Melody’s Key by Dallas Coryell

The blurb to Melody’s Key has a pretty interesting ring to it. So when I got the chance to read and review the book, I went ahead immediately. Here’s the blurb:

“Tegan Lockwood’s dreams were dead, sacrificed on the noble altar of duty before they ever had a chance to live. Her entire existence was disappearing into the abyss of apathy as she labored her days away keeping her family’s struggling business alive. There would be no emotion, no color, no beauty in her life. That is, until a mysterious visitor begins to draw her out of the darkness of her past towards something that will challenge the boundaries of her world, and unlock the most deeply held secrets of her heart.”

Tegan Lockwood is thoughtful, practical, and considerate, enough to acknowledge that not everything happens according to our wishes. This, after her dreams come crashing down around her. Many-a-times, you feel outraged on Tegan’s part, an ode to how well the author has written the characters and the story. And this, despite Tegan being insufferable at times.

The book starts off on quite a comic note, one that many people find themselves in. The somewhat complicated sentences bring forth excellent descriptions of perfectly normal instances. The narration has a certain poetry to it that fits in amazingly at some places and makes you smile. It’s pleasing to the eye as well as to the mind, and is written in a way that could be deemed engaging.

There is a certain historical aspect to the story and though the lingo used in connection with that time and age does not seem fully genuine, the author makes a considerably visible effort in pulling it in that direction. Coryell uses big words in some places. They are like footwear one size too big; they fit well, but maybe smaller, simpler words could have been used.

As you progress through the pages, just the mere mention of Mason Keane and the reactions of people bound to get in touch with him makes you feel like the book is more like a fanfiction that you find online. On the other hand, Tegan’s character remains mixed: sweet yet tough. Her fighting spirit pops up in the unlikeliest of times and is a fairly nice example of how we could model ourselves.

The physical romance in the story is tastefully written and doesn’t feel gross to read, unlike numerous other stories that make you cringe in disgust and abandon the book. There’s passion and fire, both, in what the protagonists feel about one another and also in what they feel about music and art. It’s heartening to see them bond over them.

Since Melody’s Key is partly about music and since Dallas Coryell is a musician himself, it is fair enough that at some points in the book, music lingo blows up in size. For people like me who are not well-versed with the nuances of music, it just means that something beautiful is going straight over my head!

The book turns from being light and carefree to serious in under just a few pages. Not that it clamors for you to take it seriously – its writing does the job. But it does get your pulse racing. I am a sucker for happy endings, so through the whole scenario, I’m going “Pls, pls, pls, pls, pls!” But what actually happened further ahead blew my mind. (I know I sound like a clickbait headline, but hey, what do I know? ;)) A twisted thought emerged at the possibilities of how the story could end and I end up bracing for disappointment.

Dallas Coryell’s novel Melody’s Key is a simple, sweet story with well-rounded and well-developed characters. The conflict of the story jolts you and makes you feel angry and bad – thanks to good writing. The characters and the story are something that call to you on an elemental level.

If you want to enjoy a super-romantic, cheesy novel, then Melody’s Key is a good option to keep in mind!

Rating: 3/5 stars

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About the author:

Dallas Coryell is a musician and author residing deep in the untamed wilds of Michigan, USA, where he desperately attempts to assign meaning to his world through bouts of maniacal creative catharsis and pitifully doomed hopeless romantic fantasies.

All of the songs written by the characters in this novel are real and can be viewed on the author’s fledgling YouTube channel.

Selfies and other assorted randomness can be found on the author’s Instagram profile.

‘Us’ – Dark Humor That Brings You Back To Earth

It was on a grim, depressing day that I picked up ‘Us’ by David Nicholls. Walking around the bookstore in the mall that I usually go to when I need some me time, I spotted this book sitting against a number of Agatha Christies – a very unusual place to be, in my opinion. The very intriguing cover piqued my dull senses and I gave the blurb a once over:

“Douglas and Connie: scientist and artist, and for more than twenty years, husband and wife – until suddenly, their marriage seems over.

But Douglas is going to win back the love of his wife and the respect of Albie, their teenage son, by organising the holiday of a lifetime.

He has booked the hotels, bought the train tickets, planned and printed the itinerary for a ‘grand tour’ of the great art galleries of Europe.

What could possibly go wrong?”

It somehow called to me on a deeper level. Maybe (if I’m exaggerating more than necessary) a sense of identification of the morbidity plunging through both our hearts. So yes, I bought this book. I was going to go on this ‘grand tour’ of redemption with Douglas and try to win back his family.

As opposed to the dull mood that I bought this book in, it was in a highly excited mood that I started reading it. ‘Us’ has dark humor prevailing in almost all its pages. The protagonist, Douglas Petersen, a British biochemist, looks like he takes exceptionally subtle digs at himself using the aforementioned dark humor. You almost do a double take and snort when you realize what you’ve just read.

