the way one would a fruit...she lifts another tea cozy off a bigger teapot...she keeps going beautifully slowly, like a Japanese Noh theatre production.”
Vohra is a gifted writer and seems to have mastered the art of setting the pace and flow of a story with the use of dialogue. If I have a complaint, it is only in the frequency of the dialogues but even that is not a flaw, because she orchestrates the ebb and flow of her story so well.

A very enjoyable book and a must read if you love this kind of fiction as much I do. Plus I also got to interview her, which was a huge bonus for me.
Q and A with Milan Vohra
Where did your inspiration for this book come?
I had a large group of friends I grew up with in Delhi who kept talking about having a reunion ever since the millennium. One day I just decided, enough. These folks are never going to get their act together. I’m going to write myself a new set of friends and make this reunion happen. This is my revenge, haha.

How did you keep track of the many characters in the story?
Well, I guess I did work out each character in quite a lot of detail before I started writing. Their backgrounds, their physicality obviously, their take on things, the way they react to situations.

Soon the characters took on personalities and lives of their own.

 There is plenty of dialogue in the story. Did you draw from your own experiences to pen those very contemporary dialogues?

I have to confess I’m a horribly brazen eavesdropper and will quite often just end up joining a conversation among strangers at the cafes I usually haunt. It helps me make new friends and get a little more of an insider view of different lives from my own. But often I have imaginary dialogues and these find their way into the book.

How has being a copywriter helped you become an author?

 If you’ve been trained well in your early years in advertising you should at least be able to adapt your writing style vastly, depending on who the client is. That training has been useful even in just keeping each character sounding different. But it can’t teach you to develop a plot.

What is your working day like? How do you manage to juggle so many things?

I work on a ‘need to do’ basis. This includes sleep. I juggle being an ad professional up until about midnight between being a mom, racing to read book club books, trying to be there for my friends... you know, the usual stuff we all do. And then after everyone’s asleep I write. My visiting card actually says it well. It has a Picasso line drawing of an owl wearing two hats. It says, ‘Creative consultant. Author. Insomniac’.



Monday, 4 February 2013

Love is in the air!

Right, so it’s coming out of our ears – all the love jingles, the bad poetry, the silly cards and maybe the young ones are already out there shopping for the perfect dress for the occasion. Valentine’s Day is many things for many people – for some a romantic interlude, for some the pressure of finding a date (or finding a pretend one for the night, if necessary) and for others, it could be about giving the spouse an evening of pure, unadulterated attention.

For me, it’s always a time when I like to go back to literature and the movies, searching out all the finest love quotes and savouring them over the season. Maybe you would find me mooning over a Shakespearean sonnet...  Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate....” Or watching my favourite movie, Harry Met Sally for the millionth time on the telly and enjoying the romance of lines like... “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

This year, I also found several beautiful and romantic lines in a book I am reading presently (recommended by a good friend and indeed, just as amazing as it was hyped up to be) called The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. Here is one of my favourite quotes but there are so many in this lovely book... “Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”  

But enough rambling. Let’s get down to the book I plan to review this week ...

The Publicist by Christina George

After that prologue on love, I am sure you were wondering if I was going to choose a romantic book to review. But sorry – I like to pick up current books and this one showed much promise and was centred on an industry I wanted to know more about.

Let me make just one quick detour. When I heard about this book, I wanted to read it right away but to my acute disappointment, it took over one month to reach me from an online book portal and when it did finally arrive, I ripped open the parcel and began reading it at once. (Ah that delicious anticipation that only book lovers understand!)
The story of The Publicist is set in the deeply mysterious world of publishing. The protagonist Kate Mitchell, is a publicist with a large New York publishing house and much of her time and energy is taken up with dealing with the humungous egos of the noted writers she represents. Whether it is handling books that don’t sell to reaching out to a celebrity hungry audience, Kate takes it all in her stride, with a remarkable air of poise.  

And so we are swept into this high powered world and with a breezy pace, we, the readers are flung from one crisis to another. A book launch where books don’t turn up. A suicidal author. Wheelings. Dealings. And so much more.

Of course, there is the star editor, MacDermott Ellis whom Kate is attracted to – but...  and here comes the big obstacle – he is married. So what will our Kate do? Any good guess? No? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out that one.

