Book review: Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski

Author: Helena Stapinski

Publisher: Dey Street Books

Publication date: 22 March.2018

Book length: 320 pages

Format: Paperback

Language: English

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis:

From the age of four, Helene Stapinski heard lurid yet inspiring tales about her great-great-grandmother Vita, a loose woman back in Southern Italy who fled to America in 1892 with her three children after committing murder. Gripped by her family’s story, Helene embarked on a decade-long fact-finding mission, making numerous trips to Basilicata, the rural “instep” of Italy’s boot—once known for its superstitions, criminals, and desperate poverty. It’s an undiscovered land filled with badlands-like hills, ancient caves, and fertile valleys with silver-tinged olive trees, whose isolation is matched only by its forlorn, incredible beauty. In a stunning turn of events, Helene comes to learn what really happened, sparking an upheaval of her own identity and sense of history. Deeply researched and reported, Murder in Matera is a remarkable true story about one family’s hidden secrets. It is also a powerful and timeless story of immigration and motherhood—a profound testament to how far one woman would go in search of a better life in America, not only for herself, but for her children and the preservation of her family.

Rating: 4/5

Review:

Before we start one must know what a memoir is. Though you would find it unnecessary of me to write about something you already know, I am adding it in case someone doesn’t know clearly.

A memoir (US: /ˈmemwɑːr/; from French: mémoire: memoria, meaning memory or reminiscence) is a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events, both public or private, that took place in the subject’s life. The assertions made in the work are understood to be factual. A memoir can also be about generations old facts, about one’s ancestors and their time. It is to be noted that memoirs often contains excerpts of one’s ancestor’s narration of their own time but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is untrue. It simply means the author had researched well and was confident enough to structure an ancient event for the better understanding of the reader. Memoir is a non-fiction though this certain structure can often to referred to as fictional representation of the non-fiction.

I have always been interested in learning about foreign lands, their cultures, their history, long forgotten strands of customary family histories, passed down generation after generation without any documented information or remains. Southern Italy has a history of being frequently invaded and considerably less noticed upon than Northern Italy leading to massive economic and resource crisis, malnutrition, disease and huge percentage of child death so much so that the children were baptised right after birth so that they didn’t die without an identity.

Matera is a city in the province of Matera in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Matera and was the capital of the province of Basilicata from 1663 to 1806. The town lies in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina. The area of what is now Matera has been settled since the Palaeolithic. The city was allegedly founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, with the name of Matheola after the consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus. In AD 664 Matera was conquered by the Lombards and became part of the Duchy of Benevento. Anne Parmly Toxey writes that “The date of Matera’s founding is debated; however, the revered work of the city’s early chroniclers provides numerous, generally accepted accounts of Goth, Longobard, Byzantine, and Saracen sieges of the city beginning in the eighth century and accelerating through the ninth century CE.” In the 7th and 8th centuries the nearby grottos were colonised by both Benedictine and Basilian monastic institutions. The 9th and 10th centuries were characterised by the struggle between the Byzantines and the German emperors, including Louis II, who partially destroyed the city. After the settlement of the Normans in Apulia, Matera was ruled by William Iron-Arm from 1043.

After a short communal phase and a series of pestilences and earthquakes, the city in the 15th century became an Aragonese possession, and was given in fief to the barons of the Tramontano family. In 1514, however, the population rebelled against the oppression and killed Count Giovanni Carlo Tramontano. In the 17th century Matera was handed over to the Orsini and then became part of the Terra d’Otranto, in Apulia. Later it was capital of the province of Basilicata, a position it retained until 1806, when Joseph Bonaparte assigned it to Potenza.

In 1927 it became capital of the brand-new province of Matera.

Helene Stapinski has since childhood heard stories from her mother and other relatives about their ancestral roots at Matera and how her great-great-grandmother Vita had travelled from there to America with her two sons alone and settled down in a complete foreign land, having run away from a murder committed likely by herself and her husband, Francesco Vena. Troubled by the criminal background of her ancestors and believing her family’s s criminal inclinations to be an effect of corrupted gene, she decides to visit Matera herself and figure out the truth of the crime, with the hope that the knowledge of truth would help her prevent her next generation and the others to follow from walking the same path, to uproot the disease from it’s exact source. She travels for the first time with her mother and two children, with her husband too busy to join her and begins her search, but ends up with time running out of her hand, her children getting effected by the rough climatic and structural foundation of the place, and with threat from her possible relations there from ruining the sleep of the already dead and forgotten people. She returns home with a heavy heart only to return ten years later, fully prepared, gathering over the ten years every information about the place that she could come across, and contacting necessary people to help her out. Finally she slowly and gradually starts peeling off layers of secrets and history, which leads her to the discovery of truth behind her family’s identity, her own identity and filthy socialistic traditions and terrors. She learn about the cruelty of power and harsh livelihood, of poverty and social acceptance there in Matera. She unrobes the centuries old inhumane power-hungry manifestation and discovers the true Vita who no one ever cared to understand or believe.

