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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HAPPY BLOG BIRTHDAY

Eight years ago I hit the publish button on my very first blog post, not having the slightest idea where it was going to go. I can’t believe I have been doing this for so long. Has it really been that long since I stopped writing short stories on my mother’s blog and we both sat down trying to decide a name for my own blog, ultimately settling on the very innovative ‘Shreeya’s Blog'” I couldn’t be happier that I pushed that button and jumped into a world that I knew nothing about. From writing stories on my mother’s blog to having my own blog, it’s been a long journey. From being “Shreeya’s Blog” to “Absorbed in Words”, this blog has gone through many transformations and has grown into so much more than I had imagined. And I have grown and evolved with it. It has allowed me to grow and given me amazing opportunities which I will forever be grateful for.

So many times in the past 8 years has this little blog almost died, but each time I somehow ended up clicking on the blue WordPress logo and sat up typing away at my keyboard. I am glad that no matter what happened, I didn’t leave this blog to disappear into internet oblivion. From the first ever story I ever wrote, this journey has been a helluva ride and I have loved every moment of it. As go through my blog posts, I realize I have come a long way from being the little girl in school who was too shy to share her blog with her friends, to the present where I feel a huge sense of pride in my ownership of this little corner on the cyberspace. Even though some of the posts you will find here make me cringe inwards, it does not diminish my pride. This is the repository of my evolution, my growth, my blossoming, and I love each and every word that I published here. This blog has helped me overcome my self doubt in multiple ways. I know there is a very very long way to go and I am nowhere near where I want to be at this moment, still the 98 blog posts that I had clocked in the 8 long years do propel me and motivate me to go further, higher. Maybe the next, the 100th blog post will start off the next year with the bang that I need.

Thank you so much to everyone who’s supported me over the past 8 years; from your likes, comments(both online and in person) and any help you’ve given me – I truly appreciate every single thing. I have been able to appreciate some incredible opportunities so far and I can’t wait to see what else my little space on the internet will lead me to. For now, I promise I’m going to try and be more on it with the blog posts again, because I truly do love it.

  And with that, I end my 99th post and this year. See you next year!
Byeeeee! ❤

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

25 BOOKISH FACTS ABOUT ME

So I have seen a lot of BookTubers and bloggers do this tag, and it seemed kind of fun! So I decided to give this a go. Here are 25 bookish facts about me:

1.  I have grown up surrounded by books. Almost everyone in my family loves to read. And my parents would just sit me on their laps and read me fantasy stories. And I owned piles of picture books and short stories collections. Talk about #familygoals, right?

2. The first real novel that I read (not picture book) was the Book of Humor by Ruskin Bond.  I met the man himself when I was in class 3, one summer holiday when we went to Dehradun in Uttarakhand, India. The first novel I ever read was a signed one!! And it is my most prized possession till date.

3. I didn’t read Harry Potter until I was 15. I spent my time dreaming, not of Hogwarts, but Narnia. FOR NARNIA!! FOR ASLAN!!

4. I proudly announce that I JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVERS. Honestly, who doesn’t? If you say you don’t, you’re lying.

5. I used to enjoy reading YA but not anymore. If I come across one more book about a strong, independent female lead, stuck in a complicated love triangle, and single-handedly leading a revolution against a tyrannical ruler, I…I will BANG MY HEAD ON THE WALL. I’m just tired of all this, you know? Spare me the cliches! _/\_

6. I don’t buy that many books. I rarely buy physical books. I currently have membership of 3 libraries, excluding my college library. Also, I own a Kindle (I know, I know, it’s a disputed device. But when you HAVE to have access to books ALWAYS, and your backpack is already so damn heavy, IT’S EASIER TO TAKE A KINDLE TO COLLEGE!) Also, audiobooks are such a blessing.

7. I still enjoy reading children’s books time and again. Enid Blyton, Ruskin Bond, RK Narayan, Roald Dahl. Also, Amar Chitra Kathas are love ❤

8. I am NEVER reading just one book. “Oh yeah, this one I rented from the library” “This one I own, for a change” “This one’s on my Kindle” “I’m currently listening to that one” Like what?

9. I never dog-ear a book or write on one. I use sticky tabs before, but not anymore, it was time consuming to put tabs, and kind of kill the moment especially when I am already engrossed by what was happening in the book I am reading.

10. The first classic I ever read was Heidi (It was ABRIDGED.. A PICTURE BOOK) (The horror) Since it was abridged, I didn’t like it AT ALL. Then years later, I saw the unabridged version while browsing through the library. And that was when I realized how stupid I was. when I read it, I found that Heidi is a pretty amazing book! Other abridged versions that have deceived me are Hound of Baskervilles, Treasure Island and Oliver Twist.