The short chapters and the rapid pace at which events happen perhaps help keep up the tempo of all the excitement in the publishing world, but the writer does not seem to take enough time to develop her characters. By the time you are prepared to like Kate for being smart and sexy, you get drawn into her romantic life which is quite dull.
The book was apparently written by an insider in the industry and though it gives a reader a lot of insights into the publishing world, it seems to have been put together in a bit of a hurry, going by the brevity of some of the chapters and the sketchy details of characters and events in some parts of the book.

This is a good novel for those who love the world of books and would like to know what sells and what doesn’t.  And yes, it is a must read, for all those who are planning to write a book of your own someday or hoping to become a publicist yourself.







Sunday, 20 January 2013

Changing times, changing tales

If my idea of a perfect afternoon is mostly about visiting a far out bookstore, I soon realize that I am still not in the extreme minority of Bangalore’s population as digital book lovers would have me believe.
This weekend I headed out to Phoenix Market City and was pleasantly surprised to find its well stocked and well located bookstore fairly buzzing with people. Okay, to be fair, some of them were checking out the music (ah but here, let me stop for a minute to tell you, that there was a whole rack of vinyls on sale at this book store too. For those who remember vinyls as the LP records of old, this was like going backwards in a time machine to circa 1980. I wanted to do a small jig for the love of old times but I was in the direct vision of a stern looking store attendant and had to stop short).
Reflections apart, there I was browsing through the books and watching my shopping cart fill up with alarming rapidity when suddenly it struck me that international authors are now exploring all kinds of far out subjects in their novels now. Even my chicklit du jour is as you will soon find out, is totally different from anything I have read so far. And since books are a reflection of our times, it is quite evident that authors today are seeking to thrill, delight and shake up their audiences, instead of lulling them into the peace and sweetness of time tried romances and suchlike.

Come to think of it, finding anything to thrill us is quite a daunting task these days. Here I want to quote author Gillian Flynn in her book Gone Girl (please read this amazing, amazing book if you can) when she talks about growing up in an age of TV, movies and the Internet...
"We are the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show...and the second-hand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore." (Gillian Flynn)
Flynn goes on to write that even the way we act, react and think has been conditioned by movies and TV serials. Her unspoken question seems to be... When are people really genuine anymore?

Sorry, digressed there for a bit. The point I want to make is that as new age authors try to dish up the most outrageous plots for us in their books, I wonder what the reaction of their readers will be. Will we, a jaded, seen-it-all audience be easily impressed? I can't help thinking that this will be no cakewalk and in times to come, authors will have to work twice as hard to sell their stories.
Chicklit of the week:

A Very Accidental Love Story by Claudia Carroll

Those who are looking for pure romance should steer away from this very enjoyable book, because though there is a love story in it somewhere, it is tucked away inside a larger tale which takes up most of the story. The book is about Eloise Elliot, a newspaper editor, who on the eve of her 30th birthday realizes that she might not be getting married but she was not going to give up on motherhood, just because of this one blip in her life.
Eloise's longing for a child leads her into making one life altering decision. She goes to a sperm bank, chooses the best donor from a dossier of donor profiles and decides to undergo artificial insemination. The donor she eventually chooses is her idea of the perfect man -- musically inclined, athletic, and had even written a thesis on Ireland's economic meltdown (and therefore smart too).
Soon, Eloise gives birth to her gorgeous daughter Lily, but her problems have only begun. Managing a high powered job and motherhood singlehandedly is not easy for anyone, but soon things get worse for this young mother when Lily starts asking about 'daddy'.
So Eloise sets off on a mission to find Lily's father. It shouldn't be hard to find the perfect donor, should it? He could be a TV anchor or an executive or a man in a high powered job, if his donor profile is anything to go by.

What she hadn't reckoned with however, was that after much searching and interrogation, she would find Lily’s dad in a prison cell. How perfect is that?
Carroll's unconventional book is so well written that you will not put it down and as you go along, you begin to admire the gutsy heroine and love her far-from-perfect ‘accidental husband'. Lily is a tad too precocious but the book is so enjoyable, you don't really mind as you find yourself lost in this gripping novel with its innumerable twists and turns.

Will it all turn out fine in the end? You will have to read the book to find out the answer to that one, but then, in the world of chicklit, things are never allowed to go too wrong, are they?





Monday, 7 January 2013

Join me on this journey of pleasant reading....

Reading Shaw in Goa and catching some glitter too...

