Sister by Rosamund Lupton

I think TGND recommended this author, but took me a while to get hold of the book.

Beatrice rushes back from New York when her mother calls her up to report that her sister Tess has gone missing. Far though she was, the sisters had been incredibly close and Beatrice couldn’t imagine where her sister had gone missing. She just believed that her sister, with her different lifestyle would have just forgotten to inform anybody about where she was. Until they find her body. And what was even more shocking is that she seemed to have taken her own life.

That possibility is just unbelievable for Beatrice, for various strong reasons, but nobody else seems to want to listen to her. Beatrice, takes an impulsive decision of moving into her sister’s flat and trying to go where nobody else wants to. As she digs into her sister’s life, possible suspects emerge and before she knows it, she is in trouble herself. And alone.

Beatrice’s search for the truth, leads her to face up to some facts of her own life which she had been hiding away from. Getting justice for Tess becomes a journey in itself for Beatrice, changing her life beyond her wildest dreams.

The book beyond being just a crime fiction. A story that has so many aspects to it. The sisters bond, their past, which makes them who they are. the ways they handled grief, medical ethics… All together made it an unputdownable book. I would definitely, definitely recommend it.

PS: I’m not putting up a picture, its way too much work, while posting on the phone.

Also, I’ve been wondering if its a good idea to make a separate blog for the book reviews? What would you say?

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A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

Having loved Anam’s second book, ‘The Good Muslim’, I was on the lookout for her first book – ‘The Golden Age’. Although The Good Muslim was a sequel, I had no trouble following the story line, and I hoped that The Golden Age wouldn’t be rendered redundant by the fact that I had already read the sequel.

GoldenAge

I needn’t have worried. It is East Pakistan in 1971. Rehana Haque has just about started to breathe easy. Her two children, Sohail and Maya, who she struggled to keep with her and bring up, after she was widowed, have grown up and are in university. She now feels secure and comfortable, she has kept her children safe. The country is in the brink of a civil war. East Pakistan is fighting for independence and her children, she realizes, are right in the middle of it all. Not for them, the everyday worries of safety and security. Her sense of security vanishes overnight.

The life that she carefully tried to preserve, carefully nurtured, is all in pieces. Political upheavals seem to be mirrored in personal upheavals. Things which they took for granted are suddenly questioned.

While the sequel was largely about Maya and Sohail. The Golden Age, I would say, is mainly about Rehana. It is her story. Her struggles, her choices, and her life. Even when her choices seem wrong, it is difficult to judge her because her circumstances seem so tough on her. The ties that bind a mother to her children, and the extents to which people are forced to go because of their circumstances. Rehana finds herself part of a war, an upheaval that she wanted no part of, but is powerless to do anything about it.

I particularly liked the way the author has woven political incidents and upheavals into the story. Rehana’s life in East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh is a window to life in East Pakistan and the way it all changed. Hindus who considered it their homeland, suddenly realized that they had to run for their lives. When suddenly everybody has to choose sides, and hope that they have chosen the right side. While the older generation struggles with the choices, the younger generation is the one with the spirit to fight for what they consider their right. I can’t imagine what it must be to live through a war like this, but can only guess, that despite the tremendous losses, what they gained must be so very precious. A tale of love, heart-break, strife and hope.

A wonderful book. A book which I would recommend to everybody who likes books set in political situations and history. I especially love books of this sort, as it gives me an insight to how everyday life gets changed irrevocably by political decisions and political situations.

Edited to add: Title corrected – all thanks to Saks 🙂

Cut Like Wound by Anita Nair

I’ve always liked Anita Nair’s writings, and this book that has been on my wishlist for a while. I knew I just had to read it when I saw Wanderlustathome rate it highly on Goodreads.