Murder in Matera is an informative, well arranged and descriptive piece of work with extensive knowledge of the writer about the subjected place and true exploration. The presentation of the book clearly shows the laborious research of Helene and her hunger to know about her family history. The author has beautifully brought in the tale of Adam and Eve, winding in every vein of her story giving it a life, a life so vibrant it pokes at the reader’s mind, finding meaning to their omnipresence in every inch of a human being. Helene has portrayed her true self, neither a non-believer, not a blind believer, just a faulty human with curiosity and motherly affection.

Original, raw, superfluous, educational and intriguing, the book makes one think about lands farther from their ever wandering eyes, out from the era of technology and abundance of resources to a time of predominating hunger and regular death by starvation, which seems not to have been forgotten but prevented from remembrance for the love of one’s own peace of living. Helene brought to life the dead and their deeds and their handpicked olives, their nurtured grape wines.

Would recommend everyone to read it especially if you are interested to know about Southern Italy and the influence of the Greeks that thoroughly structured the civilisation of Matera.

About the Author:

Helene Stapinski is the author of Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, which recounts her family’s criminal history, and Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair, with Music, which chronicles her years playing drums in a rock band in Manhattan. She has written extensively for the New York Times as well as for New York magazine, Salon, Travel & Leisure, and dozens of other publications and essay collections. On the documentary based on Five-Finger Discount, she has worked as a producer and writer. Stapinski has been a radio newscaster in Alaska; has appeared on National Public Radio; was a featured performer with The Moth; has lectured at her alma mater, Columbia University; and has taught at Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

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Book review: Cold Truth by Nikhil Pradhan

Author: Nikhil Pradhan

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication date: 5 September. 2018

Book length: 220 pages

Format: Paperback

Synopsis:

When ten-year-old Sakshi goes missing from East Delhi, almost no one, including the police, seems too concerned. Not until a curious journalist begins to ask questions. Soon, she cracks open a can of worms, and what started as an innocuous investigation into corruption and systemic apathy begins to reek of a larger and terrifying conspiracy, as chilling secrets and long-dead skeletons tumble out. Pieced together using police reports, detailed interviews, leaked emails, WhatsApp conversations and much more, this extraordinary debut takes you from the bylanes of Delhi and the communist bunkers of Russia to the frozen grounds of Antarctica, following a trail that will leave you questioning what is real and what isn’t.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review:

I would like to thank the publisher for sending me the book in exchange of am honest and unbiased review.

Cold Truth by Nikhil Pradhan is criminal fiction based on the mysterious disappearance of ten-year-old Sakshi from East Delhi and the complete ignorance of the police. When famous author, Gayatri Lama hears about the case and learns how she is the seventh minor missing in East Delhi this year, she takes special interest in the case and decides to make it her next book’s subject. Deciding upon this she keeps no stone unturned to get deeper into the mess only to figure out the case to be simply another large trafficking racket case but much kore horrifying and gruesome. Through her secret networks she gets in touch with a man, Abhay who starts working along with her to crack the mystery. They find out from Sakshi’s father that she has a rare form of diabetes, Type 2 Mellitus and that he had received a call few weeks before Sakshi’s disappearance, supposedly from the CDSA saying that she could be the potential recipient of an experimental drug treatment. Upon further digging Lama and Abhay learn about an experiment – Project Starfish and their informations suggest the project to have been originated from Russia and so Abhay travels there to directly understand the matter. The story continues with their adventure filled with pain, horror, struggle and lack of time towards the truth.

I dug a little to know whether any project with the same name exists and I found this,

“Based in Tampa, FL, Project Starfish is a non-profit 501c3 international organization that collaborates with healthcare providers in Southern India to provide both general medical care to rural populations, currently focusing on sustainable diabetic screening and treatment clinics.” – The terrifying realistic effect of the book and facts actually made me once again check to make sure the book is a “fiction”.

Highly intriguing and extremely, rather unnervingly detailed in the whole process involving different secretive departments and their patterns, Cold Truth gives an insight the whole process of it’s journey towards uncovering the truth. The way the book has been presented is intelligent and something fresh. The evidential and questionable touch on non-fiction deliberately to give the fiction a more “realistic” touch is interesting and intensive. What turned out to be a bit off about the book was the gradual ending with last part to be carried on by Abhay. The suspense of the whole book ends up into something very carelessly and inadequately described, far fetched. The touch of reality is completely rubbed of with the distasteful and prolonging stench of unmanageable fiction. I highly enjoyed the book throughout the whole journey with just the final revelation and ending to be dissatisfactory. However, I also think that it is my personal opinion and may vary from reader to reader. I would differently recommend it for a short and thrilling read.

About the Author:

Nikhil Pradhan is from Gangtok, Sikkim, but has worked and lived in different cities across India. He has worked in technology journalism and in advertising with Ogilvy. Cold Truth is his first book.

