Book Review: Espresso with the Devil

Book: Espresso with the Devil

Author: Thomas Poppe

Genre: Fiction, Self-Discovery, New-Age

Review Copy: Reedsy

Available on: Amazon.in

Must Read!

A title as interesting as Espresso with the Devil keeps up to its promise of being an engrossing read. Tom, a writer, is approached at the airport by Fred, who introduces himself as the Devil. The Devil is worried and he needs Tom to carry his message to mankind. The premise reminds me of two popular renderings on modern television – Lucifer on Netflix and Crawley from Good Omens on Prime Video – and Fred seems as intriguing and entertaining as these televised characters.

Soon, the writer and Devil are engaged in contemporary discourse on the nature and purpose of modern life. The discussions elaborate how the Devil is able to allure humans to go against their basic instincts and indulge in complex and artificial living that exacerbates the struggles of humanity.

The onslaught of technology diminishes mental faculties. Ease, convenience leads to decay. As fake news, deep fake, permeate our lives, the conscientious can identify the perils of idolizing achievers and creating role models, without knowing the whole truth.

The discussion delves into the competition, materialism, commercialization, scientific and medical advancements, as concepts that imply success but actually are instruments of destruction. Harmony and equality perturb negative forces, hence, rivalry and envy are created in the Devil’s workshop.

The contemplation provides advice to free oneself of the rat race and reclaim the simplicity of a hard-working life for a fulfilling existence. Impulsiveness in thought and action, quick fixes, and striving for the luxurious lead to many of our daily and long-term problems. These are just some of the intriguing topics touched upon in this engrossing read.

The conversation is light, yet the message is deep. A book to be relished in one go and then picked up in moments of deliberation, making an impact one passage at a time. It is a self-help book but for humanity. It puts in words all our scattered thoughts on what is wrong with our world.

Practical insights, spiritual messages, anecdotes, and Devil Hacks may help us reset, recover, renew, or leave us wondering at the impending fate of humans. A book that makes one think is worth the time and attention. I am glad to have discovered it. It pulsates with the anguish of our modern lives and how we are in self-destruct mode. Is there a way to turn away from the abyss? Let the book reveal.

Book Review: The Nonchalant Man Between Worlds

Quite a few stories are narrative in style, imageries piling up, increasingly reflecting the complexity of perceptions. Chan clearly questions, “Has the world always been like this, both insane and chaotic, only he has not seen it as it actually is until now?” This is the theme of the book. Anguished ponderings on the chaos in our minds, purpose, and meaning of our lives, as we try to find a place as friends, lovers, and social beings.

Nonchalant Man

Book: The Nonchalant Man Between Worlds: And Other Stories

Author: William W. Chan

Genre: Fiction, Self-Discovery, Short Stories, Magical Realism

Review Copy: Reedsy

Available on: Amazon.in

The first story in this collection by William W. Chan, reminded me of Oliver Sack’s work – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Deeper into the book, a Kafkaesque feeling emerged. It is the nature of man to always seek. Some seek answers in science, trying to decipher the mysterious functioning of the brain. Many lean towards metaphysical pondering on the functioning of the heart, soul, and mind.

The Nonchalant Man Between Worlds: And Other Stories are based on this quest, chasing the pertinent question of what’s real in our world and what may lie beyond in other realms. Dreams can be derived from realities and perturb us as much as illusions in waking hours.

The human and anti-human, creatures, demons, evil, fear, all emerge in our thought-scape based on the state of our mind. What happens when something snaps within us and cracks appear in our vision; when the mind is philosophical, the heart is lonely, and the soul disillusioned? Hallucination-based stories like those told by Chan are born.

Nightmares and illusions predominate the stories. Shifting perceptions harass the characters. My personal favorite is, The Fallen, where I sensed a mystery and indulged in a guessing game of who Harold was and his fate. Many of the open-ended stories leave us wondering.

Quite a few stories are narrative in styI can derive dreamsle, imageries piling up, increasingly reflecting the complexity of perceptions. Chan clearly questions, “Has the world always been like this, both insane and chaotic, only he has not seen it as it actually is until now?” This is the theme of the book. Anguished ponderings on the chaos in our minds, purpose, and meaning of our lives, as we try to find a place as friends, lovers, and social beings.

