Z by Therese Anne Fowler: First chapter, first paragraph – Tuesday Intros

20130223-201539.jpg I’m currently reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. It’s a beautifully written book so far, as you can see from this excerpt from the first page.

Montgomery, Alabama
December 20, 1940

Dear Scott,

The Love of the Last Tycoon is a great title for your novel. What does Max say? I’ve been thinking that maybe I’ll brave an airplane ride and come to see you for New Year’s. Wire me the money, if you can. Won’t we be quite the pair?—you with your bad heart, me with my bad head. Together, though, we might have something worthwhile. I’ll bring you some of those cheese biscuits you always loved, and you can read me what you’ve written so far. I know it’s going to be a wonderful novel, Scott, your best one yet.

This is short so I can send it before the post office closes today.

Write me soon.

Devotedly,
Z

If I could fit myself into this mail slot, here, I’d follow my letter all the way to Hollywood, all the way to Scott, right up to the door of our next future. We have always had a next one, after all, and there’s no good reason we shouldn’t start this one now. If only people could travel as easily as words. Wouldn’t that be something? If only we could be so easily revised.

Beautiful, don’t you think? Would this be a book you’d like to read?

Note: Quotes taken from an ARC – finished copy may be different.

Buy on Amazon

Linking up with Bibliophile by the Sea

Book Reviews: I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

When Poppy Wyatt loses her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill she goes into a state of panic. After all, who wouldn’t? That’s the one thing you’re really not supposed to lose, especially when it’s been in your fiancé’s family for three generations! To add insult to injury, in the panic that follows the loss of her ring, her phone is stolen. As she paces around the hotel lobby in a state of borderline hysteria, Poppy chances upon a phone in a trash can. After a quick internal debate, she picks the phone up and passes the “new” number around to the hotel staff and…gets a call. From the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, who isn’t amused that she has “stolen” his PA’s phone. Somehow, Poppy manages to convince him to let her keep the phone just until she finds her ring, and promises to forward all messages and emails that come on that phone to him at once. But sharing a phone isn’t easy, as both of them soon find out.Continue reading

Book review: The Family Corleone by Ed Falco

The Family Corleone by Ed FalcoFrom the back cover:
“New York, 1933. The city and the nation are in the depths of the Great Depression. The crime families of New York have prospered in this time, but with the coming end of Prohibition, a battle is looming that will determine which organizations will rise and which will face a violent end.
For Vito Corleone, nothing is more important that his family’s future. While his youngest children, Michael, Fredo, and Connie, are in school, unaware of their father’s true occupation, and his adopted son Tom Hagen is a college student, he worries most about Sonny, his eldest child. Vito pushes Sonny to be a businessman, but Sonny-17 years-old, impatient and reckless-wants something else: To follow in his father’s footsteps and become a part of the real family business.”

Just reading the back cover make me excited about getting my hands on this book. I had read The Godfather about 10 years ago, and returning to those unforgettable characters was a treat.Continue reading

A Reading Challenge for 2013

So apparently the world decided to chug along into 2013, leaving all the doomsday prophecies biting the dust. And seeing how we’ve been given a new lease of life – as those doomsday soothsayers would say – it makes sense to make the most of it!

Now, if you’re wondering if I was one of the naive innocents who bought into that prophecy, perish the thought! I just figured this would be a great way to start this post.

Why? Because I’m setting myself a few challenges this year.

Número uno on the list is my very first reading challenge!

I generally read as the whim strikes me. I hate being tied down to a genre or region or author. But this challenge sounds interesting, seeing as I get to set the number of books I will read as part of the challenge.

Considering that I read over 60 books last year, I’m guessing 10 is a good number for the Indian Quills Reading Challenge (IQR), hosted by The Tales Pensieve.

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With the explosion of Indian writers, I'm hoping I'll be able to find 10 books by Indian authors that will rock my world!

What about you! Have you set yourself a reading – or any other – challenge for the year?

Year-end Wrap-Up: Top 5 books of 2012

2012 was a stellar year for me in terms of reading and all things book-related. I read over 60 books this year, across a variety of genres. I came across some brilliant writers, and some not so brilliant ones. I was approached by Random House India to participate in their book bloggers program, under which they send me books to read and review. And I joined a cool Twitter book-chat – TSBC.

So, what better way to kick-off this year-end wrap-up than by sharing with you my 10 favorite reads from the year? Without further ado, here they are!Continue reading

Book review: Bartimaeus: Ring of Solomon – Jonathan Stroud

English: British versions of the Harry Potter ...