Book review: The Woman Who Saw The Future by Amit Sharma

Author: Amit Sharma

Publisher: Readomania

Publication date: 17 November.2017

Book length: 276 pages

Format: Paperback

Language: English

Synopsis:

Sapna Vaid has lived with a unique power for a decade; a power that turned her from a timid, wide-eyed, college-going girl into the most influential and powerful Goddess on Earth. Sapna can see the future and saves thousands of people around the world every year through her record-breaking, popular show ‘Lucky People’. The show had given Sapna’s life a meaning and gives her the courage to sleep every night, where death and blood await her in her dreams. Even though the world is at her feet, the power costs Sapna her personal life. Broken relationships and separation from her son bring her unbearable pain. Her parents and the thousands of prayers that come her way every year are her only solace, her only reason to live. When a blinding hatred leads to a desperate act of revenge, a single misuse of her great power triggers a reversal of her fortunes. Sapna begins to lose her ability to see the future.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review:

I am thankful to the author for sending me the book in exchange of an honest and unbiased review.

The Cassandra metaphor (variously labelled the Cassandra “syndrome”, “complex”, “phenomenon”, “predicament”, “dilemma”, or “curse”) occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved.

The term originates in Greek mythology. Cassandra was a daughter of Priam, the King of Troy. Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy, but when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings. Cassandra was left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions.

The metaphor has been applied in a variety of contexts such as psychology, environmentalism, politics, science, cinema, the corporate world, and in philosophy, and has been in circulation since at least 1949 when French philosopher Gaston Bachelard coined the term ‘Cassandra Complex’ to refer to a belief that things could be known in advance.

The main character of the book The Woman Who Saw The Future, Sapna went through this similar condition from the time after her brother, Vikrant’s death, but in a more gruesome and spine chilling manner. She saw people dying in her dreams. Real people, in real places and though she, her parents and her boyfriend Saahil dismissed the first dream to be just a bad one with no special significance, the originality and her descriptive recollection of all of it followed by the news of her nightmare actually coming true started tormenting her.

The story is based on the life of worldwide sensation Sapna Vaid, the one who throughout her life saved uncountable lives both in and outside India through her detailed prophecies, the most powerful and loving Goddess of the whole world. Her death had come as a shock to the whole world, the saviour of all died buried under rubbles because of earthquake, pregnant with an unknown man’s child. It is ironic how her name fits perfectly to her special gift or curse (for with every great power comes unimaginable responsibility). Sapna, the word means “dream”. She was like a soothing dream, a beautiful presence of jolliness who in her middle-class days or rather “unpopular” days picked up fights wherever she thought someone was wrong and Saahil had to make sure she escaped without harm. She was a little bubbly soul who though missed her brother always kept writing diaries to him, loved her parents and Saahil with all her heart, and planned on having a normal, happy life until suddenly her dreams start running amok. She couldn’t keep her sanity seeing people mercilessly dying in front of her while she had to be someone present even in her absence and witness every bloodcurdling detail of it. If that was not enough, to later find out either through internet or news about the realistic occurrences of her dreams started almost killing her. But how was anyone supposes to believe all these? Her parents themselves are not ever sure of it’s truthfulness and effectiveness. It is pityingly laughable how a name had really become someone’s identity. A name given to a person is like physically creating the existence and applicability of a word, in this case – Sapna. But she end with a life completely dependent on her dreams, haunted and destroyed by them. The story is a sort of revelation of the long hidden, dark truth of the world’s lost treasure, their goddess through the words of all the people close to her. I do not wish to disclose further content of the book for I do not wish to give away spoiler. It is absolutely necessary for the story of a book to remain quite unknown to anyone reading reviews. Reviews are only to provide the effect of the book on that reader and that being expressed in words is a review.

So as far as it goes, I really loved the storyline and how the author has managed to cleanly and distinctively arrange the perspectives of each of the primary characters. While the repetition of “you know” during Sapna’s mother’s narration made me feel disturbed at times, it also pointed out the flaws and stress of both old age and extreme pressure of the aftermath of her disclosure, which made it more realistic. The extremity of Sapna’s fame seems a bit far fetched, mostly due to the mention of realistically existing high power of different countries and also of gruesome real calamities and devastating incidents. It’s unnerving how the story fitted inside it too much to portray calmly. The book itself throughout had excitement stitched into it’s crispy pages. The real events have been carefully arranged into the book’s timelines so delicately that you might even think if there was a story of such a woman really present at that time or not. Well researched, carefully and thoroughly thought out, this book is a very entertaining, short read which gives quite a number of details on Greek mythology, enough for those who do not have a knowledge on the subject would be triggered to dig in more. Also the book bring to light various philosophical and literary ideas and extracts. It is fascinating for it gives an in sight to the author’s own interests in the subjects. If you are interested in a short read with multiple characters, glimpses of greek mythology, extract from well known philosophers and literary pieces, the inability of science to make sense of everything with their logic, this one is for you. I would definitely recommend people to read at least once.

