A Delight for the Eyes: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Illustrated Edition) by J. K. Rowling and Olivia Lomenech Gill

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

After reading this book, I asked myself again and again, should I review this book, if yes, how do you exactly review a book that is just “Wow”. As the title suggests, the book is spin-off from the popular Harry Potter Series, having featured as one of the textbooks in the series. The book features 50 odd beasts, details about them, how dangerous they are according to the Ministry of Magic, and such. But the best part lies in the fact that it is “illustrated”.

Every page on the beasts is accompanied by a beautiful illustration of the beasts, sometimes their surroundings or other related content. Standalone, the book is really clever. Rowling uses tidbits from real life tales, and news and beliefs and spins glorious stories around them – with the beast at the center of it all. They are fun to read and absorbing as anything – readings on Diricawl, Kelpie, Yeti are of particular note. Other beasts, especially the ones rated XXXXX are particularly delightful to read about. But it is the illustrations by Gill that bring them to life. They are not only beautiful to look at, but most of the times detailed, sprawling across the pages as if owning them, drawing the readers towards them.

The book is, for sure, a treasure-mine for Harry Potter fans but even for others it is a must-read if only to look at the illustrations as they are completely mesmerizing and will leave you asking for more of not only Newt’s knowledge but the artist’s drawings of them as well.

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An Invaluable Gift to a Generation: Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Remnants of a Separation is a first of its kind book on India’s history. The book is a series of narratives by a generation which has seen probably the best and worst this country had to offer – the Independence, and the Partition. What makes the book different from others on the same topic is the method. Instead of simply relying on documents, or history books, the author has delved into another dimension of the whole matter – the people and their objects. She has skillfully brought out an aspect of partition that has been lost among the crude facts and recital of the days leading up to and after the partition as a milestone to be taught, instead of one to be felt, understood, and passed on to the next generations.

The thing that stands out most for me in the book is that even though the objects under considerations are different, the memories associated with them are diverse, and the stories they behold are stretched as far as the land between Sindh and Mymensingh, the emotions they are based on and the emotions they evoke, are almost always the same. Every single person who has been part of the book says that they never expected the partition to actually happen. For them it was just a rumor for how can people who had always lived together suddenly be separated based on religion. And how can the same people leave their homeland simply because their religion did not match the one officially proclaimed by the government.

I believe that good books like this one leave a mark on you, but if good books are read at the right time in your life, they become a part of you. “The feeling of loss can often catch you off guard – arrive when you least expect it,” says Azra Haq, one of the interviewees in the book. This book, read at the right time, has settled itself into a part of my life. The beauty of this narration arises from the various people who have recounted their memories, often digging deep into the recesses of the past – to times they have consciously forgotten, for it was too difficult to remember and move on from what happened. But the author has brought them out, with her curiosity, her respect and love, but most importantly her patience.

For our generation, the Partition is a phase in the history of the country, about which we read in books, then forget, only to re-surface when news of conflict between the two suffering nations arises. Through this book, the author has tried to look at the nuances of the of the historical event that changed the tide of the people of these nations. She has made it personal, it is not just a recall of mere facts anymore, but a portal to transfer us to those times, to give us that experience, and make us learn invaluable lessons. Remnants of a Separation is a gift to our generation, one that is not static, for it ignites within the reader the curiosity to understand that which was always known to us but never understood. It is gift to be essentially accepted, enhanced and passed on. Only then, will it achieve its true purpose.

Mostly Up, A Little Down: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

⭐⭐⭐⭐★

So very recently I came across one of those Tumblr posts so frequented and liked by nerds and book lovers alike, and this is what it said – “So sex and all is great, but have you ever read a book where you have to wait 35 chapters before the first kiss happens?” This is one of those books. The Upside of Unrequited is a story about Molly, one half of the Peskin-Suso twins, and self declared “fat” girl who goes through crushes like I am going through books in the past few weeks. She has had 26 of them in the 17 years of her life, and never ever acted on one. The story begins when Molly’s twin Cassie finds herself in a very real relationship with someone, bringing up Molly to face loneliness and probably the need to find love.

There a lot of ups about this book. The story is flattering to read. Molly’s character is a self-doubting, creative, complete nerd who is anti-social but tries hard for her friends’ sake, risking feeling out of place all the time. It is extremely well written, and once more I am blown away by Albertalli’s ability to express her characters. There are several issues that are seamlessly woven into the story such as how being fat should not stop you from achieving anything in your life, much less love.

The things that I do not love about this book are first, Cassie. It might be because I am not a teenager anymore or have not met someone like her but I fail to understand how can she act towards her sister like that. One day you are joined at the hip, and the next day she finds out from Facebook that you are in a relationship! So you can shout it out to the public but to your twin sister you make the excuse that it was “too important” to you so you didn’t tell her. And then when she doesn’t tell you when the same thing happens to her, you chide her? I mean that is heights of hypocrisy. Another thing that I did not hate but I thought was really overdone was the representation of homosexuality. I understand it is an issue to be brought out, and talked about and write about but it has to be done so it mixes with the plot, goes with the story. I think there was too much of that in this particular book without the need.

