Without Benefits by Nicole Tone – Beach Read With Soul

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Nicole is someone I got to know on Twitter when looking for critique partners. As we swapped first chapters, I soon realized her writing was exemplary and she had much to offer in terms of feedback and the craft of writing, something I could only aspire too. So, when I knew her first book was coming out this year, I signed up for an ARC.

I received my copy over the long weekend and I settled in after an exhausting couple of days with my Kindle in hand.

Emma. Connor. Owen.

Two men. One woman. Emma flees NYC after the September 11 attacks, leaving behind a city that she called home. Reinventing herself in Seattle, she is engaged to Connor when Owen from her past surfaces.

The story moves predictably and slowly. Tone takes her time weaving Emma’s college years with her current life (in her 30’s) alternatively. Just when we are about to get frustrated as to why it takes her so long to see what everyone else in her life seems to know, we get a peak into the kind of person Emma has evolved into based on what happened in her past.

Tone works on revealing each character, their motivations and their place in Emma’s life leisurely. Seattle and New York City come to life in this debut. The prose sparkles with understated emotions and beautiful imagery. She delves into relationships with a beautiful sensitivity. I loved the way Emma related to her sister Leah and their mom. There are moments in the book almost every woman will relate to.

Having said that, I would have found the book compelling with a stronger conflict. I kept waiting for a story to unfold until the very end only to realize that was all to the story.

Pick it up if you are in the mood for a beach read with soul.

Gifted – Poignant and strangely haunting

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I grabbed Nikita Lalwani’s Gifted from my local library’s fall sale. The cover appealed to me and I checked the blurb at the back and it resonated. I added it to my list of books to read as I research setting my story partly in India and partly in the US. I read the book over two days. The story starts promising with our typical Indian parents finding out that their child is gifted. As I read and followed along Rumika Vasi’s journey into adulthood, I ached for the childhood gone missing. I ached with her as she battles her demons alone. I ache for her parents who pour everything into her. As Mahesh ponders how to celebrate a momentous occasion and comes up short, I paused and nodded. This was a feeling I could relate to.

The prose is haunting. It is reminiscent of the lush, verdant prose of God of Small Things. I love how Lalwani weaves her tale juxtaposing elements of nature and the inner desolation Rumi feels. The description of journeys literal and metaphorical are beautiful. Certain parts feel like they drag and you are not sure why certain characters are introduced only to disappear. But those are minor irritants in what is otherwise a poignant coming of age tale.

Looking to read something a little bit offbeat. Wonder what it is like to be the child of driven immigrant parents? Pick Gifted. Solid, satisfying read.

What She Left Behind – Cross generational tale well told

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I started What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman after dinner. I settled in, a throw over my lap, the baby monitor humming by my side. The story hooked me, reeled me in and kept the pace up. When the monitor awoke with angry cries, I pleaded with my spouse to pick her up. When even breathing sounded minutes later, I went back to the book and checked the time. 10:17 PM read the clock. I leaned back and got caught up with Clara and Izzy. The story reminded me of train wrecks and accident scenes. The kind you cannot look away from. You watch and absorb every gory detail because you are fascinated and repelled by it. Wiseman’s portrayal of Willard and the treatment of inmates is akin to that. You read, fear snaking through you. You read, knowing she is going to be broken again and again. You read, fearful that you may never get the ending you are hoping for.

With Izzy, you know she is walking into a trap and yet there is nothing you can do about it. You are locked in with her, straining and reliving her nightmare. Relief when it appears towards the end of the book is sweet and a little too late. You close the book, shut your eyes and think. You head to bed, bleary eyed at a half past midnight and lie. Sleep eludes you because you are still in Willard and Ithaca as you wait for the darkness to claim you.

The writing is powerful. It is clichéd in many places. It is lush and thick and vibrant, assaulting you with more than you can handle. Yet, it works. It works because of the interweaving of stories, the juxtaposition of the old and the new. It is strangely reminiscent of the Orphan Train. Both stories follow a similar arc. One traces the horrors of orphans while the other deals with ‘homes’ for the mentally ill. Both are about people who are marginalized and how our society treats them. Both feature a young girl looking for answers to her past in the memories of a generation before. Both are touched by adoption and reunion. Yet, both stand alone as distinct pieces because of the way they tell the story.

If you are in the mood for a good read, pick What She Left Behind and have a box of tissues handy.