‘Us’ is a humorous story that shows Douglas’ yearning for the love of his son, Albie, and a yearning for the continuation of the love that he has had for more than 20 years. David Nicholls twists it into one that’s beautiful in its own dark, twisted way.

Douglas’ character is well-written by David Nicholls and evokes a number of emotions in you – anger, disgust, affection, irritation, pity, and maybe even a teeny bit of love. This, despite him being plain stupid and childish sometimes. Constantly picking on someone, having twisted theories of life and love, acting like a scientist even outside of his lab, imminent rudeness! You’d hate such a person, but we all have such a character in our lives – unrelenting, unyielding, unaccommodating!

The pity you feel for him sort of fades away as the story progresses. It gives you a moment to wonder why families feel disconnected at times. Their ideas might make you scowl, cringe, and raise your ideas at them, but family is family. You do things for them that you’d never do for anyone else, even for yourself.

David Nicholls has written ‘Us’ in a rather impressively swinging narrative that alternates between Douglas and Connie’s youth and parenthood. Maybe to show us how much people can change over the course of years together.

Though ‘Us’ is a slightly tedious read, it is jarringly haunting and brings you back to Earth. Douglas and Connie’s love story tells you that nothing is unachievable and also that things can go wrong at any point in our lives. Don’t be blind to what’s happening around you. Be sensitive to other people’s feelings. Help them understand you better. Don’t dismiss anyone easily.

And most importantly, respect the person you are in a relationship with – any relationship for that matter, be they your better half, child, parents, or friends!

All in all, a beautiful comic-tragic read by David Nicholls! I love it!

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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Picture Courtesy: Amazon.co.uk

False Ceilings – A Compelling Story of Dysfunctional Realities

Author Amit Sharma’s book, False Ceilings, I have to admit, is a pleasant surprise in terms of how strongly it makes you feel nostalgic and want to go back to reading history as soon as possible. The summary at the back of the book provides a certain level of intrigue that is added to by the muted impressiveness of the front cover.

False Ceilings starts off with a slight hint at the reality of the education system in India, though you cannot help but wonder about how much of it is relevant, according to the gist. But the book twists and turns through Dalhousie and Shimla during different times and gives you excellent descriptions of the scenic beauty that is an innate property of these hill stations. It then graduates to the metropolis of Delhi, showing it in its varied changing timelines.

The story, though a little too unnecessarily descriptive in its earlier pages, turns into one that you simply cannot put down. You just start craving for more at one point. False Ceilings captures human emotions with an ease and diligence that is astounding in its own little myriad ways. I loved the fact that author Amit Sharma has mixed and blended the stories and timelines so well that it is easy to read despite being so disparate.

Author Amit Sharma has packed in quite a few punches in this 256-page novel that prick your heart in more ways than one:

The mindsets of different generations in times when the fear of giving birth to a girl child was stronger than the pride of becoming a mother is shown in sharp contrast.

Unexpected progressiveness in a time that did not encourage it much, and that seems so out of place yet so natural, evokes a pride that is hard to let go of as you read. It is heartening to see how we have changed since then, but it also pricks since we still have those prejudices rooted in places where we cannot reach.

It is obvious that the book required quite a bit of research and it is also obvious as to how well the research has been done and the results of the research implemented. Amit Sharma includes everything about the Indian Independence Struggle and its aftermath perfectly into the story. Every character’s story in the book fills you with an angst and pain that comes with a sense of identification.

The characters are shaped and molded extremely well. When a character feels disdain, it spills over to you. When a character feels joy, you’re joyous too. When a character is pained, you hurt too. Character sketching, being one of the most important parts of a story, is done brilliantly and heart-wrenchingly well. False Ceilings has the power to make you cringe, make you identify with it, and make you feel just a tad bit wistful. That sense of identification is filled to the brim.

The author has littered the book with a few gems that I couldn’t help but list out here:

 “No one but us will know this moment, that we sat here like this and saw the sun fade away and then one day, this moment will be lost with both of us. There will be no one left to tell our story.”

“But it is our moment, our sunset.”

“We are animals. We just need a chance. We are like werewolves. We wait for the moon of hatred.”

“Sometimes the futility of it all drives me crazy. It’s so mind-bogglingly brainless. We are on this tiny speck of soil and dirt which we call Earth, which won’t even register anywhere in vastness if you start comparing it with the other objects in the universe and our existence is such a paltry blip on it, just like a blink of an eye. And, even though, all you have to do is to look at the sky to be reminded of your being so minuscule and your existence to be so worthless, we still have the nerve to make each other’s lives miserable.”

“It was one of those moments when the present is such a far cry from the past that one begins to wonder if the past actually existed.”

