Friday, September 08, 2017

Book Review: The Duchess by Danielle Steele

As glamourous as the cover looks, the book is but a predictable story of a holier-than-thou heroine who falls on bad times and as is expected rises above her circumstances.

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The cover of The Duchess by Danielle Steel had me at the very first glance and I was looking so forward to reading it. I am not much a 'Romance' person but off and on I do go back to the genre to feel good about life and exhale all my pent up energies as I sigh reading the exploits of people who are affected by love (read are in love).

Just before I started this book, I had read the very fabulous and my first Colleen Hoover- It Ends With Us (Now reading November 9). I read it from cover to cover and had I been reading a hard copy I would have taken the book with me everywhere I went like a beloved person. So it was with high hopes that I started this Steele.

The Duchess is set in 19th century England where the women had no claim on any property, be it their father's, husband's or son's. The heroine Angelique Latham, a Duke's daughter, is ousted from her house Belgrave Estate, immediately after her father's death by her stepbrother who has hated her all his life. He sends her off to work as a nanny to a friend's house- Fergusons- where she immediately starts looking after their 4 children. Now it is always in the heroine's character to be charming, well educated, gentle and humane and these qualities are amplified in all the Steele heroines. (I have always found them too much doodh se dhuli kinds).

So our girls begins to get great at her job and the parents who never see their children since they have been in her care, manage to add two more to the brood. She doesn't complain, carries on managing everything very well with the help of another maid and everything is as rosy as can be. Then one day a house guest makes an advance on her which she brushes off, making him angry. He gets her thrown out by lying to the Fergusons that she had come to his room at night and threw herself at him. They throw her out without a recommendation. Now she can not get any work anywhere in England because of that and goes to Paris where also she doesn't find any job.

What she finds though is a beaten up girl, moaning in pain, lying in a gutter. Oh! she had money left to her secretly by her father so you know she managed the passage and stay at a fair establishment in London and Paris. Anyway, this girl she finds, turns out to be a prostitute who had been beaten up by a customer and thrown away to die. She, Fabienne- introduced Angelique to her sordid world of prostitution where young girls are taken advantage of by everyone- their clients (of course, eye roll), the Madam who doesn't pay them well, the goons and the police.

This gives Angelique the idea of setting up a brothel. She finds perfect location, dips in papa's money to buy a house and furnish it beautifully. Fabienne finds girls for her and Angelique spends on them lavishly to ensure that their set up is best in the town and only very well to do people pay them a visit. In about a month business is booming. Angelique doesn't take anyone to her bedroom but mingles with all the clients.

Gradually two things of import happen here. Angelique forms a friendship with a senior minister in French government and she rejects the advances of an American businessman who seems to want to own her. The minister comes to her rescue when a horrible incident takes place at her establishment. Angelique has to bring down the shutters and she chooses to escape to America. On the boat, meets a young man, is wooed by him and marries him. (No prizes for guessing who that fellow turns out to be because that leads to a mini hiccup!) All goes well for a few years, she bears a son, he dies, the brother who had ousted her is knee deep in trouble and her father's estate comes up for sale. (She was always in touch with old servants and knew all that was happening there, silly). She buys it anonymously and has her revenge.

I have never been a great fan of Danielle Steele as I find her heroines too good to be true. No shades of grey are never exciting isn't it? I would Nora Roberts right next to her but personally I feel they still are more human than Steele's heroines with an exception here and there (I am thinking of Zoya). Everything in this books easily falls in place for Angelique. She has her trying moments but her character is such that she comes out a winner without a sweat and that is what gets my goat. The book is very predictable and doesn't really hold much interest. The only thing I kept wondering was how much was the money that her father had left her and what were the going rates of the time.


Read it if you have to otherwise maybe spend the money on something more nicer and heartwarming.


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Title: The Duchess
Author: Danielle Steele
Genre: Romance
Paperback: 336 pages 
Price: Rs 400 though I was given a copy by Pan Macmillan India for review 
Language: English
Rating: 2/5

PS:The book is a 2017 release. 

336 pages


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book Review: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

A book that will tug at your heart because of the subject that forms its crux and the way with which it has been dealt with. A light read that is not hollow and the writing which is Oh-so-perfect!

