Book Review 26 – Shards of Sunlight by Anand Nair

In the words of Bon Jovi ‘Wooooooooooaaaaaahhhhh, we’re half way there!’ Would you Adam and Eve it, it’s been six months of me reading a book a week, every week and reviewing it here for you. Six months?! Time has flown.

In six months I have metamorphosized from someone who used to pick up a book every few months and read it over the course of a few weeks to someone who is a compulsive reader. If I don’t have a book on the go I feel restless. I start picking up reference material and rifling through it. But more than that, reading has somehow made me more inquisitive, more interested in history, science, dinosaurs… I just want to know stuff about stuff. That doesn’t mean that all the information I acquire remains in my sieve-like head, but then you can’t have everything!

Before I go into this week’s book I just want to set the scene on how I came across the marvellous author. As you can see from my blog, I enjoy writing. Gabbing on about something or other is my forte and I most enjoy doing it in this space. So about a year and a half ago I googled some combination of words that included ‘Croydon’ and ‘writing’ and up popped a link to Croydon Writers. These guys are an awesome bunch of writers, but there are two of them in particular whose writing I have got to know well since starting to attend the group. Michael Round has written a whole stack of brilliant books, one of which I will be reviewing next week.

 

The second person from the group whose work I have read is Anand Nair. ‘Shards of Sunlight’ is based on some of Anand’s childhood experiences of growing up in Kerala, however the things that happen to her protagonist Indu are not autobiographical.

There is however one major point of confluence. Like Indu’s father, Anand’s own father was a political activist and like many other activists (including my own grandfather) at the time towards the end of the British Raj in India, spent time in jail as a political prisoner. This was a period of huge political and social flux in Indian history. I’m immensely proud of my grandfather (who died when I was young so unfortunately I barely remember him) for standing up for his beliefs. For being prepared to go to prison for them. We are fortunate enough to lead comparatively plush, sheltered lives these days. Most of us can’t even contemplate having to make such a stand.

Shards of Sunlight does sit against this political backdrop, but the focus of the story is Indu herself. It is the concerns of her personal little world that we are embroiled in. We watch her growing from a girl into a young woman and see her own family situation shift over the years.

Indu is unlike other girls in Kerala. She is far too educated for one. She keeps getting told that no man likes a wife that is too highly educated, with ideas in her head. But Indu wants more for herself than to be solely a wife and homemaker. Independent and free spirited she sets out her own path, rejecting the traditional ideals and we see her begin to develop her career and meet a man that she deems worthy of her. The trouble is will her family consider him worthy of her? Let’s just say the path of true love never runs smoothly.

Anand hooks you in with her skilful writing, and mesmerised, you are powerless to do anything other than turn page after page following the story of this fiesty young Indian woman, rooting for her every step of the way.

Anand is a self published author, but as I have mentioned before there are some gems to be found in amongst the self published book market. And here is such a gem. Shards of Sunlight is a delightful read that I enjoyed immensely.

Next week I’ll be reviewing Michael Rounds book ‘One Promise Kept’. Come back on Monday and check it out.

Book Review 25 – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I had been meaning to read this book since it first came out and I eventually came to it with two very different recommendations. My colleague leant me this pristine hardcopy that she had treated herself to, whilst imparting the opinion that the book was alright once you got through the first bit. Not really a resounding endorsement, but at the same time I had another friends recommendation, who told me that it was her favourite book of 2017.  Quite an accolade! So I was intrigued as to what I would make of it.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine centres around the isolated life of the socially inept Eleanor herself. She dresses weird, she acts weird, she is weird. Or so her colleagues think. The reader, inside Eleanor’s head see’s her torturously heading towards social faux pas because she has misunderstood the situation and you begin to feel a sense of empathy with Eleanor. More than that, she begins to endear herself to you with her complete lack of self awareness. Eleanor has a quirky little wit that she shares with the reader. The daftness of it combined with her vulnerability made me love her all the more!

It is when, despite herself, she ends up getting into an unlikely friendship with Raymond from IT that Eleanor’s life begins to change. Through the revelations she makes about her past we come to understand the abuse and neglect that have led her to where she is today.

This is a career defining debut. One wonders what Gail Honeyman could possibly produce next to compete with this book. There is a real appreciation of the human psyche here. She has managed in this book to sum up loneliness, but has also given Eleanor a chink of hope.

When we reach the end and discover the twist that I certainly did not see coming being, as I was, too focused on another element of the storyline, you really get to see how long Eleanor has been self flagellating for a wrong that she didn’t commit. It is the sadness of her past that has kept her trapped in loneliness all these years, but her beautifully unfolding friendship with Raymond allows Eleanor to let herself live again rather than merely existing as a shadow in this world.

Honeyman has produced a touching novel which encourages genuine empathy for those around us. How often do we judge people based on the way they come across? And how much better would it be for us to suspend judgement because, really, what do we know about the life they have lived or why they are this way? To me Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was a book about how important it is to show kindness to our fellow human beings. So go forth, read the book and be thoroughly lovely to all ye shall meet!

