The Woman on the Orient Express- a Book Review

I sleep better when I have a good book to read. I simply can’t fall asleep without reading. My daughter too wants to be read to before she dozes off. She tells me she’ll have bad dreams otherwise! When I don’t have an interesting book at hand or on my e-reader, even sleeping becomes just another chore to be ticked off on my to-do list! I’m serious! I then resort to browsing my favorite blogs, instagram accounts or pinterest, which is a surefire way of wiping all the sleep from my eyes!

Gimme a good book, and you’ll find me sleeping like a baby after a while! 🙂

So… What did I want to write about? Ah! The Book Review. I wonder why I got started about my sleep routine!

(Thinking…)

Yup! “The Woman on the Orient Express” was one such interesting book that made me want to wrap up all my chores, speed-read my kiddos’ books and dive into the World of the famous detective novelist, Agatha Christie (who is one of the 3 protagonists in this book), the luxurious Orient Express from London to Istanbul and the archaeological wonders of Ur mentioned in the book.

This book is for someone like me who can’t stand books full of mush or magic or Vampires and their slayers, like most Young Adult books do, nor the ones that contain gruesome murders, horrific kidnappings. apocalypse or terror attacks like most books for adults do. It falls somewhere between the 2 extremes. It was just what I needed to read, as I couldn’t finish any other book I started!

The book is all about 3 women- Agatha, Katherine and Nancy- who come from different walks of life, each carrying the heavy load of  a not-so-rosy past, but heading towards the same destination- Baghdad. Among them, Katherine is going further down to Ur, an archaeological Dig site and towards “doom”, as she suspects. They are all aboard the Orient Express with its drool-worthy customer service. Something, an incident, triggers the beginning of a friendship between these 3. As they get to know one another, each one shares her secret, bit by bit. This unraveling of their pasts, even as they set out to begin a new chapter in their lives forms the core of this story. Their loyalty to each other and the promises they have made to protect one another’s secrets are tested along the way by people and circumstances they come across. Do they remain BFFs despite the roadblocks they face? You will find out when you read…

When I mentioned this book to my friends, most thought I was talking about “Murder on the Orient Express”, a murder mystery written by Agatha Christie herself. I must have read that book a long time back. I want to re-read it and compare the 2. Of-course there are no comparisons. There’s no murder in this contemporary novel, nor is there a mystery to be solved. There’s an undertone of “Something sinister must be lurking around the corner, the next page, ready to pounce upon the reader” kinda feeling through the book though. This book also makes me want to read Agatha Christie’s memoirs.

Lindsay Jayne Ashford does a great job of interweaving fiction with real life events, so much so that we are left to wonder what’s real and what’s not. As soon as I was done with the book, I had the urge to find out the authenticity of the characters and situations mentioned in the book, and to learn a bit more about the author, whose writing I thoroughly enjoyed. She described the comforts of the train journey, the seemingly endless  desert sand and the smells and colors of an Arabic spice market so vividly I simply felt like I was experiencing them all myself. If there’s another book written by the same author, I’ll surely get my hands on it! And I suggest you do too. 🙂

Here’s something to think about-

“For the train, like life, must go on until it reaches its destination. You might not always like what you see out of the window, but if you pull down the blind, you will miss the beauty as well as the ugliness”

-Agatha Christie, The Woman on the Orient Express.

My Reading habit and Book Reviews

Most of the time, I don’t finish the book I begin reading. There… I said it! A fancy cover or a good review prompts me to pick a book, but a few pages in, I lose interest or the plot is too scary or sad or something, and I just set it aside and grab another. I seriously admire people who read all sorts of books , good or bad, and review them. Me? If I review a book, then it means I have thoroughly enjoyed the book and have been dying to get it out of my system in the form of a review!