About the Author:

Amit Sharma is an IT slave (read professional) since the last twelve years. He lives with his family in NCR but his work does take him to foreign lands. His wife was a teacher till she gave it up because of sheer exhaustion of answering questions of their four-year-old daughter all day.

His first fiction book, False Ceilings, a family saga spanning one hundred and thirty years, was published by Lifi Publications in 2016. The book garnered many good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and critical acclaim. Amit’s hobbies include reading, watching world cinema, travelling, digging into various cuisines, cooking, listening to music, painting, blogging, making his daughter laugh and helping his wife with her unnecessary and prolonged shopping.

Book Review : The Astonishing Thing by Sandi Ward

Author: Sandi Ward

Publisher: Kensington Books

Publication date: 31 October. 2018

Format: Paperback

Book length: 304 pages

Language: English

Synopsis:

In her inventive, sometimes bittersweet, ultimately uplifting debut, Sandi Ward draws readers into one extraordinary cat’s quest to make sense of her world, illuminating the limits and mysterious depths of love . . .
Pet owners know that a cat’s loyalty is not easily earned. Boo, a resourceful young feline with a keen eye and inquiring mind, has nonetheless grown intensely devoted to her human companion, Carrie. Several days ago, Carrie—or Mother, as Boo calls her—suddenly went away, leaving her family, including Boo, in disarray. Carrie’s husband, Tommy, is distant and distracted even as he does his best to care for Boo’s human siblings, especially baby Finn.

Boo worries about who will fill her food dish, and provide a warm lap to nestle into. More pressing still, she’s trying to uncover the complicated truth about why Carrie left. Though frequently mystified by human behavior, Boo is sure that Carrie once cared passionately for Tommy and adores her children, even the non-feline ones. But she also sees it may not be enough to make things right. Perhaps only a cat—a wise, observant, very determined cat—can do that . . . Wonderfully tender and insightful, The Astonishing Thing explores the intricacies of marriage and family through an unforgettable perspective at the center of it all.

Rating: 4/5

Review:

I am thankful to the author, Sandi Ward for sending me the book, “The Astonishing Thing” in exchange of an honest and unbiased review.

The personification of cat has always been a highly interesting perspective of story telling in English literature. Such usage is prominent in the works of eminent writers such as T.S.Eliot, Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Edgar Alan Poe, and even J.K. Rowling, Stephen King. While the ability of a cat to think on it’s own is often considered to be humane and thus the necessity of the term personification, it can simply to termed as a cat expressing itself in the language of the humans for the betterment of their understanding. The book “The Astonishing Thing” by Sandi Ward is a fresh, contemporary novel based on a cat’s interpretation of the lives of her human family. She has always been her human mother, Carrie’s favourite who calls her “Boo”. The cat really is not sure if it’s her name but doesn’t care much because she communicated well with her mother, they understand each other so well. Boo doesn’t like his human siblings much, mostly because she only sticks to her mother, mainly Jimmy, her human brother because he keeps on trouble their mother. Boo hates him for not understanding mom’s feelings even when mom’s sick in bed for days. Boo doesn’t really understand what has happened to her mother but soon realises that Carrie is pregnant. But a few months after the nee baby is born, Carrie packs her bags and leaves only for Boo to later realise the foreverness of the situation.

The story develops on the changes that the cat undergoes in order to find the reason why her mother had left so suddenly only to realise how much Boo has missed of the rest of the family due to her complete ignorance. She slowly learns to get familiar with her mother mate, Tommy, her human elder brother, Jimmy and sister, Mary. With time, Tommy, who had always disliked Boo, softens up to her and they start sharing the mutual bonding of feeling clueless and alone. The new born little boy, Finn, highly interested Boo, who first thought that little curled up bundle of life to be the reason of her mother’s disappearance. Slowly, Boo realises that nothing is how it had seemed to her before. Her desperate need to support Carrie at all situation and blame everyone else around, made her misread situations and rest of her family. She and her family must learn how to lice without Carrie. The children must learn the whole truth of the situation. But what is it? Was Carrie just being completely selfish or there is much more to the story?

What I loved absolutely about the book was the author’s way of dealing with the subject of bipolar disorder. The book descriptively highlights the effects of bipolarity both on the patient as also on the people involved in their lives. The originality of the plot and the insight of the characters involved is terrifyingly realistic and devastating. The high ups and heavy lows, the burden of extremity, the helplessness and fear, the uncontrollable actions and the pains they bring. The book also points out the complete blamelessness of the whole family. Both sides had their own shares of sufferings and everyone must learn to deal with it rather than continuing the blame game. Tommy made mistakes, terrible mistakes, but he was not sure what else to do. Carrie took a selfish decision, but that was for the best of both her and her family. Everyone made mistakes, but no one alone is to be blamed.