The well-articulated stories are for anyone who has an interest in metaphysical, spiritual, and philosophical notions, motifs, and themes. Interpretation and understanding of Magic Realism shifts from one reader to the next, in fact, one day to another. Such works are not for light readers.

This is a book for rumination and not just about people going about their daily lives. It is for readers who question the happenings and perceptions of their regular existence. It demands attention and offers deep contemplation dressed up as Magical Realism. Keep a highlighter handy for some musings that are worth marking for a later read, as you relate with them.

Book Review: Bombay Hangovers

The fragility of the aged, raciness of the illicit, achiness of nostalgia and aging bones, the darkness of lust, tender cares of motherhood, the inevitability of fading youth, travails of escapism, and troubled demons of haunted pasts – each story is woven to create an elaborate tapestry.

Bombay Hangovers

Book: Bombay Hangovers

Author: Rochelle Potkar

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Indian writing in English

Warning: Explicit content

Available at: Amazon.in

Review Copy: Himalayan Book Club

Our world is made up of stories and most have already been told. It takes an exemplary storyteller to bring life to the mundane and the inconspicuous. Unabashed rendering of exotic yearnings, sensitive descriptions of romantic longings, intense emotions of despair, the gravity of age, trappings of secrets, and a gamut of vast emotions, and scenes flow through the pages of Bombay Hangovers by Rochelle Potkar. The book title is reminiscent of a city, clinging to a past, delving in intoxicating memories of humans, with all their flaws and follies, oft succumbing to the power play of destiny.

Exotic words describe marital bonds from early years of lustful romance to the complacency and frustrations of tired householders. The fragility of the aged, raciness of the illicit, achiness of nostalgia and aging bones, the darkness of lust, tender cares of motherhood, the inevitability of fading youth, travails of escapism, and troubled demons of haunted pasts – each story is woven to create an elaborate tapestry. This is not a leisurely read because it digs into the crevices of fears and passions, dreads and desires, showing us a mirror, bringing to life a society that we ignore. Yet, it pulls you in, word-by-word, page-by-page, as it rips away the facade and unmasks the raw truth pulsating in the heart of Mumbai.

The stories delve into different social classes in the city of Mumbai, as it is now known. Metaphors and analogies embellish the book, revealing research and understanding of the nuances of geometrical terms, workings of a cotton mill, the Goan real-estate, the dhobi ghat, the underbelly of city life, just to name a few. Details are rendered with care, without haste, each word conjuring imagery, sometimes leaving you embarrassed, mostly engrossed. The no-holds-barred flourish of a bold pen takes you on a breathtaking journey into the lives of ordinary men and women.

A few typos are glaring, a sudden shift in the person of narration is disconcerting, and you wish these were not there. Amidst all the beauty of the words, I felt the writing could have been tauter in some stories. Some descriptions could be less superfluous, allowing the reader to savor the exquisite composition and leave some space for musings. The comparatively shorter stories are my favorite in this collection of 16, as they are the most impactful. The introduction is exquisitely written though it contains insights into stories so you may want to read it after diving into the book. 

Book Review: Sober Thoughts from the Crazy House

The words flow, each better than the next, sometimes rhyming, sometimes like the churning of an ocean, thoughts dripping from every nook, every crevice. Each thought more relatable than the next, some philosophical, some mundane but the currents strong enough to wash you away.

Book: Sober Thoughts from the Crazy House

Author: J. Maxwell

Genre: Poetry, Self-Discovery

Review Copy: From the Author

Available on: Amazon.com

For Mental Health Awareness Month, I got the opportunity to read one of my favorite literary forms – poetry. J. Maxwell (Twitter @JMaxwell_Writer), author and illustrator’s debut poetry collection, Sober Thoughts from the Crazy House, is a candid evocation of his journey from mental health issues to a more sober approach to life.

One of the first steps to recovery, to solve issues permeating our lives, is to accept the situation and to seek help. J. Maxwell starts with the backstory of his struggles and how he overcame years of addiction and self-abuse. Words provided an artistic refuge. In searching for the words to express, Maxwell was seeking answers.