Anyways, I read a couple of books and re-read them immediately a while ago. First time I read a book, I’m in a rush to know what will happen in the end. But the next time, I try to go slow, figuring out the missing pieces of the puzzle, untangling the knots I didn’t notice as I sped by in a race to get to the end. So you can see that in all the time that I should’ve spent writing and blogging, I was busy reading and re-reading! Of course, there were other things too- Travel, Kids’ education and being involved in a number of (mostly tiresome) activities that are needed to be done in preparation for a big wedding in the family. But really, the main reason behind my lack of posting is my reading. Reading is the easiest, most pleasant way there is. At least for me…

So… the books that hijacked my brain and left me quite dazed for a long time are-

  1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  2. Perks of Being a Wallflower

I wonder why I always end up loving books for teens or with protagonists in their teens. I think it’s because I never read such books in my adolescence. Or, because I truly feel for young adults and the anxieties and the fears that they go through as part of growing up. I think that growing up is a tough thing to do, especially in this day and age.

Now coming to the reviews-

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child- I guess this book doesn’t need much reviewing. The 8th installment of the popular Harry Potter series written in the form of a play. Those of you who have followed this blog (Thanks a ton, by the way!) know how crazy my sister and I are about the Harry Potter series. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. Imagine the thrill I felt when the book landed right into my hands without even ordering the book myself! It was a gift from my sister! (Sisters are the best!). As I read this, I could imagine my favorite HP characters, Hermione, Ron and Harry (in the order mentioned!), now parents, juggling parenting and magicking (Is there a word like that?!). It was heart-breaking to read about the friction between Harry and his son and the yearning Albus feels to right the ‘wrong’ he thinks his ‘famous’ dad committed.

There’s so much magic and time-turning and transforming happening in this book, which moves at a quick pace, you (or at least someone like me!) will find it hard to grapple with the happenings in one read!

I am sure Harry Potter fans will love this book, but others, who aren’t familiar with the setting, the characters, the spells and the history might feel lost. I loved it and will be reading the whole series and the play again soon.

This kind of book makes me want to read more plays. Any recommendations, anyone?

Perks of being a wallflower- This book is not an easy read. I picked it many times before, but couldn’t muster the strength or the interest to carry on. Not because it is boring; Far from it, it is actually a very good book, but it has some disturbing aspects to it. Beautiful but disturbing, can you believe it? It is a series of letters written by this kid, Charlie, to whom is not quite clear, at least in the beginning. He begins writing before the first day of High School. He is anxious and alone. He has just lost his best friend to suicide. It is quite disturbing! But if you have the will to keep reading, it will be a book you will always remember, not just because it will introduce you to some of the best characters ever (Love you Sam and Bill!) and to new kind of music (like the ones by The Smiths or Simon and Garfunkel or Nirvana), but also because you will be rewarded with a beautiful, heartfelt ending. Like always I found myself crying by the end of the book. That’s how I want my books… Simple yet Deep. All encompassing!

I hope some of you will like it just as much as, or maybe more than, I did.

Here’s to more reading and more loving!

Love,

Manasa.

 

Big Magic – a Book Review

A lot has been said about “Big Magic”, written by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love”. I found the book so compelling, I HAD to share all the things I learnt as I read it…. 

Big Magic is a book about a touch of Magic and a ton of hard work. I wonder why it is called by that name, then.It isn’t as if a creative process is all that magical! The magical soul she writes about, yup, she tells us it is a living entity just like you and I, only disembodied, whom we call Genius or Muse or Inspiration doesn’t just swish her wand over you as you sit idle. She visits you (mostly) when you least expect her to and sits beside, as you slog, day in and day out. Basically, you do all the work and she gets the credit. So, it should have been called “Get to Work” or something of that sort, right?

Let me warn you, if you are too scientifically-inclined and look for statistics and numbers to show how people can and should go on “making” stuff, this book may seem a bit too hokey, a tad too whimsical to you. It doesn’t have facts in it, only stories of inspiring people, who have gone on living a “Creative” life despite their circumstances.