“If she had to tell her story to anyone, people would chuckle at her. She did not beat you up, she did not throw acid on you, she did not burn you by pouring kerosene on you while you were asleep, they would say. What are you complaining about then? But she was not blowing it out of proportion. Why does it always have to be something physical? Why does someone have to strike you or burn you for people to sympathize with you? Is it because the truth is stark only with a proof? There has to be a mark on the body, a bruise, for someone to sympathize? Otherwise it’s just manipulated and exaggerated sentences?”

The only complaint that I have with False Ceilings is that it comes off as a slightly jarred narrative when it comes to sentence construction. But what it contains less of in this section, it more than makes up for in the plot and character sketches. Not that the sentence construction is bad, but it could definitely have been better. False Ceilings has a number of characters, well-sketched and well-written, whose paths cross often. But in the end, when you look at the larger picture, it all suddenly makes so much more sense.

Finishing False Ceilings left me in awe of the impeccable manner in which the author wove the plot, with so many nuances and strongholds. Excellent storyline, brilliantly woven, author Amit Sharma!

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Childhood Through The Bylanes Of Adulthood

When Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was announced, I, like many of the Harry Potter fanatics out there, was beyond ecstatic. This joy was a little diminished when it came to light that Cursed Child would only be a play. “Great!” I thought miserably. “This way, I’ll never enter the post-Voldemort world of Harry Potter. I’ll never know how Harry fared as an adult. I’ll never experience magic again.”

But the Universe and the makers had something else in mind, because I did get to experience magic yet again and wonder at the marvels it presented. While Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a script of the play as against the other seven Harry Potter books, it is in no way less of a phenomenon than them. This book/script shows magic in new ways and reiterates statements made in the earlier books. And how could I not fall in love with this beautiful masterpiece?

People have been going on and on about how Cursed Child is a disappointment, but I beg to differ. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left off from where Albus Severus Potter is laying his fears bare in front of his father, and this book, or rather script, picks up from there and delves deeper into what he feels and how Harry is faring as a father. Yes, I grew up with Harry and like watching childhood fade away, I was devastated to watch the Harry Potter series end. But I also wanted to know more about how Harry turned out as an adult and how his life panned out through adulthood, too. I’m selfish that way!

This was brought to me fantastically by Jack Thorne, J. K. Rowling, and John Tiffany. Though the writing was mainly by Thorne, it is based on the story by the trio, and I have nothing to complain about!

I received Harry Potter and the Cursed Child just a couple of days within its official release and my joy knew no bounds. Just the thought of it sitting in my bookshelf brings a smile to my face. I don’t have all the Harry Potter books, but I made sure that I got this as soon as it released. And I finished reading it the night I received the book. It took me three hours to greedily gobble it up!

As I reverently consumed the words, I was filled with wonder as to how amazingly it was put through and how wonderful all the explanations given in The Cursed Child were. Yes, there was a slight disconnect between the explanation behind how Harry was being a bad father and how Albus decided to take matters into his own hands. But it was just that – a slight disconnect. If you sit and dig deep into the reasons behind Albus’ actions, you will most likely see why he does what he does. Yes, his actions are foolish, but that doesn’t make the story any less of a joy to read. In fact, it fuels it so much that you begin to vouch for Albus to come through at some point.

I’d give an arm to read another book based on Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s journey but I know that this story has reached its end. The characters have now attained the path on which they are set to walk for the rest of their lives, hopefully without event, and it would not be fair to bring them out of literary retirement.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brought me smiles and warmth, like the seven Harry Potter books, and now I sit overjoyed and sated, knowing that Harry is navigating his life through adulthood in a much better way than was speculated! And despite my musings about not knowing magic again, I know that I can always pick the Harry Potter books and always experience that magic, no matter my age.

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[Spoiler Alert!]

The only thing I hated about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was Ron and Padma’s child’s name. Who names their child ‘Panju’, unless you hate them?! Like a good friend said, “That’s a cursed child right there!”

Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia

Dear Sakhi – The Lost Journals Of The Ladies Of Hastinapur

The reason I picked up this book is that it is related to the Hastinapur series by Sharath Komarraju. When I finished The Rise of Hastinapur, I knew there was a long wait before the next book came out and I was mighty disappointed. But Sharath Komarraju offered me this: Dear Sakhi: The Lost Journals of the Ladies of Hastinapur and I was more than delighted to lap it up.

The author divides the book into small portions of diaries of the prominent ladies of Hastinapur, as might have told to their confidantes or sakhis in that time and age.

Ganga:

The first journal entry is that of Ganga. You know her story but the author spins it in such a refreshingly new way that you have no option but to marvel. The entry sheds light on a mother’s love – how divine and celestial it is, even for the most celestial of goddesses. It shows the battle between heart and mind and yet again, divinity does not triumph. It is the same everywhere: A mother’s love, a mother’s pain at separation from their child and the story of Devavrata as seen from Ganga’s eyes – her pride dripping, pain lancing through you.

As with every book, Sharath Komarraju brings in simple sentences that make you stop and think.

“A word lives but for a moment; once it leaves your lips, it has died. How quaint then, is this idea that something that lives but for a second must bind your actions forever?”