A book written beautifully and precisely on the complexities of maintaining a stable balance in a family and on the turmoils of every member of the family in their own ways, all through the eyes and senses of a fat, observant family cat. The particular usage of certain terms, specifically pointing out the differenced in perceptions of life and it’s objects between the humans and cat, is delicately and efficiently used. A reader can almost forget the spectator and narrator to be a cat but the book makes one snap back to the reality of the situation. Thus maintaining an entertaining fictional world between human thinking and cat’s expression, a cat who’s loyalty is hardly earned but once she starts loving a humans, she does everything in the power of her little four-legged feline body, to support them and express her love for them. Her caring, speculative narration of a troubled family to them learning how to rearrange their lives and her constant unspoken support is not a trivial cat’s observation but a cat’s conscious understanding of being supportive to a family she has always belonged to. To be able to pen down a debut novel of such beauty is surprisingly fascinating and heartwarming. Hoping to read more works of author Sandi Ward in future.

 

About the Author:

Sandi Ward writes books about love, family, forgiveness..and cats.

Sandi grew up in Manchester-by-the-sea, MA and now lives on the Jersey Shore with her family. She received her MA in Creative Writing at New York University, where she studied with E.L. Doctorow, and works as a copywriter at an ad agency. She has a rescue cat named Winnie, who approves of this message.

Her new novel, titled SOMETHING WORTH SAVING, is available now wherever books are sold. Her first novel for Kensington Books is titled The Astonishing Thing. A third novel, What Holds Us Together, will follow in 2019/2020.

Book Review : The Skylarks’ War

Author: Hilary McKay

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Book

Publication date: 20 September. 2018

Book length: 320 pages

Format: Paperback

Language: English

Synopsis:

Shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award 2018. Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September – boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer. When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?The Skylarks’ War is a beautiful story following the loves and losses of a family growing up against the harsh backdrop of World War 1, from the award-winning Hilary McKay.

Rating: 5/5

Review:

Mostly known for her children’s books, British writer Hilary McKay has set forward a completely, intriguingly heartwarming work, last year, marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. The Skylarks’ War is based primarily on a tolerably cold, motherless house in Plymouth. The house’s “father” was Mr. Penrose who was not much fond of children, including that of his own and with the birth of his second child, Clarry followed by his wife, Janey’s death only three days later, he discards the responsibilities of parenthood of both his newborn daughter and three year old son, Peter on the hands of their Grandmother. The woman “already had one unrequested child living with her, her not-quite-seven-year-old grandson Rupert, whose parents were in India.” Leaving her husband to look after the boy in their home in Cornwall, she found it completely uncalled for and tiring, the very fact that even after her children had grown up enough to have married and have children themselves, were incapable of looking after their own families forcing their old aged parents to waste away their life long struggle for a leisured retirement. The story slowly and gradually develops from there to the growing up of the three children under the blanket of their wanton summer days in Cornwall. With time and breakout of war all there lives undergo tremendous change with Rupert joining the army, Clarry finding education for women to be necessary and fighting hard against her father’s will go get admitted into Oxford University. Peter’s first and forever friend from boarding school, Simon, gradually starts filling in the empty spaces in Clarry’s aloneness in her house and later she becomes friends for life with Simon’s sister Venessa, who leaves school to learn medicine in order to aid in the War. Suddenly Simon, unannounced, joins the army as well. Why? Clarry wonders. He was never meant for war. With everything and everyone going out her reach, Clarry’s world comes crashing down when she one day receives a telegram from the War titled to the family of Rupert, “Missing. Presumed dead.” But she is not one to lose hope. She sets out to look for him. Where will she start? How is she even going to find a man at a time where men often died without being recognised by anyone ever. Men rot at No Man’s Land. How is she even serious about looking for him? Will she find him alive?

The storyline is extremely engrossing and emotionally charging. No one has ever escaped from hearing about the horrors of the World War, all the lives that have been lost, the bloody dance of powerful countries, claiming lives of soldiers in the assurance of honour and patriotism. The plot is well arranged with a few yet prominent imageries. The characters are wholesomely developed with perspectives of different sphere of life on their own, given that fact that the story is based on the events of Clarry’s life. The book also brings to light the journey of a girl, who from the beginning knew only to be in the kitchen or sew, into a woman of dreams and knowledge, with a desire to earn her own independence and respect.

The bird Skylark has been for long monopolised poetic idolatry–a privilege they enjoyed solely on account of it’s pre-eminence as song bird. In P.B.Shelley’s “To a Skylark”, the poem begins with –

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,

That from Heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art”.