British versions of the Harry Potter series (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve developed a love for fantasy fiction. It started with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which I read through college and into adulthood. After a long break from this genre, I returned to it with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, which was recommended to me by a colleague in the US. (I don’t understand the hysteria around these novels – after reading the first book I wanted to gag, but they did seem to get better. Or maybe I knew what to expect.) Then came Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), the brilliant and complex Fire & Ice series by George RR Martin and Joanne Harris’ novels based on Norse mythology (Runemarks and Ruinlight), and I was firmly hooked onto the genre.

 
So when I got the opportunity to review Bartimaeus for RHI, I jumped at the chance.
 
The novel starts with one of King Solomon’s 17 magicians commanding the demon Bartimaeus to search the known world for objects of beauty and power at the behest of the king. But keeping charge of a demon is no easy task. You have to be sure that your commands are worded without any loopholes that can be exploited and that you are always within your pentacle, or the demon will be quick to kill you to gain its freedom.
 
Rizim had put the other eye out on a rare occasion when our master had made a slight mistake with the words of his summoning. We’d additionally managed to scorch his backside once or twice, and there was a scar on his neck where I’d come close with a lucky ricochet, but despite a long career commanding more than a dozen formidable djinn, the magician remained vigorous and spry. He was a tough old bird.
 
Bartimaues: Ring of SolomonA feat that Bartimaeus accomplishes within the first few chapters of the novel. And that earns him the retribution of Solomon, who orders the magician Khaba to summon and enslave him. At the same time, he tasks Khaba with constructing a marvellous temple with a workforce comprising of a bunch of demons, including Bartimaeus. But true to form, Bartimaeus manages to irk King Solomon yet again, getting Khaba kicked off the temple project and sent to the desert to hunt bandits.
 
Meanwhile, in far away Sheba, the Queen receives a messenger from the King. Seeing as she has refused his offer of marriage multiple times, Solomon now orders her to pay him a tribute of frankenseince or see her city destroyed at the hands of an army of spirits. What makes Solomon’s threat so ominous is the ring that he discovered years ago, which allows him to summon an untold number of spirits and command the forbiddingly powerful Spirit of the Ring. The threat of this ring brings a number of magicians to Solomon’s court, whose summoned demons are used to build temples, maintain law and order and keep the peace. It’s a ring that everyone wants…but no one should have. Anyway, back to Sheba. To save her country, the queen sends Asmira, a loyal captain of her guard, to Jerusalem to kill the king and take his ring. And this is where the real fun of the novel begins.
 

Jonathan Stroud’s version of Jerusalem is peopled with monstrous djinnis, marids and afrits, all of whom are enslaved to a magician and must carry out their every command. He’s taken stories about King Solomon from the Old Testament and given them a magical spin, with Bartimaeus cooking up trouble, cracking humorous wisecracks and causing mayhem wherever he goes. The story has some interesting twists and turns, with evil getting its due reward (or rather, punishment) in the end.

The principal character of the novel is Bartimaeus, and he is absolutely delightful! He’s got this wicked sense of humour

 
“Then again, Solomon was human. And that meant he was flawed (Go on, take a look at yourself in the mirror. A good long look, if you can bear it. See? Flawed’s putting it mildly, isn’t it?)”
 
with a side of sarcasm
 
“It’s the same with spirit guises; show me a sweet little choirboy or a smiling mother and I’ll show you the hideous fanged strigoi it really is. (Not always. Just sometimes. *Your* mother is absolutely fine, for instance. Probably.)”
 
along with a healthy dose of boastfulness
 
‘The Evasive Cartwheel’™ ©, etc., Bartimaeus of Uruk, circa 2800 BC. Often imitated, never surpassed. As famously memorialized in the New Kingdom tomb paintings of Rameses III – you can just see me in the background of The Dedication of the Royal Family Before Ra, wheeling out of sight behind the pharaoh.
 
Jonathan has also taken care with his human characters. Asmira, for instance, goes from being convinced about her mission to kill Solomon, to feeling helpless and worthless, and finally finding her sense of purpose as the story unfolds. King Solomon too, despite being a known figure, has been given some rather interesting character twists.
 
Most of the chapters are narrated by Bartimaeus, and these include back stories and explanations of various magical (and other) terms – told in the form of footnotes – in his distinctive (read: witty and sarcastic) voice. Some of the chapters are narrated by Asmira and others are in third person – and all of these transitions are handled well.
 
