Book Review: Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I started this book with no preconceived notions as I had never heard of this book or watched the movie before picking it up from the library shelf. So it was just a casual read. From the cover and the name, I expected a clichéd, cheesy romance story. However I am glad to announce that I was proved wrong. This book, in no way portrays a romance between the two main characters. So along with a book review, you also get a lesson of “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk (and Anouk’s imaginary pet rabbit) are wanderers who have spent their lives travelling place to place, never staying at one place for too long. On Mardi Gras, they stumble upon a quaint little French town, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes attracted by the beautiful festivities. They rather enjoy themselves at the festival and decide to stay. Vianne rents a bakery and transforms it into a charming chocolate shop, something unheard of in the town. These two turn heads and invite curiosity and hostility from the nosey townspeople. Vianne sparks the wrath of the village priest, Father Reynaud, who thinks that opening such a shop right in front of his church, in the month of Lent, a time of fasting, is an insult, and a menace, to religion. He also doesn’t approve of Vianne because of her refusal to attend church or confession, and convinces some of his parishioners to stay away from the “evil” chocolate shop.

He believes Vianne is some kind of a witch or sorcerer who was a threat to the Church and the people’s faith. Whether Vianne does  have any supernatural powers or could perform magic, is never clarified, she denies any mention of it.

“I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crashing among the hazels and nougatines”

A little bit of magic, good people, bad people, gypsies, little songs in French, an imaginary friend, love, loss, mystery and more chocolate drink than I could have imagined; this is a fascinating book.

You NEED to have a ready supply of chocolates when you read this book. 

The descriptions will make you yearn for chocolates and hot chocolate drinks. That’s a guarantee because I don’t even love chocolates that much, but still I had unbearable cravings.

The story alternates between the first person narratives of Vianne and  Père Reynaud. Most chapters tell Vianne’s story, but some are told through the eyes of Reynaud, as he speaks of his fear, desires and crimes to someone only referred to as “mon père”. This allows the readers to understand the two characters and their complex personalities and opposing opinions more intimately.

An aspect I really loved about this book was that the minor characters and the sub-plots were as 3-dimensional as the major ones. The sub-plots were beautifully interwoven with the main plot and were relevant to the development to the story. Each and every character was well rounded and memorable.

The ending of the book is not conclusive and left open to interpretation. You are left wondering what Vianne and Anouk’s decision would be – another adventure or stability at Lansquenet?

“Places do not lose their identity, however far one travels. It is the heart that begins to erode over time. The face in the hotel mirror seems blurred some mornings, as if by too many casual looks. By ten the sheets will be laundered, the carpet swept. The names on the hotel registers change as we pass. We leave no trace as we pass on. Ghostlike, we cast no shadow.”

 

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BEST READS 2017

As the year comes to an end, I look back to the books I read this year. First of all I am really happy I met, no, surpassed my goal of reading 45 books by actually reading 51 books.

To say that it was difficult choosing 10 books out of the beautiful bunch would be an understatement. It was gruelling and arduous. Many times I almost gave up because I CAN’T CHOOSE BETWEEN MY BABIES!! But after weeks of deliberation and indecision, here are the top 10 reads of 2017 (not in order).

1) EM AND THE BIG HOOM by Jerry Pinto

“I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to deal with the world. It seemed too big and demanding and there was no fixed syllabus.”

In a one-bedroom-hall-kitchen in Mahim, Bombay, through the last decades of the twentieth century, lived four love-battered Mendeses: mother, father, son and daughter. Between Em, the mother, driven frequently to hospital after her failed suicide attempts, and The Big Hoom, the father, trying to hold things together as best he could, they tried to be a family. Goodreads: Em and the Big Hoom

2) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

“Atticus, he was real nice.”

“Most people are, Scot, when you finally see them.”

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic. Goodreads: To Kill A Mockingbird

3) MACBETH by William Shakespeare

“By the prickling of my thumb,

Something wicked this way comes.”

Goodreads: Macbeth

4) WONDER by R. J. Palacio

I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances? Goodreads: Wonder

5) MUNNU: A BOY FROM KASHMIR by Malik Sajad

“Basically, no one’s really counted the dead. You can always bargain with the statistics. Give or take. Give or take. You know?”

