Bookshelf’d part IV and meet Renita D’silva at work

I have always been fascinated by the places where writers toil and sweat a novel out. Initially when I started out reviewing books, I had no clue how difficult writing a novel was. I just assumed that when a writer sat at her desk and started writing , words  flowed seamlessly onto the page. Little did I realise then that every word that is there on a book has a reason for being there and the writer often polishes, and re-polishes her draft till it shines 🙂  

Author at Work Part I 

Let’s go find out where Renita D’Silva author of Monsoon Memories and The Forgotten Daughters writes her masterpieces (new segment on the blog called  Author at Work). And of course, we are going to ogle her book shelves  and listen to her bookish musings 🙂 I must say she has a bunch of books that I have caught my fancy.. ***Sighs!*** 🙂 Over to you, Renita..  

Buy Monsoon Memories here 

Renita at her work-place 🙂
This is a picture of me at my ‘office’ which is just a corner of the sofa with my trusted Dell. I am lucky in that I can write anywhere and in any amount of noise, so the kids will be playing, my husband will be watching television and I will be writing, lost in a fictional world with my characters dictating their story and me their conduit. 

Some interesting titles here!

The old bookshelf we had in our room broke from the sheer weight of the books I had accumulated and refused to get rid of despite my poor husband’s pleadings, just before your request. The new bookshelf was arriving this weekend. It’s come and fixed and I have arranged my books- well, what few I managed to keep after hubby convinced me to give most away and move the rest which I couldn’t bear to part with to the loft- on the new bookshelf and now I can sleep properly again. ( The bookshelf is at the foot of my bed and I go to bed and wake up looking at my beloved books. When I did not have a bookcase, I missed this sorely.) I do borrow quite a few from the library as I read voraciously and cannot afford to buy all of them to feed my habit. One day perhaps. 

I once visited a house where an entire wall was given over to books. This is my dream: To live in a house with a room where every wall is a bookshelf. 

The picture titled ‘Writers and Artists’ has the Writers and Artists Handbook that I bought when I completed the first draft of Monsoon Memories. From it, I obtained information on how to write a query letter, how to send off a manuscript and also the list of agents and publishers to which I sent off my manuscript. Nestling between the Writers and Artists Handbook and Patrick Gale’s ‘Notes on an Exhibition’ are the anthologies and magazines where my short stories are published. 

 Nestling between ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Everyman’s Dictionary of Quotations and Proverbs’ are my books, Monsoon Memories and The Forgotten Daughter.

Pickwick Papers.. yay! 

Kate Atkinson and Alice Munro along with some interesting books

My collection of the Mslexia magazines for women writers that I subscribed to snuggle next to ‘How to Breathe Underwater’. It was through Mslexia that I found my wonderful publisher Bookouture- they had put an ad in the magazine asking for submissions.

Peekaboo.. The Forgotten Daughter 🙂 
You had fun looking at Renita’s shelves ? Mail me at if you want me to feature your book shelves too. You don’t fancy books but collect something else? No hassles , write in and I’ll feature you.  
Connect with Renita 

The divorce papers by Susan Rieger

The Divorce PapersThe Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have always loved epistolary novels, and jumped at the opportunity to review one. The premise was exciting : what happens behind the scenes of a high-profile divorce case. The book told only in the form of memos, letters  and emails is an extremely erudite piece of writing with references to literature , movies and the performing arts. I didn’t know that Shakespeare died on his birthday! (23rd April).

Having seen the ugly repercussions of divorces of a few friends , I was curious about the nitty-gritties of negotiation and divorce settlement. The book offers a generous peep into all those areas.It was interesting going through the memos and the paperwork that gets generated during a divorce. However , I just found the book too long (over five hundred pages).Somehow the exchange between Sophie (the divorce lawyer, who also happens to be one of the lead characters)and her friend, Maggie was just too boring.

The book had too many memos and lawyerly papers containing barely understandable legalese, that I found myself skipping a few of them because it was just so tiring wading through all those jargon-filled pages. Thankfully , the most relevant passages were highlighted ,and I found myself skipping the document and reading just those highlighted parts. Maybe the reason I couldn’t connect too much with the characters was that the book was too long. Best character was  Mia , whose random acts of meanness towards the husband was quirky and funny.

Overall , a  clever decent read , if the size of the book doesn’t deter you.

View all my reviews

Thank you Crown publishing for sending me this book to read and review. 