CutLikeWound

A young male prostitute is found murdered and burnt in one of the many alleys in Shivajinagar in Bangalore. The case lands on the desk of Inspector Gowda and his new subordinate, SI Santhosh. Gowda is distracted, with personal issues crowding him. Not the most social person even normally, Santhosh finds him even more grouchy and grumpy than he expected. As they start investigating, they realize the case is more complex than they thought initially, it has all the indications of being a serial murder. The only clue they have is the modus operandi and a solitary pearl earring that they found on one of the victims. They have to use all their investigative skills and intuition to solve the case, while fighting bureaucratic bosses along with clever criminals.

A page turner, it is a wonderful book. I especially like the flavour of Bangalore that comes through so strongly in the book. It was like Bangalore was another character in the book, genteel and sophisticated at times, seedy and shady at others. Anita Nair’s writing reminds me of Elizabeth George’s crime books. Complex crimes, beautifully interwoven snippets of local life, and complex characters, interesting, and different practices, it was a very interesting book to read. I had an inkling of who the murderer might be, and yet the ending was very impressive. A book that I enjoyed till the last page.

Since this book ‘introduced’ Inspector Gowda, I, for one, am looking forward to more of Inspector Gowda thrillers from the author.

I would definitely recommend this book.

Epic Love Stories by Ashok K Banker

I love retelling of our epics(actually I love reading tales from the epics), so when these books came up for review, I placed a request. And was lucky enough to get selected.

Two of the series of five arrived in the post – Ganga and Shantanu, and Satyavati and Shantanu.

Epic Love Stories (2)Ganga and Shantanu

GangaShantanu

King Mahabhisha, a renowned, and devoted king, enters the heavenly realms due to his devotion and righteous path. One day, all the rajarishis, went to pay homage to Lord Brahma, when King Mahabhisha gets carried away by the sight of Ganga( River Ganga) and ends up being cursed to spend a lifetime as a human.

Around the same time, eight Vasus got a similar punishment for a different crime. Seven of them of them had the lesser punishment of living a year as humans while one of them, had to live a whole lifetime.

The Vasus persuade Ganga to be the person whose womb they are born from. For doing that Ganga has to become Shantanu’s wife, who is none other than King Mahabhisha. Of course, Ganga has other reasons to agree to the Vasus’ request. Ganga and Shantanu meet(arranged cleverly by Ganga),fall madly in love, get married and lived happily together, until the vows that Ganga had extracted out of Shantanu as her condition to get married, come into effect. Conditions that break Shantanu’s heart, but there is nothing he can do, without breaking his promise. And nothing Ganga can do to avoid hurting him. She cannot even explain her actions, as those are the rules. She has to see her love hurt, again and again and do nothing about it. Torn between their word and their love, both Ganga and Shantanu lead a torn existence.

Finally she leaves him,as was ordained, leaving behind a son for him, a son who would go on to make history.

Epic Love Stories (3) Satyavati and Shantanu

SatyavatiShantanu

The story takes off where Ganga and Shantanu leaves us. Shantanu is happy to have his son, Devavrata, with him. Devavrata, is now a fine young man. Ganga had done a wonderful job with him, he is wise, fair and capable. The kingdom is delighted with their young prince.

Despite having his son with him, Shantanu is still pining away for Ganga. Even the people of his land had started to worry about the state of their king.

In this state, Shantanu meets Satyavati a fisherman’s daughter, and falls in love with her. He just knows that this is the woman for him, the person who give him the happiness Ganga couldn’t give him, the joys of living together forever. Excited, he goes to Satyavati’s father to ask her for her hand, when he is dealt a blow which he could never have imagined.

Shantanu feels cheated by fate and is dispirited and sad, when his son Devavrata, takes things into his hands and makes the ultimate sacrifice for his father’s happiness. An unthinkable sacrifice, the sacrifice which made Shantanu and Satyavati’s love possible.

Both of them are stories from Hindu Mythology, retold by the author, with the focus on the love story. I did wish he made it more than just physical attraction, which was how it came across to me. I wish the author had used some of his literary license and added some emotions beyond ‘love at first sight’, some interpretation which would have added to the story, but that’s just me, asking for more!

The books were very quick reads. 80 pages or so long, and very easy and quick to read. The books were fun to read, but probably not something I would buy and read.

