The Joy Of January: 5 Books That I Read In The Month #BookReviews

This year started off on a reading high. I completed five books in January 2018 and would have easily finished more than 6 had I not been dividing my attention between 3 to 4 books towards the end of the month. I’ve decided to take my reading journey one step further this year by writing about it on my blog. I have reviewed three out of these five books either on my blog or at other places but the saddest part is that I’ve not yet reviewed the book I liked so much that it has already become one of my most favorite reads of all times. Here, I’ll give a brief description of what each book made me feel, but I definitely plan on writing a detailed review of the other two books soon enough.

Anyway, it has overall been a fun month reading wise. So, let me begin:

  1. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Look at the picture above. All those desserts together would’ve faded before the delicious experience of reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. From the moment you dive into the book, you know that you’re in for a treat-imagine a pleasant train journey across the lush green countryside where the breeze ruffles your hair and you put your face to the window taking in the small cottages, the farms, the children, the domesticated animals; or maybe, a walk upon the dewy wet grass during dawn, when nature is like a child with a paint brush, splashing pinks and blues and purples across the canvas of the sky; or, like a cup of hot cocoa and a cat’s warmth next to you under a fluffy blanket when it is freezing outside. These might be some of the emotions that aptly describe how this book made me feel.

I have a special place in my heart for books which have apparently simple story arcs but the most intricate array of characters creating a fuzzy warmth through their interactions. In my imagination, that warmth somehow travels from the pages of the book and spreads across my heart, like a hug from a close friend. Eleanor Oliphant is one such book for me. Some other such recent reads that come to mind are, A Man Called Ove and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, alright? She lives a life of utmost routine working in the accounts receivable section of a graphics design company, she never misses work and her weekends comprise of a pizza and vodka. She has no friends and thinks Bobbi Brown is actually a person. When someone calls her a Grinch, she replies with a straight face that she is unaware of the pop-culture reference. If you’re a fan of the sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, then you might find Eleanor’s way of communicating a bit similar to Sheldon Cooper. Both have impeccable manners, both do not use abusive languages, and both are a bit lost when it comes to casual social interactions.

However, Eleanor’s story goes deeper than that. What lies behind this apparently tough exterior? When Eleanor’s messy and annoying co-worker, Raymond, somehow stumbles into her life, the layers start peeling off and bit by bit we get a peek into the child inside.

What happened to that child? How did she become the way she is today? And most importantly, is Eleanor Oliphant Completely Fine?

I promise to write a detailed review soon because this book made me feel like hugging the author and whispering in her ears, ‘You don’t know me then how could you understand some of what I feel so well?’

This is a life changing read and I recommend it to everybody. 🙂

2. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

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If you know me, you must be aware of my weakness for psychological thrillers. (Once when I was going through a particularly low phase, I finished almost all of Tana French’s books in one go.) This genre is like my guilty pleasure. I mean, you’ll always catch me reading one or two books from this genre in between my more serious reads. I’ve read a lot of rave reviews about The Couple Next Door. The story is about this couple who joins their neighbours next door for a birthday celebration while leaving their six month old daughter sleeping in their house. Their babysitter cancelled in the last moment and the lady next door had specifically wanted a child free get together. So, the husband, Marco and wife, Anne keep visiting the child after every half an hour to keep an eye on her. However, when they get back from the party at around 1.30 am, the child is missing. While the child is being searched for by her devastated parents and the Police, dirty secrets about different characters in the story come tumbling out of the closet one after the other.

The book was an extremely gripping read but it’s entirely plot driven. Now, I personally do not prefer such books where the writer doesn’t devote much time in the intricacies of story telling. However, since the writing is good and the plot twists are outrageous, I was hungry to finish it to just know what happens in the end.

Who knows, maybe it was just not my kind of book! However, there are really tonnes of books out there in this genre with much better story lines than this one, so given a choice to turn back time, I might have opted for a different read.

