The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – Thoughts

Bookish Discussion:

Have you ever felt that writing is therapeutic? That words have the power to change, inspire, break and give strength?

My thoughts on The Poet X:

I picked up this book to fulfil the ‘read a book by a Latinx author’ prompt for the Coffee Readathon. Also, I had been eyeing this book since ages and finally received it as a birthday present this year. I’m so glad I picked it up. However, after finishing the book in a record time of two days, I wanted to re-read it. But this time, I wanted to listen to Xiomara’s voice. I wanted to hear the pain and the angst. So, I’ve decided to listen to the audiobook version for the book as well. I need more goosebumps in my life.

The most surprising part about the book is the narrative style. I guess I can now comfortably throw out all traditional styles of writing a story out of the window. I’m actually really glad that writers are writing out of the box. It just enhances a reader’s experience tenfolds, and also opens up the joy of reading and learning from books to a wider audience. Books needn’t be boring or prose heavy anymore. Books can be written as a series of letters, or in a chronological series of slam poems, and still make a lasting impact on the reader’s mind.

I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark…

Xiomara, from The Poet X

This is Xiomara’s story, but also the story of a lot of teenage girls. Xiomara has a lot of questions – about feminism and her faith. She has a lot of struggles – mostly with her absent father and her very strict mother. She has a best friend who couldn’t be more different than her, but supports her unconditionally. She has a twin brother who has secrets and struggles of his own but loves her. And then she has Aman, her love, who is full of flaws, but knows what Xiomara’s strengths are. But most importantly, she has her words. And through her words, her poems, she finds her place in the world, and fights, like the warrior she is meant to be.

I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to girls trying to find their place and voice in a society full of expectations and obligations.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Ju : Thoughts

Bookish Discussion:

Do you identify yourself as a feminist? If yes, do you think its relevant to read feminist books from across the world? Do you also think that fiction, supported by actual data is the best way to be informed about the challenges faced by minorities, globally?

Thoughts on Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982:

What a coincidence! I was born in 1982 as well. And for a while, when reading this book, I actually wondered if Kim Jiyoung change her name and country? Because this narrative feels too close to my own reality, or the reality of many Indian working mothers that I know as well!

There’s this movie on Netflix, that’s been all the rage recently. The Social Dilemma. It’s categorised as a docu-drama. Which means, the story is taken forward by fictional characters, but its supported by actual facts and data. Which is what made it so impactful to the viewers. Because they could believe this. Because they realised, this movie was about them.

I wonder if books have a similar classification. Because, although this book is classified as fiction, throughout the story the author has supported the narration with actual referenced facts. Forget the referencing also for a second. As a reader, and a working woman, you’ll know, that this book is far from fiction. It’s non-fiction, because I’m 100% sure, all of us have gone through something like this in our lifetime.

The discrimination mentioned in this book isn’t one that’s in your face, where women are not allowed to go to school or marry the one they love. It’s more subtle, but equally crippling. It’s in the fact that even educated parents want a boy, despite having a daughter already. It’s in the fact that girls are are nudged to help with household chores to help mama, along with their studies and that boys are nudged to be the sole financial providers for the family, even if they have no interest in studying or would prefer to help in the kitchen. It’s in the fact that we have to hide the fact that we’re having our periods and that the cramps are real and bloody uncomfortable. It’s in the fact that a boy decided it was perfectly acceptable to stalk you because you ‘smiled’ at him a few times. It’s in the fact that employers subconsciously look over women for higher positions, because one day they’ll get pregnant and go on maternity leave and that’s such a hassle for business. It’s in the fact that women will be judged, for having a coffee at work if they’ve left their babies at daycare, or having a coffee if they’re a stay at home mom. Period. It’s in a lot of these little, persistent facts.

This book has been translated from Korean to English and Im glad it was translated, so I could feel a sense of kinship with the Korean women and know, that the battle for equality and equal rights, the battle against subtle sexism at home, school and workplace, is not restricted to my own country, but is a global issue. I felt a sense of solidarity with Kim Jiyoung, when I finished this book.

