Monthly Archives: June 2015

Guest post – Athira

Athira, who blogs over at Reading on a Rainy Day is one of those bloggers I love reading because she always manages to infuse a good dose of personal tidbits into her posts, be it a book review, a travel post, or the recent posts and pictures about her baby’s arrival (due next month, I’m told). That is why I was very excited when she agreed to be my guest for this month’s blogger interview.

C0BFEA90-F3ED-4FAF-9300-208DB32A70AD 1. Who are you?

I am Athira, originally from India and living in Virginia in the United States for about seven years. I work as a software programmer and read/blog/write/knit/watch TV in my free time. I’ve been married to my darling knight in shining armor for more than three years and we have a spoiled pampered Jack Russell/Pit Bull mix who bosses us. Currently, we are waiting to welcome the pitter patter of little feet in July and cannot be more excited about life than we are right now.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I did start out blogging because I wanted to be a part of the book blogging world. Thankfully, I blog for entirely different reasons now. I have always wanted to write and blogging to me is a great way to do it. I also love to read, so blogging is a great way to mix those two interests. My blog is primarily about what I read, how those reads affect me, and their reviews. But I have reached a phase where I want to talk about more than books. With a little one waiting around the corner, I can already see how much my blogging interest is going to transform soon.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres

Three favorite books I will happily gift someone:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Sure, this book could have been done with a better cover and a lot less hype, but once you read this story of a bunch of little-known cells and the family that didn’t get any compensation, you will be completely amazed by the fact that this science book amazed you.
The Dinner by Herman Koch.
How interesting can a book set through a dinner from the first course through dessert be? “The Dinner” will make you answer “very” to that question.
Blankets by Craig Thompson.
Didn’t think a graphic or illustrated book can move you to tears? Read “Blankets” and you will be surprised at how much it moved you.

Three favorite authors:

José Saramago
Now, I have only read two books by this author. But I always look forward to his stories and his strange writing style.
J. K. Rowling.
I always feel guilty when I say Rowling is a favorite author. But truth is, I love her brand of sarcastic humor and character insight.
Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel sure knows how to tell a story. Even dreary depressing ones without losing you at all.

Three favorite genres:

Literary fiction
Magical fantasy
Epic sagas. Bonus if they are set in Middle-earth.

4. Kindle or paper book?

If I was asked this question even a year ago, I would say paper all the way. Even today, I am a big fan of paper books and will not hesitate to buy a book in paper format but will think twice before snagging an e-book. But, I read e-books faster than I do paper books. Maybe not seeing the size of the book and being able to escape into a book anywhere, even in the presence of company, makes me prefer e-books. Plus, I like being able to go on vacation without dragging with me a case full of books. And bonus, not taking any books to vacation gives me a little more space to buy some during the vacation.

DFBC1498-3735-4556-9FEC-EC7CA6D91B5F 5. Three things you learned from a book.

a. How I want to express my religion is my decision entirely. Just because you choose to wear a burqa doesn’t mean you are oppressed. Just because you walk around with a rosary doesn’t mean you are superstitious. Just because you credit every success to God and every failure to humanity doesn’t mean you are a blind devout. If I cannot respect your approach to belief and religion, then I am being intolerant. (Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah has a teen protagonist who is modern and independent, but when she starts wearing a head scarf, every one begins to wonder if she is being forced or oppressed by her parents. Plus, the school she goes to despises her decision because it makes her different and “violates” their uniform code.)
b. The human spirit is one of the strongest things in this world. You can break a human body as much as you want to but it will still survive and come back stronger than ever. Have faith in yourself even when faced with the worst the world has to offer. (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about Louie Zamperini, who survived unimaginable horror during WW2.)
c. How not to write a book and why gleeful torture should be eyed with distaste. (American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis about a psychopath who relishes chopping people. Or did it all happen in his head?)

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

This is a tough one. I should realistically take a book that will help me survive on the island. And I’m sure if I knew I was heading to an island, I would pick such a book. But, if I could take one more, I am pretty certain I will take one or all seven of the Harry Potter books with me.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I honestly can’t think of one. To me books are purely decorative (they do dress up my shelves) and functional (they are just for reading and ogling at). I think it a scandal to use a book as a doorstop! Though in all seriousness, I would happily use Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts as a door-stopper. I hated trying to read that book!

8. Favorite quotes.

People keep telling me to do yoga. I tried it once at the place down the street. The only part I liked was the part at the end when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for ten minutes.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

“I love chocolate cake for breakfast,” Peggy stalls, “it sets me up for the day. A little decadence is good for the soul.”

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag.

And my favorite one of all:

Percy wouldn’t recognize a joke if it danced in front of him wearing Dobby’s tea cozy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.

