There's no such thing as writer's block

Those in Peril by Wilbur SmithThis weekend, I had an opportunity to attend a book launch by of one of my favorite authors – Wilbur Smith, who was in India to launch his latest book Those In Peril.

The author related a number of interesting experiences from his visit to India, including the fact that he loves the traffic! Baffling, isn’t it? Until he delivered his next line: It is just like a video game; except here, if you lose, you die.”

Having visited the country numerous times, he says he thinks India as “almost a neighbor, with just a little sea between us!” When asked if he would set one of his books in the country, he referred to The Quest, one of his ancient Egyptian novels, in which his character Taita visits India to gain knowledge and wisdom. However, to weave a love affair with the country in print, the way he does with Africa, he says he’d have to “spend a lot of time here, at least 50 years, but I fear I’m running out of time”. That just explains how much research he undertakes for all of his novels.

Best selling novelist Wilbur Smith signs The Q...

Wilbur Smith signing copies of his books for fans Image via Wikipedia

Remember those bushmen that feature so prominently in some of his novels? He wrote  them in after meeting them briefly during an excursion in the African jungle.

In answer to a question about how he manages to write so many novels (33 and counting) and if he’s ever faced writer’s block, he said that a writer’s life requires a lot of discipline as it’s easy to get distracted and do inconsequential things around the house. As for writer’s block, he said: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. If someone says they’re suffering from writer’s block, it’s most likely cowardice.”

Very true, isn’t it? And it applies to most situations in life where we feel blocked – more often that not, we’re just scared of the unknown.

All-in-all, it was a lovely evening, spent listening to the anecdotes of an author whose fans span generations!

Book review: The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

The storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-BhattacharyaWhat matters in the end is truth.

So begins The Storyteller of Marrakesh. This literary mystery is narrated by Hassan, who belongs to a family of traditional storytellers. He has set up his kilim (blanket) in the Jemma el Fna and is preparing to tell a story

…the like of which I promise you have never heard before. It is a love story, like all the best stories, but it is also a mystery, for it concerns the disappearance of one of the lovers or the other or perhaps both of them or neither.

And so Hassan begins weaving his tale, one which he feels compelled to retell once a year. The story revolves around Lucia, a half American half French woman and her Indian lover. It revolves around his brother Mustafa, who fell in love with Lucia, and then, a week after the disappearance of the tourists, turned himself in to the police in connection with their disappearance. It revolves around the day those tourists spent at the Jemma and around all of those who came in contact with them. It revolves around her beauty and the passions that it ignited in all the men who had the fortune, or misfortune, to meet her that day.

Djemaa el Fna square by night

Jemma el Fna square by night Image via Wikipedia

There is a story within a story within a story, with all the listeners present invited to come forward and talk about their meeting with the foreigners that day. Through the collective memories of all who are gathered around Hassan, and all of whom were at the Jemma on that day, emerges a narrative of the various sightings of this mysterious couple. There are premonitions, superstitions, and men driven mad with desire for the girl. Through the stories, you get a glimpse of the Jemma, of the heady world of Marrakesh and an insight into traditional Islamic culture.

The many narratives weave together into an intricate mosaic, at the end of which you aren’t sure of Hassan’s role in the entire affair. Is his compulsion to repeat this story every year simply his effort to exonerate his brother, Mustafa, from the crime? Or is Hassan himself involved in the mystery?

In the true tradition of oral storytelling, there are as many questions as there are answers. As many loose ends as tied.

The wise man - Marrakech, Morocco

A storyteller at Marrakesh Image by theboybg via Flickr

One thing is for sure, Bhattacharya has a way with words. Although all of the action takes place around Hassan at the Jemma, and the entire novel is set during one evening of storytelling, you’ll be immersed in the sights and sounds of the “most storied city square in the word,” travel the Sahara, and hear the dolphins play in the ocean.

This is the first in a planned trilogy set in the Islamic world. I only hope that the rest of the novels don’t take this story forward. For though some things may be left open to interpretation, I think a trilogy would spoil the mystery of this novel and go against the form of storytelling Bhattacharya has employed here.