“How does one measure or describe a mother’s love and heartache?”

Satyavati:

Riddled with identity issues, Satyavati ponders over her life gone by and misses what she sees in the past. And through this, the whole story from The Winds of Hastinapur to The Rise of Hastinapur comes rushing forward from where it was stashed away for such a long time.

Another mother’s grief comes crashing down and squeezes your insides. It’s a wonder it doesn’t come flowing out in the form of tears. Satyavati’s account shows remorse, regret, and longing at certain decisions – something that every one of us has had at some point or the other in our lives.

There is a paragraph that describes so well the way the world focuses on a person’s life. It is so brilliantly put that you can’t help but frown as well as revel in the amazement. Here it is:

”As always they try to break a person’s life down into words and pictures and phrases and brush strokes. As always they pick incidents that happen to you, choices that you make, and hold them up as beacons to your character, forgetting that a person is like the river, forever flowing, forever changing shape. As always they try to hold you in the cupped palms of their hands, so as to gaze at you, put you up on display for others to pass judgement.

As always they try, and as always they fail.”

Amba:

Amba descends on the warzone in Kurukshetra, witnessing the battle between Arjuna, Krishna, and Bhishma, while she fights, too, in the form of King Drupad’s son, Shikhandi. Shikhandi shows that the final achievement of revenge, even if it is on some you might be in love with is somewhat satisfying. But then, with time, certain triumphs turn into less than welcome regrets – and Shikhandi’s life teaches us that.

Do we not plead with ourselves to allow our psyche to think that tomorrow will be a better day? That’s what happens with Amba or Shikhandi, too. The saying, “What goes around, comes around” gapes back at you after a while. And in a while, the extent to which wrath can uncurl and lash out at the Gods for not intervening and not bringing justice to you is made obvious.

Kunti:

Yet another mother’s pain, ache of being deprived of her son. The chest heaves with grief at the early separation, but then he won’t remember the year he spent with her. “In the vast canvas that is life, what, alas, is the value of one year?”

Watching Kunti in your mind, you just want to ask her one question: How can you still maintain your calm and righteousness even after you have been wronged? It is wondrous! Treachery and deceit – how fair are they and for how long can you bear them? And in continuum, the explanation behind brotherhood and its varied textures can be so much more complicated than it looks!

The highlight of Kunti’s journal is her explanation to Draupadi as to why the latter had to be married off to all five Pandavas; it is compelling and thought-provoking.

Draupadi:

Draupadi’s pain is evidently channeled through her words. You can feel it thrumming, and it is not something you can keep quiet about. You wince and you frown, but in the end, are helpless in doing anything about it. Quite obviously.

And Sharath Komarraju has some words of wisdom that he channels through Draupadi:

“In life, unlike in a game of dice, one never knows when to stop.”

“Heaven and hell are mere constructs of the human mind, and they both reside here on Earth, brought into being with our actions, thoughts, and words.”

For someone who hasn’t read the Mahabharata (yet! I know!), Dear Sakhi has a lot of details that I don’t understand. So maybe when Sharath Komarraju’s next book in the Hastinapur series comes out, I’ll be more than happy to grab it with both hands and lap it up!

All in all, a good book!

Rating: 4/5

Click on the image below (my Amazon Affiliate link) to buy Dear Sakhi: The Lost Journals of the Ladies of Hastinapur:

Other Sharath Komarraju books I have reviewed:

The Rise of Hastinapur

Nari

Murder in Amaravati

Donoor’s Curse

The Puppeteers of Palem

The Puppeteers of Palem – Confusion, Horror, And Satisfaction Rolled Into One!

Sharath Komarraju’s books give out a rustic, village feeling. Everything the characters do is filled with an Indianness that resonates with everyone. He, yet again, sets his story in a small village where as he says, “everyone knows everyone else.” The Puppeteers of Palem starts off on a tentatively eerie note, as if it is trying to gauge whether or not the reader is going to get scared.

I cannot believe that I’m saying this about a Sharath Komarraju book, but there is a little too much attention to what is happening around the characters. Sometimes, there are unnecessary descriptions about the environment in which the story unfolds. But that is purely my opinion.

Sharath Komarraju has the knack of bringing words to dance for the reader. He has the ability to spin stories in highly interesting ways. He has the ability to describe a village atmosphere so well that you get transported into the place he describes. And THAT is impressive. So when I furrowed my brows and read on in confusion, uncertainty and skepticism, I know that every line is going to be worth it – even if there is an excess of description!

A simple example is this: Sharath Komarraju describes darkness as “a sudden explosion of black”. How much more beautiful he makes darkness sound!

And also quotes like these that make you sit and reflect within yourself.

Dead people don’t hang around if their job here is done. If they don’t leave us, it means they want revenge. – It is eerie when a child’s words – something that you already probably knew and believed – brings you chills.