A beautifully drawn graphic novel that illuminates the conflicted land of Kashmir, through a young boy’s childhood.
Seven-year-old Munnu is growing up in Indian-administered Kashmir. Life revolves around his family: Mama, Papa, sister Shahnaz, brothers Adil and Akhtar and, his favourite, older brother Bilal. It also revolves around Munnu’s two favourite things – sugar and drawing.

Munnu is an amazingly personal insight into everyday life in Kashmir. Closely based on Malik Sajad’s own childhood and experiences, it is a beautiful, evocatively drawn graphic novel that questions every aspect of the Kashmir situation – the faults and responsibilities of every side, the history of the region, the role of Britain and the West, the possibilities for the future. It opens up the story of this contested and conflicted land, while also giving a brilliantly close, funny and warm-hearted portrait of a boy’s childhood and coming-of-age. Goodreads: Munnu: A boy from Kashmir

6) HAMLET by William Shalespeare

“One may smile, and smile, and still be a villain.”

Goodreads: Hamlet

7) THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde

“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Goodreads: The Picture of Dorian Gray

8) THE BASTARD OF INSTANBUL by Elif Shafak

“Imagination was a dangerously captivating magic for those compelled to be realistic in life, and words could be poisonous for those destined always to be silenced.”

In her second novel written in English, Elif Shafak confronts her country’s violent past in a vivid and colorful tale set in both Turkey and the United States. At its center is the “bastard” of the title, Asya, a nineteen-year-old woman who loves Johnny Cash and the French Existentialists, and the four sisters of the Kazanci family who all live together in an extended household in Istanbul: Zehila, the zestful, headstrong youngest sister who runs a tattoo parlor and is Asya’s mother; Banu, who has newly discovered herself as a clairvoyant; Cevriye, a widowed high school teacher; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. Their one estranged brother lives in Arizona with his wife and her Armenian daughter, Armanoush. When Armanoush secretly flies to Istanbul in search of her identity, she finds the Kazanci sisters and becomes fast friends with Asya. A secret is uncovered that links the two families and ties them to the 1915 Armenian deportations and massacres. Full of vigorous, unforgettable female characters, The Bastard of Istanbul is a bold, powerful tale that will confirm Shafak as a rising star of international fiction. Goodreads: The Bastard of Istanbul

9) THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train.. Goodreads: The Girl on the Train

10) THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES by Agatha Christe

“Instinct is a marvellous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.”

In her first published mystery, Agatha Christie introduces readers to the heroic detective, Hercule Poirot. This is a classic murder mystery set in the outskirts of Essex. The victim is the wealthy mistress of Styles Court. The list of suspects is long and includes her gold-digging new spouse and stepsons, her doctor, and her hired companion. Goodreads: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

SPECIAL MENTION

11) THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY by Sujata Massey

“Remember this! It is never an entire people who is cruel; it is merely individuals who exert their will on others.”

YOU ASK FOR MY NAME, THE REAL ONE, AND I CANNOT TELL. IT IS NOT FOR LACK OF EFFORT.
In 1930, a great ocean wave blots out a Bengali village, leaving only one survivor, a young girl. As a maidservant in a British boarding school, Pom is renamed Sarah and discovers her gift for languages. Her private dreams almost die when she arrives in Kharagpur and is recruited into a secretive, decadent world. Eventually, she lands in Calcutta, renames herself Kamala, and creates a new life rich in books and friends. But although success and even love seem within reach, she remains trapped by what she is . . . and is not. As India struggles to throw off imperial rule, Kamala uses her hard-won skills—for secrecy, languages, and reading the unspoken gestures of those around her—to fight for her country’s freedom and her own happiness. Goodreads: The Sleeping Dictionary

Book Review: Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto


It’s a book dealing with a scary subject, mental illness. The narrator of the book lives in a one bedroom house with his depressed, beedhi smoking mother, Em, who is frequently rushed to the hospital because of her repeated suicide attempts, dependable father, the Big Hoom, who tries to hold the family together as best as he can, and quite elder sister, Susan. This books paints a painful picture of the lives of a depressed person and her dysfunctional family. 