Overall, this is an interesting book that I found really hard to put down (and that, in part, made me determined to take the reading deprivation challenge). Highly recommended.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Book review: Sweet Sanctuary by Sheila Walsh

Sweet Sanctuary book coverSweet Sanctuary tells the story of single mom Wren and her gifted son Charlie. It tells the story of Wren’s family, of how it was torn apart by a horrible incident in their childhood. It weaves in romance, forgiveness and faith.

Yes, there is a strong Christian tone to the story. There’s a lot about putting your faith in God and trusting in him to show you the way. But if you can live with that, you will be rewarded with a beautiful story and wonderful characters.

Sheila Walsh has crafted a fine tale populated with a cast of characters you’ll come to care about. Wren, a librarian with a love for books and a penchant for wondering how her favorite female literary characters will react to any given situation, is struggling to fully accept the Lord and hand over her worries to him. Charlie is a wonderful 10-year old gifted boy who prays to see is mother happy again. That happiness comes from Paul, the restaurant owner who Wren eventually, despite herself, falls in love with, and from the forgiveness and healing of Bette stop ship with her elder sister Barb and younger brother Jack.

Despite the fact that I am not a Christian or into Faith-based books, I enjoyed this novel. I think it would make for a good summer read.

Book review: Delivered with Love – Sherry Kyle

Delivered with Love by Sherry Kyle

Image courtesy Abingdon Press

When I requested the book from NetGalley, I didn’t realize that it was a Novel (fiction) approach to Faith. I thought the religious bits would overpower the narrative, but I was wrong.

There was some faith and belief in Jesus interwoven into the story, but it didn’t detract from the plot flow or the enjoyment of the book.

An old love letter found in the glove compartment of a young woman’s inherited 1972 Volkswagen propels her to leave her life in Los Angeles and go to the small town of Capitola, California. There her dream of finding the writer of the letter leads her on an unexpected journey that changes her life forever.

This was the blurb on NetGalley that drew me to the book – I thought it would be an interesting romantic story, and it was!

Claire James, age twenty-three, is ready to make it on her own. When she’s fired from her job as a waitress and subsequently kicked out of her sister’s home, she sees it as an opportunity to start over. But even before moving, a thirty-five-year-old love letter written to her mother keeps Claire stuck in the past.

That bit is what kicks the story in motion. As Claire makes her way to California, she gets into a minor accident with Pearl and Harry’s RV. The old couple are making their way to their daughter’s house as she is about to give birth to their grandchild. Since Claire’s car is totaled, they offer to hitch it to the back of their RV and then tow her to somewhere near Capitola.

Their generosity makes Claire a little nervous, since she’s quite a timid and shy young thing, and isn’t used to being around good, caring people. During the night, they meet Pearl and Harry’s friends, and Claire makes friends with their daughter Samantha. However, in the middle of the night, Pearl and Harry get a call telling them their daughter’s gone into labor, and they offer to take Claire along. She refuses, saying she’ll spend the night at the camp and then figure out a way in the morning. They leave her  a bit reluctantly, but are eager to make their way to their daughter.

She then realizes that she can call a tow truck, which she does. Once again, she bumps into a kind man who offers to take her home as it is the middle of night and the repair shop is closed. Since he stays in Capitola and is married, she decides to take him up on his offer.

Since she is in Capitola, she goes over to the return address on the letter and finds that the property is for rent, and by a series of fortunate coincidences, she manages to rent the place and get a job as a caregiver to an old lady, Micheal’s mother…

Michael Thompson, a middle-aged real estate agent, wants to keep the past where it belongs–at least until his grown daughter is married. But, then a young woman comes to town . . .

There begins her quest to find the author of the letter.

The plot flows smoothly, with a lot of nice coincidences that weave in a message of faith. There’s love and friendship, extra-marital affairs and forgiveness. And a gently flowing sense of grace throughout.

Overall, it’s quite an interesting read.