The foundation stone would remain. The statue of Bapu would remain. The school would still stand. But something in it – something nameless – would die. – Killing something within yourself or something that you hold close – even if it is just a feeling – it is so identifiable with everyone that it puts a smile on your face.

It had been seventeen years since they’d moved around in the fog in Palem, but the memory returned without any conscious effort. Their minds knew where they had to go and their feet knew how to take them there – fog or not. – Much like home. You might be away for a long, long time, but in the end, you’ll find your way back and find your way around!

Sharath Komarraju cleverly weaves in his other books into The Puppeteers of Palem, including A Murder in Amaravati and Donoor’s Curse. Donoor’s Curse is brought to your cognizance because the village of Palem is supposedly low-lying, a feature that it shares with the village of Donoor. He also slyly inserts a quote from one of his other books: Women needed something to worry about.

In addition to the clever quotes and mentions of his other works that Sharath Komarraju inculcates in the book, there are other little things that catch your attention and either make you nod in approval or clench your teeth as you wait for the suspense. Here’s a long list:

  • A simple sentence about honour and longing to go back to one’s roots, uttered by a conductor, is enough to bring a smile to your face.
  • How returning home can bring you so many memories, impressing upon you how things can change so much, yet remain the same.
  • Lessons in compassion and manners. Undertones that are detected are impressively beautiful.
  • The plot makes you widen your eyes in fear. That late realization that something eerie has indeed happened!
  • How things and places can change in a matter of years! Or rather, how nostalgia explodes within you when you visit a place you used to live in!
  • Some domestic situations are put thoroughly in words. Some that you can identify with so much that you cringe at the thought of someone else experiencing it – even if that someone else is a fictional character. Portrays the fear perfectly!
  • How cruel memories can be, especially when reminded heartlessly by a “best friend”.
  • Your eyes widen as sometime during the last 20% of the book, you begin to connect the dots and realize who could be behind the entire story. Confusingly, tentatively. Is it what you think it is?

The story, like every other, also has anxiety and suspense in dollops, not to forget the difficulty that I had in remembering the names of the number of characters. It was initially a little too much, making it difficult for me to remember who is who, but halfway through, I could name anything in the book. I’m not so sure now, though!

The book builds up so much on the story. It remains enigmatic pages into the book, keeping you on tenterhooks. But it becomes a little excruciating for the reader to plod along. How much longer can you keep up with the suspense?

The events are confusing. You realize the connection with the book’s title but then sink back into wondering what exactly is up. The constant to and fro between time periods is not exactly easy on your mind and not helping, either.

“When she first came out – when ‘you’ brought her out-“ – Who is this she? Curiosity gets the better of you! But then your brain pings with an idea – could it be Lachi? Who is this she? Talking about killing ‘her’ and ‘carrying parts of her back to your houses’!

The diary of the reporter who goes to Palem to investigate the issue gradually grows on you in a very creepy manner, as if to say, “Not you too!”

Avadhani Thatha’s repeated remonstrations of not to fight disregarded blatantly. What will happen next? Accusations fly around – frustrating not to know who did it. Tell me what’s going on, already!

And then gradually, you begin to understand. Or at least you think you understand. And when the answer appears in front of you, you find yourself at peace!

There are unexpected twists in the story in the end, but when even the slightest suspicions that could have been raised earlier turn out to be true, your eyes widen and the first thought that crosses your mind is that you wanted it to transform into a sudden blockbuster. The whole book goes at a 3/5 pace… Until you get to the last few pages of the book. It ricochets up to 4/5 and falls back to 3.5/5. But as you think of the book as a whole, it stays put at 3/5.

All in all, an enigmatic book. Pay close attention as you read it. You might miss something crucial to the plot of the story that Sharath Komarraju weaves impressively if you don’t!

Rating: 3/5

Click on the image below (my Amazon Affiliate link) to buy The Puppeteers of Palem:

You might also want to read my reviews of these books by Sharath Komarraju:

The Rise of Hastinapur

Nari

Donoor’s Curse

A Murder in Amaravati

Mrs Funnybones – The Perfect Blend of Humor, Thoughtfulness, and Perfect Advice!

Mrs Funnybones is a book that makes you feel happy and light in the end but still leaves you with a weird sense of zeal and inspiration that propels you forward.

Though I cannot relate to life as the protagonist, Ms. Khanna doesn’t make it any less funny. It’s hilarious and brilliantly so – funny and self-deprecating, the blatant allusions make you gawk at first and then burst out into fits of laughter. You’d find some jokes too cliché, but then the book as a whole is a healthy mix of all emotions, humor taking the throne.

Early in the book, Ms. Khanna says, “I am always chronically sleep deprived and my entire day whizzes by running in circles.” The only thing that crossed my mind as I read this was, “Yeah, I know exactly what you are trying to say!”