Anita and Me – Book Review

Book name : Anita and Me
Author: Meera Syal
Genre : Fiction (semi-auto-biographical)
Awards won: 1996 Betty Trask Award ; Shortlisted for Guardin 1996 Fiction Prize
Publisher: Harper Collins ( Flamingo)
My rating : 4/5

Synopsis from Good reads

The prize-winning coming-of-age novel about a young Indian girl in northern England. Winner of the Betty Trask Award and finalist for the Guardian Fiction Award, Anita and Me, which has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the story of Meena, the daughter of the only Punjabi family in the British village of Tollington. With great warmth and humor, Meera Syal brings to life a quirky, spirited 1960s mining town and creates in her protagonist what the Washington Post calls a “female Huck Finn.” The novel follows nine-year-old Meena through a year spiced with pilfered sweets and money, bad words, and compulsive, yet inventive, lies. Anita and Me offers a fresh, sassy look at a childhood caught between two cultures

What I thought of the book :

Oh,I loved this book!. The comparison to “To kill a mockingbird” is not misplaced,but the style of writing is different.Anita and Me ishillarious,irreverant,refreshing and poignant at the same time. This semi-autobiographical book by Meera Syal is about a young immigrant girl growing up in a British mining village in the 60’s. Meena (the protagonist) is torn between two cultures: her Punjabi roots and the need to fit into the mainstream Tollington culture. She prefers Fish and Chips to Chappatis ; Christmas to Diwali. The narrative is slow and idyllic ,but is spiced with exceptionally cheeky writing by Meera. Her take on her parent’s friends-the uncles and aunties that visit them and her parent’s relationship with one another is heart-warming and funny at the same time. The way she describes the neighborhood and her neighbors is chuckle-inducing.

Meena’s life changes when Anita walks into her life.Anita is brassy and in-your-face and everything Meena is not.This is precisely what fascinates Meena and she desperately wants to be Anita’s friend. Meera expertly paints the relationship between the two girls in not just blacks and whites but in shades of grey. Meena and Anita become the best of friends,despite several undercurrents that run between them and Meena finds herself doing uncharacteristic things like lying and stealing. She knows on some level that Anita is bad influence on her,but continues to toe Anita’s line,listening to her whims and fancies.Rest of the story is about what happens between the two girls and other members of their “gang”. Meena learns hard lessons in life about love ,friendship ,bereavement and “grows” up in the process.

The narrative is not fast-paced,but it felt like every word in that book was there for a purpose . You can find oodles of witticisms thrown liberally in the book .A must read for anyone who likes witty, coming of age stories. I am so glad i picked this book!. My last book was also a coming of age story (The secret life of bees), which I didn’t like too much This book is feisty and spirited,whereas I found secret life of bees needlessly meandering and(a little) boring.

Anyway,pick up this book- you won’t be disappointed.

My rating : 4/5

A concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Title: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Paperback, 256 pages

Published February 1st 2007 by Chatto & Windus (first published 1981)

ISBN :0701180382 (ISBN13: 9780701180386)

Synopsis from Good reads

Twenty-three-year-old Zhuang, the daughter of shoe factory owners in rural China, has come to London to study English. She calls herself Z because English people can’t pronounce her name, but she’s no better at their language. Set loose to find her way through a confusion of cultural gaffes and grammatical mishaps, she winds up lodging with a Chinese family and thinks she might as well not have left home. But then she meets an English man who changes everything. From the moment he smiles at her, she enters a new world of sex, freedom, and self-discovery. But she also realizes that, in the West, “love” does not always mean the same as in China, and that you can learn all the words in the English language and still not understand your lover.

Drawing on her diaries from when she first arrived in the UK, Xiaolu Guo winningly writes the story in steadily improving English grammar and vocabulary. Freshly humorous, sexy, and poignant, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is an utterly original novel about language, identity, and the cultural divide.

My Thoughts:

Sometimes when you read a book that makes you laugh and cry all at once and you wonder what kind of a book that is- a good one, I have realized .Xiaolu’s book is a poignant ,yet funny tale of a young Chinese girl who arrives in London with shiny eyes and unending reserves of curiosity to learn English.Written in the first person narrative,almost like a diary,the first 100 odd pages almost reads like a chicklit – breezy and funny. As the protagonist, Z tackles English breakfasts,the infamous” English weather” ,dodgy lodgings,intricacies of English grammar and hosts of other “English” things, Xiaolu will enthrall you with her wit and funny observations, all written in deliberately bad English.