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

The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

The name caught my attention. Having loved Malladi’s A Breadth of Fresh Air, I was tempted to give this a try.

MangoSeason

Priya Rao had left India 7 years ago as a twenty year old student. For seven years she avoided coming back, and managed to flout most of the strict rules that her mother had handed out, most important of them all – not to marry a foreigner. Well, she’s not married him yet, but she’s engaged to him. And the biggest challenge she faces this holiday is to tell her parents all about Nick, the man in her life.

Returning back to India, Priya realizes that while she has changed a lot over the last few years,things seem to have remained same back home in India. Things she grew up with, suddenly felt alien and strange, although her family, her really extended family seemed to be just the same. The same values, the same power struggles and conflicts, the same beliefs, some of which included very narrow view of Westerners. All of which, of course seems even worse now, now that Priya wants to marry one. How on earth is she supposed to tell them that, when the whole family seems more interested in getting her married to a nice Indian boy? They seem to be ready to do anything to get her married off to a nice Indian Boy.

While her family arranges bride-seeing ceremonies, Priya is at a loss. She feels torn and a traitor to both her family and Nick. She knows she will have to choose between her love and her family, and it’s no easy choice, even though her family gets so annoying at times, even though Nick is just perfect for her. Both are equally part of her. To have to choose is so brutal.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the mango season, the way life in India in the hot, sultry summer was depicted. I could almost feel the sweat, taste the tangy mango pickle that was made, hear the bargains that Priya’s mother stuck up.. and Priya’s embarrassment. It was just great! I love these sort of books, which totally take you to the place they are set. Priya’s dilemma felt real as well. Especially given the family that she came from. Although the story could have been predictable, the manner in which it unfolds is quite nice. And there is a nice little twist at the very end.

A quick, fun read, one that will keep you entertained and asking for more. The ending was a wee bit abrupt, but never mind, I still liked the book, over all.

The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi

I only recently came across this book when Bindu added it to her ‘to-read’ books in Goodreads. Luckily for me, it was available in my library. Normally, most of the really good books aren’t available there- so, I was quite happy. Although I wasn’t sure that the book itself would be something that I would enjoy but I was curious, to be honest.

HijraLifeStory

Hijras have always inspired fear and a bit of apprehension in me since I was a child. For some reason, they always made me uncomfortable, as long as I can remember. This time, after years of being away from India, they invoked the same sense of apprehension if they confronted me on the roads. Most of the time, I would be in an auto, and would just hand over money. This book, I hoped would tell more about their life and the reason why they do what they do.

The book is Revathi’s autobiography. Revathi was born into a working class family in Tamil Nadu. The youngest of three brothers, she was born as Doraisamy. From a very young age, she enjoyed the tasks that were assigned her sister more than her brothers. She longed to be a girl as long back as she remembers. She feels like a woman trapped in a man’s body. All she wanted was to be a woman, to be considered a woman by society. Slowly, getting more and more aware of herself, she meets up with others like her. Her quest to be a woman leads her to a totally different life. A life where she is taunted for her state of being, where she is not accepted by her birth family, and yet she finds a family of her own. She runs away to Delhi in search of a life where she can be herself. All is not rosy there either. She faces trouble and violence of all sorts.

All she wants is to live a life being true to herself, with a little dignity, to be accepted for what she is but that itself seems like a tall order.

The book is a difficult read. It is an honest autobiography which depicts life as a hijra in India. A community that is feared, ridiculed and ill-treated in so many ways. What can a person do when everything seems to be stacked against them. Being considered freaks, unable to gain acceptability in society like the rest of us do, just because they are born in a way that is considered abnormal. It is a peek into lives of our sexual minorities who have struggled so hard to gain acceptance, ill-treated by society, by the law enforcers,shackled by our archaic laws, looked down by their own families, no means of earning a living… Is it a wonder that they have to resort to all sorts of things to keep themselves alive.