This is one of those books that touch you so profoundly that you just sit there, staring at the last words and gently caressing the page, everything else forgotten. 

At times it was so difficult to believe that this is fiction, not a memoir, for the emotions were so deep and so real. This books twists your insides and forms lumps in your throat, but leaves a warm glow in your heart when you finally finish it. 

It is going to take some time to recover from the hangover this book has given me.

Everyone should read this!

The Hunger Games Trilogy

**SPOILER ALERT**

I bought all three books in the series at once, and I am so glad I did! I started reading the next one as soon as I was done with the first.

Just think of all the things that make your heart ache, make you love, fill your heart with contentment, make you smile through the tears, make you cry your heart out and give you a new perspective. That’s my experience with The Hunger Games in short.

“The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the Mockingjay. The one that survived despite the Capitol’s plans. The symbol of the rebellion.”

The characters in these books wrestle with death at every single second,  they are forced to make horrible choices, and yes these books are quite dark in places, but overall, I LOVED this series. Loved it from the first to the last word.

“Winning means fame and fortune.
Losing means certain death.
The Hunger Games have begun…”

Katniss is skillfully described, with her sense of survival and her inner demons created by it. She volunteers for the Hunger Games to spare her twelve year old sister Prim. This is unheard-of and most likely suicidal. But she survives, and so does her fellow tribute Peeta. Little does she realize that her small act of defying the Capitol by almost eating the nightlocks, would start a rebellion in the districts, and she will be the mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion.

In the second book, President Snow is trying to come up with every possible way to stop the rebellion, to eliminate Katniss. From visiting her in 12 to announcing the Quater Quell where the tributes will be chosen from the old victors, he is leaving no stone unturned. When Peeta volunteers to be the tribute instead of Haymitch, Katniss is more determined to save Peeta rather than herself. However, throughout the Quater Quell, Katniss and Peeta remain unaware of the fact that half of the tributes are trying to keep them alive, keep the revolution alive.

The revolution continues through the third book. District 13 exists.

The series does leave me shattered to pieces at various places – like when Rue dies, Cinna’s sacrifice, Finnick’s death and not to forget, Prim’s death.

“Far below, I can just make out Finnick, struggling to hang on as three mutts tear at him. As one yanks back his head to take the death bite, something bizarre happens. It’s as if I’m Finnick, watching images of my life flash by. The mast of a boat, a silver parachute, Mags laughing, a pink sky, Beetee’s trident, Annie in her wedding dress, waves breaking over rocks. Then it’s over.”–Well I cried cried and cried for Finnick and still have a real soft spot for him. I feel sorry and sad for Annie and their son. But then I’m forced to realize and accept the fact that that is what life is. It can never be perfect and more or less or one way or another we are always suffering. And Finnick and Annie’s marraige put a stop to their big miseries for a while but then Finnick’s death started them again cause nothing lasts forever and life is cruel.

I cried my soul out when Prim died. I couldn’t believe that the person to save whom the story had actually begun, was dead. I had to re read the part to be sure that this was really true. But the time when I actually felt my heart shatter to pieces was when Katniss told Buttercup about Prim’s death.

“She’s not here,” I tell him. Buttercup hisses again. “She’s not here. You can hiss all you like. You won’t find Prim.”
At her name, he perks up. Raises his flattened ears. Begins to meow hopefully.
“Get out!” He dodges the pillow I throw at him. “Go away! There’s nothing left for you here!” I start to shake, furious with him.
“She’s not coming back! She’s never ever coming back here again!” I grab another pillow and get to my feet to improve my aim.
Out of nowhere, the tears begin to pour down my cheeks. “She’s dead, you stupid cat. She’s dead.”
A new sound, part crying, part singing comes out of my body, giving voice to my despair.
Buttercup begins to wail as well. No matter what I do, he won’t go.
He circles me, just out of reach, as wave after wave of sobs racks my body, until eventually I fall unconscious. But he must understand. He must know that the unthinkable has happened and to survive will require previously unthinkable actes.
Because hours later, when I come to in my bed, he’s there in the moonlight. Crouched beside me, yellow eyes alert, guarding me from the night.”

