Book review: Seahorse by Janice Pariat

Seahorse is the story of Nem, a student of English literature at Delhi University. He drifts between classes, attends off-campus parties with free-flowing drinks and weed, and writes articles for the college magazine. Until one day he crosses paths with an art historian – an encounter that changes the course of his life, steering him into a world of pleasure and artistic discovery. And then one day, without warning, his mentor disappears.

In the years that follow, Nem settles down in South Delhi, earning a name for himself as an art critic. When he is awarded a fellowship to London, a cryptic note plunges him into a search for the art historian – a search that forces him to revisit the past and separate fact from fiction.

At this point, are you thinking that this novel may not have much to offer? That maybe you’ve read other books with similar story lines and aren’t sure if this has anything that will interest you? That you don’t want to waste more time or money looking for an Indian author you may fall in love with? What can I say to convince you?

Maybe I can tell you that this is a beautiful book…a story told with nuance and restraint. I could tell you that the characters are well-drawn, that the novel flows, nay glides, taking you along with it. I could tell you that the prose is luminous, that it will have you gasping at the sheer poetry on the page. But maybe I should just get out of the way and give you a few little excerpts from the book – something tickle your taste buds, so to speak.

On time:

Time is tricky.

You organize it into days. You break it down to a second, build it up to a century. A millennium. You shift, and stack, hoarding time into holidays and long weekends.

You peel away the calendar pages. Carry it around in smartphones and computers. It has shape. A design. Hands and digits. Glowing figured. And yet, it can’t be tamed.

On prophesies:

Isn’t that what we all search for? A sign, a purported signal of things to come, a pointer, a market of how life would unfurl before is.

Prophesies are the most scientific of supernatural phenomena, for they, like science, invest in a single outcome. The one truth.

And yet. And yet the universe is forever shifting, swelling with infinite possibilities and infinite outcomes. The power of prophesies lie in their self-fulfillment.

On cartography:

Stations, airports, and docks are sites of infinite departure, reservoirs of potential journeys, of possible events, the slippery and fleeting, worlds aborted and almost born.

I looked at the train tracks, joining and parting, reflecting light.

How difficult was it to comprehend this web of connections? This complicated intersection of lines.

At some point we feel compelled to account for every decision, every circumstance that places us in a particular moment.

We paint a surface and leave no free spaces. Horror vacui. The fear of the empty.

In the end, we are all cartographers – looking at a map of our lives. Marking out the uneven course of our existence, hoping there’ll be no disappearances, of ourselves and the people we love.

Have I convinced you yet?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Book review: Recipes For Melissa by Teresa Driscoll

Melissa Dance was eight years old when her mother died. They never got to say goodbye.

Seventeen years later, Melissa is handed a journal. As she smoothes open the pages and begins to read her mother’s words, she is instantly transported back to her childhood.

As I write now, you are eight years old – asleep in the bed next door in princess pyjamas, with a fairy costume discarded on the floor.

Twenty-Five. The age I had you. The age our story began. And the age, I hope, that will see you truly ready for the things that I need to say to you…

IMG_0264.JPGMelissa’s boyfriend has just popped the question, but ever since she lost her mother, she’s afraid – of what, even she isn’t sure. So though she loves Sam, she tells him she isn’t ready to get married. Sam is afraid that Melissa will leave him, Melissa is afraid she will lose Sam. And in the middle of this drama, the lawyers call to hand over her mother’s diary. Her mother. Whom she hasn’t really mourned properly. Who died, suddenly, and left her alone – a bundle of nervous ticks and an over analysing mind. Scared of disappearing in the middle of her story.

But as she starts to read her mother’s words, the photographs and recipes pry her childhood memories lose. Memories she had buried deep within her, so much so that she isn’t sure if they are real, or if she is just imagining the scenes presented by the pictures and the words in the journal. As Melissa slowly makes her way through the book, Driscoll alternates between the past and the present – between Melissa’s mother Eleanor’s last days and Melissa’s current worries and fears.

As Melissa slowly makes her way through the book, the entries start to take a darker turn as Eleanor shares some details about the incidence of cancer in her family and the possibility that she may be genetically predisposed to cancer. As Melissa grapples with the implications of this information, she is

also shocked to learn of her mother’s secrets – secrets that if shared, could change Melissa’s world forever.

Featuring some simple, hearty recipes and some beautiful snippets of advice from a mother to a daughter, Driscoll builds up a beautiful, uplifting novel. She makes you feel Melissa’s pain and fears; her father, Max’s heartbreak and eventual healing; and Eleanor’s desperate attempt to try and find all the pieces of the cancer puzzle in time.