Book review: All and Nothing by Raksha Bharadia

If you go through my reading list, you’ll notice that it’s not too often that I read Indian authors.  I don’t like their portrayal of India and Indians – it’s generally geared towards selling a picture of India that Westerners would like to believe. Of a dirty, grimy city and uncouth “brownies.” (One Indian author’s description of Indians. Really.) But there have been some interesting novels by Indian authors lately, like the Immortals of Meluha by Amish, so when I saw the blurb on the back of All and Nothing, I knew I was going to have to give it a read.

All and Nothing by Raksha Bharadia

Image courtesy Rupa & Co

From the back cover:

All and Nothing tells the tale of five individuals. Tina is a talented artist, desperately in love with Aditya. But he cannot let go of his past. Their marriage sours and Tina teeters on the edge. Kriya is a fashion designer, chic and successful – but tormented; Poorvi, is a socialite and feminist – but discontented; Manas is a struggling copy writer, besotted with Gayatri – but plagued; Upasna is a willing victim of domestic violence.

Then one day, Tina summons her friends to share their stories from the beginning.

The bulk of this slim, 223 page novel is about Tina and Aditya’s whirlwind courtship and marriage. Aditya is everything that Tina wants in a man, and Tina is everything that Aditya wants in his wife, but while Tina loves Aditya, he’s still not over his first marriage with Antara. Things between the two start souring barely a year into their marriage.  For Aditya, this was a marriage of convince, a way to get ahead in his career. Tina, desperate for his love, clings to him, tries hard to ease his hurt from his first marriage, and when all fails, turns to the bottle. She becomes an alcoholic. It takes her a long time to realize just how hollow their marriage is, and when she does, she decides to leave him. It is then that she invites her friends, all of whom are carrying a secret alone, to share their stories from the beginning and to help one another begin their healing process.

The novel is quite well-written. Raksha is evidently an astute observer. Her insight into relationships and understanding of the human psyche is well-reflected in the narrative. The characters are well drawn out and believable, and she hooks you in to their world and makes you care about them. There is a lot in the novel that anyone in a relationship will be able to identify with, because at the end of the day, no marriage is all roses, there are the occasional thorns. There may have been a few grammatical mistakes here and there, but it was easy to overlook them because the story was so gripping. You really wanted to know what happened next and how each of the people would cope.

Overall, All and Nothing is a beautifully observed novel that takes a close look at different relationships and what makes them tick. I would heartily recommend it to everyone.

There's something to be said about the smell of a book

Stack of booksIsn’t there? Though this may be the age of e-readers and e-books, which take up less space and enable you to have your library with you where ever you go, somehow, nothing beats the experience of reading a physical book. It’s weight. It’s smell. It’s heft. The sound of a page turning in the middle of the night. Of underlining passages. Scribbling notes in the margins. Displaying your collection on a bookshelf. Until it overflows. Spills over from the shelves. Having them piled up near your bed. On the coffee table. In the kitchen. Everywhere you look – a tantalizing cover looking back at you. Whispering its secrets into your ear.

Yes, there’s something to be said for a physical book.

I say this after reading e-books. Despite reading e-books. Which reminds me, I have to download one recommended by The Huffington Post. It’s free, it’s fast, it will travel all over the world with me.

But I will still enter bookstores. And walk out with a bag full of books under my arms.


There’s something to be said about the smell of a book…

Book review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Cover of "Rose Madder"

Cover of Rose Madder

If there is one thing I cannot resist it is the lure of the printed word. Never has it happened that I have visited a bookstore and walked out empty handed. The last time I entered into one, I walked out with four books in tow, one of which was The Passage by Justin Cronin. Before buying the book I went through some reviews on Amazon, read the back cover a million times, read a few pages of the book to see if I liked the writing style. I kept the book back, wandered around in search of another book, and then came back and picked it up again, oh, about a gazillion times! Why? Because this isn’t the kind of book I typically read. The comparisons with Stephen King left me cold – I liked just two of his books – Carrie and Rose Madder; I’m not a big fan of science fiction, medical research gone bad, zombies and vampires. So I had no idea why I ended up buying this book.