11. I don’t have a favourite genre. I like reading fantasy, adventure, mystery/thriller, contemporary, horror, historical fiction. The only genre I am sick of is paranormal romance (and also the #badboy romances. cringe)

12. Cracked spines make me want to cry.

13.I am a pro at reading in  a moving vehicle and reading while walking. I get a lot of looks of horror for that from people at college, but what can I say? *shrug*

14. I always take a book, wherever I go. Even if there is no chance that I’ll be able to read. But it gives me a kind of comfort just to have one with me at all times.

15. I love making and collecting bookmarks. Although most of the time I just grab anything I can get my hand on (i.e. comb)

16. I sometimes get sick of reading and I don’t read anything for months on an end. Shameful, I know.

17. I am a book sniffer. I love the smell of books, regardless of the fact whether they are new or old. I get high on the smell of books.

18. I love to feel the yellowing paper of old books. I know it’s weird, but that’s just who I am. When I was younger I used to imagine that hardback books with yellowing pages were secret spell books from fantasy books. (I know I am super weird.)

19. The first Harry Potter book that I read was Chamber of Secrets.

20. Whenever people ask me for book recommendations, I generally just forget all the books I ever read and look at them with a blank expression. Ahh.. It’s so frustrating.

21.I love reading classics, unlike a lot of readers. What can I say, I just love the feeling of Old English words in my mouth.

22. I love it when books have maps in them. It makes my heart all giddy giddy.

23. I hardly read any non-fiction. Just can’t focus while reading them. Also I CANNOT understand the obsession over all those “inspirational” books. I enjoy reading biographies though. And as a matter of fact, the book I am currently reading IS an autobiography – Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama. (It’s a self narrated audio-book. And can I just say that Barack Obama is an amazing orator!!!!) (fun fact: This audiobook won a Grammy for spoken word. I DID NOT KNOW THEY HAVE GRAMMYS FOR SPOKEN WORD! Also, Obama is a Grammy winner? wow.)

24. I am not obsessed with the organisation of my books. I just keep my books in whatever way they can all fit in the small space, stacked, double stacked, on top of each other, ANYTHING.

25. I get so emotionally attached with all the books and fictional characters I read. I stay in book hangover for days after I finish reading a really good book.

HOPE

Hope is a silent prayer, the notes of which are born in the breath and die at the lips.

Hope is the silence between two beeps of a heartbeat monitor, and the expectant wait for the next.

Hope is the cold floor when you pull yourself out of bed and wipe away the dried up tears and snot off your face, and get going,  day after day after day.

Hope is the pink dawn and the cool morning breeze, the soft promise of a new beginning.

PAIN AND ITS COLOURS

Pain comes in all colours and shades,
It is always there, looming around the corner;
Turn around and you might catch a glimpse before it fades.
It is a black whirlpool that sucks all joy away;
It is the blood and saliva exploding across the world as she screams;
It is the silent grey of deserted cities and decay,
It is the iridescent colour of shattered glass and broken dreams.
It is the oozing red and the silent tears after a fall,
It is the orange and yellow of a pyre burning bright,
It is the white silence of betrayal, when, for help you call,
It is the dark blue of the long tunnel of struggles you walk, no end in sight.
It is the flash of silver and the blood that follows,
It is the deep purple that consumes you and leaves you hollow

It is a roar, an eclipse – O! Will you ever be whole again?

BREATHE

Self-destruction isn’t just slits on arms and poison and jumping off rooftops, is it? It is in the tear stains on your pillow each morning. It is the faraway look in your eyes. It is the loud music that drowns away your screaming and sobbing. It is lying awake night after night, staring at the ceiling.

 You lock away the pain and the guilt in some far corner of your soul, where no one can see it. You are glass shattered into diamonds. You flash sugary smiles. You’ll carry graveyards on your spine till you can’t handle it anymore and you’ll fall. And the dark circles underneath your eyes will slowly suck your soul in like a black hole.

Life will toss you around like you’re a rag doll and wound you all over. Life will push you around and knock you down over and over again. But knocking the wind out of you is the only way to remind yourself how much you love the taste of air. You’ll feel like you’re caught in a storm, surrounded by destruction and rain. But I’ll tell you, my dear, that a storm’s just excited rain. It’ll soon drain itself out and leave a rainbow in its wake. So stick out your tongue and taste Life’s bittersweet flavour while you still can.

Look up at the sky, at the twinkling stars, so many of them that you’ll run out of numbers before you can finish counting them all. Look at them. Look at the big, vast Universe around us, engulfing us in a dark blue blanket. There is just one of you out there. And you have no right to deprive the universe of the breath taking beauty that is you. You have no right to make the Earth miss the feel of your weight, to make the wind long for the feeling of ruffling through your hair, to snatch away our privilege of hearing your melodious laugh.

The moon sneaks beside you every night and dances upon your face, praying that you’ll still breathe tomorrow, wishing that you’ll outshine his glow the next day. And the day after.

You are precious.

You are loved beyond words.

You are important, because the universe will collapse without you.

So breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Life will be magical again.