Now what is Creative living? It is a life driven more by curiosity than fear, is what she tells us. It need not be just about becoming a writer, an artist or an actor, but it is about “(Doing) whatever brings you to life. (Following) your own fascinations, obsessions and compulsions. (Trusting) them. (Creating) whatever causes a revolution in your heart”. Like learning all you can about something you love, helping others etc. Do that, and “the rest will take care of itself”. Isn’t that what we are all supposed to do? Chase every dream? Follow every passion? After all, we don’t live forever, do we?

She says each one of us is blessed with strange jewels “deep within us and uncovering them, a big feat, is creative living. And that search separates a mundane existence from a more magical one”. As I read this, I realized, “teaching” and “Writing” are the jewels hidden within me. They aren’t sparkly and polished, mind you. Just raw and special, unique to me. You might have something else buried deep within you. Now to bring it forth into the world is creative living…

How can you brush off the dullness in your gems, let their brilliance emerge?- by practice, of course, by working on your “art” (no matter what it is- writing, gardening, cooking…) relentlessly, despite the blocks and failures and shortage of time. When the author is too troubled to work on her story, she just writes down her troubles, because, if she isn’t actively creating something, then she’s actively destroying something else, like herself, her relationships etc. How heart-breakingly true for so many of us!

So why not keep creating?

By the way, what you create, need not earn you any money or fame. You know what made me feel like a big sack of rocks was gently lifted off me? That feeling of lightness? Reading that we are not required to save the world with our creativity. That my writing need not be important or life-saving or useful or even inspiring! Phew! I can go on doing what pleases me, excites me and it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or not…. Ultimately, it only matters that I’ve lived a rich life, having grabbed every opportunity to nurture my curiosity.

And if you feel stuck or frustrated, do something else that lights you up. Maybe it is playing a musical instrument or stamp collecting or whatever. For me, it is doing projects with my little ones. Sometimes, I take a really (really) long break from writing, but I never let my creative juices drain out. I use them to make something fun with the kids. I know if I give myself some time, I’ll eventually get back to writing, to being who I really am.

“Is there anything you are interested in? Anything? Even a tiny bit? No matter how mundane or small?” Chase it. You’ll never know where it will lead you, and that’s so exciting!

Like Inspiration, fear too will sit beside you on your creative journey. Let him. Just don’t allow him to read the directions to you or take over the steering wheel from you!

Finally.. you made it. You made something that you think is your best BEST work. You put it out there for everyone to see, and…. nobody does. Or even if they do, they don’t show it the appreciation you think it deserves. Then what?

“Never apologize for it, never explain it away, never be ashamed of it. You did your best with what you knew, and you worked with what you had, in the time you were given. You were invited, and you showed up, and you simply cannot do more than that. They might throw you out- but then again, they might not.”

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. And, remember to keep “making”, no matter what the outcome…

And I also hope you share what you “make”.

(That was one long post, wasn’t it?)

Love and a sprinkle of Magic,

Manasa.

The India I love – a book review

The Bhagirathi is a green river.  Although deep and swift, it has a certain serenity. At no place does it look hurried or confused- unlike the turbulent Alaknanda, fretting and fuming as it crashes down its boulder-strewn bed. The Bhagirathi is free-flowing, at peace with itself and its devotees. At all times and places, it seems to find a true and harmonious balance.

– The India I Love, Ruskin Bond

Isn’t that beautiful? I wish I were like her, the river. But I seem to be all over the place, anxious, confused most of the time.. just the opposite. But that’s the kind of descriptions you will find in this collection by Sir Ruskin Bond. It is the writer’s tribute to India, the colorful characters he met and came to love and to the art of writing itself.