Once I returned home and crammed it onto my overflowing bookshelf, I would often look at it balefully, asking myself what I was thinking to have bought it. So when I decided to read the darn thing and get it over with, I thought the going would be slow, the book intolerable, and maybe it would be another of those very few books that I would be forced to leave unread.

But I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

The first part of the novel gallops full speed ahead, outlining the discovery and creation of an immunity-boosting drug based on a virus carried by a species of bat in South America, its test on 12 death-row subjects and finally on a six-year old girl called Amy, all of whom are brought in by FBI agents Brad Wolgost and Phil Doyle. The virus turns the 12 into vampires, who manage to break out of the maximum security facility where they are kept and the world as we know it changes forever. (If this plot line makes you think of Resident Evil, it’s a bit similar, but only a bit.)

Cover of "The Passage"

Cover of The Passage

Fast forward about 90 years, and you’re introduced to an entirely new cast of characters. These are the inhabitants of First Colony, who appear to be the only humans to have survived the outbreak of the vampire attack. Governed by the Document of One Law that lays out the daily routine and work assignments of all the souls within the walls of the colony, they have no contact with the outside world and stave off the virals (vampires) with the help of lights running on wind energy and members of the Watch, who guard the walls of the colony. They use horses for transport, grow their own food and scavenge the malls for clothes. It’s a completely different world, and one that is extremely believable.

A lot of reviews I read when deciding weather or not to purchase the book said that the jump between centuries was disorienting, that it took really long to settle in to the new characters, and that it was almost like reading two different books – I experienced nothing of the sort. The transition between the times is made through “A journal entry by Ida Jaxon (“The Book of Auntie”)” in which she chronicles how the army evacuated children from Philadelphia to First Colony, which prepares you for the time switch.

Amy makes her entry once again about mid-way through the novel, and from thereon the book takes another twist, as some members from First Colony embark on a journey to escort her back to Colorado to the hospital where she was injected with the virus. The rest of the novel follows their journey and the many startling discoveries they make along the way.

Once I started reading, this 766-page tome took firm hold of me, leaving me breathless, eyes feverishly running through the pages, unmindful of the time or place. I was up nights, late for work and ignorant of the need to eat. I was right there with Amy and Wolgost in the car, in the hospital and on the run. I was in the First Colony, with Peter and Susan and Auntie. I joined Peter, Susan, Alicia, Micheal and Mausami as they embarked on the journey to get Amy back to Colorado. I was with them as they made one startling discovery after another during their Long Walk.

Overall, The Passage is an edge-of-your-seat nail-bitingly good suspense thriller that addresses the perils of military greed and the depth of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. It will grab you by the hand and pull you along for a rip-roaring ride, at the end of which you’ll be left gasping, waiting for 2012, and the second part of this trilogy.

Book review: Mosquito by Roma Tearne

Book review: Mosquito by Roma TearneThe Sri Lankan civil war serves as the backdrop for Roma Tearne’s debut novel Mosquito. It’s the story of Theo Samarajeeva, a Sri Lankan who returns home from England after his wife’s death despite the warnings of his friends to not return to the war torn island nation. It’s the story of Nulani Mendis, a young and gifted artist, who blossoms to life after she meets Theo. It’s the story of their improbable love. And it’s a story of torture.

Tearne writes beautifully about Sri Lanka, capturing it’s beauty and the brutality of the civil war. She writes poignantly about the pointlessness of war, about the brutality of torture and the psychological damage it wrecks on the tortured.

The writing is beautifully evocative, as Tearne gives a sensory, color drenched feel to the location and atmosphere of the Sri Lankan coast. I fell in love with the beauty of the country while reading the book – it’s beautiful coastline, verdant forests and rich history.

The characters of Theo and Nulani Mendis are well drawn out. Sugi, Theo’s caretaker and friend, though a rather central figure to the story, may not have a well-defined character, yet, he is someone you can understand and connect with. Tearne also gives a brief sketch of the psyche of a Tamil Tiger recruit, and given the wide-spread terrorism these days, that is enough to help you understand the character of Vikram, the young orphan boy who gets recruited into the LTTE.

