‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky’ by Mark Sullivan

The most impactful 2nd World War memoirs I’ve read are ‘Edith’s Diary’ and Anne Frank’s diary. While I’ve read quite many over the years, I realised I hadn’t read a single Italian memoir! My search for Italian war memoirs didn’t prove too hard- ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky’ was unanimously considered a whole new perspective and a thriller of a story.

Pino Lella, an Italian teenager, shared his personal story with Mark Sullivan when he was close to eighty years old. From numbered days as a carefree teenager to helping Jews escape from Italy and then going on to spy for the Allies inside the German camp, the changes in his life over the war-ridden years make for a spectacular tale. The memoir offers a privileged peek into the relatively less-documented Italian landscape during the war-torn years, the quiet resilience of the Italians and above all, one youngster’s remarkable bravery in the face of immense personal risk.

An amazing, amazing piece that I would highly recommend. Thrills like no other.

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‘Kafka on the shore’ by Haruki Murakami

Having seen rave reviews for Murakami’s works, I was waiting for a chance to read one of his books. When I spotted this novel at a bookstore, I was doubly intrigued since the title of this novel featured another author I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet- Kafka. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect; two uninterrupted, idyllic days loomed ahead.

And boy did it turn out to be the best reading weekend in quite some time. I had been stuck in a rut for a while, going back to familiar authors, settings and narratives. Murakami’s style was so different and unlike anything I’d ever read. The language and flow is so hypnotic that you begin to inhabit Murakami’s world-  A world where cats talk, sardines rain down and souls travel across time periods.

The twin stories of a teenage run-away and an ageing man with mysterious powers come alive in this tale. ‘Kafka on the shore’ starts off resembling a teenage boy’s tale of self-discovery and rebellion, morphs into a world of magic and finally breaks out as an intensely personal tale of love through the ages. I could go on and on about this one and yet wouldn’t manage to do justice to the masterpiece it is. I have only one word for you- READ!

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson is a name synonymous for me with a lot of childhood memories. As the cute kid in ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘, she was adorable. Then came Matilda. One of my favorite stories ever was translated on screen and Mara was there, playing Matilda!  Matilda released the year I was born-1996. I saw it much later, around 2003. Like most girls my age, I wanted to BE her. My seven year old self saw no greater joy than in getting to live Matilda’s adventures. Thus, Mara Wilson had contributed to two of my most favorite childhood movies and I considered her the luckiest girl ever.

So, imagine the flood of memories when I chanced upon this book among a selection of recommendations yesterday. I kept staring at the cover for long, and I could not believe I had forgotten about her (Blame adulthood and bad priorities.). A few hours later, I was done with the book and felt weary and uplifted, all at once. The book is a collection of Mara’s experiences in Hollywood and with the turn of very page, she sucks you in. One of the most celebrated child actors of her age and a very precocious kid, Mara found she had to deal with a lot of rejection as she grew up. Failed auditions were getting more frequent and it was not until much later that Mara realized the ‘cute kid’ was no more. Puberty had not been kind to her and she found Hollywood no longer had a place for her. OCD tendencies and panic attacks, which she had been experiencing since childhood, did not make things any better. Coupled with dealing with the loss of her mother at a very young age, Mara describes growing up with fears and insecurities abound.

It is a revealing tale of discovering yourself. Warm, funny and intensely nostalgic, Mara brings to life her experiences, the lessons she’s learnt along the way and talks about making peace with the world. My favorite part was, without a doubt, her letter to Matilda. Definitely a must-read.

Oh, after I was done with the book, I just HAD to take a trip down memory lane- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzJ7pFaEJfc

Mara Wilson also writes here- http://marawilsonwritesstuff.com/

Do take a look!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

It has been forever since I read a young adult novel. I thought I’d outgrown them but when I went back home and sat at that most loved spot by the window, I remembered countless such summer days through my teenage, completely absorbed in ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ and ‘The Hunger Games’. ‘Fangirl’ was the only young adult novel on my reading list and I decided to give it a try.

TLDR- I wasn’t disappointed.

The book traces Cath’s freshman year in college. Her twin, Wren, decides she wants to interact with more people and hence lives a life of her own, completely alienating Cath. Thus deserted by her ‘built-in best friend’ and with a supremely weird and unapproachable roommate (who comes with a boyfriend who forever hangs out in her room), Cath navigates the intricacies of college life. Cath’s obsession with Simon Snow, a fictional boy-wizard and her success as a fan fiction writer bear no weight in her new universe.

The premise is new. While certain sub-plots ended a bit unresolved for me, the overall experience was quite a refreshing change from the challenging books I had been setting out to read for long. Much attention is paid to character depth and this is one of the high points of the book. Rowell traverses through a range of relationships, the twins’, their relations with their dad and estranged mother, and with the variety of people Cath meets. But none of this is what the book is about.