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It is a delightful read for someone aspiring to be a writer, someone who simply enjoys a lovely prose (and verses too, as there are a few thrown into the mix), someone who’s passionate about India and someone who observes life in great detail and tries to capture it in pictures and words. Someone like… ahem… yours truly. 🙂

I’m a huge fan of Sir Ruskin Bond, have always been one, since high school. I haven’t read all his books; he has written so many! And his books won’t make a reader tear through them. Reading him is like enjoying a steaming cup of Spiced Tea; you’ve gotta savor every sip! I love his style though, his words have an old-world charm to them, something I don’t come across in books anymore. He himself admits, “I’m not the most inventive of writers, and fantastical plots are beyond me. My forte is observation, recollection, and reflection.” ” As a writer, I have difficulty in doing justice to momentous events, the wars of nations, the politics of power; I’m more at ease with the dew of the morning, the sensuous delights of the day, the silent blessings of the night, the joys and sorrows of children, the strivings of ordinary folk, and of course the ridiculous situations in which we sometimes find ourselves.”

I can’t stop myself from quoting his thoughts on writing. He makes me want to stop procrastinating and Get to work, like RIGHT NOW, no matter whether I have something life – changing to write about or not. “In conveying my sentiments to you, dear readers, and in telling you something about my relationship with people and natural world, I hope to bring a little pleasure and sunshine into your life”– exactly what I wish to do with my own writing…

So, dear reader, I hope you pick this one or any of his other books. Happy reading! 🙂

The Palace of Illusions- Book Review

Any writing terrifies me (But I still write, because it never fails to perk me up after I hit “Publish”!), but writing about “The Palace of Illusions”  has so far intimidated me! Even as I write this, I know I will fail to do justice to this outstanding book. Still… I want to share my (divine) experience reading it. I don’t think I’ve said this before about any other books I’ve read, but this one just pulled me into its folds and didn’t let me go until I’d reached the end, exhausted, but blissed out. I found myself going through a wide range of emotions from pure sympathy to utter disgust, heart drum-rolling to being moved to tears, bafflement to feeling blessed as I read the book.

This story is, in essence the story of Mahabharata (one of the 2 major Sanskrit epics of India), told from the point-of-view of Draupadi, the wife of Pandava brothers. And Mahabharata (to those of you who have no clue what it is all about) is a narrative of the lives of 2 sets of brothers- Pandavas and Kauravas and their battle for the throne of Hastinapur. Almost every Hindu child grows up listening to the stories mentioned in the book.

I don’t know how true this historical fiction by Chitra Banerjee Diwakaruni is, in telling the tale of the Mahabharata and how accurate the depictions of its characters are to Vyasa’s original, but I loved this one to pieces, mainly because it is told from a female perspective and also because the writer makes something so sacred, so austere, truly accessible to all.

I don’t say that I liked all the characters that peopled this book, not even the virtuous ones! In fact I found myself rooting for the “bad” characters at times, which goes to show that each one of us is a complex mix of both good and bad. I liked Draupadi, the central character, in the beginning, raw and innocent with a deep yearning for a better life, than the stifling, fortified life her strict Father had bestowed upon her. But with passing time and the unusual circumstances she’s thrown into, she hardens into someone unrecognizable, even to herself. With every turn of page, I liked her less and less. Guess who I liked the most? No, not Yudhishtir, the most righteous or Bhima, the strongest or Arjun, the bravest or any of her other dashing husbands. It was Karna that I fell in love with. Karna, the enigmatic. Karna, the thorough Gentleman. Karna, the magnanimous. Karna, her husbands’ fiercest enemy. And Karna, the firstborn of Kunti, the mother of Pandavas! I pitied and admired him at the same time. Like in “Gone with the wind”, where I kept waiting for the elusive Rhett Buttler to appear, so did I anxiously wait for an encounter of Draupadi with Karna.