9. Three tips for bloggers.

– Don’t stress yourself out if you cannot stick to a routine. Your blog should be your retreat, not something that comes attached to a calendar and a to-do list.
– Put something of yourself into every post you write, even if it is a review or a meme. People love reading personal stuff. People will keep coming back for it.
– Don’t feel guilty if you have to step away from your blog. Your readership is always going to fluctuate even when you are blogging regularly. You should blog when your fingers are itching to write or type something – the best blog posts are born that way. But if your blogging mojo has gone to the beach, then go with it and enjoy something else. It will come back to you when you are not trying too hard to compel it back.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

I haven’t had a blogging experience yet (touch wood) that has upset me. But I do want to mention one of my most memorable ones. I had only been blogging for less than a year (so I was still relatively new in bloglandia) when my brother got sick and was in the ICU for almost a month. Until then, I had been blogging every day. When I finally returned to blogging, I posted about what happened and how depressed it made me. When I hit the Publish button, I was expecting some condolences from some bloggers who visited me often. What I didn’t expect was an outpouring of comforting words and sharing of similar experiences, even from bloggers who didn’t often visit my blog. This is what always stumps me. I am not a person who is comfortable with displays of emotion. I struggle to find the right thing to say to someone who is suffering. I also struggle to talk about the things that bother me. And yet, when I saw all those responses to my post that day, I felt immensely grateful for being a part of the book blogging community.

11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about this.

When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of fan-fiction. There was one college story that I loved but the writer didn’t finish it. Feeling unsatisfied by the lack of closure in the story, I set out to write my own version of that story. If I had published that story, it would be obvious plagiarism, but I wasn’t planning to put it out in the public at all. I was just so impressed by the impact of reading a story that made me want to write my own story, even if it was similar to the one I read. Of course, I didn’t finish that story at all, but I believe I still have it somewhere in my computer.
I haven’t written a story since, but there are all these ideas in my head, that I know it is only a matter of time.

12. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?

Lately, not so much. With preparing for our new arrival (just a couple of weeks now!), routines have taken a back-seat. Right now, I try to write as often as I can for my blog, which has gone down from three posts a week to about two. But now that most of the to-dos before the baby arrives have been taken care of, I am hoping to get back on the writing bandwagon. (Don’t want to find it hard to write even a few words once the baby is here.) But even when I was writing, I didn’t have a routine. I write when the inspiration hits or some topic is bothering me. This happens at work sometimes, and sometimes when I am running an errand. But I still try to pen down something – enough to flesh it out later. Most of these items don’t see the light of day, but I have enjoyed going back and reading some of the articles later. I strongly believe that you leave a piece of yourself in every article you write and I have found it interesting to revisit what I once used to believe in or felt strongly about.

13. Three tips for writers.

– If you are a writer of books or stories, then read. A lot. As a reader of the books you write, there is nothing that turns me off more than your admission that you don’t read books.
– Write like you care. Even if it is a simple blog post. I like to see depth, thoughtfulness, personality, adventure, and some risks in your writing.
– Please run that spell check on everything you publish. And do read what you wrote, a good amount of time AFTER you wrote it. Everything you proofread immediately after writing it will feel perfect – it’s your brain covering up the mistakes. Read it an hour later, and you will be surprised to spot some grammatical errors and wrong choice of words.

IMG_0049 14. What are you most passionate about?

Honestly, my passions keep changing like the seasons. Someday, it’s reading, another day, it’s writing. Yet another day, you might catch me lost in my knitting and not wanting to come out of it. Sometimes, it’s learning a new language. Another time, it’s fighting for a cause I believe in. And yes, there are times when I am not passionate about anything. I love it though – I love that my passions keep cycling between several different interests. I am thankful that each phase lasts a sufficiently long period, so I’m not just abandoning them. For example, every fall-winter, I catch the knitting bug and then I can do nothing else – not much reading or writing. But come the new year, the knitting bags are put aside and the books come out.

15. Last book that made you cry.

This was hard. I guess I don’t read that many books that are advertised as being melancholy or tearjerkers. I have stumbled across an occasional quote or character from a book that made me cry like a baby but once I am done with the book, I don’t always remember that teary aspect of the book. I had to go back all the way to 2013 to find the last book that made me cry like a baby – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. That was a tearjerker without being manipulative about it – a very hard combination to achieve according to me because I always feel manipulated when I cry after reading or watching something.

Ask me a question.

I have always loved your blog name and thought it to have the right amount of mystery and personality. What is the secret behind your blog name? How did you come up with it?

It was years ago, during a conversation I was having with my husband. I don’t remember exactly who came up with the name or what we were talking about, but when I heard it I knew it was perfect for my blog. And I have to admit it fits – I hate spelling mistakes/typos with a vengeance, although I admit they do sneak up on me undetected from time to time. It’s always easier to spot them in someone else’s work.