3. Padmavati by Sutapa Basu

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Amidst the huge furore that went on in India regarding the release of the movie Padmaavat, I opted to read a book on the same subject instead. Ever since we visited Chittorgarh in Rajasthan last year, and I’d witnessed the jauhar sthal or the place from where queens and other women jumped into a pit of fire when their men were killed in the wars, I’ve had questions in my mind about how these women might have felt while taking their own lives in the most painful way possible. Though the actual existence of Queen Padmavati is still not ascertained, there had been myriads of stories and poetry written about her over the the course of the Indian history. The special thing about this book is that the writer imagines the story from the perspective of the queen herself.

In Sutapa Basu’s Padmavati, journalist Mrinalini Rao visits Chittorgarh to unearth the mysteries about this legendary queen. There she meets a village girl, Uma who tells her Padmavati’s story as has been written by the queen herself in her own memoir called ‘Padmawali’.

The writer has woven a rich tapestry of the queen’s life complete with the descriptions of both the Sinhalese Kingdom (Padmavati’s country of origin) and of Mewar where she comes after her marriage to Rawal Ratan Singh. What I liked was that the character had been shown as an empowered and liberated one. Unlike, what might have been the fate of most Indian women in the 13th Century, Padmavati was shown to have full agency over every aspect of her life and so starting from advising her husband to becoming his best friend, from being friendly with the villagers to literally bursting forth into the midst of a war to fight enemies, Basu’s Padmavati does it all. The queen is highly educated and a skillful warrior, with a love for poetry and with a strong spiritual core. Padmavati’s portrayal in the book makes her a timeless role model. The only thing I’d have liked to have seen in the book is more complexities in the supporting characters. While Padmavati’s character was intricately crafted, the others looked quite straightforward and hence, faded in comparison.

Go for the book if you’re a huge fan of Indian mythological fiction or historical fiction or if you like books with strong women protagonists.

Detailed review here.

4. Elixir by Sinjini Sengupta

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Sinjini Sengupta’s Elixir deals with the complexities of relationships, the plague of loneliness affecting most urban lives, and the pursuit for a deeper meaning in life. The main attraction of the book is the protagonist’s travel between her real life and her dreams and the way she weaves two parallel lives in these two dimensions. Superficially, Manisha seems to have it all- a successful career, a high-flying husband, a life filled with opulence. And yet, when she scratches the surface, there seems to be something that’s not quite there. Why does Manisha’s heart yearn for the unknown and where can she find what she is looking for?

This book has a very original concept and some vivid and picturesque descriptions that are at times poetic and at other times melancholic. Another important feature of the book is that it deals with mental health and though the author doesn’t specifically mention an ailment, she does leave a scope for discussion around this still tabooed subject in our country. The book does a very good job in that respect as well.

Detailed review here.

5. Forget Her Name by Jane Holland

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Image Source: Amazon

I picked up a free advanced reader’s copy of this book from Netgalley as the blurb looked extremely interesting. I decided to read it over the year end holidays.

Forget Her Name started off on a promising note. Catherine is busy preparing for her marriage to her sweetheart, Dominic. However, as the day approaches closer, a chain of sinister incidents remind Catherine of her older sister, Rachel. Rachel died at 13 but she made Catherine and their parents’ lives miserable for as long as she was alive. She displayed psychopathic tendencies and wouldn’t flinch at harming anyone in order to get her way. And now, it seems to Catherine that Rachel is back from her grave. Or, did she really die? Her parents had informed her of Rachel’s death when they’d gone skiing in Switzerland but she’d never seen her dead body. Catherine feels like Rachel is back to once again wreak havoc in her life.

The first one-third of the book kept me on the edge of my seat. However, beyond that the story seems to have taken a familiar arc. Something sinister happens and no one believes Catherine. After a while, I had no sympathies left for either the main character or anybody else and I just wanted to finish it because I wanted to know how it all pans out in the end. Though there were a few twists here and there, overall, the ending neither excited me nor left me satisfied.

The writing style is okay but most of the characters seemed quite one dimensional. Sometimes, their actions or reactions to events in the story looked forced or stilted. Also, the author seemed to have done a lot of ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’ and that made the book lose a lot of its charm.

You could pick it up for an easy read but frankly, there are better books available in this genre. The book dealt with extremely poignant issues, such as mental health, and given better treatment, it book had the potential to stand out as one of the memorable books in the psychological thriller genre. Unfortunately, it seemed to have faltered in that respect.

Detailed review here.

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