A short book just over 150 pages long, I recommend this highly. Thank you Mansi @ I was Thinking.. for recommending this gem of a book to me 🙂

Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu – Thoughts

Bookish Discussion:

Are you reading your way through the JCB Longlist 2020 titles as well? If yes, which book has been your favorite so far?

Chosen Spirits – My Thoughts

I’m slowly making my way through the JCB Longlist 2020 titles, and this will be my third book from the list. Considering that the shortlist will be out just on 25th September, I know I’m woefully behind in trying to finish all the books before the shortlist is out. Some of the books I really want to read, irrespective of whether they make it to the shortlist or not. But some, I probably won’t mind skipping if they don’t make it to the shortlist.

Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu, is a dystopian story, set in New Delhi many years in the future. In the book, events referenced from true events that took place during the NRC/CAB protests in India are talked about as a thing of the past. But other than the fact that technology has advanced, and that people are hooked to social media and documenting their lives via Flows (similar to Vlogs I thought), politically and socially, nothing has improved. In fact, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse, with the gap between the privileged rich and the discriminated/minority poor increasing.

I absolutely loved the futuristic world building in Samit Basu’s story. The smarttatts actually gave me a phantom itch on my wrist and Narad (a personal voice mobile assistant like Alexa or Siri) annoyed the hell out of me. People are tracked and monitored constantly. But the environment in Delhi had gone from bad to unliveable. Rich people lived in insulated homes with artificial air purifiers, while the poor were left to the dumps, as always. The politicians still banked on religion to create the divide and rule policy, but now they were tech savvy and used technology to influence and control people and their power. Everything about this futuristic world made me shudder and I pictured a very Ready Player One kind of dusty setting in my mind. I didn’t want to live in a world like this, I thought.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style too. It takes a little bit of time and effort to get accustomed to the sci-fi jargons, but once you’ve got it, its a fast paced narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to end.

My only disappointment with this book was the character arcs which left to a lot of unanswered plot lines. Some characters who had a lot of narrative time in the beginning of the book, were dumped suddenly. Whereas, new characters who would play a pivotal role towards the ending of the story, were introduced too late in the book. The only character I could feel for was Zoey. I wanted to know more about what happened to Indi, or if Chopra got caught. I wanted more scenes with Uma and Zaria. And Rudra was the biggest disappointment for me in terms of the characters in the story.

I think most of the readers have already reached out to the author to release a sequel to the book, narrated by Zaria, tackling all the questions we have. I for one will surely read that 😉 I hope Samit Basu is reading this..heheh 🙂

I would recommend this book, for its entertaining and refreshing style of writing and context, and the fact that its a dystopia without a sad ending. From the longest titles that I’ve read so far, I’m ranking this second to Djinn Patrol, which is first on my ranking list :).

Stay at Home Series – Episode 7 : Conversations with Family

Let me give you a little background first. Us Indians usually have big families. Earlier, not pre-covid times, but many years back, all of the family members used to live together. We called this joint family. Yes, completely useless for concepts like peace of mind and personal space and privacy, but super great for receiving lots of love and support. But then the kids got smarter or selfish, whichever way you want to put it, moved out and formed smaller nuclear families. We would still meet the ‘full extended family’ on festivals and occasions like marriage.

Now there are no festivals and no large scale marriages, no thanks to Mr. Covid. So most of us are stuck with our nuclear families, locked in, inside our little homes. However, there are some lucky ones like moi, who traveled, nuclear family and precious work laptops in tow, to their hometown. Because – work from home, and I was missing mom.

It struck me one day, that I haven’t had a face to face and FaceTime conversation with my whole family at the same time, in the longest time. And now, it has become the norm. Every Sunday morning.

Mom: “What did you eat today?”

Sis on FaceTime: “Umm, Coffee, Vitamin water, eggs, a packet of chips, jerkies..So, how’s it going there big sis?”

Me: “Same as yesterday. Same as tomorrow. I’m actually doing pretty good all things considered.”

Four year old: “Mummy, look! look! Look at this vi-di-yo!! Look mummy! Look!”

Me: “Arey what do you want me to look at? Can’t you wait till I finish talking to your auntie?”

Husband: “Chew faster! How much time can a person take to chew and swallow chocos?”