Reading this book opened my eyes to things which I knew about only vaguely. The life that they are forced to lead, because of the way our society functions. It just makes me hope that things do change for the better for this community. The life that a lot of them lead is so tragic. It made me feel very helpless.

As I said, it is no easy read. It is sad, tragic and heart-breaking. Having said that it does give an insight to life as a Hijra in India.

PS: Does anyone know how it is for transgenders in other countries?

Intermission by Nirupama Subramanian

intermissionSmita recommended this book on my review of the Author’s first book.

Varun, lives a ordered, boring, not-so-happily married life with his wife Gayatri and teenaged son. While everything looks fine on the surface, there is unhappiness and dissatisfaction simmering under the surface. They are NRIs who have recently recently relocated to Gurgaon. Varun appears to have settled in well, while Gayatri is finding it far more difficult to take to the place and the way of things.

Living in a luxury condominium, they are living an life of luxury, but of unease.In the midst of all this, Varun falls in love with Sweety, a young mother of twins living a dream life of her own. Having recently shifted out of her joint family, Sweety is savouring the joys of nuclear living.

A disturbing as well as quite a possible scenario. The way the story unfolds is quite nicely handled, without making it sleazy or cheap. The frustrations and the challenges that each of them face is nicely brought out. The illict relationship has been handled with sensitivity. And all the characters feel real.

I especially liked the descriptions of life in the luxury condos of Gurgoan – quite relate-able to life in most new parts of urban cities, where sudden development sees luxury and poverty living side by side. Gayatri was the character who appealed the most to me. She was real, she was not perfect, but she was doing the best she could do. I liked the ending as well. It was a realistic ending.

A quick read, a page turner, something which will definitely not bore you.

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

Another goodreads reco. I’ve said it before, I love the recommendations section of Goodreads.

GoodMuslim

The Good Muslim is a sequel to ‘The Golden Age’, and that is on my list to read. Set in independent Bangladesh, in the 80s, the book revolves around Maya Haque and her family. Maya, a medical doctor, has been away from her home for many years – the years following Bangladesh’s independence. She returns home to her mother and brother and realizes that her brother has completely changed. Before the war, Maya had been a revolutionary and she and her brother had been inseparable. The war had impacted both of them in very different ways. Maya continued to be a revolutionary, while her brother Sohail, had turned to religion. Both of them felt the need to atone for what they did during the war, but both chose different means.

Returning to Dhaka, Maya realizes that things have changed, much more than she would have imagined. She finds that her views and her independence is no longer considered good, in a society that was getting rigid by the day, just like her brother. She forms a close bond with her motherless, nephew, Zaid. Zaid, left alone, by his father, barring religious instructions, was growing up wild. She realizes that her brother has no time or interest in anything except religion, not even for his little child. Maya finds ways of engaging with the little boy, sometimes angering his father.

The story shifts between 1977 and 1984, giving us an insight into what Maya and Sohail went through. Maya doesn’t let her brother’s beliefs stop her. She writes about her experiences and refuses to be cowed down by the atmosphere of fear and unease that seems to be prevalent in Dhaka. Maya’s mother’s dilemma and ways of dealing with the situation opens up another view of the situation. A mother torn between two children, both right in their own ways.

It’s a heart-wrenching tale of a family, mirroring that of a young nation, caught in the crossroads, confused and traumatized. While I empathized with Maya’s character, I found it difficult to empathize with Sohail. Especially his neglect of his own little son. His turning a blind eye to things which should have been obvious to any parent. The book, in a way, shows how easy it is for people to change, to take up a path entirely different from what they were, when circumstances test you, when you lose hope in things that you trusted and believed in. Again a story which touched me, and one that will stay with me.

I would recommend the book to anybody who likes books with a political background – I love books of this sort. It gives me an insight which just reading about political unrest doesn’t. Books that show you the human side of every uprising, of every country liberated, of every political movement.

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Some books make you wonder what made you pick them, while others make you kick yourself for not having read them before. A Town like Alice falls in second category. I got to know of this book from Manju of ‘Of Cabbages and Kings’ on twitter, and it immediately caught my interest.