As several reviews before mine would have said – this is a must read. It gives you good vibes, makes you angry at the right things and the right moments, and gives you the happily ever after you need when you finish a book. But most importantly Molly seems real. Her struggle, her trials and her wanting to reach out to people (and failing to) all strike a chord with you. If you have ever been a nerd, you will find yourself at least once in the narrative. If not for anything else, read it for that.

A Funny Dish: Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna

⭐⭐⭐★★

From all the available genres of humor present out there, there is no doubt that self-depreciation works best. But that’s it really. Mrs Funnybones is sort of an autobiographical novel written by Khanna in which she takes us through the nuisances of her life as a celebrity, wife and daughter of Bollywood superstars, working mom. There are several anecdotes, stories, experiences and such scattered throughout the book, in no particular order – just an alphabetical A to Z of the titles.

What I liked most about the book is definitely the self-deprecating humor. As far as humor is concerned, Khanna knows what she’s doing (as she is already a regular columnist in one of the dailies). Her sense of humor is fresh, entertaining without offending (except at places where it’s directed home), and easy to breeze through. There might be some places when you feel that it is stretching on and on and you just really want to move on to the next one. Some of the incidents and things are almost hard to believe (in both good and bad ways), but hey, it’s her life, I am sure she knows better. The repeated name-tags, such as “man of the house”, and “the prodigal son” might also start irritating you after some time, and you would just wonder why not call them by their names! But that is mostly a personal thing I think.

Finally I believe that it’s one-sitting, one-time read which mostly works because the setup is as interesting as the story teller. One can say that it works because everyone wants to know about the life of a celebrity, especially one so closely related to the Indian film industry. But the fact of the matter is, Khanna might have gotten lucky with the ingredients, but the richness of the dish, i.e. the narration is all her, and with her palate, she would have made it tasty, no matter what the ingredients.

Too Many Feelings: History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

⭐⭐★★★

To begin with, I would like to clarify that the “too many feelings” description is for the characters in the book, not what I experienced. For me it was mostly a mix of pure frustration, anger and heartbreak at times. As the book synopsis will tell you, History Is All You Left Me is about Griffin, whose first and now ex-boyfriend, Theo dies in a drowning accident. Even though Griffin was the one who broke up with Theo, who was going to college, he still believed till the end that they were endgame, and no matter what happens (like Theo getting a new boyfriend in college), they will end up together. So Theo’s death breaks up that future and several other things inside of Griffin. The issue – no one understands him, except Theo’s now boyfriend Jackson, who is feeling the same loss as Griffin. But can tragedy bring you closer to a person whom you have hated with all you have till now?

Finding the answer to that question is not the only thing that Silvera’s book is about. The book is like a quest to understand what it means to love a person – how much you can push those boundaries, how you decide what you save, and how much of yourself do you choose to let go, and how much you save in the process. If I have to describe it in one word – it’s messy. The characters, especially Griffin, deal with a lot of emotions, which is understandable as he is only 17, has just lost his best friend and love of his life, has to make friends with almost nemesis to cope through that grief, while also figuring out how not to ruin things with other important people in his life. It is too much to deal with for a teenager.

The book is messed up in a good sense, because it brings out the turmoil of the characters in a way that makes you feel messed up inside. There are times when you just want to shake Griffin and tell him to snap out of it, and shout – “What the hell are you doing with your life!”, and in the next few paragraphs you will realize he is just a teenager! There were bits that I liked, especially the depiction of Griffin’s OCD – he’s obsessed with even numbers, and such things. I could relate with it without the issue overpowering the whole book, as tends to be the case with some of the novels I have read in recent times.

But there were also bits I absolutely hated and which left me asking several questions about a realistic depiction of the situation – like how screwed does your moral compass have to be to do certain things that Griffin does in the book no matter how much you are grieving? Still as I have said it before, I might not know these things, and hence this is just my opinion of things. Overall, the book is a big bunch of emotions which (if you are reading it in one sitting) swallow the reader much like the ocean that swallows Theo. It is beautiful in some parts, and ugly in others, literally pushing you to rip out the pages, or throw away your device in frustration.

I would not say it’s a must read because honestly I believe it is unhealthy to suffer from so much trauma, but you can give it a go if you are feeling emotionless (I really hope you never feel that, but still). Finally, I think the best lesson I got, was from my favorite character (will not be giving the name as it would reveal too much of the plot), that it is not okay to love someone so much that their absence destroys you and that you are luckiest if you have someone who can love you when you are together, and is strong enough to let go when you are not.

The Book of Patience: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

⭐⭐⭐★★

If you can make through the first 80 per cent of Beatrice and Virgil, you would find that it was worth it in the end. If you are the sort who enjoy deep, philosophical conversations in complex sentences and languages, even getting through that first 80 per cent would not prove to be very daunting task for you.