Posted in Guests | 13 Comments

Gone Forever: a Get Jack Reacher novel by Scott Blade

Nothing to Lose by Lee Child was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog back in 2011. It was a fun book to read, despite a few issues I had with the main character. Still the idea behind the story, this Wild West cowboy of modern days traveling all over America solving cases appealed to me, and that is why when author Scott Blade emailed me and asked if I would like to read his novel I was curious enough to say yes.

First of all, I must say I was relieved to see the story is about Jack Reacher’s son and not about Reacher himself. That was a bonus point. I’m not sure I would have liked to read about a known character from another author’s point of view.

Get Jack Reacher Cameron Reacher is Jack Reacher’s son. His mother, a small town sheriff, dies when Cameron is eighteen, leaving clear instructions as to what path her son must follow. He, like an obedient son, does as he is told, leaving behind the town he grew up in, on a quest to find his father. Just like his father, he walks and occasionally hitchhikes until he reaches a small town where a man is desperately looking for his missing wife. The only problem is, nobody seems to remember her and someone in the town wants the husband gone or dead. Cameron decides to help and in the process he survives some pretty impressive life threatening situations. One in a jail cell involving a rope was my favorite because I did not see how he could get out of it which obviously he had to otherwise the book would just end with the main character dead. In fact, this is the appeal of this story, the ability to surprise. The writing is straightforward, and at times becomes technical, with a lot of information about guns that I wasn’t particularly interested in but other readers who know a lot more on the subject will probably appreciate. Detail is one thing this book abounds in. At times it felt like Cameron was a little too fixated on things – like how many minutes and even seconds it took him to do certain things, how he could tell the time without looking at a watch, and how he was always keeping his calm and never got beaten up by anybody. Sure, he was a massive guy, with long black hair and hands like a “human gorilla”, something Blade insisted on a little too much (I got the point early on) and everybody was afraid of him except the people who gave him a ride.
Also, I got a chuckle out of seeing that he named one of the characters Ann Gables.

Overall this was a good thriller with plenty of action and an interesting character. The author did a good job of creating a background that was believable, and in this way tying the story back to Jack Reacher. I’m curious to see if Cameron finds his father and what happens when he does. I just hope it won’t take ten novels to find out.
Many thanks to the author who provided me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read in June 2015

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 12 Comments

And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed is Khaled Hosseini’s third and latest book. The first one was The Kite Runner, followed by A Thousand Splendid Suns. I have read all three of them and have to say there are plenty of echoes of The Kite Runner in Hosseini’s latest novel.

And the Mountains Echoed Once again, this is a story of Afghan people – a poor family, a father who makes a hard choice, children separated for decades, promises broken, memories cherished and finally, the sweet moment of reconnection. There is forbidden love and a terrible family secret. The action takes place over a period of more than fifty years, spanning countries – from Afghanistan to France and the U.S. The story weaves its way from one character to the next – from inseparable siblings Abdullah and Pari, to their uncle Nabi, to Nabi’s employer and his wife, to a Greek doctor, and then back to the beginning.

The theme of the immigrant, something Hosseini has explored in The Kite Runner, is also present here. In fact the books are quite similar – children protagonists, a terrible secret, decades spent in another country, letters, emotions, family connections. Maybe that is why I felt this third novel followed a familiar pattern. Unfortunately, the raw emotions that were so powerful in The Kite Runner felt a bit forced here, a little too polished and glossed to fit the expectations of a western audience. Except for a brief moment or two that were unexpected, this time the story did not feel new but more like something written for an audience who was already familiar with the author’s previous work and expected more of the same. Maybe this is why I do not feel like going into too much detail. It’s a good story told in simple words which create vividly colored scenes – walking through a bazaar, an interview with a poet, brief moments of beauty and lingering sadness, but its beauty would probably be appreciated more by those who are not familiar with the author’s previous books.

There is a scene however which I enjoyed very much. In it, a boy takes a picture of a girl at the beach using a homemade camera. The boy has to count to one hundred and twenty before he drops the shutter but at intervals the author fast-forwards through the years and tells us what happened to the boy who wanted to be a photographer. By the time he drops the shutter we find out he has made a life altering decision as an adult. Then the story resumes its rhythm. I thought that was a beautifully executed scene, the numbers going up to the final scene, a crescendo of events marked by the passing of time, condensed in the space it takes to take a photograph.
I also liked the explanation behind the name of the book. I’m not going to say any more on that except that I am again impressed by how poetry has inspired so many great novels; Stephen King’s Dark Tower books and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire are just two names that come to mind.
Overall, I enjoyed this book but not as much as the previous two novels, which are quite different from each other. There lies their beauty.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in May-June 2015

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 17 Comments