Next week is a very special one. It marks the mid way point of this challenge! I will be reviewing Shards of Sunlight by Anand Nair. Come back and see what I have to say for myself on Monday.

Book Review 24 – Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

So the Harry Potter fan reads another children’s book. It may be true that I am something of an overgrown child at heart however this week’s book was actually chosen for me. I am a member of a humunguous Goodreads group and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was the book selected for February. So in the spirit of Goodreads camaraderie, I decided to take up the mantle and read the book.

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Percy Jackson is a twelve year old boy who has never fitted in at any school he’s been to. Why? Well he is a demi god of course! Why didn’t I guess?! Helpfully no-one decided to tell Percy this and so it comes as a bit of a nasty surprise when he has to pit his wits against gods and hitherto assumed to be mythical creatures to recover an item that will avert a war. Talk about a baptism of fire!

So two teenage boys and a teenage girl on a quest to save the world in a magical realm. Hmm, I seem to have seen this formula somewhere before… One of them is even afraid of spiders!

I couldn’t help but make the comparisons with Harry Potter. Which leads me to something of an admission. Whilst I am a mammoth Harry Potter fan, I am not the biggest fan of Harry himself. He… I hesitate to say it… but he irritates me. It’s something about his heroic determination to martyr himself at every opportunity that makes him seem – well just a little bit holier than thou. His stoic focus on friendship and bravery just makes me cringe. There I said it, I don’t like Harry.

The point with regard to this story was that, I found I liked Percy Jackson a lot more as a protagonist. He’s just a kid and he doesn’t particularly want to save the world. It’s more like he doesn’t really have a choice. Mind you, it’s not like he doesn’t step up to the challenge once he has been selected. Percy is every bit the hero you expect from a book like this.

Oh and don’t be put off by the horrific film that was made about this book. Remember what I always say…

Oh Lordy, is it true in this case! I recall detesting the film – to the extent that I must have totally wiped it from my memory. I had no idea what this book was about but the Goodreads forums were filled with encouragement to give this book a chance despite the awful film.

Whilst I won’t be going on to read the rest of the Percy Jackson series, I’m not disappointed to have read this one. And although I have read other children’s books that I have enjoyed more, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief has an allure all of its own, being as it is, jam packed with Greek mythology. I mean come on, who doesn’t love an encounter with Medusa?! 

I hope you’ll come back next Monday to read my review of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I have been waiting to read this book for so long!! See you next Monday.

Book Review 23 – The Help by Kathryn Stockett

You’ll be glad to hear that for once I didn’t open this week’s book up to discover that I had already watched the film! In fact the strong characterisations that Kathryn Stockett successfully employes created such vivid imagery in my mind that I was compelled to watch the film straight after. But what have I always said…?

It definitely holds true. The film didn’t do a bad job but the book was such a sterling account by itself that I didn’t really need the film to supplement it. Nice enough way to spend an evening though, if you are so inclined.

‘The Help’ is told through the voices of three characters in 1963 Mississippi. Two black maid’s, Aibeleen and Minny; as well as a young white woman called Skeeter. Whilst ostensibly living very different lives these three women come to form an unlikely alliance when Skeeter, an aspiring writer,  hits upon the idea of interviewing black maids and putting together a book of their experiences.

1960’s Mississipi however is not the most progressive place. Skeeter and anyone who follows her are treading a treacherous path. Black people have to sit separately in buses, they have to use separate bathrooms and intermarriage between blacks and white’s is illegal. The consequences for crossing these lines can result in becoming prey to lynch mobs, if you’re lucky you may have your tongue cut out, if you’re unlucky you could be killed. If, as a black person you were murdered by these mobs you could be pretty sure that there wouldn’t be much in the way of justice for you. I must say that despite all this, the general tone of this book is optimistic, but it depressed me to think that people were being treated like this almost within my own lifetime. Whenever someone made some modern day reference to cars or hoovers I was like ‘Oh yeah, this isn’t the early 19th century…they’re not actually slaves…’ It was easy to forget.

Don’t let my morose take on the social situation put you off however, this book is about the lives these three women lead. Skeeter’s struggle to fit in and get a man despite her towering, unladylike height and frizzy hair that her overbearing mother is always fighting to tame; Aibeleen’s love for the white children that she tends to who she knows will one day outgrow her and start to look at her as an employee; and Minny, whose forthright opinions have a tendency of getting her into hot water.

This book was choco bloc with strong women. Aside from these three, there is  the ferocious, ruthless Hilly who heads up every society function in town and organises regular gatherings. Hilly has a nasty streak. When Hilly decides she doesn’t like you she will move heaven and earth to make life miserable for you. Hilly’s mother has plenty to say for herself, but is altogether a much more likeable character. And then there is Skeeter’s mother who in the last stages of cancer declares ‘I have decided not to die,’ and goes right ahead into remission. That right there is the kind of determination I aspire to and these are the women I both loved and loathed through this book.

Next week, I’m reading Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Come back and check out my review on Monday.