What I enjoyed most about the book, though, was Bartimaeus and his wit! The Ring of Solomon is the prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy, which I haven’t read. So, I can say with full confidence: if you haven’t read the trilogy and don’t think you want to get into one, read this one book – it works perfectly as a stand-alone novel. Me? I’m going to be reading the rest of the trilogy – I need to know what trouble Bartimaeus cooked up in modern day London! 😉
Disclaimer: I got a copy of this book from Random House India, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

The coolest Sunday afternoon hangout: #TSBC

It’s Sunday afternoon. Armed with a cup of coffee, a pen and small notepad, and my iPad, I make my way to the sofa. It’s my favorite spot in the drawing room – perfectly positioned to allow me to soak up the sun in winters and directly in the path of a cross-breeze when I open the doors of the balconies in summers.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

As I flop down on the couch, I fire up the Twitter app on my iPad and search for #TSBC. It is 3:00 pm. For the next one hour, I will be busy tweeting – replying to questions and people; retweeting and favourite-ing tweets that I like; laughing out loud at times; at others, making furious notes in a small notebook. At the end of that hour of Twitter interaction, I will come away with new thoughts and perspectives, as well as a list of interesting books or authors I knew nothing about.

Isn't this book cover a beauty? Shared on the #TSBC chat on book covers by Random House India

Isn’t this book cover a beauty? Shared on the #TSBC chat on book covers by Random House India

See, #TSBC is the Sunday Book Club, a weekly chat that takes place on Twitter every Sunday at 3:00 pm IST where we talk all things, well, books. Topics have ranged from discussing movie adaptations of books, autobiographies, the works of Oscar Wilde, book covers, the Ramayana, banned books, and a fun discussion on what book…And, at the end of every chat, one lucky person stands to win a book*! I won First Day First Show by Anupama Chopra during one of the initial few chats  on books and films. The question was “If your memoir were to be made into a film, what would you name it and who would you cast in it?” And my rather flippant answer was “The girl who tried to climb a mountain and walked down a hill. Starring Julia Roberts as me. :-P” Pretty cool, huh?

Started by three friends and book lovers Raghav, Neo and Sudha, the club is 11 weeks old. And participation (both from India and abroad) has grown by leaps and bounds. This really doesn’t come as a surprise because they have some well-thought-out questions on each topic, leading to healthy discussions among book lovers.

If you love books, this is one chat you wouldn’t want to miss! There are, however, a few Do’s and Don’ts.

  • No self promotion during the chat
  • No rudeness and flaming – please respect everyone’s point of view
  • Do mention which question you are answering (A1, A2 etc)
  • Do tag your tweets with #TSBC or they won’t reach all the Tweeps who are participating

Also, do follow The Sunday Book Club and the three founders and hosts Raghav, Meetneo and Sudha. You can also like their Facebook page.

And you’re set! Simple, ain’t it?

So what are you waiting for? Jump into the discussion every Sunday at 3:00 pm IST. See you then for a scintillating book chat!

* Currently, giveaways are only open to people who have an Indian mailing address.

Book review: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children

Midnight’s Children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Midnight’s Children tells the story of “Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Buddha and even Piece-of-the-Moon,” who was born on 15 August 1947 at the stroke of midnight – at the same hour that India won her independence. It is a story that first chronicles 32 years of his grandparents’ and parents’ lives, before focusing on Saleem’s life in Bombay, Pakistan and Bengal. It is also a novel about India; tracing her journey from the heights of independence (infancy) to her ordinary adulthood, culminating with Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule.

But this bland description doesn’t do justice to Rushdie’s sweeping novel. It says nothing about his magical prose, about the explosion of colors and smells and sights and sounds. So let me tell you a little more about Snotnose.

Born at midnight, at the precise moment of India’s independence, Saleem was “mysteriously handcuffed to history…thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blandly saluting clocks.” His birth was celebrated with fireworks. His picture was printed in the newspaper. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent him a letter saying “We shall be watching over your life with the closest attention; it will be, in a sense, the mirror of our own.” He grew up with a sense of his own importance. He grew up wondering about his purpose. And in his quest for a quiet place in which to think, he found himself retreating to his mother’s laundry hamper. Where one day he discovered his gift for telepathy. From the age of nine, he could enter into other lives at will. And finally, he found all the other magically gifted midnight children scattered across India. At the age of 10 he set up a Midnight’s Children Conference, where he hoped the children could come together to discuss the fate of the nation. But like all 10-year olds, they were overtaken by petty squabbles and dissonance.