Also, the last paragraph before the epilogue when she talks about Gale’s fire, “kindled with rage and hatred” how she had enough of her own and how what she needed to survive was the dandelion in the spring.

“The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that So after, when he whispers, “You love me. Real or not real?” I tell him, “Real.”— I lost it there. I couldn’t even see through my tears.

Katniss is damaged more and more as the story progresses–the end of the trilogy is satisfying at the same time it is real. The series is thought-provoking and its impact will be with me forever.

BOOK REVIEW – Horrible Histories: Rotten Rulers

I have read many of the books in the Horrible series-Horrible Science and Horrible Histories.

This book Horrible Histories-Rotten Rulers is about the terrible and “rotten” rulers that the world has had.

“Some of the most horrible people in history have been the people in charge. The bosses. The rulers. The emperors, kings and queens, warlords and… not to forget History Teachers :P”

This book talks about all of them… horrid, cruel, selfish rulers.

Mad… mad…MAD rulers!!!!

Now here’s a nice example:

King Ott of Bavaria(1848 – 1913). He was mad. He believed the best way to Stop himself going mad was to shoot a peasant everyday!! At the beginning he missed the shoot. But then he started to get better with his aim… His ministers came with clever plan- they would load the king’s pistol with blanks and then the peasants will have to play dead when they heard the shoots.

Rotten rulers who made up some pretty rotten rules…

Emperor Li Yaun Ho was a Tibetan chief. Li wanted his men to look different from the other Chinese, so he ordered them to shave their heads except for a fringe at the front. They had three days to comply, after which they would be executed. Sort of chop or be chopped.

Foodie Rotten rulers with rotten tastes…

 Emperor Shih Hu of China( ruled AD 334-349)

Lots of men like to take woman friends out for dinner… Emperor Shih Hu liked to have a girlfriend for dinner too. The difference with Shih Hu’s girlfriend was that she WAS the dinner.   At a big feast he would have a girl beheaded and cooked. Then her head was passed around the table. He wanted to show his guests how lucky they were. He was saying: “ See? I din’t serve up an ugly one. You are eating one of the prettiest of all my girls. You are lucky.”

These are some of the Rotten rulers… many others are mentioned in the book…some really rotten rulers!!!

I loved this book (not mentioning the rotten food habits of the rulers… they caused me stomach upsets…)

BOOK REVIEW: The Famous Five #6- Five on Kirrin Island Again

The Famous Five is a fictional series written by Enid Blyton.  This is a mystery sequel. The four detectives – George, Anne, Julian and Dick solve many mysteries together, and of course not forgetting their beloved companion and pet Timothy.

Georgina, or I’d rather call her George, always wanted to be a boy instead.  She wore curly hair short and had gleaming blue eyes. Timothy was George’s dog, whom she loved with all her heart. He was a big scruffy brown mongrel dog, with a ridiculously long tail, and a wide mouth that really seemed to smile. All the four cousins loved him. He was so friendly and loving, so lively and amusing, and he had shared so very much adventures with them all. The five of them had had many happy times together.

This novel is another adventure that the five had during their holidays. The four went to boarding school, Anne and George in one and Julian and Dick in the other. George’s school allowed the students to keep their own pet. If it had not allowed this, it is quiet certain that George would not have gone to boarding school.

George’s father was a famous scientist. Her mother sends her a letter telling that her father proposes to live on her Kirrin Island for some time in order to finish some of his scientific work. The letter also stated that he would have to have a sort of tower erected there. George considered Kirrin Island as her own and now here was her father waning to borrow it! It once belonged to George’s mother and she had given it to her. Kirrin Island was a little island off Kirrin Bay that belonged to George. It was a tiny place with an old ruined castle in the middle of it: the home of rabbits and gulls and jackdaws.  She and her cousins had had many adventures together in the underground dungeons of the island. When she showed Anne the letter, she tried her best to convince George that her father would need peace and quiet to finish his work. However, George complained that she would not have minded if father himself had asked her for the borrowing of Kirrin Island.