Four year old: CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP..”Look Papa, I’m trying-uh!!”

Cousin sis: “What are you watching these days?”

Sis: “I’ve finished watching all the shows on this planet. Now I’m watching news. I cant decide whether to be depressed or hysterical at this point. What are you guys watching?”

Cousin sis: “Umm, you know, the usual. A mix of mom’s Hindi drama serial, The Boys on Prime and Disney Princess movies…”

Husband: “How’s it in your country?”

Sis: “What do you mean? Are you asking about the pandemic, or the racism, or the hurricanes or the fires?”

Me: “We used to think your country tops the conspiracy theorists chart. But now we have suicide and pandemic conspiracy theories. We might be heading into war soon. Can’t say which tension is greater though. The one with the actors or the one at the border or the one that’s omnipresent..Not God, I meant, the virus.”

Husband: “Your sister always had a knack for being over dramatic.”

Sis: “Where did mom go?”

Mom: “Arey, you all were discussing things, so I went to do my puja. So, what will you eat for lunch? I’m making Chicken Biryani for lunch today. We’re missing you. When will you be able to come here, like your sister?”

Sis: “Mom, I don’t know when I can come. Between the virus and the visa situation, I have no idea. Maybe next year.”

Cousin sis: “They’re saying next year will be worse. Come now, so we can all have the never-ending discussions about food and menu. LOL”

Four year old: “My favorite food is Noodles!! Mummy, LOOK!! Look at Elsa’s dress! This is the one I was talkin’ about! LOOK MUMMY!!”

Me: “Yes yes, I’m looking! Yes, very pretty..beautiful!”

Me: “So, what else?”

Sis: “Gosh don’t bore me dude”

Husband: Secretly smiling and rolling eyes

Mom: “Today your aunt is making dahi vadas. She said if you had been here, it wouldve been so good. You should give her a call. These days are so unpredictable. So what will you cook for dinner? Don’t eat chips. That’s not food. Why don’t you cook like your auntie’s son, you cousin brothers? They live alone too, but look, how nice they’re cooking and putting pictures on Facebook. “

Me: “Yes sis, why aren’t you cooking, dude?” <Evil elder sis dialogue>

Sis: “I’ll kill you”

Husband: “Any news on the vaccine in your country?”

Me: “I doubt she is keeping track of the vaccine news.”

Sis: “Guys, I gotta go. I need to fill my timesheets. Talk later.” Bee Bop.

Mom: “So, Chicken Biryani for lunch, or should I make something else with it? What about some caramel custard?”

Me: “Or we could just go and get ice cream?”

Mom: “Hau!!! No one is going to go out! And Ice cream?!! During the pandemic? You’ll catch a cold!! These ridiculous, useless children of mine.”

Cousin sis: “Are we going to drink tonight?”

And the conversation carries on and on and on… 😀

I hope you enjoyed this unassuming post on a very generic conversation and could relate to parts of it 🙂 I’d love to hear about your conversations with families (if they’re not private that is), in the comments below 🙂

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – Thoughts

“They trained her to win the war. She intended to end it….”

I’m trying hard to get over The Poppy War, and move on to my next book. I thought I might need to read something fluffy or light but I’m just not feeling it, after finishing this book.

Bookish Discussion:

Ever learned history from a fiction or fantasy book?

Thoughts on The Poppy War:

I just have to get it out there. I loved it. The first book of a trilogy was brilliant in the way the author uses actual historic events and places and creates a fantastic fantasy and action packed story. I also have to say, that this book is not for the faint hearted. It is going to break your heart.

Trigger Warnings: Avoid chapter 21 if you need. Violence, gore, rape, substance abuse, pain therapy, racism.

In The Poppy War, Rin (Fang Runin), a war orphan, struggles to escape her abusive foster parents and impending marriage by trying to get into the most prestigious military training school at Sinegard. Little does she know, that getting a place in Sinegard will just be the beginning of her struggles and in her quest for justice, power and revenge. War has broken out between the Muganese Federation Army and the Nikan republic and it will take everything Rin has, to win this war.

