#InstaTales 1: The gathering house

Welcome to Insta-tales! A new series where I will use one of my original photographs or digital composites as a starting point to weave together a story, a life lesson, or an anecdote. Hope you enjoy today’s offering – a short story! {It’s my first attempt at fiction, so please be kind!}

The gathering house

I wiped my dusty hands across my brow and took a final look around the attic. Everything had been sorted out – five huge garbage bags of thrash were piled up at the backdoor, two cartons were earmarked for charity, and five shoe boxes of treasured memories lay at the foot of my bed. As I was about to turn off the light, something glinted at the corner of my vision. On closer inspection, I noticed a small, dusty box with gilded edges that I had never seen before. I picked it up and made my way to the bedroom.

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Book review: Boomtown by Aditya Mukherjee

Boomtown by Aditya MukherjeeYou know what they say about not judging a book by it’s cover? Add another one to it – don’t judge an author by the author blurb. Aditya Mukherjee may be yet another IIM graduate to have penned a novel, but unlike most of them who write about college life in particularly bad English, Boomtown is a breath of fresh air.

JJ, son of a rich businessman, meets Jaaved, the grandson of legendary Old Delhi chef Khan Mian. Jaaved is passionate about cooking, but unlike his grandfather, who refuses to change his family recipes in any way, he enjoys experimenting with new ingredients. Like using a dash of vanilla essence in a traditional meat curry “to give it a bit more balance.” When JJ tastes his food, he has a brainwave – setting up a chain of fusion restaurants spinning new twists on traditional recipes.

He ropes in Roy, his engineering buddy who has just been laid off, and Sheetal, a single mother and manager at a five-star hotel. Boosted by a glorious review from celebrated chef Romesh Ghosh, “the three friends travel from the crumbling Mughlai kitchens of Chandni Chowk to the trendy upmarket eateries of Gurgaon, from the corporate corridors of venture capitalists to the crummy offices of property brokers.”Continue reading

Book review: Caught in Crystal – Patricia C. Wrede

I seem to be on a reading and reviewing roll lately. Here’s another interesting read for all you fantasy fiction buffs out there.
Caught in Crystal - Patricia C. WredeCaught in Crystal tells the story of Kayl, an inn keeper struggling to maintain her inn and raise to two children. Things seem normal until the arrival of Corrana, a member of the Sisterhood of Stars (a coven of witches). It turns out that Kayl was a member of the sisterhood too, but she left her position as one of the best fighters and strategists of the coven after a mission went horribly wrong. But now, the Sisterhood needs her to return to the Twisted Tower, bringing Kayl’s past crashing down around her.

The first half of the book traces Kayl’s journey back to Kith Alunel – the dangers on the road, flashbacks into the past, and her struggle to regain her fighting form and keep her children out of harm. Though interesting, it makes for very slow reading, because nothing really happens during this time. However,  Patricia Wrede’s charecterization is quite good, making you plough through the pages because you want to know how things turn out for Kayl and her children.

It’s in the second half of the novel that things start to pick up. Kayl realizes that she has no option but to return to the Twisted Tower, and that no matter how hard she tries, her children will be involved in the mission. As they journey towards the Tower, we get a glimpse into the shadowy events of the first mission and the secrets and motivations driving the members of the circle. There’s magic and action, secrets unfolding, and the center of it all, the Twisted Tower and the sinister sorcery inside it.

Overall, then, the story is interesting and the charectors are likable. The plot, however, plods along in some places and zips through in others, making the pacing a bit uneven. The other bone I have to pick is with the setting – some places, like Kith Alunel are described well, but I couldn’t quite get a feel of the place she set this fantasy story in. This could be, in part, because Caught in Crystal is a series  – its the fourth book in Patricia Wrede’s Lyra series. I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker, because even though I haven’t read any of the other books, I had no problem following the events in this one, which makes it perfect as a stand alone read.

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: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife

Image via Wikipedia

The Time Traveler’s Wife is an idyllic romance. On one level, it tells of a love so strong that nothing can come in its way, on another, it brings in a touch of science fiction.

Clare Abshire has known Henry DeTamble since she was 6, and she knows that she’s going to marry him when she grows older. But when she meets Henry when she is 20, he doesn’t know who she is.