Draupadi is destined to do great things. Powerful, but deadly. She is the main reason for the Battle of Kurukshetra, the war that pitted brothers against one another, killed innumerable beings and left mothers and wives without their sons and husbands. Vyasa, the writer of this epic is writing all of this even as the story unfolds. So I kept wondering whether all of this could have been averted. But no. As Vyasa puts it to Draupadi – “Only a fool meddles in the Great Design. Besides, your destiny is born of lifetimes of Karma, too powerful for me to change.” But… He does ask her to do (and not to do) certain things which might help change the course of history, but she will not do as she’s told…

I just couldn’t hold my tears back when her own husbands stand back, heads down in shame, while their enemies humiliate her in a crowded court by disrobing her. Her words “I’d believed that because they loved me they would do anything for me. But now I saw that though they did love me- as much as perhaps any man can love- there were other things they loved more. Their notions of honor, of loyalty towards each other, of reputation were more important to them than my suffering. They would avenge me later, yes, but only when they felt the circumstance would bring them heroic fame. A woman doesn’t think that way. I would’ve thrown myself forward to save them if it had been in my power that day. I wouldn’t have cared what anyone thought.” Who comes to her rescue then, when even the man of her dreams, Karna, has joined the Shaming club? Lord Krishna. His words to her, “No one can shame you, if you don’t allow it.”, simple, yet so weighty left me beaming with joy.

Until the end of her life, Draupadi fails to see the divinity in Krishna. She loves him, yes, adores him, confides in him, yet, fails to see how he’s always there when she needs him. When others treat him as God, she scoffs at their ‘exaggeration’! A Chameleon, she thinks he is. I looked forward to their verbal exchanges-  a treasure trove of wisdom I think they are. Here are a few examples-

“A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”

“Even a curse can be a blessing, Krishnaa. Don’t you agree?”, he called her “Krishnaa”, the female form of his own.

“‘ Try to remember that you are the instrument and I, the doer. If you can hold onto this, no sin can touch you.’

‘What if I forget?’

He said, ‘You probably will. Most of them do. That’s the beguiling trick the world plays on you. You will suffer for it-or dream that you’re suffering. But no matter. At the time of your death I’ll remind you. That’ll be enough.'”

I wish I could kiss the hand that wrote such words.

For now I’ll make myself happy by reading the book again. And again.

Mrs. Funnybones- a book review

Do you feel stressed? Bummed-out? Bored?

All the above? Or are you just looking for the next good read?

I have a suggestion for you- Just pick up Mrs. Funnybones, make yourself a nice cup of coffee and read it. I bet in no time (it took me about a couple of days, but, probably a couple of hours if you are a fast reader), you’ll perk up and find your lost cheery, giggly self back (and not just because of all that caffeine!) .

Funnybones is written by Twinkle Khanna in the form of a journal, a format I thoroughly enjoy, and shows glimpses of the life of a modern Indian woman navigating her way through marriage (to a popular Bollywood star), motherhood, other relationships (being a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a friend), career (she runs her own Design Business and sells candles) and traditions. She may be leading a life much much better than most of us, but the issues she faces everyday isn’t unlike what many of us face.

She is funny (self-deprecatingly so, when she says things like “In precisely three hours, I have to magically transform from a middle-aged, vaguely stylish woman, to an ageless goddess”, before a photo-shoot for a magazine.), smart and wise. She is so hilarious most of the time that it stumps the reader when she gets philosophical and emotional, like when writing about her children or the meaning of love. A sucker for wise words that I am, I loved the non-funny parts too…

This book not only depicts the twists and tumbles of a harried mom’s life, but also lets us peek into the household of a celebrity. I’m not a big fan of Akshay Kumar, but I like him, and I LOVE Bollywood. So, anything authentic that gives me an entry ticket into the life of an Indian star is a sure winner with me, especially if the said “ticket” is presented tastefully, in a down-to-earth manner along with a ton of humor. Be warned that it isn’t completely authentic. The author herself mentions in the foreword that she has “thrown in a few facts, a little fiction, a few decaying brain cells and a couple of old bones into my brewing cauldron of words”. That’s fine with me. Her writing more than compensates for the minor “follies”, if there are any. This is the kind of writing that makes me want to be a writer too- Capturing life at its simplest and silliest in words is what I’d love to do for the rest of my life!