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'It Ends With Us' is a beautiful love story between a man and a woman and also between a mother and her child. The story takes place in Boston and the city plays an integral part in the novel. 

Maine girl, Lucy Bloom, has a passion for gardening and hates her wife beater of a father. She meets a hunk on the day her father is buried and she has almost run away from his funeral after delivering a disastrous eulogy. He has all the qualities of an Mills and Boons hero plus Ryle Kincaid is a neurosurgeon. But it is the two different things that they both want which squish the chance of them being together. So after the first very dazzling meeting on a rooftop, they both meet each other after some six months when Lucy has opened a flower shop and has employed Ryle's sister. 

In between we get to read some very interesting entries into the journal of the teenager Lucy addressed to Ellen Degeneres where she introduces a homeless boy Atlas. 

An evening when Lucy and her mother, who has moved to Boston since the funeral, have plans for dinner at a new eatery when Ryle self invites himself. The waiter who serves them that evening is none other than Atlas. Lucy excuses herself from the table to go to the washroom and Atlas follows her in there. As they are coming out after a brief 'where have you been and any girlfriends', Ryle sees them and blows a fuse. The novel gathers speed after this and some sweet and some nasty things happen as the story evolves. What is it that 'ends' and is at the centre of the book, is a sensitive topic and not an easy topic to write on but one that has been dealt with confidence and great warmth.

I would not want to spoil the fun by revealing any more about it here so I will talk about why I absolutely loved this book.

For one, this though looks like any other Mills and Boons Romance at the beginning, I loved this book because here none of the characters are actually bad people. They have flaws (except for Lucy's father) for which there mostly is an explanation. So the book doesn't make the heroine choose a guy because the other one is a rotten apple as is generally the case where more than one hero appear.

Secondly, all the while I was thinking, how could someone write so beautifully. The story reads like a dream. Know what I mean? Talk about fluidity. This must be one of the few, rare books where i did not skip pages to see where the story was going. So much so I could not even bring myself to put it down. I was just going mad thinking about how could someone write this well. This seemed to come from the heart.

So I had to hunt this incredible writer and after googling here I went to her IG account. And lo behold! I had the reason there. She says in one of the posts that she did not edit even a single word from this book...so...you see, a thing like that has to have an impact.

Sighhhh! Go read it if you are in between books, relationships or jobs. This light read is really a good read which though is light yet not hollow.

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Title: It Ends With Us
Author: Colleen Hoover
Genre: Romance
Kindle edition: 367
Price: Rs 302
Language: English
Rating: 5/5

PS:The book is a 2016 release. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Decade of Motherhood: Lessons I learnt (I)

A lesson that has kept rearing its head time and again in my journey of motherhood, of which I am going to complete 10 years in a couple of months, is something that I refused to learn till the very recent times. It is a lesson that my mother wanted me to adopt as soon as my daughter started to talk, walk, and defy. In short, being an independent child. 

Today, it is this lesson that I wish I had the sense to adopt the first time my mother said it out loud to me. But then who would I be if not a common-sense-defying rebel! Or on the other hand maybe this is what makes motherhood such an adventure ride- the ability to gain sense and discover things which only experience can shower upon you. 

The lesson that I am talking about has been worded by so many smart and intelligent people over the ages, that I can fill up pages with their quotes, but I am going to give you two of my favourites that spell it out the best for me.

"Don't worry that the children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you." 
Robert Fulghum, American author

"Children are educated by what the grown up is and not by his talk." 
Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist

Children are great at observing and assimilating. We, the parents, especially the first timers, are such naive things that we neither know this nor understand its implications. 

Eventually with time and, if luck is on your side, some kind soul points you in its direction and you begin to see the immense truth in statements like these.

When my daughter was about three, I was so over the joys of motherhood (read losing my first born, becoming a first-time parent  and staying alone in a city with a busy husband and no friends- virtual or real) that I began to treat her as a grown up individual. When she turned four and started school in a new city, I expected her to go to school in a rickshaw all by herself after waving me a cheerful good bye at the gate.  As she grew a little more, I began to expect her to take full charge of her homework and then school tests, maintaining her notebooks and finishing her syllabus. I was willing to help her with the preparation bit but I wanted the realisation that her work is her responsibility to dawn on her. This, goes without saying, failed miserably.