The Girl on the Train – Fast, Vivid Read

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“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.”
― Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train

I placed a hold on the book (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins) after seeing it on the many lists that I follow. After months, I got notification the book was available for checkout on my Kindle. In the middle of my fifth read of Harry Potter, I started this book. To say I was hooked by the first page is an understatement. Hawkins’ language is compelling. She makes you travel with her on the train. She takes you inside the head of Rachel. She makes you smell the smells and feel the dank, depressing side of human nature.

The book itself took all of one day to read. In between making lunch, doing laundry, folding clothes, I read. The kindle propped up against the wall, the pillow and the back-splash. I read because I could not stop. Halfway, when Tom says “Don’t expect me to be sane, I can’t be, not with you” you know. Yet, you read because you want to see how the story hurtles to its inevitable conclusion.

This is a book I will not buy for it to grace my bookshelf, but it is one of those books I can have animated conversations about. About the author’s style of writing, the prose, the way the novel is constructed, about the frailties of human nature. It is a book I am sure I will read again as I set out on the path to write my own. To take it apart to see why it works. To analyse the weave of the story. To pay homage to the author whose debut is so strong.

A definite read. Pick it up when you have a block of four to five hours and zip through it.

O Kadhal Kanmani – Just about OK?

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I watched my twitter feed go agog at the first trailer release of O Kadhal Kanmani. Reminiscent of Alaipayudhe was the verdict. I watched from the sidelines as the music release happened and then the movie.

I jumped at the chance to watch the movie with family today and walked out of the theater wondering what the story was about i.e., if there was one at all. The movie was like a montage of pretty romantic scenes. A tribute to Bombay and its rains and trains. The leads lit up the screen with their presence. Their acting was nuanced. All the check boxes indicating a Mani Rathnam movie was checked yet, you kept wanting for something to happen that quite did not.

You want Tara to have a back story. Something that explains her openness to be in a relationship with a man without the constraints of marriage in a society that stresses on propriety. Even her “ex” is explained away as a means to establish her dysfunctional and rich family. Perhaps if her past relationships had shown her to be someone who enjoyed being in a relationship even if she were a commitment-phobe, perhaps it would have lent weight to her credibility as someone who swears off long-term relationships. Same with Adi. Had he been shown as a Casanova falling in an out of relationships, the falling in love part would have had weight.

The whole live-in part just seemed incidental to the plot. So we endure a movie where nothing goes wrong and it hurtles its way to a foregone conclusion leaving us baffled.

Watch it once. Perhaps on DVD.

The Fault in Our Stars

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Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.

This is a recurring line in the book and sort of encapsulates what the book was for me. It is that kind of book that if I read the second and third time, various sentences will pop out, loaded with meaning based on whatever my personal circumstance is at that time. It is a keeper. Like The Little Prince or The Alchemist.

What a slut time is. She screws everybody.

On the surface it is about two teenagers battling cancer and grappling with mortality, love and life in that order. The book is acerbic, funny and wise. It also is gut wrenching in a detached sort of way. You feel for Hazel. You feel for Augustus. You feel for their parents. You feel. Period.

You feel your throat choke and your eyes sting as you close the book. Poignant is the word that comes to mind.

A must read and most definitely a book to keep.

Understated, Elegant, Queenly.

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As the weekend wrapped up and the chores for the day were done, I propped my feet up and decided to watch a movie. A luxury I had not had the chance to afford in months now. Streaming from my handheld device, the large TV screen hooked our attention from the word go.

As Rani sat across from her fiance trying to grasp what he was trying to tell her, I fell in love with Kangana Ranaut. Her portrayal of the naive, small town girl raised to be proper was spot on. As she grapples with her feelings in the wake of her called off wedding, I was on that floor with her. Feeling, crying and coming to terms with whatever had happened.

This coming of age story was well told. As Rani traipses through Paris and Amsterdam, I could feel her fear, her angst, her pain. As she stands to cross the road in Paris and later in Amsterdam, I transformed with her from the self-doubt ridden Rani to the confident Queen. The movie was a series of vignettes. Moments that captured the essence of the story so well that the cliché ridden scenes did not register as much.

This movie got it right for all turns the storyline did not take. For economy of words and for beautiful frames that spoke volumes. The casting was excellent and every character lived their roles. The music blended in with the tale and enhanced the visual narrative without being obtrusive.

Beautifully made and told!