Shelley has converted the bird or, specifically, the bird’s song into a symbol of happiness. The singing bird is personified as a “blithe” or happy spirit in the first line of the poem. For as long as one can trace down Skylark throughout the history of literary usage, it had always been marked as the sign of hope, joy, transcendence and positivity. We see the an important appearance of skylark in Chapter 27 of the book “The Skylark’s War” with the soldiers finding it strange that they “could hear skylarks over the fields.” The soldiers found the existence of such poetic elements in between war to be highly unlikely and mishap. The very idea of the beautiful representation of poetry and innocence of childhood brought in by the skylarks confuses the patriots of land who were willing to kill and get killed in the name of patriotism and duty. But “in fact the birds had been there for centuries”. These creature are the carriers of songs. They know nothing of war, they are unaware of the horrifying shift in human advancement and policies. They had been there centuries before, they come back still today. They do not need to disrupt their lives, kill or create havoc. They have no nation to protect. Another thing created unrest between the soldiers. The very fact that the skylarks sang to every soldier “in the language of their homes” – in English, in French, in Dutches and more puzzlingly, on the other side of the trenches, they sang in German. The skylarks cannot differentiate between battling forces, they do not choose this side or that. The skylarks bring back pieces of the long left homes of the soldiers in their throats and spread out the familiarity of home everywhere. They are the parts of the men’s careless, joyous youth when there was no war, there were no killing, the men were all home, with their families, inside secure homes. It also shows the corruption of the innocence of youth through the painful journey of war. When they were supposed to enjoy their short periods of youth, soaking under the sun and listening to the songs of the Skylarks, they are here, in the fields filled with death and premonitions of many more with Skylarks approaching them, trying to fill in the very little the birds can of the remnants of youth. Also the character of Rupert highly represents that one curious skylark, who tired from being restricted, stuffed inside lifeless, meaningless pressure of education without leaving a quiet moment of leisure. He feels as if his wings have been crippled. He wishes to fly, to discover, to really go out there into the world and make something out of life. He finds this escape to be the War, at first unaware of its gruesomeness. His soft, innocent Skylark dream has been replaced by horrific massacre. His life, thoughts and feelings are all at war and there is no escape until the War itself finally ends and he keeps himself alive till the end.

It gave me immense satisfaction to be able to read the book. The way the author brought the story to an unfinished yet fulfilling ending brought blissful containment to me as a reader. The relationship between Clarry and Rupert has been so beautiful concluded that nothing else seems to have been a better ending. Throughout the story, how Clarry capably maintained her primary character of delicate curiosity and unbounded love for people she once starts to like. She seems to even find excuses to forgive her father’s irresponsible awkwardness. She keeps on fighting for what she thinks is right and does not lose faith on Rupert even after him not communicating with her for a long period of time. I look forward to reading more works of Hilary McKay in future for the only book of her’s that I have read has filled me with immense respect and gratitude for such writers who still keep alive the essence of literature.

About the author:

Hilary McKay (born 12 June 1959is a British writer of children’s books. For her first novel, The Exiles, she won the 1992 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children’s writers.

#review A Quest of Spring

Author: Monica Mujumdar Dixit

Publisher: Notion Press, Inc.

Publication date: 8 Sep 2017

Language: English

Book length: 402 pages

Genre: Fiction

Book description:

Raehan and Amolika come from two very different worlds. And for the time that their worlds overlap and stick to one path, life seems beautiful. Between projects at college and hanging out with friends, the two of them come to a startling revelation that involves a bond of love between them.

Unbeknownst to the both of them, there lies a leviathan of espionage that eventually consumes the bond they share, driving them apart by force.

Sixteen years pass, when fate decides to rekindle their bond – only this time, the challenges are exacerbated by the unresolved baggage of the past. Do the two of them find each other? Does the dull, grey, long-standing spell of winter rise to give way to spring?

Rating: 3.5/5

Review:

I received a physical copy of this book in exchange of an honest and unbiased review.

Let me begin by saying how surprised I am every time I pick up a debut novel. The mind of these rising new authors always fascinate me and author Monica Majumdar Dixit is not exception.

The main characters – Amolika, Raehan and Vikram have been penned down with quite different personalities, views and approach to life. Amolika, the most important character or rather the protagonist, is a strong willed and ambitious woman with certain moments of pain, guilt, self blames yet standing tall with her head high to fight for everything she loves and cares about. What I loved was the author’s skill to beautiful wind the story through tremendously conflicting phases. She has this capability of providing the reader with a visual effectiveness. The more I read, the more I found myself living through the whole story.

Through Amolika’s love for Reahan, the author accurately points out the effect of society as also the permanent effect on Amolika on having once lost her parents in terror attack while they were touring the Valley, being raised by her paternal uncle, Brigadier Bhaskar Nath. The injection of effect of society points out the severity and constricted rigidity of our social structure. The story develops from there passionately yet somehow cautiously to the relationship between Amolika and Vikram.

Raehan is introduced first into the story as Amolika’s mission appointed by her grandfather. Charming, yet shy with a political background, he gradually starts liking her. The time period revolves around 1997. The present time of narration is the year 2014 where Amolika reappears as a jouralist who is sent to India to Cover elections and Reahan emerges as the CM.

The story is very neat with well descriptive plot and easy language. It basically begins as a college love story which for some reasons went wrong leading to separation between Amolika and Reahan. Raehan gets married to Nazzia and has twins whereas Amolika get marriedd to Vikram. Yet the story doesn’t just end here, a series of turmoils take place with an eventual happy ending. Amman and Adile are presented as the most lovivg and understanding children who take their parent’s separation as a positive one and help their parents as much as possible.