It led to a great deal of frustrating and emotionally sapping times. My mother by then had repeated a mantra, that today I swear by, at least a hundred times to me. Every time, in front of her, when I asked my daughter to brush her teeth or pack her bag for the next day, my mother would tell me to get up, take my child's hand and do the thing (task) with her. 

I fumed at her and told her that the child needs to know it is her job to finish packing her bag for the next day or to know how important it is to brush her teeth. Initially, my mother would try to reason with me, telling me she is but a child and that is what children do. She soon gave up and just shrugged her shoulders. Maybe my utter boneheaded-ness had gotten to her or maybe she had deposited our cause to higher powers.

Gradually, all I was doing was yelling at my one-and-only child. Because I refused to get off my backside and lead her to finishing chores, I was getting frustrated with time running out on us. Be it morning, noon or night, nothing was getting done. My child was unhappy. Her school performances began to falter and I found myself in a constant bad mood. One because nothing was getting done and secondly because then I would go on a huge guilt trip for being a bad mother who only always shouted at her child.

It was as if both of us were stuck in a bubble together but wanted to go in different directions. I was looking for excuses to be away from my child and this could not continue.

So one day, tired of all the shouting, defeated by all the heartache and spurred by maternal instincts, I did not ask her to do something that needed doing. Instead I took her hand and went with her to do it. I do not remember what it was that needed to be done but I do remember that both of us were surprised by the amount of time it took to finish the job at hand; and that there was laughter bouncing off of the walls of the house soon after that. 

It made me realise that motherhood, just like childhood, is a journey. Also, that you lose your way often in this journey of discoveries. I also realised that no two days are the same. Nothing happens by chance. It takes concrete effort to teach children anything that you want them to adapt for life and the shortest way to accomplish that is to lead by example.

If you want the child to get up early, you will have to get up ahead of them. Similarly, if you want them to turn in early, you will have to give up the lures of fantastic articles, videos and jokes online and go to bed in time. 

Cribbing about giving up your previous life doesn't help. Nobody tells you this when you plan or have a baby, but being a parent and, at that, being a mother is tough. So buckle up and do the needful, I say, you signed up for this. Willingly or not, it is not a consideration (concession?) that parenthood offers!!

Children do not need to be told what to do. They need to be shown. From seeing us, their parents, their elders, they learn faster, and better. This method also involves less heartache for all the parties involved and that is a precious something which I have learnt in 10 years of being a mother.


(An edited version of this article appeared in National Herald on August 27, 2017)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: Sita- Warrior of Mithila


The story of a trained warrior, Sita, who also is the Princess-Prime Minister of Mithila and chosen to be the next Vishnu- the transformer- who opts to partner with another Vishnu candidate, Ram, by marrying him but is abducted before is able to put any plans into action.


Review

The world is going crazy reading and reviewing the books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and I have just finished reading Amish' Sita- Warrior of Mithila. I had seen it being talked about on social media in the feminist circles but did not have much desire to read it. But the truth of the matter is that I did get down to it. I think the cover clinched it for me. So back to the Warrior (I like the omission of the word princess) Sita.

The book Sita is as well know a fictionalised account of the leading lady of Valmiki's Ramayan. In this world of Amish's, there are no Gods or unknown powers. He has managed to humanise everyone. From the trio of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh to Devi. He gives them the human body and characteristics and if you have read the Shiva trilogy then you know that he also lends them conflicts that you and I face.

It goes to his credit that he pays utmost respect to the natural boundaries, regions and writes almost lovingly about various physical aspects of our country. I know a bit more about my country's past and present heritage, thanks to him. He tries to weave in more action in Sita's story than there was in his previous trilogy and you almost feel as if you are watching scene from an action thriller as characters run, hide, attack, defend and run.