I am just back from sunny Goa where people go to enjoy the surf, the sand, the sea, and since winter is the best time of the year to visit this coastal vacation spot, the beaches are fairly crawling with people trying to catch the last of the mild sunlight before the harsh heat of an Indian summer sets in.

So, after I did all that the regulars do, like paying my tributes to the sea ( here let me pause for a quick memory: I love Herman Melville's lines in Moby Dick where he says that a sea is a place where "stand thousands of men fixed in ocean reveries'. I could see that Melville was right as there were other literally that many people out here too transfixed by the water). I also spent some time reflecting on life and some deep philosophies, watching a sunset or two and checking out the folk who were eating the most spice laden fish fry ever (delicious enough to tempt even vegetarians like me) and feeling the sand in my toes along our beachfront resort. Then I headed out to what I love doing best... hunting for old bookstores in the vicinity.

I locate this old bookstore without too many problems. Though it is tucked away in a tiny alley, my savvy cab driver takes me there easily, though it is clear that he is puzzled as to why I am not interested in the many fabulous monuments and churches that Goa is known for. Why would anyone in their right mind head to a bookstore? How was I to tell him that a bookstore like this was for me like the finest jewel to discover in a tourist paradise?

This was no glass fronted shop, but an old and sprawling bungalow with a tiny garden that had wrought iron chairs where book lovers could recline and sip on the tall glasses of cold coffee that were on offer. Or they could head via the dilapidated front porch to a living room full of books, old and new, where they could sit on the frayed chairs and sofas that had seen better days and read for hours on end without being shooed off.

So I walk into this wonderland and take in the scent of old books (ah that fragrance that no perfumery can emulate) and cannot believe that such a relatively tiny place could hold so many, many books. And then to make the picture perfect, in walks Frieda, a golden Labrador (the owner's dog) who is more interested in any biscuits that I might have than in my delighted interest in her. She soon retires after a cursory search (no biscuits, sorry Frieda) and I go back to browsing through the books. To my immense and rapturous surprise I find books that I had forgotten about, like a tattered copy of Irwin Shaw's "Bread Upon the Waters' that I had loved as a kid and could now buy at Rs. 50. There are so many more, and maybe if you call me, I’ll tell you all about them.

Long story short, I bought far more books than I needed. And then I headed back to my hotel with my still intrigued cab driver who had to struggle to find place in his tiny car for all my purchases. And yes, finally I went back to all that regular people should  be doing while on a holiday...


Which brings me to the new book that I read on the sea breeze kissed balconies of Goa ..

All that glitters

by Ilana Fox

All That Glitters by Ilana Fox is a novel that women's fiction writers would perhaps call pure escapism. Well, who wouldn't like a life like that of the heroine, Ella Aldridge? When she marries Danny Riding, one of the country's ace footballers, Ella's life changes and how! Her home is now a Georgian inspired beauty, with a swimming pool that turns into a dance floor, a dazzling driveway complete with an Italian style fountain in the middle, unending beds of roses and azaleas bordering the sweeping lawns and then the real oh-my-God moment --- a bevy of beautiful peacocks in the garden.

A valet takes her Louis Vuitton cases to her room and from then on, it is a life of a celebrity footballer's wife for Ella, where designer clothes, swanky cars and cool parties take centre stage. Ella, however, is no airhead. She soon gets a TV show of her own, a fashion column and everything else that is the stuff of girlhood dreams. She can hardly believe her luck nor can she get enough of her dazzling new world.

But can life really be all that perfect?

Is Ella and Danny's marriage all that it seems to be or do they have a little secret? If everything is so amazing, why is this newlywed gal falling for Johnny Cooper, the bad boy of British television?

You will have to read the book to find out, but it will be quite a roller coaster of a story. Fast paced and well written, the book does keep you engrossed. However, somewhere midway, you find yourself totally unimpressed with Ella. From being the smart and savvy go getter that she started off as, she becomes a lovesick woman who is hard to relate to. It is this transition that is tiresome and though the book is awfully steamy in parts, the narrative loses steam somewhere along the way. Read it for some moments of vicarious escapism and then wait for the twists in the plot to keep you going.

Thoughts to leave with you:

Nothing is quite as perfect as it seems to be and no-one really has it all. This really seems to be the premise of the book and the author goes on to show that all that glitters is never really gold. A truly comforting thought on all those days, when the skies are grey and gloom has settled like a cold blanket around your soul and everyone else’s life seems to sparkle but your own!