Mrs Funnybones has generous dollops of dry wit and sarcasm that makes you do a double take – and then you begin laughing in disbelief. It is intense and inspiring in some places (“The few who push themselves are the ones who succeed.”), perfectly points out how some traits can be incurably irritating and adorably endearing at the same time, and amidst all the humor, brings out questions that need answers but haven’t received any till date (The world has only debated but not reached consensus on them). Twinkle Khanna has the knack to make you think deeply as well as laugh at the same time.

Here are the quotes that have stuck with me and that I’m sure I’m not going to forget in a jiffy:

  • “I wish we lived like children. Run till you are out of breath, flop on the grass, stare at clouds, jump up again, chase a squirrel around every tree in the park, walk on your hands because the world looks different upside down, climb little hills and roll down the other side, do somersaults…just because you can. What do we do instead? We surround ourselves with all these big and small blinking screens, while our bodies and minds slowly forget how to tumble, how to wonder, how to live.”
  • “We Indians are a strange race; we send MOM to Mars, but listen to mom-in-law and look for the moon. One of the better qualities we possess is that most of us will follow traditions and rituals as long as they do not demean or harm us, or cause us to do the same to another, while making our elders happy. We simply do it rather than prove a point as to how liberated and independent we truly are. Perhaps this is how we harmoniously hold our large families together as we celebrate different aspects of our lives.”
  • “’Love’ is multilayered, convoluted and as imperfect as all human emotions, It is not your heart beating fast when you look at him or constantly wanting to be with the other person. Love in any relationship, family, an intimate friendship, is only about putting the other person’s needs ahead of your own, and that, my friend, is just as simple and as complex as you make it.”
  • She brings in the issue of gender equality too, but with such humor that you laugh at it, but in the end the message is delivered. Who wouldn’t laugh at: “Our little satellite reached Mars because it was called MOM. If it was called DAD, it would still be circling the Earth, lost, but not willing to ask for directions.”
  • Little shots of thoughtfulness from time to time: “We come from darkness, live for a short while in a blaze of light and sound and go back into darkness. Yet day after day, we go on pretending that we and our loved ones are immortal.”

The chapter following this last quote focuses on how young people resort to suicides. And it is so poignantly written that it is difficult to not allow yourself to give in to the barrage of thoughts and ‘How true’s and ‘Wow’s drifting through your mind.

  • I don’t know what middle age is because I’m not there yet, but come to think of it, Ms. Khanna puts it quite beautifully. “The future we dreamed about is a place that we now firmly inhabit, so we spend a little more time looking over our shoulder at the beguiling sepia-coloured postcards from our past where we once stood before an esoteric world of myriad prospects and were mesmerized at the possibilities it held…”

Mrs Funnybones is the perfect blend of humor, thoughtfulness, and perfect advice. Despite Twinkle Khanna being from such a prolific family, she shows in the book how everyone is similar in most facets, only the scale is different.

I loved the book! Perfect for a light read when you really don’t want anything heavy for the mind!

Rating: 4.5/5

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Murder in Amaravati – Scintillatingly Thrilling and Captivating!

[Possible spoilers ahead!]

The reason I keep going back to read Sharath Komarraju’s books is his exceptional description skills. His words have a knack of transporting you into the scene almost immediately. His wonderful insights into the workings of the mind, especially a woman’s, leave me spellbound. At one place, he says, “She wondered if it was the woman inside her that made her worry so. Did she always have to have something to think about, something to fret and brood over?”

Is there a truer description of womanhood and the restlessness that comes with it? I don’t think so.

Murder in Amaravati is a book whose gist and just the first few pages give you your first suspicions about the identity of the murder. But boy, oh, boy, are you wrong!

Before delving into the intricacies of dissecting Komarraju’s brilliance yet again, here are some quotes from the book that will ring true with scores of people everywhere.

“What makes these once perennial rivers dry up every year in the summers? Is it a rebellion against the growing poison in the hearts of people?”

“Unbidden, they returned. They came all at once, and though Venkat Reddy was faintly aware of flashes of useful information in the sea of noise that invaded him, they were lost before he could grab them.”  [How often are we left clambering over the edge of dreams and reality to get a grip over ourselves?]

“A whole had to be greater than the sum of its parts. If it wasn’t, it simply wasn’t built well enough.”

“One problem with being an optimist is that you tend to think that the good times will last forever.”

The author puts forth a number of life’s bitter truths: the glaring disparity in opinion, one’s natural callousness towards someone they loathe, ego and its inappropriate timing in coming forth – a reality of life, quelling the ego – seemingly impossible yet necessary, unexpected occurrences crashing through your day, curiosity robbing you of your precious sleep and rest, childhood friendships straying away into oblivion, people changing as they grow up, and how even the best of people can stray from righteousness.

The book, in small bites, describes subtly the effect that parents have on children, by interacting with them, talking to them, and thus molding them into what they will one day become.