As you read Saleem’s story, the “chutnification of history” and “the pickling of time”, you can see parallels with India. Allegorical though they may be, some of them are only hinted at, but they are there. The signs of the potential that India could achieve at birth, the quest for purpose, the slow, inevitable decline to mediocrity. Of course, a lot of events take place because of Saleem. After all, the reason for the Indo-Pakistan war was the annihilation of the Sinnai family!

What more can I say about Stainface? He’s pompous, arrogant, self-centered, grandiose, and somehow loveable. As the narrator of this audacious novel he is absolutely brilliant. He jumps around from one time period to another. When he makes his tall claims, his companion Padma tries to ground him to reality, but of course, he refuses to be so grounded.

In this sweeping canvas of a story, Rushdie brings in the details of a miniaturist. The places and times are captured down to the last detail. Like the Pioneer Café, where Saleem’s mother meets her first husband Nadir Khan.

“…with filmi playback music blaring out from the cheap radio by the cash till, a long narrow greeny room lit by flickering neon, a forbidding world in which broken-toothed men sat at reccine-covered tables with crumpled cards and expressionless eyes.”

The characters, even the minor bit players, are finely detailed. No player, or event, has been tacked on as an afterthought just because an “India novel” would be incomplete without it. There is a lot of history, even though the timelines may not always be right, because Saleem admits that “Memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events…”

In the hands of an inept writer, it would have been an impossible book to read. But Rushdie’s fine art of storytelling turns it into a rich and magical tapestry. Saleem (and through him, since this is magic realism, India) “have begun to crack all over like an old jug–that my poor body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of an acceleration.”

But it does end on a note of hope. Although Saleem, who holds the dream of India within himself, believes he will “eventually crumble into (approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily, oblivious dust” as national unity seems like an unachievable dream, he does leave the reader with a sliver of hope. His son Adam, gifted with “elephant ears”, is also inexorably tied to India. In him lies the future of the nation. And who knows what feats he might achieve.

Having read the book, I am now all the more eager to watch the movie, which is slated to release in December 2012. Since Rushdie has been closely involved in the movie making process, I have high hopes from it! Overall, I think this is an excellent book, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I got a copy of this book from Random House India, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

Book review: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

From the back cover: Moving from the elegant living rooms of Lahore to the mud villages of rural Multan, a powerful collection of short stories about feudal Pakistan.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal MueenuddinThis 247 page volume has eight loosely connected short stories, all related to the family and household staff of the aging landowner KK Harouni. There’s Nawabdin electrician, whose most prized possession is his bike, which he fights to protect from a bandit; and Jaglani, Harouni’s estate manager, who fleeces him while selling his land and gains power and prestige in the village of Multan. There’s Saleema, a servant girl who uses sex as a tool to advance herself through life and Hassan, Harouni’s cook, who has stashed away a significant amount of money by padding the kitchen bills, whose son is now in jail on the charge of having murdered his sister-in-law, a crime that he has not committed. Through the stories of these four characters Daniyal paints a picture of the servants of rich feudal landowners.

For a glimpse into the lives of the landowner and the high society of Pakistan we have Husna, one of Harouni’s poor relatives, who in her mad desire to lift her station in life becomes his mistress in his old age, only to be discarded like garbage by his children after his death. Then there’s Sohail, Harouni’s son, who is in love with an American girl. The relationship goes sour after his parents meet them in Paris, and his mother convinces Helen that by marrying Sohail, she would be setting them both up for sorrow. The depravity of high-society is portrayed through Lily, a bored, rich Pakistani girl, who flits from party to party, drinking, doing drugs and having casual sex, wanting to transform her life, become pure. A chance that she gets with Murad, who runs a farm growing exotic vegetables. They marry, but she can’t take life on the farm, and painfully, within a few months, realizes that she can perhaps never change. And through Razak, who has been hired by Sohail and his American wife Sonya to tend the orchards, we learn of the absolute power of the rich and the abject helplessness of the weak and poor.

The book creates quite a vivid picture of Pakistan. Despite the relatively short length of the stories, the various characters are quite detailed, and you get a good feel for feudal Pakistan. The writing is fluid, and I love the way the book ends – I’m not going to type out the entire paragraph here, just a few lines from various places in that paragraph to give you a sense of what I mean.