I met Clare for the first time in October, 1991. She met me for the first time in September, 1977; she was six, I will be thirty-eight. She’s known me all her life. In 1991 I’m just getting to know her.

That’s because Henry is a time traveler who gets yanked around in time – past and present – without any warning. And the reason he doesn’t know Clare is because he tries not to tell anyone (including himself, unless it’s a life and death situation) about their future.

Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plain cotton shirt with white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in the heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished. You are standing, naked as a jaybird, up to your ankles in ice water in a ditch along an unidentified rural route…You’ve mislocated yourself again.

Confused? Don’t be. Niffenegger maintains taunt control over her narrative, which alternates between Clare and Henry’s point of view, never letting things get confusing or bewildering. The transitions between past and present and future are maintained smoothly, and Niffenegger does an excellent job of weaving together some complex ideas – time travel, marriage, love, children, death, drugs, loss, and the human condition – poetically and with amazing clarity.

It’s also a beautiful character sketch of Henry, who never knows when and where in time he will appear, naked, hungry, and having to quickly defend himself; and of Clare, who lives a “chronologically” normal life, marked with her strong love for Henry and her worry about his safety when he time travels.

I read the book over two days when I was home sick, and the soothing pace of the novel and the gentle, matter-of-fact love story was like a soothing balm to my tortured self. Highly recommended.

Book review: The White Tiger – Arvind Adiga

Cover of "The White Tiger: A Novel"
Cover of The White Tiger: A Novel

Munna, aka Balram Halwai, the narrator and main character of Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger, narrates the story of his journey from a village in the Darkness to becoming an entrepreneur in the Light.

Starting out as a cleaning boy in a small tea shop in his village Laxmangarh, Munna moved to the city of Dhanbad with his elder brother to become a cleaner at a bigger tea shop. But his yearning for a uniform and a better life attracted him to the drivers that he saw at the tea shop, and he convinced his family to let him learn how to drive. By a strange quirk of fate, he soon gained employment with Mongoose, the son of a landlord (Stork) from his village. Learning the ways and means of the house, his cunning and intelligence enabled him to move with Stork’s younger, US returned son to Delhi, the city that eventually corrupted him. Detailing the sequence of events that led him to murder his master and flee to Bangalore, Balram narrates his life story in the form of seven letters to the Chinese Prime Minister who is visiting India shortly, in order to acquaint him with the “real India.”

I have to admit that I approached this book with a great deal of skepticism, which is why I read it this late! (It won the Booker in 2008.) I typically do not like Indian authors (chicklit authors aren’t included in this discussion), as they seem to write solely for a Western audience, depicting India as a completely backward country filled with murderers and marauders, and Indians as either backward, narrow minded people or people who fawn over white skin and want nothing more than to ape Westerners (think Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss). But there are some, like Suketu Mehta, whose hard-hitting Millenium City took a brutal and honest look at the underbelly of Mumbai; Jhumpa Lahiri, who beautifully evoked the pathos and stories of Bengalis living abroad in Unaccustomed Earth; and Chetan Bhagat, whose books have mass appeal because he can connect to readers, young and old alike. (His 2 States took an honest look at the difficulties that youngsters face if they want to marry outside their caste.) I add to this list of believable authors Arvind Adiga.

Dharavi slums, Mumbai
(image via Wikipedia)

Representing India as two Indias, the Darkness and Light, Adiga takes a dig at the “India Shining” campaign launched by the BJP. The Darkness represents rural India, where poverty and illiteracy and feudalism still exist, the Light refers to the metros and fast-growing Tier I and II cities, which were the focus of the India Shining campaign. The Great Socialist, the political party that features in the novel, takes a dig at Mayawati, who rose to power in order to empower Dalits, but since then has only lined her pocket with cold hard cash. Adiga’s character sketch of Munna could fit almost any migrant worker, the so-called floating population that comes into big cities in search of work and a way out of their grinding poverty. His eventual corruption and betrayal of his master is a reflection of the corruption we see all around us.

Though he does focus on poverty and illetracy, on the great divide between rich and poor, this is a novel that is believable because India still remains a land of contradictions. The gaps have narrowed, but the economic and social divide remain.

All-in-all, it’s an interesting read, and I’d gladly recommend it to anyone.

Have you read the book? What do you think about it?