Murder in Amaravati also reiterates certain other truths: like how every action has a reason behind it, the cruelty of loneliness – driving people to do what they would never do otherwise, how easily lies can be told to wheedle information out of someone; either to keep their heart in one piece, or for your own personal gains, and the inherent possessiveness of parents, of siblings, of family, that comes out when we are at our most vulnerable.

The author demonstrates every nuance of every emotion admirably.

The book has the power to invoke in you, thoughts and conjectures, giving your mind some sort of an exercise. It has just a dash of history, secrets, tragedy, shocking revelations, sorrow, and a million reminiscences and emotions that brim unchecked – reminiscences of a bad childhood in all its innocent glory of regrets and childish doubts. The book reflects the relationship that siblings share – a fierce love under all the fights and resentment. And when you realize what the author is getting at, after all the little kittens turning into one big messy cat out of the bag, you can’t help but be impressed.

The character who is investigating the case, Venkat Reddy, the head constable is a novice at investigation who thinks that he is ill-suited to do the job. He is trying hard to make out if what appears to the eye is exactly what it is. But he eventually eases into a Hercule Poirot-like role.

The book alternates quite smoothly and perfectly between different points of view while giving the reader the suspense – a suspense that is multiplied due to the slight illusions and expressions – that frustratingly elusive information that clinks into place, making perfect sense while still hidden, and the exultation and shock of finding out the answers!

The book slyly includes the issues of casteism (ill-treatment of Dalits) and bias (how a village hostess gets the short end of the stick). Just one single paragraph makes you reevaluate your definition of beauty. A few lines of description of an idol of Goddess Kali gives you goosebumps. The book makes you think of the thin line between the acceptance of right and wrong.

And most important of all, the book is a jumbled list of all the reasons why one holds a deep-rooted resentment towards anything or anyone in life, or life itself. This list and the realization of its importance, is eye-opening.

All in all, Murder in Amaravati has the power to make you cry with its strong portrayal of emotions. It has brilliant twists all along! Gets your pulse racing, makes you gasp, and makes you stare at the pages in awe. The one phrase that left me as I finished the book was “Oh, brilliant!”

I am a huge fan of Sharath Komarraju’s work. The way he puts together events and incidents and weaves them into stories with reasons, are incredibly excellent. And Murder in Amaravati lists among those of his books that I absolutely love. And I am glad that I picked the book.

No wonder Murder in Amaravati was long-listed for the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize.

Rating: 4.5/5

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The Tumor – A View of Reality and A Glimmer of Hope

I bought ‘The Tumor’, a non-legal thriller by John Grisham on an impulse and hoped that it was science fiction. But I was a little disappointed, though the book is a manifestation of hope and an encouragement to the idea of bringing something as useful as focused ultrasound therapy- something that has the potential to make tumor treatment painless and decrease the cost of care – more tangibly into existence.

‘The Tumor’ is more like a medical paper than anything else. Grisham says that it is the most important book he has ever written. And without having read any of his books before this, I’ll say I agree. So says my gut. Health and cure are always most important. Always.

Grisham gives a disclaimer in the very beginning, that he has a “limited knowledge of medicine and medical research.” Does that explain the 67 pages of the book? I have no clue about medical stuff either, but with every word, hope burgeons, and along with it, a feeling that my review somehow seems longer than the book, though in reality, it seems stupid to make such comparisons.

The book very quickly goes through the life of a patient, albeit step by step, and stresses on how even the healthiest of people can be whacked in the face with something as startling and life-altering as a tumor (glioblastoma, in this case). Like millions across the world, I have no clue about what a tumor looks like, so I assume that what Grisham says is correct. And I must admit, it has the effect he desires.

I found myself swinging between a number of emotions in these 67 pages. I said ‘Oh crap!’ my eyes shut tight and praying for things to get better. I found myself reflecting sadly on the fact that the world is not Utopia; I wished it was, with the existence of prayers and optimism, but it just isn’t. Alternatives like ‘Had it been’ seem hopeful, but unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.

The book gives hope to those at risk of glioblastoma – a hope that maybe sometime in the near future, we may be safe.

Though focused ultrasound therapy sounds awesome, how long before we actually get there? With India’s low costs of treatments, why is it not being implemented or researched here? And how feasible is it actually? What are the details? But then again, would I understand if there was more medical jargon? Maybe not. With so many influential people, including the former top brass of the FDA being a part of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation Board of Directors, I’m surprised focused ultrasound therapy is not getting the traction it deserves.

And when he gives examples of people being treated this way, it made me wonder why the world works the way it does. Why does something good have to be hampered by so many obstacles?

All in all, a fairly enlightening book. But I do wish it was longer, despite my disinclination towards medical books.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Donoor’s Curse – A Semi-Thrilling Adventure of Science and Superstition

Donoor’s Curse is a story woven around the village of Donoor; a village steeped in superstition. Or so it may seem. But when Devdutt Pathak loses his godfather, who has very wisely or unwisely left him clues, Dev heads out to the village to find out why his baba was unceremoniously snatched from him. What follows is a thrilling story of adventure and revelations and shocks, woven in with Dev’s spasms of alcoholic craving.