Many who have been lost and found their way will relate to the outpouring in the fluent verses. These words can be yours, mine – anyone who has grappled with self-doubt, self-disdain, guilt, shame, fear. You can imagine the poet scribbling on paper napkins and vagrant sheets, crumpled, torn at the edges, as he tries to find the meaning, define the terms in the textbook that are now a part of him. The anguish is palpable, yet with a glimmer of hope, for only those who seek shall receive.

The poems touch a vast array of experiences; hallucinations, anxiety, mania, depression, addiction, withdrawal, therapy. At a certain moment, I thought the formatting was juvenile, like children expanding alphabets to words in wordplay. However, each alphabet in Maxwell’s vocabulary dives into an intense experience with well-crafted interpretations. The words flow, each better than the next, sometimes rhyming, sometimes like the churning of an ocean, thoughts dripping from every nook, every crevice. Each thought more relatable than the next, some philosophical, some mundane but the currents strong enough to wash you away.

This is a book for those who can appreciate the beauty and depth of free verses. It can be perceived as a haven for the troubled mind, evolving from experiences in the “crazy house.” Maxwell’s poetic expressions are not only for those who want to know how they feel, how someone else in their position feels but also a must-have for caregivers and guides, for readers and learners. It is an insight into a mind filled with chaos, trying to find balance, all on its own, without reaching out for help.

When troubled souls can’t articulate, the sober writings from the recovering mind can be a guidebook. I find this to be a precious collection that I would recommend everyone to read because where thoughts overburden us only words can be saviors. I would have liked to see some illustrations along with the words, making it an immersive experience. I also found it hard to decipher the book cover* art work and would like some insight into it.

*The author reached out to me with a note: “The cover art is the underside of the bottom of a bottle. This was perfect since so many go looking for answers at the bottom of a bottle only to find there aren’t any. You have to get to the bottom to really find that out though.”

J. Maxwell’s work speaks of hope, of finding yourself, and of repeating the message:

Don’t judge yourself

Lest ye cast the first stone!

Book Review: Plastic Jesus and Other Stories

Beautifully written stories, capturing the essence of myriad people and their worlds, each ending with a twist, oft with a message.

Book: Plastic Jesus and Other Stories

Author: Judith Ets-Hokin

Genre: Short Stories, Fiction

Review Copy: Reedsy.com

We are all made up of stories. A keen observer of life, Judith Ets-Hokin picks up some interesting ones and brings them to us in a collection with an intriguing name—Plastic Jesus and Other Stories. A medley of 13 stories with an array of themes, Plastic Jesus is a good weekend read.

The stories are of varied length, The Hunt, being the longest, and encompass myriad emotions and terrains. The writing is fluid and deep, with intricately depicted scenes, intense characters, and ebb and flow of emotions showcasing linguistic penchant.

The author breathes life into inanimate objects and nature, but mostly exhibits insights into human emotions. Love, loneliness, grief, loss, fate, ambition, smugness, doubt, independence, self-sabotage, virtue, vice, urbanization—the shifting sands of the stories keep you engaged, as you turn the pages of this slim book.

A story may be open-ended or conclusive, but resist the temptation to hasten to the end; capture the essence of the tapestry of words. I enjoyed a guessing game while navigating the pages, as each character and their space is sensitively worked upon. The first story is my favorite with its element of suspense. In a couple of stories, I felt the ending was predictable and similar.

The joy of the ride is in the beautiful writing; in the delicate balance of saying more in fewer words. Humans are oft in conflict with themselves or with others as they fight for the rights of people and animals. Stories that leave you wondering, fill you with suspense, or grief, or make you wonder—all tightly packed with crisp and meticulous writing.

The storyteller in Judith Ets-Hokin invokes thoughts and weaves in magic, figuratively and literally. She moves around in different walks of life, manifold worlds, myriad people, thus creating stories rich and fulfilling. Special applause for the artistic book cover. Grab your copy for stories—long and short—and enjoy a perfect reading weekend.

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