I rate this book a 5 on 5 and so will my husband I’m sure, for he seemed to enjoy listening to the passages I read aloud and I practically read the entire book to him; it was too funny you see, I HAD to share… So let me share a bit with you all-

So if you find your son in love with a little Hitler in pigtails, there is not much you can do except step out of the way, go to holy places, fast on alternate Fridays and desperately pray that by some cosmic force, her father is immediately transferred to a destination so remote that even Google Maps is bewildered as to its whereabouts”.

“My body needs caffeine to lubricate all my joints into some semblance of normal function, but as I walk to the kitchen, the two children that at some mistaken point I deemed necessary for my happiness dash into me”

Liked’em? Then enough reading this review already! Dive into Mrs. Funnybones, ahem, the book, not the author herself (who goes by that name on Twitter, for all you ignorants like me).

Then don’t forget to thank me for having made you feel better by recommending this book!

Oh! Before I forget, thanks Madhurya, for your recommendation!

Love

Manasa

The Girl on the Train- a Book Review

“All I know is, one minute I’m ticking along fine and life is sweet and I want for nothing. And the next, I can’t wait to get away. I’m all over the place, slipping and sliding again.”

– Megan, a central character’s thoughts in the book.

Isn’t that deep and beautiful? In a sad way? I found myself copying some such lines into my diary throughout the reading of the book, “The Girl on the Train”. Much has been said and written about this bestseller, but here’s my little take on this tale-

It’s a thriller about a girl on a train (as the title no doubt implies), which she travels on, from her residence in Ashbury to London, and back again, every single day. She looks out of the windows and imagines the lives of the people that reside in the houses she passes by (something I enjoy doing too). She is especially fond of a couple, “Jess” and “Jason”, she calls them and envies their “perfect” life, a life which she could have had, if it wasn’t for her bad habit- her drinking.

One day she witnesses something shocking in J&J’s backyard; now the girl sets about wanting to right the wrong and is tossed smack dab in the middle of a mystery. Uncovering the mystery becomes her mission. It fuels her pathetic life and creates a goal to work towards. But there’s one big problem here… She was too drunk to remember the details of that murky day. And no one trusts an alcoholic who’s had a troubled past!

In order to solve the puzzle, she first has to recollect the missing chunk in her memory.

One thing that gnaws at her (and the readers) as she goes snooping around is whether she herself was involved in the crime. Who knows! She has bruises on her body that she can’t account for!

Or was it the husband? Or someone else? I doubted everyone in the book at some point! I’m not big on thrillers and I’m not familiar with the workings of this genre. I bought this book because almost everyone in the blogosphere recommended it… But I did read it. And loved it too!

There’s more to this book than the particular scene that the “girl” witnessed. There’s her twisted past and her miserable present. There are other female characters too. It is the same story narrated from 3 different viewpoints- by 3 disturbed, paranoid women- and our doubts keep flitting from one to the other. My brain was such a hot mess as I read this book that I thought all those women must be one single person!

Gloomy though I felt as I read this, I couldn’t stop myself from continuing. The prose, the mind-boggling story and the grey shades of the human mind presented in the book just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go of me. We are always told (as reinforced by the soaps on TV) that people are either good or bad, but it is never just so… There’s more to a person, layers I think they are called. The author, Paula Hawkins, has unquestionably delved deep into the mechanics of a human mind and poured them into this book. I highly recommend it to everyone, even someone like me, who isn’t particularly fond of mysteries.

Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: that holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mould yourself through the gaps.” 

-Megan again.

I rate this book a 5 on 5. But would I read it again? Not in a while… Simply because it scares me to…

Love,

Manasa.