Sita is found by Queen Sunaina and King Janaka of Mithila as they return from meeting Kanyakumari (a person and not place)with respect to  a water problem that their kingdom is facing. A vulture dies protecting the baby from wolves in the jungle from where she is then taken to the palace. She grows up, is sent to study, meets and makes friends with other characters like Jatayu, 'Hanu' bhaiya via his cousin Radhika and in course of time chosen by the plotting Vishwamitra to be the next Vishnu. Sita runs the Mithila as the Prime Minister after her mother's death. A swayamvar  is organised at the right time by her own insistence where she wants Ram to come and be chosen as her husband. Like in a Hindi movie the bad guy Ravana also turns up, (we are only given hints how) and all hell breaks loose leading in a way to the 14 year vanvaas and then Sita's abduction from Panchvati.

Amish lures you to read his next with two threads: the enmity between ex friends Vashishtha (who is the Guru of Ayodhya princes and wants either Ram or Bharat to be chosen as the Vishnu) and  Vishwamitra as well as Sita's birth.

Some of it is entertaining but then it gets repetitive and both these facts for which I just praised writer make you (made me) skip a few pages to get on with the story. It could be attributed to the fact that he has not much to do and say in his this book. We all know the story of the queen and there probably is a limit to which it can be fictionalised.

This is the feeling that I had got in the last part of the Shiva trilogy (The Oath of the Vayuputras) which after the glorious The Immortals of Meluha (which was brilliant in terms of imagination, imagery and story) and The Secret of Nagas also sounded repetitive and dragged endlessly.

Anyway the two major answers that hopefully he will reveal in the next should be good reasons to but it, a worthy set of reason though I am not sure.

Title: Sita- Warrior of Mithila
Author: Amish
Genre: Myth
Pages: 376
Price: 350
Publisher: Westland
Language: English
Rating: 2.5/5


Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review: The Sacred Sword by Hindol Sengupta


A book that will leave your palms sweaty, fill you with fear and rage but which will then, also soothe you down and offer some answers via the word of the warrior Guru, on whose life and legend this is based upon.


Review
A nine year old boy is brought the severed head of his father.

Guru Gobind Rai ascended the throne after his father Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded on the orders of the Mughal king Aurangzeb. The tenth Sikh Guru transformed the land of Punjab and through his touch the common men of the villages of modern day Northern plains became lions, Singhs.  

The book, The Sacred Sword, follows the life and legend of Guru Gobind Singh. This fictional account of Guru’s life takes us from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, where the beheading of his father took place, to Nanded, where the warrior Guru breathed his last. In between we witness how he transforms into a great leader training his people for a war that was thrust on him, a gallant fighter who was an ace marksman and a visionary teaching his people to be fearless and equal.

The betrayal of the local kings of the hill states, Guru’s mystical side as he pens poetry and the treachery of the Mughal king Aurangzeb, which cost him his four sons, two as young as six and nine years old- have also been woven into the saga.

The Sacred Sword balances various aspects from the life of the Guru. I could almost see the Guru dressed in blue, with the plume of the blue heron in his turban, riding his blue steed majestically, a hawk perched on his shoulder. I could hear him recite the famous lines
Chidiyaan naal main baaz ladawaan
Geedadan to main sher banawaan
Sawa laakh se ek ladawaan
Tabe Gobind Singh naam kehlaawaan’

As I belong to one of the northern states and have keenly studied geography and history with I could visualise the areas the setting very well. Mr Sengupta does a fabulous job of recreating the ambience of the Hola Mohalla in his book as well as the gathering that must have taken place at Anandpur Sahib, on the day the Khalsa Panth was born.

He does manage to bring some fighting scenes alive with his words too but I can’t claim they were among my favourites.

All in all, The Sacred Sword touches important aspects of Guru Gobind Singh’s life, and the important people in it- from Mata Gujri to Banda Bahadur. At 219 pages, it is a very comfortable read and in my humble opinion does not drag, limp or stagger anywhere.

I would recommend The Sacred Sword highly if you are looking for a weekend read and history or legends are your genre.



Title: The Sacred Sword
Author: Hindol Sengupta
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
Language: English
Pages: 219
Rating: 4/5


Disclaimer: The book is due to release tomorrow and I was given the copy of the book by Penguin Random House India for a review. Opinion here is all mine.