TownLikeAlice

Jean Paget, a young English woman,in post-war England, comes into an unexpected inheritance. All she wants to do with it, is go to Malaya and build a well. Rather unusual, isn’t it? That’s what the lawyer, Noel Strachan, who was executing the inheritance for her thought as well, until she tells him her story.

She had been twenty years old, working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion began. She is captured along with the other English men and women. The men are sent to prisoner camps, but the Japanese had no prisoner camps for the women, so they were made to March across Malaya, through ill health and deaths. Jean’s courage and ingenuity managed to save some of the group. While on the march, they ran into Australian prisoner, Joe Harman, who paid a rather high price for doing his bit for the women.

A few years later, Jean had been living an ordinary existence in London, working as a typist at a company that made shoes and bags, when the news of the unexpected inheritance reaches her. What she really wants to do is go back to Malaya and do something for the kind villagers whose help kept her and some of her companions alive. She knows how much a well would help them. She knows how diffcult their lives were, having lived their life with them. With the money from the inheritance, she could now, make a difference.

She sets off on her mission, and goes far beyond Malaya. She ends up in Australia, and there again, her ingenuity, determination and courage takes her through a challenge that would have daunted most people. To create a town just like Alice(Alice Springs).

A wonderful story of love, courage and determination. The characters are ones that you connect with. A nice, warm book, where despite the hardships that the characters face, the overwhelming feeling is that of hope. A book that stays with you. A highly recommended read.

When the Lotus Blooms by Kanchana Krishnan Iyer

My aunt recommended this book. Given that we have so many books that we like in common, I was waiting to get hold of it.

LotusBlooms
Two Tamilian Brahmin families, in two different parts of India, in 1930s British Colonial India, bound by a common destiny.

Rajam and Dharmu were both child brides, unaware of the life awaiting them. Rajam’s husband, Partha, fell in love with her at first sight, and engineered their marriage. For all the love that he bestowed on her, she had to bear the brunt of a mother-in-law from hell. Nothing she did could please her mother-in-law, and her childless state was the worst testimony of her failure as a daughter-in-law and wife, in her mother-in-law’s eyes, even if her husband was not bothered by it. The harder she tried, the more difficult her life became.

Dharmu, brought up in a village in Tamilnadu, is suddenly transported into a totally different world after she gets married. Her husband, Mahadevan, a sophisticated, London returned civil servant, lived a very different, Western life in East Bengal. In the middle of the political unrest and uncertainty, Dharmu tries hard to fit in. Sadly, no matter what she did, she could feel herself lacking. Right from her manners, her English, to the food that her husband insisted on. Everything was alien, and nothing seemed to elevate her loneliness and unhappiness. Things which were strictly forbidden growing up, now becomes things that she has to do, in order to fit into the society that her husband moves in. Her only joy in life was her little son, born after two daughters. Her casual neglect of her daughter, never even occurred to her, because, after all, they were just daughters, meant to be brought up and sent away to their marital home.

Unknown to both these families, the blooming lotus, would have a significance to both these families.

I really enjoyed the style of the author. She transports you to that era, effortlessly. Sights, smells, experiences, everything. You could be Rajam or Dharmu’s neighbour, witnessing them, going about with their lives. Their day to day lives, along with those around them. The story is woven with the traditions, practices and rules that bound the men and women of that time. Things that they accepted as part of life. The characters are really well-fleshed out. You feel Rajam’s frustration, and her determination to do her best, Dharmu’s loneliness and empathize with their situation. Even smaller characters like Dharmu’s maid, or the village untouchables are so well integrated into the story, that the book is a wonderful read, a sliver of life in a different time.

There is a fair sprinkling of Tamil words through the book, which just brings out the flavour of the book. I think it is books like these that capture an older time(good or bad), for when most of us would have forgotten it. And that, I think is what I really loved about the book.

If you like fiction of this sort, an olden era brought to life, you are sure to like this one. I would definitely recommend this book.