‘Fangirl’ is a celebration of fandom and nerd power. It is a huge shout out to all the people whose souls belong in an alternate world. In more ways than one, Rowell propagates the idea of fan culture and deems fandom an important, even necessary part of life. With such an unequivocal stand, her love for fan culture permeates through the entire book and leaves you wanting more.

The structure of the book is interesting, with the narrative interspersed with extracts from the Simon Snow series and Cath’s own fan fic writings. Basically two stories for the price of one.

9/10 would recommend. A breezy narrative with no major jolts that takes you through the pain and joys of starting new and growing up.

‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson

When a friend of mine recommended this book highly, I jumped at the chance to read it, especially because it had been ever so long since I had a book-related conversation with anyone and I was dying to try out recommended books.

The premise is intriguing. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Christine loses her memory or rather, her ability to recall short term memories. She wakes up every day with no memory of who or where she is. Her husband and caretaker is her only constant source of support, who helps her remember every thing she needs to know to get her through the day. Every single day. Sounds pretty interesting, right?

But that’s where it starts and ends. While the foundation is great, enough to get you hooked on to an all-nighter, the writing falls short in more places than one. There are enough times you feel the author could have milked more out of the situation, there are a lot of times you think the terror passed away too quickly. And that is where the book starts to lose its compel. When pivotal moments keep getting proven as nothing of consequence, you start feeling disinvested in the story and wonder what’s gonna happen at all. What has the potential to be a cracker of a thriller, fizzles out and ends up as a sad reminder of what could have been.

Although, all is not lost yet. Every part of the story makes sense and ties back in to the central plot, making for a clear narrative experience. The beginning, focusing on Christine’s terror and how she copes with her memory loss, is depicted in an extremely realistic way and is sure to captivate the reader like no other.

Do try it out if you are looking for a completely new reading experience and storyline. But do not go in with high hopes, they can prove disastrous.

Reading Challenge

I’m embarking on my most ambitious project yet- Aiming to finish a ‘100 Books to Read before you die’ list before the end of the year. While previously, I scoffed at such lists, priding myself on not falling prey to such superficialities, I stand humbled and corrected now. 

While my reading habits have taken a turn for the worse during four moderately busy years in college, I never imagined I would be in a place where I found myself struggling to complete a book in a month. Exasperated at myself and with loads of free time on my hands now, I decided that the best way to regain the lost hours was to immerse myself in reading. For those interested, this is the list I’m focused on getting through. 

https://mywordlyobsessions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/bbcs-the-big-read-top-100-books-how-many-have-you-read/

I have to say, it has already helped me remarkably. I surprised myself by completing two books in two sittings (‘Bridget Jones’s Diary‘ by Helen Fielding and ‘On the Road‘ by Jack Kerouac) and while they aren’t huge novels to get through by any means, it still represents great progress for me. 

I hope the Reading gods stay with me.

The Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer

The Clifton Chronicles is probably Archer’s most ambitious work till date, spanning seven books and a time period of close to a century. I picked up the first of these books about six years back-‘Only Time Will Tell’ proved a masterpiece and like all readers, I was anticipating the release of the next book in the series. While the subsequent two books in the series- ‘Sins of the Father’ and ‘Best Kept Secret’ didn’t prove as compelling as their illustrious predecessor, I was very much curious to know the eventual fate of Harry Clifton and so, trudged on. Around this time, the Lord Jeffrey Archer himself came to India on a book tour and it was such a huge moment when I was able to meet and talk to him in person during the book signing for ‘Best Kept Secret’. (What an enigmatic gentleman, by the way.) Well, after this encounter with him, I really couldn’t wait for Book 4 to hit the stands. I really couldn’t.

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The girl in a violet top (third row, right hand side), grinning away to glory-Yepp, that would be me! 😀

Which makes it all the more surprising why I didn’t actually buy the next book in the series soon as it came out. Anyway, I recently spied the book on my brother’s Kindle (such a handy thing!) around two years after its release and immediately set about reading it. ‘Mightier than the Sword’ is vintage Archer. The trademark cliffhanger was present at the end of Book 4, as a result of which I couldn’t get to sleep-I don’t really handle suspense well, if you must know. Which is why, at 2 AM on a cold chilly morning, I bought the penultimate book ‘Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man’ on Kindle Store and six hours later, was done with the book. ‘Cometh..’ is easily one of the best books I read this year-fine writing, good amount of intrigue and character depth.

I felt exhilarated-I hadn’t gone on a reading binge for a long time, and I fell asleep at 730 AM, grinning happily. The final installment, ‘This Was a Man‘ is also out. But I’ll be catching up on some sleep before I head there. This has been one brilliant saga.