I fell in love with the protagonist,Z,whose earnestness made the book all the more special for me.Gradually,as Z settles into her life in London and falls in love with a man, the tone changes. What starts off like a borderline chicklit starts getting deeper and more philosophical and you can certainly sense the metamorphosis Z goes through from the wide-eyed carefree foreigner to a self-introspecting ,slightly jaded individual.Understandably, as you progress through the book,you can see the change in Z’s language and her grammar.As Z discovers Sex ,love and independence,she struggles to find a balance between her Chinese sensibilities and the expectations of a western civilization.

The book took me on a nostalgic trip ,where several years ago I found myself in a strange country,struggling to grapple with my new life and battling strong feelings of “taking the next flight back home”. Xiaolu captures this sentiment rather well and Z’s loneliness comes across clearly. I absolutely loved the way every chapter started with the meaning of a word that Z encounters- these entries are from the dictionary she carries with her at all times.

Overall,a beautiful book that I would recommend to everyone. Towards the end,it might get a little bleak with more philosophical overtones,but on the whole you’ll love the journey the book takes you on. 4/5 for Xiaolu’s book.Doesn’t the cover look fab? LOVE IT!!

The Pregnant king- Review

Book : The Pregnant King
Author : Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Fiction;Mythology

A magician once beheaded a newly wed couple.He then put the man’s head on the woman’s body and the woman’s head on the man’s body.Who is the husband now? and who is the wife?.

What is an aberration and what isn’t?.Just because a human mind cant comprehend certain things,does it mean that it is unnatural ?

Who decides what is dharma and what isn’t?.Why is it that a woman,even if she is the rightful queen not allowed to rule and merely considered a figurehead just because she is a woman.

Is the affection that the mother lavish on a child sweeter than that shown by the father?.

So many esoteric questions Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Pregnant King raises. Devdutt has used Hinduism’s complex mythology to to weave this tale about Yuvanashva,the king who gave birth to a son.Yuvanashva,Prince of Vallabhi who is blocked from becoming a king by his mother,Shilavati because he is unable to become a father.3 wives later,the king still doesnt’ have heirs.Ancestors in the form of crows torture Shilavati and the king urging the procreation of their lineage.When nothing else works, the king turns to other means (like yagnas) for getting children.The King,then accidentally drinks a potion meant for his wives and ends up getting pregnant himself. Yuvanashva’s confusion about his maternal feelings for his son and gender identities form the rest of this extraordinary story.

Devdutt,however doesn’t just stop with Yuvanashva’s tale.He tells us about Shikhandi,the woman who was brought up as a man ,so that her father King Draupada could have a son to avenge his humiliation at the hands of the Kurus.Shikhandi later became a man and fathered a child with borrowed male genitals. Then there is the story of Somvat,who gives up his manhood to become the wife of his best friend and of Arjuna(as enuch in the 13th year of his exile) and Krishna as the wife of a man.

Lines between men and women;father and mother ;husbands and wives are blurred and starts wondering about the strange manifestations of nature.Devdutt finally talks about how neither is the man or the woman more superior and there is both Shiva and Shakthi in everyone.And that is the universal truth most people find it difficult to grapple with.

The book is sensual,potent and absolutely un-putdownable.One issue i found with the book is that the love-making scenes were too drawn-out and the descriptions seemed excessive after a point. Maybe this subject warranted this treatment. It is a treat for people who love Indian mythology, eventhough Devdutt has taken a few liberties in tweaking the time periods and has made Yuvansahva the contemprorary of the Kuru clan.

4/5 for this awesome book.

Lil’ miss Sunshine

Almost 100 years back, Eleanor Porter wrote this classic story of an orphan,Pollyanna who made people around her feel glad about their circumstances in life .. and 100 years later,the book is just as popular.Miss Polly is a stern disciplinarian who takes in Pollyanna,the child of her late Sister, in her care only as a duty. Miss Polly frowns upon open windows and banging doors, seldom smiles and is a classic case of a touch-me-not.Pollyanna breezes into Miss Polly’s life and therein starts an adventure.Not just for Miss Polly,but also for the other folks in town.

Pollyanna’s “Glad game” (a game that her father taught her to look at brighter side of everything) spreads like wild fire and starts making a difference in people’s lives. Pollyanna’s unbridled enthusiasm for life coupled with her innocent demeanor makes her the darling of the town.Pollyanna endears herself to the people in the town by teaching her glad game to them.She helps Mrs Snow become less grouchy,makes a grouchy man,Mr Pendleton smile,rescues a stray cat,dog and a homeless boy,reunites a couple,makes her aunt “gladder” and causes several other minor miracles .However,a terrible accident threatens to ruin Pollyanna’s game forever,and everyone wonders how they can teach her to be glad.This forms the rest of the plot.