I think since the author wrote the first book when she was very young, I will not be commenting on the writing style. Instead, I want to talk about history. In most of the historic studies, including my own Asian-Indian history books, we never read about the second Sino-Japanese war that started in 1937 and ended in 1945, with the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We all read about the defeat of the Nazis and the bombing. But we hadn’t read or learned about what is termed as the Asian holocaust that resulted in millions of civilian lives lost as an outcome of the Sino-Japanese war. Both sides wrecked havoc on innocent civilians.

I have learned a lot now, as a direct result of researching the history on this war, based on the author’s reading recommendations and notes on which chapters were influenced by which part of the historic war. It’s just brilliant that I learned so much about a subject that I usually find boring, because one woman decided to write about it as a fantasy story. I simply cant stop gushing enough.

There are a lot of references to Chinese culture in the book as well. Descriptions of locations in the book such as Sinegard, Khurdalain, Golyn Niis, are based on real places in China such as Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing.

The politics in the book regarding the unrest between the Warlords of the different provinces is also based on actual historic facts.

I also admired the fact that the book touches upon class and race differences within China and how racism on the basis of skin colour is a global fight. No matter how talented you are, if you’re a minority, you’re bound to be discriminated against. I loved how Rin fights all the odds against her. Yes, many readers might think she seems to be a super girl, a morally grey one at that. But when you reach rock bottom, there’s only one way to go – and that’s up.

There were a lot of characters introduced in the first book, and I was able to connect with Kitay, Altan, Rin and Jiang the most. But I’m sure all the other characters like the Cike gang, Venka and Nezha are going to get more space in the next books in the series and I can’t wait to dive into The Dragon Republic next. In the first book, my two favourites were Jiang and Kitay. Jiang because I just loved the goofy, unreliable professor. And Kitay, because I recognised a lot of myself in him.

I hope a lot of readers pick up this book and appreciate what the author has tried to do with this trilogy. But if you decide not to, then what can I say..your loss 🙂

Darius the Great is not OK by Adib Khorram – Thoughts

Bookish Discussion:

Have you ever felt like an outsider all the time? Like you could be an alien living on planet Earth, because no one understands you, or your feelings?

Do you feel sad, for ‘supposedly’ no reason?

Thoughts on Darius the Great is not OK:

First of all, I have to thank my friend Jayati for recommending this gem of a book to me. I wouldve never come across this book, had it not been for her screaming love for the book. Do check out her blog and review on why you should read Darius the Great is no OK, here 🙂

I absolutely loved this book. And I immediately recommended it to another very dear friend, because like Darius, she loves her tea and Star Trek. And like Darius, she is a gem of a person. I have highlighted so many sections in the book. The story made me laugh, because of the way Darius thinks. I think all book lovers will be able to relate, because he thinks in book terms. He thinks in Lord of the Rings and Star Trek language all the time and it completely cracked me up! Because I think in book terms too. From any recent book that I read and loved!

The other great thing about this story are the various relationships that Darius has. They all read so positive. Flawed but positive. There isn’t a romantic angle in the first book, but we get some hints about Darius questioning his sexuality. Maybe in the second book we will see more of Darius’s love interest. But I really loved his platonic relationship with Sohrab. His father-son dynamics with his father. His brotherly love for his younger sister Laleh. His love for the sweetest grandmother who he meets for the first time. His awkward yet loving and respectful relationship with his grandfather. I just lapped it all up.

But this book is not about relationships. It is about a sweet boy dealing with depression. I think most people who are either brought up in the Eastern countries or have some roots from here, will hear this at least once in their lifetime. There is no such thing as mental illness, or anxiety or depression. It’s all in your head. It is in our head alright, but it isn’t something one can fix by being different. Trust me, its really hard. And it is harder when friends and family don’t understand it, or don’t get your being sad for ‘no reason at all’. But on the other hand, we also see from Sohrab’s perspective, how hard just living is, in many of these countries. When one can be killed or jailed just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Through both Darius and Sohrab, we see the power of friendship and being there for each other.