Beatrice and Virgil is a tale about an author Henry, who writes under a pseudonym not revealed to us throughout the book. After having been discouraged to publish a particularly brave and challenging book about Holocaust that took five years of his life, Henry gives up on writing and moves to a different city in another country with his wife, and begins a life of leisure. It is here that he meets a taxidermist who turns out to be Henry’s namesake and seeks the author’s help with a play with a howler monkey (Virgil) and a donkey (Beatrice) as the main characters that he has been writing for years.

What ensues is a series of meetings and discussions, that cover most of the book. A wiser reader might have made the connect between Henry’s book and Henry’s play quite earlier but for me it was made obvious only when Henry the author himself mentions it in passing. After that point, the tale becomes more bearable as you start getting an understanding of all those discussions that seemed futile up to this point. It is when all the metaphors and symbolism start to make sense, that you are pulled down into a spiral of emotions that this particular historical event has the ability to evoke in people.

The book ends on a particularly gut-wrenching note as one of the items: games for Gustav, from a list being prepared by Beatrice and Virgil to talk about “the Horrors” as they call the Holocaust, is written by Henry on request from the taxidermist. Beatrice and Virgil is a book of patience, it requires you to wait, page by page, to unfold its story to the reader. If you hold on long enough, it would peel off its layers to reveal to you a story that has been told over and over the years in different forms and through different mediums, but still holds the ability to elicit the same pain.

Short and Sweet: Almost Midnight by Rainbow Rowell

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Man, no one writes romance like Rainbow Rowell. Literally, no one! Almost Midnight is not really a novel, just two holiday stories, bundled together in one illustrated book with a beautiful and festive cover. The first story called Midnights with two best friends Noel and Mags. The story is told through a series of New Year Eves’ and how the two go from barely knowing each other to becoming “the” person in each other’s lives. As I said before, some of the more intimate scenes are just perfect – very few authors know how to write romance without turning it into a full blown physical ordeal, and Rowell does that. Her words tug just the right strings, and give you all the right feelings – warm and gooey, just like the holidays that are represented here.

The second story, Kindred Spirits, is my favorite of the two because it features Star Wars, and being a part of fandom, two things that I love. It features three people, Elena, Gabe and Troy who wait in a movie theater line for four days to watch the next Star Wars movie as it comes out. The book talks about how people become friends when they feel so strongly about something. It is a delight to read as the three discuss Star Wars things, and quirks and you realize that every fan is different from others in one way or the other, but at the end of the day, a fandom is all about existing together with those differences, those different interpretations, different meanings of the same stories.

Word of warning for Kindred Spirits – if you are not a Star Wars fan, it might bore you out because even though it generally talks about fandom and being part of them, it builds the story around Star Wars. Still, Rowell’s books are always worth a read if you are looking to lighten and brighten up your day.

May the Force be with you!

No Awards for Protagonist of the Year: Artemis by Andy Weir

⭐⭐★★★

Reading Artemis was like going through 11th standard for me – it reminded me why I hate physics and extraordinarily gifted but ungrateful kids. The protagonist is a 26-year old girl/woman (it’s debatable, really, based on her maturity), Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, who lives on the only city on moon called Artemis and works officially as a porter and unofficially as a smuggler. Jazz is a selfish, foul-mouthed, small-time criminal who wants to make a large amount of money, and fast. That is where the problem begins.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not completely degrading the quality of the character. If you read Weir’s writing in this one – it’s really, really good. I actually ended up hating the protagonist, and it’s really difficult to do that because at some deeper, sub-conscious level we, the readers, love our protagonists. We tolerate their biggest mistakes, their stupidest lines, and what not because at the end of the day they are the hero of the story. Jazz is similar, more black than white though, but I really ended up hating her. I cannot really tell but that just might have been Weir’s intention – you do not have to be lovable to be the hero.

Anyways, onto the story. Jazz, in her quest to hoard a large sum of money (called slugs on moon), gets into serious trouble, and then the chase begins. I really do not know what exactly passes for spoilers in a book, so I will not reveal anything that is not on the cover of the book.

Now if you have read The Martian, you would know how Weir threads science into the story. It was actually one of my favorite parts about the book – how effortlessly he explained the physics, chemistry, biology, math etc. involved in Whatney’s (now that was one brilliant, hilarious, sarcastic character) Mars survival. But in Artemis, the science (read, electronics, electrical physics) just does not blend. It does not evoke images as I wish it had to better understand what is going on. Or maybe I am just not that smart, who knows!

Despite of its flaws, which are highly subjective, if you think about it, Artemis is a must read book for one simple reason – we do not get many books in this genre that spin story into science. Weir’s books are a necessary read for they open our brains to possibilities that are lightly brushed aside by mortals today – of having to think of life outside of Earth. It is a good read overall as the plot twists and turns, sort of even gets predictable in the middle, then ups the game by presenting you with a new scenario, like any good mystery book, but I really wish the protagonist was more of a protagonist.