The positively, hope and overcoming of challenges as presented in the book are quite a refreshing and heart warming in the present time where people are often found as lost cases, with broken hopes. Quite an interesting, intriguing and engrossing story.

Hoping to read more of the author’s future works.

About the Author:

Monica Mujumdar Dixit was born in Raipur and did her schooling in Bhopal and Mumbai. She went onto graduate in Commerce from the Mithibai College in Mumbai and completed her LLB degree from the prestigious ILS College, Pune. She is a lawyer by profession and has practiced at the High Court of Bombay, Nagpur bench, and also worked as a Legal Analyst with a publishing house, publishing law journals. She loves cricket, is an avid reader and also blogs movie reviews. She lives in Nagpur with her husband Rohit and daughter, Aahana. This is her debut novel.

Nazm-E-Aashiqui – a new poetry book – DESCRIPTION

Book description :

Love is the most beautiful feeling experienced by Mayank, love showed him that everything on the uranium has two side “positive side” and another is “negative side”. The book Nazm-E-Aashiqui is about this both the phases of love. The first phase expresses its joy in good times and second phase shows sorrows of the bad times. All the poems in book are just words until you experience them. And this all experience is now in your hand.

About author :

Mayank was born in the states of Maharashtra and bought up in Madhya Pradesh. At the age of 16 his grandpa gifted him a diary and asked to improve handwriting, but improving handwriting did not worked for him, as he was fond of reading and listening Hindi poems, shayri, gazal, he wrote them into the diary. Mayank is pharmacist by profession and believe every wound can be healed either by medicine or by words.So he started writing his own feeling into the diary as shayri, Nazm,etc.

His father is businessman and mother is home maker, they both encouraged him at every stage of life. He is inspired by his father

#review Murder in a Minute

Author: Shouvik Bhattacharya

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Publication date: 10 Dec 2017

Language: English

Book length: 204 pages

Genre: Fiction/ Crime Thriller

Synopsis:

When a young woman is found lifeless in a pool of her own blood, everyone is convinced that it is her college sweetheart who murdered her. The victim’s step-brothers, Rishabh and Arya,embark on a journey to unearth the truth, a journey riddled with fallacies and conspiracies, planted intentionally. What connection is there between a missing blue envelope, a misplaced sweater and stray footprints in a room. Could those people they thought they knew so well be hiding dark secrets about their past? Or did their dead sister have more to hide than they imagined?

Rating: 4/5

Review :

I am thankful to the publishers for sending me this book in exchange of an honest and unbiased review.

Okay! let me gather my thoughts. I don’t even know where to begin. I ain’t sure if I can express even half of what I experienced throughout the book in my attempt to write the review. Do I sound extremely dramatic? Well, can’t really help it. Am being really honest here. Before I go further into blabbering about my take on the book let me describe the story-line a bit.

The story revolves around the death of a young, hard working woman, adopted, unwelcomed child of the family, who through her extreme dedication to work had won her father’s confidence in taking over their company, Arora Cements instead of his ambitious son, Pranav. Esha was the eldest of 5 children, adopted after four years of Vishal Arora’s childless marriage with first wife, the renowned actress Archana Gulati. Within a year of adoption, they were blessed with twins – Pranav and Rashmi. But the marriage didn’t work well and after three years of their birthday, the lady eloped with a retired Major. He had then married Sunanda Rai and within a year Rishabh was born; four years later she died at childbirth, Arya arrived. Keeping this characters aside, we come to the character Anubhav deeply and unrequitedly in love with Esha who gave up his well off job to work in and support her company. With every character present in the house and no sign of outsider during the time of Esha’s murder, the inspector and sub inspector are stressed out to find out the truth. No sooner had they come to a conclusion that Rishabh informed them of a missing blue envelope from Esha’s room and the housemate believes to have heard her talking to someone before the day of murder in her room about eloping!

Who killed Esha? Was there really no outsider but was someone inside the family? What was the motive? What was in the blue envelope? Who took it? Who was she planning to elope with and why?

If only these questions weren’t enough to deal with, the author interestingly brings in the topic of lesbians and I very much appreciate this initiative. In the times when we readers must even through stories, under the condition of current society, this very book is a genuine example. It points out how India is yet to come to an understanding with homosexuality and how all the people, though have the right to love anyone and everyone, has to hid this. The fear of shame and disgust they suffer then they believe that what they feel is unacceptable in the society because it is unnatural and sin. They crush their on feeling in the name of disease and insanity.

Murder in a Minute is a fast paced, gripping and intelligent story, filled with conspiracy, suffering, betrayal, power and insanity which I enjoyed thoroughly. The choice of words and concepts are well thought out. What absolutely intrigued me was the rawness of the reality. How till date orphan and homosexuality is unacceptable, both by families and society. Every human deserves a family and the right to love anyone they choose to. Also I must praise the author’s talent of storytelling – cleanly detailed and quite informative. If I hadn’t already known I wouldn’t have believed if anyone said this book is a debut novel. I am utterly impressed and look forward to reading more works of him in coming future.