This beautifully crafted novel with its poignant legacy from a mother to her daughter makes for a perfect summer read…but it might just stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from NetGalley, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft

far_end_happy_Kathryn_Craft Imagine, if you will, a small farmhouse. A store that sells produce grown at the property. A husband-wife team who run the show. Let’s go over to the house – it’s old. But when you enter, you see that each room is lovingly restored. The husband’s built all the furniture in his workshop. The wife has helped strip and paint the walls. It’s homely, comfortable, and has character. Running through the house are their two sons, Will and Andrew, and their dog Max.

Isn’t that a pretty picture? One of love and joy, togetherness and companionship. But, look a little closer, and you’ll see that the woman, Ronnie, isn’t entirely happy where she is. She has a major in journalism, but gave up her career to marry Jeff. Somewhere along the way, she found herself adrift, alone in the marriage, and questioning her very identity. Look even closer, and you’ll see the darkness of depression lurking there in the background. A darkness that is about to come out front and centre and destroy the very fabric of this family, and of the small town where they live.

Ronnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.

The police manage to get the family out of the farmhouse and away from harm’s way. While they wait for the police to make contact with Jeff,

The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments.

Tensions build in the firehouse, where the family can do nothing but wait to see how the day will play out. It is from this point on that the story starts to move back and forth between the present and the past. Craft does a masterful job of weaving the back story with events as they are unfolding in the present, so you never feel like you’re being jerked around between the past and the present. The narrative is compelling enough to grip you around the heart, even though you know how the story will end. Given that it is based on a real event from the author’s life, the insight and raw emotion she brings to the story is palpable on every page.

Craft has woven together a wonderful story, one that is likely to linger with you long after you turn the last page. Highly recommended!

A call to mindfulness

In a world that is in constant motion, with distractions everywhere you look, it’s become increasingly difficult to find some quiet space to just be. To think…to dream…to imagine…

orchid_flower

We race through our days, fill them with tasks, with constant phone checking – emails, status updates, tweets – a collection of likes and retweets as our measure of self-worth.

Pond Heron_Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

How often do we stop to collect some wild flowers? To notice the minutiae of daily life? To watch our feline friends as they play, sleep, or mew for attention? To notice the birds, building their nests, catching food, feeding their young?

Iz eatz yurz earz, ok?

How often do we notice the homeless man? The dejected dog? The dead sparrow lying on the sidewalk? The sun as it rises or sets?

A sacred sunset

This is a call to reclaim life – to watch the moonrise, count the stars, observe life as it lives and dies around us. To be present – for our life, for our loved ones, for our furry friends. For strangers. For the birds – dead and alive. For life.

This post was inspired by Sidewalk Flowers on BrainPickings.

Book Review: Private by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Former Marine helicopter pilot Jack Morgan runs Private, a renowned investigation company with branches around the globe. It is where you go when you need maximum force and maximum discretion. Jack is already deep into the investigation of a multi-million dollar NFL gambling scandal and the unsolved slayings of 18 schoolgirls when he learns of a horrific murder close to home: his best friend’s wife, Jack’s former lover, has been killed. It nearly pushes him over the edge. Instead, Jack pushes back and devotes all of Private’s resources to tracking down her killer. With a plot that moves at death-defying speeds, Private is James Patterson sleekest, most exciting thriller ever.

I’ve long been a James Patterson fan, primarily of his Alex Cross novels – those are brilliant! But it’s been a long time since I read any of his novels, so when this book came across my radar screen, I thought I’d give it a go.

I dived into the book with high expectations – it’s a James Patterson after all, and a series for which he is teaming up with writers from across the world. I thought it would be interesting. It wasn’t.

In this, the first Private novel that serves as the backbone for the rest of the franchise, we are introduced to Jack Morgan – a former helicopter pilot who crashed out of the Afghanistan war with terrible memories and immeasurable guilt (nothing new here). With the money left to him by his father, he set up Private, a detective agency with state-of-the-art equipment and a free pass to do with it as he pleases.

The most interesting case is the one where they are tracking the dead school girls, but the NFL case just seems to be tacked on as an after thought and I didn’t see any reason why the murder of his best friend’s wife was in any way relevant to the story.

The writing is sloppy, the dialogues are forced, the plot twists are quite predictable. The characters are two-dimensional – the women, especially, are horrifyingly portrayed. The lead police detective on the schoolgirl case, for example, is a fat, angry woman, while Justine, who is leading the investigation at Private, arrives at murder scenes in stilettos. The men are all effortlessly good looking and the cops are pretty much bumbling idiots. It’s very reminiscent of a B-grade Hollywood flick.

I give this book a big thumbs down.