The term ended and the children reached the Kirrin Cottage where George’s mother was there to receive the five at the Kirrin station. They asked Aunt Fanny about their Uncle Quentin. George’s mother told them that she had never seen their uncle so thrilled before. He never told anyone anything while he is at work, except his colleagues. She only knew that it was very very important, and of course that the last part of the experiment needed deep water all around.

They came in sight of the bay. Guarding the entrance to it was the little island topped by the old ruined castle. They looked at the island seeking the building their uncle had made, whatever it was. They saw it easily enough! Rising from the centre of the castle, probably from the castle yard, was a tall thin tower, rather like a lighthouse. At the top was a glass-enclosed room, which glittered in the sun. Her mother looked at George’s disapproving expression and said that it’s very flimsy and temporary thing and it could come down after the work is finished.

The five and Aunt Fanny went down to the island to meet George’s father. They had their lunch and asked Uncle Quentin what his work is about. He won’t tell them anything and he won’t let them visit.

Then they discover that someone is on the island, spying on Uncle Quentin and the plot thickens… Dick suspects the new neighbours who were too much interested in the island and George’s father’s work. Timmy’s bravery and understanding nature saves the day and the spy is caught and Quentin’s work is completed. The tower comes down and the children can now spent the rest of the vacation enjoying the island.

Book Review : THE HORRIBLE SCIENCE SERIES

Horrible Science: : Shocking ElectricityHorrible Science: Killer EnergyHorrible Science Fatal Forces

Horrible Science Sounds Dreadful

Science cannot remain boring and dry and difficult and mind-numbing  if you read the “Horrible Science” Books. The Horrible Science Series is a wonderful collection written by NICK ARNOLD and illustrated by TONY DE SAULLES.

 I have till now read 8of the 28 Horrible Science books like BLOOD, BONES AND BODY BITS ( About our body); CHEMICAL CHAOS (about Chemistry); SHOCKING ELECTRICITY (About electricity); KILLER ENERGY(About energy); FATAL FORCES (About force); SOUNDS DREADFUL(About sound) ; REALLY ROTTEN EXPERIMENTS and FRIGHTING LIGHT (About light and optics).  I love them so much that I wish to read the rest of them too.

The books are written in an interesting, funny, attention-grabbing way by Nick Arnold. The books contain loads and loads of important, amazing and some really horrible facts written in a humorous manner. It makes concepts come alive and shows that science is actually very DRAMATIC. For example when we are reading about our body, the author does not simply list the various organs. Using the story of Frankenstein, he gives us “Instructions” about how to go about creating our owm Monster. That way gives the details of all the important and vital components of our body. I particularly liked the way he described our skin as the birthday suite which comes in various shades and colours. It is such a fantastic suite that repairs itself, grows with us is an armor that protects us from harmful germs and prevents damage by harmful sun rays. It is even sensitive to temperature!!! and adjusts itself according to temperature. Whew!! so much the skin does!!!

 

 

Image Source: Scholastic.ca

I can bet that you do not know which is the heaviest organ in our body!!…..try try…take a guess   🙂 🙂 🙂 …Ok… now don’t cheat….and tell me truthfully what is your answer. Now I will tell you the correct answer is …. our skin!!! Yes, it is such a thin part of our body and yet it the heaviest organ!!! Amazing, isn’t it? 🙂

I read these books thoroughly and ask my parents some astounding questions like “Which is the organ of the body which has no pain receptor ie, the organ which can feel no pain?……Brain!!!! I love it when they are not able to answer my questions. :mrgreen: Information like that makes science interesting! Books like this are great for students because they show students that science is truly interesting and amazing! While these books appear, at first glance, to be quiz/comic/joke books, they’re really full of important and useful information that is also found in regular textbooks. 

The illustrations done by Tony De Saulles add a real finishing touch to the mind-bending books. The book jokes about homework and teachers. The books contain quizzes that make you run through your memory lane and remember the answers that you have so far learnt. The quizzes are really interesting and may bend your brain.

I would like to recommend this series to al those who are having hitch in Science or hate the subject / teacher. For those who are finding it difficult to do Maths or understand History then there is the series of MURDEROUS MATHS and HORRIBLE HISTORY.

You can know more about HORRIBLE SCIENCE on HORRIBLE SCIENCE WEBSITE.