Donoor’s Curse, in all its thrill, is full of metaphors that say a lot more about life that we’d want them to. And a few quotes that randomly jump out at you from the pages and give you gooseflesh merely because they are so good! Here are a few examples:

His remote had often gone exploring in the past. It had always found its way back. It would this time too.

The harder you wanted to grab on, the slippery they became, these pictures. Everything had to pass, and did.

To make something hard to find, you have to clothe it in something open and legitimate.

There are a few lines in the book that make you pause and ponder. They make you think of what your feelings about the subject in hand actually are. Some lines are heartbreaking even while being merely a way for a character to vent their anger. Agreement, disagreement, anger, joy! The author unleashes every single emotion through those few lines and succeeds in making the reader speculate, not only about the story, but also about life in general.

Dev says: “There is no Baba, so Baba doesn’t matter anymore.” And I disagree wholeheartedly with him. People matter even when they are gone. Their death matters. Their memories, even more so. It reiterates the fact that however estranged you might be, family is family. Even the one you make by choice in the big, bad world.

Donoor’s Curse envelops bizarreness, unparalleled masochism, a world of hallucinations, closure, fury at loneliness, confusing confrontation, fear, pain, angst, well-written and intelligent analogies, dry humor (you don’t know whether to laugh or to cringe; you smile anyway), vague explanations, sinister warnings, eyebrow-raising facts, creating and confirming suspicions, eeriness, and a heady sense of déjà vu into a science fiction thriller that has you on tenterhooks all the time.

Sharath Komarraju has a very colloquial style of writing – it is almost as if he is talking to you. He takes his own sweet time to get to the point, which is actually delightful in some ways. The suspense he builds up and the time he gives the reader to formulate theories of their own are something a reader could revel in. He screams at you from the book, promising you that there will be a reason behind why everyone acts the way they do. The casual mention of sadism brings a certain shock to the reader, and if the author succeeds in doing this, then half the task is done and dusted.

Deep into the story, the author also brings to your notice a striking similarity to The Hound of the Baskervilles, a conclusion you couldn’t come on your own to. He manages to raise questions that you clamor for answer to: Why does the village like to stay quiet and out of the way? Do apparent strangers actually know each other?

The book has a lot of other plus points:

  • The brilliant portrayal of the characters’ frustration
  • The anticipation of what might happen next
  • The way mere words unsettle you and raise your suspicions about whether or not a character is sane
  • Preparing you for the eventual pursuit of truth
  • Your feeling of impending doom at the complex intermingling of the characters’ lives
  • Reasons explaining themselves and enlightening you with sudden realizations while giving you goosebumps
  • A character vacillating between two extremities of the reaction radar is fun to read. You never know which end they might end up employing.
  • It makes you hate a certain section with such justification that there is no chink in the armor.
  • Builds suspense – sometimes at an admirable pace, sometimes too slowly for one’s liking. It does develop and deepen, though, and makes you want to uncover it as soon as possible. And when you finally connect the pieces, everything makes so much more sense.

But the book also has some chinks (in a few places) that are hard to ignore.

  • The story drags a little with disconnected descriptions and sentences.
  • Unclear actions of certain characters at some points.
  • It gets a little cumbersome to keep track of the number of characters coming in and the lengthy introduction/insight into the character’s mind. You need to flip back a few pages to re-read for missing connections. Sometimes, it gets difficult to keep up, both, with the characters as well as their mood swings. But somehow, the story as a whole, justifies it all.
  • Some scenes seem unnecessary, and some are confusing. And some references fly over the top of your head.
  • A few spelling mistakes and a few missing words here and there. But these are easily overshadowed by the suspense in the story.
  • There are a few unexpected shocks and surprises but sometimes it seems too easy. There has GOT to be something eerie here.

Yet, the book is captivating to say the least. Interrogations, speculations, and then suddenly, the savior is here: strategizing, planning, hoodwinking! But the truth does take time to reveal itself and when it does, it sets your heart racing. The slowly connecting dots propel you into heaven and give you a sense of peace. But one question remains – how will people be saved from the curse? Will they be saved from the curse?

The end is a little anticlimactic. You expect something big to happen, the book to go out in a burst of colorful pyrotechnics. But it merely goes off with a slight fizzle, though what the twins may be up to sends chills through your spine.

All in all, though the book is interesting and gives a good vibe throughout, the end somewhat dampens it for me.

But it must be the way Simhachalam, the old timekeeper of Donoor puts it:

“Nobody knows anything, sir. But I sit up here and I look down upon these people. It’s like being a master of a dollhouse.”

Is that how God views us specks? After all, we do not know anything about the wider perspective. Only God does.

Rating: 3.5/5

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