Anyone who loves crime thrillers, I recommend you to give this book a try at once.

About the Author:

Shouvik is a management graduate from S.P Jain, Mumbai and is currently working for General Electric. During the day, he designs high-end analytical software which makes aircrafts fly, and during the night he plots devious murder mysteries. He had brief stints studying in Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University and European School of Business. He is a die-hard fan of Manchester United and you might spot him reading, in a café or a bookstore in Bangalore.

You can follow him @StoryTellerShouvik on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

#review The Tree with a Thousand Apples

Author: Sanchit Gupta

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Publication date: 15 Nov, 2016

Book length: 284 pages

Language: English

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis:

Inspired by true events, this riveting narrative traces the lives of Safeena Malik, Deewan Bhat and Bilal Ahanagar, three childhood friends who grow up in an atmosphere of peace and amity in Srinagar, Kashmir, until the night of 20 January 1990 changes it all.

While Deewan is forced to flee from his home, Safeena’s mother becomes ‘collateral damage’ and Bilal has to embrace a wretched life of poverty and fear. The place they called paradise becomes a battleground and their friendship struggles when fate forces them to choose sides against their will.

Twenty years later destiny brings them to a crossroads again, when they no longer know what is right and what is wrong. While both compassion and injustice have the power to transform lives, will the three friends now choose to become sinful criminals or pacifist saints?The Tree with a Thousand Apples is a universal story of cultures, belongingness, revenge and atonement. The stylized layered format, fast-paced narration and suspenseful storytelling makes for a powerful, gripping read.

Rating: 4/5

Review:

I received this book from VInfluencers in exchange of an honest and unbiased review.

As a child I had always heard stories about the beauty of Kashmir, a piece of heaven on Earth. I have had always dreamt of visiting it but till date haven’t had the chance. With passing time and gaining more knowledge about reality, I came to realise, even Heaven has it’s part of chaos and Kashmir is no exception. Being the borderline of Pakistan and India, though an essential part of India is often debated by the Pakistanis to be their region. Kashmir has for many years been facing torture and torment, the people are exposed to disturbing situations and suffer to the extreme. It is quite normal to see any article on Kashmir’s condition on paper almost everyday. While we sit with the paper in our hand, thinking of the hardship of those people, there’s not really many scopes of finding a solution.

Authors throughout India have tried quite a no.of times to compose stories based on this condition of Kashmir but not many have such an expressive impact on readers like me than this book “The Tree with a Thousand Apples” has. It may be because of the three protagonists and their lives.

The story begins with two people, Safeena and Bilal rescuing Deewan from a police minibus. And with a jolt we are brought many years back into the childhood of the three where we see two happy families, Muslim and Hindu, eating, smiling, enjoying life together. But life is not always happy-go-lucky. For the struggles of Kashmir reaches the three children soon enough. To a point where they had to struggle between deciding whether to be sinners or tainted saints.

‘Stand for your rights’,

You tell me,

And when I do

You beat me down

Break my bones

And crush my soul?

I nay raise my voice

Close my fist, and demand;

Or seek and desire

With polite words and a patient heart

So that you and I can live in peace

Forever, I wish;

You should pray

I choose the latter.

This little poem got me goosebumps. Such an intense, bold and challenging one. Generally when I read a storybook, if any poems in between, to me they do not seem to be much of importance. But this very poem had my blood boiling and you might thing I am exaggerating but if you read through the story, you will be saying the same thing like me.

The author has done an outstanding job in presenting a well formed story, based on true events and incidents that at some point even I could relate to. The book was impossible for me to put down ti the very end (and I have exams so…). The whole journey of the three protagonists from their childhood to maturity with time and experience has been portrayed beautifully. Though a big no.of characters within a story can sometimes confuse a reader, the accuracy and individuality of each character was written down so distinctively that I never had problem understanding.

Overall, the story is unnerving (in a good day), bold, extremely realistic, heroic and makes one question the boundaries between sin and sane. The book is like a carnival of emotions from the first page till the end. With the cover presented the richest fruit of Kashmir, the very first look of the book is the accurate representation of the thousands of lives woven into the roots of the land.

I would absolutelyrecommend everyone to read it.

About the Author:

Born and brought up in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, Sanchit Gupta began his career as a part-time copywriter with an advertising agency in Mumbai. He went on to co-found his own theatre group, worked as a freelance film screenwriter and as executive producer–fiction for a leading television network. His short stories have been published in several esteemed publications and literary journals and have won acclaim in leading literary festivals and online forums. One of his film scripts (fiction) has been long-listed in a globally reputed screenwriters’ lab. He has worked with All India Radio as a talk show host and regularly features in poetry recitals at Prithvi Café, Mumbai. This is his debut novel.

Apart from being a writer, he is a brand management professional with a wide range of brand building and communication development experience across FMCG, automobile and media industries. His works explore his fascination for global cultures, societal structures, vagaries of the world and the human mind. He welcomes interaction @sanchit421. Find out more about the author and his work at http://www.sanchitgupta.in