“At first the cabin sat inviolate below the swimming pool, locked….Gradually, like falling leaves, the locks were broken off, one person taking the thermos, another the wood table…The door of the little cabin hung open, the wind and blown rain scouring it clean.”

This was a fitting end for that particular short story, but if you think about it, it’s a fitting end for the entire tableau that Daniyal created; indeed, even for life. After all, at the end, all our prized possessions are slowly carted away or discarded, our homes stripped of the character that it once imbibed.

As an Indian, this was a fascinating read about a neighboring country that I don’t know all that much about and probably never will.

Disclaimer: I got a copy of this book from Random House India, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

The Wildings by Nilanjana RoyA small band of cats lives in the labyrinthine alleys and ruins of Nizamuddin, an old neighbourhood in Delhi. Miao, the clan elder, a wise, grave Siamese; Katar, a cat loved by his followers and feared by his enemies; Hulo, the great warrior tom; Beraal, the beautiful queen, swift and deadly when challenged; Southpaw, the kitten whose curiosity can always be counted on to get him into trouble… Unfettered and wild, these and the other members of the tribe fear no one, go where they will, and do as they please. Until, one day, a terrified orange-coloured kitten with monsoon green eyes and remarkable powers, lands in their midst—setting off a series of extraordinary events that will change their world forever.

That terrified cat is Mara, a tiny orange furball who lives with the Bigfeet. Rescued from a drain, her first message to the rest of the cats is: “Mara is worried! Mara is all alone with the Bigfeet! They are scary and they talk all the time, and I do not like being picked up and turned upside down!”

That powerful sending makes Beraal almost fall off her perch and set the rest of the Nizzamuddin cats’ whisker’s on edge. For Mara is special; she’s a Sender. While all cats can link up and talk to one another, only a Sender is capable of sending strong transmissions, where its fur seems to brush by the listener, its words and scents touching the listeners’ whiskers. But none of the cats except Miao can remember a Sender among them, and even she wasn’t this strong. Since the Nizamuddin cats cannot place the Sender’s scent, they decide to kill her. Beraal is tasked with the job, but when she locates Mara, she finds herself unable to land the killing blow. Because apart from being a powerful Sender, Mara is also a charmer; everyone who meets her soon falls under her spell.

An illustration from The Wildings by Nilanajana RoySo Beraal takes Mara under her wing to teach her how to control her powers. On one of her experiments, to see how far she can send, Mara travels all the way to the Delhi Zoo, where she meets Ozzy – a Ranthambore tiger, his mate Rani and their cub Rudra. Needless to say, even the tigers fall for Mara’s charms.

But Senders don’t come along that often – they typically come during times of dire need. The cats can’t figure out why the Sender’s here now, because the going has been really good. Little do they know the danger that lurks around the corner, just biding its time. For when the Shuttered House opens, the ferals will come out. This is a band of cats, led by Datura, who live in the house with an ailing man. Having never stepped out of the house, never smelt the outside, these cats have gone rouge. And it’s just a matter of time before their worlds collide.

The Wildings is a stunning, richly imagined debut by columnist and editor Nilanjana Roy. By now I’m sure you’ve figured out that the main characters are the cats and the other animals and birds that live in Nizamuddin. The story is told from their perspective, in their voice and language. And it’s so well done that you’d be forgiven for thinking that a cat learnt how to write and spun this yarn for us Bigfeet!

I found myself staying up well beyond bedtime devouring this book. Then, as I reached the last two-thirds, I started getting distracted – setting the book aside and playing a game of Solitaire or checking my Twitter and Facebook feeds obsessively. Not because the book lost pace, but because I didn’t want it to end! In fact, as I was flipping through the pages looking for an illustration that I’d like to share in this review, I found myself getting pulled into the story again! I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m going to start re-reading the book very soon.

I can’t end the review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Prabha Mallya. Her beautiful work echoes the tone of the story without giving much away if you just causally flip through the book. Apparently, she undertook a textured, tactile illustration process, in which constructing, cutting, taping, splotching, stonewashing and layering featured prominently. And it shows. One of my favourite illustrations is the diagrams depicting a cat’s grooming process – I’ve seen all these actions multiple times a day courtesy my very own furball Pepo!

My cat, Pepo

If you’re a cat lover or cat-owed, you’ll love this book. If you’re not, chances are you’ll find yourself falling in love with (or at the very least, developing a soft spot for) cats. But whichever camp you fall in, go out and buy this book. Now! You will not regret it!

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