Finally, I loved all the touristy details about Iran and its cuisine mentioned in the book. I googled it all, because I have no idea if I’ll ever get to visit Iran in this lifetime. And I sure ate a lot of chips, while reading and googling about all the delicacies mentioned in the story. Yummm! 🙂

I rate this book high on my list this year, and like Jayati, I think this book should be read. Especially if you’re someone who is struggling with mental health and always feels like an outsider.

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert – Thoughts

Bookish Discussion:

Do you read romances, or do you skip this genre altogether calling it fluff, or chicklit or books for girls, or unrealistic books?

Thoughts on Get A Life, Chloe Brown..

There was a time when I used to read a lot of romances. But that was almost a decade back. And all we had in the market then were the Mills and Boons romances with the stereotypical story line – a pretty and demure girl, a moody, broody and rich man. The two meet, problems happen, somehow the misunderstood man saves the pretty and poor girl and falls in love with her and they all live happily ever after. I used to still lap up those romances. Until I had a glimpse of love in the real life and got sick of the Mills and Boons books.

And so, I’m really glad that I decided to try out some highly recommended romances like this one. First of all, calling this book a romance or chicklit novel would be like giving a hard working employee a low rating just because they didn’t show off enough. I would call stories like these, light hearted stories on real people dealing with real issues, learning how to cope with relationships in the real world.

Our two protagonists are vulnerable and not your typical couple.

Chloe Brown, the eldest of the Brown sisters has been suffering from an illness called Fibromyalgia, which results in chronic fatigue and pain. Due to this she ends up struggling with weight issues and not having a normal social life. Add in a toxic relationship with her ex boyfriend, who was clearly an ass, and you know she doesn’t have it easy. But yet, she’s a fighter. And she wants to make her life better. So she makes a list..

Redford Morgan (Red), is a red haired tattooed towering hunk of a man. But he’s not rich and he’s not a a popular guy. What he is though, is kind, vulnerable, extremely helpful and empathetic of other people’s pain and a very talented painter. He is also coming out of a toxic relationship, when he meets Chloe and his world changes.

I really enjoyed the to and fro dialogues between Chloe and Red and I really loved Chloe’s family too. The next two books in the Brown sister romances features the other two sisters – Dani and Eve, and I can’t wait to read them too.

I liked the fact that Chloe’s illness is not shown in a derogatory manner or as a physical disability for the characters themselves. It is how the society perceives people with illnesses such as Chloe’s or Red’s mom who has diabetes. But we never see that being a problem for either Chloe or Red. I loved how both of them help the other come out of their previous toxic relationships and see how wonderful they actually are and give being in a relationship a chance.

So, I hope, I managed to convince you not to skip romances altogether, and give books like these a chance 🙂 If nothing else, they’ll make you smile and feel happy in these trying times 🙂

My TBR for ‘The Coffee Readathon’

Joining in on readathons with like minded and really cool readers is a great way to enjoy and get more from your reading life. One of my friends Jayati is hosting ‘The Coffee Readathon‘, and since I love my coffee, I thought this was a cool way to read all the books I’ve been receiving as part of my pre-orders and recent orders! If you’re interested in joining in, check out the details of the readathon here 🙂 I do hope you join in. The more, the merrier!

So here’s my TBR (proposed TBR) for the prompts of the Readathon. I’ll write a wrap up post at the end of September to see if I managed to read all the books I’ve listed, or changed any, or read more or less 🙂

LATTE: Lattes being the most popular coffee drink, read a hyped book 

ICED COFFEE: A summer read and Iced Coffee is the perfect combination!

TURKISH COFFEE: A traditional coffee with special preparation, read a book written by an author of middle eastern origin

ESPRESSO ROMANO: A coffee with a lemon flavour, read a book with a unique plot

CAFE CREMA: Uncommon in cafe menus, read a book with less than 750 ratings on Goodreads 

CAFE CON LECHE: Common drink in the hispanic communities around the world, read a book written by a Latinx author 

VIETNAMESE  ICED COFFEE: An Asian invention, read a book set in Asia

So, what do you guys think of my list? Are any of these books in your list too? I think I might stick to this list more or less since I have copies of most of these books already, unless I get influenced by other readers and pick up something else 😀

I also think this will be all of my September reading too and it’ll take a miracle and some magic to get me the time to read all of these books but I really do want to read all of these books!! 🙂 So excited for September!