This is a hauntingly beautiful novel of love, loss and hope; of the pointlessness of war; of the physical and psychological scars of torture; of the triumph of hope. Highly recommended.

Ramblings of an overworked mind

What a month this has been! Work has been absolutely crazy, leaving me with no time for myself or the blog.

I reach back home tired and drained, with little will to do anything but flop down on the couch with a cold bottle of water and a book.

Sadly for me, though, the book I’m reading is doing little to hold my interest. It seemed interesting enough – a story on Chandragupta’s cunning about 2,500 years ago and a cunning political king-maker in the present day. But the treatment is shoddy, the characters aren’t well developed and the plot is little snippets of political games in the past and future.

But I find it really hard to leave a book mid-way, and so I’m plodding along with Chandragupta’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi, just waiting for the infernal thing to end.

One good, actually great thing, that I achieved this month was finally understanding the exposure triangle in photography. The combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO finally worked! I’ll share some pictures when I can bear to open my laptop again.

Just waiting for this month to end!

Book Review: You Beleivers – Jane Bradley

From the back cover:

You Believers is a powerful, cathartic story of casual evil and of how the worst things can be faced so that we might not only survive, but grow. A young woman goes missing, and her mother uproots her life to find her daughter. But it is not just the heartbreak or the deep mystery of the hunt for lost loved ones that Bradley so convincingly explores. Rather, with the help of an amazingly dedicated searcher, family and friends somehow learn to move past unspeakable horror and celebrate the tenacity of the human spirit. Offering a vision that is at once ruthless and utterly compassionate, Bradley renders the search for logic, meaning, redemption and even hope in the domino force that is human nature. Part Southern gothic, part crime, part haunting suspense story, You Believers takes us on an infinitely harrowing journey that rewards the reader with insight into how we might endure horrible events with faith, strength, and grace even while it reveals the ripple effects of random violence.

Book cover: You Believers by Jane BradleyThe book starts with Shelby Waters, a Southern girl from the small town of Suck Creek, recounting how she got her calling to become a searcher. It was because of her sister Darly, who got away from Suck Creek to become a nurse and get married and settle down. Then one day, she went missing. The rescuers found her bones in the woods, her head at one place, her body at another. This isn’t Darly’s story, though. This is the story of Katy Connor, the 30-year old woman who went missing a few weeks before her wedding. It’s the story of a mother’s pain, a fiance’s sorrow and a sociopath’s need to cause pain.

It’s classic, almost. Like the story of Persephone picking flowers in a field one spring afternoon. The earth opens. Hades comes roaring up in his chariot, black horses digging up dirt with their hooves, hot breath swirling from flared nostrils. With a quick swoop of thick, muscled arm, Hades snatches the girl, drags her down to the underworld. You know the story. A mother comes to the rescue, finds her daughter has eaten six seeds of the dark fruit, pomegranate seeds that crunched between the girl’s teeth, red juice running from her lips. And the mother’s world, the whole wide world, is changed.

Bradley keeps the story moving with a lot of the characters narrating parts of the story. Shelby’s character is well-drawn out and you can understand why she does what she does, what keeps her going, her sorrows and her determination. Liz’s (Katy’s mother) sorrow as a mother whose child has gone missing is palpable. Her effort to hold together for the sake of her daughter and her sanity are heart-wrenching. And then there is Jesse, the psychopath who picked Katy up, who raped and assaulted another young girl in his neighborhood, and his arrogance, his need to brag and to hurt and break things.

The narration could have been a bit tighter, but the story itself is gripping, so you can forgive Bradley her few ramblings. Being a woman, it was all the more chilling a read. We take so many things for granted, don’t observe enough, tend to be a bit gullible, and go through life thinking nothing bad could ever happen to us. But it can take a minute for your life to turn upside down – a slight delay in locking the car once you get in or ignoring your gut instinct could be devastating.

This book got me to give thanks for each day that I am safe, and to make sure that I take every precaution that I can – when I’m out and even when I am home.

Read it, it just might give you the push you need to make you more aware of your surroundings no matter where you are.