I loved reading this book and really want to see the movie adaptation as well.Several other sunny characters have preceeded Pollyanna like Anne from Anne of Green Gables or Heidi or Mary Lennox from Secret garden.However,the theme of all these books is the same. A bright,cheerful girl transforms cheerless adults through her own joie de vivre.. And everytime,the theme works. Pollyanna’s character has caught the fancy of people so much that the word Pollyanna can be found in any dictionary.It means “An excessively or a blindly optimistic person”.

Overall, an endearing read. 4/5 from me for this timeless classic.

If it ain’t a riot,what it be,Man?

Book : The Mystic Masseur
Author: VS Naipaul
Publisher : Picador
Genere: Humour

I can’t remember chuckling so much reading any book in the last few months.. Mystic Masseur by V.S Naipaul is one of the finest comic capers i have laid my eyes upon.It is the story of the rise of Ganesh Ramasumair,a failed Primary school teacher and struggling masseur to a writer ,mystic and finally a MBE(Member of executive council) in Trinidad.The book is written in the strangely hilarious English spoken by the Trinidadian people and is set in Colonial Trinidad. Sample some of the rioutous sentence constructions..

“The Pundit we looking for.”
“I does read.”
“It have man I want to see in oilfields.”

Delightful, no?.

Add to that a motley crew of characters like Ramlogan,Ganesh’s father-in-law ,who schemes to get him married off to his daughter and later tries to profit from Ganesh’s meteoric rise; The great belcher,the elderly quintessential match-making relative who belches and burps like there was no tomorrow; Leela,Ganesh’s wife who punctuates after every word;Suruj Mooma and Suruj Poopa,who motivate Ganesh to write his book and several others.

The first 100 odd pages were so funny that when i read that this was Naipaul’s first book,i was in awe. He wrote this book when he was 25!!.However,I had to strain myself to finish the next 100 odd pages as the breezy,wry wit that was so abundant in the first 100 pages disappears without a trace.Despite the narrative being slightly disjointed after Ganesh becomes a Mystic,the book is hilarious.People who love self-deprecating wit,will love Mystic Masseur.The book is a glorious caricature of the people,the sounds and the sights of Trinidad.

Naipaul won the Nobel prize for Literature in 2001 and has scores of other prestigious awards in his kitty.For people who are starting out on Naipaul’s books,Mystic masseur is highly recommended.As for me,i loved the book,despite the sagging,lack-lusture narrative after those 100 pages and am excited to start his third book,Miguel street.

My rating : 3.5/5.

Daddy Long legs- old pyjamas and maggie noodles !

I know.. i can hear collective groans .. another review !! I just had to share this !!

Book name: Daddy Long Legs
Author : Jean Webster
Genre : Young Adult Fiction
Publisher : Penguin classics
Price :Rs.199
My rating : 4/5

I finally ended up reading Daddy long legs approximately 16 years after I resolved to read that book.I was in school and there was a mad clamour for Jean Webster’s classic.The queue for borrowing the book was so long that I shelved the book in the recesses of my memory as “To read Someday”.Comfortably forgotten,the book languished in the recesses until oneday,on a whim I decided to pick it up.. and boy,was i in for a treat..

Daddy Long legs is a beautiful story about a delightfully spunky and full-of-life orphan Jerusha.Jerusha or Judy, as she likes to be called is surprised when she gets to know that a mystery benefactor wants to fund her college education.In return, the benefactor’s only request was that Jerusha had to write a letter a month detailing her progress.So ,the entire story is in the form of letters from Judy to the benefactor,who Judy calls “Daddy long Legs”( because he has very long legs and thet is the only information Judy has about him).

Judy romps through college and there is sunshine in every word she writes.She aspires to become a writer and works towards the goal.She meets new people, makes friends, goes on trips and starts liking a man,eventually.Of course,there is a happily-ever-after ending.The book is ideal for light reading,with a few philosophical undertones creeping in occasionally.Mostly, the book is about everyday observations and activities of a highly intelligent and impressionable mind.

Energy and wit bubbles in the writings like some effervescent liquid.The letters are peppered with cute drawings that amuse you to no end.Absolutely lovable stuff !! .. I only wish I had discovered the book way back..A true feel-good young adult fiction.A bit of Trivia about Jean Webster…that was her assumed name and she was related to Jules Verne from her mother’s side.

4 stars from me for this classic!! .. I cant wait to dig into “The enemy”,Jean webster’s other successful novel.