A Burning by Megha Majumdar – Thoughts

Bookish Discussion:

Keeping in form with my change of review style, here’s my first question to readers. What do you call a genre that is fiction, but could also be non-fiction. That sounds dystopian, but is also a reality? Have you read such a book and shuddered?

Thoughts on ‘A Burning’:

A Burning by Megha Majumdar – a debut novel by a POC author, was the book club pick by Books On Toast’s online book club, for the month of August. I bought this beautiful edition of the book from an independent book seller online. And when I settled into reading this book, I felt quite satisfied with myself for having checked off a lot of boxes and being a responsible reader. Until I finished the book, and felt gut-punched.

The story revolves around three protagonists – Jivan – the Muslim girl who is jailed for allegedly being in arms with terrorists, Lovely – a transgender (Hijra in colloquial term) who wants to make it big as an actress and PT Sir – A physical education teacher in an all girl’s school who has nationalistic traits and dreams of a better life. A spur of the moment, innocent comment on Facebook by Jivan, spurs a series of events that brings these three characters together, and through Megha’s extremely easy going narrative style, we follow the lives and decisions of the three characters.

I do have to warn readers about some trigger warnings – regarding murder and rape. These are not graphic, but they’re a part of the larger narrative. At the core of the story is the ongoing discrimination that is present today with regards to Islamophobia and how easy it is to ‘catch a criminal’ via social media. Even while reading the book, and writing this review, I feel afraid of being monitored by someone who might not like what I’ve written. People might think that because I liked a book that talks about the most sensitive subject in the country, I’m against the country or have anti-nationalistic sentiments. In a time when we are seeing clear polarisation of views and have leaders who bank on this religious polarisation, drawing a leaf from historic tactics like divide and rule, it is important that such books are written and published and read and appreciated.

It is important that readers like us read such books and acknowledge that what is written is actually not fiction, but has happened, multiple times in the country. And nothing ever changes. What will it take to change such injustice in the world? What will it take for leaders to stop using religion and poverty to gain power? I absolutely loved this book, which was quite similar in its messaging, as another favorite this year – Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, which was also a debut. This is not a happy book though. So please pick this up, only if you’re in a frame of mind where you can digest and accept the hidden truth within the story in this book.

Another 5/5 rated book for me! 🙂

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – Thoughts

Book Discussion:

How did you find The Testaments in comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale? I really respect Margaret Atwood as an author and I do think she deserved the Booker Award. But I just wish she had been awarded that for The Handmaid’s Tale instead of The Testaments.

Thoughts on The Testaments:

I was debating between a 3 and a 4 star rating for the sequel for The Handmaid’s Tale. I wanted to give the book a 4 star because I was a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale and really like Margaret Atwood’s style of writing and the audiobook narration was absolutely superb. But the story..well, if I’m honest, there is nothing new to the story than what we already knew from The Handmaid’s Tale.

I felt that as Margaret Atwood herself mentions in the end credits, this book was written as an afterthought, to answer all the fan’s questions from The Handmaid’s Tale. As a dedication to the fans and readers of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Narrated by: Margaret Atwood, Ann Dowd, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mae Whitman, Derek Jacobi, Tantoo Cardinal

The story takes a look at some pertinent questions that was in all our minds at the end of the first book. What happens to Offred? What happens to Gilead? Who started the May Day operation and who was their source? You get some pre-story too. How the first aunts came into being. How Ardua Hall came into being. I actually really enjoyed all the parts that were narrated by Aunt Lydia’s character. But other than her, I felt like the remaining characters were about average. I couldn’t feel their pain or their fear. Maybe Becca/Aunt Immortal was another exception in this regards.

I enjoyed it nevertheless, but to truly enjoy The Testaments, I think you need to read The Handmaid’s Tale first and read The Testaments as a supplementary book, to help you get some closure to the horror from the previous book.

I read both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments on audiobook and I highly recommend it on audiobooks since I really loved all the narration by the actors, that help you really get immersed in the story which makes it very believable.